Wednesday, October 21, 2015

City of the Living Dead (1980)

This review will be about, among other things, how hot Catriona MacColl looks in this movie.

Here's the story: a priest hangs himself in the town of Dunwich ("built on the ruins of the original Salem").  This fulfills a prophecy in the ancient Book of Enoch and will lead to the perpetual opening of the gates of hell if something isn't done by All Saints' Day.  MacColl's character teams up with a journalist named Peter Bell (Christopher George, channeling Columbo) and some locals to remedy this predicament.  

Positives first.  As is usual with Fulci, the technical aspects of the film are pretty irreproachable.  City is maybe his most ambitious film in terms of structure, as we're constantly switching back and forth between different scenes.  If this were a play, it would have like 100 short acts.  But we never lose sight of continuity and the editing is commendably crisp.  So is the camerawork, with slow loving pans of houses circled by blue-tinted fog.  And so is Fabio Frizzi's score, all morose electronics with no Psycho-style staccato jump scare stuff.  

Now the not-as-positive-but-still-not-bad.  As also happens a lot with Fulci, the understanding of America gets rather murky.  We're in New England, but the sheriff sounds like Mike Huckabee and we hear monkeys howling and people say things like "Sheriff, what the dickens is this?"  Some exacting viewers won't be able to get beyond all that and the dialogue is undeniably the weakest aspect of this movie.  But the confusion strikes me as rather charming and adds to the surreal feel of the film in many cases.

You can definitely see glimmerings of The Beyond in this film.  Fulci was beginning to dive into avant-horror, disconnected from reality and traditional narrative explanation.  Women weep blood and spit up their own intestines.  A dad catches his daughter with the local pervert and violently overreacts with a drill.  And the why of it all is never explained.

The clearest example of letting go is the famous ending, which was a technical botch in post-production, but I can't think of a better conclusion to a marathon of spirited weirdness like City.  I don't think this reaches the same level as Fulci's best work, but it's miles beyond your typical workaday pasta-zombie fare.  The gore satisfies, the acting is generally pretty good, and Catriona MacColl really does look fetching here in her casual hellgate-closing outfits.  An easy recommend.


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