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City Of The Living Dead (1980,Italy)

24/01/2012

Director: Lucio Fulci        Starring: Christopher George, Catrion MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi

When I reviewed Troll Hunter recently I made the point that good quality filmmaking was probably the ultimate antithesis to the problem of piracy. The argument runs that if you make a film that’s good enough, people won’t have any objections to paying you to see it. There’s another dimension to this argument too and it comes from the distribution end of the equation. If you spend time, money and energy releasing good movies in great packages that include an excellent transfer of the movie, lots of extras and lavish, interesting packaging, then the same will be true – movie fans will be quite happy to part with their hard earned money to get their hands on these premium DVD or Blu Ray products rather than settling for a torrented video file from the internet. I’ve talked before about the wonders of Arrow Video (see: The Beyond) and here, with their restoration of Fulci’s City Of The Dead, they’ve come up trumps again and proved that it is possible to release a product that people would rather buy than steal.

Set in the small New England town of Dunwich, the suicide of the town priest opens a gateway to hell and sparks a series of bizarre supernatural occurences which are set to culminate in the world’s dead rising from the grave on All Saint’s Day. A young medium, Mary (the ever radiant MacColl) teams up, through equally bizarre circumstances, with New York reporter Peter (George) in a race to reach Dunwich and figure out a way to shut the gates of hell before All Saint’s Day thus saving the world from its grisly fate.

Much like The Beyond (which would follow a year later), City Of The Living Dead is a riot of gruesome special effects, depicting his demented, nightmarish vision of a town about to be swallowed up by the powers of hell. The plot is decent enough, maybe even overly developed given that it’s essentially a framework upon which to hang the outlandish, gory death scenes and as far as those go there are certainly plenty of unusual methods of dispatch to keep you going. Brains are torn out, there’s an unfortunate incident with a pedestal drill, there’s even (in one particularly spectactular moment) a psychic disembowelling via the victims mouth, all carried out with the director’s trademark gaudy enthusiasm and penchant for dwelling on the action.

The story does verge on the incoherent at times and certainly isn’t as neatly tied together as The Beyond or The House By The Cemetery, but has a rather more dreamlike quality to it. The build up to the slightly anti-climactic ending is somewhat surreal and it’s actually this build up of bizarre events (bleeding walls, exploding mirrors, early appearances of the undead, that sort of thing) that proves one of the more satisfying elements of the film. Sometimes it touches on the outright hilarious (I can’t be sure if this is deliberate or not) and I couldn’t help but laugh whenever the ghoulish spirit of Father Thomas would make an appearance, dropping in on his noose out of nowhere.

As with Fulci’s other films, the special effects are a joy to behold, painstakingly created mechanical and makeup jobs that strike the right balance between gore and entertainment. There’s a great “drill through the head” moment and I’ve already mentioned the cracking “entrails removed psychically out the mouth” scene both of which are grotesque and hilarious in equal measure. The set design is also superb, the town of Dunwich presented as a delapidated, mouldering collection of ancient buildings, infested with damp and, like the town itself, rotting from the inside out. This is a big help in generating the necessary atmosphere to help you accept the sometimes absurd nature of hell’s influence and brings a definite sense of foreboding to the film.

Like The Beyond and The House By The Cemetery, City Of The Living Dead is interested in the clash between the rational and the supernatural. Here we have a reporter and a psychiatrist drawn into the mystery by a medium and a patient respectively, the latter accepting the ghostly threat with ease, the former having to be shocked out of their scepticism by first hand exposure to the dark powers infringing on the real, rational, world (although significantly, it’s at the hand of the rationalists that the supernatural threat is thwarted).

The restoration job is excellent, it’s maybe a touch grainy on some of the exteriors but I suspect that this is due more to the original source as much as anything else but by and large it’s lovely and sharp, with beautiful colour balance even during the numerous dark scenes. The squirmy details of the special effects shots are particularly well presented. There’s also a great batch of on disc interviews and the usual poster, artcards and alternative sleeves you’d expect to find from an Arrow release.

All in all, another great release from a great studio, an entertaining hour and a half of cult horror carnage and yet another reason (as if you needed one) to own a Blu Ray player.

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