30 Second Reviews: City of the Living Dead (1980)
Is there any era of horror better than that of Italy in the 70’s and 80’s? I don’t think so!! There are endless classic flicks from this corner of horror history as well as the directors who made them. Dario Argento, Bruno Mattei, and of course Lucio Fulci. Each of these directors contributed many gory classics but none more so than Fulci. And when I think back to this Golden Age I can’t help but think of City of the Living Dead (also known as The Gates of Hell) as one of my favourites.
City is the first movie in what has become known as Fulci’s “Death Trilogy.” The
other two amazing flicks of this trilogy are The Beyond and House by the Cemetery, both made in 1981. I consider all three genre classics that any and all horror lovers need to see. But City will always hold a special place in my heart: It’s the first Fulci flick I ever saw. Excuse me a second; I’m starting to tear up. Ok; I’m better.
Fulci is by far not the greatest director to come out of Italy. Not by a long shot. But what Fulci lacks in technical savvy-ness he more than makes up for in pure entertainment and gore. Lots and lots of very explicit and well done gore. What I’m getting at is that Fulci knows how to make one helluva fucking entertaining horror movie!! That’s more than can be said for the majority of horror film makers out there today.
If you’re not familiar with Fulci’s movies than this is a good a place to start as any. When you watch a Fulci flick, no matter which one it is, you know there are a few guarantees: The plot will be bizarre (bordering on confusing); we’re gonna see a lot of odd camera angles; we’re gonna get lingering close-up shots of really unimportant things; there will be somewhere around four to six show-stopping gore set pieces; someone in the movie will be getting their eye poked out; there will be traces of misogyny; and as the end credits roll you will be completely entertained. City of the Living Dead is no exception and embodies everything that makes a Fulci flick great. The plot here is simple; a priest hangs himself in a church cemetery in the New England town of Dunwich thereby opening the gates of hell. That’s it. Pretty simple, eh? But this is Fulci, remember? A New York City reporter, played by Christopher George, and a psychic (Katriona MacColl) also get caught up in the action and travel to the small town. There they team up with another couple as they attempt to close the gates of hell before All Saints Day. If they don’t, the dead all over the world will rise up and kill the living. So there’s no pressure. And trust me, I’m making this sound way more coherent than what actually unrolls before your eyes.
The gore here is top-notch and there’s plenty of show-stopping scenes that’ll have you gagging. There’s a drill
press through the head, multiple shots of skulls being crushed and brains squishing between zombie fingers, and of course the “vomit scene”. Oh my; that goddamn vomit scene!! This scene single-handedly made me not just a horror fan but a gore hound for life. I never saw anything like it. A girl and her boyfriend (played, by the way, by a young Michele Soavi; future director of the amazing Dellamorte Dellamore) are making out when the dead priest who hanged himself appears. He stares into her eyes and her eyes start bleeding. But then gradually, little by little, she starts vomiting up her entire digestive tract. It’s explicit, the camera never flinches, and we see everything in close-up details. Apparently to accomplish this scene Fulci had the actress, Daniela Doria, swallow and then throw-up an entire plate of tripe!!!
Now THAT’S a dedicated actress. For the close-up shots a fake head was used which contained a pump that pushed the organs out more forcefully. It’s a truly beautiful and disgusting scene.
Besides this show-stopper we get the usual Fulci zombie carnage, and a lot of it. It’s a hugely entertaining movie from the opening scene to the last. And the “buried alive” scene in the beginning is the one that Quentin Tarantino pays homage to in his Kill Bill Part Two. But Fulci isn’t just a one-note gore hound. He also knows how to build tension and create some really atmospheric gloomy scenes. Along with the gore Fulci has a unique vision he executes beautifully in all his movies.
City is simply a “must see” if you love gore, love Italian genre movies from the 80s, or just love a really bizarre,
bloody good time. Fulci is a director/storyteller all to himself. I don’t think there will ever be another one like Fulci, and that actually may be a good thing. Definitely check this one out.
Director: Lucio Fulci
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 9 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 4.5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer