City of the Living Dead (Lucio Fulci / Italy, 1980):
(Paura nella Città dei Morti Viventi; The Gates of Hell; Fear in the City of the Living Dead)

Put Artaud next to Fuseli and you have Lucio Fulci, practically. The prologue leaps laterally between a padre suddenly swinging from a noose in Dunwich ("north central Massachusetts," according to Lovecraft) and a séance in New York City, culminating in an image of the distraught medium's (Catriona MacColl) dilated pupil becoming an iris upon which the hanged body is projected -- total cinema. MacColl is declared dead but awakens just as she's put into the earth, the snooping journalist (Christopher George) hears her screams and digs into her coffin with a pickaxe, really a sequence to separate the men from the boys. "The gates of hell have been opened," the heroine gasps, which is all the plot Fulci needs for a cycle of sights "to shatter the imagination," devised in a surreal language of its own. In Dunwich, the dead priest emerges as the leader of a pack of teleporting ghouls, his gaze is enough to make one unfortunate soul (Daniela Doria) bleed from the eyes before regurgitating her own innards (the delirious gross-out joke is further enhanced by the casting of future horror director Michele Soavi as her beau, who gets his brains squeezed out). The burg has such a macabre past (when a local refers to "our ancestors," he means witch-burners) that the blowup doll-molesting, town "pervert" (John Morghen) is the most innocent of the bunch, meaning that he gets an industrial drill corkscrewed through his skull. A wall oozes blood after being pierced by shards from a broken window, gore drips from the ceiling into a glass of milk at a fastidiously arranged dinner table, an unmistakable scene from The Birds is recast with maggots -- Fulci's bravura fragments of corporeal shock and preparations for The Beyond's abstractions, "nonsensical" only to the extent that a nightmare about dying of fright is "nonsensical." With Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Fabrizio Jovine, and Luca Venantini.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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