You’d be forgiven for assuming Lucio Zombie Flesh Eaters Fulci’s 1980 City of the Living Dead would be another Dawn of the Dead clone, but Romero’s zombies could never teleport or leap from walls like ninjas, and I don’t remember them having the power to make people cry blood. The atypical ghouls are not the focus of the action, either, just one of many manifestations of evil that are summoned by the suicide of a Christopher Lee-lookalike priest in the Lovecraftily-named town of Dunwich.
If you’ve seen The Omen, you’ll be familiar with the amorphous ‘dark powers’ at work. This free form horror appeals to Fulci’s screw-the-story-in-favour-of-tenuously-strung-together-set-pieces approach. He’d already given us The Beyond by then and would go on to paint himself into his own haunted world in Cat in the Brain (the Curb Your Enthusiasm of Euro-horror), but City of the Living Dead is surely the best of all; heads are drilled through, brains ripped out, storms of maggots burst into homes, guts are puked up literally and endlessly; all this to a Fabio Frizzi soundtrack that challenges Goblin in the zombie-prog stakes.
Arrow Video have a geek-centric attitude, heroically commissioning video nasty-style box art, with a logo animation straight outta the VHS rental days. Even without all the fanboy-friendly extras (interviews, commentaries, etc), City of the Living Dead would be a great release; the transfer quality is a far cry from the bootleg I picked up at some pikey market so long ago. The crispness thankfully doesn’t ruin the special effects; it just makes the gore more sickening than ever, hooray!
This month also sees the release of a less well-known Fulci movie: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a well put together Rosemary’s Baby-ish mystery, which is a pleasant surprise, kinda like discovering that your favourite black metal band started out doing garage rock. Prudish Carol (Florinda Bolkan) is fascinated yet revolted by her sleazy neighbour, Julia (Anita Strindberg), and her swingin’ orgiastic love-ins. In a nightmare, she is seduced by Julia, then kills her. When Julia turns up murdered in exactly the way it happened in Carol’s dream… it’s time to tick the Hitchcockian boxes and play ‘spot the giallo cliché’! Doorknob-jiggling chase sequences, cod-psychology and hunchbacked red herrings; all on cue.
What sets A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin apart from other Italian formula thrillers is its hallucinatory dream sequences (I like the one with the Toho-style goose monster) and its acid-soaked hippy happenings, lent authenticity by an Ennio Morricone (!) score that modulates druggily enough to have been phoned in from a crack den. The film also looks great, with a babe-heavy cast and Carnaby St wardrobe, and that film stock that makes everything warm and groovy. The blood looks like red paint, but that never hurt HG Lewis. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin doesn’t approach the bloodiness of City of the Living Dead, but Lucio the Butcher does rear his dripping entrails… always when you least expect it.
This one is an Optimum release, and the only special features you get are a grainy trailer that makes it look like it’s going to be The Trip, and the option to watch in Italian.
To gore hounds considering one of these, I recommend City of the Living Dead. If you’re a Fulci fan wanting to check out his early work, then A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin will show you what he’s capable of when he’s not being gory and/or confusing. Each offers a glimpse into the bottomless Gothic toolkit of a horror master.