The late Lucio Fulci is a divisive figure in horror cinema. Mostly under-praised by horror’s academia (along with a few of the more contrarian bloggers) and overpraised by hyperbolic gorehounds. In truth he was, in my opinion, a very prolific and occasionally visionary director with a lot of misses, but some truly fantastic hits.
1980’s City of the Living Dead (A.K.A The Gates of Hell) is not Fulci’s best work (that would probably be The Beyond, Perversion Story or Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), but it is far from his worst and includes a lot of the inventive gore that made him a cult figure in America.
The soundtrack may “borrow” quite a few ques from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but the plot takes a different more supernaturally-oriented take on the living dead. The film’s a bit muddy on the details, but basically the suicide of a priest in the cursed town of Dunwich (I know, right?) has caused the Gates of Hell to crack open and if they aren’t closed before All Soul’s Day humanity is screwed. The plot is all over the place, the pace is at times tedious, the acting is middling, and the dialogue is somewhere south of middling, but all of these are tertiary concerns.
Fulci and his crew create some gorgeous images, make good use of locations, and create some head-scratching (in a “how’d they do that” way) and gut-churning gore effects. These visuals are the star of the show and the bluray disc does a marvelous job of recreating them in the brightest sharpest fashion possible (it’s probably no exaggeration to say that the negative elements are never going to be able to look better). Colors are vibrant and the blood, guts, grubs and viscera are all glistening.
The film may not be a classic, but looking at the abundance of bonus features: you wouldn’t know it. Segments like the 30 minute “Making of”, one on one interviews with a few of the lead actors (about ten minutes each), a twenty minute Fulci remembrance, all reveal a wealth of great information with minimal repetition. My favorite feature (because I’m a geek) is entitled “Marketing of the Living Dead” and it’s an HD scroll of all the different Theatrical and home video art used to promote the film around the world. It runs about ten minutes long and includes some really cool rarities like art from the film’s German 8mm release and it’s official “banned film notice.”
Blue Underground seems to be the only genre releasing house really throwing themselves into the High Def arena, and their doing an amazing job. Other companies should take note.