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Fulci's "City of the Living Dead" Review

Updated on June 6, 2021
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films a lot.

City of the Living Dead presents an interesting mix of genres. On the surface, this is a zombie movie, but its focus is on the religious supernatural aspect. And Lucio Fulci being the mind behind the film, it's evident that this would feature a decent amount of gore.

However, and being completely honest, the script is a complete disaster. Practically every scene presents a new character that contributes little or nothing to the plot. By the time the last act arrives, there are so many sub-plots scattered that it's difficult to empathize with the humans shown on screen or even to really understand what's going on.

But yes, we will make an attempt to summarize the bonkers plot.

The story begins with a seance made in New York, where a girl named Mary (Catriona MacColl), led by a medium named Theresa (Adelaide Aste) experiences a horrific vision where Father Thomas (Frabizio Jovine), from the village of Dunwich, hangs himself in a cemetery tree.

The traumatic impact of the vision literally kills poor Mary. The incident, of course, attracts the police and the press.

Fulci cannot abandon the Giallo in him, and in his limited capacities as a scriptwriter, he again puts a journalist at the center of the action so he can move the plot forward. The journalist this time is called Peter (Christopher George) and the first thing he does (after rescuing Mary for a live burial!) Is questioning the medium.

Theresa warns them about Mary's vision, which according to Enoch's ancient book, indicates that Father Thomas' suicide somehow opened a portal to the afterlife, which will bring the living dead to our existential plane.

All that will happen irreversibly in All Saints Day, in a matter of a few days. If nobody does anything to avoid it, hell will take over the earth. No pressure.

City of the Living Dead also shows us some (perhaps too many) residents of Dunwich, and how they progressively succumb to the curse of Father Thomas. Zealous jealous parents, horny couples, douchy drunks in bars, and thieve doctors, among others, are just part of the fauna shown in this hellish fictional town that pays homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

Of the big pile of Dunwich characters, only psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) really matters. He will end up allying with Mary and Peter in the search and eventual destruction of Father Thomas's tomb.

And so, with a script that is basically trash, City of the Living Dead comes to an ending that even for its low standards, doesn't make any sense.

The outcome is so detached, sudden and with scarce information, that it has even established the myth that editor Vincenzo Tomassi spilled coffee on the original material, thus resorting to resolve an alternative with what little he had left.

That's the explanation that makes sense. Yes, that's how bad the ending is.

However, the cult around this movie has also prompted many interesting (and somehow desperate) theories about the ending.

And when that happens, it's because the movie did something good.

Fulci is definitely a terrible scriptwriter and a lazy director when it comes to developing characters. But when it's time to create a horror scene, he's a master.

In that respect, City of the Living Dead has at least three scenes that place it on the watchlist of any horror enthusiast.

The first is the sequence in which Peter attends Mary's funeral, who turns out to be alive inside the coffin. Fulci's direction in this scene is a master class of suspense, testing the patience of the viewer, who has no choice but to suffer about the possibility of 1) Peter not hearing the screams of Mary and 2) Peter accidentally killing her while trying to open the coffin with a pickax.

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The second is undoubtedly the first time we see how the infernal powers of Father Thomas work. Rose (played by Daniela Doria, one of the actresses that Fulci frequently victimized in his films) suffers the onslaught of the priest's intense stare, first by crying blood and later vomiting all her internal organs. Even by today's standards, it's impossible not to be disgusted by the real viscera (They use real animal viscera for the sequence) expelled. Fulci's shock factor is undoubtedly legendary.

The third scene includes a poor scapegoat, victim of a jealous father turned full-blown murderer. The scene includes a lathe drilling. Again, Fulci masterfully directs the sequence, with a POV of the victim, a huge excruciating tension, and incredibly explicit practical effects.

In the end, Lucio Fulci was a visual director, and a genius creating atmospheres. And in that department, and only in that department, City of the Living Dead is a gem that deserves to be experienced.

Zombie Movie Details

Title: City of the Living Dead

Release Year: 1980

Director(s): Lucio Fulci

Writer(s): Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti

Actors: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, a.o.

Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes

Language: Italian

3 stars for City of the Living Dead

© 2019 Sam Shepards


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