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Fun zombie gore madness from the one and only Lucio Fulci!  The story of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (originally released in the US as THE GATES OF HELL) makes no sense, but the rain of maggots, brain ripping, intestine barfing, drill through a head, worms rubbed in a face and perky blow-up sex doll make this film the enjoyably nasty lark that it is. 

The Package 
     During his lifetime Lucio Fulci was never regarded as much more than a marginally talented hack caught in the soul destroying clutches of the Italian film industry (where all filmmakers must answer the pivotal question “What’s this like?” in order to finance their films), yet in the past decade his popularity among Western horror fans has grown to surpass that of fellow countrymen Michele Saovi (who incidentally appears in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD), Joe D’Amato, Lamberto Bava, Bruno Mattai and even Dario Argento.  At first glance it’s difficult to discern why, as most of Fulci’s movies frankly suck, even “classics” like ZOMBIE 2 (or, as it’s known on these shores, ZOMBIE). 
     Look closer at his films, though, in particular the dog throat bite from THE BEYOND; the straight razor full body slice from THE NEW YORK RIPPER; CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD’S drill through the skull; and of course the unforgettable eyeball piercing from the above-mentioned ZOMBIE.  I don’t know that I buy the grandiose claims made by Fulci’s more fervent admirers (who compare him to Orson Welles and Andrei Tarkovsky), but the man really knows how to do grue, and has an uncanny ability to tap into the pleasure points of true gorehounds everywhere.  The fact is, Fulci’s movies are FUN!

The Story
     In the town of Dunwich, a priest hangs himself, which somehow opens the gates of Hell.  This causes dead people to be resurrected and other uncanny events to occur.  A gust of maggots blow through a window, blanketing a room’s floor and its inhabitants; a blow-up sex doll inexplicably comes to life, much to the delight of a young transient; a young woman bleeds from the eyes and vomits up her intestinal track before her horrified boyfriend (who in turn gets his brains ripped from his skull); a dude makes out with his girlfriend in her home, but the girl’s father catches them in the act and puts a drill through the guy’s head.  Peter, a determined journalist, tries to stop the madness by busting into an underground crypt and burning the zombies inside.  He fails.

The Direction
     Lucio Fulci is capable of making good movies, as proven by the stylish and poetic THE BEYOND (1981), but most of his films are at best competent hackwork.  THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD falls into that category.  It’s filled with intrusive zooms (a staple of cheesy Italian movies) and has a somewhat careless, thrown-together feel.  It’s difficult to tell if the irrationality of the narrative was intentionally surrealistic or is simply a result of poor storytelling.
     What the film has in its favor are some utterly astonishing gore scenes.  Like all Fulci’s best bits, they tend to be shot in extreme close-up and often in slow motion.  Fulci crafts his gore FX the way other filmmakers do sex scenes.  There’s real passion and imagination in these sequences, yet they’re far too outrageous to be troubling or disturbing.  As I said earlier, the majority of Fulci’s work is FUN, and this film is no different.

Vital Statistics 

Dania Film/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Giovanni Masini
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Editor: Vincenzo Tomassi
Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Luca Venantini, Michele Saovi, Venantino Venantini, Enzo D’Ausilio, Adriana Asti, Luciano Rossi, Robert Sampson, Janet Argen

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