Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Final Girl Film Club - City of the Living Dead

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

A 1980 Italian zombie movie brings about a realization.

You may also know Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead as Gates of Hell, which was the title I first saw it under sometime in the late 1990s. The film contains the exact moment when I started to realize, upon my first viewing of it, that I wasn't going to be a fan of Italian horror. I had seen some of the country's more accessible genre offerings before attempting to watch City of the Living Dead for the first time. I had enjoyed Fulci's 1979 Dawn of the Dead cash-in Zombie, had found Lamberto Bava's rock-fuelled 1985 creature feature Demons to be a really fun time, and had likely even watched Dario Argento's Suspiria by the time I got around to City of the Living Dead, which I blind-bought on VHS because I had seen Fulci's career receive so much love in the pages of horror magazines. Although highly regarded in the horror community, City/Gates is not nearly as accessible as the likes of Zombie and Demons. Its style is distinctly Italian, and that's a style that has, for the most part, never been very appealing to my taste.

The story, scripted by Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti, begins with a priest called Father Thomas hanging himself in a cemetery in the New England town of Dunwich (a nod to H.P. Lovecraft). Unfortunately, this is an act that has opened the gates of Hell, as prophesied in the Book of Enoch. If these gates aren't closed by All Saints' Day (November 1st), the Earth is doomed to suffer a zombie apocalypse.

Much of this information is delivered through a vision a young woman named Mary Woodhouse (yes, Mary, not Rosemary Woodhouse, that was Mia Farrow's character in Rosemary's Baby) has during a séance. The vision is so frightening to her that she collapses... and when the authorities arrive on the scene, she's pronounced dead.

Having never fully pulled me in during my first viewing, Fulci's film began to lose me completely with the way Mary's "death" is handled, because there is not an ounce of real world, 1980s America logic to it. Apparently given no further medical examination, Mary is put in a coffin without being embalmed and sent to be buried in a New York cemetery where she already has a tombstone, dated and all, and the holes dug for graves aren't even knee deep. The gravediggers abandon their job before covering up her coffin, which gives journalist Peter Bell - who has been curious about her death - the chance to save her when she regains consciousness inside the coffin and starts screaming for help.

Saved from this utterly nonsensical fate, Mary teams up with Peter to go to Dunwich and close the gates of Hell. The closer they get to accomplishing their goal, the stranger and stranger things get.

Part of the strangeness is the fact that Father Thomas has returned from the grave to murder Dunwich residents in some very gross ways. His first victim gets a faceful of dirt and worms, but that's nothing compared to the fate suffered by the second. With a supernatural stare, Thomas makes a woman puke her guts up. Literally. Bloody guts come pouring of her mouth, in anatomically correct order. We're treated to this sight for the better part of a minute.

That's when I realized that Italian horror isn't my thing. Of course, you can't make such a decision based on one film, but my general inability to connect with Italian horror films started with that viewing of City/Gates. This movie wasn't engaging, didn't make any damn sense, and now it had gotten disgusting, the effects made all the more sickening by the poor quality of the VHS presentation. I was getting so little enjoyment out of it up to that point that I stopped it right there, just over 30 minutes into the film.

I have revisited City of the Living Dead and watched it in its entirety since then, I rewatched it before writing this article, but honestly I have never gotten any more enjoyment from subsequent viewings than I got from that initial one. I find its particular brand of dream logic (a term I learned after that first viewing and which explains why the movie doesn't make sense) to be very off-putting, and I feel much the same way about most of the Fulci films I've seen. No offense intended to Fulci or to his legion of fans, but City and its ilk are just not for me.

I do still like Zombie, though.

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