Fulciuary: The City of the Living Dead (1980)

Hello everyone and welcome back to Feature Friday, and this month we're celebrating the month of Fulciuary! That's right the Godfather of Gore right here every Friday this month, but wait there's more. If you read the Coming Attractions for this month you might have seen something about a contest. Well I got your details right here. 

I'm giving away a brand new copy of The City of the Living Dead, which just happens to be the first Fulci flick we're looking at this month. Now you might be saying, "how do I win such a glorious prize?". (Go on say it, I'll give you time.) Well, I'll tell you. It's as easy as this, hit me up with an e-mail at the Lair by Clicking:

Then in the mail I want you to include your best fake title for an Italian Horror film. I'll gather them all up, and with my team of expert title readers, we'll choose a winner by Feb 27th when Fulciuary comes to an end. So the cutoff for entries will be on the 23rd so let's see what you got folks. One restriction, those of you folks outside the States, well, I hate to admit it but shipping from the moon to Europe and beyond is quite high so I'll have to disqualify the European contingent from playing. 

Anyhow there's the details, and I hope you folks find this to be fun, but there's more pressing business at hand, the film! Yes it's finally time we lose ourselves in the dark streets of....
The City of the Living Dead(1980) starring Christopher George, Katherine Mac Coll, Carlo De Meijo, Antonello Interlengthi, and Giovanni Radice. Directed by Lucio Fulci. 

Father William Thomas hanged himself in a cemetery in Dunwich. It was far removed from the metropolis of New York City, yet that is where we encounter a seance being lead by the medium, Mary Woodhouse. She has disturbing visions of the priest's death, and the literal hell it will unleash. Then before everyone's eyes she dies out of pure terror. 

As her divinations begin to come true for the town of Dunwich, Mary narrowly escapes being buried alive. She is saved by Peter Bell (George), a nosy reporter with a taste for the unusual. They travel the long lonely roads to Dunwich at Mary's behest. She is convinced they must find the reanimated body of the priest and stop him before All Saints Day, or it could mean the end of the world as the Gates of Hell swing open. 

Film Facts

--Director Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man) appears in a brief cameo role.

--Katherine MacColl also worked with Fulci on The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981).

--As if he wasn't getting enough sexual deviant work, Giovanni Radice would also appear in The House on the Edge of  the Park in 1980.

--The great Fabio Frizzi once again provides the score for a Fulci film. He did nine films with Lucio, and they began their partnership when Frizzi penned the iconic score to Zombi 2.

The Bug Speaks

Some horror directors I love to watch for their shot selection, some for their color palette, and some for the deftness which can fashion a tale. Fulci I like to watch to make my brain kind of hurt. The stories are often confounding. The film is filled with repetitive shots. The gore varies wildly from some of the most ingenious scenes to almost laughable. There's often sense of muddy bleakness that pervades his films as if they were fashioned during the throes of a nightmare. All these things some people might feel detract from Fulci's style, but that's where they are wrong. What I expect from Lucio is the bare bones of a story clad in surreal visions and utter depravity. 

I am happy to say that City of the Living Dead is just such a film. I want to start off talking about the two best scenes of gore. The first features a young lady who comes under the psychic stare of head living dead thing, Father Thomas. She first begins to cry blood and then she throws up her own guts. Pun intended, it's a gut wrenching scene. I think Rev, Phantom hit the nail on the head over in his Fulci 101 segment on B Through Z  when he said "even the sound effects are stomach churning". I can't disagree with that. In fact I put scene on and listened to it, eyes closed though headphones and it was almost worse. The second infamous scene involves Radice as Bob, the towns resident pervert and emo kid way ahead of his time. He meets his end when an industrial strength drill bores it way though his skull. The cuts in the scene are marvelous and give the effect great credibility. Although it lacks the visceral thrill of the gut barfing, it manages to impress with deft technical skill. These special effects were handled by Franco Rufini and Gino De Rossi, a veteran effects artist still in the business today with work on Casino Royale in 2006. I will have to say that the zombie makeup is a bit lacking, and judging from his work on Burial Ground (1981) I'm willing to wager that De Rossi was key in their lumpy look. 

The acting in the film is well above par for some of Fulci's other efforts. Fulci regular Katherine MacColl (a.k.a. Catriona MacColl) does a stunning job as Mary. The scenes where she is buried alive are especially impressive as she actually manages to ramp up the fear in her eyes between merely being trapped, and almost getting spiked with a pick axe. The wielder of the axe, Christopher George, strikes just the right tone as the reporter, Peter. He is affable and a bit sleazy at once, as I assume every reporter in the late '70's/ early 80's were. The rest of the cast all acquit themselves well, and Fulci even manages to get a decent performance out of a child actor (something that mars his film The House by the Cemetery.)

What really brings all these elements together is Fulci and frequent collaborator Sergio Salvati. It is though the direction of Fulci and the camera work of Salvati that many of Lucio's films find their style. The camera almost functions as a window into this macabre world, or perhaps it is showing us what is behind the gates of hell. While Fulci's obsession with tight shots of eyes is on full display, the film manages to spread most of those shots out enough so they never get too cumbersome. I do have to admit at points I do wish that Fulci tried something different to elevate the tension. That being said, the tone of the film is set through the lens, and this film is as deft as any of his work at doing so. 

City of the Living Dead will never be Zombi 2 to me. There was just no body of water around Dunwich for a zombie to fight a shark. It does get high marks from me, and it's a film I feel sure I'll watch many times over. This is a solid little flick designed to be an unsettling experience, and to me it does just that. 

Bug Rating 


  1. Fantastic review. I'm super excited about Fulciuary! He is been one of my favorites. Ever since I picked up a VHS copy of Zombie(or Zombie 2)at the 5&10 I knew it was something special. That was many years ago, and I have been a fan from then on out. This one is no Zombie 2, but a great addition to your Fulci collection none the less!

  2. This is great--the review and Fulciary. Last year I dedicated all of April to Fulci and had a blast. As far as the movie, even though it's not Fulci's best, it's my favorite--but you obviously read my Fulci 101 article (thanx for the shout out there) so you know how I feel about it.

    Can't wait to see which one you do next!

  3. lucio fulci owns the universe, he is the supreme being.


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