There are not many films which contain both the dream like state of a lucid dream and at the same time its quick descent into fevered nightmare. But then again nothing comes across as pure vomit inducing terror more then Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy (which arrow video have lovingly given a 30th anniversary release). City of the Living Dead is the first part of this “Unofficial” trilogy and focuses on a small American town called Dunwich which is to become the gate way to hell and the rising of the living dead, after a priest commits suicide by hanging himself.
That is the structure of the plot and as far as anything in terms of narrative development is concerned that is your lot, but like most of Fulci’s gore films you are not watching for story (for it usually is just a pre-cursor to the effects work) but rather the sense of nightmarish dread he composes his shots with, which some 30+ years on still chills down to the bone. One point I would mention is that any of Fulci’s gore films or this trilogy will be heavily criticised and miss understood as piece of low budget trash (although personally speaking you can give me Fulci over Fellini any day) by critics such as Kermode and Ross. But what is masterful about Fulci’s unofficial trilogy and particularly “City” is its fast paced fall into an inescapable nightmare, what functions as loose plotting and bad acting is actually just the calm before the storm.
Now finally with this uncut release of its nightmarish qualities remain intact and highly effective, the further down the rabbit hole the more disturbed and warped the images become. With the main character (which is a loose term but she seems the main protagonist) Mary is buried alive after a séance goes wrong, is only the first of a set of images which invoke absolute fear. And it is clear this had effect on future directors especially Tarantino’s Kill Bill vol.2 when the Bride is buried alive. While not as effective as Fulci’s live burial within a darkened room there is still a sense of impending dread and claustrophobia.
Barring the influences “City” had on new directors; it becomes increasingly hard to critise and/or review “City” as it is basically a series of sequences which cascade into one another to produce a never ending nightmare. And like all nightmares / dreams after you have witnessed it only the truly ghastly, grotesque and vivid images remain within your head. This is what “City” accomplishes within its brief running time, not to mention some amazingly well done Italian splatter effects by special effects maestro Gino De Rossi. Without his work this film would not contain two of its most vomit and terror inducing sequences.
The first has now become notorious among horror fiends and gore hounds, when local pervert and generally misunderstood idiot “Bob” is found hiding in a garage, the owner of said garage becomes overly miffed (or bat-shit crazy might be a tad more appropriate). Believing Bob to be the killer of a couple of locals (due to his shady past) proceeds to beat him, which in turn starts a industrial work mans drill which then has Bobs head (a trade mark of Fulci’s, he seems to revel in slow painful almost masochistic pleasure for killing characters) slowly pushed into the spinning tool. The effect feels disturbingly realistic and is still a piece of masterful make up effects.
While the second sequence which really is a feast for the eyes (but not the stomach) and still manages to produce, what I believe to be the best shock moments for any new comers to horror or Fulci’s. It has to be vomiting intestine effect sequence, as a couple make out in the middle of nowhere (a very horror cliché) the girl witnesses the vision of the hung priest. This leads to her having tears of blood begin to stream down her face and is then followed by her intestines which cascade out of her mouth like an excessively gory magic trick. And like all good horrors whenever someone mentions “City” these are the two most standout moments (barring the ambiguous ending) which stick at the forefront of my eye.
Fulci’s City of the living Dead is to a film to be critiqued or viewed while eating; it’s a surreal horror experience which relies on a more elevated level of fear. It is primal and shocking at its very core by delving into your deepest darkest fears, and like most nightmares it becomes almost trance like, leaving you frozen in fear. It is a film to observe and absorb into your subconscious, by questioning its logic it becomes unexplainable and like all the best nightmares having it rely on incoherence it achieves this to maximum effect.