Well aren’t we in luck. I write an article on one of my biggest inspirations, and soon after, I have a blu ray of his to review! Unluckily, it’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is not a bad movie. It’s a jumbled mess at times. There are too many characters to follow, each with a different piece of the puzzle. Perhaps I should explain the plot first.
A priest in Dunwich commits suicide by hanging himself in his cemetery. And for whatever reason, this will open the gates to hell that cannot be shut after All Saints Day (which is coming very soon). All of this exposition is given to us by a psychic who mysteriously died after what she saw through her mind’s eye in Dunwich. However, before fully buried she comes back to life. Why? Hell, why not? A reporter gets her out of the casket and the two resolve to find this town in her vision to stop the gates of hell from opening. As they’re cruising the countryside trying to locate the town. We are meted by members of the town. There’s the local pervert, Bob, who you know is a pervert because his first thing is to pull out a blow up doll where he thinks they’ll be alone. Then there’s Sandra on the couch of Dr. can’t-remember-his-name (we’ll call him Steve from now on), then there’s the couple on lovers lane, who die pretty quickly, the girl, Emily, Spews out all of her guts and organs. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is grabbed by the back of the head by the dead preacher and loses a large chunk of brain, killing him instantly. Pay attention to that, those are the two modes of death in this film. Then there’s Emily’s family with her little brother.
When the psychic and the reporter finally get there, it’s almost too late. Lot of people dead (including Bob by drillbit through the head). They meet up with Sandra and Dr. Steve. Save the little kid, death takes two of the main characters out of play, leaving the final two to do something about the gates of hell.
Did you follow that? Well if you did, you’re a much better person than me. The fault that I find with this film is there are too many characters we need to care about, but not enough time to get us to that point. People die and we think “Oh, that was just getting interesting”. As if the plot wasn’t convoluted enough, the ending is a statement, the kind I can’t decode. After they’ve closed the gates to hell the little boy runs to them in joy. As the little boy runs, for some reason the two start screaming and being afraid of him, but he’s not a zombie, he’s just a kid. Then it freeze frames on the boy, and the picture becomes fractured with black splotches.
What the hell is Fulci trying to say with this? I could understand the idea that they were too late to close the gate, and the kid is now evil, but he doesn’t look the part. The ending is just plain confusing, and every time I give it thought, my brain starts hurting. If anyone has the definitive answer, post below in the comments.
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is all over the place, too many characters and not enough time, too many side stories without adequate climaxes. Busted logic, but it gets one thing greatly: the gore and zombie presentation.
All of the zombies are lit from below, giving their pocked faces lines of shadow and makes them look much more fearful this way. The gore is pretty good too. You’ve got the drillbit through the head, you’ve got puking out organs and intestines. But the problem is that some of these people just exist to die. They don’t have much screen time before death. In one character’s case, when she suddenly gets brain-squished, you’re in shock because you thought she was one of the important characters that would live.
Plus, where are all the people in Dunwich? All I see are a handful of guys that hang out at the bar, the psychiatrist, his patient, the little kid and his parents and big sister, a pervert named Bob, and a few other people we don’t see more than once and so aren’t important to the plot. Except some of them ARE important to the plot. No wonder it’s called the City of the Living Dead, there are more zombies than citizens.
This feels like Robert Altman put it together, provided he got into hardcore horror at some point in his career.
A real gross-out scene has nothing to do with violence, a window bursts open for no reason and suddenly snow is being propelled by wind into the room and all over the four characters there at the time. Suddenly, a close up of their faces and you see the snow wasn’t snow, it was maggots, thousands of maggots blowing through the window and landing on the four characters. It’s so gross, and goes on for what feels like forever.
Also, in the end, look for the zombie that is painfully obviously in a protective burn suit. One moment: Zombie, next moment: Looks like a knight of the round table. It is friggen’ hilarious!
And wouldn’t ya know it? A whole Fulci film and nobody’s eyes are penetrated. But there are still many extreme close-ups of people’s eyes, so that’s still mostly the same calling card.
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD isn’t his best movie, but it’s not his worst movie either. It holds a place somewhere in the middle. I love the lighting of the zombies, and that there are zombies. And of course, excellent and inventive gore. This still goes down in Fulci’s win column, but somewhere towards the bottom of the win column. Above films like MANHATTAN BABY, but below films like ZOMBI 2 and THE BEYOND.
If it just wasn’t so convoluted I would like it more, but the story is so strained and random at times that it’d be hard to give this movie high marks.
If you’re a fan of Fulci and you haven’t seen this yet, watch it now. If you’re a fan of horror and inventive deaths, this is the movie for you. If you like your horror movies a little more cohesive, watch ZOMBI 2 instead. Everyone else, if you’re not a fan of horror, you can skip this one entirely.