Thursday, August 20, 2009

City of the Living Dead (1980); Or How I Really, Really Want To Acquire A Self-Inflating Sex-Doll (For Research Purposes Only)

Dearest friends, it is once again I, the Duke of DVD, scurrying forth to disrobe the overweight ham-beast of cinema, cutting away the stained undergarments of Oscar-winning films, to finally begin chiseling at the waxen crust caked into the ass-crack of movie horror, revealing the hidden nuggets of awesome that we so crave. This night I bring you the masterpiece of horror known colloquially as Paura Nella Citta dei Morti Viventi, or City of the Living Dead, or perhaps The Gates of Hell if you prefer. The list goes on. No matter what you call it, however, one fact remains: Lucio Fulci knows how to make a zombie movie!

Consider the facts: Fulci zombies crush skulls. A lot of skulls. Fulci zombies levitate. They kill with their minds by causing people to literally vomit their guts up. They fucking teleport. Yes, in Lucio Fulci’s twisted world, no one is safe. Blow their heads off, they respond by sending a hurricane of maggots at you. Try to run, they just teleport in right behind you and, with one hand, crush your skull, your brains oozing between their ripe fingers. Part H.P. Lovecraft, part Italian horror, but all Fulci, City of the Living Dead has much to offer even the most jaded Madite (That’s right, you’re all Madites now. See the Vicar for your “I fucked the Vicar and all I got was this t-shirt (and syphilis)” shirts and membership cards.)

Let us explore, shall we?

Our movie opens with a creepy cemetery. The wind howls, dust and leaves billow, and fog drifts around, revealing mold-ridden tombstones. A priest walks among them, looking for something. Turns out it’s for a sturdy tree limb on which to hang himself. We cut to New York City, to a séance being performed by a frizzy-haired medium and a few of her acolytes, one of which is the beautiful Mary Woodhouse, played by the stunning Catriona MacColl. Just as the contact with the spirit world is reaching a crescendo, Mary sees Father Thomas hang himself. This sends her into a frenzy of fear, whereupon she collapses and appears to expire.

A local priest finds out that he wasn't invited to the Duke's latest bacchanal.

The cops show up, which include a smarmy detective who grills the frizzy-haired medium. She informs him that they were employing the use of a 4000 year old book and that this book portends great evil that is to come. A reporter named Peter Bell (played by Christopher George) shows up, trying to get a scoop. Rebuffed by the police, he changes tactics and instead visits the grave site where Mary is being buried. It’s a good thing for Mary that the state of New York apparently doesn’t embalm their dead (who knew?!), because she’s still alive! Hearing her screams, Bell uses a nearby pickaxe to rip open the lid of the coffin, hilariously nearly impaling the screaming Mary in the process. (seriously, this was the only thing he could think of doing? Hah! I chortle)

"I'm trying to swallow it all, Duke, I swear!"

After being rescued, Mary tells the reporter and the medium what she saw. A town named Dunwich (which she gleaned from a tombstone during her vision) is about to become ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. The death of Father Thomas by hanging has sprung open the gates of Hell, and unless they are closed before All Saints Day, the dead shall never rest and instead invade our homes and shopping malls and generally make nuisances of themselves.

Early grave markers don't leave much to the imagination.

We flash back to Dunwich, to the hapless Bob, played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Seems Bob is the local bad boy, hitting on all the young girls of the town and being a punk, basically. Bob is wandering around and happens upon an abandoned home. Going inside to investigate, he finds an inflatable blow-up sex doll, which looks suspiciously like the one hanging from the Vicar’s bell tower. He tosses it into a corner, where it auto-inflates for some reason. Overcome with plastic lust, he oozes up to it and caresses a vinyl breast. Suddenly he sees a rotten baby corpse laying a few feet from him on the floor. Covered with worms and general filth, he’s repulsed enough to not hump the doll and instead flees.

"I'm gonna melt you with friction, baby!"

I’m trying really, really hard to understand the point of this scene but I can’t. Why is he in this house? Why is there a blow-up sex doll here? Why does it auto-inflate? We don’t know. We can only surmise that Fulci was high on ‘shrooms this particular day of shooting and thought that this would work, somehow. I suppose the real purpose is the rotten corpse, which is the first of many strange happenings in Dunwich. We cut to the local bar, where 3 men are discussing the strange happenings of late. Suddenly, the large mirror over the bar cracks and the wall on the other side of the room suddenly cracks as well. Full of fear, the bar patrons flee.

We then cut over to a psychiatrist’s office. Gerry, the good doc, is giving therapy to Sandra, who has brought her cat in with her. They are interrupted when Gerry’s 19 year old girlfriend Emily shows up, looking hotter than the sun. Played by the scrumptious blonde Antonella Interlenghi, she is very much in Duke’s Pantheon of Italian Hotness. Emily announces she’s going to go find Bob, who she has been attempting to help somehow or other. After she leaves, Sandra’s cat goes apeshit, biting Sandra’s hand fairly severely. Yet another strange happening!

"You'll take your medicine and you'll like it!"

It’s night now, and Emily finds Bob in an old garage. Before any “therapy” can take place, unearthly howls fill the night and Bob runs like a little girl, leaving Emily alone. Suddenly, zombie Father Thomas appears, and begins rubbing worms and dirt into Emily’s face, apparently suffocating her. Emily got off easy, as we’ll soon see. We cut to a young teen couple parking in a truck, making out. The boy is rounding second base, heading for 3rd, when the girl pulls up, suddenly frightened. She looks out the window and is transfixed by the ghastly stare of zombie Father Thomas. Suddenly her eyes begin to bleed and, while the boy watches in horror, she begins puking her guts out. All of them. The scene runs for several minutes as the chick vomits more and more bloody guts. Finally, an undead hand reaches in behind the boy and crushes his brains out the back of his skull.

Taco Bell's new special claims another victim...

The next morning, Emily’s body is found and brought to the local morgue. A ragged medical examiner (played by Fulci himself!) examines her and concludes she died of fright. The sheriff and Gerry think that Bob is responsible. Meanwhile, Mary and the Reporter Bell (remember them?) leave New York, heading to Dunwich. In Dunwich, things are going from bad to worse. Bob returns to the abandoned house, presumably in hopes of scoring with the plastic chick, but instead he runs straight into a hanged zombie Father Thomas. Elsewhere, at the morgue, an attendant trying to steal jewelry gets his hand bitten by the cadaver.

At Sandra’s house, a corpse appears in her kitchen. Distraught, she calls Gerry over, who tries to explain away the happenings but isn’t very convincing, to himself or Sandra. At Emily’s house, her zombified self visits her younger brother John-John. At Sandra’s house, as she’s getting consoled by her psychiatrist, the walls begin to bleed, so her and Doc Gerry flee. Meanwhile, Bob seeks refuge in a townsperson’s garage. Lucky for him, the teenage daughter of the house comes to console him. Unlucky for him, her dad discovers them. Thinking Bob is trying to have a go, he grabs him and fucking impales his head on a drill press! Seriously, that’s a bit extreme isn’t it? Well, not in Fulci’s world I suppose. The effects work here is masterful, even if the scene serves little purpose and has no zombies.

This is not a drill.

The next day, Bell and Mary arrive at Dunwich finally. They immediately head to the graveyard, and meet Gerry and Sandra, who also are trying to get to the bottom of things. The two couples talk about their collective issues, with Mary revealing that the Gates of Hell have been opened. Gerry agrees that this explains much. They head back to Gerry’s office to get further acquainted when suddenly a storm whips up outside, blowing the window open. Only, this isn’t a normal storm! It’s a Fulci-esque storm, which blows maggots instead of rain in through the open window. After nearly 5 minutes of maggots flying in, the floor, the people, everything is covered in a snowy white, writhing mass.

Oderus Urungus delivers a facial.

After the storm is over, the John-John calls, informing Gerry that zombie Emily showed up and killed their parents. Sandra heads over to collect him while the others hunt for the sheriff. As Sandra and John-John are leaving, zombie Emily teleports in and skull-crushes Sandra’s brains all over the stoop! The boy runs for his life, through a gauntlet of zombies, until he’s rescued by Gerry and ultimately given over to the cops for protection. Meanwhile, back the local bar, the patrons we met earlier finally get their due as several zombies shamble in and massacre them.

Mary, Reporter Bell, and Gerry finally arrive at the graveyard for the final confrontation. It seems that Father Thomas had been interred in his family crypt. They lift off the lid, revealing a subterranean chamber. Featuring masses of cobwebs, not to mention a pantaloons-filling amount of dead bodies, the crypt is of the type that only the bravest of adventurers would enter. Knowing they have no other choice, for All Saint’s Day is upon them, the 3 descend into the darkness.

Sandra watches while Peter tries to pass a peach seed.

Zombie Sandra suddenly pops up. The three recoil, when suddenly she teleports in behind Bell and crushes his skull! So much for getting that Pulitzer! Before she can teleport away, Gerry sticks her to the wall of the crypt using a handy pitchfork. He and Mary journey onward, finally entering a chamber of sorts. Zombie Father Thomas confronts them in all his undead glory. He begins death-staring Mary, whose eyes begin to bleed. Other corpses come to unlife around them, shambling about, covered with cobwebs and filth. Before Mary can begin vomiting her guts out, Gerry grabs a nearby wooden cross (which has a pointy end, handily enough), and impales zombie Father Thomas with it, tearing a hole through his torso!

A new, Christ-approved way to clear lower bowel impactions.

Suddenly, zombie Father Thomas, and all of the other undead, burst into flame, burning up fairly quickly and dissolving into nothing. The Gates of Hell have been closed, we think! Mary and Gerry emerge from the catacombs. They climb from the tomb as two cops show up, John-John in tow. The couple beam smiles as an excited John-John scampers across the graveyard towards them. Suddenly, their smiles turn to ash as they recoil in horror. Mary screams bloody murder as we freeze-frame on John-John’s smiling face.

Ok… what the fuck, Fulci? I guess we’re to surmise that John-John is now invested with zombie-leanings? He doesn’t look undead. The cops he’s with don’t look like their moldering. One thing is for sure, Mary and Gerry both are horrified. Perhaps they hate children. After all, they do make outrageous demands like “I’m hungry!” and they also say silly things like “I don’t want to play ‘Let’s take a ride on Uncle Vicar’s lapbone’ again!” Yes, that’s it, they hate children and suddenly they realize that John-John’s entire family has been wiped out, and that they are the only reasonable guardians for him in a town filled with sex-doll fuckers and inbred skull-crushing zombie hicks.

Lookout, It's coming right for us!

No matter how confusing the ending is, City of the Living Dead is a great movie. It moves at a brisk pace for the most part and features some truly scary zombies. For wicked kills, Fulci excels. Vomiting one’s own guts out, skull crushing, worm smothering, even a drill through the head. It’s all here, folks. I also really liked Fulci’s use of sound. Sure, it might sound like a Fulci recorded a bunch of cats being stuffed into a sack and then tossed around, but it works when a zombie makes that sound. The music by Fabio Frizzi is also spectacular and moody.

I could only fault this movie for not having any woman get naked except for one made of vinyl. However, for some reason, I didn’t miss it much. This could have been because I was in a naked serving girl sandwich during the entire length of my viewing, or it could have been because I was transfixed by teleporting, skull-grabbing zombies. Either way, I was strangely satisified. City of the Living Dead is a movie all of our readers should immediately rush out and get. Trust me, you’ll love it just as much as a self-inflating sex doll.

2.5 Thumbs Up


Samuel Wilson said...

Dag, Duke! This sounds more like some kind of Asian film from around the same time. You know, the kind with all the supernatural puking. Except one of those films would probably have an actor puking maggots instead of catching them in the face. Nor is a teleporting zombie quite the same as a witch's head lifting off from her body for a jaunt about town with her vital organs attached. On the other hand, the likes of The Boxer's Omen might have been more reticent about the use of sex dolls. Nevertheless, from your account it looks like Fulci might have been absorbing some Asian influences, if not some artificial compounds, and teleporting skull-crushing zombies are quite mad in their own right. You've made me interested in seeing this film.

Michael J. said...

I dunno, Duke. This thing sounds like a mess. I mean -- what with the self-vomiting guts, the skull crushing, the worm smothering, and the cranium drilling -- it sounds like a mess of messes. A don't-watch-without-first-wrapping-yourself-in-a plastic-sheet kind of movie. (Although you wisely went with the preferred serving girl wrap option.) But then zombies have never been my cup of tea for that very reason. I'm more of a dapper vampire or well-groomed werewolf kinda guy. Then again, teleporting zombies... That I might have to check out.

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