City of the Living Dead (1980)

I need to be quite clear here.  I know many people will be watching this film because they think it is a zombie film or related to another Lucio Fulci film called Zombie which was, itself, an unofficial sequel to Dario Argento's Italian edit of Dawn of the Dead.  It is not.  It is a beginning of a trilogy which also includes The Beyond and The House Near the Cemetery.  Rather than zombies we are dealing with more of what would traditionally be considered ghouls.

That is where I think this movie loses a lot of people.  They are expecting a Romero-style zombie flick, but instead a surrealistically plotted movie about the end times. 

During a seance in New York Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) sees a vision of a priest (Fabrizio Jovine) hanging himself in a cemetery in a small town called Dunwich.  His suicide opens the gates of hell and causes the dead to rise.  This is supposedly because Dunwich was built over the remains of the original Salem, and those that persecuted the witches are buried there as well.

The vision apparently causes Mary to die of fright.  However, as she is buried, investigative reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) happens to be pursuing the story as the police were not forthcoming with what happened.  He hears her screaming and frees her from her coffin.  Together they head toward Dunwich in an attempt to unearth the priest's body before All Saints' Day in order to prevent the apocalypse.

Meanwhile in Dunwich several disappearances and deaths are being blamed on a local outcast named Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radici), whom many believe is a pervert.  Local psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) gets other ideas when the body of a woman who is supposed to be in the funeral home shows up, then disappears, from the kitchen of Sandra (Janet Agren), one of his patients.  When Peter and Mary arrive, Gerry and Sandra team up with them in their efforts to stop the events which are spiraling out of control.

So, on to what you should be expecting from this movie.  As I said it is not Romero zombies, but instead ghouls who teleport wherever they please.  Occasionally they munch on someone a bit, but typically they either rip out the brain from the back of the head or stare out you until your eyes drip blood and you vomit up your insides.  The priest, Father Thomas, is the nexus, and it is hinted that with him dead that none of the other dead can continue to walk. 

I know none of that makes a whole lot of sense, but then if you are used to Fulci's films (and even Dario Argento's films to some extent), then you understand that narrative often takes a backseat to a good gore scene.  The performances are workmanlike as can be expected in an Italian horror film, with probably the best performance out of the cast coming when they are literally showered in live maggots.  I have a feeling that scene didn't involve much acting. 

As usual, the direction and makeup effects, as well as the fantastic score, are the stars of the film.  There are slow parts, and it truly is a bit more linear in storytelling than The Beyond, but it truly delivers what it promises.

City of the Living Dead (1980)
Time: 93 minutes
Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo
Director: Lucio Fulci

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