City of the Living Dead (1980) – Lucio Fulci

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If your idea of a nice relaxing evening is to sit down with a glass of wine and watch a Lucio Fulci movie, you’re probably a sick fuck- like me. If you’re not familiar with him, he was an Italian film director who went absolutely nuts with gory movies in the 1970s-80s. Think of him as the Italian Eli Roth. He directed tons of horror movies, most notably, Zombi 2, The New York Ripper, and the Beyond. His 1980 City of the Living Dead, is pretty much understood to be on a lower tear in terms of overall quality, but it hangs right in there in in the blood and guts department.

The plot of this movie is really just an afterthought. The whole film is more of a “Top 10 Horror Movie Deaths” YouTube video with a story tacked on so they could show it in theaters. Don’t get me wrong, there are some hall of fame death scenes in this one. At one point, this poor girl literally pukes up her own guts. It’s revolting, and surprisingly realistic. Fulci is just messing with us. He actually started his career writing and directing comedy movies. I have to think that he was dying laughing behind the camera as it pans across the room to show a pulsating, maggot-infested baby corpse.

ImageOk, so the plot-yeah, we’ll call it a plot. The movie opens with a priest in a cemetery hanging himself. As everybody knows, priest-cemetery-suicide is a key to opening up the gates of Hell. So now creepy stuff starts to happen in this town and people start to disappear/die. For some reason, a journalist from New York teams up with a psychic medium who he saves from being buried alive, and they travel to the town to solve the mystery/close the gate. This sounds fairly reasonable but it’s all presented in a backwards and confusing way. The first 30 minutes of the movie is spent introducing new characters. Ultimately this is fine because that really equates to introducing more body bags. It’s almost too much though. A lot of the characters are really pointless other than to have their skulls bashed in and their brains ripped out.

But don’t forget, that’s why you’re here. You don’t go to McDonald’s and order chardonnay. These movies are not about challenging your morality, or making you reevaluate your life choices, they’re about challenging your ability to keep your lunch down. City of the Living Dead is a visual nightmare. And Fulci is not timid about showing you every little detail. Walking, decomposed corpses, swarms of worms and maggots, and even a guy getting his skull ventilated with a large table-mounted drill. The scares are about 25% atmosphere and 75% visual. These images stay with you too, so get ready for some nightmares.

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On paper, there’s not really much to this movie. It’s rehashed, formulaic and at times clichéd. But it still gets its point across and comes out as a solid horror movie. Fulci nails a couple of basic atmospheric details and handles the blood and guts special effects perfectly. Most of the direction is Horror movie 101. But he makes it work. There’s a fog machine running in just about every shot. You never see the sun; if you see the sky, it’s cloudy. Everything is dark, gloomy, oppressive. The sound effects are great. You can just imagine them sticking a microphone in a pot of wet spaghetti to get the pulsating guts, brains sounds. It’s a low-fi bloody masterpiece.

In short, despite it’s awkward storytelling and characterization, the movie is a homerun for any Fulci fans out there. If you’ve never seen any of his movies, you should check them out, but buckle up, they’re not going to be pleasant.

  1. Is it scary: 7CotLD is really more disturbing than scary. But it’s still pretty fucking scary.
  2. Originality: 5 – Like I said, all the elements taken separately are not very original, but Fulci arranges things in a way that gives them new life. This movie is more than just the sum of its parts. I was expecting a typical zombie movie, this was not that.
  3. Blood: 8– This is a quality over quantity movie. There aren’t tons of violent scenes, but each bloody scene is a monster.
  4. Believability: 3-This movie was a technical nightmare. The sound editing/voice dubbing was terrible. The acting was delightfully terrible too. This just makes these 80’s movies better though.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6– Like I said, in terms of setting, lighting, atmosphere, cinematography, it was horror movie 101. Nothing too adventurous or fancy, but they got the job done.

Final Score: 29/50                                                                                              

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The New York Ripper (1982) – Lucio Fulci

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When’s the last time you were in Times Square in New York City? Ok, when’s the last time you were there without vomiting all over the place at the Mecca of modern capitalism? It’s a grotesque shrine to the almighty dollar. Ads for high-end sweat-shop-labor-produced goods on top of stores that sell different high-end, sweat-shop-labor-produced goods. The streets are clean and there are no porno shops or strip clubs for miles. Something about that place is just so… unwholesome. It wasn’t always like that though. Back in the 70’s and 80’s New York city was a wonderful, magical place. Where you could go see a $0.75 peep show or get a $5 blow-job from a dirty hooker in an alley behind a dumpster. If you didn’t like someone, you could just stab them with impunity. Back in that enchanted era, 7 or 8 people were killed EVERY DAY in the city alone so the cops had their hands full. It was truly a modern utopian society. Then goddamn Giuliani had to come along and “clean up” the streets. Disgraceful.

The legendary Lucio Fulci’s 1982 The New York Ripper takes place in just that majestic society. In fact the film celebrates it. It’s a combination of the sex and the violence that made old New York a shining beacon of civilization that we haven’t seen since the days of the French Libertines and we may never see again. Watching the movie makes you feel as dirty as an old Times Square alley and as scared as you would have been walking down one. And I mean that in the best possible way. Like many of Fulci’s films, The New York Ripper was actually too gruesome for its time. It was edited, banned, censored to hell in most countries at the time of its release.

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The film is set up basically as a murder mystery. Someone is chopping up hot young girls around town and the cops are trying to find the guy before it creates a public panic. The movie opens up with an old man playing fetch with his dog. After a couple of tosses, the dog brings back a decomposing hand instead of the stick. Enter Lt. Fred Williams: generic hard-nosed, middle –aged, frazzled New York police detective. He teams up with a Columbia psychology professor and they try to get inside the mind of this murderer and figure out his next moves. The killer makes creepy phone calls to the victims and to the cops before he kills. He talks in a strange duck voice that I think was intended to be creepy and memorable, but it just comes off as strange and not scary. We begin to meet some of the victims before they get ripped, and a couple of false suspects too. Finally, as the cops and are getting closer and closer to cracking the case, the ripper gets personal and starts targeting people close to the detective.

My main problem with the movie is the point of view. The POV switches too much between characters. At some points throughout the film, it’s hard to even tell who the main characters are. It’s clear in a movie like this that some people are only there to be switch-blade fodder- which is fine- but they receive awkward amounts of character development. I guess it keeps you on your toes though, because you never know who is really going to get slashed until it happens. But then we have some characters that are developed too much seemingly for no reason because they just get ripped before their stories make any progress. Eventually, I figured out that we met these people in order to give us clues as to who the murderer is and to see how the cops figured it out. There’s also a confusing plotline with one of the red-herring killers. But let’s not get too bogged down with the plot. That’s not really why we’re here.

The movie is dark and spooky. Nearly empty subway trains, dark allies, long deserted corridors. It’s prime, ocean-front horror real estate. And though the atmosphere and the setting are definitely scary, I thought it fell a little flat in terms of suspense. There were a few scenes where it got really tense and suspenseful, but for the most part, you know exactly when someone is going to get ripped, and there’s not much anyone can do about it.

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For what it is- a gritty, bloody, debaucherous romp through the 1980’s b-horror movie universe- it’s a fucking homerun. It wasn’t supposed to be classy, or logical, or clever, it was just supposed to be nasty and bloody. Which it was.

1.     Is it scary: 5- Like I said, not too much suspense or jump-scares, just a creepy idea and a good back-drop. The ending is actually a little psychological too.

2.     Originality: 5- Nothing groundbreaking here. Though it didn’t feel particularly plagiarized either.

3.     Blood: 8- It’s hard to get your hands on the uncut version but that one is a cornucopia of gore. Not the bloodiest thing you’d see today, but definitely good for its time.

4.     Believability: 5. Overall, the plot is fairly believable, but I have some problems following the finer points of the storyline. And I think the cops jumped to too many conclusions that didn’t occur organically.

5.     Setting/Cinematography: 8- This was my favorite part of this movie. The setting and scenery were really great for what was happening.

Final Score: 31/50         

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