City Of The Living Dead (1980)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Christopher George, Katorina MacColl, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

Written by: Lucio Fulco and Dardano Sacchetti

Running time: 93 mins

Original cert: X

Original UK Release: March 1981

Forget the recent torture porn or found footage that seem to be the stable of modern horrors, you need to look at the late 70s and early 80s for the most bizarre horrors around and they came from Italy. Lucio Fulci was a director who wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of taste with his graphically gruesome slice of terror, while telling tales that made no sense at all. His films are now regarded as kitsch gory classics but at the time of release, they were more than problematic.

The first of his Gates of Hell trilogy, (The Beyond and House By The Cemetery being the others), the controversial director had already caused a stir in the cinema community with Zombi 2 (or Zombie Flesh Eaters). Made to cash in on George A. Romero’s success with Dawn Of The Dead, Fulci upped he level of graphic and at a time when there was no regulation on video, it became an instant hit especially among those who were far too young to view it in the cinema. Fulci followed it up with three films all based around the idea of the Gates of Hell opening its doors and spitting out the unread. All were pretty strange but City of the Living Dead has the oddest of script.

Okay, stay with me here. Mary Woodhouse is a psychic and during a seance, witnesses a priest hanging himself in the town of Dunwich, causing her to die. Meanwhile, the priest’s action releases the unread to roam the town, with the ability of telekinesis, levitation and incredible strength. Meanwhile, a reporter, Peter Bell, smelling out a story about Mary’s death, decides to dig deeper and finds she’s not dead but is close to being buried. Meanwhile, the town of Dunwich are finding strange things happening and people are dying. They put the blame on a local pervert. Meanwhile, after being saved by Peter, Mary tells him about the vision and the pair must head to Dunwich to close the Gates of Hell.

Still with me? The joy about this horror is how utterly bonkers the story is, yet it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of watching a filmmaker go as far as he can with the violence. Within the space of its 93 minute running time (if you are watching the original cut. There are many cuts) you get a woman vomiting up her intestines, a man having a drill in his head and zombies squeezing the back of people’s heads so hard, their brains ooze out in their hands. There’s nothing subtle about this film and Fulci is proud of this fact.

Even though the plot is rubbish and the effects compared to modern creations are not brilliant (in the drill scene, the colour of the man’s skin goes from flesh coloured to an off-orange as the drill enters) what Fulci dies very well is create atmosphere. No matter how odd things gets and how laugh ably bad the dialogue is, it feels incredibly creepy. With decent misty cinematography and good use of lighting, it looks impressive. Fulci’s films always had that going for it.

The performances are uniformally awful, from American actor Christopher George’s cigar chewing reporter to the badly dubbed Italian actors, it all adds to the fun of the film. Caught up in the video nasty scandal in the mid 80s, the film was removed and released in a cut form but was reclassified at the turn of this century. Fulci went on to make much more nastier and less enjoyable affairs, including the notorious New York Ripper, as he moved away from zombies and more into giallo. It’s his early work that are his most inventive, if a little on the sick side.

It sounds like I’m slating the film and yes it’s bad but in a good way. You can laugh at it while still being surprised or shocked. It isn’t for those who don’t like graphic violence but those who can stomach it, you will have a blast at this crazy horror.

2/5 (or 4/5 depending on your idea of bad/good)

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