City of the Living Dead – Limited Edition Review
I remember when 28 Days Later came out and Internet geeks the world over were making a fuss about the concept of running zombies and how the rage infected creatures in said film couldn’t be zombies because of their agility. All I’ve got to say to that is: Running Zombies? Pah! Teleporting zombies is where the true terror lies, and Italian maestro Lucio Fulci had cottoned on to this way back in 1980 when he was looking to follow up the international success of Zombi 2 (AKA: Zombie Flesh Eaters) with his next tainted zombie opus: City of the Living Dead.
The City in question is Dunwich, but the story starts in New York during a séance held by followers of the Book of Enoch where one member Mary Woodhouse has a vision so powerful the shock literally kills her dead. Well... For two days at least, after which she wakes up in a half-buried coffin at the local cemetery ready to be coincidentally rescued by Peter Bell, a journalist investigating her death. She tells Peter her vision was of Father William Thomas hanging himself in a cemetery which a tombstone states is in Dunwich, and it’s an act so sacrilegious that it opens the gates of hell under the ground where his body hanged. If those gates are not closed by the advent of All Saint’s Day on Monday, then on that day the dead will rise up from their graves and devour the Earth.
Meanwhile at Dunwich in the aftermath of Father William’s suicide, ominous occurrences are afoot and local psychiatrist Gerry is dragged into his own personal hell when murdered bodies start turning up all over town - starting with his lover Emily. His investigation leads him to believe the perpetrators of these crimes may not be ordinary livings souls, a feeling shared by his patient Sandra: an artist whose subconscious dread has become so palpable that she’s started to paint Rhinoceroses. (On a canvas obviously, she’s not sneaking into the Rhino pen at her local zoo and going to town with a can of emulsion as that’s probably a quicker way to get yourself killed than fighting a horde of zombies).
City of the Living Dead is considered by some fans to be the weakest of Fulci’s Zombie themed classics from the three year period between 1979 – 1982, in which he produced his most Internationally successful films:- namely Zombi 2 (AKA: Zombie Flesh Eaters), The Beyond, and House By the Cemetery. It’s not hard to see why, it isn’t very well written and the budget and ergo: scale is very modest even for a cheap Italian production from the early 80s, plus in many ways the story feels like a dry rehearsal for the themes and stylistic touches Fulci would expand more memorably upon in The Beyond a year later. However, to me City of the Living Dead is more than just the sum of its modest parts, for it retains a cheese factor so strong it gives the film a certain charm that isn’t quite so endearing in other Fulci works.
The characteristics that made Fulci’s films so memorable are all in this film, only some are distinctly more subdued here while others are more tangible – not least of which is the dreamlike feel brought on by a complete lack of narrative and character cohesion. The Beyond for instance has a half decent narrative with a strong backstory, but it flits in and out of logic at will. In it, that “WTF” feeling is generally fleeting, but City of the Living Dead’s narrative and characterisation are both so slight and irrational that you pretty much have this trippy, logically stupefied feeling from almost beginning to end.
When that end does come you almost feel the need to psychoanalyse parts of the film to try and make sense of them, much like you would a waking dream; but ultimately this feeling is overshadowed by the distinct impression that Fulci and fellow scriptwriter Dardano Sacchetti just didn’t think things through at all. This hazy nonsensicality can be incredibly fun or annoyingly vague depending on your inclination as a viewer. My inclination is apparently towards the former as I found myself laughing out loud at intentionally serious moments far more in this film than any of Fulci’s other classics. Unintentional humour aside, City of the Living Dead’s narrative is bland and workmanlike, but it does at least plod along at a solid and continuous pace like the beating drum in Fabio Frizzi’s effective, minimalistic score. That score and every other aspect of the film really come into their own in the big finale and Fulci’s direction is at its most stylish and lively, building up into a final shot that is perplexingly ambiguous. Massimo Antonello Geleng also deserves a lot of credit for some sterling set design.
Another major element of Fulci’s horrors – in fact THE major element – is his brutal and graphic depiction of violence and gore, which he achieves with achingly prolonged takes that keep the camera transfixed on the whole bloody matter at hand - his very own Ludovico technique if you will. Fans of these films will tell you that the splatter “money shots” are where most of the fun of these films lie, so one of the reasons City of the Living Dead hasn’t been remembered as well as the likes of House By the Cemetery is that it’s actually relatively low on those kind of shots by Fulci’s usual standards.
It has its moments though - chief among them being a sequence where a woman is mesmerised into spewing up her entrails and another where a man’s face is graphically shown being shoved into the business end of a large power drill - but really there’s very little in here to grant the film it’s 18 certificate, let alone justify it taking 21 years to finally find a release uncut by the BBFC. Most of the nastiness is for gross-out purposes and are unintentionally comical; you have one girl being killed early on when a zombie smothers a mixture of what can only be described as blackcurrant jam and earthworms into her face. Obviously she’s never seen an episode of Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival or else she’d know that’s an excellent source of protein in a deliciously fruity base. The rest of the zombies in the film are happy to take people out with a manoeuvre I call the Zombie Claw: a grip so powerful it would make a Vulcan weep.
It’s comic book nonsense, which is why at the very least you can say City of the Living Dead has got a strong enough mixture of cheese and Grand Guignol to make it an enjoyable enough beer and pizza film. If you phone your friends and tell them to pop round ready to poke fun at what they’re going to watch, it will not disappoint. Watch it on your own in the middle of the night however, and its shortcomings will no doubt be felt more acutely.
It’s been a long time since Arrow’s last release (almost nine years) and the company has switched from a sales model of offering multiple cover options of a single release for a limited time to proper souped-up Limited Editions with snazzy casing and an array of funky printed extras. With this new release of City of the Living Dead you get a hardback digibox and a high quality double-sided foldout poster, both of which feature newly commissioned artwork from Wes Benscoter (and a reproduction of the U.S. The Gates of Hell poster on the reverse of the foldout), and six double-sided Lobby Card reproductions. Wedged into the box with all this is a thick 56 page softcover booklet which offers essays, a Fulci interview, a collection of contemporary reviews, and a plethora of various film stills and posters (more on this to follow).
I’m sure a number of horror fans might be sitting at home wondering why exactly they should double-dip on a title that Arrow released to moderate praise back in 2010. My answer to that would be one word: Frustration. You see for about a decade now lovers of Italian cinema have been frequently frustrated by a slew of Blu-ray releases that all exhibit this weird, dense, speckly, layer of noise over the image. No filmmaker was spared, no matter how lavish or grindhousey they are: Argento, Fulci, Corbucci, Deodato, Lenzi, Di Leo, et al have had famous works released with the same distinctive type of noise smothering the image.
At first reviewers and fans - armed only with a lay-person’s knowledge of film production and film restoration - could only theorise about limited film gauges, optical blowups, bad film stock, low budget production values, crazy Italian camera filters, etc, as to why this noise didn’t look like natural film grain but was simply there on so many titles, almost taunting reviewers like myself to figure out a reason for its presence. In fact, I too struggled to explain the noise infesting Arrow’s first release of City of the Living Dead because it came out at a time when this issue was still regarded as being somewhat in its infancy and few explanations could be found leaving a legion of fans online (myself included) frustrated.
So Arrow’s second crack of the whip might be currently available as a Limited Edition (for now), but it’s really a Frustration-free Edition that finally lifts the veil of noise that so horribly marred the previous release. Of course, that’s frustration free for film purists like myself, if you’re the type of viewer that has an aversion to actual film grain or someone who feels a Blu-ray transfer should not recreate the original cinematic experience or the look of an original negative or interpositive, you’re gonna be hit by a wall of grain on this one: Sorry if that doesn’t appeal to your sense of aesthetics, but City of the Living Dead is an insanely grainy film in places, and we’re finally seeing just how grainy it is for the first time.
First, let’s take a look at how badly the scanner noise affected the previous release with a small selection of comparison grabs:
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As you can see from the comparisons, the old scanner noise was not subtle at all; it blankets the image with a fine high-frequency noise that gives everything a hazy, fuzzy feel. Edges of objects in the frame are no longer smoothly defined like they are supposed to be in natural photography captured on analogue film, they’re uneven and fuzzy. The first comparison is the most extreme, the second comparison shows the problem with long shots when the noise gets in the way of facial features and makes a simple face look almost like a painting on a textured glass window, there’s a very “watery” feel to the old transfer. In the third grab you can see that objects around Janet Agren appear peppered, and looking at the bookshelf behind her you can see that the books look like little magnets that have had iron filings flung at them.
To really drive home the issue all we have to do is zoom in 2x on the first screenshot comparison:
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It’s not pretty. While the new 4K restoration is undoubtedly very grainy, at least this grain looks soft and almost seeped into the image in a textural way, as it should be. It doesn’t feel like it’s been artificially applied over everything robbing the image of fine detail. Michael Gaunt’s face - in particular his eyes - is very indistinct, and Christopher George’s skin - especially around his ear - looks like sandpaper. At the top of this image you can see that the skyline has become a smooth “White Hole” where grain and branches once were. This is because the scanner noise itself is adding a tonne of high-frequency detail to the image and this takes an immense toll on the compression. The old Arrow release did not have good compression and couldn’t handle the scanner noise, resulting in large chunks of smudged out patches where fine detail should be. It was a deadly combination.
It’s at this point that I have to point out the work of David Mackenzie once again as Blu-ray author for an Arrow release because this time around he’s crammed roughly 6hrs 40mins of video featurettes, interviews, and trailers onto a single disc alongside the feature film, and the presentation of said feature is absolutely rock solid, not a jot of the macro blocking and high-frequency smudging that plagued the previous release. The importance of strong compression applied to this transfer cannot be overstated, it’s no good Arrow spending money on a new 4K restoration that brings back the film grain if the person authoring the disc compromises that grain with a sloppy encode, so credit where it is due – and it is doubly due because Arrow themselves have erroneously credited the authoring of this disc to The Engine House Media Services in the booklet as opposed to David’s company: Fidelity in Motion that authored this release.
The grabs above establish that the new 4K restoration is quite soft and very grainy, which isn’t going to satisfy every viewer, in fact there are a vocal contingent out there who absolutely hate anything soft and grainy pretty much on principal (I’m reminded of Arrow’s recent 4K restoration of The Thing and the critical reviews it received in some quarters of the internet). So why should City of the Living Dead look this way? Well, for a start we know that Fulci and regular DoP collaborator Sergio Salvati used filters (most likely gauze) when shooting their horror films so that they could soften up the image. Salvati mentions their use in his interview on this disc, but sadly doesn’t go into detail. Likewise we know little about the cameras and lenses used to film the picture, nor do we know anything about the type of film used, all of which can contribute to a soft image and a storm of grain.
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One thing we do know about the movie, because it’s apparent by its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, is that City of the Living Dead is something of an odd duckling in Fulci’s little zombie oeuvre because it’s the only one that he didn’t shoot in Techniscope: A cost-saving format where you film in 2-perf 35mm at 2.66:1 and then blow it up to standard 4-perf for theatrical distribution by optically stretching the image to 1.33:1, which most theatres around the world could then project at 2.35:1. It’s this optical blow-up and the inherent lack of resolution that has inspired fans and reviewers to assume that City of the Living Dead was a 2-perf film (despite it not being in the traditional 2-perf ratio of 2.35:1), but the restoration notes accompanying this release have dropped a bombshell: City of the Living Dead was filmed in 3-perf 35mm.
I contacted Arrow’s customer service department to double-check that the 3-perf statement was correct and not a typo and they confirmed it for me, so there you go. A film that for years we thought was either 16mm or 2-perf 35mm is actually 3-perf 35mm, and while today the 3-perf format is synonymous with Super 35 filming, this wasn’t fully conceived of back when City of the Living Dead was filmed (The first feature to be filmed in 3-perf Super 35 format was in 1986), so it would appear that this film was filmed in a lesser-known 3-perf format that could still involve an optical blow up to 4-perf. So put all these technical factors together and you have a recipe that could very well explain why this film in particular is a little on the soft side and has that chunky, fuzzy, grain pattern. “Chubby Grain” as I like to call it. (Steve Martin fans will hopefully get that joke).
The Natural Look
There’s a lot more to this new 4K restoration than simply exhibiting natural film grain where scanner noise once was, another former wrong now corrected is the framing and geometry - the latter of which was particularly “funky” on the old restoration. The framing on the new restoration in general exhibits less picture information in the early stages of the film, but then as the film progresses it starts to show more and more picture information compared to the old, until you get into the later stages of the film and the framing is significantly better on this new release. Check out the comparisons from the maggot scene and the shot through the Dunwich pub window below; in the latter shot you can now see the full Schlitz sign and Antonella Interlenghi’s zombie is no longer scrunched into the corner. The framing throughout the finale in the crypts of Dunwich are also more centred in this new restoration compared to the old, except for the final scene of the film, which is quite heavily zoomed in on the new release (but looks better composed for it).
The geometry on the old release is a bit of a weird one, because it appears that the image in general was squished in vertically and slightly warped diagonally. When testing shots with circular objects in the background I found that the new Arrow restoration had them properly circular, whereas on the old restoration these objects are pinched in slightly. Also, when taking screenshots I noticed that in some shots the very last frame would warp significantly on the old restoration and I would have to discard it for comparison purposes. It’s a relatively subtle but odd aspect of the old release and one in which I can’t even begin to theorise as to the cause!
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Moving on to the “meat and potato” aspects of the new transfer: Detail, colour, contrast; it’s all very pleasing and reassuringly uncontroversial in that, for the most part, the colour scheme is not radically different to the old release at all. On the new release colours are slightly more saturated, exhibit better dynamic range (check out that cocktail painting under the Schlitz sign below), and the scheme in general appears more natural and more consistent from scene to scene. Skin tones in particular highlight this more natural, more consistent, look. Looking at the comparison below of Janet Agren and Carlo De Mejo (with the plants in the foreground) you can see that skin tones are a little washed out on the old release, and there is this creamy-green tinge to the colours. This is something you see more often in scenes during the second half of the film, but really for the most part there is not a huge difference between the colour schemes of both releases: What’s blue in one is blue in the other, and so forth.
However, the one black mark I have against this new 4K restoration is that in the latter stages of the film there’s a faintly perceptible colour “pulsing” going on where it seems the colours almost subliminally “flash” to a slightly greener hue, and back, then slightly green, and back. This is most noticeable just as the maggot scene is wrapping up and then during the finale in the crypts, but it is extremely subtle so many viewers will probably overlook it completely. It’s not there on the old release, so this might indicate some form of fading or damage on the original camera negative that wasn’t completely remastered out this time round.
Contrast and brightness again in the new restoration seem a little more pleasing, blacks are deeper and brightness is just a touch lowered. Shadow detail is often reduced on the new restoration, giving the film a slightly more atmospheric “gloomy” look. Highlights however are reined in compared to the old transfer and bright shots can be much more revealing as a result. I couldn’t even begin to guess as to which restoration is the most accurate here, all I know is that it never feels like you’re losing too much information to the shadows of the new restoration, whereas highlights often feel blown out on the old release.
Film vs. Video
Now, at this stage I hope you’re still with me and have explored enough of the comparison grabs to notice one thing about the old release: It looks noticeably sharper than this new 4K restoration from the Original Camera Negative. How could this be? Well, I believe the old LVR restoration was also struck from the OCN, but they’ve clearly flicked a digital sharpening switch on it, and that’s not the only bit of video processing that has been applied to the old restoration as there’s clearly a huge dollop of “grain management” going on as well. You may have been wondering why I have included the world’s most boring comparison grab above with that screenshot of the priest’s profile in white fog, it’s there because a shot like this gives us a very clear look at the grain structure of the film that’s present throughout in this new 4K restoration, but switching to the old restoration of this frame you can clearly see that all of this grain has been completely removed, leaving scanner noise were grain once was. This is something you see often throughout the film – some scenes still exhibit a little of the underlying original grain structure on the old restoration, but by-and-large the grain has been almost completely eliminated by heavy-handed noise reduction/grain management, whatever you want to call it.
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As to the “sharpness” of the old restoration: It’s completely artificial. Edges in the photography do not look natural at all, they’re sharply defined in a way that simply defies natural cinematography. Let’s zoom in 2x again on a couple of the comparison grabs above:
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The first grab is a long shot of a cemetery with a dense tree line in the background, and despite this being a long shot the background trees are extremely well defined on the old restoration. Zooming in shows that in all the places where the black interior of the woods peek out through the leaves, you see a very sharply defined edge to all the foliage and the central tree trunk. It’s digital harshness compared to the soft, analogue nature of the new restoration. The shot of Janet Agren is even more damning; on the old release her outline is so sharply defined against the shadowy background that she looks like she was painted onto the frame. Again the new Arrow restoration rectifies this and looks like actual photography.
There’s just no getting around it: The old restoration, as seen on the previous Arrow release and the Blue Underground release in the United States, was processed to hell and back. This new restoration from Arrow may seem incredibly grainy, may seem incredibly soft, but it looks natural. This may conflict with your personal idea of how a film should appear on digital media, but you can’t deny that this doesn’t gel with everything we knew about City of the Living Dead in the years before the original Blu-ray releases: It was ultra low budget, the filmmaker’s would often use filters to make their films look more diffuse, it was shot on a lower-resolution format and optically blown up for theatrical distribution. It was never a film that looked pin sharp.
Arrow have done a fantastic job of respecting the film’s cinematography and deserve high praise for this restoration, whether you like the look of it or not, because bringing a cult classic to life; taking the best aspects of the original camera negative and then remastering it so the film looks as good or better than it did during the first theatrical screenings, all while never compromising the original look of the picture. Isn’t that what a modern “4K restoration” is all about?
Bring on the next Fulci classic!
One of the other frustrating aspects of the old Arrow release was the inclusion of a completely superfluous English 7.1 DTS-HD MA remix alongside an almost identically remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, when they only included the original English Mono and a Stereo remix in lossy Dolby Digital formats. Talk about a kick in the teeth for purists! This new release offers a much more sensible selection of English: DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1, and also the Italian dub in DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono.
The English Mono track has been beautifully remastered, exhibiting rich dynamics and generally sounding impressively clean and free of any niggling distortion. Dialogue at times is a little hollow depending on the scene but, it’s crisp and clear and for the most part does not betray the film’s age. Bass is a little restrained - but pretty tight - and treble is relatively delicate, so Fabio Frizzi’s kickass score sounds pretty much as pristine and expressive as you would expect it to sound on a remastered OST CD release.
When you switch to the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo you immediately hear a much punchier presentation in terms of bass, which can affect the dynamics a little by giving the audio an immediately warmer feel that ever-so-slightly imposes on other sound effects. Applying Pro-Logic/Dolby Surround/Neural X decoding to give you a 2.0 surround soundstage results in a fairly “stereo” experience, with the rear channels implemented for ambient sounds throughout most of the film. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track shares many of the properties of the Stereo when you kick that surround in, so it’s mostly there for viewers who demand a 5.1 presentation. All three choices sound pretty great so whether you’re a purist or modernist, you’re covered.
The Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono is definitely rougher round the edges, there’s a little distortion on the bass, the treble is a little harsher - lending to more sibilance in the dialogue - and it’s slightly louder in general. Dialogue on the Italian dub is also higher in the mix. It’s a very solid audio track that suffers a little in comparison to the cleaner English tracks, but it gets the job done if you feel the need to watch in the film’s domestic language.
In terms of how the audio on this release compares to the old release; in my opinion there’s very little to separate the 5.1/2.0/1.0 tracks on both releases, and it’s certainly possible that they were struck from the same masters. Perhaps the biggest difference is in the compression given that the 2.0 and 1.0 tracks are now lossless on the new release.
Arrow have gone all out with the extra features on this new limited edition by bringing over the two audio commentaries and a couple of interviews from their previous release, and recording a slew of new lengthy interviews with the cast and crew, together with a few featurettes from experts on the film – and don’t forget that chunky booklet too!
Before we begin I want to point out that the three extras below have been ported over from the original Arrow release:
Audio commentary with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice and writer Calum Waddell Exploitation film expert Calum Waddell moderates this discussion with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, whose acting CV reads like a shortlist of the most notorious Italian splatter films of the 1980s. He’s also the guy who gets his face drilled out in City of the Living Dead, so he’s never short of a topic to discuss in this commentary: be it his time working with Lucio Fulci or the work he did with numerous other iconic directors. He certainly doesn’t mince his words about certain people in the industry so this has the information and the bitchiness to make for a fun commentary track
Audio commentary with star Catriona MacColl and journalist Jay Slater This time we have Fulci’s favourite horror leading lady: Catriona MacColl with horror/cult film expert Jay Slater on hand to moderate. MacColl's memory of City of the Living Dead’s shoot is a little hazy in places but it is a whole lot more vivid than Giovanni Lombardo Radice’s - which is understandable given she did have one of the film’s main roles – and so this is much more illuminating on the topic of City of the Living Dead. Like Giovanni, Catriona comes across as a remarkably direct and honest person with no delusions of grandeur about the films she starred in or Fulci himself, but unlike Giovanni she reveals a lot of memories here that are not in her individual interview elsewhere on this disc, so you may want to make sure you check this track out.
Carlo of the Living Dead – Interview with star Carlo De Mejo [18m:13s] A slightly re-edited reproduction of the interview with Carlo De Mejo from the original release, in which the late actor focusses on the City of the Living Dead shoot and his memories of working with Fulci in general. This is a good natured interview as Carlo clearly has a lot of affection for the filmmaker and enjoyed his time on City of the Living Dead specifically.
We Are the Apocalypse – Interview with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti [53min:02secs]
The longest featurette on the disc is an excellent interview that quickly flies by. Sacchetti presents a very personal portrait of Lucio Fulci as a man and filmmaker, providing a glimpse into the crazy world of Italian filmmaking in the process. He also breaks down the major themes (and some of the failings) of the film and their inspirations and aspirations – H.P. Lovecraft, basically.
Through Your Eyes – Interview with actress Catriona MacColl [37m:03s]
Although MacColl recorded a length interview for the old release, Arrow have come back to conduct an even longer interview for this new release. As ever MacColl is happy to discuss her time shooting City of the Living Dead, working with Fulci and her co-stars, and revealing the machinations of the more extreme set pieces that were inflicted upon her (all in good humour). She then moves on to cover the post-release history of the film and the whole Video Nasty era and why she almost disowned the film and her performance throughout the 80s, only to embrace it later.
Dust in the Wind – Interview with cameraman Roberto Forges Davanzati [13m:16s]
Davanzati - who has operated cameras on many cult classics - provides an overview of his career and recalls his time shooting City of the Living Dead and the famous temperament of Lucio Fulci. This is the first interview to touch upon tensions between the director and his cast, including a story of a practical joke Christopher George played on the filmmaker that will be repeated with different details by most of the interviewees to follow, stating that Fulci was kind to the crew but a tyrant to the cast.
The Art of Dreaming – Interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng [45m:52s]
Geleng did great work on this picture so this is an interview that fans of the film will want to explore. He starts by providing insight into Fulci’s impressive knowledge of art and “distinctive” filming methods, and then goes into detail on the film’s most elaborate settings and the challenges of bringing them to life so memorably – especially considering they had to transform sunny Savannah into a gloomy gothic town.
Tales of Friendship – Interview with cinematographer Sergio Salvati [30m:51s]
Salvati was one of Fulci’s most frequent collaborators so the title of this interview is well chosen. He discusses a wide variety of factors of the visual look of the film (including pointing out Fulci’s obsession with zoom shots) and also talks briefly on the use of filters when shooting, but sadly doesn’t go into detail on this. After covering City of the Living Dead, Salvati moves on to discuss his work on The Beyond and collaborating with other Italian maestros like Sergio Leoni and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
I Walked with a Zombie – Interview with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice [22m:51s]
Radice contributed extensively to the previous release, including recording a much longer interview back then, but it’s always good to hear from him again and his new grizzly look certainly cuts quite a figure in contrast to his last time in front of the camera for Arrow. Here he’s back discussing his personal impressions of Fulci and how well he was treated by the director despite the filmmaker’s infamous temper flaring up on set at times. We also get a recollection of how the infamous drill scene was executed and a tale or two of his time with the cast, including an amusing anecdote of getting stoned with Antonella Interlenghi while in full zombie make-up.
They Call Him “Bombardone” – Interview with special effects artist Gino De Rossi [26m:57s]
A fascinating interview with the SFX maestro, going through almost every gory set piece in this film and revealing how he constructed and operated the effects. This one will leave you wishing it was over an hour long and covered his work on other cult horrors like Cannibal Ferox. Hopefully Arrow made the most of their time with De Rossi and we’ll see excerpts from this interview session on future releases.
The Horror Family – Interview with father and son actors Venantino and Luca Venantini [19m:16s]
This dual-interview is one for fans of Euro cinema to cherish because the late great Venantino Venantini sadly passed away recently, so this might legitimately be his final interview. His sense of humour shines through and the whole affair is a little more lively and fun than the other interviews because each actor was recorded separately and the inter-cutting kind of jacks up the pace. Again I can only hope that Arrow spent a lot more time with Venantini so they can include more interviews with the mercurial legend on future releases. He was certainly prolific enough.
Songs from Beyond – Interview with composer Fabio Frizzi [19m:49s]
This is an archival interview with the great composer and it’s listed as previously unseen in the menu (not sure if that means in general or just on an Arrow release). It’s the only interview that has been filmed in standard definition, although it’s presented upscaled in full HD with HD inserts, and it’s a shame that we haven’t seen this interview before as it’s an extremely informative discussion, both in terms of Frizzi’s creative process and his career working with Fulci. Again you’ll be getting more insights on the legendary filmmaker.
Building Fulci’s City – Interview with film expert Stephen Thrower [37m:34s]
Fulci fans will be familiar with Stephen Thrower as the author of Beyond Terror, probably the best-known appraisal of Lucio Fulci’s career here in the UK. Here he talks eloquently on what makes City of the Living Dead a great film in his eyes and provides a pretty straightforward analysis of film, offering fun facts and interesting trivia. While Thrower’s love for the film is immediately obvious and fully explained, he’s not afraid to poke fun at some of the infamously rickety elements of both this and other Fulci works.
Reflections on Fulci - Appraisal of Fulci’s horrors by actor, writer and director Andy Nyman [26m:50s]
This is exactly as the title suggests: Andy Nyman gabbing on for almost half an hour on how much he loves Lucio Fulci. Where the Thrower interview offers a more “professional” opinion from a man who has been researching and writing about the filmmaker for many years now, this featurette is more like an informal chat with a superfan down the pub or in a podcast. It’s a lot of fun and not entirely from a fan perspective given that Nyman has worked with SFX artist Gino De Rossi before and discusses his time being worked on by “Bombardone” himself.
The Dead Are Alive! – Video essay on Lucio Fucli and the Italian zombie cycle by film expert Kat Ellinger [25m:26s]
Kat Ellinger provides a pretty extensive history of the Zombie subgenre, starting from the earliest films of Hollywood up to the time of Fulci, and beyond to the present. Despite the relatively short runtime in which she covers all this ground, you get a pretty intensive look at how the Zombie subgenre emerged in Italian cinema and how it fed on and into the other Italian subgenres. More impressively is that she doesn’t shy away from peering into the murkier, “trashier”, sexploitation recesses of the subgenre, like D’Amoto’s Porno Holocaust. I think all but the most extreme Italian horror cinephile will find plenty of inspiration here for films to seek out in the future.
Behind the Fear - Behind the scenes 8mm footage with commentary by Roberto Forges Davanzati [10m:38s]
Davanzati had a penchant for bringing an 8mm camera along to his day-job so he could film behind-the-scenes when not filming actual scenes, and luckily he didn’t have a penchant for getting rid of his old recordings so we can get a more direct glimpse into the 1980 production. The footage here covers the time they were filming in Savannah and New York and is mostly footage of the cast and crew chilling out on their down-time between scenes, so it’s more of a neat little curiosity than anything particularly insightful. Although only Davanzati is listed as providing commentary, he’s actually joined by Manlio Gomarasca, the Managing Editor of Nocturno Cinema.
Alternative US Opening Titles [02m:20s]
The American The Gates of Hell titles, although I believe the opening sequence was originally tinted purple on release prints in the U.S. but it’s not tinted at all here, so I guess the real “extra” are just the American titles themselves rather than the whole U.S. opening.
Original Trailers and Radio Spots [07m:38s]
You’ve got the UK Trailer, Italian Trailer, The Gates of Hell TV Spot, and various Radio Spots with a wonderfully croaky voiceover.
These galleries present over 150 stills, posters, and other ephemera from the archives of FAB Press and Mike Siegel. The gallery is split into four subsections: Stills, Posters and Press, Lobby Cards, and Home Video and Soundtrack Sleeves.
I’m guessing that when Arrow’s Standard Edition eventually lands it will contain the same Blu-ray disc as the Limited Edition with the exact same content but will forgo all of the printed materials, so this booklet stands as the most significant “extra feature” exclusive to this Limited Edition release. Like most Arrow booklets these days it’s pretty considerable, printed on a thick slate paper in tiny white ink that some readers might find a little straining, and contains a decent array of production stills and poster reproductions. The main body of work consists of four sections that are framed by production details of the film and the Limited Edition release. They are:
Dunwich Delirium: The Oneiric Mayhem of City of the Living Dead
A newly commissioned review of the film by critic Travis Crawford, which opens with an appraisal of Lucio Fulci’s work before moving on to a review that offers a good amount of information on the movie and the locations where it was filmed. It’s a fun review that also name drops a remarkable amount of Italian productions for newcomers to the nation’s classic cult output to absorb.
Fear is Fulci’s Best Friend: Making City of the Living Dead
The only other newly-commissioned work in this booklet is an article by Italian cinema expert Roberto Curti that delves into the making of the film in a pretty comprehensive manner, offering more technical details than you’ll find across the interviews on the disc itself, so it’s a great companion to the disc in that regard. The most fascinating part of the article for me is the summary of the early drafts of the story and script and how they compare to the finished film.
Fragments of Fear: Lucio Fulci on City of the Living Dead
As this section states, there’s a relative paucity of filmed or printed interviews with the legendary filmmaker, so this article seeks to collate a sequence of excerpts from printed interviews in which he talks about City of the Living Dead and his approach to horror. Sadly there are only excerpts from four interviews compiled so it’s a pretty brief article that can only offer a little insight into the man and this film.
The final section has been compiled by Michael Brooke, Roberto Curti, and James Blackford and it’s a collection of reviews from the early 80s in the years following the film’s release in the UK, USA, Italy, and France. Needless to say, the reviews are mixed to say the least and it’s particularly amusing to read the disgusted jibes of some snooty mainstream American critics.
What can I say? This is a stunning Limited Edition of a film that some would probably tell you doesn’t deserve the Rolls Royce treatment, but any true gorehound will tell you is a bona-fide classic that was in desperate need of a re-release. The previous Arrow Blu-ray was a solid package with a compromised transfer. This new release has been afforded a lavish new 4K restoration that absolutely knocks the old transfer to fits, and the newly recorded interviews are so extensive and informative that it took me almost two solid days to go through them and write it all down. It’s a fantastic achievement on Arrow’s part that sets a high bar for future distributors to meet when bringing City of the Living Dead to Blu-ray.
Is this Limited Edition worth the extra expenditure, knowing that a cheaper Standard Edition with the same disc content will be most likely coming down the pipeline soon? Well I’m not quite a hardcore collector of fancy packaging, but the quality of the box and the double-sided poster are up to Arrow’s usual high standards, and that booklet is a chunky beast that offers some really informative writing on the film, so I have no regrets about my purchase.