George A. Romero is cinema’s point man when it comes to zombie horror, and rightfully so. His groundbreaker, Night of the Living Dead (1968), and its subsequent sequels set the rules and regulations for the subgenre: The dead have come back to life, they move slowly, they want to eat you. However, another director must be credited for some of contemporary zombiedom’s successes.
Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci lifted liberally from Romero — his most famous work, Zombie aka Zombi 2 (1979), was even billed as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead — but his films are different beasts altogether. Whereas Romero works cerebrally with a social message beneath the horror, Fulci is pure id, going straight for the jugular with cheap thrills, supernatural chills, gore and nudity. Romero might have drawn the blueprint for the House of Zombie, but Fulci built its wild penthouse, influencing decades of low-budget knock-offs in the process.
City of the Living Dead is prime Fulci. The story is simple: A priest in a cursed New England village unlocks the gates of hell after committing suicide, releasing teleporting, flesh-eating zombies who slowly terrorize the townsfolk. A psychic and a reporter in New York City learn of the calamity and venture north to close the portal before all of mankind is destroyed. The job is much harder than expected, of course.
Fulci packs City with some of his greatest gore gags, including an infamous scene where a woman pukes up her own stomach and intestines. It’s wonderfully disgusting, thanks mostly to Sergio Salvati’s cinematography, which lays a vibrant sheen over the mayhem. Along with the Goblin-esque Synth-Rock score, it also helps distract from the cheesy overacting and confusing plot holes. Not that the latter are deficits, of course. Bad acting, laughable dubbing and zombies popping up inexplicably from nowhere make Fulci’s films B-movie perfect. Anything less would be horrific.
Blue Underground’s City of the Living Dead Special Edition includes a smattering of extras, but the only satisfying bonus is a new behind-the-scenes documentary featuring cast and crew reminiscing about the production and working with Fulci. Diehard fans should eat it up. Grade: B