Tuesday, June 8, 2010

City of the Living Dead (1980)

There's something bugging me after watching the amazing blu-ray of City of the Living Dead (Arrow has done a marvelous job, no matter what all the conspiracy theorists out there says - this is the best way to see the movie!). Make no mistake about, but there is a logic behind what's happening in the movie, but I just can't pinpoint exactly what it is. I'm not gonna go in to the story, because this is one of the few movies - together with The Beyond - that can be attributed to the title "dreamlike". It's like nothing is real, but still so visible there in front of us and the characters.

You see, all of the heroes in this movies - from Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl), Peter Bell (Christopher George) and Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) is dead. They are already in their own personal hell. With Mary it begins with her dying, there's nothing more else to it. She's saved by another spirit, the journalist Peter Bell and without any hazzle they are with our other psychic - but I think she just called on them. Together they goes to Dunwich, this almost mythological place which is impossible to find on the map. Dunwich is already hell, and maybe has been forever or from the moment the priest took suicide. It's always stormy, cloudy or dark in Dunwich, like it has it's own natural laws. You can never escape from there, the only one realizing this is Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), who's going mad because he knows what's happening around them - thats why he sees a good opportunity to die when it's served to him. No fighting back, just accept that he's gonna leave this place. COTLD has a town-perv and not a town-like other small town-movies, Dagon, Dead & Buried, Messiah Of Evil etc etc.

There is never a clear plan what to do about stopping the hell to come back to earth, and when they're very fast are killing the priest in the end and all the zombies goes ups in flames, it's just way to easy. Like a trap. When they come up from the underground againt he weather hasn't changed. It's foggy like... hell. When the little boy, the child - the symbol of innocence) comes running towards them, happy and by the looks of it, unaffected by that everyone around him has died - they realise it's just gonna go in circles, that they are still in this nightmare and it will never end.

Or it might just be a confusing, gory Italian shock-flick. But still, there's something behind the lack of logic, something behind the emotionless characters accepting the death and grue around them. It's not bad exploitation-acting, it's strong direction from Maestro Lucio Fulci. But enough analyzing. I actually can say that this movie just climbed up one notch on my list of favorite Fulci's. I never felt connected to it when I watched it on tape (both the uncut Vipco-version that was released once, and the cut Video Invest) or the Vipco DVD (uncut, widescreen, but terrible quality), but finally I somehow "got it".

I felt I finally could get into the rythm, appreciate the madness and the (as usual) brilliant direction my Lucio Fulci. The coffin-scene could be one of the best ever shot for an Italian horror movie, with some fucking amazing visual ideas (the wind blowing on the rose leave, her breath creating moist on the mirror, the axe coming down right through the coffin-lid, so close to her head...), gorgeous cinematography by Salvati (no one could have shot the scenes in the apartment of the psychic so moody and filled with atmosphere like him!) and tense music by Fabio Frizzi. It's still not the best movie Fulci made, and it feels rushed and a bit sloppy, but the good stuff is a lot more than the bad stuff.
Jocke also reminded me that COTLD has some very weird stuff on the soundtrack, and it's true: monkeys! Yes, during at least two exterior shots you'll hear monkey screams in the background, quite loud to. It could be some very strange bird, but it really sounds like monkeys!

The gore? Yeah, it's not that much. The two main gore scenes are classics in their own right, but except that it's quite dry on the blood and gore. Sure, there's some slime and maggots, but compared to other Italian horror movies it's quite sparse. But like all Fulci-movies the gore isn't that important really. We all love it, but if he hadn't filmed it no one would have missed it either. He's such a good storyteller and creator of atmospheric filth.

But the work of Fulci, yes, the genius of storyteller Fulci reminds me of one of Kurt Vonnegut's advices when it comes to writing a good story: "Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them - in order that the reader may see what they are made of". That was something Fulci could handle more than well, to a degree that some people thought he was a misogynist and a cynic, when all that he did was to show us how humanity really is.


Neil Sarver said...

I haven't heard the "conspiracy theories" on the Blu-ray.

I am very excited based on what I've heard. I love this movie!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Splendid piece Fred!
That line of thought makes sense, they are all dead. Also I agree that the movie feels' sloppy. I haven't seen City since the old lazer disc days, and seem to recall that there are no closeups apart from the two main special effect scenes and the maggot rain.

And I completely agree with you on that Vonnegut quote.

Great text and I really want to dig out CIty again to check some of that stuff out... but it won't happen yet to much other stuff to watch and review first.

and I want to hear all about those conspiracy theories too.



Jocke Andersson said...

You didnt mention the monkeys!!!

Ninja Dixon said...

Neil and J, the conspiracy theory seem more to be about the BU blu-ray I see now! Sorry! Someone actually has a theory that the natural, loved, grain is made especially for the blu!


Personally I think it's shit. I'm neither blind nor stupid, and has worked with movie production for a lot of years - and I can't agree on anything this wacko writes. COTLD is a lowbudget movie and the quality is up and down, but still... this is the best the movie EVER gonna look, and it looks completely natural and there's no fucking fake grain on it :)

Jocke: Ah, sorry! I will ad it directly!

Anonymous said...

My favourite Fulci movie after Flesheaters. It might be sloppy compared to Flesheaters and maybe HBTC but the feeling of this movie is fantastic, and that music is one epic horrorsoundtrack.

Alex B. said...

I too used to think it was monkeys. It is actually a bird sound...
I think it's a slowed-down sample of a bird.
The original normal speed sample can be heard on Hell of the living dead in the scene where Lea sees the tribesman corpse come to life in the cannibal village... or maybe it just monkeys:))
This is my most oft-watched film of all time, used to be my fav. Fulci

Steve Langton said...

Greatly enjoyed reading your thoughts on one of my favourite Fulci films. The Blu-ray is a big step-up from the previous home video incarnations, and Arrow have done a simply awesome job with the extras.

Just discovered your site. I'll be a regular from here on in.

Ninja Dixon said...

I'm happy to see some love for this movie after all :)

Steve, welcome and I hope you will enjoy your stay! You seem to have a good blog yourself, so in a couple of days I will have a link up to your place!

One thing that I really loved with the Arrow blu-ray was the lengthy interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Finally I got to know the man, some of his background, his personality, opinions about his more famous movies. It's weird, because he must be the only one involved in Cannibal Apocalyse that really enjoys it and likes it! :)

forestofthedead said...

Thank you so much for writing your take on this film.
Awesome post.

Steve Langton said...

Cheers! I'll do the same for your blog.