City of the Living Dead

Saturday, 29 May 2010 11:35

Lucio Fulci’s “City of the Living Dead” rose to prominence on the crest of the wave whisked up by Romero’s zombie classics. “City” is not a simple retread, but rather establishes its own take on the genre, presenting the living dead as far more powerful, menacing and unknowable than previously seen in the likes of “Night of the Living Dead”.

In the small town of Dunwich, Massachusetts, a priest hangs himself in a church cemetery. This unspeakable act sets in motion the cataclysmic opening of the gates of Hell. As the dead begin to rise, the fate of the world falls on the unsuspecting shoulders of a reporter, a psychic, a psychiatrist and his patient. They have just 48 hours - until All Saints Day - to work out how to seal the unholy rift, or be forever plunged into darkness and suffering.

City of the Living Dead DVDChristopher George (Fantasy Island, “The Exterminator”) is Peter Bell, the inquisitive journalist from out of town. He rapidly stumbles into more than enough bloody deaths to fill a year’s worth of papers, but can only piece the full story together with the help of others. Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl – “The House by the Cemetary”) is the psychic who seemingly drops dead after a harrowing vision of the vicar’s death, but in actuality is in a bizarre dormant state that sees her narrowly survive being buried alive, thanks to Bell’s quick thinking.

Local shrink Gerry (Carlo De Mejo – also in Fulci’s “The House by the Cemetery”) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren – “Red Sonja”) also get caught up in the creepy goings on.

It turns out that Dunwich has been built on the ruins of Salem, a favourite haunt of witches in times of yore. When our protagonists combine this ominous knowledge with prophecies from the ancient “Book of Enoch”, they begin to appreciate the gravity of the situation, especially when people start getting their brains and guts ripped out by corpses.

“City” is very much a film that likes to make its audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats, rather than go for the nerve-shredding suspense seen in other zombie flicks. More often than not, these living dead “teleport” next to a victim instead of the more traditional modus operandi of slowly shuffling up the street and relying on massive numbers to corner people. They moan like Romero’s zombies but have a scary fixed stare that implies a fierce telepathic power, meaning that even if they are out of physical range they can still make people’s eyes bleed, and force them to literally vomit up their own guts.

These powers bring to mind Cronenberg’s “Scanners”, though we are spared any exploding heads. Instead we get several instances of skulls crushed with bare hands, and in one infamous scene a head is drilled right through. The gore is copious and for the most part pretty realistic; the special effects and makeup have definitely stood the test of time.

The pacing of the movie is quite leaden, sometimes frustratingly so. Despite their 48-hour deadline, the leading characters rarely appear to be in much of a hurry to save the day or avoid a terrible death. Fortunately, Fulci establishes plenty of atmosphere through the aforementioned gore and dramatic, dark and foggy scenery where streetlights fight a losing battle against the encroaching gloom. When a zombie can “beam in” at any moment, it does not matter too much if the tension is slightly hit and miss.

The Blu-ray version reviewed here is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of picture quality. Generally it is quite sharp and detailed, though grain is frequently evident and occasionally flares up to make the image look more like a pasty, up-scaled picture rather than one taken from a high definition source. It is definitely an improvement on the DVD, though.

Both versions feature a large selection of special features that will have fans drooling over their remotes. They include: newly recorded audio commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice; audio commentary by actress Catriona MacColl and author Jay Slater; introduction to the film by star Carlo De Mejo; ‘Carlo Of The Living Dead featurette; ‘The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombardo Radice’ featurette; ‘Dame Of The Dead’ featurette; ‘Fulci’s Daughter: Memories Of The Italian Gore Maestro’ featurette; ‘Penning Some Paura’ featurette; ‘Profondo Luigi: A Colleague’s Memories Of Lucio Fulci’ featurette; Catriona MacCall and Giovanni Lombardo Radice Q&A session at the Glasgow Film Theatre; ‘Fulci In The House – The Italian Master Of Splatter’ featurette. Quite a package, all told!

“City of the Living Dead” (1980, certificate ‘18’) is out now on DVD (2 discs) and Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Video. As is becoming the standard for Arrow’s releases, you certainly get great value for money. Aside from the main feature (running time 93 minutes approx) and the mountain of special features, both formats also include a two reversible sleeves, a double-sided poster, six postcards and a booklet dedicated to the film. The DVD version retails for £17.99 and the Blu-ray £22.99, or less from



Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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