Another day in Italy, another Italian shlocker. You must be wondering how I am able to squeeze in all these horror movies and see all the beautiful sights Italy has to show me. Well let’s just say if you embrace your insomnia then you can get an awful lot done in those extra hours, rather than just lying there thinking of all the horrible things in the world.
With a bit of luck Lucio Fulci’s story about the end of the world in City of the Living Dead is not one of those horrible things. When a priest hangs himself in the forgotten town of Dunwich, we are left with only a couple of days before the Gates of Hell (as the film was known in the US) open up and all manner of nastiness arises. At the same time as this suicidal vicar buys the big one, a young medium (Catriona MacColl) witnesses his death in a vision and immediately drops dead. When a snoopy journalist investigates (Christopher George) her death he finds that she is in fact still alive but being buried alive as he shows up.
A number of things spring to mind during this whole scene. Firstly, thank god the grave diggers stick closely to their union rules and stop work dead on five o’clock, hence leaving MacColl only half buried. Also i am impressed there is a union for grave diggers in America. Secondly, why does her coffin have a mirror in it? Okay so maybe at the service people can have a look at the corpse from where they are sitting rather than having to stumble up to the alter, but really, how lazy can they be? In which case is the mirror purely there for anyone who happens to wake up whilst being buried alive so they can see themselves suffocating to death. Seems a bit extra cruel to me. Thirdly, if, after about five minutes of listening to a woman screaming from the grave you decide she really is still alive, is the best way to free her to slam a pick axe through the top of her coffin where her face is? I think not Christopher George.
So once George and MacColl are united they decide to set off for Dunwich to stop the gate opening and all hell breaking loose on All Saints Eve, or Halloween as all sensible modern people would call it. They better get things sorted soon though because things have already started going to shit. As a frizzy haired medium (there are quite a few mediums in New York apparently) eloquently puts it “in some other town some awful things are happening that will shatter your imagination”. Indeed, we go from this announcement to a pale looking retarded youth making out with a self-inflating blow up doll. My imagination is well and truly shattered.
Actually some grim stuff does happen. A couple of teenagers (well thirty-somethings) see the hanging priest and the girls eyes start to cry blood. Then she throws up her intestinal tract, followed by her liver, before pulling the boys brains out through the back of his skull.
Meanwhile Doctor Gerry, who seems to be the most misogynistic psychiatrist on the planet, is treating dopey artist Sandra for her dislike of men. Or at least I think that’s what she has. Her father left when she was eight and now she’s into incest or something. I’m not sure what she’s going on about. Fortunately Doctor Gerry tells her she’s not mad just has a “pet neurosis like 70% of the female population”. Forward thinking there Doctor Gerry. I don’t know if Sandra is mad or not but artwork is dreadful. The painting she is doing when she’s later attacked by an undead old lady is of a Rhino’s head floating above a beach. It’s like something you get on a towel in Tenerife, but worse. Why a Rhino Sandra, why?
This film is full of people doing weird stuff. Our heroes are attacked by a storm of maggots, although they refer to them as worms. They are covered in the creepy little buggers but instead of just leaving the room they all just stand there dusting them off. The mentally handicapped doll fucker called Bob is caught hiding in a garage and the owner, decides instead of calling the police decides to drill a hole through Bob’s brain. This is because everyone thinks that Bob has caused all the deaths in Dunwich, dispite the fact that every corpse they have found has been frightened to death. Unless they walked in on Bob humping his rubber doll I suspect the poor fella isn’t capable of frightening a mouse with a heart condition so why they think it’s him is beyond me.
Anyway, things all build up to some horrific goings on in the dead priests tomb and like all of Fulci’s films you have to just accept their shortfalls and just go with it. The dubbing all dialogue after the film has been shot trick is back, so no one is in sync again and all decent performances are lost. This is particularly sad for Catriona MacCall’s role which might have been charming and entertaining but is buried under badly dubbed screams and mismatched dialogue. Also, like Zombie Flesh Eaters before it, when a woman is confronted with a zombie she just whimpers and buries her head in her hands rather than actually doing anything which is incredibly annoying.
City of the Living Dead doesn’t look as good as Zombie Flesh Eaters but it does have its moments. Under the priests tomb with all the rotten corpses dangling out of the earth above is a great image and the gory deaths are highlights as always in Fulci’s movies. And the story is actually much more interesting than Flesh Eaters even if the dialogue is dreadful.
Also like Flesh Eaters, the film has that weird nightmarish quality about it which, even with its terrible audio and some poor editing, makes it at least a good horror movie, if not exactly a great one. But it won’t keep me awake in the wee small hours though. For that, I have my own nightmares…