“City of the Living Dead”
Stars: Christopher George, Katrina MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Giovanni Radice
Writers: Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti
Dir: Lucio Fulci
Leave it to Lucio Fulci to deliver a classic, top-five-of-all-time entry into not only the horror, but zombie canon as well, with “Zombie,” and follow it up with this film reviewed here and then his arguable masterpiece, “The Beyond.”
It is tough for me to jump right into this one as greedily as I did with “Zombie” or “The Beyond.” I fondly remember visiting those old video stores in the early 1980s and seeing the bastardized, MPAA-gutted, white box with ominous zombie skull beckoning me to watch “The Gates of Hell” (the ominous zombie skull strangely resembled the absolute suckfest “Hell of the Living Dead” box art, or vice versa; either way, someone should get their balls kicked in for confusing my developing brain with a suckfest and a mindfuck).
“City of the Living Dead” is not purely a zombie film, although it has rotting pussheads aplenty. It is a mash-up of ghosts, demons, and our beloved shamblers tossed into a blender of doomed prophecy, religion, witchcraft, the supernatural, and blow-up dolls.
Yeah, it’s all over the place.
Yet, it follows a very linear plotline that is surprisingly easy to follow.
The sleepy town of Dunwich is completely screwed now that a priest has hung himself and set in motion the opening of the gates of hell. During a séance hundreds of miles away in New York, Mary (MacColl) drops dead at a vision of the impending doom of Dunwich and the twisting-in-the-wind priest.
Naturally, journalist Peter (George) investigates the strange death-by-séance, and, like any journalist worth their salt, hangs around a graveyard just long enough to hear Mary screaming and clawing her way out of her grave — alive and having only been temporarily comatose due to the séance.
Still with me? Good.
Together, Peter and Mary decide to investigate the ominous visions Mary saw in her séance vision. They head to Dunwich, where, as the viewer already knows, shit has just gotten real-real.
Strange windstorms are rushing in. Random minor earthquakes shatter mirrors and destroy cinderblock foundations. Oh, and a girl, who imagines (maybe?) seeing the dead priest suddenly “evacuates” her abdomen. That is to say, “Guts, yer outta here, via my mouth.”
Yup, a woman graphically vomits up her entire digestive system.
And, the paranoid townsfolk decide the strange happenings are the doings of local weirdo, and pervert, Bob (Radice); the townsfolk must have seen “Cannibal Ferox” and just assumed he was up to no good … I think about three people just got that joke.
Anyways, Bob is (sadly) hunted down, drilled about the strange events about town, and, well, Bob can’t be blamed anymore after his brief interrogation.
As Peter and Mary (Paul was nowhere to be found) continue their investigation, they learn the priest’s suicide set off a series of events that will cause the gates of hell to open, on All Saints Day, less than three days from now. Suddenly, it becomes a race against time, a shower of maggots, disappearing and reappearing undead to figure out how to prevent the Biblical/Book of Enoch predicted apocalypse.
Damn, this is a fun horror film.
Romero Rules Followed: Fulci gave the rules the finger with this one.
Gore factor: Girl puking up her guts? Check. Table-drill through the head? Check. Lots of Fulci-designed gore? Double check.
Zombies or Wannabees? It’s a toughie, but, too many liberties are taken here. Wannabees abound.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic, as a gore/horrorfest.
Additional comments: I know I had a little fun with this one. Hell, watch the movie: It is fun. Fulci was having a blast. “The Beyond” was taken a tad more seriously. “The House by the Cemetery” was even more serious (it’ll be up here soon, no worries). In my worthlessly expert opinion, Fulci wanted to branch out from the Romero formula and inject a little variety into the zombie genre (by 1980, nearly 20 knock-offs of “Dawn of the Dead” had been unleashed around the world, each more terrible than the last; yet, “Zombie” landed firmly on its feet as an unofficial, and highly-regarded in horrordom, sequel to “Dawn,” six years prior to Romero’s “Day of the Dead”). Yes, Fulci threw some religious hodge-podge and new-age bullshit into the mix, but he made up for a lot of the “what the fuck is going on” with solid performances from stalwarts George and MacColl and “holy-shit, did-you-see-that?” sequences of graphic gore.
I’m not a huge gorehound. But, if I was, I think I would covet Fulci’s films above several others to get my fix.
The final verdict: It’s not canon, but it is a very, very fun flick to enjoy and just watch unfold.