City Of The Living Dead:
How should I write about Lucio Fulci's gore classic, City Of The Living Dead? Approach it from today's seen, heard about and done everything standpoint? Or from that of the young teen discovering this movie for the first time on VHS in the mid-'80s? Well, no matter how you slice it, (or drill it, or rip its brains out) this delirious stream-of-consciousness horror is still an unnervingly fun must see for fans of international sleaze cinema.
Back then, City Of The Living Dead (aka Gates Of Hell) stood proudly with other bits of transgressive cinema like Maniac and I Spit On Your Grave, as something almost whispered about in its gory power. It was the movie where That Girl literally pukes her guts out, and to be hunted down for a soda-fueled viewing with friends. Yes, and Giovanni Lombardo Radice also gets his brain drilled, meaning this was, and is, truly a gore film for the ages, logic be damned.
However, illogic is director Fulci's strong point, as the best of his horror movies maintain a nightmarish insanity that subverts narrative formatting and chronological order with gleeful abandon. To wit, weird shit is going down in a Lovecraftian New England town, and Christopher George (Pieces) and Catriona MacColl (The Beyond) are on the case. Priests are hanging themselves in cemeteries, folks are bleeding from the eyeballs, and the living dead beset deserted dive-bars. As should be readily apparent, the town is built over one of the gates of hell, and there's only three days to permanently lock that gate. I think. Indeed, there may be logic afoot, but if there is it's buried beneath foggy, apocalyptic style, arbitrary time-shifts, and gory horror scenes that still have the power to revolt today.
City ranks among the top of Fulci Fan Favorites due to its aggressively disorienting, unrelievedly evil atmosphere, not to mention those gore set-pieces. Fulci's town of Dunwich (in case you didn't catch the Lovecraft connection) seems to be the loneliest place on earth, seemingly shrouded in perpetual dark and choked by acrid fog. The camera glides along abandoned streets for uncomfortable lengths of time, before making a shocking jump cut to a disgusting ghoul or a shower of maggots. Residents seem at best mentally checked-out, at worst crass and evil, creating an air of downbeat hopelessness that fits Fulci's aggrieved take on life. And all this comes in the service of truly detached performances. (That is, excepting when gore is concerned; the director had a penchant for pushing his performers to get genuine reactions. See the rain-of-maggots sequence, for example.) What results is a horror movie with a few effective jump-scares bolstered by extreme gore, sickly tension and a bleak, doomed world-view to truly ruin an afternoon. Counter-intuitively, these are all positive attributes where the City Of The Living Dead is concerned.
Coming somewhat fast on the heels of its 2004 release, Blue Underground now turns in this new Special Edition, and one of the things we look for in the nominal double-dip is improved AV quality. This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation earns its place on your shelf, with a sharper, cleaner presentation boasting richer, brighter and more naturalistic colors. Black levels also are deeper in this new High Definition transfer from the original uncensored negative. Compression and transfer problems don't seem to appear, meaning that brains being squished out of a cracked skull never looked so good.
Lacking a DTS decoder (sorry, readers) I can't comment on the new 6.1 DTS-ES Audio Track, but I'm sure it's a corker. A 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio Surround EX Audio Track is also available, with a nicely active soundscape and good dynamic range, which really highlights the plodding, portentous, soul-destroying score. Lastly, the Original Mono Audio Track is available for you purists. In general, the mix is good, though many might not understand Fulci's penchant for looping dialog in English after the fact - intentional 'bad dubbing' is something hard to wrap your head around.
We also might look for a slew of awesome new extras for this historically extras-light Fulci film. We get some good, but not a ton. Firstly, English SDH and French and Spanish Subtitles are offered, plus Scene Selections and such - might as well give a shout-out to the old taken-for-granted scene selections, eh? Our standard keepcase also offers up these other extras: The Making Of: City Of The Living Dead, which brings a relatively scant 32-minutes of interviews with cast and crew. It's an entertaining and revealing doc nonetheless, which spends about half of its running time focusing (rightly) on special effects. Once again you'll learn just how far Fulci would go to get real fear and revulsion out of his actors - sheep guts in the mouth, anyone? A Radio Spots/ Stills Gallery runs under two minutes, with just two radio spots and stills from the movie. It's an extra that's been ported over intact from the previous release. Original Trailers, the English and Italian versions, are also included (the Italian trailer is new to this disc). Essentially, then, a half-hour documentary and souped-up AV are the reasons for this new edition. But is it enough?
Blue Underground is trying to do right by Fulci's most nihilistic and nasty effort, the glum-'n'-gory City Of The Living Dead. It just seems they're taking their time. Perhaps the next go-round we'll get a commentary track of some sort! Yet if you don't already own this movie, this would be the place to start; with a good (but short) documentary and fantastic AV quality, Fulci's cruel, hyper-gory festival of hell-bound despair is better than ever. Those not willing to double-dip should absolutely rent this, while newbies will find it (at least) Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com