For those that love gore, there is nothing better than a Lucio Fulci film with this one, City of the Living Dead, packed full of it. Once it starts, it rarely stops and the practical effects, while disgusting, never fail to impress. Despite the blood and the bile and the guts that never seem to stop flowing, there is a bit of a story to hold it all together, no matter how tenuous it seems to be. The entire film boils down to an ancient book prophesying the living dead walking the Earth. When you take that premise and and involve Fulci, you know exactly what you are getting yourself into and that is a lot of gruesome horror.
Fear is subjective of course, much like anything and Fulci not only peppers the film with intestine-barfing women, rotting corpses and other visceral visuals, but with scenes that are a little more subtle in nature and perhaps, a little more scary because they are as such. Who can say what is truly more frightening – waking up alone in the dark, buried alive with a good chance that nobody can hear you screaming or coming upon a corpse, oozing and crawling with worms? Both would cause one to be scared, but the memory of the former would surely outdo the latter as memory can last a lifetime thereby enhancing the fright that was first felt. Then again, coming upon a body as the ones shown within this film could also scar one for a good long time. Fulci is a master filmmaker in this regard when it comes to the horror genre, for he knows how to scare the audience in more than one way and using a variety of methods. If there is one thing that City of the Living Dead does well, it is that.
Repulsive though a lot of it may be, it is the only thing that really keeps one’s interest in this. As mentioned previously, there is a story Fulci is trying to tell, but it oftentimes gets lost behind the gory special effects which admittedly, are done extremely well. The actors which include Christopher George and Catriona MacColl do a fair job of it, but they get lost in amongst corpses and visions and nightmares. It is not a terrible film per se, it simply could have been a lot better, especially considering the talent involved. A little more background on Father Thomas would have been nice to see as well, something to give a bit more context to why everything was happening the way it was happening. The film also ends on somewhat of a strange note, leaving the viewer to wonder just what it is that happened. Perhaps it would have made more of an impact if the story was a bit stronger, but once the screen went black, you were almost relieved.
City of the Living Dead is not a film that will be for everyone. Those that consider themselves fans of the genre will want to see this or those that prefer their horror essentially served up on a platter. Though Fulci does a competent job of it, even a good one, he has done better. This is the unofficial first part in Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy and for those that make it through this one and wish to continue onwards, it is followed by The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery, both better films than this one ended up being.
2.5 out of 5