City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead poster

A misty graveyard, a man in black who as he comes into focus is seen to be a priest, he ties the noose and hangs himself from a tree, the dead rising from the dirt beneath his swinging feet; in New York City, the Great Theresa conducts a séance where Mary Woodhouse has this vision, overcome by the experience and believed to have died of fright, but at her funeral journalist Peter Bell hears the screaming and banging from within the coffin, freeing her.

Events foretold in the Book of Enoch, written 4,000 years before, Theresa says it is a herald of the opening of the Gates of Hell on All Saints Day when the dead will rise and never rest again, the only clue to the location a tombstone Mary saw in her vision, the village of Dunwich where already strange things are happening, ten year old John-John claiming his recently deceased sister Emily killed his parents, Sandra calling her therapist Gerry in terror having found the embalmed body of elderly Mrs Holden in her parlour.

City of the Living Dead; just hanging around in the graveyard with Father William Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine).

It was twenty years into his directing career that Lucio Fulci visited the City of the Living Dead (Paura nella città dei morti viventi, more literally Fear in the City of the Living Dead) which would form the first part of his “Gates of Hell” trilogy alongside The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery, inspired in part by the work of H P Lovecraft and with location work in New York City and Savannah, Georgia supplemented by studio work in Rome.

Featuring an international cast including Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo and Janet Ågren as Peter, Mary, Gerry and Sandra, the focus is on the effects rather than narrative coherence, the suicide of Father William Thomas as the event which precipitates the opening of the gates never questioned, nor why the recently deceased priest now wanders around, smearing teenage girls with mud and worms or causing their eyes to bleed and internal organs to spontaneously disgorge themselves.

City of the Living Dead; psychic screamer Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) is glad to get out for some air.

The parallel narratives in New York and Dunwich quickly brought together, despite this there is little sense that these are anything other than random events; while horror works best when there is a sense of believability, neither the script nor the performances attempt to present City of the Living Dead as reality horribly corrupted and twisted so much as a baffling parade of non sequiturs, the Dunwich police as indifferent to six locals missing in twenty-four hours as the city ambulance crew were to checking Mary for a pulse.

The shock appearances of the ghouls often achieved through jump cuts, neither atmospheric nor uncanny and giving the impression of bad editing with all the inherent menace of Rentaghost, Fulci’s focus is instead on the physical effects of rotting flesh, bleeding walls and inexplicable hurricanes of maggots, pushing to excess but in a vacuum, undeniably well-achieved but meaningless without a worthwhile story to tell.

City of the Living Dead will be available on the Arrow platform from Monday 25th March

City of the Living Dead; Gerry, Mary and Peter (Carlo De Mejo, Catriona MacColl and Christopher George) close in on the Gates of Hell.



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