City of the Living Dead (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 17, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
  • Bookmark and Share
City of the Living Dead (4K UHD Review)


Lucio Fulci

Release Date(s)

1980 (March 25, 2024)


Dania Film/Medusa Distribuzione/National Cinematografica (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A+


Since the name of Lucio Fulci has become so indelibly associated with the horror genre, it’s easy to forget that he got his start with comedy, and he also dabbled in other genres such as westerns, wilderness adventures, fantasy, and yes, gialli as well. Yet there’s no question that the supernatural horror of Zombie (aka Zombi 2 or Zombie Flesh Eaters) represented something of a seismic shift for his career. He actually followed it up with the poliziotteschi film Contraband, but he was working on a new horror script at the same time (aided by uncredited Zombie scribe Dardano Sacchetti), so he left the production of Contraband early to focus on that project instead. The result was City the Living Dead (aka Paura nella città dei morti viventi or The Gates of Hell), and with the exception of rare digressions like the fantasy film Conquest, Fulci would stick with horror for the rest of his career, most of it of the supernatural variety. He definitely had an affinity for presenting distinctive visions of unreal worlds.

Zombie had offered an effective fusion of the popular flesh-eating ghouls from George A. Romero’s Dead films with the more traditional conception of zombies from classic voodoo mythology. It was, and still is, one of the most atmospheric zombie films ever made. For City of the Living Dead, Fulci and Sacchetti returned to the world of the undead, this time taking their cue from the otherworldly horrors of H.P. Lovecraft rather than from Romero. Yet aside from a stray Lovecraft reference or two like naming the town Dunwich, everything in the film was entirely the product of their own imaginations. City of the Living Dead opens with a séance set in New York City, where Mary (Catriona MacColl) has visions of a priest who hanged himself in Dunwich, and she appears to die from the shock of it. While investigating the incident, journalist Peter Bell (Christopher George) goes to the cemetery where she’s just been buried, and… frankly, none of the narrative details in the film matter all that much. Suffice it to say that Mary’s apparent resurrection from her “death” presages some very real risings from the grave. The priest’s death has inadvertently cracked open the gates of Hell, and the dead will walk the earth. City of the Living Dead also stars Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, and Fabrizio Jovine. (Needless to say, Fulci himself makes a cameo appearance at one point.)

Regardless of whether or not Fulci and Sacchetti drew any inspiration from Lovecraft, there’s nothing especially Lovecraftian about City of the Living Dead. There aren’t necessarily any dreams in the Witch House of Dunwich Horror that they conceived for the film, though that’s obviously open to interpretation. With or without Lovecraft’s influence, the atmosphere of Fulci’s supernatural horror films frequently has been referred to as “dreamlike,” and City of the Living Dead is no exception. Yet that’s arguably a rather superficial description that doesn’t quite do justice to the uncanny ways in which Fulci was able to get under the skin of viewers (or into their eyeballs, as the case may be). In City of the Living Dead, the spatial discontinuity of Lovecraft’s dream worlds has been replaced by a kind of temporal discontinuity instead. As a result, trying to connect the dots of the genuinely incomprehensible narrative is an exercise in futility. Any attempt to understand or interpret the plot of the film is the equivalent of tilting at windmills: an endeavor doomed to failure from the start. It’s all beside the point, anyway. City of the Living Dead is really about mood, not story, and the best way to experience it is to let go of the need to rationalize everything and just to let that mood work its magic. There’s no rationalizing the inherently irrational nature of the supernatural anyway.

There’s certainly no rationalizing the conclusion of City of the Living Dead, which remains one of the strangest things in the entire film—and we’re talking about a film that includes teleporting zombies, a woman regurgitating her own entrails, a self-inflating sex doll, a maggot storm (don’t ask), a wall that bleeds, and a man having a drill driven through his skull for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with zombies. After all of that, Fulci’s coda is relatively tame, and yet it’s utterly baffling. There are varying accounts of what happened behind-the-scenes, most of it little more than speculation, but some claim that it was put together despite the fact that key footage had been accidentally destroyed, while others say that Fulci decided late in the game that he wanted a downbeat ending and had to improvise using the footage that he had available. Of course, the inexplicable reversal during the coda is really just a prelude to the real ending of City of the Living Dead: a freeze frame that cracks, splinters, and shatters the entire image as the credits start to roll. It breaks the fourth wall (literally) in the same way that the film itself has already broken with its own reality, allowing that irrationality to spill out into the real world. City of the Living Dead is the irrational nature of the supernatural made manifest, and in that sense, it may well be a purely Lovecraftian work after all.

Cinematographer Sergio Salvati shot City of the Living Dead on 35mm film using spherical lenses. Most of the horror films that Salvati photographed for Fulci at that time were shot in 2-perf Techniscope that was optically blown up into anamorphic release prints at 2.39:1, but City of the Living Dead was an odd duck in that it was released flat at 1.85:1. This release utilizes the same master that was created by Cauldron Films for their own 2023 4K release of the film. It’s based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative that was performed at Cinema Communications Services S.R.L. in Rome, with High Dynamic Range grades created at Fidelity in Motion in New York. (Both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are included on the disc).

City of the Living Dead might not have been shot in Techniscope, but it still has moderately heavy grain, and Salvati also made frequent use of diffusion filters. As a result, there’s only so much fine detail to be wrung from the original elements, but this 4K presentation is as sharp and as detailed as it can be. It’s quite clean, too, with very little damage on display. The grain generally looks even, but there’s a bit of noise visible during the opening credits, and also on some of the bright highlights such as the lights outside the house in the shot starting at 42:42. It’s still visible even when forcing the player to output SDR, so it doesn’t appear to be a problem with the HDR layer. Still, it’s a minor issue that may not be visible on all displays. The HDR grade itself doesn’t make any drastic changes other than accentuating some of the highlights and taking full advantage of Wide Color Gamut. The contrast range is fine, though it’s muted at times by the diffusion filters, and the black levels are adequate (though still not the deepest).

Audio options include the original English and Italian theatrical mixes in 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, plus two different English language remixes: 2.0 stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both the English and Italian language versions of the film have been encoded separately on the disc via seamless branching. (The running times are identical for both; the only difference between the two is the title sequences.) With the Cauldron disc, the languages were locked in depending on which version of the film that you selected from the main menu, and couldn’t be changed later via the language button on the player. That’s not the case here, so you can watch either version of the film with whatever audio track that you prefer. As with many Italian productions intended for the international market, the English language version is preferable due to the presence of English-speaking actors like Christopher George, and the dialogue is largely post-synced in both versions anyway. Of course, your own mileage may vary.

However, Arrow’s release gives another reason to prefer the English language track, and that’s the 5.1 remix (which is available in English only). It reworks the original mono elements to expand the soundstage, but does so in a way that’s still respectful of the original mono mix. The memorable score by Fulci veteran Fabio Frizzi has more presence here than it does in either of the mono mixes, and the sound effects are a bit more immersive—atmospheric noises like the wind now surround the viewer, and some sounds effects like slamming doors or Catriona MacColl’s underground screaming have been steered offscreen—which really enhances a few of the jump scares. It’s definitely the best audio track on this disc.

If you do choose to stick with the original mono tracks, the English language one still has the edge over the Italian. It’s noticeably more robust, with a greater dynamic range and a wider frequency response. That’s true even when level-matching between the two. In comparison, the Italian version sounds more compressed, with a slightly rolled off high end. The trade-off is that the English dialogue sometimes sounds harsher and more sibilant, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the better of the two. (That English dialogue does sound a little smoother in the 5.1 remix, so that’s yet another argument in its favor.)

Arrow’s Limited Edition Region-Free 4K Ultra HD release of City of the Living Dead is UHD only—there’s no Blu-ray included in the package. The insert is reversible, with new artwork by Colin Murdoch on one side and the original theatrical artwork on the other. There’s also a double-sided foldout poster featuring both artworks, as well as six different double-sided lobby card reproductions. All that, plus a 60-page booklet featuring essays by Travis Crawford and Roberto Curti, excerpts from interviews with Fulci, and a collection of vintage reviews of the film. Everything is housed inside a slipcase/slipcover combo, both of them featuring the Murdoch artwork. There are no new extras, but the following archival extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Catriona MacColl, Moderated by Jay Slater
  • Audio Commentary with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Moderated by Calum Waddell
  • We Are the Apocalypse (HD – 53:02)
  • Through Your Eyes (HD – 37:03)
  • Dust in the Wind (HD – 13:13)
  • The Art of Dreaming (HD – 45:42)
  • Tales of Friendship (HD – 30:51)
  • I Walked with a Zombie (HD – 22:51)
  • They Call Him “Bombardone” (HD – 26:57)
  • The Horror Family (HD – 19:16)
  • Songs from Beyond (HD – 19:49)
  • Building Fulci’s City (HD – 37:34)
  • Reflections on Fulci (HD – 26:50)
  • The Dead Are Alive! (HD – 25:26)
  • Behind the Fear (HD – 10:38)
  • Alternate U.S. Opening Titles (HD – 2:20)
  • Archival Special Features:
    • Introduction by Carlo de Mejo (Upscaled SD – :41)
    • Fulci in the House (Upscaled SD – 18:35)
    • Carlo of the Living Dead (Upscaled SD – 18:13)
    • Dame of the Dead (Upscaled SD – 25:55)
    • Fulci’s Daughter (Upscaled SD – 28:44)
    • Penning Some Paura (Upscaled SD – 18:59)
    • Profondo Luigi (Upscaled SD – 17:43)
    • Live from the Glasgow Film Theatre (Upscaled SD – 25:50)
    • The Many Lives... of Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Upscaled SD – 52:36)
  • Original Trailers and Radio Spots:
    • U.K. Trailer (HD – 3:03)
    • Italian Trailer (HD – 3:05)
    • The Gates of Hell TV Spot (HD – :32)
    • Radio Spots (HD – :57, 2 in all)
  • Image Galleries:
    • Stills (HD, 39 in all)
    • Posters and Press (HD, 23 in all)
    • Lobby Cards (HD, 58 in all)
    • Home Video and Soundtrack Sleeves (HD, 25 in all)

The commentary with MacColl is moderated by Jay Slater, and was originally recorded for the 2003 DVD from Vipco, while the track with Radice is moderated by Calum Waddell, and was recorded for the 2010 Blu-ray from Arrow. They both offer their memories of making the film and of working with Fulci. MacColl in particular is an articulate speaker, and she barely needed any moderation at all, though Slater does interject with some useful details along the way. Radice still has plenty of charms of his own, though Waddell definitely provides more assistance in his case. Both tracks are worth a listen.

The next nine interview featurettes were all created for Arrow’s 2018 Blu-ray release of City of the Living Dead. We are the Apocalypse is with Dardano Sacchetti; Through Your Eyes is with Catriona MacColl; Dust in the Wind is with cameraman Roberto Forges Davanzati; The Art of Dreaming is with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng; Tales of Friendship is with Sergio Salvati; I Walked with a Zombie is with Giovanni Lombardo Radice; They Call Him “Bombardone” is with special effects artist Gino De Rossi; The Horror Family is with father and son actors Venantino and Luca Venantini; and Songs from Beyond is with Fabio Frizzi. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits sprinkled in these interviews, like De Rossi dishing out the dirt on how he achieved some of the nasty effects in City of the Living Dead, and Salvati explaining how a happy accident resulted in the unforgettable vision of Hell at the end of The Beyond. Yet there’s a consistent portrait painted throughout of the complex person that Lucio Fulci really was. Sacchetti’s unfiltered interview is particularly interesting in that regard—he describes Fulci as being a real bastard, although it’s clear that he still had a great deal of affection for the man. Contrary to the way that Fulci has sometimes been portrayed as misogynistic, Sacchetti says that he loved women and treated them well, but could still be really sadistic on set.

The next three featurettes from Arrow’s 2018 disc are video appreciations and/or essays. Building Fulci’s City is with Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci. He offers an analysis of City of the Living Dead along with some details about the production, including his thoughts about the ending (which he finds to be not entirely satisfactory). Reflections on Fulci is with actor, writer, director, and magician(!) Andy Nyman, who examines this period of Fulci’s career in terms of gothic. He feels that Fulci always balanced striking visuals with things that just don’t make sense, and the ending is typical of that—he calls it “mental,” but says that you can’t get it out of your head. The Dead Are Alive! is with author, editor, and critic Kat Ellinger. She puts Fulci’s zombie movies into context with zombie movies in general and Italian horror in particular—the modern zombie genre may have been launched by George A. Romero, but they took it in their own direction. In that respect, she feels that Fulci was in innovator, not an imitator.

The next two extras include Behind the Fear, which is a collection of 8mm behind-the scenes footage that was shot on set, narrated by Roberto Forges Davanzati (with Manlino Gomarasca serving as moderator). There’s also the Alternate U.S. Opening Titles are under the original North American title The Gates of Hell. They’re otherwise identical.

The older archival extras were all from Arrow’s original 2010 Blu-ray release of City of the Living Dead. The Introduction by Carlo de Mejo was shot during the same interview session as the one that’s included later. Fulci in the House is a 2009 documentary on the director that includes interviews with Joe Dante, Lloyd Kaufman, and former Fangoria editor Anthony Timpone. Carlo of the Living Dead is the full interview with de Mejo; Dame of the Dead is with Catriona MacColl; Fulci’s Daughter is with Antonella Fulci; Penning some Paura is with Sacchetti, and Profondo Luigi is with director/screenwriter Luigi Cozzi. Live from the Glasgow Film Theatre is a Q&A from a sold-out 2010 screening of The Beyond at the Glasgow Film Theatre, moderated by Calum Waddell. (When she’s asked about her most memorable experiences of working with Fulci, she says that working with Fulci was itself an experience.) Finally, The Many Lives... of Giovanni Lombardo Radice is a documentary on the actor’s eccentric but memorable career.

Aside from a collection of Trailers, TV Spots, and Radio Spots, the rest of the extras consist of some pretty extensive Image Galleries. They’re all organized by topic, which is always appreciated. If my math is correct, that adds up to a grand total of 13 hours of extras, not counting the untimed Image Galleries. That’s enough to keep any fan of City of the Living Dead busy for days, although they may test your tolerance for static interviews. Yet there’s still a substantial quantity of previous extras that haven’t been included here. The most significant omissions would be from Cauldron’s 2023 UHD release. That set offered two new commentary tracks, one with Sam Deighan and the other featuring Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Cauldron also included different interviews with Massimo Antonello Geleng, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Gino De Rossi, and Carlo De Mejo, as well as a Q&A with Venantino Venantini and Ruggero Deodato, and another with Fabio Frizzi. They also had a different archival introduction with Catriona MacColl, a collection of interviews from the 2008 DVD Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1, and a video journey through the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. All that, plus two easter eggs: the full The Gates of Hell VHS version of the film, and Christopher George’s Playgirl spread from 1974 (in full HD, of course). Cauldon also had a Limited Edition version that included a CD with Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack and other swag, but that sold out quickly.

And yet, that’s still not all. There was actually a fifth commentary track recorded for the 2004 DVD from No Shame, and it was also featured on the 2020 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray. That one featured Sergio Salvati along with camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati, and was moderated by Paolo Albiero. (It was in Italian, but the Scorpion disc offered English subtitles.) Between that 2020 Scorpion disc, the 2010 Blue Underground release, and a few others, there are too many other omissions here to list all of them. City of the Living Dead has been a perennial home video favorite, so there’s no way that everything from past editions could be included on a single new release—especially one that already has 13 hours of extras as it is. Needless to say, if you have any of those other versions of City of the Living Dead in your collection, you’ll want to hang onto them for the sake of completeness. (Such is the life of physical media collectors.) However, while the 4K video presentation here is identical to that on the Cauldron disc, the inclusion of the English-language 5.1 remix gives Arrow’s set the edge. Whether or not it’s worth double-dipping is up to you, but you can never have enough City of the Living Dead.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)