After "Zombie" was released, Lucio Fulci's career went through a bit of a boost. He had gone from being a director known for dabbling in comedies, westerns and Giallo films, to a man who pushed the envelope as far as zombies and gore were concerned, earning him the name "Godfather of Gore." So, how did he follow that up? With three occult tinged tales with zombies, curses, gore and lots and lots of splatter. The first of these was "City of the Living Dead", which is also my favorite Fulci movie from this period.
In Dunwich (which here is said to have once been called Salem-logic isn't really this movie's strong suit), Father William Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) has hung himself. Since then, bad things have been happening-people are found dead, blood pours from walls, maggots fall from the sky, Father Thomas is killing people in gory and disgusting ways, and the dead walk the Earth. Now, only psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona McColl, who became the female lead in Fulci's trilogy) who saw this death at a seance, reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George), psychologist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren) can stop this horror and close the gate of hell that has been opened.
While it does have a few unintentionally amusing moments (apparently, Dunwhich suffers from an infestation of howler monkeys), I find this to be the strongest of Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy. Here, the direction, editing and cinematography are all top notch, the lapses of logic never become slightly annoying (people not aiming for the zombie's heads in "The Beyond") or lazy (a few moments in "House by the Cemetery", which I feel is the weakest in the trilogy), and perfectly accompany the nightmarish feeling of the movie, in which anyone at any given moment can die in the worst way imaginable. It also packs a fine score by Fabio Frizzi (though "The Beyond" remains his finest work) and even a few good performances (George in particular does a fine job.) Also noteworthy are the zombies in this movie. Yes, they eat human flesh and tear brains out of skulls, but they also teleport, giving then an almost ghostly quality.
With that of the way, I won't deny that the movie is mostly known for it's gore and atmosphere. This is the most disgusting movie Fulci directed, with two scenes in particular-town pervert Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka Italian horror's favorite whipping boy) getting a large drill rammed through his head, and a woman vomiting her entrails-standing out. Apart from that, you get plenty of rotting, worm covered zombies, maggots, worms, mud (both are shoved in a woman's mouth), brain ripping and more make you lose your lunch.
At the same time, this movie is also unbelievably creepy. The atmosphere is enveloped in death and pure evil, creating an air of inescapable horror. It also boasts what I think is the best set piece in Fulci's career, in which Peter must rescue a thought to be dead Mary out of a coffin via a pick axe. It's a purely suspenseful, Hitchcock-like moment that scared the shit out of me when I first saw it on VHS years ago, and still packs a punch today.
If you are interested in the oeuvre of Fulci, this probably isn't the best place to start-that would be either "Zombie" or "The Beyond." This however, is a very logical next step, and remains gross and disturbing to this day.