Monday, May 24, 2010

[Review] City Of The Living Dead

I should probably start off this review by admitting that I've only seen two Lucio Fulci films before this.

Well...sort of.

I only just got around to seeing Zombie sometime last year and didn't really get what the big deal was. I thought it started out great, then it went all...meh. I mean sure, there's that gnarly zombie versus shark scene and juicy eyeball piercing, but other than that...I thought it was pretty damn boring.

There, I said it. So shoot me.

And then there's House by the Cemetery, a film I have a very tumultuous relationship with. Having had it on VHS since I was a young'un, I first popped the tape into the VCR when I was about 13 years old...and only got about twenty minutes in before giving up. This happened once again a couple years later. And again a few more years after that. And then again. And again. And still, to this day, I have yet to watch this cruddy film in it's entirety.

The name John Carpenter is synonymous with Michael Myers. Wes Craven with Freddy Krueger. But what comes to mind when I think of Lucio Fulci? None other than...


Anyway, the obvious point I'm trying to make here is that I always thought Fulci was kind of a joke. And even so, other than my love for Suspiria, I'm not too big on Italian horror in general and tend to avoid them as best I can. So when Stacie Ponder (of the Final Girl blog) chose City of the Living Dead as her next Film Club addition, I wasn't too excited to participate. But as a big-time fan of Ms. Ponder and her blog, I figured...why not? I'll give it a try. Surely I'm being too hard on Fulci, right?

Now comes the part where I give myself a kick in the pants for avoiding this film all these years. City of the Living Dead is totally awesome!

Starting off on an eerie note, the film opens with a séance gone wrong as a psychic drops dead after having visions of a gloomy priest hanging himself in a cemetery in the strange little town of Dunwich. When a reporter (played by the icky Christopher George) catches wind of the psychic's odd departure, he becomes intrigued and tracks down her freshly buried coffin look for...umm...What the heck was he looking for? What was he expecting to find there, other than a mound of dirt? Anyway, just as he's about to leave (after surprisingly finding nothing), he hears something a bit fishy.

Did he hear scratching? Banging? Screaming?!

Realizing the psychic has been buried alive, he frees her from her coffin with a pickaxe (and almost kills her in the process, the dumbass), and then gets some very vague information out of her about how the world is about to come to an end. Apparently, the priest's suicide has caused the gates of hell to open and now it's up to them to find this Dunwich town and somehow put a stop to it. And the problem is, they only have about 48 hours to complete their task, otherwise the gates will remain open forever and all the dead will rise from their graves. Of course the 48 hour limit on their lives doesn't stop the two from exchanging flirty glances and stopping for a bite to eat on their way there. They truly seemed concerned.

As you can probably tell, City of the Living Dead is certainly not without it's faults. There are a few characters that are severely underdeveloped and we're never quite sure of their purpose in the film. Christopher George's character is there to chew cigars and look sleazy, so he's obviously needed (Or maybe his purpose is to investigate and stuffs, cause he's  reporter and all. I don't know). And the psychic seems to be the only one who really knows what's happening. But what's with all the other characters? Who are these people?

There's one particular character named Bob (no, not that Bob from House by the Cemetery, thank god) who's a complete mystery. He literally has no purpose. He's not even there as a victim. Well, he does get killed, but not by a zombie or a ghost or whathaveyou, but instead by some random dude who doesn't like Bob hanging around with his daughter... or something. What does this have to do with anything? Nothing at all, as far as I can tell, but who really cares when it ends in a drill to the head?

The dead priest, now a ghost, is also quite vague, but a pretty cool villain nonetheless. I mean, he kinda seemed like a douche. He kept popping up at random, still dangling lifelessly from his noose, right before quickly vanishing into thin air. What a total mindfuck, right? And as if that wasn't enough, he also seemed to enjoy causing people to puke up their innards just by staring intently into their eyes.

Awesome. But gross. If there's one thing that makes Italian horror stand out from the rest, it's the excruciatingly dragged-out, bloody deaths. You gotta love it! It actually kinda nauseated me a bit.

Why did this priest kill himself in the first place? Why does he now have supernatural powers? Why did his death cause the gates of hell to open? How exactly did the psychic get buried alive?

Okay, so by now it's become painfully obvious that Italian filmmakers don't care much for logic (Or maybe that just applies to Italians in general, in which case my existence suddenly makes perfect sense). There's a huge list of unanswered questions presented in this film and most of it is likely to confuse the crap out of you. Maybe I'm being too forgiving, but frankly, I found it easy to dismiss the many faults and enjoyed it for what it was.

Much like the films of Dario Argento, City of the Living Dead makes good use of the surreal in every which way. From phantom flames to demonic growls, from swarms of maggots to bleeding walls, Fulci handled each scene with stylish bizarreness, resulting in a trippy, hypnotic nightmare. And in that regard, it works. I mean, who needs substance when you have so much style, not to mention transporting zombies who rip brains out of people's skulls with their bare hands?

I guess I was sorta wrong about Fulci after all. He's a decent dude. Then again, it's really hard to ignore House By The Cemetery. And Bob. But whatevs. This movie kicked all kinds of ass.


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