City of the Living Dead

Dir. Lucio Fulci

The suicide of a priest in a church cemetery in the small town of Dunwich, New England, mysteriously results in the opening of the gates of hell. As fate would have it, it falls upon a reporter, a psychic, a psychiatrist and his patient to team up and find a way to close the portal before All Saints Day, when the dead will rise and feed upon the living.

A hugely influential and much-admired work of horror cinema, City Of The Living Dead, taken purely as a stand-alone film, is a must-see horror classic and proves one of the most compelling and disturbing entries in Fulci’s undead trilogy. A languid and creepy opening scene sets the tone and mood for the remainder of the film as a priest makes his way slowly through a moody cemetery and takes his own life – his image will haunt the rest of the film, appearing to various people and driving them insane. City of the Living Dead possesses an uneasy, positively queasy atmosphere and the director not only creates a startling and highly nauseating array of provocative imagery to tell his tale, but also employs a striking range of sounds effects; guttural, animalistic and base noises scuttle through the speakers as spooky music by Fabio Frizzi swirls around grunts and groans to upsetting effect.

The film is laced with protracted and drawn-out scenes of squishy violence and bone-cracking brutality. Fulci seems to specialise in churning out extreme and horrific imagery that disgusts, horrifies and repels in equal measure. The director delights in lingering shots depicting viscera and gore seeping and slopping out of hapless victims as they have their heads crushed or eyes plucked out. The wet, gory effects squirm and slither their way across the screen and Fulci’s camera endlessly zooms in and greedily laps up every grim and glistening detail. The effect of much on display in this film is to cause the viewer to recoil in disgust and repulsion – certain images will sear themselves forever into your mind: the sight of a woman regurgitating her own intestines, a group of people trapped in a rain of maggots, various pools of squiming worms, a man having a drill forced through his head, and the endless array of dripping and decomposing zombies that shuffle and clutch ever forward. Fulci also conjures up eerily beautiful moments such as the many shots of the town at night, lit through a constantly swirling fog.

Internal logic is banished and in its place is a series of increasingly nightmarish, odd and skewed moments that thrust the audience into unknown territory: one simply does not feel safe watching City of the Living Dead – it is unpredictable, unfeeling, pessimistic and cold. Fulci offers us only one certainty: no one is safe. Much akin to Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge, and Dario Argento’s Inferno, City of the Living Dead features a loosely connected group of people stalked and brutally bumped off by supernatural entities. Fulci does manage to generate overwhelming suspense and unease on a number of occasions too, notably in the scene where psychic Mary (Catriona MacColl) awakens from a trance to discover she’s about to be buried alive. Hearing her muffled screams, Peter (Christpher George) begins to hack at the ground and her coffin within it with a pitchfork – narrowly missing her head with each blow. The characters just seem to know what they must do and where they most go to stop the impending apocalypse - psychics and journalists, eh? Their paths all cross eventually and before long, their make-shift Scooby gang are bound for Dunwich to stop the dead returning to eat the living. Cue even more blood-spillage and bone-crackage...

City of the Living Dead is a nightmarish, disturbing and utterly unforgettable film, and must surely rank amongst Fulci’s most provocative work.

City Of The Living Dead (cert. 18) will be released a two-disc DVD (£17.99) and single-disc Blu-ray (£22.99) by Arrow Video on 24th May 2010.

Special Features include: newly recorded audio commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice; audio commentary by actress Catriona MacColl and author Jay Slater; introduction to the film by star Carlo De Mejo; ‘Carlo Of The Living Dead featurette; ‘The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombardo Radice’ featurette; ‘Dame Of The Dead’ featurette; ‘Fulci’s Daughter: Memories Of The Italian Gore Maestro’ featurette; ‘Penning Some Paura’ featurette; ‘Profondo Luigi: A Colleague’s Memories Of Lucio Fulci’ featurette; Catriona MacCall and Giovanni Lombardo Radice Q&A session at the Glasgow Film Theatre; ‘Fulci In The House – The Italian Master Of Splatter’ featurette.

UK exclusive features directed by Calum Waddell and edited and produced by Naomi Holwill with associate producer Nick Frame.


This film was my very first venture into Italian horror when I was a kid - what a way to start! I think it was actually called The Gates of Hell when I saw it the first time... but I own it as CotLD. Fulci's gore content was certainly unrivaled - you gotta love the chick vomiting the
But for me, the maggots/worms get me every time, it's the worst.
I. Hate. Worms.
James Gracey said…
As you may or may not know Christine, I kinda fancy myself as something of a hardened horror fan - it takes a LOT to horrify me. This film however, had me covering me eyes and looking away from the screen a number of times (particularly during said rain of worms) because of the repulsive and festering imagery on display. I loved every minute of it! I've not seen much of Fulci's work, but he is one of the few filmmakers who can still effect me on such a stomach churning, primitive level. Really must check out more of his stuff. Gaaaaah, indeed! ;o)
Franco Macabro said…
Defenetly one of my all time favorites! It offers up some gory gooey sequences, I mean that scene with the gut spewing girl! Memorable in deed!

Some people have a debate between this one or The Beyond as Fulcis Best flick, I think The Beyond beats it by a bit, but this one is a very close second thats for sure. In my book anyways.
Daniel Reeves said…
Just wanted to stop by and say I really enjoy your reviews and will be linking to your blog on mine at :)

James Gracey said…
Thanks Daniel,
That is most kind of you! Glad you enjoy swinging by here every now and again. :o)
Terence said…
I really loved the first half of the film. The saturated blues accompanied with the eerie fog makes it very atmospheric. The score was really good too.

Unfortunately, the second half didn't really do it for me. The teleporting zombies got pretty tiresome and I hated how Catriona MacColl's character went from psychic determined to close one of the seven gates of hell to damsel in distress who gets hypnotized TWICE.

That said, I still found it breathtaking and will continue to look for more Fulci films. I loved The Beyond and Seven Notes in Black!

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