Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Film Review: CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980, Lucio Fulci)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Tag-line: "From the bowels of the earth they came to collect the living..."  From the bowels of somewhere, anyway.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Written by Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti (DEMONS, THE BEYOND, 1990: BRONX WARRIORS) and inspired by the writing of H.P. Lovecraft (!).  Starring Christopher George (ENTER THE NINJA, PIECES), Catriona MacColl (THE BEYOND, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), Carlo De Mejo (TEORAMA, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (THE OMEN, CANNIBAL FEROX), Michele Soavi (director of STAGEFRIGHT and CEMETERY MAN).  Music by Fabio Frizzi (ZOMBI, THE BEYOND).  Cinematography by Sergio Salvati (ZOMBI, 1990: BRONX WARRIORS).  
Best One-liner:  "It contains man's first recorded description of his... his boundless mortal fear in the face of malice itself."

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"Okay, what now?"
–"Mamma mia!  It'sa time'a for a little Fulci!"
"Halloween is over."
–"It ain't over till I say it's over.  It ain't over till Thanksgiving."
"That's a bold claim.  So what the hell is this thing?  Zombies take over New York City or something?"
–"Not really.  Though that's sort of the ending to Fulci's ZOMBI.  But even then they just cross a bridge and infiltrate a radio station."
"So what city do they take over?"
–"It's more of a town, really.  'Dunwich.'"
"Like from 'The Dunwich Horror?'"

–"Yeah, I guess Fulci thinks this movie has something to do with Lovecraft.  But maybe it shoulda been called TOWN OF THE LIVING DEAD."
–"Something like that.  So we kick things off with some rockin' Italo-electronica grooves (courtesy of Fabio Frizzi) that directly rip off Goblin's DAWN OF THE DEAD soundtrack.  They didn't even try to hide it.  I like that."
–"So then a priest is wandering an empty cemetery in Dunwich and decides to hang himself.

When the rope of the noose swings over the tree branch, it cracks like an explosive bullwhip."
"Gotta love Italian dubbing."
–"We then cut to New York City where a medium is apparently frightened to death because the priest hanged himself three states away.  I think.  Then the cops show up and they're screaming things like "WHERE'S THE STASH, IN THE TOILET?" and there's a rug fire and an M. Emmet Walsh lookalike.

M. Emmet Walsh lookalike on the left.

And then we have the incomparable Christopher George as a bizarre, wisecracking journalist (and soon to become romantic lead), interested in the unexplained death and the rug fire and all that jazz.

Sometimes a mere screengrab can show the entire scope of a man's acting talent.

And then a cat shows up, and I said aloud, 'I betcha that cat's about to be thrown,' because it's an Italian horror movie, and within ten seconds of my utterance, the cat was thrown.

It's dark, but you can still the tossing of its furry body.  See also:  Dario Argento's INFERNO.

And there's a near-eye trauma psych-out–

(don't worry, this is a Fulci movie, there will be eye trauma later) 

and then we're back to Dunwich where all sorts of weird stuff is happening, like when the gates of hell split a wall wide open right next to two signs for "Early Times" bourbon,

a bourbon so cheap and evil-tasting that it caters to the sort of people who would probably say something like "it's never too early for early times" and so it's a perfect kind of tableau for a rift in the space-hell-time continuum or whatever's supposed to be happening here.  I hope none of that makes too much sense to you, because next up is a self-inflating blow-up doll and a creepy guy with lascivious intentions

and they have kind of an Italo-stare-off, and  I bet you thought this was supposed to be a zombie movie, didn't you?"
"Whoa-ho-ho-ho!  You need to slow down. What are you talking about?  You're talking gibberish."
–"Have you never seen a Fulci film?"
"I've seen plenty o' Fulci."
–"Then you know it's going to be full of amazingly stilted storytelling, as if the editors and dubbers decided in post-production to project whatever plot they fancied onto the footage of somebody else's fever-dream.  Don't believe me?  Then explain to me why there are random monkey noises throughout.  I'm not even joking."
"I got nothin'."
–"I mean, for those with an interest in stilted storytelling, look no further than this scene:
"There's a lollipop in the glovebox?'  And why does he pronounce 'galloping cadavers' that way?  Er, wait– why does he say 'galloping cadavers' in the first place?"
–"There's another terrific scene where a man sees the ambulatory undead for the first time and reacts with this wondrous, low-key response."

"Did he just say 'I don't believe in the Twilight Zone, so I guess I'll call the sheriff on this matter?'"
–"Yup.  There is no logic in a Fulci film.  Not even dream-logic.  And that's sorta the draw for me.  And I love when he sets a movie in America.  The man was obsessed with New York City– he uses it, at least in part, in MANHATTAN BABY, ZOMBI, NEW YORK RIPPER, MURDER ROCK, and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.  It's where he learned all the authentic American patois.  Like when a hardboiled cop sees a pile of earthworms and says, 'WHAT THE DICKENS IS THIS?'  It's very true to life."


"Well, that's kind of a good point.  Why, indeed, is there a pile of earthworms?"
–"If you have a question about CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, the answer is always 'earthworms.'  The zombies are always smackin' you in the face with big wet wads of 'em.  Cause they like it."


"Don't be so hard on the man.  I like Fulci zombies.  They're more visceral than the Romero ones.  They're so goopy and maggoty."

–"Did you just ask about maggots?  Cause we got 'em.  Hoo boy, we got 'em.  Lemme qualify my earlier statement:  'If you have a question about CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, the answer is either 'earthworms' or 'maggots.'  You want maggots in the face? 

Maggots on the phone?

Maggots in yer hair?  On yer cheeks?

Maggots all over your whole damn living room?

It's a practical effect.  And that practical effect is a truckload of actual maggots.  So many maggots.  So many.  Maggots."
–"Knock, knock."
"I get it."
–"No, just do it– knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Maggots, who?"
–"An entire truckload of maggots."
"Okay.  So what else happens in this movie?"
–"Um, let's see.  A woman cries tears of blood.

It's a stirring visual, but, if I know my Fulci, it probably involved exposing the actors to toxic chemicals.  Afterward, she vomits up her own intestine, but– pro tip– it's only sheep intestines.  And I guarantee you she wasn't even making SAG minimum."

"Some actors are just in it for the love of the art, I suppose."
–"Also, for the gorehounds, there's a scene where a sweaty dad impales the head of blow-up-doll-guy on a table-mounted drill while his girlfriend watches."

"Gruesome.  By, 'the girlfriend,' do you mean the blow-up doll?"
–"No, he's got a real girlfriend, too.  Don't ask me.  Kind of a 'Dad, stop murdering my boyfriends' moment."
"Is he a zombie at the time?  I thought this was a zombie movie."
–"No.  It's unrelated to the zombie activity.  Maybe the idea is that the evil from the gates of hell or whatever is pervading everybody in town, but that point is never elucidated in the least.  Probably Fulci just wanted to do a 'drill through the head' scene and didn't want to wait for a more appropriate context."
"Anything else of note?"
–"Did I mention that the zombies' preferred mode of killing is to rip out a handful of your brains from behind while you stand still?"

"That seems pretty specific."
–"Yeah.  I also love this screengrab, which depicts zombies and 'Schlitz on tap' in the same ghoulish tableau."

"Pretty nice.  I'd hang out there at that bar.  A bar where everybody knows Fulci's name."
–"Yep.  So we build to a finale where our heroes must face off against the undead priest and his bevy of zombie-maggot-ghouls.  Our hero grabs a giant wooden crucifix to do battle.  He has to stake him like a vampire, I guess.

Then– I swear– he stakes the priest in the nuts.  Right in the nuts.

It's very clear.  That ain't the heart.  You can't deny that the priest is being staked in his undead nuts.  But why?"
"Maybe the man just likes a good low blow."
–"Maybe.  And then the coda is even more confusing."
"Go on..."
–"So there was this kid who was basically unimportant to the movie till now.  Our heroes emerge from the crypt, and the kid runs toward them.  We have no reason to suspect the kid is evil, or a zombie, and he's not even acting nefariously.  He just wants a hug.  But then there's an ominous wind and they begin to look horrified and scream and then the screen spiderwebs, via cel animation, into a dark void.  Then the credits roll.
Even by Fulci standards, this makes no sense.  Now, I heard a rumor that coffee was spilled on the actual ending and they had to improvise this one in the edit room.  Okay.  Sure.  But I'm going to modify that rumor for when you spread it along:  I'm going to say that they spilled maggots on it.  Makes sense."
"Would you stop with the maggots?"
–"Fulci wouldn't.  Why should I?  Three and a half stars."

–Sean Gill


Friday, November 14, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER

Only now does it occur to me... that Bill Paxton nearly saves SPY KIDS 3-D GAME OVER from itself.

Granted, this is a children's movie that embraced the 3-D gimmick (in 2003) before its officially annoying resurrection, and by all accounts is trying to be a nonsensical mess of CGI fuckery.  However, even by Rodriguez/SPY KIDS standards, this is pretty unbearable, and for the first three-quarters of its runtime, the only saving grace is Ricardo Montalbán in a CGI robot suit.
The primary antagonist is Sylvester Stallone (who agreed to do this at one of the lowest points of his career) as a computer programmer known as "The Toymaker"
who frequently banters with three virtual alter-egos, all also played by Stallone, including a Kaiser, a nerd, and a hippie.
This is even more awkward than you can possibly imagine.
You will recall Stallone's earlier attempts at comedy in such films as RHINESTONE and OSCAR and STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT.
I think I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, in the final act, characters from the previous SPY KIDS films are called into action to defeat giant CGI robots.  Everyone was clearly on set for about five minutes, delivering their line in front of a green screen and then going about their business.  You gotta love Rodriguez.  Anyway, this motley crew includes Steve Buscemi, who maintains his dignity despite riding a flying pig,
Danny Trejo as Uncle Machete,
Alan Cumming, Tony Shaloub, Carla Gugino as "Mom," Banderas as "Dad,"
etc., etc., etc.  And then we have Bill Paxton as "Dinky Winks"
who delivers this film's benediction:
in a perfect reference to both the film's title and Paxton's own legendary line reading "GAME OVER, MAN!  GAME OVER!!!" from ALIENS.  Thank God for Paxton.

(Also, in case it was somehow not apparent from the screenshot of "Hippie Stallone," you should absolutely not see this movie.)

Friday, November 7, 2014


Only now does it occur to me... that the "McConaugh-aissance" which we are currently enjoying might have begun a little sooner had more moviegoers seen TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION back in 1994.  
While recent projects like KILLER JOE, BERNIE, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and TRUE DETECTIVE have revealed him to be in possession of Gary Busey-esque acting chops and boundless eccentricities, an early project like TCM: THE NEXT GENERATION really lays out how freakily committed he can be to a role, even (especially?) a terrible one.  
Essentially, he plays a member of Leatherface's twisted family who wears a bizarre, pneumatic leg made from vacuum tubing over a mechanic's coveralls (which sort of makes him look like a Ghostbuster).
The rest of the movie is dreadful– there's kind of a misguided transgender Leatherface thing happening that feels like a "Buffalo Bill" SILENCE OF THE LAMBS rip-off,
and when in doubt the film always goes to a single, predictable place, and that single, predictable place is "shouting crazy people."  McConaughey realizes this, and tackles it with a level of commitment that is astonishing.
Oh yeah, did I mention that half of the movie is Oscar-winner McConaughey tormenting Oscar-winner Renée Zellweger?
Just walk away, Renée

McConaughey proceeds to swill beer like a madman,
tell us that this "this ain't Saturday morning cartoons!" and instruct his victims that killing them "ain't no fuckin' biggie" in lines that my gut tells me are improvised, Busey-style, 

thwack himself in the face while screaming like a mental patient,
and howl "GET THAT BITCH" to the night sky like it's his job, which, I suppose, it is.
"WOOOOOOOOOO!"  –Matthew McConaughey

Finally, the film ends with a spooky hospital cameo by original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE star Marilyn Burns, who is credited as "Anonymous."

If you had any involvement with this, you'd probably spring for anonymity, too, though Marilyn acquits herself admirably.

In basic conclusion, this is a terrible movie, unworthy of the glorious first two installments of the series, and somehow it manages to be even worse than LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III.  But there's some magnificently devoted McConaughey madness in here, too, which is maybe worth checking out... for the morbidly curious.

–Sean Gill