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City of the Living Dead

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Posted 20th April 2009 at 05:55 PM by Sam@Cult Labs

City of the Living Dead

Judging a Lucio Fulci movie by the usual standards of a mainstream film magazine or academic criticism is a useless exercise. You either get these flicks or you don't. Fulci's movies are weirdly paced, shoddily dubbed and, in a lot of cases, hard to love, but, whatever genre he was working in (and he covered the whole range of Italian B picture trash), he always bought a certain flair and imagination to his low budget enterprises and was a master of the gory set piece, be it the wooden splinter in the eyeball atrocity of Zombie Flesheaters or the prolonged face melting scene in The Beyond.

City of the Living Dead falls in Fulci's golden period of late 70s/ early 80s movies, where the vogue for ultra violent gore and sleaze found a fresh audience as video rentals exploded. With films such as The Beyond and New York Ripper, Fulci set a benchmark for cinematic unpleasantness that still has a powerful influence on modern horror directors.

This is a zoom happy piece of badly dubbed shlock for sure, but it has enough of Fulci's great set pieces and a few genuinely chilling moments, so the sillier elements such as the truly monstrous dubbing are kept in check. Whoever wrote the script for the English translation was clearly having a little fun at the expense of their employers as choice old world expletives like "What the Dickens!" feature, along with a pimped out black cop who, on investigating the death at a seance that opens the movie, goes round asking all the occultists where their stash is hidden like an Italio-Exploitation John Shaft! It doesn't beat the evil guy in Cannibal Ferox using the word Twat/Twot (?!) in a threatening manner, thus destroying any credibility he might have had, but it's close.

The shaky but entertaining plot centres round the small town of Dulwich (the name is a reference to gothic writer H.P.Lovecraft) where a corrupted priest has committed a sacrificial suicide in order to open the gates of hell. Mary Woodhouse is the psychic victim who seems to have died at the seance. Before collapsing she saw horrific visions of the events in Dulwich, along with foresight into the fate of man should the gates not be closed. The dead will rise and consume the living.

The unfortunate girl is interred in a grave and partially buried when she suddenly breaks out of her ghostly coma... To find herself clawing at the lid of a coffin in a scene that still sends shocks through the system. You can throw all the gore you like onto the screen, but nothing freaks out an audience like being buried alive. Luckily, a journalist looking into to her mysterious "death" hears her screams and rescues her by smashing the coffin in with a handy pick axe, almost caving Mary's head in two in the process.

Together they travel to the small, cursed town to solve the mystery of her visions. Dulwich is in serious trouble by this time, as unsolved deaths are mounting up and lots of people are getting their brains pulled out by superhuman zombies who can appear in a flash and jump off high bridges.

Fulci zombies rock, they don't generally do much apart from stand there looking nasty, but in comparison to the blue faced clown make up in Dawn of the Dead, which came out around the same time, the zombies of the Italian directors films are really rotted and disgusting, with dirt, oozing liquid and worms spilling out of them.

All sorts of foulness is heaped upon the flagging populace of the town, like the moment when two lovers parked up in a truck, looking for a little lovemaking privacy, are set up by the undead priest. He hypnotizes the girl, making her eyes bleed before she slowly vomits her internal organs in a drawn out sequence that seems to have been lovingly conceived to induce a mass exodus to the cinema toilets.

Later, the local sex pervert will be blamed for the crimes and have a drill put through his brain and our heroes, along with a couple of locals who are up for the challenge of solving the secrets of the gates of hell, will be pelted by a plague of maggots. Fulci doesn't scrimp on the gore soaked action as the dead continue to rise and you can set your watch by the fiery ending, in which the scourge of zombie fiends get torched, which seems like a popular solution to Italy's zombie problems as so many of those flicks have a similar finish.

City of the Living Dead has a lot going for it if you're a tolerant gore fan who likes old movies and enjoys the cheesy, kitsch moments as much as the horror. A great droning synth score keeps the downbeat tone throughout, the hysteria during the early seances is good fun and it doesn't contain any of that irritating downtime that you get in a lot of these cheap old films, where the characters spend far to long talking and not enough time doing.

Fans of Fulci will be familiar with this film as it's one of his peak time efforts. For those new to the party, this is as good a place to start as any, if you don't like this one then your probably not going to enjoy his other films. City of the Living Dead is a bit shaky in places and of course fans of plot, logic and finely nuanced performances will be left scratching their heads but for Fulciophiles the more bizarre elements of his films are part of the attraction.
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