Friday, August 24, 2007

City of the Living Dead (1980)

I picked up City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell) on my last jaunt to my favorite store, Second Spin. I was convinced I already owned a copy or had at least watched this Fulci flick, but I was delighted to find I had NOT seen it.

City of the Living Dead has pretty much been slammed by critics, much to my chagrin. Why this sweet little supernatural/zombie flick packed to the teeth with gory goodness has been so lambasted is simply beyond me, for I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In the town of Dunwich a priest (Fabrizio Jovine) commits suicide in a cemetery and opens up the gates to hell. Meanwhile, a psychic (Catriona MacColl) has a vision of this priest and the hell on earth that will ensue after his suicide. This psychic seems to die from fright during the séance, but awakens after she’s been buried alive. A newspaper reporter (Christopher George) poking around her grave for a story rescues her. She then convinces him the world will end in 48 hours unless they find this mysterious town of Dunwich and stop the undead priest from unleashing hell on earth. Back in Dunwich, the undead priest is hard at work and zombies are rising from graves and killing people. When the psychic and reporter finally find Dunwich, they team up with a few others, including a psychologist (Carlo De Mejo) and a young child (Luca Venantini), to fight off the impending zombie apocalypse. Can they stop it before it’s too late?

I am really surprised more people didn’t dig this movie, because I thought it was abso-fucking-lutely fantastic! When you go into a Fulci flick, you have to realize that you won’t get a very well-developed story or even one that makes sense. What you will get, however, is a highly atmospheric and stylized, gore-filled treat! City of the Living Dead is no different, packed with eerie shots of a fog-filled cemetery, a creepy, undead priest and some cringeworthy gore!

The visuals are outstanding, with Fulci creating some seriously nightmarish images. Characters keep seeing the creepy priest appear and disappear, zombies begin stumbling around the nearly-deserted streets and the city of Dunwich begins to take on a very apocalyptic feel. Fabio Frizzi’s dark score helps to heighten the atmosphere and kept me on the edge of my seat!

Besides the sinister visuals, Fulci gives us a heaping plateful of his trademark ooey gooey gore. Once the priest puts the impending apocalypse into motion, people start behaving a little…oddly. In one very memorable scene, a father catches his daughter hanging out in the garage with a guy and suspects the worse. He punishes the man (who in earlier scenes we see is a disturbing sexual deviant, played by none other than Italian horror icon Giovanni Lombardo Radice) by drilling right through his skull in a fantastically shot scene! In another legendary scene, the priest appears and makes a girl cry blood tears and slowly regurgitate her own intestines. Truly a sick, sick sight, but oh so worth it!

Now, no matter how much I enjoyed this flick it still has some very serious flaws. The most glaringly obvious is the poor storyline. The story itself is pretty nonsensical and there are plenty of plot holes to jar your enjoyment of the film. Believability MUST be suspended quite a bit to believe the sequence of events portrayed in the film. Example – without any explanation, the zombies in this film, including the undead priest, can teleport. Pretty handy for freaking people the fuck out! Also, the psychic coming back to life after nearly being buried alive is pretty implausible…didn’t they stuff corpses with embalming fluid and whatnot back then?

The dialogue is pretty horrendous as well, with the characters endlessly babbling about Dunwich being built upon the remains of Salem, going back and forth on how they must stop the priest and on and on. The film gets a lot better towards the end when there is more screaming than talking. Yet, I found myself being able to overlook the bad dialogue and just enjoy the action happening on-screen.

While City of the Living Dead certainly has its flaws and isn’t the best Fulci flick around, it still has a certain charm that made me love it. For those that haven’t experienced Fulci’s unique style of filmmaking (shame on you!) I would NOT recommend this film. It’s a little too all over the place for a starting point. Instead, I’d suggest first checking out Zombi or The Beyond. Still, those that haven’t yet peeped this gorelicious treat are truly missing out on an atmospheric and grue-filled flick!

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