e-mail:Smokey X. Digger
City of the Walking Dead
1980, Dir. Umberto Lenzi
On the one hand, City of the Walking Dead ably demonstrates the amount of shit we'd be in if zombies had a little get-up-and-go.
On the other hand, the movie sucks.
I suppose I'd better elaborate. The career of Mario Bava notwithstanding, Dawn of the Dead is probably the most important event in the history of Italian horror cinema. Fulci cranked out Zombie, and the rest was history. Every Italian horror director worth his salt and some who weren't (I'm inclined to believe they ran out of salt pretty quickly) put out a film chock full of living dead. Most, like City, were awful. All aspects of this film are uniformly terrible; acting, dubbing, dialogue, effects, and editing, making it a complete mess. This is the part where I should say that "had it not been hacked to bits by editors and poorly dubbed, City would surely take it's rightful place among the pantheon of great zombie films". But I won't, because I'm fairly certain that it sucked to begin with. We're not even dealing with zombies per se, but since they're humanoid creatures in various states of decay, we'll let that slide.
In the beginning of the film, a reporter named Steve Miller is sent to interview a doctor at an airport. While there, the doctor arrives in a military plane with hordes of crumbly faced zombies who attack the local forces. At the end of the film, we get a "surprise" ending that is sure to make you mourn the day you ever decided to watch this. In between we get loosely stitched together scenes of terrifically non-horrifying large scale zombie seige, amazingly suspenseless scenes of zombies staking out houses and going after people, and stupendously boring explication scenes of authority types talking. The only interesting thing to do (and this is for either genre nuts or the truly deranged, which are usually one and the same) is to spot the people who were in Zombie. The wonderfully named Ugo Bologna (Mr. Desmond in City, Dr. Bowles in Zombie), gets to brag about having bit parts in both films, as does the lovely Stefania D'Amario (Jessica here, the Nurse there). And I may be crazy but the Commander of the troops in the airport sequence, while clearly not Al Cliver, is given the same voice used to dub Al's lines in Zombie.
Digressing, wasn't I? Let's get back to business here and talk about zombies. These aren't your typical back from the dead zombies, what we have here are people who have been exposed to a massive amount of radiation. Along with a massive amount of radiation comes super strength, a crumbly head, imperviousness to anything but a bullet in the brain, and a need to replenish radioactively damaged blood cells by getting fresh blood from the source. Also, these zombies don't go for that whole shuffling about business, they run around, use guns and knives, and generally kick ass. A novel concept, but they look so incredibly stupid. Only their heads have undergone any make-up treatment, as such they are all fully clothed. Advanced cases of decay look like the heads were dipped in chocolate and granola, kinda like a drumstick cone gone horribly wrong. The clothing is a wide array of late '70s / early '80s leisure wear. Take those mental images and run with them.
The zombie attack scenes also show half assed effects work. Zombies slit people's throats and suck heartily, even though no blood came from the nonexistent wound. Gunshots to the head register as paintball hits. These scenes only approach being satisfying in that Lenzi kills people you wouldn't mind seeing dead, like a studio full of Italian Solid Gold dancers and an elevator full of obnoxious people. There are also attempts at that good old Lenzi style of exploitation, most of which come off as just plain stupid. There is an offensive nipple removal, but most of these shots amount to a zombie tearing off a woman's shirt before he bites her.
Next to the explication scenes of military types talking, the most trying scenes in this film are the scenes in which reporter Steve and his doctor wife Anna are escaping the city. It's Anna's role in the film to spout inane dialogue about how the crisis is just humanity's comeuppance for mishandling technology. To Lenzi's credit he realized that there was underlying social commentary in Romero's films, but here it comes off as forced. Especially when your voice of reason character uncorks this immortal line: When she and Steve come across a church she reasons that "If they're really vampires, then they can't enter a house of God". Luckily there's a zombie priest waiting inside to inform her how stupid that idea was.
There are some other goofy moments as the film winds down; when Steve and Anna stop in an abandoned roadside cafe / gas station and get some coffee Steve remarks "This is just like a western". Yeah, there were radioactive zombies in A Fistful of Dollars and The Wild Bunch, right?! Just like they always say, good guys wear white hats and bad guys are radioactive zombies! Besides, who the hell stops for coffee in a situation like this? Steve and Anna eventually make it to an amusement park for the film's climactic fake ending, capped by an absolutely astounding dummy fall. Then the film descends into previously unplumbed depths of horror.
IN CLOSING: To reinforce my previous statement: City of the Walking Dead sucks. The only comparison I can make is to that awful band 311. When they try to rap it sucks; when they try to play reggae it sucks; and when they try to get heavy it sucks. In the same way, when City tries to do zombie invasion it sucks; when it tries to do exploitation it sucks; and when it dares to attempt serious story it sucks. There are laughs for those who wish to find them, but they are overwhelmed by the general awfulness of this film. Judging by individual scenes and the overall feel he was going for, it looks like Lenzi was trying to learn from Romero. Instead of an informed, unique work; he came up with a plagiarized mockery.