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City of the Living Dead: Fulci’s Strangest or Most Effective Movie?

City of the Living Dead 1981

Lucio Fulci did not make movies with traditional plot or character arcs. He wasn’t interested in these things. His films relied heavily on atmosphere. They showcased gory effects that would shock and disturb the viewer. They were unrelentingly creepy, weird pictures. And City of the Living Dead, also known as Fear in the Town of the Living Dead, is one of his weirdest.

That does not make it a bad movie, of course. In fact, it’s anything but. While Zombie is the easy gateway into Fulci’s body of work, City of the Living Dead is one of the best showcases of the director’s unique style.

The movie is set in the fictional town of Dunwich, located in some undisclosed New England state. It’s a very Italian film and some of that is to due with its lack of understanding American geography.

Still, City of the Living Dead is one of Fulci’s most surreal films and this is a large part of why it still might not sit well with American audiences. But it’s entertaining nonetheless. It’s totally untraditional, oozing atmosphere and suspense. It’s catered to satisfy gorehounds and does so with gusto. But it is the weirdness of it that should really be the main attraction.

the spectral priest of Dunwich

It’s hard to even put City of the Living Dead in a subgenre. The feature falls somewhere between a ghost story and a zombie picture. A priest hangs himself in the town of Dunwich and becomes a sort of figurehead specter to herald the coming end of times. The town sits on a gateway to Hell—hence the film’s place in Fulci’s gates of Hell trilogy—and the priest’s suicide has caused it to begin to open. All sorts of bizarre occurrences start to happen, including the dead rising up to attack the living. These dead are zombies, for the most part, but they act like ghosts. They do not speak, but they can disappear and reappear at will, essentially teleporting from location to location. They also cannot take any kind of harm or damage.

The mythology created around the town is innovative and interesting. But the movie’s not terribly focused on drawing your attention to it. City of the Living Dead isn’t trying to be original. In fact, it’s not really trying to be anything at all. It’s just happy to exist. The plot almost seems to fade in and out throughout the feature, like one of the creatures. Sometimes the characters are aware of things they could not possibly know and other times it progresses almost naturally.

Lucio Fulci's CIty of the Living DeadThe surrealist nature of the movie leads to some of Fulci’s most imaginative gore sequences out of his entire body of work. The most memorable of them comes when a woman vomits out the entire contents of her body, including all of her organs. It’s the scene that best embodies the feature because it’s disturbing and alluring at the same time, and it makes no discernable sense whatsoever. All of these things sum up the appeal of City of the Living Dead.

Out of all Fulci’s films, only The Beyond would top City of the Living Dead in terms of surrealism, atmosphere and imaginative gore. Still, this might be the director’s strangest movie. But unlike so many others, even when it doesn’t make sense it’s extremely entertaining to watch. As such it’s one of the most effective outings of the director’s career and definitely worth a look, especially for those searching for something a little different.

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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