Next to Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci is probably the most recognized Italian horror film maker on the planet and is definitely a true "master of horror." Though Lucio has passed on into the next world, his films have retained a high degree of popularity and have garnered a constantly growing cult following. Though Fulci will best be remembered for the insanely original zombie epic Zombi 2 (1979) and the nightmarish The Beyond (1981), it’d be foolish to overlook City of the Living Dead. While not nearly as popular (or as good) as Zombi 2 or The Beyond, City of the Living Dead (a.k.a. The Gates of Hell) has its fair share of chills and thrills, and creates an atmosphere of dread, even as the first frame of film begins to roll.
City kicks off as a priest hangs himself in a graveyard. Apparently this act of suicide opens up the gates to Hell in a town called Dunwich and soon the town succumbs to a variety of odd supernatural occurrences. A young psychic named Mary sees humanity’s impending doom and seemingly dies from sheer terror. She’s tossed in a coffin and nearly buried alive, but luckily she’s saved by a reporter named Peter Bell. Soon, she and Peter travel to Dunwich in order to close the portals to Hell and save the entire human race. Meanwhile back in Dunwich, strange things are happening: The entire town is blanketed in an eerie fog throughout morning, noon and night and zombies that have the power to teleport, are popping up all over the town, led by the sinister-looking suicidal priest that we saw during the film’s opening scenes.
To make matters worse, the undead priest has the ability to stare at people which causes them to vomit out their internal organs! (Too cool!) As the body count rises in the village of Dunwich, the townsfolk begin pointing fingers at Bob, an alleged sex offender that lives alone in a rundown building. Bob has seen and heard a great deal of disturbing things and begins living a nomadic life in the town. For a good chunk of the film he’s running away in terror from pure evil and hiding in people’s cars to take a nap. Sadly this latter habit gets Bob killed. He sleeps overnight in a car and ends up getting a drill through his skull courtesy of an angry and overprotective father. (Man that was freakin’ awesome, I’m gonna rewind that. Ok…. 3… 2….1…. BLAM! Again! Again!)
Not long after Bob bites the dust, things really go to hell in Dunwich. Teleporting zombies ambush unsuspecting people and leave one small boy parentless. The local barflies are accosted in their booze-filled sanctuary by the undead. Peter, Mary, and their newfound ally, Gerry, decide that the time has come to get their butts to the Dunwich Cemetary and delve into the family tomb of the town’s recently deceased priest. Once inside the eerie catacombs, the trio of heroes is attacked by a zombie. Peter has the back of his skull ripped off and Mary nearly ends up vomiting up her intestines until Gerry steps in and puts a steel spike in the attacking zombie’s stomach. This somehow destroys the undead beastie but soon the ancient catacombs are filled with moldy corpses and a final showdown ensues between the creeping undead and our two mortal heroes for the sake of mankind’s souls.
Though it would appear that good has overcome evil in this Fulci film, the final shot is pretty ambiguous and just leaves you scratching your head. It’s been a good number of years since I’ve watched City of the Living Dead and I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy it. I was very disappointed with the film upon my first viewing, but I was obviously too young (and probably too stupid) to really appreciate Fulci’s work. (Though I did, and still do, love Zombi 2!) City is incredibly atmospheric and develops an increasing sense of dread and impending doom as minor disturbances give way to a full blown Hell on Earth scenario. The soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi delivers the goods and ramps up the film’s overall creepiness. (I must also note that several musical themes from this film mirror those that are found in Fulci’s Zombi 2, which Fabio Frizzi also composed music for.)
The gore effects in the film are amazingly impressive, especially in the scene where a girl pukes up her guts, as well as the scene were poor Bob ends up on the wrong end of a drill. There’s also a good smattering of brains in this film since the undead’s main mode of attack is to rip off the back of their victims’ skulls. And the makeup for the film’s real stars, the zombies, is fantastic and grotesque and really amps up the horror elements in the movie. I really enjoyed City of the Living Dead as you can see and it really is a must see for Fulci fans, or anyone that’s into zombie films or Italian horror. And since Halloween is on its way, this is definitely a great film to inflict on your more squeamish friends! So be sure to see this Lucio Fulci classic if you have the chance; I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
City of the Living Dead is currently available, uncut, from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The DVD features a good widescreen transfer of the film with Dolby 2.0 and Dolby 5.1 audio tracks. The disc is rounded out with a handful of extras including the film’s original theatrical trailer, a few radio spots, and talent bios for Fulci and several of the film’s key cast members. The DVD is available on its own, but is also available in an Anchor Bay "Fright Pack" boxed set that also contains: Hell of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetary, Dead Heat, Nightmare City, and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. I guess all I have left to say now is FULCI RULES!
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