CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD

(A.k.a. PAURA NELLA CITTA DEI MORTI VIVENTI; THE GATES OF HELL; FRAYEURS)

The sleepy town of Dunwich is beset with heavy mist and broken mirrors when Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself in the local graveyard.

Not too far away, Mary (Catriona MacColl) is involved in a sťance which enables her to 'see' the priest's deeds and predict that, in three days' time, the gates of Hell will open and the dead will walk the Earth.

With the help of New York reporter Peter (Christopher George), Mary races to Dunwich in the hope of preventing the end of the world. But it may be that they are already too late: the recently deceased certainly don't intend to wait three days before rising and causing havoc, ripping brains from victims' skulls and scaring the pants off residents such as retarded Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice).

Along the way, Mary and Peter are aided by psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren) who do little to stop the occurrence of bizarre incidents such as a jealous father drilling through a hapless youth's cranium, or one unfortunate spewing out her intestinal tract in front of her flabbergasted beau (Michele Soavi in a cameo role).

Don't even think about the plot. It's nonsense. And the editing is at times so haphazard that what little story there is, is often obscured by a narrative so loose that it's practically freeform.

There's no denying that acting is weak from all quarters, adding credence to an interview I once read in Fangoria with THE BEYOND actor David Warbeck (he claimed director Lucio Fulci would often berate his actors for delivering performances better than the material). Here, Fulci elicits stupefying performances from all concerned, matching a script of staggeringly banal proportions. My favourite moment along these lines is when Peter and Mary discuss how it's down to them to save the world from eternal damnation - but then decide to go and grab a spot of lunch first.

I'm just being honest. It doesn't mean that I love CITY any less. Truth be told, I adore it. The harebrained plot is a constant source of amusement, the script is often unintentionally hilarious and George seems to have confused the term "journalist" with that of "startled baboon". Watching CITY as a comedy provides oodles of entertainment.

So you'd expect it to crash disastrously as a horror film. It doesn't. Thanks to Fulci's subscription to the ethos of "absolute cinema" (a term he adopted in the early 80s to explain the nightmare logic of CITY, THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) and Sergio Salvati's superlative foggy cinematography, this film rises above its silliness with several genuinely effective set-pieces (a maggot storm; a premature burial; the ambiguous finale) and extremely atmospheric tracking shots of Dunwich's dead streets, to become a triumph of Gothic ambience.

And then there is the gore. Less explicit than THE BEYOND or THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, CITY also loses Gianetto De Rossi as its FX artist. But Franco Rufini does a good job of filling his boots by making what grue there is truly count.

Surreal, fast-paced, bloody and graced with Fabio Frizzi's excellent score, CITY is a film that is as easy to love as it is to concede to its weaknesses. It shows Fulci at the top of his game in terms of panache and atmospherics, but lacks the controlled storytelling that punctuated his earlier gialli efforts such as DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING and ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER.

Arrow's blu-ray presents the film in full 1080p HD, in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer which is apparently identical to its Blue Underground counterpart (word is, they collaborated on the HD restoration).

Colours are deep and vivid, blacks are remarkably solid throughout (good news for a film with many night scenes; the premature burial sequence is a great example of how strong the blacks really are) and there is a surprising amount of detail on offer. It's a huge improvement on all previous offerings.

Natural grain is still evident, and appears quite prominently in a couple of the day scenes. Also, images are occasionally soft. But, these things are to be expected of a low budget zombie film that was shot on 16mm in 1980. The general clarity is marvellous, adding new zest particularly to the gore scenes (those brain-tearings actually look to be well-executed now) and noise reduction is kept to a healthy minimum. As a result, this offers a much more natural, detailed picture than No Shame's previously celebrated Italian DVD release.

English audio is provided in 1.0 Dolby mono, 2.0 Dolby stereo, 5.1 DTS-HD and 7.1 DTS-HD. Unlike the Blue Underground release, there are no optional subtitles. New surround mixes of older mono tracks are never going to blow your socks off, granted, but even so these all offer clean and clear audio throughout: Frizzi's sublime score has never sounded better.

Speaking of which, Frizzi's ominous strains are employed to great effect on the disc's animated main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene-selection menu allows access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

A wealth of bonus features follow. I'm not always overly interested in DVD extras but in this case I was genuinely looking forward to checking Arrow's efforts out. And I wasn't disappointed.

First off are two audio commentary tracks.

The first is conducted by MacColl and Jason Slater. They get on well and Slater prompts with ease, while MacColl speaks fondly about working with the Maestro. This track was originally recorded for Vipco's deleted DVD release of a few years' back.

The second chat track is brand new, and is from Radice. Radice is a witty and engaging listen - some pregnant pauses aside - as anyone who's heard his CANNIBAL FEROX commentary track or recently spent time with him at Edinburgh's Fab Fest (you lucky people) will no doubt attest.

Both tracks offer a wealth of interesting anecdotes and little technical reveals between them, with Radice in particular not caring if he gets bitchy now and again. The overall effect is one that is informative, amusing and imbued with a deep appreciation for Fulci and the film's enduring popularity.

Dame Of The Dead is a fantastic 25-minute featurette that catches up with MacColl, allowing her to expand further on her time working on Fulci films. She looks well and gives a good interview, speaking candidly about how terrifying she found the maggot scene in CITY and how mystified she is by the endless appeal of her 80s horror films. The interview is peppered with nice stills along the way.

The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombardo Radice is even better. 50 minutes with the great man as he talks us through some very nice clips and stills from CITY, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE and CANNIBAL FEROX. THE OMEN remake and STAGE FRIGHT are also brought up, as are Radice's opening into acting and the fact that he stole both the HOUSE and CITY roles from Soavi. Brilliant stuff.

Carlo Of The Dead, shit title aside, is an enjoyable interview with De Mejo that focuses predominantly on CITY and his other Fulci appearances. This is a worthy 18-minute watch.

De Mejo is also on hand to proffer a 36-second video introduction to the main feature.

A 17-minute interview with Luigi Cozzi proves to be not quite as sycophantic as I'd anticipated. The guy has some fond memories of Fulci and, again, it's well worth checking out.

Live From The Glasgow Film Theatre is a video document of a public appearance from MacColl and Radice to celebrate a rare uncut theatrical screening of CITY. Featuring audience questions that are wisely subtitled, it's a good 25-minute offering ... even if it repeats much of what the above commentary tracks and featurettes have already told us.

Penning Some Paura finds co-screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti amusingly oblivious to how duff his script is, although the man deserves respect for boasting a career that includes working on the likes of BAY OF BLOOD, DEMONS, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS, THE NEW YORK RIPPER and so much more. He gets 18 minutes devoted to him.

A 28-minute interview with Fulci's daughter Antonella follows, and serves as an honest but ultimately affectionate tribute to her often-maligned father.

Fulci In The House is a decent 18-minute featurette that was also available on Arrow's recent DVD for THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.

Disc extras are rounded off by an attractive 3-minute poster gallery and the film's original theatrical trailer.

Phew!

All the extras are enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Incidentally, the good news for overseas fans is that the disc is region-free.

Keeping up the tradition of their recent horror blu-ray releases (see also the review for DAY OF THE DEAD), Arrow have also gone the extra mile with their packaging. CITY comes with a choice of four different covers. Inside the keepcase you'll find 6 souvenir postcards, a new booklet and a double-sided poster.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD proffers Fulci at his most stylish, and also his most infuriating (put that zoom lens away, Lucio!). It's a near-masterpiece with a history as colourful as the copious splattered brains on offer. And now it's been given a definitive release from Arrow. The feature presentation is superb (although if this is the first blu-ray that you clock your eyes on, do be aware that HD does not perform miracles) and the extras far exceed expectations.

This astounding set is also available on 2-disc DVD.

Review by Stu Willis


 
Released by Arrow Video
Region All - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review
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