Tuesday, March 6, 2012

City of the Living Dead (1980)

Title: City of the Living Dead (1980)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl


In typical sleazy Italian horror movie fashion, City of the Living Dead (a.k.a. The Gates of Hell) is a film that’s derivative in some ways of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) which by the way was made two years before City of the Living Dead was. I guess the excitement behind Romero’s Dawn of the Dead fueled Lucio Fulci into making not just one, but two zombie films. Fulci’s first ode to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead came in the form of Zombie (1979), a film that was actually released in Italy as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. City of the Living Dead was also an ode to Romero’s films, its original title was to be ‘Twilight of the Dead’, again, a cheap way of attempting to sound like a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Actually, posters were made with the ‘Twilight of the Dead’ title on them but had to be recalled. A lawsuit made the Italians change the title, so they changed the films title to City of the Living Dead or The Gates of Hell, two awesome titles on their own right. But were Fulci’s films really ripping off Romero’s?

If you ask this Film Connoisseur, I would say he wasn’t. In reality, the ‘ripping off’ element really comes into play in the marketing. Apparently, the people trying to sell Fulci’s films tried very sleazily to associate themselves with Romero’s highly successful zombie films. Hence the similar sounding titles, but Fulci’s film themselves? In my opinion they are diametrically opposed to Romero’s films. Save for the zombie element, Fulci’s zombie films dealt with completely different scenarios and situations than Romero’s. While Romero’s films dealt more with social issues through its plot, Fulci seemed contempt with shocking and entertaining you, and scaring the crap out of you while at it. While in Romero’s films no one knows why zombies now roam the earth, in Fulci’s they are here because of a strange mix of voodoo and science; or for supernatural reasons. Fulci’s zombie films also had a level of originality to them. For example, only in a Fulci film will you see a zombie go up against a shark! And underwater no less! Only in a Fulci film will you see zombies that teleport! So yeah, Fulci did put an effort in presenting us with new ideas within the zombie genre. Also, grossing you out was a top priority and speaking of grossing you out, City of the Living Dead will do that for sure!

City of the Living Dead is the first of a trilogy of films directed by Lucio Fulci dealing with the living dead, this trilogy includes City of the Living Dead, The Beyond (1981) and finally, House by the Cemetery (1981). The trilogy is called “The Gates of Hell Trilogy” or the “Death Trilogy” by others. Point is they are all about mystical books that open gates to hell, according to these films there’s 7 gates of hell and various magical books to open and close the gates with. One of these books is ‘The Book of Enoch’, another is the ‘Book of Eibon’. The mention of these books in Fulci’s films was his way of paying homage to legendary horror author, H.P. Lovecraft who mentioned these mystical books in his stories as well. Actually, City of the Living Dead has a lot of Lovecraft in it, aside from the books, same as in Lovecraft’s stories, characters see things that are too horrible for our feeble human minds to comprehend as evidenced by the films opening sequence.

The film opens with a séance; four people are trying to contact the dead. Unfortunately, they end up contacting more than they can handle! Mary, one of the people participating in the séance sees the vision of a priest hanging himself from a tree in the cemetery of a spooky little town known as ‘Dunwich’, by the way, Dunwich is another nod to Lovecraft’s short story ‘The Dunwich Horror’. Why does this priest commit suicide? Who the hell knows! And Fulci isn’t telling you either! But this event causes one of the seven doors of hell to slam open; and if this door isn’t closed before ‘All Saints Day’ then the dead will rise from their graves and take over the earth! So it’s up to the good guys to destroy this evil priest and close the Gate to Hell. Will they get there in time?

Various elements make City of the Living Dead an awesome zombie film, one of them being how far Fulci will go to shock the hell out of you! This is the kind of film I like watching with my friends, just to see their faces when things happen. Ever wondered what a girl puking her innards out of her mouth looks like? Look no further! Ever wondered what a brain looks like when it’s being squished by a zombie’s hand? It’s all presented on this classic zombie without any kind of remorse. I love how these Old Italian horror films don’t hold anything back. I mean, where any other American film would have cut away, Italian horror just keeps on showing you stuff, I love that about them. City of the Living Dead delivers in this department. Also, I enjoyed the films atmosphere. This was something that Fulci paid lots of attention to in many of his films: the spooky town, the wind howling constantly, the lonely streets.

Ultimately, City of the Living Dead is a film filled with many memorable moments. Actually, there is a scene that Tarantino was obviously inspired by for Kill Bill  Vol. 2; I’m talking about the scene in which a woman is buried alive and screams at the top of her lungs for someone to try and save her. That scene is so suspenseful! Gots to hand it to Fulci there; he created a truly memorable scene there. I dare you not to feel some sort of desperation while watching it! On the down side, the film does drag a bit in certain areas, but it doesn’t happen often; and same as in many Fulci films, plot holes abound. Why did the priest kill himself? Why to these zombies teleport? Are they ghosts? Or are they physical beings? Ultimately, none of these hiccups matter, City of the Living Dead is a fine piece of ZombieZinema. The gross out scenes are really out there! We get teleporting zombies which is pretty original and we have some truly memorable scenes; so much so that this is my second favorite Fulci film, second only to The Beyond, which in my opinion remains Fulci’s masterpiece. Highly recommend this one for a night of good old fashion Italian style zombie fun.

Rating: 4 out of 5



Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

A dreadful film in my opinion. I have CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD on blu-ray now Franco, and the improved picture and sound does at least make it a little more watchable. I did dig the teleporting zombies, and the opening sequence with the priest was very well shot. But the arbitrary nature of the violence and the nonsense plot require a level of patience, and a boredome threshold, that I lack...Good work buddy!

Franco Macabro said...

This is true, watching a Lucio Fulci movie does require getting adjusted to his way of telling a story. Sometimes he just drags...and sometimes he didnt care much for making things understandable. But sometimes he was "on" and to me one of those times was City of the Living Dead.

But for example, I had a difficult time understanding (or even enjoying) Manhattan Baby, it was just so boring...and it made no sense to me.

City of the Living Dead has a few slow spots, but for me, it had a dreadfuly enjoyable aura...and a cheesy story to go with it, the zombies looked awesome, the gore was amusing...good things all around for me.

Glad you enjoyed the review Shaun.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Don't forget CONQUEST...another of Lucio's finest moments!! The more Fulci films I watch the more I become convinced that his best work is outside the horror genre. His western MASSACRE TIME is better than any of his horror movies. In fact I now pretty much avoid his horror films. I have no intention of watching THE BEYOND, or CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD ever again. I'll have to watch HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY again because I've yet to review it. Try checking out some of his non-horror stuff Franco if you can. And basically forget about anything post 1982.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, Fulci was hit or miss with his films. Sometimes he got things absolutely freaking right, other times...boring, other times unintentionally funny. For example, the film you mentioned, Conquest, that one was pretty funny, it was not a "good" film perse, but it sure was entertaining!

I saw Touch of Death, but again, I was bored to death with that one, something about it just wasnt that exciting.

Cat in the Brain was less then stellar as well...actually that one wasnt even a full on Fulci film, it had snippets from other directors films. Hated that one.

I'd like to see more of Fulci's none horror films like Four of the Apocalypse which I will be checking out soon.


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