CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, which was released in Europe in 1980, but not in the U.S. until 1983, is my first horror film directed by one of Quentin Tarantino's favorites, Lucio Fulci.
A priest commits suicide in Dunwich, Massachusetts at the same time psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) is working a séance in New York City. It shocks her into a coma, but everyone thinks she’s dead, and she’s buried in a coffin. Cigar-chomping reporter Peter Bell (THE RAT PATROL star Christopher George, slumming big time), snooping around the graveyard, hears Mary pounding on the lid of her coffin and rescues her.
Believe it or not, being buried alive is not the worst thing that happens to Mary. When the priest killed himself, he opened the gates of Hell and caused the dead to rise from their graves and put Fulci’s special effects crew to gruesome work. A girl pukes up her innards and rips her boyfriend’s brains out of his skull, maggots are mashed in another girl’s face, and, in the most notorious scene, a drill penetrates the head of the town perv (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who was often billed as John Morghen).
DAWN OF THE DEAD’s massive success in Europe made this and several other Italian gore films, many also directed by Lucio Fulci, inevitable. This one, at least, delivers the goods, and the special effects are as good as they are gory. Amazingly, George seems to be taking his only Italian horror film seriously, even with puffed rice masquerading as maggots glued to his face, and his performance is quite good.
Besides the special effects, there’s little reason to watch CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, but seeing as they’re the film’s raison d'être, I guess that’s reason enough. To his credit, Fulci does more than just splash blood on the screen; he’s skilled at milking suspense.