Cauldron Brings “City of the Living Dead” to 4K UHD in Time for All Saint’s Day.

The video rental store horror classic City of the Living Dead (1980) has arrived in gloriously gory 4K UHD from Cauldron and is a perfect pickup for the Halloween season.

Originally distributed in the U.S. as “The Gates of Hell,” this Lucio Fulci (The Beyond, Zombie) film is a certified cult classic that, after causing chaos in the U.K. as one of the legendary “video nasties,” found its audience through rental stores where it went on to influence films like Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004).

When a priest in the New England town of Dunwich hangs himself on church grounds, the gates of hell are unleashed, and an ensemble of mystics, journalists, and townsfolk have until All Saints Day to close the gates before they’re stuck open for eternity and Earth falls to the forces of hell. It’s great fun, and the viewing experience has come a long way from the VHS days.

Like any Fulci horror film, tone and gory effects are the name of the game, while the story is not. As lead actress Catriona MacColl (Lady Oscar, The Beyond) will state over and over again in the film’s extra features, the script isn’t great. One of Caulrdon’s seeming quests in the extras is a fruitless refrain, trying to wring a definitive interpretation, or any interpretation with weight really, out of this film’s iconic, nonsensical, glorious thunderbolt of an ending. An answer not to be found, because it was never had in the first place.

No, the strength of City of the Living Dead is in the power its grimy images draw from Fabio Frizzi (The Beyond, Zombie)’s relentless, pounding score. The vagabond Bob’s iconic death, victims vomiting up their own intestines, crushed skulls, priests in nooses, it all looked stunning on my Sony XBR-65X850D 4K TV and LG-UBK90 4K Blu-ray Player (Region Free). Even the hand-drawn elements looking great in 4K.

Most importantly, MacColl’s scene in the graveyard, the best scene in the film on page and in frame, really benefits from the new scan, making the shots inside the coffin crisp and clear, letting even more of MacColl’s above-paygrade performance shine through. And the NYC skyline over Christopher Gerorge’s (Pieces, Grizzly) shoulder stands out even more, driving home the film’s punch-above-its weight scale. It’s abundantly obvious why Quentin Tarantino could not shake this sequence.

It’s a grand story of doom and consequence made for a trifle and a handshake, but Fulci’s incredible direction elevates the whole endeavor.

Cauldron has packed this release with an honestly absurd amount of goodies:

  • New Commentary from Samm Dieghen
    • A good discussion of Euro horror, Fulci’s inaccessibility, and the film’s journey to a U.S. audience.
  • Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
    • Covers the history of Italian film productions in Georgia during this era, the cast’s histories, and the connection to Kill Bill Vol. 2.

  • Archival commentary with Catriona MacColl
    • MacColl discusses her relationship with the famously tempestuous Fulci and how she was spared while others were not. Additional discussion of her discomfort as an iconic Scream Queen.
  • Archival commentary with Giovanni Lombardo Radice
    • The actor for Bob dishes on the off-set history of the film’s cast in this gossipy commentary. Comes off poorly.
  • Zombie Kings: Interview with Massimo Antonello Geleng
    • 45 min. interview with Production Designer Massimo Antonello Geleng covering the creative freedom of B pictures, how he started working with Fulci after being impressed by his early work, and the production of City of the Living Dead.

      Like the rest of Fulci’s collaborators in this release, Antonello spends much time trying to “contextualize” and stipulate Fulci’s abrasive and purportedly abusive on-set behavior.

Also breaks down the classic storm of maggots sequence, discusses how production designers and actors form relationships, and insights into why future Italian horror director Michele Soavi played the role of Tommy Fisher in this film.

  • Requiem for Bob: Interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice
    • Radice discusses his personal relationship with Fulci, makes a few sexist remarks, then excuses an openly sexist action from Fulci, before transitioning to what it was like to be queer (Radice was out as a bisexual as early as the 1980s) in the Italian film industry of that era.
  • The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi
    • A 26-minute retrospective of the legendary prop master that opens with an inexplicable Hawaiian-lūʻau-themed montage.

      If at the end of the day, the director comes to me with a problem, I will have thought of a solution by morning.”

      Antonelli discusses his career, his methods, the drill sequence from City of the Living Dead, the breast hooks from Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and that film’s real animal killings, which he “regrets.” Wraps up with a discussion about James Cameron’s forsaken Piranha II: The Spawning (1981).

  • Carlo of the Living Dead, an archival interview with Carlo De Majo
    • The now deceased actor discusses watching the coffin sequence on set, his Italian dubber, and weighs in on the ending of the film.

      A brilliant shadow puppet animation opens this piece.

  • On Stage: Q&A with Venantino Venantini & Ruggero Deodato
    • Anecdotes about Marlon Brando and Venantino Venantini (Ladyhawke, Cannibal Farrox)’s sexual conquests pepper this very dry retrospective panel that only mentions City of the Living Dead once in passing, but seems very meaningful to all involved.
  • Catriona MacColl Q&A From the Glasgow Theater
    • MacColl answers questions about Fulci’s style of directing and temper in this lovely Q&A that, by its nature, slightly overlaps with stories from her commentary.
  • Music for a Flesh Feast: Fabio Frizzi Q&A
    • The first two Q&As have low-quality audio, but this one is genuinely difficult to hear with no provided subtitles. Takes place after a screening of Zombie (1979) at the Glasgow Theater.

      Frizzi denies and discusses the influence of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) on City of the Living Dead’s score, weighing in instead on his generation of film composers embracing horror.

  • Catriona MacColl archival video intro
    • MacColl repeats her catchphrase “difficult to cast my mind back” as she introduces City of the Living Dead and reflects on how her collaborations with Fulci have taken on a life of their own.
  • A Trip Through Bonaventure Cementary
    • A 2022 tour of the cemetery. Filmed on a drone, drastically unfocused, and far too long. Very pretty.
  • Archival interviews with cast and crew from “Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol.1”
    • A series of interviews originally packaged in 2008, this extra is a definitive text on how on-set abuse from male directors is excused and protected as Luca Venantini (Cannibal Apocolypse, Exterminators of the Year 3000) recounts a story from the set of City of the Living Dead where Fulci slapped him at 8 years old, then he defends that action from Fulci.

      Even though it was filmed years before the extras created for this release, this one feels like a final statement from the friends of Fulci who paint him as an unrecognized talent and a man whose worry and anger came from the death of his wife. Even in death, his shortcomings belong to a woman’s circumstances, not his.

  • Trailers
    • Includes the “Gates of Hell” trailer.
  • Image gallery
    • Is an eight-minute video instead of a true click-through gallery, for some mind-bending, incomprehensible reason. Turns the typically enjoyable experience of this type of extra into an exercise in watching very bloody paint dry.

For the box experience, the set comes in a three-disc flipper box, with a reversible cover bearing two beautiful painted illustrations, with a mini panoramic print of the two joined on one side of the interior Cauldron advertisement.

No one casually seeks out Fulci these days. His filmography is one for devotees, often introduced by a friend or critic’s work, and so this is a very good release, full of first-order and ancillary detail alike, a great bang for your buck, and above all, reverential. This set is remarkable as a viewing experience and as a document of the abuse and glorification of a darkly complicated artist whose influence reaches farther than his excuses. Highly recommended for those of the Fulci ilk.

Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo from Cauldron Films August 29th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official Cauldron Films City of the Living Dead webpage.
To purchase, head to the official MVD Entertainment Group City of the Living Dead webpage.

Final Film Score: 5 out of 5.
Cauldron Restoration Release: 4 out of 5.

This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

City of the Living Dead cover art

Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews

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