City Of The Living Dead

City Of The Living Dead

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The first entry in Lucio Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy, City Of The Living Dead may look tame by the standards of modern zombie movies (though it still had some of the horror fans I saw it with squirming in their seats and protesting), but it was scandalous in its time, breaking new ground in its use of gore. Banned for many years, it wasn't released uncut in the UK until the turn of the millenium. It's not the most amazing horror film you'll ever see, but its influence was spectacular, and as such it's important for anybody interested in the development of the genre.

Being new territory for Fulci as well as for his audience, City Of The Living Dead lacks the sophistication of his later films about Hell, coming across as significantly more camp, but it still has plenty going for it. Catriona MacColl is the psychic whose bleak vision inspires Christopher George' investigative reporter to take her on a desperate journey to the small town of Dunwich (the first of many Lovecraft references to span Fulci's trilogy). There the graveyard suicide of a troubled priest has resulted in the opening of one of the gates of Hell, and our heroes are convinced that if they cannot set things right before All Saints Day, all kinds of evil will break loose. In fact, a good bit of evil has already done so. As the townsfolk start turning into zombies, local people struggle to survive. Some take advantage of the chaos to settle old scores, whilst others are determined to save as many as they can but are hampered by the difficulty of taking in what is going on.

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Uneven in tone, with our out-of-town heroes resembling Sixties BBC special agents and some of the townspeople verging on Troma style figures, the film is still very engaging and likeable, its messy script and deliberate tendency to lurch between extremes making for great comedy. Connoisseurs of gore will find lots to entertain them, from our heroes getting splattered with (real) maggots, through brains getting clawed out of living skulls, to the infamous head-drilling scene. The pace is energetic so there's never time to get bored. The zombies are an interesting early entry in the cannon, overlapping somewhat with traditional ideas of ghosts, suddenly appearing and disappearing, sometimes levitating. The film was shot with very little spare footage, so there are a lot of odd cuts and it can be hard to follow what's happening to some minor characters, but in many ways this works in its favour, adding to the impression that something otherworldly is going on here, something breaking the usual rules.

Ultimately, City Of The Living Dead is a great little B-movie with lots to offer for those who like kitsch entertainment delivered with enthusiasm and an undeniable visual flair. It's not for everyone, but approached properly, it can be lots of fun.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2010
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After a psychic has a disturbing vision, she and her reporter friend race to rescue the inhabitants of a town where a priest's suicide has released a terrible evil.
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Director: Lucio Fulci

Writer: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti

Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Janet Agren, Luca Venantini, Venantino Venantini

Year: 1980

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy

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