The City of the Living Dead (1980)
Okay, so you’re at a seance. And naturally you go into a deep, deep trance. In this trance, you have a horrible vision of the dead rising out of their graves and the gates of Hell opening up and of the evil, hanged priest lurking behind this whole mess of trouble. The vision is so shocking, so horrifying, you go into convulsions, blow snot and drool out of many orifices…and you die. You die. YOU ARE DEAD!
A few days later, when you wake up from your actual death, you’re trapped in your coffin about to be buried. So, you claw your fingers bloody trying to get out. Lucky for you, some manly retrograde sexist reporter frees you and you tell him the whole weird story–You absolutely must get to Dunwich (what’s up, Lovecraft?) before All Saints Day and rekill the dead priest or the gates of Hell will open, pouring out every horror imaginable. All Saints Day is two days away.
What do you do?
Why, you dawdle around New York for a day and a half and show up literally two hours too late after poking around town and stopping for snacks.
C’mon, doesn’t your OWN DEATH give you a clue that you should hustle it up and stop this oncoming Armageddon?
Last night, Netflix streaming wouldn’t let me watch episode three of The Kingdom, so I opted for some old style ’80’s Italian horror, The City of the Living Deadin high- def. It’s the first of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. The second film in the trilogy, The Beyond, is my favorite of these two movies and one of the best non-Argento examples of the genre. I haven’t seen the third one, but I’ll certainly search it out.
I’m a sucker for Italian horror movies and their close brethren, the gallos. I love their style, camera use, seriousness, inventive gore and general visceral feel. Yea, they can seem extremely dated and cheesy at times, but unlike many American horror directors of the time, the Italians try and treat their films as art.
Sometimes a dreamlike quality supersedes narrative and resolution. I seem to have a lot of horror-based dreams in the twilight hours of my sleep cycle. I usually don’t mind, I’m generally not the main character in my own dreams, but an involved secondary character. Weird. My dreams are often in the style and even plot of many Italian horror films of the ’80’s. I should probably see a psychiatrist, but at the end of most dreams, I generally feel like I’ve resolved some intangible problem much like a good horror movie.
Okay, some highlights from TCotD: generous eye bleeding like crying, maggot covered undead with real moving maggots on their faces, in fact the principle cast spent two minutes of the film being pelted with live maggots from head to toe with what must have been and insect filled snow blower, plenty of unnecessary cigar chomping, a woman pukes up HER ENTIRE INTESTINAL TRACK—slowly, three people were killed by the undead squeezing their brains out of the back of their head toothpaste tube style, mucho wood paneling, beer signs and ugly perms, an unnecessary and annoying kid, bad art, an unnecessary pervy janitor type, a temple to temple high-powered drilling, and, oh yeah, they were totally too late to stop the gates of Hell from opening. No boobs (boo), 15 dead bodies, Joe Bob gives it three stars.
Thinking about it, here’s a short list of themes or, if I’m in a bad mood, cliches of many Italian horror films of the 70’s and 80’s:
Plodding, throbbing, hypnotic Prog rock (These movies are the only place Prog rock should ever appear)
Weird unexplained animal noises in the back ground (Monkeys in the city?)
Lots of close up shots of eyes
Nobody blinks in the movie, ever
Eyes are ALWAYS the victim of some horrible impaling, I mean, these movies hate and are obsessed with eyes
Super saturated primary colors and lighting that make the colors both bleed onscreen and pop off the screen
Most of the horror is in the daytime
Hot, Italian women, usually wearing some strange Italian couture
Art galleries integrated into the plot or prominently displayed
One C or D-list American actor slumming it in the second lead role. They almost always die. (TCotD had ’70’s character actor Christopher George)
Pulpy, meaty down and dirty, lingering gore
Redubbed English dialogue. That is, they’re speaking English, but the mouth movements still don’t match.
Solid, fluid camera work that aren’t as dependent on editing as American horror movies
And lastly, a dream-like logic that guides and permeates both the characters and the action. While this sometimes leaves me scratching my head, more often than not it leads to surprises and the WTF moments you look for in a good horror movie.
I can think of a few more cliches, but I want to see the third film of this trilogy and then see how it compares to Dario Argento and Mario Bava’s work.
Also, enough writing for today.
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