Wednesday, 13 February 2008

City of the Living Dead (1980)

Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is bored to death

City of the Living Dead is another film in Lucio Fulci's "zombie trilogy". Like his other films, it eschews traditional storytelling for an atmosphere of dread and gory setpieces, a technique that would be further refined in his next offering, The Beyond.

The film opens in New York, where are bunch of fun-loving occultists are trying to have a chat with the spirit world. During the seance, Maria (Katriona MacColl, from House by the Cemetery) has a vision of a priest hanging himself in the sleepy town of Dunwich (the fictional town featured in many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories). In doing so, he has left the gate to hell open and a bunch of zombies have walked in and tracked mud all over the the house. If it isn't shut by All Saint's Day, it'll stay open forever. Well, that's just great! After her vision, Mary has a psychic seizure and dies of shock.

This kind of movie wouldn't be complete without a nosy reporter, this time taking the form of the cigar chomping Peter Bell (Christopher George) . When he visits Mary's grave the next day, he hears screams coming from inside the coffin! He grabs a pick-axe and starts laying into it, almost trepanning Mary in the process (I like to think he thought she was a zombie and was trying to kill her). After an exposition-heavy visit to the psychic from the seance, they decide to drive to Dunwich and see if they can close the gate to hell, maybe put some of those self-closing hinges on it.

Meanwhile, strange things are going on in Dunwich. Smoke-spewing cracks are opening up in walls, windows and mirrors are spontaneously exploding, walls are bleeding etc. The undead are walking around with no regard for local loitering laws. Actually, in this film the zombies behave more like ghosts, appearing and disappearing at will. The zombie priest uses his teleportation ability to spy on some teenagers making out. His disapproving glare has a detrimental effect on the girl... she starts crying blood and then barfs up all her internal organs. I did the same thing when my mother walked in on me masturbating. He then grabs a handful of the guys head and tears out a chunk of his brain matter.

We are also introduced to a psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo), and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren). Gerry's girlfriend Emily (Antonella Interlenghi) has had a fatal visitation from the zombie priest. He shoved a handful of worms in her face, which would be a pretty awesome prank if you were seven years old, but in this case she died of fright. She soon comes back as a zombie and murders her parents.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that Dunwich seems like a fairly ordinary small town, Peter and Mary are having a hell of a time finding the place. We're an hour into the film and they still haven't arrived. Peter claims it was built on the ruins of Salem, but I always thought that Salem was built on the ruins of Salem. Maybe that's why they can't find it?

One character I haven't mentioned, because his subplot is utterly disposable, is Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice). He is a creepy, mentally-handicapped pervert, shunned by the local populace, who likes to sit in abandoned buildings and fondle his spontaneously-inflating sex doll. Bob crops up here and there throughout the movie, stumbling upon corpses and seeing ghosts. Bob meets his end not at the hands of the zombies, but that of a local who thinks Bob's been fiddling with his daughter. Poor Bob gets a table drill right through the cranium, and is never mentioned again.

Anyway, eventually Peter and Mary meet up with Gerry and Sandra. Since it wouldn't be a Fulci film without maggots (Fulci's brother must have owned a maggot farm or something), the windows burst open and little fellas start raining in like wriggly little snowflakes. They manage track down the priests tomb, and once inside it's time for the final showdown with the zombie priest. Before he can do his vomit-inducing party trick on Mary, Gerry (the other two having since been killed) anti-climatically runs him through with a stake. All of the zombies burst into flame and they escape.

As they emerge from the tomb, Emily's little brother John-John, flanked by police officers, runs towards them. For unexplained reasons, Mary screams in terror and the film ends.

I'm definitely not the kind of guy who demands a strict, linear narrative with all subplots neatly wrapped up in a red bow. I don't mind if a director fucks with my head a little bit. With Fulci, however, it seems more like just plain incompetence in basic storytelling. There are a lot of Fulci fans out there who romanticise his lackadaisical approach to plot, even comparing him to Dario Argento. I don't think that's a fair comparison. With Argento, the extreme gore is just one operatic element of a stylistic whole. With Fulci the extreme gore is the raison d'etre. Not that I think there's anything necessarily wrong with that.

Anyway, if a girl puking up her own intestines sounds like something you'd want to see, you should see this film. Then seek professional help.

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