Posted October 12, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

City of the Living Dead (1980) Blu-ray Review

Although it has previously been released by Arrow Video, this is a very meaty package of Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (1980) indeed. This trilogy of films by Italian schlock maestro Fulci formed part of his ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy that included The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery (both 1981). Of course it can and has been labelled as Italian exploitation cinema cashing in on such big cult successes in the late 1970s as Dawn of the Dead (1978), but this would do these films and Fulci’s interpretation of zombies a mis-service. As classic horror cinema, for fans of zombie films, this and the other two films stand out in their own right and are very different from Romero’s zombie films. Fulci’s zombies are more than the mere shambling undead, but rather creatures from hell.

Set in New York, the film opens with a seance in which one of the guest’s, Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) has a vision of a priest hanging himself from a tree in a cemetery in the town of Dunwich. The shock puts her in such a state that she appears to die. She is about to be buried when she wakes up in a coffin. Terrified (naturally), she tears at the lid and screams when she is overheard by a journalist, Peter Bell (Christopher George) who saves her. In this, one of the films more terrifying (Poe like) set pieces, Peter hacks away at the lid with the blade of a pick which lands centimeters from Mary’s face.

Together the pair try to investigate Mary’s vision when they learn that this is based off the Book of Enoch which predicts that on All Saints Day a gateway to hell will open in Dunwich and the dead will walk the earth. In the meantime there are plenty of signs such as the dead priest Mary had envisioned turns people into zombies and cough up their intestines as well as plagues of maggots.

The clever Lovecraftian script of the film works in the film’s favour (the name of the town of Dunwich references H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, ‘The Dunwich Horror’), the supernatural element distinctly moving away from the false notion that this is a George A. Romero rip off, unlike Fulci’s previous Zombie – Flesh Eaters (1979) which is closer to the Romero model. Yet, even then, the visceral imagery of Fulci’s films and the look of his zombies are very different to those in Dawn of the Dead, with decayed creatures with maggots, worms and earth on them, unlike Romero’s pale and the dried out skin of his shambling undead. Romero learnt this lesson and in Day of the Dead (1985) in which the the zombies started to look more decayed.

This film has some unforgettable images and set pieces, while at other times there are occasional moments of laziness displaying the work of a poor schlocky filmmaker. There are scenes in which the zombies seem all too easily able to pull brains out of the back of peoples heads while also giving the roar of a tiger in the jungle (rather than the more familiar groaning). But when his films are good they have some of the most outstanding moments in horror cinema: the mesmeric bleeding eyes, the woman throwing up her intestines and the man with his head being drilled. How about the rainstorm of maggots? On an extra on the disc, MacColl speaks of how awful the process of filming this scene was with Fulci’s camera lingering on the actors suffering the literal rain of maggots (granted mixed with some rice) being thrown on them. I’m sure now there would be some health and safety law prohibiting this. And what is that scream at the end all about, leaving the viewer metaphorically hanging?

There is much to enjoy about City of the Living Dead, although it is unlikely to gain any fans from people afraid of the sight of blood (and guts) and, as with most of Fulci’s films there are moments of gross-out horror. As with many Italian horror films (and giallos) the music plays a big part with Fabio Frizzi’s wonderful music working well here adding to the style of the film. There is an archived interview with the composer on one of the hundreds of extras on the package. As well as audio commentaries with star Catriona MacColl and journalist Jay Slater, there is an additional commentary track with co-star Giovanni Lombardo Radice and horror expert and writer Calum Waddell. In addition there are many interviews including with writer Dardano Sacchetti, MacColl, cameraman Roberto Forges Davanzati, Radice, cinematographer Sergio Salvati, the production designer and many others. There are also interesting visual essays from Kat Ellinger and a passionate interview by filmmaker Andy Nyman (Ghost Stories, 2017) and Stephen Thrower, author of the definitive tome, ‘Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci’. A package well worth forking out for.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick