City of the Living Dead (1980)

Fulci is back yet again on B-Movie Enema. Why? Because ol’ Lucio needs more attention if I’m being honest. Sure, I’ve covered many of his movies in the past, but there are oh so many more that I could cover. What better place to dig into more of his filmography than with the Gates of Hell trilogy of his?

So, here we are. I’ve packed my bags, bought my plane tickets, and have landed in the City of the Living Dead. This is Fulci in what’s likely his prime. He’s not too far off from his major success of Zombie (known in Italy as Zombi 2, but I’m not going to get into all that Italian titling business). That pretty much wrote a check for Fulci to do whatever he really wanted. He first stopped off with a crime action flick, Contraband, but started developing the idea of City of the Living Dead. This film was greenlit while he was working on the action flick, so, he took off and left Contraband under the direction of his assistant to get to work on City of the Living Dead.

It’s wild to think that a director can just leave a production to start his next, but Italy is a wild place, man.

City of the Living Dead was Fulci doing some H.P. Lovecraft stuff with his writer Dardano Sacchetti. More specifically, they named the town that this movie takes place in Dunwich after Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. Now, if you think that sounds like something that could be pretty darn good, but think again. Originally, Fulci wanted to cast Zombie star Tisa Farrow in this film, but had to go for newer star Catriona MacColl. MacColl thought the script was shit. But she was advised by her agent to take the role. She would end up being in the other two entries in this trilogy.

Oh yeah… The Gates of Hell trilogy. While City of the Living Dead is the opening chapter of this trilogy, each one of the films is a standalone movie completely unconnected to the other two. What makes this a trilogy is the repeated use of a portal or gateway to hell that opens in a mysterious old town or city in the United States. And gore. Lots and lots of Fulci gore.

While we are doing this trilogy, and we start here today, I’m not going to blow this out like so much recently ingested Taco Bell all at once. We gotta play this smooth. City of the Living Dead is about to begin. Then, The Beyond will happen in July. We’ll take a break for the Phantasm sequels in August, and we’ll wrap up with House By the Cemetery in September. Cool? Cool. Let’s get started.

Alright so right out of the gate, I gotta say… It’s a major get for Fulci to get the man himself, Christopher Lee. That guy is a boss… er… Wait. Hang on a sec. Let me see what the heck is going on here. I didn’t think City of the Living Dead was a black and white movie. Hmmm… This is kind of freaking me out, man…

Oopsies… I accidentally pulled up John Llewelyn Moxey’s City of the Dead from 1960. But hey! This does have another Christopher in this movie – Christopher George. He was added to the film as a way to raise its interest in foreign markets like the United States. Apparently George and Fulci got along about as well as my ass and Taco Bell.

I know, I know… Two Taco Bell references of explosive diarrhea jokes in one article. What can I say? It is B-Movie Enema after all.

Okay, so City of the Living Dead kicks things off with a foggy cemetery in the town of Dunwich. A pale looking preacher man is walking around doing whatever it is he’s doing there. Elsewhere, in New York, we meet Mary Woodhouse (MacColl) who is taking part in a séance at Teresa’s house. Teresa is a master medium. Apparently, Mary’s been going hard at this thing because she appears to be rather sweaty. Or maybe that’s just how her hair normally looks. I dunno. Catriona MacColl is pretty and she can look however she wants.

She has a vision of a noose around the limb of a tree… And then that pale preacher man hanging himself with it. This upsets Mary quite a bit. I do have to wonder if she’s, like, you know, a medium, wouldn’t she be used to seeing some ghastly shit? I mean Teresa is definitely a medium, but it seems as though she knows Mary quite well. Maybe she’s been training her as a medium or something? So, yeah, maybe not all of the things a medium would see would involve a preacher hanging himself in a cemetery, but I would think some ghosts and stuff would be all messed up from being hit by a car, being shot in the face, being all tangled up after falling down the stairs. You know wheat I mean. I’m just saying, if Mary was, more or less, involved in several séances or was a medium in training, I’m betting she sees crazy shit all the time.

I don’t know about that stuff, but I do know this is a cool shot.

After the preacher hanged himself, the vision then shifts where we see a dead guy come out of his grave. Mary then shouts that she sees the dead, a city of the dead, if you will. She’s also foaming at the mouth. That’s probably unsettling for the folks at the séance. But what’s more, is that Mary fuckin’ dies!

Take that, Psycho… Lucio Fulci will kill a lead star even faster than you could!

A cop shows up to investigate. I’m pretty sure the cop might be Jeffrey Wright. He looks a LOT like Jeffrey Wright. he doesn’t buy this shit that Mary died while performing a séance. He thinks some of the people here are tripping on dope. Maybe he thinks she was murdered by these drug-addled hippies. Then, Teresa basically calls this Jeffrey Wright-lookin’ dude a comic book character and I chuckled.

Everyone changes their tune a little bit when a sudden ball of fire comes up out of the floor and back into it accompanied by a ghostly growl. The apartment downstairs is vacant and has been for 26 years. Teresa warns that the detective better not close his mind from the stuff she goes on about this Book of Enoch that, I dunno, does ghostly shit in our plane of existence or whatever.

Later, a man walks into an abandoned house in Dunwich and finds a blow-up doll that inflates itself. He gropes it a bit until he sees the rotting corpse of what I can only assume is a child… or a little person…? It’s gross. That’s for sure. Back in New York City, journalist Peter Bell (George) comes to the house where Mary died to try to get inside and poke around, but he’s turned back. We jump back to Dunwich where a trio of guys witness a mirror suddenly breaking itself inside a bar. One of the men says that ever since Father Thomas hanged himself, weird shit happens. The bar’s owner scoffs at the concept until one of the walls in the bar suddenly cracks. And it’s not just a drywall slab that splits, it’s thick brick walls.

We meet a trio of different characters – Gerry, a psychologist played by Carlo De Mejo, his patient Sandra, played by the lovely Janet Agren, and Emily, Gerry’s girlfriend played by Antonella Interleghi. Sandra has some pretty bad family history. Gerry is probably her friend as well as shrink. Emily has been seeing and trying to help a troubled youth, Bob played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice. We saw Bob earlier with that self-inflating blow-up doll in a weird, abandoned house. It should be mentioned that Emily is 19 years old. Gerry is probably, like 40.

Niiice.

Some relatively important shit is said in this scene but it’s kind of glossed over very quickly in just a few lines. Emily’s interest in being a friend of Bob’s is born from how locals treat weirdos in Dunwich. Sandra is also a bit of an outsider because of her neurotic behavior. You see, it’s something of a pastime in Dunwich to label weirdos and outsiders as witches. Dunwich has a history not too far off from Salem. In fact, Dunwich and Salem may have been in cahoots in the past, or settled by those from Salem who were guilty of the witch burnings. Gerry’s cat, who has never acted up before, goes bonkers and scratches Emily’s hand.

Now we still have Peter Bell poking around and he comes across the casket of the soon-to-be buried Mary Woodhouse. We also see inside Mary’s casket and she doesn’t quite look all that dead. As the undertakers start to toss dirt over her grave, five o’clock comes and the undertakers just… leave. You see, union rules dictate that they don’t stick around one minute past five. So they fuck off, and Peter asks if they really are going to leave her like that.

So yeah, they leave and Mary wakes up. She starts pounding on her casket and Peter realizes that he’s hearing her struggling and grunting and pounding away. He’s about to shrug it off as his imagination getting the best of him, but then Mary starts doing something that is one of the most hard to see and hear out of all the 325 articles I’ve done for B-Movie Enema – she claws at her own casket until her fingers bleed. She screams with some of the last bit of oxygen she has remaining and, finally, Peter comes to her aid.

He uses a pick axe to create holes for her to breathe air through and it almost pick axes her head.

Now… How did Mary survive/come back to life? I couldn’t really tell you. It has been said that ever since Father Thomas killed himself, weird stuff has been going on. We’ll find out soon enough that Father Thomas, by killing himself, opened the gates of hell in Dunwich. Teresa tells Peter and Mary they must go to Dunwich and close the gates before All Saints’ Day or else no dead body will ever rest. The City of the Living Dead will rise and take over and shit.

However, we still don’t get any answer as to why Mary has been resurrected. Maybe that has to do with the gates of hell being opened. Maybe it has to do with she wasn’t actually dead. Maybe it’s just that this is a Lucio Fulci movie and fuck all if we aren’t going to get a satisfying answer to this mystery whatsoever.

Emily goes to see Bob and he’s freaked out. They hear a weird growling and he tosses her aside and beats cheeks right the fuck outta there. Father Thomas attacks Emily and shoves mud and worms into her face. Gerry gets a call from Emily’s father wondering if she’s still with him. She’s not yet come home. Gerry thinks about it for a minute. Writes Bob’s name on a piece of paper and then we go off to see a young couple making out in a car. The girl doesn’t like this creepy ass place he’s picked, but he doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about. After all, he’s getting handfuls of tit from her. They flip on the headlights to see Father Thomas hanging and, soon, he starts appearing beside the car. He stares at the girl in order to make sure we get a little bit of Fulci eye action, which, in this movie, means bloody eyes!

And barfy guts.

Yeah, so that actress, Daniela Doria started off spitting up veal intestines before it it switched to a dummy head for her to barf out the rest of her innards. That’s disgusting. But awesome. I could watch that chick barf up all her guts and liver and lungs all day long. Granted, I’m sure spitting out veal guts wasn’t very fun for the girl, but whatever… That shit is memorable!

Then the guy gets his brain clawed out of his head by the zombie Father Thomas and it cuts to Peter and Mary leaving New York City for Dunwich.

By the way, doesn’t it seem like Peter just kind of got drafted into this saving the world from the potential terribleness of the gates of hell just being left open? He’s a journalist. And maybe considered a little bit of a pest what with the cop not letting him into Teresa’s place to do some follow up on Mary’s death and the gravediggers treating him like an asshole too. So now he’s part of a two-person team to save the world! Eh… He gets to hang out with Catriona MacColl. That’s not a bad gig.

Emily’s body has been found and Lucio Fulci makes his appearance as a coroner who states that from all that he can see with the condition she’s in and the expression she died with on her face, he says it’s more like she died of fright. Immediately, people jump onto Bob being the culprit of this death. When they find the black sludge like stuff with the worms in it, the sheriff swears that Bob will fry for what he did to Emily. As word spreads about the now five people in town who have either died or gone missing, everyone wants to find that dirty fuckin’ Bob and make sure he gets what’s coming to him. Speaking of Bob, visions of the hanging Father Thomas is haunting the poor dude.

Meanwhile, Peter and Mary are lost in the middle of nowhere. You see, Dunwich is on no maps. That makes it pretty darn hard to find. Speaking of Dunwich, every time we are in the funeral home in the town, spooky music plays. In this case, the mortician is nabbing valuables from Emily’s body and some old lady who also died of the same causes as the teenaged girl. When he reaches into the old lady’s coffin to grab something from her body, he’s bitten.

It seems as though the dead are not resting as peacefully as we often wish them to.

As far as Emily goes, well, the 19 year old is now up and about and decides to go home to see her parents and her little brother, John-John. Yeah, the kid’s name is John-John. Do you think that’s his given name or does he have the same first name and middle name? What’s his last name? Johnson? Is he John-John Johnson? Does he hyphenate his first name because he’s one of those sovereign citizens who thinks if you add extra shit to your name it means you can live outside the law and basically be totally free from government? Could I change my middle name to Geoff and be Geoff-Geoff? Could I also change my last name to Jefferson and be Geoff-Geoff Jeff…

Holy Jesus fuckin’ Christ!

So yeah, Emily has come home to kill her family. John-John goes crying to his momma and poppa but they are just thinking he’s trying to process his sister’s death. They want him to go back to bed, but fuck that! I ain’t going to sleep in the room where I just saw my dead sister who suddenly got a really horrible case of acne!

John-John is seeing his dead sister. Bob is having issues with the vision of a dead preacher. Now, Sandra is hearing weird noises and needs to call Gerry over because she thinks she’s having a nervous breakdown. All the while, our heroes are lost on the road and have less than 48 hours to save the day.

And we still have half the movie to go.

Gerry shows up at Sandra’s place and discovers she’s got a gun. I’m not sure someone as neurotic as her with serious depression issues and a drinking problem should have a gun, but what do I know? Most would just think I’m a gun-grabbin’ liberal. Now, she’s got good reason to maybe be concerned and arm herself and call her shrink. That reason is that the old lady in the other coffin next to Emily’s at the funeral home? She’s lying on the floor of Sandra’s kitchen.

While Gerry plans out what they should do about this old broad on the floor, they hear the growling again. They see that the body is now missing from the kitchen. Sandra starts having a fucking breakdown as commotion starts up all over the place. Gerry tries to think things through logically, but, dude… You hear the noise too. It’s not like skittering where you can blame a squirrel in the attic. No, this is growling and scary shit and it’s all over the house! Maybe, and this may make me sound crazy for suggesting this, get the fuck out of there?

I’d especially make for the fuckin’ door when the attic window busts itself out and lodges shards of glass in the walls – which then starts bleeding.

Let’s go back to Bob for a second, shall we? He’s snuck into a garage or something and slept in the backseat of this girl Ann’s dad’s car. She comes out, sees him, and is all like, “Oh, hey, Bob! How’s it going? Let’s smoke a joint together.” I find it kind of interesting that while we know that Bob is just kind of a weird kid, he seems to be thought of kindly by the girls of Dunwich. In particular, Ann and Emily, both of which are hot ass Italian chicks which 50% want to share their weed with him. Meanwhile, every guy in town, particularly older men, want him fucking dead. Are they jealous of Bob’s obvious pussy magnet that comes along with being played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice?

Think about that.

Ann’s dad finds Bob hanging out with Ann and decides to fucking do something about it by putting Bob’s head into a goddamn power drill that got turned on when he was tossing Bob around the garage. Jesus fucking Christ the dudes of Dunwich are just happy to straight up murder this kid.

That’s probably going to harsh the daughter’s buzz.

Now, I do want to examine the above moment a little further. The guy finds Bob. Pushes him around and starts beating the fuck out of him. Sees that the power drill was turned on so he thinks it over for a few seconds and decides that Bob’s head MUST receive a couple new holes in it. He then starts pushing Bob’s head ever so slowly toward the whirling drill, right? Well, then he doesn’t just get Bob’s head drilled into on the left side, but he makes sure to continue to slowly push the head further onto the drill until the drill goes ALL THE WAY through his head. I feel like that guy should get a first degree murder rap.

Anyway, finally, our heroes all meet up. While Gerry and Sandra try to figure out what the hell happened to them the night before, they run across Mary and Peter in the cemetery where they all start to piece together their various info, but not before they are attacked by a literal maggot tornado… a maggot-nado. Millions of maggots come pouring into the room and covers everything. When the phone rings, a phone covered in maggots, Gerry just wipes off the phone handle and answers it like nothing is the matter.

John-John was on the phone and tells Jerry that Emily killed their parents. They go to pick up the little kid and he tells the girls that, yup, it was indeed Emily and she basically ate their parents. Gross. But also pretty metal. Anyway, we’re now in the final 30 minutes of a Lucio Fulci movie. That means shit is about to get bonkers. We’re only a few hours away from All Saints’ Day. They need to go to the funeral home, for some reason, but then they need to find Father Thomas and destroy him. They learn that all the coffins in the funeral home are now empty. That’s probably not great.

Meanwhile, Gerry gave orders to Sandra to take John-John back to her art studio and wait there. I like this idea. There’s probably nothing worse in a situation in which you are going up against monsters, ghosts, zombies, and a literal gate to hell than to have a neurotic person on the brink of mental collapse every second of her life and a kid. But, uh oh Spaghettios… Emily is there waiting for them. She kills Sandra by just ripping her scalp off her head. That seems maybe not so deadly, but I did see bits of brains being squished as she was ripping that scalp off so… Sure.

Lucky for that kid, though, Emily just disappears after killing Sandra. The kid takes off and encounters all sorts of ghouls and what have you. I dunno… This kid is pretty good at surviving monsters. Maybe he should be with our heroes. John-John sees Emily again, but Gerry finds him and tells him to go to Mary and Peter who are with the cops. Gerry sees Emily but closes his eyes as if he’s trying to do that thing in movies where he tells himself it isn’t real or whatever and she disappears. I should also state that Gerry and Peter have gotten the cops on their side. I guess they were a lot easier to talk into the spooky business than the owner of the bar who didn’t buy into all spookshow shit.

But he did buy into a neon Schlitz sign that I sure would like to have for myself.

Okay, so Gerry, Mary, and Peter are in the graveyard and they are getting pretty close to finding the Father’s grave so they can destroy him. However, Mary looks up and says, “Guess what… It’s All Saints’ Day.” So, they failed, right? I mean there is still, like, at least 15 minutes left to go in this movie. Sure the ghouls are attacking the guys in the bar so there’s that to still do. Our trio of heroes found the Thomas family tomb. Does that mean they didn’t fail and can still stop all these shenanigans? Should they just pound pavement and leave Dunwich? What’s going on here?

Oh, wait… This is a Fulci flick. There ain’t gonna be a super clear-cut explanation. Let’s just go along for this ride.

They find the Father’s grave inside the tomb and plan to bust that motherfucker open to end this shit. When they open up the grave, they see that it’s pretty cavernous. Like something tunneled its way out the other side. But, thankfully, Sandra is here! I guess she didn’t die after all!

Woops… wait. Nope. She’s dead and a bad guy. She suddenly appears behind Peter and tears his brain out the back of his head. To add insult to injury, when Peter falls to the ground, rats start eating out the inside of his head. She then starts doing the eye-bleedy, gut-barfin’ stare to Mary, but before it gets far enough for Catriona MacColl to have to spit out veal guts, Gerry stabs his former patient in the tummy with a rebar and she dies.

Gerry and Mary go deeper into the tomb where all sorts of dead bodies seem to be wrapped up by spider webs and hanging from the ceiling and just laying out all willy nilly as if they don’t have coffins in that bitch. As they walk through, some of the bodies and skeletons start to move and follow. They make their way into a room with some stained glass windows but it’s kind of a dead end… no pun intended. They get surrounded by the dead zombies following them and soon Father Thomas appears before them. He makes Mary’s eyes do the bleeding thing.

Again, Gerry is quick on his feet and takes a big wooden cross and jams that motherfucker right through Father Thomas. This causes him and his zombies to light on fire and fall apart. They win, all the ghouls and zombies are destroyed and everything is great. I… I guess that whole needing to do this before All Saints’ Day was just a suggestion and not a hard and fast rule.

All this to lead to the most bizarre and completely nonsensical final moments of the movie where two cops lead little John-John into the cemetery where they see Gerry and Mary emerge from the Thomas tomb. He comes running toward the pair and soon their happiness of seeing this little kid fades as they begin to shout no and scream. Then the freeze frame fucks out and that’s the end of City of the Living Dead.

While Fulci often delves into total WTF spaces in his movies, I feel as though City of the Living Dead, at least compared to the other two entries in this loose Gates of Hell trilogy, is fairly straight forward. There are ways to open gates to hell and certain actions can cause it and there are certain times in which you must stop it. In between the opening and the closing of that gate, zombies, man. Zombies. Okay, sure, it seemed as though they weren’t all that serious about stopping all this before All Saints’ Day because they could stop it after that day began. Sure, the ending is totally goofballs.

Still… I could follow this movie. It still had some pretty wild stuff. Maggot tornado was a thing that happened. People getting their scalps and brains ripped off their heads. Acne covered teenage zombie. A girl barfed up all her guts and liver and organs. That was awesome! So, yeah, most definitely City of the Living Dead gets an A+ in my book when it comes to Fulci films.

Like I said, we’re not jumping right into the second entry The Beyond quite yet. We’re going to do that next month. Next week, we’re going to head down to the Philippines for an American action flick starring Nancy Kwan, Ross Hagen, and the lovely Roberta Collins. Get back here for some Wonder Women!

Tomorrow, on B-Movie Enema: The Series, season three continues with a visit from Alien Private Eye! To get on the ball for all these new releases both written and video form, look below in the footer of the website or look the right in the sidebar to find links to Facebook and Twitter to follow B-Movie Enema as well as where you can find B-Movie Enema on YouTube, Vimeo, and Roku!

Until next week, glarg blargh morgph blubber… (<Me barfing my guts and lungs and stuff as I bid you a good day.)

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