In Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, a strung out Margaret Atwood-looking medium (pictured, right) is operating a séance in New York City. It’s a scene made all the more otherworldly by both the ADR not matching the moving mouths (Italian style) and when one of the attendees, Mary, experiences a hellish vision: a priest swinging from a tree branch.
Mary drops dead, ostensibly from fright, and this odd demise has cops and journalists sniffing around, one of whom, Peter, played by Christopher George (Day of the Animals/Enter the Ninja), thinks there’s more to this strange caper than meets the eye. But he’s not one for,say, checking in with a coroner and seeing how it’s possible that someone in their late 20s/early 30s suffered a coronary. (Then again, when someone else drops dead later, apparently from fright, the coroner suggests, “That expression on her face is like pure fear, like something scared her to death.” Probably a good time to secure a second opinion.)
Peter’s first hunch is to head right down to the cemetery instead and lucky he did, because you see…Mary’s not dead! She’s scraping her fingernails bloody trying to extricate herself from a half-dug grave. The gravediggers must’ve been union guys, off at the stroke of 4:59 PM to finish their handiwork the next day. Good help is so hard to find.
There’s backstory aplenty involving a non-canonical ancient Jewish text dating back to several hundred CE, the second parable from which speaks of resurrections of the dead. Mary’s priestly vision, apparently, was a premonition or some such thing. In film-speak, the fancy way of describing something altogether nonsensical is “non-linear.” In Fulci movies, it’s “Fulci-esque.”
Somehow, something opened the Gates of Hell, and residents of Dunwich are plagued by various visions and strange events. One such event is a structural issue suddenly appearing in the wall of a local tavern. This has barflies on edge, with one so spooked that he even says he’ll sell his business and get the hell out as soon as possible. Hopefully he’ll settle his tab first.
Opening the Gates of Hell in City of the Living Dead produces maggots, rotting baby corpses, frightened cats, load-bearing wall cracks in sleazy bars and a host of other things. A dad goes crazy and drills a hole through the head of his daughter’s rapscallion boyfriend (a top-drawer killing that made its way into our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons).
What more could you ask for?
**** (out of 5)
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