1980, Color, 93 mins.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Christopher George, Katriona MacColl, Janet Agren, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlinghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniala Doria
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) / DTS7.1/DD5.1, NoShame (Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)


In New York, psychic Mary Woodhouse (MacColl) goes into a catatonic trance and apparently dies while experiencing a vision of Father Thomas, the local parish priest in a small town called Dunwich, hanging himself in the local cemetery. Soon Dunwich is plagued by worm-infested bodies, bleeding walls punctured by glass, and the aforementioned priest who now has the ability to cause people to expel their digestive tracts through their mouths. An aggressive reporter (George) narrowly rescues Mary as she's almost buried alive, and together they drive to Dunwich to stop what promises to be an evil, extremely squishy apocalypse on All Saint's Day.

From the late 1970s to 1982, Fulci transitioned from a string of stellar thrillers to a landmark quartet of zombie-centric horror films, all featuring the same stellar crew. Thanks to Sergio Salvati's magnificent cinematography, Gino de Rossi's skincrawling special effects, and Fabio Frizzi's haunting score, this particular entry (the only one not filmed in scope) works up a feverish series of incidents which provide a heavy visceral kick missing from Fulci's later comeback efforts. The game cast does quite a job, with the lovely MacColl proving her mettle in her first of three Fulci outings which cemented her as his greatest scream queen, and blonde starlet Janet Agren (Eaten Alive!) offers a very neurotic counterpoint as Dunwich's most insecure resident. While the story barely holds together and skips giddily through barely-connected stories involving drunk bar patrons, the aforementioned town idiot suspected of being a child killer, and the town's other oddball residents, Fulci keeps the viewer gripped through a thick, deeply creepy atmosphere loaded with unease and dread greatly aided by a constant barrage of dust storms and fog. Simply put, this is one of the moodiest, most unsettling films ever made from a visual standpoint, and Frizzi's peerless music manages to turn the whole experience into an uncanny feast of sights and sounds. If it weren't for the nonsensical dull thud of a final scene, this would equal Fulci's subsequent masterpiece, The Beyond, and even so it still stands as one of the decade's most indelible terror offerings.

Fulci fans are quite aware of what a nightmare this film has posed to video technicians over the years. The mixture of film grain, fog, dust, and deep, dark shadows has defeated several formats over the years, including some dire VHS releases and marginally better laserdiscs. Anchor Bay's DVD, which was subsequently ported over by Blue Underground, offered the best standard def digital option, presenting a crisp if slightly overly sharpened presentation that adequately captured the experience of watching an average film print. That disc also includes the original English trailer, a solid 5.1 remix, and a sills gallery coupled with some fantastic radio spots. At the other end of the spectrum, Italy's NoShame release contains the Italian and English tracks in mono with one terrific exclusive: a long reel of footage from the original film shoot in Savannah, Georgia, complete with lots of spooky graveyard shots. It's a wonderful bit of Fulci memorabilia and is almost worth the price tag by itself. Unfortunately, the transfer is an utter disaster, slathering so much noise reduction on the film that actors' faces constantly blur into a sludgy mess and any onscreen movement accompanied by blurring and ghosting galore. On top of that, the image has been brightened far too much and drenched in an artificial yellow tint that makes the whole experience unwatchable after a few minutes.

While Blue Underground pulled off a miracle with its crackerjack Blu-ray of New York Ripper, fans had reason to worry about whether this already grainy film would prove to be a nightmare with the added clarity of high definition. Well, surprise, surprise; the Blu-Ray taken from the original camera negative is a real stunner, featuring a far richer color scheme than anyone could have guessed by past transfers (the Anchor Bay/Blue Underground standard def one now looks pallid and far too cold in copmarison), with accurate and vibrant flesh tones as well as some eye-popping color designs in the cinematography completely impossible to appreciate in past versions (and theatrical prints). From the lush green and mahogany furniture in the New York seance room to the searing, Argento-esque neon lighting in the local Dunwich watering hole, this now feels much more like an accomplished, artistic film than before. Interestingly, the opening cemetery scene seems to vary greatly from one version to the next; in most prints it's a murky gray, while on the Anchor Bay disc; it featured a heavy blue tint that mysteriously vanished after the switchover to New York. Here it looks like a misty, overcast afternoon, which feels about right. The film grain here is present but far more natural and under control; detail is excellent and very filmic throughout, especially in the exterior scenes shot in New York and Savannah. The limitations of the original shooting conditions are still evident in a handful of the darker scenes, but it's hard to imagine how this could possibly look better. The Blu-Ray's 7.1 DTS-HD mix is also a real treat, with Frizzi's score sounding very robust as it pumps out of the front and rear speakers and some of the more manipulative sound effects getting a nice shot in the arm as well. The 50GB disc (which allows for a very healthy, very necessary high bit rate) also includes the original mono track (which now sounds pretty anemic in comparison) and the same 5.1 mix from the DVD, along with new English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitle options.

If the huge improvement in quality weren't enough of an enticement, the Blue Underground release tosses in a huge helping of extras produced in conjunction with Paura Productions. The 32-minute "The Making of City of the Living Dead" features MacColl, co-star and future director Michele Soavi (who gets his brains memorably squeezed out of his cranium), Salvati, De Rossi, production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, assistant FX artist Rosario Prestopino, and camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati talking about their experiences on the film, sometimes very candidly indeed. Most of them confirm Fulci's reputation as "very difficult," with George apparently butting heads with the director so much he wound up pulling a surprisingly grotesque prank on the set. All of the nasty highlights are covered here including the methods used to create the maggot storm, the tears of blood, the head drill, and much more, along with the problems of shooting in a Georgia cemetery and the difficulties of trying to swing an axe into a coffin containing the leading lady. Soavi in particular has some fascinating bits as he talks about taking his small role to get some directorial work snuck in on the set and offers a graphic explanation for his death scene. MacColl turns up again for a separate interview, "Acting among the Living Dead" (shot at a different time and place than her earlier chat), in which she talks about first being hired by Fulci, her personal methods of finding peace with the subject matter of the script, and her much-delayed realization of the film's huge cult reputation. It's a fine companion to her magnificent commentary on The Beyond and once again shows her as an intelligent, very likeable presence. The always hilarious Radice pops up for a welcome separate interview, "Entering the Gates of Hell," in which he rattles off his own uncensored memories of working with Maestro Fulci and recalls his hedonistic days on the set. "Memories of the Maestro" is a more generic piece with most of the same participants chatting about Fulci in stories and recollections unconnected to the main feature; it's a nice tribute and similar to Paura's feature-length Fulci doc. "Marketing of the Living Dead" is a new, HD gallery of posters and stills, while the older DVD gallery and radio spots are carried over as well. The package is rounded out with the English and Italian trailers, both also presented in new HD transfers.