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Thursday, 20 January 2011

City of the Living Dead (1980)

I've been on a Lucio Fulci binge lately. There's a certain atmosphere to his horror output that is hard to pinpoint and even harder to turn away from once you're hooked. While Fulci may have wanted to make other stuff than horror in his latter years (after the early portion of his career was spent making dramas, westerns, giallo and more), it's films such as City of the Living Dead (and indeed Zombie Flesh Eaters) for which he is most fondly remembered. This flick was part of his unofficial 'Dead' trilogy along with House By The Cemetary and The Beyond, and much like that latter film demonstrates just how potent his direction could be when he was on a roll.

Then again, to a lot of people, this film is also ponderous, nonsensical and almost comedic in some places. Each to their own, really. It's true that as a film, City of the Living Dead is slow paced instead of an all-out bloodbath, but it's impossible to deny that it contains some of the most notorious moments in horror cinema. These include several heads being ripped open, the notorious drill-through-the-head scene and the even more notorious gut-vomiting sequence.

The story is basic- a priest commits suicide and in doing so opens one of the gates of hell. Things kick off when a seance goes awry, leaving one of the gathering dead... sort of. She awakens after being buried and is dug out in a truly gripping (if improbable) scene. This odd occurrence paves the way for... not a lot for much of the film. Zombies, teleporting ghouls, weird visions and ultraviolence are mixed in with the awful acting and clunky script. It does take forever to get going, but once it does, then the atmosphere is deliciously unnerving and tense.

As with many of Fulci's horror films, the plot and linear storytelling are eschewed in favour of delirious, dreamlike set pieces, leaving the viewer either hypnotized or scratching their heads. The films ends rather abruptly and in an unsatisfying manner. It just kind of stops, rather than having any explanation for what happens onscreen. This is unlike The Beyond, which Fulci would bring viewers a year later.

Those faults aside, City Of The Living Dead is an essential viewing experience for any fan of Fulci or Italian horror movies, and the Arrow Video DVD or Blu-Ray package is frankly brilliant. This excellent 30th anniversary set includes a beautiful transfer of the movie itself along with hours of fascinating extra features, a double-sided artwork poster, six postcards and an interesting essay booklet. While there are cheaper versions of the film out there, this has to be the most comprehensive package around.

It may not be perfect, and there are better films that Fulci made in his horror period, City of the Living Dead remains a fascinating look at a much-loved and much-missed era of horror cinema. It's a little trashy and a little tacky, but it delivers the goods in spades once the pace picks up, and is an essential addition to the serious horror fan's collection.

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