4K UHD Review: City of the Living Dead [Cauldron Films] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, June 16th, 2024  

City of the Living Dead [4K UHD]

Studio: Cauldron Films

Aug 31, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In rural New England, a priest hangs himself in his churchyard. Some two hundred miles distant in New York City, a young medium (Catriona MacColl) drops dead of cardiac arrest in the midst of a séance. A newspaper reporter (Christopher George) poking around her strange death gets roped into investigating the connection between these two seemingly isolated events. Meanwhile, the citizens of Dunwich, Massachusetts bear witness to mounting, unspeakable horrors—never suspecting that their town was built on one of the Gates of Hell, and that the suicide of their local clergyman was the first step to kicking it wide open.

Written on the heels of Zombi 2’s (1979) box office success, City of the Living Dead—or Gates of Hell, as it was titled on my store’s old, big box tape copy—is the second of Lucio Fulci’s zombie features, although we don’t see much good, old-fashioned shambling until the film’s grand finale. The dead who return to enact most of the film’ violent acts are more like vengeful spirits: teleporting ghouls whose favorite mode of attack is to squeeze the back of their victims’ heads until their brain matter smooshes out. It’s gross! It happens a lot! But that’s not the worst (best) of it.

City of the Living Dead has several classic Fulci gross-out scenes. We’ve got twenty-two pounds of live maggots loaded into a wind machine; a teenager’s head being fed into a lathe; poor Michele Soavi being forced to watch as his girlfriend vomits up the entire length of her intestines in excruciating anatomical detail. The fact that these effects hold up without losing their gut-churning effectiveness under the scrutiny of 4K resolution is a testament to Gino De Rossi’s SFX genius—with some scenes being even grosser than I remember, thanks to the ability to see, say, the maggots wriggling individually thanks to the crisp restoration on Cauldron’s UHD restoration.

Of course, any time you leave your storyline behind to show an all-new character barf up livestock entrails for several minutes straight, you’re going to introduce some wonkiness to your pacing. City of the Living Dead moves at a rhythm that some will describe as dreamlike, others as unfocused. On that same front, City features one of the most laid-back, carefree quests to divert the apocalypse that you’ll find in any film. Our heroes have mere hours to find the priest’s grave and prevent the end of the world, yet they stop for a casual lunch, to befriend local randos, and literally take in every sight the small town has to offer instead of, you know, just looking around the small church cemetery where they know the infamous clergyman is buried. It’s baffling, even for Fulci-lovers—casual viewers might want to rip their hair out. (Just a warning.)

While maybe not as smooth an entry point to Fulci’s work as, say, the aforementioned Zombi 2, there are many hallmarks here of what the director did so well—even beyond his trademark gore and nightmare logic, which are on proud display. There’s a thick atmosphere of dread around so many scenes, and several made frightening without any direct threat of violence. (My favorite is when a freshly embalmed corpse shows up on a woman’s kitchen floor, only to disappear before the police can be called—and replaced with strange, scary sounds coming from the attic.) It also boasts many staples of Italo horror at large, from the extreme close-ups on actors’ eyes to child characters with uncanny valley voice dubbing. It’s all here, and those that love it, love it. And chances are if you’re still reading a review of a deluxe UHD release of City of the Living Dead five paragraphs in, then you may already be wearing a “Fulci Lives” pinback button at this moment.

If you want to save a couple minutes and cut to the chase, I’ll say right here that Cauldron’s City of the Living Dead is a beautiful, definitive release of the film—OK, good, you can go put your order in now. If you care to stick around and find out why we feel so confident in saying so, keep on reading.

As mentioned before, the transfer on Cauldron’s UHD release of City is top-notch. The color is very rich thanks to its HDR grading, with smooth brightness during daytime scenes and solid blacks at night. Film grain is quite heavy, as it always is, but presents accurately and as it should—not just as blur, as in some previous home releases. On a large screen this transfer looks like a 35mm projection, and that’s great. (For those feeling a twinge of nostalgia for their video store’s raggedy old tape version, an SD rip of the “Gates of Hell” cut—tracking adjustments and all—is hidden as an Easter egg on the bonus features disc.) Viewers have their choice of both the Italian or English dubs in mono, and both play loud and clear.

Bonus features all around are incredibly robust, with a fine mixture of new and archival materials. Interviews tend to be candid and informative: production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng sits, axe in hand, on the front stoop of his woodshed, explaining how he went from working with Fellini and Visconti to Deodato and Fulci; Giovanni Radice (Bob) humorously dishes on his distaste for the horror genre before going into how he came to work for Il Maestro. There are archival featurettes with SFX artist Gino De Rossi, actors Catriona MacColl, Venantino Venantini (paired with filmmaker Ruggero Deodato), and Carlo De Mejo, as well as composer Fabio Frizzi. We also get an image gallery, trailers, and a drone-shot tour of the Georgia cemetery used to stand in for New England in the film, which is set to some atmospheric music. There’s far more than what was just listed here, as well as four audio commentaries, including one newly-commissioned from Samm Deighan. All in all, it’s more than you’ll be able to get through in a single weekend.

Cauldron’s City of the Living Dead is absolutely worth grabbing.



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