Wednesday, April 4, 2012

REVIEW: City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead
Director: Lucio Fulci
Year 1980
City of the Living Dead is an atmospheric zombie film brought to us by Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci. While wholly unorthodox, the movie has one of the most oppressive atmospheres of the genre, placing the viewer smack dab in the middle of a surreal nightmare where hell is threatening to break loose and seemingly does. With Fulci’s trademark splatter effects and his pension for creating a dreamlike tone for his films, this strange zombie opus is one you won’t soon forget.
The film begins in a small mysterious town of Dunwich, where a priest commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree. This disturbing act opens the gates of hell, turning this normally quite town into a feasting ground for the living dead. Plagued by a vision of the dying priest, young psychic Mary Woodhouse, teams up with a New York City reporter, Peter Bell, as they travel to the town of Dunwich in order to stop, what Mary possibly believes, to be the end of the world. The dead shall rise and walk the earth and we have front row seats for the zombie apocalypse. Thank you Fulci!

Catriona MacColl plays the role of Mary Woodhouse, the psychic who is literally, yet temporarily, struck dead after having a horrible vision of a priest committing suicide. MacColl is no stranger to fans of Lucio Fulci, seeing that she has played key roles in two other films of the Italian filmmaker’s; The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. With City of the Living Dead being her first foray into the dark and disturbing world of Fulci, Catriona does an amazing job in rolling with the strange structure of the narrative and reacting quite realistically to the ungodly sights that quite often come into contact with her character. Lucio seems to revel in putting his actors and actresses through hell, and MacColl seems to have the grapes to take anything the twisted director can throw at her, resulting in three strong female characters that are just masterfully performed by the talented actress.
Playing her partner in crime is Christopher George as New York City reporter Peter Bell. Another virgin in Fulci territory, George pulls off the roll of the smarmy and wise cracking reporter with a good deal of cheese, showing us that award winning smart ass smile of his that he just loves to show off in the long list of genre efforts that he’s managed to pile up over the course of his career. I’ve always got a kick out of George and enjoyed his various contributions to the horror genre as a whole and City of the Living Dead is no exception. His performances in Pieces, Day of the Animals and Grizzly, are legendary among my circle of friends, and in this film he succeeds in bringing that same charm and watchability that he’s known for.

As for the film itself, it is something of an oddity, relying heavily on its tremendously established atmosphere to set the tone and feel of the movie. The story overall seems random, placing us back and forth between various groups of characters as they experience the horrors of living in a town that now serves as the opening to hell, but it’s through these characters’ experiences that we are visually told on what is going on. With every strange occurrence and morbid sequence, the atmosphere of the film becomes more and more overwhelming, until we are saturated in this disgusting sequence of events and vividly given the impression of the dire situation that the world now faces if something isn’t done soon about this rift in our world. It’s quite an accomplishment to be able to convey these types of feelings, without really presenting the film with a structured narrative for the audience to follow, but Lucio Fulci’s horror movies never pay too much attention to the conventions of the genre. Instead, Fulci enjoys throwing the viewer right into the fray and allowing them to swim head deep into a surreal world where nothing is as it seems. The result of this technique is nothing short of brilliant, giving way to a vibrant cinema world that is truly unsettling.
The aspects of Fulci’s films that add even more to the unsettling tone of his stories are the outrageously gory moments that he splatters throughout these surreal gems. With City of the Living Dead, we are gifted a truly disgusting series of effects driven wonders, particularly when a young woman begins dripping blood from her eyes and then vomits up her insides in one gore producing mess. Now that is excellently disgusting! With that horrific ordeal recorded, we also are given some nasty kills provided by the strangely teleporting zombies of the flick. In a great number of scenes, the zombies choose to sneak up on their victims and then proceed to rip out the back of their skull and yank a piece of brain out, squishing it like a rotten piece of fruit. Now that’s gotta hurt! Another one of Fulci’s trademark calling cards is put to the test when a window bursts open and begins pouring a huge mass of maggots onto the ensemble cast, as they try desperately to avoid the shitstorm of creepy crawlers. It’s one of those WTF moments, but in a Fulci movie it is an everyday occurrence. If there is one thing to be said for City of the Living Dead, it is that it’s one grotesquely surreal and absolutely nasty zombie film, done just the way I like it.

City of the Living Dead is as bizarre as a zombie film can get and when you add that to the fact that Lucio Fulci is behind the lens, then you’ve got yourself one demented undead smorgasbord. From the very start of the film, we are witness to a priest hanging himself, and in the process, unleashing the gates of hell onto the world, setting the film down a twisted and winding path that never leads to a safe haven for the viewer. The movie is saturated in doom, never lifting the tone for a second and relishing in every macabre filled moment of it.
The cast gives a superb effort with the tough situation that they are presented with by their unorthodox director, and both Catriona MacColl and Christopher George especially do a tremendous job in helping us figure out the story behind this mysterious apocalyptic event. The level of gore and grotesquely shot moments are abundantly present and the quality to these memorable chunks of movie gold are off the richter scale, showing that tried and true staple of excellence that Italian splatter cinema is famous for. If you’re in the mood for something truly bizarre and you fancy yourself a zombie movie lover, then get your ass a copy of City of the Living Dead, because that Lucio Fulci is one sick, gore loving bastard. This film is……

Hang in there buddy.

She really is scared shitless.

Getting buried alive kind of sucks.

These aren't tears of joy.

Christopher George, you are one cool bastard.

Why is this guy always hanging around the set?

We even get a little zombie peeping tom action. Undead pervert!

We're going to paint some happy little trees right next to this creepy little rhino.

I wouldn't go in that house if I was you.

I've got six little friends and they can all run faster then you.

Christopher George does his best Dirty Harry impersonation.

Dude... your town is a piece of shit. Tell him how it is George.

It's a maggot SHITSTORM!!!!

I think you've got something on your face.... maybe?

These actors are literally scared out of their damned minds.

The inspiration for Drowning Pool's "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor".

I think Christopher just shit his pants.

See you bastards in The Beyond.



    1. Thanks! I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying the site. Sometimes I wonder if there is even anyone out there reading this shit... haha. Thanks for taking the time and letting me know you're out there.

  2. I've always thought the scene with the girl inside the coffin influenced Tarantino for KILL BILL 2. This is an awesome movie, I mentioned it on my Memorable Moments in Zombie Zinema post as the first film to offer us teleporting zombies!

  3. hey good job on this blog! keep it up!