Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
Que Pasa Gasmii???!
It’s muchacha macabra Leia LaBiblia! I’ll be joining Scream Queen P-Baby Walker to bring you a blood-curdling buffet of terror-treats from around the world, although I must confess a deep fetish for Euro-Horrors of the 70′s and 80′s, many of which, through the magic of DVD and Blu-Ray, are now within easy reach of even the laziest fright fan.
One of the coolest releases of the year so far is Arrow Films’ deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition of the ultra-gory 1980 Italian supernatural splatter-fest CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. At first glance what appears to be a cheap, hootable Mystery Science Theatre-ready laugh riot quickly morphs into a genuinely creepy, unforgettable mind-fuck packed with EXTREME graphic gross-outs so well-crafted you’ll be forced to keep hitting the Rewind button. Right after you hit the bathroom and barf your guts out (more on this later…)! It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but neither does a career in Recap Artistry, and that hasn’t stopped P-Baby or myself.
A BRIEF GUIDE TO WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT VINTAGE ITALIAN HORROR MOVIES:
1. They’re dubbed. Until recently, almost every movie made in Italy was shot without live sound recording. The dialogue was added later, sometimes by the actors themselves, but often in the case of the English-language track, by different people. Many Italian horror movies were shot with the actors speaking English, so the lip movements match the dialogue, but the voice you’re hearing is someone else’s. And often within the same movie you’ll get some actors speaking English and others different languages (usually Italian, but sometimes Spanish or French or even German) which have been replaced with English in the final version. If you watch as many of these films as I do, you’ll become very familiar with specific voices– it seems like the same dubbing crew was used for almost every English-language track recorded from the late 60′s to 1990.
2. They’re way gorier than most American films of the same era. The Italians were way ahead of us in the splatter FX department. Most of these films were cut to obtain an R-rating in the US, but with the DVD and Blu-Ray explosion, we can now see all the stabbings, decapitations and cannibalism they way Satan intended.
3. They employ more zoom shots and close-ups of people’s eyes than you’re probably used to.
4. They exist in their own hyper-stylized universe where logic takes a pass in favor of stunning cinematography, groovy music and insane scripts. In other words, they’re gorgeous batshit crazy.
Lucio Fulci was a minor cult director responsible for two classic early 70′s gialli (plural of giallo, which means “yellow”, the color of the covers of trashy mystery novels which spawned a hugely successful genre of stylish horror thrillers in the 60′s and 70′s), Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971). Then in 1979, he made a low-budget rip-off of the hit Dawn of the Dead called Zombie. Bolstered by outrageous scenes like a walking corpse fighting with a shark underwater (!) and a sharp wooden splinter slowly spearing a trapped woman’s eyeball, Zombie was a massive smash that burst out of the grindhouse/drive-in ghetto to appall audiences worldwide with its great tag line “We Are Going To Eat You!”
Next, Fulci made a trilogy of supernatural shockers which continue to polarize fans: The Beyond, The House By the Cemetery (both 1981) and tonight’s scabby specimen, City of the Living Dead, which adds a strong zombie component to a bubbling stew of telepathy, maggots, ancient curses and horrifying death scenes which are still a joy to behold. Try not to single out the campy performances, hilariously klunky dubbing or bewildering “plot”, because they all feed into Fulci’s stylized bad-dream world. This may be a trashy hunk of Italian cheeze, but it’s difficult to find a director other than David Lynch who can distill the essence of a nightmare so effectively.
Father Thomas makes a significant spiritual error.
Turn off all the lights, grab a cold one and keep that barf-bag handy. It’s time to visit the City of the Living Dead! (And please note, screen-grabs are from the Netflix download of the standard-def Blue Underground release. Arrow’s Blu Ray has superior picture quality and even though it’s from the UK, it’s compatible with any Blu Ray player. Blue Underground has also just released their own Blu Ray of this film, and I’ve heard it’s terrific, too, but they didn’t respond to my request for a review copy. I heart you, Blue Underground– please put me on your screeners list!)
We begin in a graveyard in the town of Dunwich. A 40-ish priest, Father Thomas, with hollow, haunted eyes wanders through. As Fabio Frizzi‘s uber-cool electronic score pulses and groans, we read a headstone with this comforting thought carved in it: “The soul that pines for eternity shall outspan death. You, dweller of the twilight void, come.” It might have made more sense before the propman translated it from Italian. The priest looks up into the trees.
This is what Tyra Banks refers to as “a five-head”.
New York. At a seance, ethereal beauty Mary (Katriona MacColl) is deep in a trance. Guided by a frizzy-haired medium, Mary insists that she sees something. Intercutting reveals she sees Father Haunted Tom in the graveyard, who is now preparing a noose. Yikes. Suicide is a big no-no for us Catholics, especially priests, no matter how many altar boys they’ve fondled. Surely this can be resolved with a transfer to another parish! But no, there he goes, doing the air-dance. Then right away a moldering corpse rises up though the soil and fallen leaves!
Mary responds with a huge scream. “I see the dead… city of the dead!” she informs her fellow seancers from somewhere in Tranceland. Frizzy Hair bellows at the others to “not break the link”, whatever they do, but sure enough Mary the shrieking psychic topples to the floor, convulsing as cemetery visions and strange childish moans and other ghastly noises echo through her pretty blonde head. They hoist her to the couch and a shaggy-haired bearded man checks her pulse. “Maaaary! Noooo!” Frizzy Lady sobs, but it’s too late. An ambulance carts Mary away from the Upper West Side brownstone.
Inside the apartment, there’s now a chalked body-outline on the floor. A non-nonsense black cop interrogates the seancers, unwilling to believe Mary simply died of fright. So what were they on: “Grass, coke?! Where’s your stash? Down the taw-let?!” Frizzy takes offense– she runs a clean communication service to The Beyond and accuses Black Cop of being “a comic book version” of a detective…
The kind with exclamation points at the end of all his speech bubbles.
He threatens Madame Theresa (Frizzy) with arrest, scoffing at her slavish devotion to an ancient text called The Book of Enoch. Frizzy T invites the sleuth to take a closer look at the unholy text, which contains “descriptions of crimes” written thousands of years before they are committed. Frizzy is about to reveal the culprit when sudden balls of fire flare across the apartment, wreaking havoc with everyone’s nerves and somebody’s security deposit.
Frizzy says the lower unit has been vacant “for 26 years” and that even now, as the clueless coppers harass the occult posse, “horrendously awful things are happening” in another “distant town” that would “shatter your imagination!” Sounds like Wasilla, Alaska, to me, Gasmii. But of course she’s talking about Dunwich. Where we immediately cut and are introduced to someone new, a pale young blonde man with hooded, ice-blue eyes. His smart windbreaker offers little protection from the eerie howling wind kicking up dust in front of a ramshackle farmhouse. He enters the house, which seems to be deserted, windows broken, stripped of furniture. He goes to the fireplace and pulls out… a deflated blow-up sex doll. Probably not what you were expecting.
Blonde Man tosses the doll aside and it inflates all on its own! That’s not supposed to happen. But Blondie doesn’t seem to mind that, or the fact that the inflata-boobs are A-cups. He walks up and gives her a caress, but his attention is quickly diverted by the ghastly sight of a putrefying dead baby that suddenly appears on the floor, worms writhing through the carcass.
Even I, your Recap Artist, am nauseated by this, and I hate children!
So now you get it– this movie is off-the-charts WRONG.
Cut back to the Upper West Side, where cigar-chomping, jaded ace reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) is approaching a pre-war apartment building. Chris George was a beloved trash-movie regular whose gruff 1970s manliness graced countless exploitation classics like Grizzly (1976), The Exterminator (1980) and Pieces (1982), in which he co-starred with his blonde starlet wife Lynda Day George. He’s also Vanna White‘s uncle. I’d love to hear what Vanna thinks of this flick. Peter’s here to cover a mysterious death in the building, but is stopped by a cop who’s tough, mustachioed and bribe-proof. He tells Peter to hit the bricks– no one’s allowed in or out.
Back in Dunwich, a couple of barflies hang out at a sad little establishment identified by even sadder signage as “Junie’s Lounge” and “Package Shop”. Keep in mind this movie was made by an entirely Italian crew and the art director’s English dictionary was probably 20 years out of date. As the bartender laments the strange dust-storms plaguing the town, conversation turns to a local girl named Cindy who never came home last night. Suddenly, a large mirror on the wall violently shatters. Barfly #1 remarks that “ever since Father Tom hanged himself, Dunwich ain’t been the same.” The bartender hilariously theorizes that the “vibrations” from a passing truck probably broke the mirror, but the barflies fear something far more sinister is up. “You forget who are ancestors were,” one says.
The bartender laughs it off and offers them beers on the house. Then a cinder-block wall cracks open and white smoke starts to seep in…
That was one big truck…
The barflies have seen enough and scamper out the door into the fog. The bartender grumbles to himself about “cheap construction” and “losing all my customers”.
Cut to a pretty woman (Sandra) on an analyst’s couch cuddling an adorable tabby cat (not identified). She’s telling a man that “the language may have been risque, but the message couldn’t be more puritanical.” The curly-haired, bearded shrink asks why she chose “the topic of incest”. She replies that “when I was 8 years old, I wanted to marry my father.” The same as all little girls, right? she asks. Not me, Gasmii. When I was 8 I wanted to marry Gerardo. I knew he was probably bald under than bandanna but his rico-suaveness was impossible for this Latina to resist. Our patient says she soon “got over it” when her abusive alcoholic dad abandoned the family. That’s when she began to hate all men.
She definitely must hate her shrink, because just then he allows her session to be interrupted by a younger pretty woman named Emily who breezes in through a sliding door and tells him she can’t keep their date tonight because she’s going to see “Bob”. No one seems to care that Sandra is probably paying at least 40 1980 dollars for this hour– instead the doctor is worried that Em has been seeing a lot of this Bob. Emily says Bob needs her– “he’s a sick and lonely kid” and she can’t understand why everyone in town “hates him so”. Figuring that she’s the one paying so she might as well get her two cents in, Sandra says Bob’s mother was a notorious slut. “Here in Dunwich someone like that is also branded a witch,” Sandra adds.
Em testily snips that she doesn’t believe the ignorant local gossip that “our ancestors were Salem witch burners!” If you’ve been wondering exactly where the whacked-out town of Dunwich is, it’s obviously a short carriage ride from Massachusetts. Sandra, who clearly has doormat issues, quickly backs down. Emily kisses Dr Jerry goodbye, bids Sandra a cheery “Take it easy!” then leaves. Jerry wants to get back to Sandra’s problems with men (and it’s about fucking time) but suddenly the room goes dark and Sandra shrieks as if seeing something horrible, like a dead baby, or a self-inflating sex doll. The cat yowls and Sandra flings it onto a nearby chair, her hand slashed with bloody claw marks. How very odd, Sandra and Jerry concur, staring at the now-angelic-looking pet…
“Don’t look at me– that bitch is crazy!”
Just outside Manhattan, two grave-diggers (one played by skanky blonde porn actor Michael Gaunt) enjoy sandwiches and porn magazines on their lunch hour. They’re annoyed to find Peter Bell snooping during their break. Nearby, we see the tombstone of “Mary Woodhouse” (the girl who collapsed at the seance) 1955-1980. Her coffin awaits burial on a gurney. Inside the coffin, Mary lies in repose, her pale face reflected in a mirror on the inside of the lid. Did coffins used to come with a mirror option?! Do they still?! Why?!! So fornicators can touch up their make-up before they meet Satan? Peter watches the grave-diggers lower the coffin into the ground.
Inside, in a beautiful shot, a strange breeze stirs the petals of the roses Mary clutches in her hands. The grave-dudes toss a few shovels of dirt onto the casket, then decide to quit for the day. It’s 5:00. Peter chides them for “leaving her like that”. She’s not in any hurry, they scoff, walking away. Mary’s eyes flutter open. Panicking, she beats on the lid and cries for help. Peter, who’s crossing away, hears her faint screams, but shrugs and keeps going. Wait, there it is again! But a jet plane’s roar obscures the escalating coffin ruckus, as Mary pants and groans and claws at the satin lining, scraping her fingers bloody on the lid. Eeeeuuw!
Mary faints from fear or lack of oxygen and all is quiet as Peter returns to the gravesite. He’s about to walk off again when Mary musters a final blood-chilling scream! “Oh, my God,” Peter mutters, seizing a handy pick-axe and chopping at the coffin lid. The spike penetrates mere centimeters from Mary’s gasping face. Peter keeps at it until Mary’s face appears.
This is perhaps the ultimate in what my screenwriting teacher used to refer to as “the Meet-Cute”.
Back at the seance apartment, which wouldn’t have been my first choice to hang out at if I were Mary, M and Peter visit Frizzy Psychic, who congratulates him on saving M from “a terrible death”. Pete says he was just lucky (as was Mary, since the undertaker must have been out of embalming fluid that day), but Frizzy corrects him: “No, it was written.” In The Book of Enoch, a text which is over 4000 years old and contains the first known description of “man’s boundless mortal fear in the face of malice itself” (take that, Stephen King), “the demanding implacable enemy whose search for blood is never satiated.” Sort of like Andy Cohen on Bravo.
Frizzy orders Mary to tell them what she saw at the seance. “The city of the dead,” she murmurs. The living dead, a cursed city where the gates of Hell have been opened. But she doesn’t mention exactly where in Florida it is. Kidding. All Mary knows is that it’s called Dunwich– “I read it on a tombstone.” Frizzy warns that unless they find this town and close those hellish gates, it could mean the end for humanity. Isn’t this the same bullshit Arizona‘s been trying to pull?! I’m all for deporting malevolent spirits and infant-munching ghouls, but for god’s sake, leave the poor Mexicans alone! Frizzy gives them a deadline, Monday at midnight, which happens to be All Souls Day. If the gates stay open, corpses will rise from their graves and take over the earth! And you can bet your blow-up doll they ain’t gonna be as cute and well-spoken as young Mary.
Ominous music takes us to a deserted town of fog-misted row houses and cobblestone streets. Emily’s Corvette pulls up to an equally uninhabited gas station. She gets out and goes into a dark machine shop in back, calling for Bob. Whimpering leads her to a filthy mattress in the corner, where Bob aka Creepy Blonde Guy, shudders in the fetal position surrounded by nude pin-ups and porno mags. She hurries to his side– did he hurt himself? Suddenly (how else?), they hear a Satanic feline growl. Bob perks up, protectively wrapping his arms around the aspiring social worker. Then he shoves her away from him and peels out of the building in terror. Em takes off after him, but trips on the clutter, falling to the concrete floor. A hand grabs the back of her head and smears grave-rot and live worms onto her terrified face:
As you can see, her attacker is pasty, red-eyed Father Tom, the suicide priest.
Cut to Dr Jerry at his desk, catching up on his smoking and paperwork. The phone rings. It’s Emily’s father, worried that she hasn’t come home yet– there’s been a lot of “strange talk circulating” lately. Jerry chalks it up to superstitious gossip and reassures the old geezer that Em will be home shortly. But if he needs anything else, he can reach Jerry here “at the studio” for another hour. How many shrinks do you know who refer to their offices as “studios”? Maybe it’s really a one-room apartment.– we’ve seen Jerry practice psychology and he can’t be making much money at it. He hangs up and scrawls the word BOB in his notebook.
A young couple makes out in a Jeep parked on a dark street. “Please, Tommy,” the girl protests to her horny pal. This parking spot gives her “the willies”. Tommy scoffs– “You’re a not little child anymore. You don’t really believe in that Salem witch stuff, do ya?” They continue to snog and Tommy cops a quick feel under her blouse. She pulls away; it feels like someone’s spying on them in the darkness. Tommy tries to quell her nerves and get those titties out by popping on the headlights– instead they reveal the priest’s corpse, swaying on a noose! Let’s get outta here! But the Jeep won’t start! Just as suddenly, the priest disappears, only to pop up next to the girl’s window, sans noose, with a look that says “Copping titty is a sin and I’m going to punish you.”
As Tommy and we recoil in horror, his girlfriend’s eyes fill with tears of blood and she starts foaming at the mouth, followed by more clotted blood gushing from her pie-hole. Unearthly belching noises are next as Tommy frantically tries but fails to get out of the vehicle. We quickly realize the reason for the gal’s gastric disturbance, as she proceeds to vomit forth her own entrails! Oh, yes. This is the moment when City of the Living Dead turns from harmless goofy fun into a total shock classic. Hideous loops of intestine, kidneys, even what looks like the poor bitch’s entire stomach come barfing forth in all their non-CGI gory glory. What’s that, Gasmii? You don’t believe me? OK…
You know at this point she’s wishing she went for the role with the frontal nudity instead.
If you’re on the verge of puking yourself, look out, because just then the priest appears in the backseat, peels off the back of Tommy’s skull and scoops out a BIG chunk of brains.
It’s like my great-grandmother Rosalinda’s kitchen all over again! Gustoso!
Cut to Pete & Mary embarking by car on their mission to save the world, even though, as Pete points out they have no idea where this “Dunnich” is and it doesn’t seem to be on any maps. He jokes that he may to have to consult HIS “inner visions” over a bottle of Scotch. Mary gazes lovingly at him. He dings his shitty blue station wagon into a parked car and they’re off!
In Dunwich, the coroner, cops and Dr Jerry are all over the gas station, where Emily, it’s been determined, died of fright. The medical examiner asks Em’s sobbing dad if she had “a heart condition”. Nope. The befuddled, Brylcreemed sheriff has no idea how to proceed, so the coroner tells him to sit tight until after the autopsy, when the D.A. decides what to do. Emily’s father tells them that obviously Bob is the killer. A cop agrees, declaring that “pervert” Bob should have been put away for “what he did to poor little Ann Ross.” The sheriff will issue an APB for Bob, who he thinks is also responsible for the other recent malfeasance in town.
“Sheriff Russell! What the dickens is this?!” the cop squawks, calling everyone’s attention to a puddle of blackish blood, worms and brain matter. Wait, did he just say “what the dickens”?!…
You try translating a script into Italian and see how many archaic idioms YOU end up putting in.
While unseen rats chitter disturbingly in the background, the sheriff angrily predicts that Bob is gonna fry for this.
Mary & Pete drive through Rockland County trying to find Dunwich and chatting. Pete’s newspaper editor didn’t believe the whole “gates of hell” angle, so apparently per diem is out of the question. Pete says that someone named Adrian DeNiro predicted that Pete would someday rescue a girl from being buried alive. Mary solemnly agrees that this DeNiro knows many things, and since this is the first we’ve heard of him, we’ll have to take her word for it. Pete asks Mary if she saw any other clues during her near-fatal trance. Yes, she says– she saw a priest who hanged himself, thereby opening those pesky gates. Just warning you, Gasmii: that’s about as much explanation as you’re going to get, so just enjoy the ride.
At the Dunwich funeral parlor, an old biddy with Jane Austen hair lies in a coffin while a distraught lady prays over her. Emily’s parents and whimpering little brother arrive with Jerry and are told by the funeral director that “we’re still preparing” Emily. Cut to the prep room, where Emily, already dressed in her burial gown, is being embalmed, her bright red blood draining into a vat. A perfectly cast mortician removes the cotton from her nose and paints her lips. In the other room, the funeral director tells Jerry that the old bag was “frightened to death”.
Junie’s Lounge. The bartender gossips with customers about the five deaths and/or disappearances that have occurred in the last 48 hours, including the young couple from the entrails-barfing scene, who went out to a movie and haven’t been seen since. The barkeep suspects Bob is behind it all, and one of the boozers agrees– it was his daughter that Bob did those terrible things in the woods with. His drinking buddy has had it with Dunwich– as soon as he finds someone to buy his house and business, he’s “vamoosing– you bet your ass!” What the dickens would you stick around for?
Back at the shabby funeral home, where wardrobe racks inexplicably bump up against the crookedly placed coffins in the viewing room, Emily’s family does some really fake crying over her now-open casket. Her parents ask Jerry to take little Jon-Jon out of the room. As he escorts the hammy tyke away, Dr Jerry offers this enlightened advice– be strong and take it like a man!
And get a haircut, Bobby Brady!
Speaking of Bob, we next see him park his motorcycle in some trees and walk through the swirling dust to the dilapidated old house where he found the blow-up doll. Despite the thick layer of camp we’ve just wallowed through, director Fulci is still able to make Bob’s walk down a dark hallway kinda scary– especially when Father Tom drops in on his noose like some bouncing spook-house attraction. Bob and the music go nuts and he flees the house.
Mary & Pete have stopped on a country road, lost. He’s irritated and blames her for dragging him into this crazy hunt for “galloping cadavers”. He also reminds her that they have “less than 48 hours” before All Soul’s Day and the end of the world. Mary has an idea– let’s go have a nice lunch someplace.
At the funeral home, the old lady and Emily lie side by side in their coffins. The creepy mortician slithers in and yanks a gold chain from Em’s neck. Then he walks over to shake down the old bat. But before he can, a malevolent growl erupts and his arm his yanked off-camera. He screams, pulling back his hand with a huge bloody chunk missing!
What is this, a Petco employee training film?
Cut to a dark street, where we zoom in to a quaint house as the wind moans and, for some reason, jungle birds or howler monkeys ululate on the soundtrack. Inside, little Jon-Jon sits in a state of shock and his pajamas, while a rocking chair rocks by itself and an Evil Presence peers at him through the open shutters. Factoring in the pajamas and Tiger Beat hair, I’m guessing it’s Father Tom, back for an undead fondling session. But I’m wrong– it’s Emily, whose scabby, rotting face appears in the window, scaring the shit out of Jon-Jon. His parents think he’s just under strain from his “big day” and tell him to go back to bed.
Bob wanders through the dark town. Cut to Sandra in what looks like an art studio but here in Dunwich is probably a psychiatrist’s office. She’s painting a portrait of a rhinoceros (WTF?) when she hears bumping and banging and goes off to investigate. Cut to Jerry asleep at his desk when the phone rings. It’s Sandra. Come quick, there’s no time to explain! I’m having a nervous breakdown! Jerry tells her to stay calm, he’ll be right there.
Bob sneaks into the gas station/garage and hides inside a convertible. Cut to Jerry arriving at Sandra’s, where he’s disturbed to find her waiting with a pistol. She says maybe “a crucifix” would be better protection, then asks Jerry if in his professional opinion she’s a “basket case… stark raving mad”. Oh, no, just suffering from neurosis, like “70% of the female population in this country.” How enlightened of him. He says he thinks she may have a drinking problem, possibly because she’s presently pouring herself a stiff belt of Jack Daniels.
She directs him to the kitchen, where he finds the old hag from the funeral home laid out on the floor, complete with mortician’s gauze in her nostrils! For the benefit of any visually impaired in the audience, Sandra says, “It’s her, Mrs Holden…”
“…This morning she was inside a coffin at the funeral home and now she’s here in my kitchen!”
Jerry wants to “use our heads and not panic”– they must figure out how the corpse got here. Sandra really doesn’t care HOW, she wants the old crone out, pronto! Jerry rethinks that drink and ours himself a double shot of Jack. He says they should call the sheriff.
Suddenly, eerie barks and growls echo through the house. With gun drawn, Jerry leads the way back to the kitchen. No Mrs Holden! Sandra thinks the old battleaxe got up and marched off on her own. Jerry thinks that’s ridiculous, until unearthly noises emanate from the upstairs. She’s still in the house! Sandra gasps, succumbing to a panic attack. Jerry tries to console her with a comforting hand on her tit– if he survives this night, he should really have his license revoked. But he does manage to get Sandra under control so they can do a calm, rational, methodical search of every room in the house. Why not just get into the car and get the fuck out of town, you might ask. Clearly, you don’t just flee your house when you have a painting as important as that rhinoceros unfinished. As the couple exits the living room, we see a pair of nasty bare feet lurking unseen.
Jerry & Sandra finish the inspection and find nothing amiss except for glaring housekeeping and interior decoration issues. Sandra doesn’t think she can sleep in this house, so Jerry invites her to crash with him. Speaking of crashing, the lights suddenly go out and a window explodes inward, jagged shards of glass embedding in a wall, which starts hemorrhaging!
“Good God, it’s blood! Blood!” Sandra cries, for the benefit of our blind friends.
The next day, Pete & Mary (remember them?) are quizzing the pastor of a little country church about Dunwich. The reverend is very familiar with the town, which “was built on the ruins of the original Salem, a village of witches and heresy and evil!” Spare us the history lesson and let’s get to geography, OK, padre? Where the dickens is it? He gives them the world’s vaguest directions then asks why Dunwich? We’re looking up a friend, Pete says. The look on the priest’s face says “And might that friend be named…. SATAN?!?”
Cut to the garage. Ann, a cute “teen” enters and retrieves a weed stash from its hiding place, then notices Bob. “What are you doing in my dad’s car?” she asks, climbing in to join him. He says he had no other place to sleep. She advises vamoosing right away, but first how about a joint? Suddenly, we hear an angry fatherly voice yell “Ann!” The kids clamber out of the convertible and Bob makes a run for the window, but Ann’s peeved pop, who we met at the bar yesterday, grabs Bob and smacks him in the face. What were you trying to do with my daughter, pervert?! Dad demands. Um, your daughter’s a 24-year-old pothead not wearing a bra, so chill! But he knocks Bob into the on-switch for a huge shiny horizontal drill press.
Bob gets up and swears he was only looking for a place to sleep, but Dad takes a look at the spinning drill and gets a very nasty idea. He calls Bob a perverted murderer, then forces him down and shoves his head toward the drill. And in a horrifyingly graphic, completely realistic moment of splatter-supremo, he drills through Bob’s head ear to ear!
HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!
It’s the kind of special effects carnage that would get a standing ovation if you were seeing this in a theatre, and it STILL looks fabulous 30 years later. Bravo, Lucio Fulci!
Jerry & Sandra arrive at the funeral home, where no one answers the doorbell. Jerry thinks the answer they’re seeking lies here, and suggests they look for the undertaker, perhaps at the cemetery. Sandra can’t handle this and says she’ll wait in his office/studio. The shadow of a woman appears in the window as they drive off. Cut to the gravestone with the “dweller of the twilight void-Dunwich” inscription. Mary tells Pete that it’s “the very same tombstone I saw in my trance.” Now what, the cigar-chomping muckraker asks. Mary says they need to find the priest’s grave and “uncover him”, and in a hurry, “All Saints Day” starts at midnight.
As they begin searching, Jerry arrives and they tell him whose grave they’re looking for. Jerry tells them the priest is named Father Thomas. Cut to Jerry’s office. Pete & Mary have just finished telling him and Sandra “the whole story”. Except Sandra still doesn’t get it, so Mary says “The death of Father Thomas gave birth to some evil–” She’s interrupted when the windows burst open and a swarm of maggots descends upon the foursome, complete with hideous close-ups of the wriggling critters stuck to the very committed actors’ faces. As the writhing, pulsating larval mass piles up on the floor on the furniture, Sandra pukes. Then the maggot-covered phone rings.
This is why they invented voice-mail.
Jerry answers and tells little Jon-Jon to “take it easy, I’ll be right over.” Jerry hangs up and tells the others that “Emily just killed her parents. Emily died two days ago.”
Cut to Jon-Jon, slack-jawed, holding the phone as blood drips from a wound in the ceiling into a glass of milk on the dining table. Nice touch!
Our new Scooby-Doo gang pulls up to Emily’s house in two cars and Jon-Jon meets them outside. “I’m scared, Jerry, I’m scared!” Jerry hugs him. I hope Jerry shook all the maggots out of his very curly ‘fro. The women know their place and stay outside in the car with Jon-Jon while Jerry & Pete head inside for a peek. “They’ve been butchered, totally butchered, ripped to shreds!” Jerry says, although we don’t get to see anything gross. I’m sure the special FX budget ran out– there’s no way director Fulci willingly opted for anything tasteful. Outside, Jon-Jon tells his new mommies that Emily was dead and “eating” his parents. Jerry & Pete emerge and they all set out for the funeral parlor.
Since part of what makes this movie so wonderfully wet ‘n’ wiggy is that ANYTHING can happen, to anyone, at any time, for any reason, it doesn’t really matter that Jerry puts Sandra on babysitting duty and sends them back to his mental arts studio. Surely they’re just as unsafe there as they would be walking into the funeral home with the rest of them. Inside, the viewing room’s coffins stand pristinely open. Our threesome doesn’t see the wet handprint on the hideous green carpeting.
It’s now fully dark as Sandra parks near Jerry’s and takes Jon-Jon across the deserted, foggy street. They mount the front steps, oblivious to pizza-faced ghoul Emily peering deadly at them from between the stairs. As Sandra puts key to lock, suddenly Em’s right there to wetly scalp the blonde pachyderm portraitist, brains squishing between the evil spirit’s fingers. Jon-Jon doesn’t bother with sibling niceties and bolts. With no grown-ups around, maybe he can catch Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker (1979) re-running on the late show. Uh-oh, his sprint through the dark village streets is interrupted by a roaring worm-faced male zombie, but it only clutches at the tyke’s shoulder, allowing him to book in the other direction.
He runs until exhaustion sets in. And right away Emily appears, moving toward him with an unsettling hungry gleam in her eyes. Jon-Jon yelps and turns around, smack into the crotch of Dr Jerry, who’s luckily come up behind him. “Thank God you’re safe, boy,” the hack dubbing Jerry says, relieved. There’s a police car around the corner with Mary in it, so you go find her, ‘kay? The shade of his ex-lover Em is still there, looking quite murderous, so Jerry shuts his eyes for a quick affirmation a la Danielle in Real Housewives of New Jersey:
“Amazing things, new beginnings, living girlfriends!”
It works. She’s gone.
Around the block, Mary comforts JJ in the back of a squad car. Peter is apparently calling the shots in Dunwich now, since he tells Sheriff Russell and the other cop to look after the kid while he and Mary go off to save the entire dimension from whatever fabulously fucked-up treats director Fulci has the budget left for. Back to the cemetery!
At Junie’s Lounge, the bartender and two hardcore-alcoholic customers listen to a radio the size of a toaster-oven. “We interrupt this program to bring you a special broadcast: Dunwich police authorities have declared a state of emergency.” Everyone is asked to return to their homes ASAP. “In case of necessity”, contact this station. Also give them a call if you want to hear the latest Air Supply. The first drunk asks what’s up and the second tells him “The dead are leaving their tombs!” His pal dismisses this as “a loada crap”, but the bartender says he’s taking the till and closing up without even the courtesy of a last-call. Moaning and rattling heralds the appearance of Emily’s reflection in the window.
In the cemetery, Pete, Mary & Jerry listen to leaves rattling, beasts howling and that bird from the jungle sound FX LP. Jerry tells them Father Thomas’s “family tomb” is nearby. “Guess what?” Mary says, “it’s All Saints Day.”
Cut to the bar, where two male zombies (one we can identify as Bob due to the ragged drill-holes on the side of his festering face) terrorize the alkies.
“I’ll have a Putra Colada…”
The bartender tries to flee but is blocked by Dead Emily. The fiends corner the boozers and prepare to enjoy some refreshingly tart pickled brains.
Mary, Jerry & Pete read a list of names carved on a slab– it’s the Thomas tomb! So now what, Jerry asks. “Wish I had a cigar,” Chris George (Pete) remarks, perhaps unaware the camera was rolling. They shove aside the slab and they lower themselves into the crypt, a dank, cobwebbed vision in Blu Ray that’s as majestically atmospheric as anything in the most bloated, overpriced big-studio dud you can think of (I’ll go with the 2010 Wolfman). Pete uses a tire-iron to pry open the vault of the deceased priest. A red-eyed rat springs from inside onto Mary’s shoulder. The vault is empty– and broken into, or out of, from the other side. Jerry’s going in.
At the bar, Bob and Emily finish enjoying their own Happy Hour buffet, the blood-splattered corpses of the bartender and the two drunks.
Under the cemetery, Mary spies more plump, chittering rodents, then shrieks when a moldering, crusty skeleton falls out of the wall on top of her. But they’ve got bigger problems, namely Sandra, now a zombie slowly advancing toward them through a glisteningly webbed tunnel. But these zombies can pop in and out like they’re on Bewitched, and that’s what Sandra does, appearing behind Pete and clawing through his skull for a wet, graphic handful of brains…
In an American movie, rats probably wouldn’t be feasting on the hero’s brains right from the skull.
Mary & Jerry press on through the underground crypt, which has dozens of human fossils jutting through the ceiling, as if the skeletons were compelled out of their graves but were too ancient and weak to make it any further. The effect is stunning– it’s some of the greatest horror art direction ever. As they make their way deeper into the cave, a non-skeletal hand thrusts through the dirt floor and several corpse husks tear loose from their cobwebs to shambling, eerie life while the techno-spook score pounds on the soundtrack. Our surviving heroes come to a mausoleum under a stained-glass skylight– it’s a dead end, literally, with zombies shuffling toward them from behind and– suddenly!– Father Thomas in front! Mary starts to cry tears of blood.
Jerry has had enough and grabs a wooden cross with a sharp, staked end, and rams it into the good Father’s crotch, treating us to more entrails and dripping black slime. Thomas emits an unholy squealing moan and promptly ignites. The other zombies follow suit, creating a nice infernal tableau.
And don’t get me started on Dr Laura.
The two cops escort Jon-Jon into the cemetery as day mistily breaks. The tot’s face lights up when he sees Mary & Jerry emerge from under ground. JJ runs toward the ghoul-stained couple, but their happiness morphs into terror and they scream as we freeze-frame on the grinning moppet and the image splinters into spiderweb cracks and disintegrates.
People have spent 30 years debating what this last shot means. Since they missed the All Souls Day deadline, does it mean the evil lives on in Jon-Jon? Have Mary & Jerry been driven insane by their planet-saving experience? Or, as has been reliably reported, a reel of film was lost at the lab and either Fulci, the editors or the distributor decided to improvise? I think the reason for Mary & Jerry’s freak-out is obvious– they just realized they’re going to end up adopting the annoying brat!
Horrorgasm Score Card:
Graphic Violence/Gross-Out Factor: Very High
Nudity/Sex: Very Low
Body Count: Medium
Camp Value: Medium
Visual Style: High
DVD/Blu-Ray Quality: Very High
Good for Groups? YES
Would I Let My 12-Year-Old Nephew Watch Without Asking My Sister? YES
So we’ve reached the end, and Leia’s Horrorgasm cherry has been thoroughly popped. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you decide to add City of the Living Dead to your Blu Ray collection, PLEASE check out Amazon UK or the Arrow Films website to order a copy. (It’s compatible with any Blu Ray player.) They have put together a Criterion-worthy package containing audio commentaries, interviews and loads of other exclusive special features. Plus it comes with four reversible cover-art options, a booklet all about director Fulci, a bonus poster and 6 collectible postcards! If only every trashy vintage shocker got treated like this, I’d be a happy girl. Arrow Films, you rock, and I can’t wait for your next Blu Ray: the first modern splatter film, 1971′s Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve. I’ll be back to discuss it with you in a few short weeks!