City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead

As I revisit more of Fulci's work as it appears on DVD I'm more assured than ever just exactly how important his contribution to the horror scene is as one of the most underrated seminal genre directors. Of course much of his work comes under fire critically (Nightmare Concert being the perfect example of misguided scathings) but it was his work from the early eighties that he is probably most loved for. One of the most popular titles from this period has to be the confused delight that is 'City of the Living Dead'.

The film opens (as it ends) with a solitary terrified scream, then we cut to a mist enshrouded graveyard in the sleepy town of Dunwich where a solemn faced priest hangs himself from a tree (all with Fabio Frizzi's thumping gothic score pulsing atmospherically in the background.). Meanwhile over in New York a seance is midflow, the young woman Mary (played by Fulci favourite Katherine MacColl) channelling the sťance sees a vision of the priest hanging himself as the dead rise beneath him! Screaming out about "the City of the Dead" she collapses dead on the floor.

Back over in Dunwich strange things continue to happen back in Dunwich - creepy loner John Morghen (the video nasty scene's most put upon actor) finds decomposed corpses, the walls of the local pub crack open sending the boozy customers in a spin and worries of the town's witch burning ancestral history help spiral the growing paranoia.

Whilst pursuing the strange death of young Mary at the seance, investigative journalist Peter Bell (movie stalwart Christopher George) visits her grave and in a classic moment of chilling horror cinema hears the screams of said girl buried alive!!

Saving Mary from her doom, he hears tales of the her visions and how Dunwich is said to be one of the gateways to hell, and that the doorway there must be closed before the dead rise up on All Hallows Eve and the earth is doomed!! Will Mary and Peter manage this somewhat extravagant but chilling mission or is the world as we know be plunged into a living hell!

'City of the Living Dead' is indeed one of the classics of the Video Nasty era and whilst it is one of Fulci's gems it still at times seems somewhat confused and lacking. In particular, the films bizarre abrupt ending is a disappointment - if anyone can come up with an explanation please hold a sťance and let Fulci know too (as he obviously didn't have a clue how to wrap it up either!) But thankfully the plus points of this gem far outweigh its flaws with some showstopping classic scenes, my own favourites being the aforementioned 'buried alive' sequence which still packs a punch after all these years and countless viewings and the stand out gore fans favourite when poor Michele Soavi's girlfriend pukes her entire intestines and bowels before squeezing his brains out of his skull (a seminal gore movie moment!)

Fulci's direction is confident and impressive but as a whole feels very much like a prelude to his stunning follow up a year later in 'The Beyond' (which is without doubt Fulci's greatest movie) and in true Hitchcock style he even pops up (as ever) in a cameo role here as Joe the mortician. Gino de Rossi's gory make up effects are as always damn impressive throughout and Fabio Frizzi's score sets the tone perfectly, although it is quite reminiscent at times of his previous work - case in point being identical music themes from both Zombie Flesh Eaters infamous eyeball skewering and City's head drilling scene. Not a complaint as such, more just an observation as Frizzi's scores are always music to this horror fans ears!

This new remastered release from EC Entertainment is a welcome addition to my collection - the Italian print sourced has a very impressive sharp and detailed image which in comparison with Anchor Bay's release is cleaner and more detailed if only perhaps slightly duller with some minor occasional speckling (click here for screen image comparisons to see for yourself). I was vastly impressed with the quality of the widescreen print and it even looked great when the image is increased to fill my widescreen television.

As for extras, well there's some very nice stuff on offer here also - first off (and perhaps best of all) there's a great 10 minute onstage question and answer session with the lovely Catherine MacColl (assisted by the late great David Warbeck) from Eurofest '96. There's a lovely widescreen theatrical trailer for the film itself along with EC trailer regular 'Blade in the Dark' and rounding things off is a cracking stills gallery of posters, lobby cards and video sleeves from all over the globe.

'City of the Living Dead' is an essential addition to any horror fans collection and an excellent precursor to the stunning follow up 'The Beyond' This lovely PAL release from EC nears perfection (save but for an anarmorphic enhancement) and is my own favourite DVD variation yet. If you haven't got 'City' yet, then do so now!

Review by Alan Simpson

Released by EC Entertainment
Region - All (PAL)
Rated - 16 (uncut)
Ratio - original widescreen
Extras :
Theatrical trailers, Stills gallery, Optional English & Dutch subtitles, Catherine MacColl interview, .