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Old 06-27-2004, 03:06 AM
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Default City of the Living Dead

Reviewer: Styx
Review Date: March 13, 2000

Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 5/23/2000
MSRP: $29.98
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes

Anchor Bay Entertainment's contribution to the growing selection of Eurro Horror available on DVD has definitely been a site for sore eyes. Through them we've seen releases we would have never thought possible on DVD, and 16x9 enhanced no less. Now Anchor Bay has prepared Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead (also known as Gates of Hell). City of the Living Dead was the Maestro's follow-up to his first Living Dead epic, Zombie, and carries on the tradition of Fulci's distinct style and use of the living dead. City of the Living Dead also marks the first time Fulci would work with three-time heroine Catriona (Katherine) MacColl, who would later star in Fulci's The Beyond and House by the Cemetery. So as the clock strikes midnight, let's take a look at City of the Living Dead.

The Story

inline Image One night during a sťance young psychic Mary Woodhouse (Katriona MacColl) makes contact with a cemetery far away in the town of Dunwich. She envisions a priest (Luciano Rossi) hanging himself in a graveyard and shortly there after the dead rise from the ground. Mary screams and collapses while going into convulsions and is pronounced dead within minutes. The police arrive and question all involved but the sergeant doesn't believe the wild story of the sťance and what Mary's visions mean. A New York Journalist Peter Bell (Christopher George) arrives on the scene but is not admitted into the apartment. Peter instead decides to wait and visits Mary's grave just as she's about to be buried. Peter begins to walk away and leave the cemetery, but suddenly he hears strange noises coming from inside the coffin. He springs into action and breaks apart the lid to Mary's coffin with a mattock nearly taking a piece of her head with it.

inline Image Seems as if Mary's funeral was a little presumptuous as she's miraculously still alive! Owing her life to Peter for saving her from an early grave, Mary returns to the apartment and explains what she had seen in her vision just before she collapsed. She tells Peter that she had seen a city of the living dead and that the suicide of a priest opened the gates of Hell. Now with All Saints day approaching the gates must be closed or else no dead body will ever be able to rest in peace again and they will rise and take over the Earth. Peter and Mary decide to head to Dunwich and investigate the matter of the "galloping" cadavers and possibly divert armageddon. Meanwhile at the town of Dunwich strange occurrences begin to plague the town. Several people are murdered under mysterious circumstances and the climate begins to change.

inline Image Mary and Peter finally arrive at Dunwich and meet up with two of its citizens Jerry (Carlo De Mejo) and Sandra (Janet Agren) who have noticed something very strange happening in town. Together they must unravel the mystery of the hanged priest and slam the gates of hell shut before the clock strikes midnight or all humanity is doomed.

inline Image Lucio Fulci is one of the most underrated horror directors (as a side note what horror director ISN'T underrated?) and truly has been neglected by critics who are unable to appreciate his works, which often succeed in many ways. When I first saw City of the Living Dead I believed it to be one of Fulci's lesser films but upon repeated viewings have found it to be one of his best. Not really a conventional zombie film and having little in common with Fulci's Zombie, City of the Living Dead focuses on a small New England town on the verge of All Saints day that, combined with the suicidal hanging of a priest, has thrown open the gates of hell and the dead are returning to life. City of the Living Dead is a nightmarish film with sequences that could have easily been culled out of a nightmare. The film has a less coherent feel than most Fulci films with uneven pacing which makes the passage of time seem distorted. The film is also very surreal with the zombies in city of the living dead appearing and disappearing at will.

inline Image Speaking of zombies as you can see by some of the screenshots there are a bunch of nasty ones in this film. These zombies are very different than the ones in The Beyond or Zombie. They're definitely more slimy and gruesome which sets this film apart from Fulci's other zombie films. Of course, where there's zombies you can usually find buckets of gore not too far behind and City of the Living Dead won't disappoint those seeking blood and guts. City of the Living Dead has the distinct privilege of having one of Fulci's most famous gore scenes including the gut-puking scene, which is guaranteed to upset your stomach! But besides gore, City of the Living Dead's greatest attribute is the feeling it gives you - a sense of terror and unease. The whole film feels that way and the nightmarish aspects of the film seem exaggerated like one of the film's most memorable scenes the "head drilling" or Mary being buried alive and trapped in a coffin.

inline Image City of the Living Dead also succeeds in creating a haunting atmosphere and combined with the film's excellent score composed by Fabio Frizzi the film quickly takes on a terrifying air. The score to City of the Living Dead actually sounds a lot like the one for Zombie, especially towards the end of the film. All right so the acting isn't as good as it could be, but the film still has a saving grace in this respect; Catriona MacColl (sometimes credited as Katherine MacColl). This was her first film with Fulci and she manages to put in a good performance. Also in the better than average acting department is Christopher George who plays reporter Peter Bell. Next to David Warbeck, George is one of my favorite Fulci actors and he does a good job creating a likeable character. City of the Living Dead is a favorite of mine, it has all the elements that make a great Fulci film and I like it more each time I see it. Fulci Lives!

Image Quality

inline Image Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell letterboxed at 1.85:1 in a brand new 16x9 enhanced transfer. So what's the deal is this puppy? Better than EC Entertainment's Laserdisc and DVD versions of Gates of Hell (City of the Living Dead)? Well, bad news first - right from the start the transfer is very grainy. The opening scenes in the cemetery exhibit a fair amount of grain and overall the transfer remains fairly grainy throughout the film. The transfer was pretty sharp and nicely detailed although I did notice a couple of softer looking shots here and there, nothing too distracting. The colors looked good, but at times seemed a little washed out. Blacks were deep and solid and contrast was very good. The print used for this transfer was in excellent shape with only a couple of noticeable scratches and specks.

For this review I shuffled through some scenes on my EC Laserdisc of City of the Living Dead and compared the two transfers. I wish I could say the difference is cut and dry and that this new release is far better than any previous version of City of the Living Dead released on either laserdisc or DVD, but there are trade offs. Compared to the Anchor Bay DVD the laserdisc's colors seem much muddier and sharpness and detail is lacking. The scenes at the sťance and when Peter visit's Mary's grave are an exception on the EC LD...the colors in those scenes seem much more vibrant and in the case of the cemetery scene the colors on the LD seemed way too bright. In most cases shots appear much softer on the LD than this DVD in fact some shots on the LD look downright blurred in comparison. This is obvious when comparing some of the scenes like the one in the bar when the zombies appear, or the one in the cemetery where Gary arrives and meets up with Mary and Peter. However, the DVD exhibits far more grain than the EC laserdisc, which had only some moderate grain.

Even though the transfer is a bit on the grainy side it is still very watchable. Some scenes look excellent, especially the scenes in the underground crypt towards the end of the film and I do prefer it to the LD due to the added detail.


City of the Living Dead is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds excellent. The surrounds greatly enhanced the atmosphere of the film by becoming active during many key scenes. Overall the surrounds were not that aggressive, but for a film made in 1982 it's a very pleasing track. Dialogue was clear and I didn't hear any background noise or distortion. Also included on this DVD is a Dolby Digital Surround track.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Anchor Bay's City of the Living Dead DVD is pretty low on supplements. On this DVD we have just an English theatrical trailer, which is 16x9 enhanced and of good quality, but like the transfer is a bit grainy. Next we have two radio spots, which are accompanied by stills. Considering the nature of this film supplements are hard to come by, but the important thing is that this DVD's presentation is uncut.

Final Thoughts

Anchor Bay did a good job with City of the Living Dead. Although the transfer didn't meet my expectations after being blown away by the transfers of Deep Red and Inferno, I'm still very pleased with it and am glad it's finally on DVD in a proper presentation. Lucio Fulci fans now have another gem to add to their collection and occupy their time before Anchor Bay debuts Fulci's The Beyond.


Image Quality - B-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B-

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Unrated
  • 1 Disc
  • 26 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Dolby Surround

  • Audio Commentary by Director Herschell Gordon Lewis and Producer David F. Friedman
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery

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Old 02-01-2006, 12:22 PM
Apparantly there were problems with the finale of the film , and it sure shows........what the hell happens???

Aside from that , my only other problem are the disappearing Zombies. Again, i have no clue as to what Fulci was on about there. Its totally alien to any other zombie scenario he did and just goes totally unexplained and un fathomable.
Torture...Torture...It pleasures me...
Old 10-03-2006, 02:34 PM
That whats makes the movie`s end so great imo.
Old 06-20-2009, 03:11 AM
Dread seems to just drip off the screen as you watch this one, an eerie sense of foreboding doom and death dominate this effort from Fulci. The Zombie effects are spot on and the gore is plentiful and sorted, ranging from skulls getting ripped off like pulling the top off a jack-o-latern, and a head impaled on a drill so realistic looking you'll want to rewind it, all the way to a woman vomitting her innards. AWESOME!

This is a rather underrated Fulci title, and i'm not really sure why seeing how its got some genre shaping moments of suspense and gore. The progressive pace carries the film well, and despite a sub-par ending in my opinion theirs not much here to disslike.

FYI: I believe Fulci planned to connect this film, The Beyond and Zombie all together as part of the Seven Doors to Hell series but he was never able to complete or confirm this.
Old 05-30-2010, 01:11 AM
Audio Commentary by Director Herschell Gordon Lewis and Producer David F. Friedman
Sounds interesting... I may have to pick up this edition just to hear their take on directing this flick.

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