City Of The Living Dead: An Appreciation
Kenny Killingham (Channel Of The Living Dead)
A lot of people are familiar with the name Lucio Fulci, unfortunately, it has only really been diehard genre heads that watch his films. They’re definitely not for everyone as they don’t always have the most cohesive narrative. What they lack in polish though, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and killer gore. Surrealism abounds and in my opinion, Fulci was neck and neck with Argento for the crown of Italy’s greatest genre legend.
Fulci was an extremely prolific filmmaker with movies spanning the gamut from Western to Slasher, but I’d have to say that my personal favorites are his zombie flicks and particularly his “Gates of Hell” trilogy. There truly wasn’t another like him, and his contribution to the genre is irreplaceable.
The New York Ripper, Don’t Torture a Duckling, Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2), and his aforementioned trilogy are all must-sees and incredibly important films in the grindhouse/exploitation/Giallo subgenres, and don’t get nearly the recognition that they deserve. Over the last decade and a half, Fulci has finally begun to be more widely appreciated by a greater audience, and I hope the trend continues until he is on the level of your Romeros and Carpenters.
If you consider yourself to be a fan of horror, please do yourself a favor and check out some of Fulci’s amazing work. You definitely won’t be disappointed.
To go along with my brief Fulci introspective, it seems only right to touch upon some of his most important films. Meaning, of course, “The Gates of Hell” trilogy. It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite film from this series, so I’m going to go with my pick for best title, and kick things off by expounding just a bit on his 1980 classic, ‘City of the Living Dead’.
The beginning of this film is amongst my favorites in all of horrordom. The atmosphere and “feel” of the opening cemetery is palpable and instills an immediate sense of foreboding. When a film opens with a creepy priest hanging himself in a graveyard, you KNOW you’re in for a good time.
The priest’s suicide somehow opens a doorway to hell, bringing forth a legion of undead onto the New England town of Dunwich. Meanwhile, at a seance in New York, Mary Woodhouse is somehow able to envision the priest’s death and the aftermath it brings about. This second sight scares her so badly that she seemingly dies of fright. We will just gloss over her somehow being both buried alive, and not having been embalmed, because, well….Fulci!
Blah, blah, blah, Book of Enoch, disappearing cop, and on to more of the good stuff. Fulci had little time for trivial matters such as “plot” and “subtext”, cos by God, we’ve got to get on to the IMPORTANT stuff….like power drills through the skull, and ladies puking intestines, and it is every bit as glorious as it sounds. While some may consider Fulci’s surreal, non-linear narratives to be a shortcoming, it’s a huge part of what I find so endearing about his films.
Though Romero my be my all-time favorite filmmaker, Fulci runs a very close second, and was a true master at creating an incomparable, atmospheric grindhouse aesthetic, and ‘City of the Living Dead’ may very well be his finest example.
Back in Dunwich, several children go missing and people begin to suspect a troubled young man named Bob may be behind the disappearances. Bob has a previous history of unseemly behavior and is something of the town pariah. Despite the accusations, Bob has only eyes for one girl, who, while lovely, happens to be of the inflatable persuasion. While spending some quality time with his aired-up gal, Bob stumbles upon the putrefied corpse of one of the missing children.
At a nearby bar, some local townsfolk are gathered to gossip about Bob’s possible involvement, and how wacky things have gotten since the death of the priest, when suddenly a mirror inexplicably shatters as a harbinger of just how bad things truly are.
Mary has been rescued from her premature burial by a reporter named Peter, and they combine forces with a psychiatrist and his patient to somehow close the Gates of Hell and stop the undead uprising before it destroys mankind.
Another item of note; like many of Fulci’s films, ‘City of the Living Dead’ has an amazing score, put together by frequent Fulci collaborator, Fabio Frizzi. Heavy on the synthesizer, you wouldn’t think that it would work for a horror flick, but Fulci and Frizzi somehow pull it off perfectly. You will find it sticking with you well after the film’s conclusion.
The ending of the film, while a bit nonsensical, further captures Fulci’s ability to create a mood and visually stunning backdrop for the events taking place onscreen. Combined with the score, and the phenomenal gore effects, it sets the scene for an ending that you will want to see multiple times.
Despite its shortcomings, ‘City of the Living Dead’ is a near-masterpiece and the perfect film to introduce a neophyte viewer to the magic of 70s/80s Italian horror cinema, and the mastery of legendary director, Lucio Fulci.
(Kenny Killingham is the host of the YouTube channel, ‘Channel of the Living Dead’, and co-runner of the horror headquarters, mutantfam.com
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