City of the Living Dead (1980) Review

City of the Living Dead film 1980 The 1980’s are cool again. The floppy hair, the bright colours… Even the leg warmers!
So what better way to celebrate this, but with a nice 80’s horror film? If you’re into zombies and horror that is more fun than terrifying, City of the Living Dead – now available in high definition – could be just what you’re after.

Welcome to Dunwich, more a village than a city (and a City of the Living Deadsmall one at that) but a place with a dark past, apparently built on the ‘original’ Salem (seemingly different to the Salem that is still in existence in Massachusetts).
Anyway, a priest hangs himself to open the gates of hell (we’re never told why) and miles away in New York a spiritual medium drops dead with fright.
A reporter (Peter) arrives the next day to cover the story of the dead girl named Mary, and whilst at the graveyard, hears screams coming from her casket.
Hurredly opening it with a pickaxe, he finds Mary alive and so the two quickly become friends. They then decide to find Dunwich to close the gates of hell before everyone turns into zombies and the world ends.

It sounds a bit crazy, and honestly, it is. Lucio Fulci has a decent reputation in horror, but along with it comes the knowledge that all of his stuff was a bit weird. And not just far-fetched or disturbing in a magnificent way. More odd, confusing and sometimes a bit silly (see Zombie Flesh Eaters and The House by the Cemetary).

Take for instance the amount of time that is taken to set the scene in this movie. Efforts have been made to establish characters and provide the back-story, with long periods of dialogue, pointless meetings between people, and conversations which carelessly give away information that could otherwise have been used to create an air of mystery. It’s all done in a typical low budget, 80’s way
“Hey, don’t worry about me going out tonight Mum. Just because we live in a cursed village that used to be Salem, it doesn’t mean that I will be killed by zombies” etc.

Characters are introduced, then often squished without really being given a chance to make an impact (or sense), and on top of it all, there is the strange sound dubbing that can be found in other rare 80’s horror jewels. This is where the actors appear to be speaking English, but they have had their voices over-dubbed anyway.
Distracting and quite irritating.

City of the Living Dead 1980 movie City of the Living Dead Lucio Fulci

But, for you retro, cheesy horror lovers out there, these qualities may be endearing.
In City of the Living Dead, for every bad quality, there is a good one.
The big beards, the hammy acting that in truth seems perfectly suited to the film… The whole fun, random feel of it all makes it clear to see how people could still be drawn to this  film, no matter how bad it is.

The gore is sporadic, but when it comes, it’s pretty full on. Lots of squelchy worms and maggots, a fair bit of brains and even a really random scene involving a large drill and a couple of local guys. That’s right, no zombies, just a couple of local guys and a drill, not really sure why.

So if you can get on board with the silliness, there is some fun to be had. The unpredictable story will keep you guessing, and the blood and guts could get you wincing.
There is however one big problem with the film. A problem that zombie lovers will have trouble over-looking and may find unforgivable. The problem is that in the city of the living dead, the walking dead aren’t just zombies. They are magic zombies.

City of the Living Dead Gates of hell

No, they don’t run or fly. But, they can teleport and even make humans slowly dissolve by staring into their eyes.
This is made all the more irritating by the fact that they are still pretty pathetic, and given their repertoir of killer powers, they still prefer to tear open the backs of peoples heads which leaves them quite open to attack.
Oh, plus, you don’t even need a headshot to kill them. A stab in the guts will do it. How lame is that?!

So yes, you should watch City of the Living Dead to witness this strange and at times frustrating, retro, gore-filled cheese.
But it will not be an easy ride, as your horror values and even your patience will be tested.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ½ ☆ ☆ 

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Tom Atkinson

Tom is one of the editors at Love Horror. He has been watching horror for a worryingly long time, starting on the Universal Monsters and progressing through the Carpenter classics. He has a soft-spot for eighties horror.More

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