City of the Living Dead (1980)


*. Just for fun, let’s begin at the end. What the hell is going on?
*. The official explanation is that it was the result of a botched job of editing together pieces of damaged film, though there are some other interesting interpretations out there.
*. A scramble of editing resulting in total nonsense: you could say such an ending epitomizes the entire film. There are a bunch of decent parts here but they don’t add up to anything coherent. It isn’t just the ending that doesn’t make sense. What’s Bob’s problem? Is he on the run? From what? What is with that wormy corpse in the old building he hangs out in (aside from making a bizarre complement to his self-inflating sex doll)? Why does the wall drip blood when the glass from the window sticks in it? How do the zombies teleport in and out of physical space? Is the dead priest possessed, or just evil?
*. The script has the feel of something Fulci (and Dardano Sacchetti) scribbled on a napkin. As is usual with Fulci, it’s just a clothesline to hang a bunch of violent scenes from.
*. A lot of the lines are very funny, in that over-the-top Euro-horror way. I like how the medium warns the cop that in some distant town “horrendously awful things are happening, things that would shatter your imagination.” His response is more direct:


*. As far as the opening goes, it’s hard to beat having a woman’s scream against a black background. I wonder what the first film was to do that. I know it’s been done many times since.
*. So the Book of Enoch (which I don’t think is meant to be the Book of Enoch) was written “more than 4,000 years ago.” That’s unlikely. They were just inventing writing back then. There weren’t a lot of books.
*. It’s one thing not to be able to start your car in a scary movie, but to not be able to open the door, from the inside, seems like overkill.
*. It’s weird how they killed off the leads they did in order to come up with such a mismatched couple at the end. These two people don’t even know each other, and now they’re going to raise little John-John together?


*. The drill kill is probably the most famous scene. And it’s one that is totally extraneous to the plot. Why is the girl’s dad a psycho killer? I get it that he doesn’t like Bob, but . . . man.
*. You have to love how the cop volunteers some men to help at the cemetery, but this offer of assistance is turned down. The cops should just take care of John-John and leave the rest to a psychiatrist, his girlfriend, and a couple of out-of-towners. Well . . . OK!
*. It’s almost too easy in a film like this, but isn’t there some really erratic continuity in the cutting between day and night scenes?
*. This is sometimes regarded as the first of Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy (the next instalments were The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery). But there’s little real connection between the three movies.
*. I’m generally a big supporter of actors looking their age in movies, but don’t John-John’s parents seem a bit old to have such a young child?
*. Dunwich (which was actually Savannah) is apparently built on the ruins of the original Salem, of witch-trial fame. Which is weird because Salem is still a community named Salem as well as a historical site. Whereas the Lovecraftian Dunwich is some remote location (the road to it is said at one point to be blocked by a landslide!), and isn’t marked on any maps.
*. The score, with its lazy electronic beat, is effective most of the time but starts to get monotonous after a while. There’s too much of it. And what’s with all the animal noises? The awakened dead sound like a bunch of baboons, and in the one scene they even get the leads to all look up in the tree tops as though expecting to see them swinging around like Tarzan.
*. Of course it wouldn’t be a Fulci movie without piles of writhing worms covering the screen. And as a young man living on a farm, I have stood on many a carpet of maggots. But I never experience anything quite like the infamous maggot scene here. And those are the real deal, no CGI cheating! The actors literally had patches of maggots glued to their faces, and then another 50 kg of the little worms blown at them with an airboat fan. I wouldn’t be surprised if Janet Agren (Sandra) was throwing up for real.
*. Speaking of Sandra, just what is her relationship with her psychiatrist? Is she just a patient? When she’s in trouble, why does she call him, and why does he call her “honey”?


*. Another Fulci signature is the sudden zooms into disorienting close-ups of eyeballs and mouths. This should be silly, but for the most part he gets away with it. Perhaps it’s just so unexpected and unconventional it keeps us on our toes. And helps to conceal the crude dubbing.
*. Whenever I watch Fulci I’m sure I’m watching crap, and yet I keep returning to these films. Why? I think it has to do with his sense of style. In the documentary on the making of this movie star Catriona MacColl shares a great insight, that Fulci’s movies have a “poetic Italian decadence that sets them apart from American horror movies.”
*. What this “poetry” consists of is hard to pin down though. You can feel it, but it resists close analysis. I think it has something to do with the surreal atmosphere, that foggy sense of being in a time and place outside of the normal canons of logic and verisimilitude. Fulci’s horror movies are cheap, exploitative and derivative genre-fare, quite sloppily made in most technical respects, yet they’re always marked by a very personal, idiosyncratic vision that’s full of uncanny moments.


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