City of the Living Dead (1980)
Zombies really bothered me as a kid. Seeing the insides of the human body spill out was as pure a vision of horror as I could imagine. Guts should not be outside of your body, full stop. I only watched one zombie film, whose title I can’t remember, and the ten minutes I managed of it fucked me up for weeks.
In Dunwich, Massachusetts, a priest, Father Thomas, throws a noose over a tree in a graveyard and hangs himself. This somehow opens the gates of hell. In New York, Mary has a vision of the dead priest at a seance, and collapses as if dead, only to wake up half-buried in her coffin. She is saved by Peter, a reporter, and their investigations lead them to Dunwich, where the dead priest is killing its citizens in grisly ways.
Fulci thrives on disgust and revulsion, but things take their time to get going. Characters talk directly to the camera. Bodies come and go. A dead woman moves around an artists’ house. There are close up shots of eyes. Waves of maggots. Bleeding walls. A jealous father drills the head of a boy he finds with his daughter. The images sneak up on you, then smack you in the face.
Dunwich looks suitably pre-apocalyptic, with mist, strong winds, and empty streets. Much of the population are so pale and odd, they could already by dead. The soundtrack, sound effects and suburban streets reminded me of Michael Jackson’s Thriller — it had to have been an influence. In this strange place, the dynamic of Gerry and Sandra is interesting — he is a therapist who lets his wife wander into his sessions, and Sandra is his patient who he feels free to visit in the middle of the night when she’s frightened. She is an artist and paints strange horned creatures, and monster eyes. He has odd pictures on his office wall too, possibly her work. Does he have any other patients?!
As abject as these films might seem on scuzzy VHS cassettes and tiny television screens, they are never as bad when you go back to them. Fulci sacrifices character development and story for the power of the image. By the end I felt wrung out. Nihilism is exhausting.