City of the Living Dead (1980)
By: Michael Helms on March 11, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English 2.0. 89 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring:Christopher George, Katherine MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Janet Agren, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Michele Soavi, Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti
AKA: The Gates of Hell
With a scream the opening credits roll and so begins City of the Living Dead the follow-up to Lucio Fulci's maniacal, shark-punching, eyeball splintering gorefest Zombie Flesheaters. Made before The Beyond and House by the Cemetery (the latter yet to be released on DVD in Australia) the other two members of Fulci's ultra-violent gothic quadrilogy (there, I knew I could find another place for that word other than as part of a title on a DVD box-set) CITY continues and expands Fulci's obsession with sadistic violence as it does with cinematic language and his ability to sustain a sense of dread to full feature length like few other filmmaker's who profess to make horror films.

At a cemetery in the tiny off the map US town of Dunwich a priest wanders through the mist. Meanwhile in New York a seance is in full swing. At the precise moment the priest hangs himself a participant at the seance screams and falls on the floor foaming at the mouth. Apparently dead she's taken away in an ambulance and the police arrive to question the survivors. In mid-interrogation a ball of flame appears mysteriously in the corner of the room and an ugly moaning male voice begins to infect the soundtrack. "Things are happening that will shatter your imagination", says Theresa the medium to the head cop. Back in Dunwich the seemingly semi-retarded Bob (everybody's favourite victim, Giovanni Lombardo Radice) finds a blow-up sex doll and a worm riddled corpse in a deserted house. Peter the journo (Christopher George) tries to gain access to the crime scene in New York. At a bar in Dunwich a dust storm blows up that cracks mirrors and walls. Mist begins to seep in. During a psychiatric consultation the female patient is deeply clawed by a cat. Elsewhere two gravediggers place the coffin containing Mary the seance victim into the ground and begin to bury her but leave the job half finished. Peter the journalist turns up. Inside the coffin (in a scene that Quentin Tarantino attempted to better in Kill Bill Vol. 2) Mary opens her eyes and screams. Pete rushes back and grabs a pick. Later, through Mary, Pete meets the medium while Mary keeps babbling about the City Of The Dead and the Gates of Hell which are scheduled to open, thanks to the suicidal priest, on All Saints Day. The priest starts to make unwelcome appearances around Dunwich. He stuffs a handful of worms and grue in the face of the psychiatrist's girlfriend while his confrontation with a couple in a truck (the guy played by future director Michele Soavi) results in the girl vomiting her entire intestines and the male having his brains ripped out. Pete and Mary rush towards the mysterious Dunwich which turns out to be a town built on the site of the original Salem. A cop finds worm gloop at the place of the couple's deaths but not the male body. As bodies are gathered in the local funeral parlour the dead come back to life. Bob takes a rest in the back of a car and is woken by a young girl who asks him if he wants to smoke a joint with her. Her father walks in on them and in the greatest moment of irrational violence puts Bob on his lathe for the infamous head drilling scene. The psychiatrist teams up with Pete and Mary and after some more skull cracking brain theft they end up in the graveyard after All Saints Day has begun and the dead begin to emerge en masse. They enter the priest's tomb. Mary cries blood. A stomach wound begins to pulsate and a fence post is put to good use that results in the dead catching fire. Mary and the psychiatrist emerge triumphant but it's only fleeting as they are swiftly re-engulfed in fear. The image cracks. Mary screams. Everything goes black...

While you never want to watch City of the Living Dead with someone with a weak constitution (and I haven't even mentioned the maggot attack) you also don't need to view it with sticklers for narrative continuity. Although it can be seen as great preparation for the awesome almost non-narrative propulsion of The Beyond.
Video
With Fulci you've always been able to see the grue no matter what generation that tape was. Now, with the visuals so sharp, clear and true, you can almost smell it. At the time of production Italian craftsmanship was leading the world in low budget film production although no-one wanted to admit it. Now on DVD it's plain for all to see.
Audio
Compared to The Beyond Fabio Frizzi may only have his tortured voice choirs and keyboard led orchestrations at a formative stage (or perhaps the budget didn't allow him to take it further at this time) but even so married to sound effects that are getting even more prominence than in Zombie Flesheaters, which soundwise City of the Living Dead is a marked improvement over even without a surround mix. What we get here manages to sound less like the music of the time (a quasi-disco/prog rock soundclash) and more like something unearthly most of the time. What should a rain of maggots sound like anyway? You'll find out...
Extra Features
None.
The Verdict
Simply a great example of freaky fantastique filmmaking that's as completely unsettling for all the right reasons as all good horror cinema should be.
Movie Score
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