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City of the Living Dead (1980)



Italian exploitation director Lucio Fulci created a number of graphic horror films in the 1970's and 80's. Riding the coattails of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Fulci's films featured graphic gore and the 'living dead'. They were released in the United States under different names, often with the credits anglicized to disguise their foreign origin. They were also badly cut, and often released on cheap, grainy, third-generation prints. One of the most infamous of the these films, City of the Living Dead, has been recently restored and released by Anchor Bay, providing a fresh look at a flawed splatter classic.

The story, what little of it there is, concerns a priest who hangs himself, and opens the "Gates of Hell" (the film's American title). This causes the dead to rise and rip the brains out of the skulls of the living, maggots to fly through the air, and cracks to appear in the walls of barrooms. It, of course, is nonsense. Like a Marx Brothers films, the script is only there to hold the good parts together. Unfortunately, City has few good parts...a premature burial, some nice zombies, and some great make-ups by Gino de Rossi.

In between these highlights, we're treated to long sections where Christopher George and Katherine MacColl struggle with trivial dialogue. The rest of the cast woodenly delivers their lines, looking vaguely embarrassed. Giovanni Radice (aka John Morgen), regular of hardcore Italian splatter, is also on hand, to die horribly in an arbitrary scene.

Cinematographer Sergio Salvate does his best photographing cheap interiors, and unremarkable locations. He also treats us to lots of zooms and close-ups. Some scenes seem to consist of nothing but shots of the actor's eyes. Fabrio Fabrizzi, another Fulci regular, provides one of his best scores. It is a pulisng, electronic, sub-Goblin thing that you'll remember longer than the film.

Fulci, is, at his best, a visual director, and even in this, one of his weaker films, he provides some great visuals: a pick-axe coming very close to a trapped woman's head, a spooky underground crypt of the living dead, and the infamous girl-pukes-her-guts-out scene.

Ultimately, City of the Living Dead feels like a throw away film. Filmed in 1980, in the middle of Fulci's 'living dead' cycle, it is the least of his efforts. It lacks both the suspense of Zombie, and the lush, gothic surrealism of The Beyond. It has a rushed, cheap feel. A regular on video shelves throughout the 1980's, its production values were not helped by bad cropping and shoddy video quality. As a result, it helped give a bad name to the Italian horror film industry for many years.