City Of The Living Dead Blu-ray Review
Arrow disc carries the same transfer that the Blue Underground release has, both struck from what must be the same original negative. My comments for the US release should stand for this as well, then. However, I will make a point a bit later on about a couple of elements that do seem slightly different.
Filmed with Techniscope cameras on 2-perf 35 mm, as opposed to the 16mm print that people have been assuming was the source, City translates pretty well to the format, but with a couple of unmistakable issues.
Unusually for a Techniscope movie, the film is actually framed at 1.85:1 (confirmed by Blue Underground's Bill Lustig, folks) and then probably matted either side by Fulci. This now means that it has been blown up even more than is common to fill the 16:9 image. And this, in turn, finds the film now looking grainier and a touch softer than you might have expected as, really, this isn't a comfortable format to be working in. Although no substantial facts about why Fulci and DOP Salvati opted for this have actually surfaced, various theories have been put forward from the money saving angle in shooting and processing only half the footage, to the discovery that they only had Techniscope cameras to work with but still wanted to achieve the 1.85:1 image, so matted accordingly. Whatever the reason, City does look different to the films that Fulci made around it and, if anything, the hi-def transfer only accentuates this.
Now, although this blown-up image does enhance the appearance of grain, that is no excuse for the frozen patterns of noise that stipple the frame from time to time. This is the same sort of silver-sharpened digital grain effect that plagues Django, only to an agreeably far lesser extent here. In fact, this Arrow release actually seems to suffer marginally less than its Blue Underground variant. I have watched the two of them, back-to-back, and closed-in on several of the key sequences when it is at its most apparent - and the UK disc is not as immediately frosted and prickled with sharpened grain. For example, just check out the arrival of the coroner (Fulci, himself) and the paramedics at the scene of Emily's murder - the glinting grain is frozen into a honeycomb frieze in the dust squall outside the building in the US release, but less severely in the UK. The next shot, of the victim's terror-glazed face, is completely free of all but the traditional film-grain, for both versions. Most of the daytime exterior shots exhibit this unsightly mosaic, I'm afraid, but the darker interiors and night-time shots are largely unmolested. But whilst the Arrow transfer seems to dull the effect slightly, it also looks a tad muddier and less resolved during these same instances. Again, going back to that paramedic scene in the dust squall - the UK image actually seems murkier and even a touch “blocky” compared to the Blue Underground's. Of course, I am being anal about this and the differences are, to be honest, incredibly slight. But the differences are there, just the same.
Black levels aren't disappointing. There is a lot more depth to the shadows right across the board. The lengthy sequence down in the catacombs definitely benefits from this, with the surreal blue cast to the image blending in much better with the blacker elements to produce good contrast and an amplified atmosphere. Colour reproduction looks fine to me, all things considered. We have a brighter, more vivid image and even if it is never going to scrub up to retina-scorching Avatar standards of brilliance, this is far better saturated than I have seen it before. The primaries are stronger, the close-up shades of clothing, blood, furniture - especially that hideous design on the settee in the Enoch-disciple's apartment - more finely struck. Blood is suitably thick and nasty-looking, at times very dark, at others - the tears of gore down MacColl's face for example, or the livid scarlet brains dribbling out of the back of crushed skulls - much lighter, but always well handled. Skin-tones look a touch healthier than I've seen them before, though this wouldn't take much. Some shots - most notably of the demonic priest's implacable Christopher Lee-style “mesma-stare” and of his wide-eyed female victims - look fantastic compared to how mushy they have seemed before.
Print-wise, there is hardly any damage, although there is a wild little squiggle on the lens seen against MacColl's forehead during one close-up down in the catacombs. Scratches, nicks and tears have been reduced or removed altogether. Some people have complained about smearing being left behind, but I encountered no problems myself on either disc, US or UK.
So, whilst the noise has been energised by the hi-def transfer, it is possibly a touch less bothersome and ugly in Arrow's AVC version. To sum up, then, City still looks robust, solid and much clearer than on any previous home video edition that I've seen. By and large I'm happy that the image appears strong and detailed in all the appropriate places but, realistically, you can't give this more than the 6 out of 10 that the US disc got.
Arrow utilise the same DTS HD MA 7.1 track that Blue Underground unleashed, as well as a 5.1 option. There really isn't much between the two, nothing worth detailing, anyway. So, my comments on the US disc's sound presentation will serve just as well here.
The sound engineers may have worked overtime preparing separate sound-mixes for City, but it is worth stating that, for the, for the purists, they very nicely provide the film's original mono track, as well. I sampled the mono - and it sounded good - but I actually stuck with the 7.1 track, as I did with the Blue Underground disc.
Now, this is a film that quite obviously never warranted a 7.1 mix in the first place, but you know that you can't resist going with the lossless track provided it doesn't make any mistakes or add anything utterly bogus - and this one doesn't do anything untoward. But what it does do, however, is enable the film to come alive with more depth and breadth than ever before and, with the clarity that it possesses and the lack of overtly fake surround effects, it genuinely feels more involving.
Dialogue, as you no doubt already know, is dubbed, and quite often atrociously out of synch with the speaker's lips. Which, of course, only adds to the unique flavour of Italian horror. But there is never a problem with the balance of the dialogue in the mix. Frizzi's pounding, insistent score has a fair bit of strength to it, filling the frontal array and sounding quite crisp and weighty, with the infamous “zombie march” - a partial reprise from Flesheaters - coming over well.
Effects are thrown out around you. That bloody lost Amazonian parakeet caws around the rear speakers. Wind whistles, some of the more jarring “stingers” ripple out past your ears. One moment, especially, benefits from the extended channel coverage when our heroes wander through the cemetery on the final night and a raucous belch of animalistic ambience whisks around the set-up. The score is occasionally picked up and bolstered back there too. But this is not a track that will consistently wow you with its steerage or its dynamics. It does, though, add a fair bit of punch and aggression to the madcap scenes of Fulci lunacy and it will enhance the mood of the deranged story quite vigorously. Otherwise, City is an experience that plays out mainly across the front.
I was quite impressed with this lossless revamp, even it doesn't require a 7.1 configuration at all. So, for keeping the mono track and for adding some atmosphere with the new audio, I'm awarding City a lucky 7 out of 10.
Oh, it is also worth noting that the UK disc also carries a DD 2.0 track for the film as well, and a bewildering array of sound options, and various languages, for the film's 3-minute theatrical trailer.
Arrow have out together what just has to be considered the definitive package for City Of The Living Dead, pushing themselves so far beyond what Blue Underground was able to achieve as to effectively blow the US version out of the water. Short of having actual input from Lucio Fulci and Christopher George from beyond the grave, it is impossible to think of anything else that could have been put in. But before we get to the features and documentaries that we can be savoured on the disc, itself, let's time a second to gloat over the packaging and the wonderful little extras that Arrow have snuck in.
Following on from their proudly flamboyant boxes for Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead, we have multiple sleeve-art options, including a couple of truly gorgeous designs. We have a set of 6 original poster art cards, and a terrific double-sided mini-poster. And we even get a 16-page booklet of notes on the film and on Fulci from Calum Waddell. Already, fans will be in “Nasty Nirvana”.
Then, we move on to the meat 'n' potatoes, or perhaps the lamb's guts and offal!
The Commentary with Giovanni Lombardo Radice & author/fan Calum Waddell is plagued by a few little silences, but the track is also gold-dust for exploitation-buffs, who will simply lap up every word from Italy's most frequently, and gruesomely, executed genre actor. He admits to not being a fan of horror films at all preferring ghost stories or thrillers and even confesses, somewhat worryingly, to thinking about suicide quite a lot. He boasts about his “overwhelming” kissing prowess and belief that he has the perfect face for Westerns. A fair bit of time is devoted to Dario Argento and how Fulci would have rated himself alongside the more “accepted” maestro of he macabre. Waddell obviously pushes him on the gory credits that he has to his name and even explains the whole “Video Nasty” debacle, putting the blame squarely at Maggie Thatcher's taloned feet. Radice is odd, but very likeable, and his opinions, insider-barbs and insight into his experiences within the industry and with Fulci, are highly entertaining.
Next is the Commentary with Catriona MacColl & Jay Slater. This, folks, is actually even better, even if we have to put up with the obvious infatuation that Slater has for Fulci's favourite horror damsel. MacColl provides a lot of background as to how she got into the business and, more acutely, how she came to arrive on the Italian circuit. There are lots of names dropped, but this is more frankly supplied and more genuinely engaging than the way that many actors would have done. Her naivete in the matter of splatter is prevalent and she winces and gasps at the level of gore in a film that she has not seen for a long time. She provides some terrific anecdotes about reading the script and shooting the film on location in New York and Savannah, and then back in Rome, especially for the infamous “buried alive” and “maggot” sequences. MacColl is erudite and entertaining and comes across as very knowledgeable and possessing of a good sense of humour, something that she would have had to cultivate during her tenure with Fulci. As far as the Gnome of the Nasties is concerned, she is another old hand who acknowledges that he could be very difficult to work with for some people, but that they both had tremendous respect for one another and got along just fine. The daftness of his films gets thorough mention and, particularly, the bizarre ending of City - which no-one, not MacColl, not Waddell, not Slater and not Radice can explain. Even the screenplay had no proper ending according to MacColl, so this is just one of the glorious little mysteries. An excellent commentary track.
There is a very brief Introduction by Carlo De Majo, and then we have the exhaustive roster of featurettes and documentaries.
Fulci in the House - The Italian Master of Splatter (17 mins) has contributions from directors Joe Dante and and Troma's Lloyd Kaufman (with Toxie looming in behind him), as well as Fangoria Magazine's Anthony Timpone and FX-man Sergio Stivaletti. Although rather short, this takes an enjoyable and candid look at Fulci's career, although it naturally spends most of its time dealing with his most notorious shockers, and House By The Cemetery, especially. Timpone talks about Fulci's long-awaited appearance at the Fango Festival in a blizzard-struck New York in 1996, shortly before the filmmaker's death. We get to see footage of him on stage and at a busy signing, and there is a definite wistfulness about this final opportunity for the director to appreciate just how popular his films actually were and how many devoted fans he had. A good little featurette.
Next up is Carlo of the Living Dead - Surviving Fulci Fear (17 mins). This is a cool little featurette focussing on the son of Alida Valli (The Third Man/Suspiria) and his small career with Lucio Fulci. Appearing in City and House By The Cemetery and Manhattan Baby, he reveals something of a playful nature and a nice reflective attitude to working on such gore classics. Although he could speak fluent English, he confesses that he, too, was still dubbed, and he discusses that infamous ending again, reinforcing the claim that the film didn't have a proper climax even at the script-stage.
It is worth mentioning that most of these specially produced featurettes have fantastic animated title sequences that depict various scenes and deeds seen in the film, such as the coffin-clawing, the gut-puking and the brain-ripping. Arrow did something similar with the material for Day Of The Dead, too.
Dame of the Dead - Catriona MacColl Returns to the City (24 mins) covers much of the same ground as revealed in her commentary track, but has the added bonus of proving just how attractive the actress is. In fact, I would say that she is a lot more sexy now, than she was back when she made her movies with Fulci.
Fulci's Daughter - Memories of the Italian Gore Maestro (27 mins). Shot rather uncomfortably, this is a long and detailed discussion with Antonella Fulci that provides an important personal aspect to how the filmmaker was perceived. Naturally, his obsessions, behaviour and tantrums are mentioned, and she gives some surprisingly well thought-out and salient observations about some of the recurring and important themes that ran through his movies. Antonella often read his scripts before he began shooting, and she would be on-set too. Her first experiences on her father's set was witnessing Florinda Balkan getting chain-whipped in Don't Torture A Duckling, bringing to the fore the very theme that she is keen to impress upon us about her father's socio-political messages. City/House/The Beyond and The New York Ripper have a lot of footage show but, as with all the other featurettes, we are only teased with stills and brief references to Zombie Flesheaters - the very one that made his name and the title that most gore-hounds simply cannot wait for on Blu-ray during all this welcome Fulci renaissance.
Penning Some Paura - Dardano Sacchetti Remembers City of the Living Dead (18 mins) is an interesting interview with the actually quite prolific screenwriter, who discusses the various ideas and concepts that he worked with alongside Fulci, maintaining that it was Fulci who came up with all the gory stuff. This, of course, is nothing that we didn't already know but it flies in the face of the oft-quoted remark that he couldn't actually stand making horror films! “He liked thrillers with logic to them,” Sacchetti says ... and it is also very apparent that Fulci preferred his horrors with none at all. The writer also tells us how his collaborator was never able to understand just why it was that he wasn't better received in the wake of the enormous success of Zombie Flesheaters. But, one thing that you should bear in mind with this featurette is that whilst the footage from the films in question plays perfectly fine, the subtitled dialogue from Saccetti is mixed completely wrong and tumbled from out of the rear speakers. It is very disconcerting and, well, dislocated as a result.
This audio error also afflicts the 16-minute Profondo Luigi -: A Colleague's Memories of Lucio Fulci, in which another Italian cult exploitation director Luigi Cozzi spouts reams of good natured and full-throttle anecdotes about Fulci and the time that they spent as the golden boys of Spaghetti gore and sleaze, alongside Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and several other enfants terrible. He garrulously offers a great insight into how the industry operated back then - threadbare, make-do and no-holds-barred. He has the gut-blasting Alien rip-off Contamination and the Caroline Munro Star Wars cash-in oddity Starcrash (out soon on Blu-ray, schlock-fans!) to his credit amongst others.
And there's even more, folk!
Live From the Glasgow Theatre (24 min) offers us some fantastic Q&A footage from a session held with Catriona MacColl and Giovanni Lombardo Radice after a special screening of City of the Living Dead on March 13th 2010. Moderated by the now-familiar Calum Waddell, who orchestrated a similar tour for Joe Pilato for a Day Of The Dead festival screening (with the ace Captain Rhodes on fine form, as seen on the footage on that particular Arrow release). Folks, this is terrific stuff. Hats off to Calum Waddell and Arrow for getting this sort of thing pulled-off. Radice is highly amusing and full of off-the-cuff anecdotes and repartee. MacColl is much more polite and refined, but no less interesting. The questions are all rather typical and obvious, but that is the nature of the beast. Only Waddell, who I applaud for his enthusiasm and commitment for getting such events together, slightly lets the side down with his insistence on getting in-on-the-act. Sitting right in-between the guest speakers and with his head forever twitching like a meerkat's, he does come over as something of a distraction. I noticed this on the similar session for Pilato, as well. Don't get me wrong, Calum, if you are reading this. I'm definitely loving your work, and I know that you are just trying to help create a genial, light-hearted atmosphere but, personally, I think you should be more on the sidelines once you've got the stars in place.
And then, just when you thought that Arrow couldn't cram anything else on to this disc, we get the mammoth 50-minute documentary The Many Lives (and Deaths) of Giovanni Lombardo Radice which is a fine and funny interview with the Italian actor about his career in films and illustrated with many clips to show his evolution as a performer and his genuine cinematic misfortune. We hear about how he got started - he trained in ballet, the same as Catriona MacColl - and then drifted into exploitation movies, in which he made his name. A lot of material is repeated from elsewhere, of course, but coupled with the grisly highlights of his genre-days, this makes for curiously compulsive viewing. Candid, frank and occasionally scathing (most notably regarding the despicable antics of Umberto Lenzi and his animal cruelty on Cannibal Ferox), Radice has a refreshing honesty that is sure to win you over.
Oh, and there's even more to come!
We get the film's theatrical trailer (3-minutes long and wacky), with its seemingly ridiculous number of audio options with which to enjoy it.
And then we get a wonderful stills montage lasting around 4 minutes in Gallery Of The Dead. There are some great and unusual images here, plus some of the film's lurid posters and home video covers from around the world.
I am really at a loss to think what else could have been added to this overwhelming array of extras for a film that many people would consider tacky, repugnant and nothing more than the work of a hack. God bless Arrow Video!
Folks, I love Blue Underground and seize every title they put out on Blu-ray, but I have to concede that they pale into insignificance when compared to what Arrow Video and Cult-Labs produce. Horror fans should certainly count themselves lucky that they such dedicated and devoted labels to keep their jaded dreams alive. But I cannot help wishing that, someday, all titles will be treated this reverently. Arrow's City release may not have the great “making of” that BU's edition has, but it more than makes up for this extensive and wonderful collection of material. Arrow has done Fulci proud and there is no way that I can award their endeavours less than the top mark. A well-deserved 10 of 10, folks!
Not Fulci's best, City Of The Living Dead is usually the one that fans put in final place out of his infamous zombie quartet, but there is no denying that once you get into it, this delivers some excellent chills, a couple of stand-out set-pieces and all that nonsensical plotting irreverence that Fulci's movies are renowned and, ironically, loved for. Gino De Rossi's gore is not as good as Giannetto De Rossi's, but together with Fulci's insistence to just go for broke, he still comes up with some unforgettable carnage. Far-fetched it may be, but this is Grand Guignol blended with the fantastique and, as such, it is an intrinsic part of the Fulci fabric that smothered the genre during that volatile and highly creative, no-holds-barred period in the early 80's - a time that many horror-fans hold dear.
The transfer has some issues, make no mistake, but there is nothing here that a fan couldn't easily live with. There is more detail on show and a much stronger, better defined image in which to house it all. The lossless audio mix, whichever one you opt for, actually aids the film and supplies some surround use that is neither sacrilegious nor falsely intrusive. And you've got the original mono track as an option, as well. So City Of The Living Dead now looks and sounds more aggressive and vibrant than ever before on home video. The extras are simply fantastic and some would surely argue that there is more here than the film deserves. But not us, eh? We must thank Calum Waddell and Arrow Video for some tireless effort in obtaining Catriona MacColl and Giovanni Lombardo Radice for such extensive contributions. I'm actually surprised that they didn't obtain a psychic to get some words from Fulci, himself, or Christopher George. Or just go the whole hog and dig them up for a guest appearance!
Blue Underground and Bill Lustig did a great job with their release, but Arrow's is the “definitive” edition of City Of The Living Dead. This is the release that fans will covet.
The Gates of Hell are open ... and now in hi-definition. Nab yourself a copy before All Saints Day comes around ... and the dead walk the Earth!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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