City of the Living Dead, 1980
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Majo and Antonella Interlenghi
In the village of Dunwich Father Thomas hangs himself in the local graveyard causing the gates of hell to open and spew evil into the world. At the same time in New York City at a seance, Mary suffers a vision of the priest which seemingly kills her through shock. However after being saved from being buried alive by reporter Peter, Mary and her new ally travel to Dunwich on a mission close the gates of hell. Meanwhile, the residents of the village soon find themselves being visited by the walking corpses of their loved ones, eager to make them join their undead ranks, with the now demonic Father Thomas leading the charge.
We’re looking at another entry from the “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci, his 1980 work City of the Living Dead, a rather silly film boasting some truly gruesome effects, hilarious dubbing and a slightly different kind of zombie than the usual shuffling sort that we know and love.
The zombies in this film may initially appear to be your standard shuffling hordes we’re all familiar with, but these zombies can do much more than shuffle and moan. These zombies have fucking super powers!
You get zombies that can teleport from miles away to right in front of you. You have zombies that leap off bridges right into your fucking face. You have zombies that are so strong they can tear the back of your skull out and take a chunk of your brain with it. Or my personal favourite undead superpower, THE DEATH STARE! By which they make blood pour from your eyes, and your intestines come decide that they would much rather be outside your body. Essentially don’t get into a staring contest with these undead bastards or you’ll definitely be calling in sick to work the next day.
Now being that this is an Italian film the dialogue is largely dubbed, so I can’t really judge the actors on their performances. What I can say though is that the dubbing utterly ruins the film’s attempts to be scary and renders it quite hilarious for much of the runtime. However don’t get me wrong – the bad dubbing doesn’t ruin the film as a whole; in fact, it makes all the more entertaining to watch, especially if you watch it with friends.
Take our main protagonist, a bearded psychiatrist, whose dub actor sounds downright bored by what’s going on, not helped by the on-camera actor who just seems to be only slightly annoyed by the dead returning to life and killing people. Like he’s more concerned about how the undead uprising will keep him from playing golf in that afternoon.
The visuals are wonderfully staged, with lots of dark moody lighting and foggy streets that create a brilliantly nightmarish atmosphere. The framing of the demonic priest and his sinister stare are possibly some of the best shots of the film, with low lighting that really emphasis his spooky eyes.
Although Fulci does seem to really love dramatic and sudden zooms into people’s faces, which works fine when they hear something spooky, do we really need a dramatic zoom when someone is merely looking up from their papers?
As per usual with Fulci, we have some gruesome and gory special effects done to gory perfection and are guaranteed to upset more squeamish viewers. The zombie make up is particularly gooey and disgusting, often looking like they’ve just emerged from an accident at a sewage treatment plant and are suitably pissed off about it.
The pace is oddly slow and fast simultaneously, in that Mary and Peter very quickly get going to Dunwich to stop the world ending within the first 15 minutes, but they don’t actually arrive in town until the final half hour of the film. Most of the scenes when we do see them they’re too busy having a flirty road trip and dicking around with maps. When it does cut back to the titular “City of the Living Dead” (even though it’s a more of a village, not a city), we spend time with Dr Beard the town shrink, talking to his patient about her desire to marry her father.
City of the Living Dead is a very mixed bag in my opinion. On one hand, I love the dark gloomy visuals, the stomach churning effects and the spooky musical score, seriously European horror films from this era have some of the coolest soundtracks. But on the other hand, the mismatched pacing made me feel bored; the dubbed acting while hilarious sometimes, ruins the sinister atmosphere and can get quite grating. Not to mention the confusing and sudden as all hell ending, although if you do watch it at all, just watch to see how our heroes vanquish the evil priest from hell, it’s a hilarious climax that almost undermines all the darkness that came before.
Check it out if you like, but I would watch it with your friends if you really want to have some fun with it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★