I have a confession. I love zombies. They’re easily my favorite subgenre of horror movie. And I loved them before all these Johnny and Jane-come-latelies that have expanded the genre’s popularity. Yeah, I loved them when everyone else was swooning for chaste, sparkly vampires. My love easily goes back for years and years. I remember catching Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake on Sci-Fi channel when I was nine or ten and being enthralled.
But my greatest love is for Italian zombie movies. The ones I’ve seen feature incomprehensible plots, dialogue that is as oddly dubbed as Prince of Space, and lots and lots of gore. They do not hold back on the gore. The first one I saw was the incomprehensible American edit of Fulci’s The Beyond, which was going under the title Seven Doors of Death. This was when I was a teenager and I had this goal to see every scary movie in Blockbuster. I was totally enthralled with the cover artwork. And even though the movie made no sense whatsoever, it was easily one of the most atmospheric and creepy movies I’d ever seen. Sadly, I just watched Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (1980) and it left me a little cold.
The plot is as straightforward as a Fulci movie can be. A priest commits suicide in the New England town of Dunwich, a small village built on some of the remains of Salem. As an aside, I’d like to note that this isn’t a real place but is actually a tribute to an H.P. Lovecraft story. Anyway, because of its location, I guess (?), this threatens to open up the gates of hell. They have to be closed before All Saints’ Day, which is coming up fast. Meanwhile, a woman dies of fright at a séance in New York City. Only not, she just ends up buried alive. Apparently, they don’t embalm people in New York. A streetwise detective rescues her and they both try to stop the apocalypse. And lots and lots of crazy things happen in between. Let me walk you through some of the WTF moments of City of the Living Dead.
1. The longest tombstone inscription ever.
2. There’s a scene where a creepy hick molests a blow-up doll. A self-inflating blow-up doll.
3. I named these two gravediggers Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.
4. As I said, the journalist saves the woman from being buried alive. She’s in her casket and it’s almost buried. They just have to put the sod on top of it. He hears her screaming and starts to dig her up. And by dig her up, I mean he starts whacking the casket with a pick-axe and almost hitting her in the head three times. Making me ask, “How did the casket get so close to the surface?”
Furthermore, I would really like to mythbust the idea that the journalist heard her screaming. Would someone standing a ten feet away from a sealed casket be able to hear someone scream from an almost completely buried grave? Adam, Jamie, could you get on this please?
5. A girl barfs out her entire guts.
I mean, everything. The actress swallowed a whole bunch of sheep tripe and then barfed it up to get the effect. The rest was done with a fake head. I am not making this up.
6. The zombies can teleport and levitate. Oh, and whenever anyone sees the zombie priest they start to cry bloody tears.
7. As the movie progresses, there’s this really weird sound effect where the music is layered with monkey noises and people screaming. That’s the only way to describe it. The monkey sounds were very distracting.
8. At one point, a window in a room blows open and all these maggots start blowing in, like snow. Only maggots. It is so, so gross and I couldn’t screencap it. I have an aversion to insects.
9. They beat the zombie priest by stabbing him in the crotch with a sharp crucifix.
I just couldn’t get into this movie. It’s set in a small town and there were maybe six zombies altogether. Is that even enough people for a bridge game? I’d say it’s hardly a city of the living dead. There’s barely any people eating until the end. Before that, the zombies just smush people’s skulls although it’s quite clear that they’re holding something else in their hands. People are introduced and their relationships to other people are unclear. Then they leave and we never hear from them again. Plus, there are all these super up-close shots of people, especially if they’re in a group. Lots and lots of shots of people reacting to things.
I would still watch this movie again, though, if only to figure out who Mr. Ross is. That’s the part played by Venantino Venantini. MST3K fans will remember him as the guy who played Joe Pallermo in Final Justice alongside Joe Don Baker. He was the mob guy that was handcuffed to Joe on the plane ride.
Now why isn’t there a movie with Joe Don Baker fighting zombies?