City of the Living Dead: Limited Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 04, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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City of the Living Dead: Limited Edition (4K UHD Review)


Lucio Fulci

Release Date(s)

1980 (March 24, 2023)


Dania Film/Medusa Distribuzione/National Cinematografica (Cauldron Films)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A
  • Overall 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), and 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 a singularly 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 seems 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 rising from the grave, as the priest’s death has 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.)

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 facile and 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 35 mm film using spherical lenses. Most of the horror films that Salvati photographed for Fulci at that time were shot in 2-perf Techniscope and were 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. Cauldron Films describes this version as an “updated 4K restoration, with a brand new Dolby Vision color grade,” but there are no other details available regarding the film elements or restoration work that was done. Reading between the lines, it seems likely that it’s the same 4K scan that was done previously, with some new tweaks and a High Dynamic Range grade (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 they will allow. 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 inside 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 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, if not the deepest.

Audio is offered in English and Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Both the English and Italian language versions of the film have been encoded separately on the disc via seamless branching, so each of these language tracks can only be selected from the main menu when playing the film—they can’t be switched later via the language button on the player. (The running times are identical for both; the only difference between the two is the title sequences.) 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.

From a practical standpoint, the English language track is also the stronger of the two on this disc. 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 tracks, and it reproduces the memorable score by Fulci vet Fabio Frizzi with more heft and depth. (Note that none of the previous 5.1 or 6.1 remixes have been included here, just the theatrical mono.)

Cauldron Film’s Exclusive Slipcase 4K Ultra HD release of City of the Living Dead is a three-disc set that includes one UHD and two Blu-rays. The UHD and the first Blu-ray both offer the film with four different commentary tracks, while the rest of the extras are confined to the second Blu-ray. The insert is reversible, with new artwork by Robert Sammelin on one side, and the original The Gates of Hell artwork on the reverse. It also includes a hard slipcase featuring the Sammelin artwork. Cauldron Films originally offered a Limited Edition version that included a set of NSFW stickers, a reversible poster offering both pieces of artwork on each side, and the CD for Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack album, which was housed in its own separate cardboard case. That set is sold out at this point. There’s also a standard version coming without the slipcase, using different artwork for the insert. The extras are a mixture of new and archival material, including one new commentary track, plus two Easter eggs that haven’t been seen elsewhere:


  • Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan
  • Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Audio Commentary with Catriona MacColl, moderated by Jay Slater
  • Audio Commentary with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, moderated by Calum Waddell


  • Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan
  • Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Audio Commentary with Catriona MacColl, moderated by Jay Slater
  • Audio Commentary with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, moderated by Calum Waddell

The new commentary track is with author and film historian Samm Deighan, who describes City of the Living Dead as one of her favorite films, so she’s thrilled to be doing a commentary for it. It was her gateway as a young teenager to the world of Italian horror. She opens by describing the convoluted path that Fulci took to becoming a horror legend, and the ways in which his films in the genre aren’t necessarily immediately accessible to horror fans. She offers background details about the majority of the actors in the film, including some who are only seen briefly (like the gravediggers), with a natural emphasis on Christopher George and Catriona MacColl. She makes the point that City of the Living Dead really isn’t a zombie movie at all, but rather something else entirely, and it’s hard to argue with that. She does her best to analyze the narrative, and offers her own thoughts about the mystifying conclusion.

The first of the archival commentaries features Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson along with Troy Howarth, author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, and it was originally recorded for the 2020 Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing. They also describe City of the Living Dead as a big favorite, and even debate whether or not it’s actually the best of Fulci’s zombie projects—though again, they note that it’s not a conventional Italian zombie film. While they do cover information about the actors, they delve much deeper into the minutiae of the production, providing details like a timeline for the shoot, location information, and various behind-the-scenes stories. They affirm the fact that it’s not really a film about plot, and spend some time going into the stories regarding why the ending happened the way that it did, offering their own interpretations of it in the process. While there’s naturally a bit of overlap between this track and Deighan’s, the two actually complement each other nicely, and are both worth a listen.

The final two archival commentaries feature Catriona MacColl and Giovanni Lombardo Radice. The track 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. These tracks are also well worth the time—while four commentaries understandably may seem a bit daunting, they each have their own unique merits.


  • Zombie Kings (HD – 45:46)
  • Requiem for Bob (HD – 28:00)
  • The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi (HD – 26:34)
  • Carlo of the Living Dead (HD – 18:13)
  • On Stage: Q&A with Venantino Venantini & Ruggero Deodato (Upscaled SD – 46:03)
  • Catriona MacColl Q&A from The Glasgow Theatre (Upscaled SD – 20:08)
  • Music for a Flesh Feast (HD – 29:25)
  • Catriona MacColl Archival Video Intro (Upscaled SD – 5:14)
  • A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery (HD – 4:49)
  • Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew from Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1 (Upscaled SD – 42:42)
  • Trailers (HD – 6:35, 3 in all)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 8:41)

The rest of the extras consist primarily of interviews and Q&A sessions. Zombie Kings is an interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, who worked with a remarkable collection of directors throughout his career including Fulci, Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi, Luigi Cozzi, Antonio Margheriti, Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi, and many more. Needless to say, he has an abundance of stories to tell, and he also offers some interesting thoughts about why zombies have proven so fascinating throughout the years. Requiem for Bob is an interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who says that despite having watched City of the Living Dead countless times, the most gruesome moments still affect him. He talks about both his career and his personal life, including working with Fulci, and his struggles with addiction. (He also has some very sweet dogs!) The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi features the late special effects artist talking about his work on various Fulci films. He also shows off some of the props from his workshop, including the rig that he designed for the drill scene in City of the Living Dead, and some of the infamous hooks from Cannibal Ferox. He admits to some discomfort with having participated in the animal killings in the latter film. Carlo of the Living Dead is an interview with actor Carlo De Mejo, focusing on his work with Fulci. He speculates that the bizarre ending was a matter of the producers wanting to leave the door open for a sequel.

On Stage is a 2017 Q&A with actor Venantino Venantini and Ruggero Deodato, although it might be more accurate to call it a monologue by Venantini, since he barely lets Deodato and moderator Marco Giusti get a word in edgewise. He ends up providing a very, very thorough overview of his entire life and career, while Deodato displays the patience of Job. The Catriona MacColl Q&A is from a sold-out 2010 screening of The Beyond at the Glasgow Film Theatre, and is 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. She says that The Beyond was probably her favorite of all the films that she made with him, for personal reasons. Music for a Flesh Feast is a 2012 Q&A with Fabio Frizzi after a screening of Zombie that also took place at the Glasgow Film Theatre, this time moderated by Waddell along with Nick Frame. He provides a lot of detail regarding the process by which he assembles his scores, and how the music ended up being cut together with the image.

The Catriona MacColl Archival Video Intro appears to be from an unspecified home video release of City of the Living Dead, while A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery is a brief unnarrated video journey through and over the famous cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. (It hasn’t gotten any less eerie in the decades since City of the Living Dead shot there.) Finally, the Archival Interviews collects relevant interview footage from the 2008 DVD Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1. It includes Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Luca Venantini, Fabrizio Jovine, Venantino Venantini, Michel Soavi, Dardano Sacchetti, Massimo Antonello Geleng, Gino De Rossi, Rosario Prestopino, Sergio Salvati, and Fabio Frizzi. There are also at least two major Easter eggs on disc three:

  • The Gates of Hell VHS Version (SD – 93:10)
  • Christopher George, Playgirl’s Man for June 1974 (HD – 2:40, 7 in all)

Both are accessible from the Image Gallery selection on the main menu—move left and hit enter for the first one, then move right and hit enter for the second. The VHS Version is a bit of an oddity, as it does appear to have been ripped directly from a vintage consumer VHS tape, not the 1” master tape, so it’s extremely low quality, with visible tracking errors. Yet the real issue is that it’s not presented open matte at the full 1.33:1 frame, or even panned-and-scanned from the 1.85:1 image, but horizontally squeezed instead. I first saw the film on VHS as The Gates of Hell back in the early Eighties, but I wouldn’t presume to trust my own memories of whether or not it was squeezed that way. That would have been unusual, even in that era, but not exactly unheard of, either. The other problem is that there are motion artifacts from the process of converting the tape to digital. Still, it’s unlikely anyone would want to watch this version all the way through, so it’s mostly here for archival purposes to preserve the film as The Gates of Hell. The second Easter egg, on the other hand, is quite high quality, although whether or not that’s a good thing will be a matter of personal taste. Some Christopher George fans will probably be thrilled.

Included in the aforementioned Limited Edition version was the film’s soundtrack, which included the following tracks:


  1. Introduzione (4:13)
  2. Fatti Misteriosi (2:54)
  3. Toward Dawn (1:22)
  4. Apoteosi Del Mistero (1:13)
  5. Occhi Di Brace (3:19)
  6. Verso L’Alba (1:50)
  7. Irrealtà Di Suoni (2:57)
  8. Toward Dawn (1:23)
  9. Paura Vivente (1:28)
  10. Paura E Liberazione (2:39)
  11. Toward Dawn (1:40)
  12. Suoni Dissonanti (2:56)
  13. Apoteosi Del Mistero (3:58)
  14. Embers Eyes (1:48)
  15. Tenebre Viventi (2:18)
  16. Dissonant Sounds (1:26)
  17. Toward Dawn (1:05)

This is basically the standard version of the soundtrack, but note that it’s missing the ten-minute long Paura nella citta dei morti viventi “live” suite that’s offered on some editions.

With or without the CD, that’s several hours of extras to pore through, and yet there are hours of extras from previous editions that aren’t included here. 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, the 2010 and 2020 Arrow versions, and several others, there are too many other omissions to list all of them. Some of the most noteworthy include the featurette The Making of City of the Living Dead; video appreciations from Stephen Thrower and Andy Nyman; a video essay by Kat Ellinger; 8 mm behind-the-scenes footage; a documentary about Giovanni Lombardo Radice; and a variety of different or alternate interviews to the ones that are included here. 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. 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.) Thanks to a solid 4K presentation, robust audio, and noteworthy new extras, this Cauldron Films release is still worthy of adding to your library as well. You can never have enough City of the Living Dead.

- Stephen Bjork

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