REVIEW BY CHRISTIAN VALENTIN
Building your town over the ruins of Salem and then naming it Dunwich seems like a poor idea.
Despite all the surreal happenings, gruesome fates, an eldritch tome, and looming apocalypse, City of the Living Dead is quite straightforward. Gate of Hell opens in town, townsfolk suffer supernatural weirdness and doom, a medium and curmudgeonly reporter seek out the town to stop the end of the world. Besides the great practical effects and occult set-pieces, I’d say the movie’s greatest strength is how it weaves the little stories and vignettes of Dunwich into that relatively simple plot. This gives City of the Living Dead a King-esque vibe, grounding the director’s excessive sensibilities in the familiar scope of small-town Americana.
Perhaps due to that aspect, City of the Living Dead lacks the lurid fever dream atmosphere of The Beyond. The consequences of Fulci’s trademark gross surrealism ripple through Dunwich rather than simply being isolated imagery: diner patrons discuss recent events, families grieving confusing deaths, an enraged father driven to murder, and so on. Even the medium-side of the story feels more connected to a sense of reality through the detective’s disbelief and Bell’s outsider perspective.
Of course this is still a Lucio Fulci movie, so those occult incursions upon reality are violent, schlocky, gooey, and eerie in the best ways. Eyes gush blood, innards are vomited up, heads are drilled through, skulls are crushed in a squish of brain matter and scalp. City of the Living Dead certainly isn’t for the weak-stomached, even if the gore here doesn’t quite reach the ridiculous heights of Zombie or Beyond.