2/6/11

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD


It had to be done.  And it was not an easy decision: in prefacing the many zombie movies to come into this collection I had before me several questions.  The first was - do I give my esteemed readership a classic or do I surprise them with something modern and hyper-real?  The answer, searching my ghastly heart of hearts, whispered...no shouted: CLASSIC!

Ah, but then I had to ask further: do I give them what they're expecting...which frankly is Romero?  This is not to say that I will not rant AT LENGTH about Romero's fabulosity and shortcomings at some point in the future.  What it came down to is picking the single zombie movie that had the most impact on me personally, and the answer to that complicated question is:

WTF = 25
W = 9
T = 8
F = 8

Yeah, yeah.  It may not be the scariest zombie movie out there, but in my mind, it's one of the most creative.  Fulci is a pro at this, so there are going to be a lot of readers in my readership that feel differently and that's ok.  Your opinion is valid.  And validly denied.  If I were to recommend a zombie film to someone who never saw a zombie movie before, I would tell them to see this - yes even before Night of the Living Dead - for the sole purpose of seeing zombies in their Italian-American overdubbed heyday.  I'd tell them to see Night...etc. to get the backstory of how it all sort of began, but only after seeing the cheesetastic and somewhat creepy creation of City of the Living Dead.  For the record, this is a decent story with hilariously horrific details.  

I'm talking about religious overtones.  For once, forget the science of zombies.  While (as I have said a'many times before) I quite enjoy it when directors/writers try to provide evidence-backed explanations for extraordinary plots, this is one movie where I kinda like the blurred meaning and the idiocy of the characters.

As is true to most Italian horror movies, the plot is really of no import.  But I'll give you a briefing.  In this case, we begin a creepy macabre priest who commits suicide on hallowed ground, thereby opening a portal to hell.  I love/hate it when that happens.  Sometimes you get an awesome splash of zombies battling humans to the last man.  Other times you get a Republican electoral win.  Saying that I prefer the undead is a blurry statement, so I'll be specific: I prefer the fictional outcomes and this is one film that by far exceeded my expectations.  After the priest hangs himself, you have a seance with a bunch of psychic mediums that gets broken up when Mary Woodhouse (aka Catriona MacColl) has some sort of a seizure and they have to call 9-11.  The paramedics pronounce her dead, and the police think it's a bunch of druggies in their investigation.  A psychic with a low voice and a white-girl-afro (a hilarious product of the 70's that I truly wish would come back into fashion merely so I could laugh at them all over again) claims that this is the end of the world or some psychic blibblab, and we are instantly launched into zombie fun, beginning with...

...Woodhouse's burial.  A snazzy scene.  For some reason or another the poor woman wakes up in her coffin (this is why cremation is kinda preferable to me) and is rescued by the cigar-smoking Christopher George playing Peter Bell.  I have to say that the coffin scene here is not to be beat.  Rather epic in terms of lighting, timing, and dare I say: acting! I'm not sure how little or how much of this film is overdubbed, but the lot of it is self-aware and awesome.  George rescues MacColl and they begin a fun adventure to finding this portal to hell so that they can close it before the apocalypse begins. 

In a fight between Columbo and Christopher George, I'd vote for George any day.  This guy is like a less stylish Lou Reed with a few really bad acting classes.  Just a joyride to watch as he tries to man up to Woodhouse in their quest up the East Coast to the source of the undead scourge.  He manages to smoke cigars for the majority of his speaking roles and to not appear actually affected by the majority of the whole 'rising from the grave' thing as is the trend in Italian zombie movies (until it's too late and such).  Once they make it to the town a whole series of weird happenings has already passed and people are beginning to suspect that something is seriously wrong.  Couples pick the wrong make-out spots.  A poor young girl dies too soon, leaving a little brother looking out the window for her to return.  Suspicious men in provincial bars begin to talk amongst themselves...somewhat Lovecraftian. 


By the time Woodhouse and Bell arrive, it seems already too late.  What follows is a series of powerfully awesome scenes of horror that you will not forget anytime soon.  Not in the sense that they are scary, but only in the sense that they are classic.  And in some cases - even by 1980 - classic rip-off material.  I think this is partially where Fulci rips off Argento (once you see the maggot scene, you might be somewhat reminded of my dear Suspiria).  This is a moment where you're like...uh...are these directors simply putting in flying maggots everywhere because they know people are grossed out by them?  It's definitely not scary, more like one of those TV extravaganzas they have in Latin countries where you have girls in skimpy sequined dresses speaking with lots of rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr's and fruit hats and crappy bands and dudes with false teeth and tuxedos (not much different than MTV, but at least MTV as a bit more tact and by tact I mean less fruit hats and more guys with gold teeth and shitty new pre-teen music releases that nobody over 14 and or over 110 IQ would purchase).  

But...again...I digress!  I will preface my next statement in stating that above all things in the world including pain, bleeding, breaking of bones, bending of ligaments and tendons beyond their natural capacities, etc.., my GREATEST MOST HATED THING IN THE UNIVERSE is puking.  I would rather have someone break my fingers one by one than deal with a stomach virus or food poisoning.  I hate doing it, and I hate hearing it, and MOST OF ALL I hate watching it.  BUT!  This movie quite possibly contains the #1 best and unbeatable puke scene ever.  An unfortunate couple drives up to some make-out spot and starts doing the nasty in the front seat of a car...which I never EVER understood as I do not find gear-shifts or consoles or dashboards, glove compartments and seats designed to fit people as snugly as possible conducive to lasciviousness. I mean, if you're going to drive all the way to some secluded spot, why not bring a sleeping bag or something?  Why get it on in the most uncomfortable way possible?  I do not understand.  But for some reason, it works on film and it always has worked on film, because you can simply stick a camera in the window.

The girl gets the creeps, the undead priest shows his face, and suddenly, slowly, with almost unbelievable ridiculousness, the poor girl voms out her entire internal organ system.  I feel SO SORRY for the actress who had to film this scene.  I'm not sure what they used, sheep or pig or cow or whatever, but I'm QUITE POSITIVE it was not worth whatever she was paid to do it for.  Anyway, because of the unique total grossitude of this one scene, I have to cite it as the most intense internal organ vomming ever to be filmed ever.  To date.  You may not find that an achievement, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I do either, but there you go.  The glorious part of this scene is (for those of you who share my phobia) the that vomming is so absolutely ridiculous and filmed in a horrid piecemeal of cuts where the model obviously had to shove various pieces of raw organs and fake blood in her mouth.  I think finally it got too much for the actress so they put an obvious dummy in her place for when she pukes up her own stomach or her liver or what-have-you.  It's too fake to trip the gag reflex, but too awesome to ignore.  

The remainder of the film is a mix of people teaming up to attempt to understand/counteract the series of evil events that has taken over the small town and its inhabitants.  Naturally the team of pure genius uses the old and unbeatable horror fuck up methodology to deal with said events:

Let's split up!

Aaaaahahahah!!!!!!!  Gets me every time.  Like any non-suicidal group of frightened human beings would EVER use that plan EVER in a situation where dead people were getting out of coffins and eating the living?  Who comes up with this bullshit?  Answer: directors.  On speed perhaps.  And on a small budget.  Further elaboration: because the movie would end too soon if they didn't split up.  Ah.     

But let us not dwell in the nonsensical ridiculousness of this 1980 production of cheesetastical zombificiation.  Instead we should rejoice in the nonsensical ridiculousness of this 1980 production of cheesetastical zombification!!!!!!  This is the timeless rhetoric of horror: whatever you hate about it can also be loved (unlike puking).  While this movie makes little sense in terms of a scientific explanation (biblical being the total opposite of scientific) of the scourge of the undead rising to claim the earth, this is a 93 minute joyride of zombie shenanigans that winds the viewers down and down into the catacombs to the end of the world.

There's something refreshing about zombie movies that does not request but DEMAND that you take them as they are, flawed plots and all.  I suppose that this is ultimately what I love and hate about zombie movies.  They are in various ways true 20th century creations in that they give us big fireworks - displays of blood and gore and maggots and intestine barfing and soundtracks worthy of Wesley Willis - with little explanation other than 'this is a reflection of ourselves!!! oooooo!!!'.  They are often poorly cut, acted, directed, overdubbed, and produced, but they are also often barrels of fun n' gore with a few religious/biological/social undertones here and there.  City of the Living Dead is among said barrels of fun that is not to be read deeply but definitely to be enjoyed as a preface to all that came before and all that followed.  It is what it is!!!
 

4 comments:

  1. I share your love of this movie and take a lot of flack from those who think there is nothing finer than night of the living dead - not a bad movie, but this one is my absolute favorite. I love the non-chemistry between MacColl and George and the extremely odd ending. And of course the intestine puke scene. They just don't make them like they used to!!!

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  2. best zombie movie ever. next to dotd. got to give romero his due.

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  3. stbernardshaw4/5/11, 4:56 PM

    This movie is Italian zombie movie magic!!!!!

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  4. I hated the vom scene, but it's a scene you love to hate. This is totes a tough call because I feel The Beyond is way better. There's that chick with the eyes all whitened and the scene in the hospital and the unbelievable ending that is much better than this movie ending.

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