When a priest's suicide unleashes Hell on the town of Dunwich.
a reporter and a psychic must stop the dead before they take over the Earth.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti
Starring Christopher George, Katriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Janet Agren
I've been gradually working my way into the work of Lucio Fulci, starting with The Beyond and continuing into City of the Living Dead. That's two of Fulci's Gates of Hell Trilogy under my belt, and I have my own issues with both these films. City of the Living Dead has a cool concept and some brutal gory effects, but it's fairly dull at times and has a very confusing ending. I'm well aware that very few fans have these kinds of problems with these films, but I can't ignore the way I look at film.
We begin with the suicide of a priest, which inadvertently opens the Gates of Hell, triggering an impending zombie apocalypse. Several characters work to prevent this, but the means they take to do so are very confusing and inconsistent. I did enjoy Mary (MacColl) ending up buried alive, and Peter's (George) bizarre decision to hurl a pickaxe right at her face to get her out. Plus, the scene where Rosie (Doria) literally vomits up her own guts was just as horrific and unforgettable as I expected. But the ending is underwhelming, as we never actually see the City and the zombie priest's death is far too anticlimactic.
City of the Living Dead is in no way a bad film, but in my opinion, it could've been better. The performances are decent, the characters are intriguing, and the makeup effects are as impressive as I've come to expect from Fulci. It really just loses points based on the anticlimactic and confusing ending, and a number of dropped plot points. Bob (Radice) gets drilled, and nobody ever brings him up again. Feel like that should've mattered.
During the late 70's and through the 80's, the Italian film industry had a renaissance of sorts by riding the coattails of popular American horror movies. Ok, most of them were rip offs like Zombie, the unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, also directed by Fulci. I will be reviewing soon as I recently picked up the remastered version from Blue Underground and cannot wait to see that shit in all its gut-churning glory! They were cranked out with reckless abandon but some of them have become classics in their own right.
Trying to get your head around how the Italian film industry went about doing this is hard. Titles were changed for European audiences and ‘sequels’ were made based on those titles. Case in point: Dawn of the Dead was retitled Zombi in Italy and Fulci’s own film was released as Zombi 2 which has nothing to do with the characters from Romero’s film in any way shape or form. You gotta admire the Italians for their balls in cashing in on a foreign property and packaging it for the European market. I would like to explore this phenomenon and highlight some films as well at some point because it’s a really interesting time in film history and some great movies were released.
The main thread running through all of these spaghetti splatter films (if someone hasn’t trademarked that phrase, I’m claiming it!) is that they do not skimp on the gore and violence with Fulci himself being the Godfather of Gore. Seriously, this guy likes to let the camera linger on the juicy bits and soaking the sound with crunches, squishes, sloshes, slaps, chomps, and groans. For the film nerd, you will notice the dubbing of all voices (even those of the English speaking actors dubbing their own voices!) and that these films were shot silent because the layers of sound in them is insane.
Back to the movie. Father Thomas wanders through the cemetery in Dunwich (a village from H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror) as he comes to a tree where he hangs himself. This action starts a chain of events that causes the dead (even those taking long dirt naps) to rise and an inexplicable wind storm to set upon the people of Dunwich. The narrative is loose, taking most of its structure from Lovecraft’s work, and that’s okay because where Fulci’s films really shine is the way he sets them up around the gory, gross special effects. This film was labeled a “Video Nasty” by Great Britain’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA) in the 80's, meaning it was banned from being sold/viewed in the UK. I have a list of those films and I would love to own and review them because it’s a badge of honor to me to have something on that list. Even everyone’s favorite low-budget, demon possessing, cabin in the woods flick The Evil Dead was given the same label by the NVALA.
The other thing that really works well in this film is the soundtrack composed by Fabio Fabrizi who also collaborated with Fulci on Zombie and this score is great as well. These two work so well together and this is just the first mention I am making. The striking visuals of gore and violence are just as memorable as the music which will infect your brain and have you humming it long after the credits roll. There are two other films in this ‘trilogy’ and they are The Beyond and House by the Cemetery with the former being regarded as the Roman director’s masterpiece. Personally, I think The New York Ripper is probably his best and is Fulci at his most sadistic in how he tortures the audience with the violence and gore he punishes them with. Also of mention is the giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling which is worth mentioning.
With most of the spaghetti splatter films you have to turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride. Trying to insert logic into the events unfolding before your eyes will leave you with a sour viewing experience. Instead, open your minds (and barf bags) to a world full of colors and sounds that came to us from a little boot shaped country known for pizza, pasta, gladiators, aqueducts, and shots of brutal eye-gouging that will stain your brain for years to come. And, in the end, isn’t that what we all want?