Things I read off the screen in City of the Living Dead


If you’re in America and you want to make a convenient purchase, why not visit a Package Shop? You can buy anything you like there, as long as it comes in a package.

The film is Lucio Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, which includes a few scenes in new York but is mainly set in the small town of Dunwich, which we eventually learn was built on the remains of Salem and is subject to a zombie plague as predicted in the book of Enoch. The whole film is similarly nonsensical. Dunwich, outside of HP Lovecraft, was a real burrough borough  in England, but by the time of the Restoration it had mostly fallen into the sea (which didn’t stop it from returning two members of parliament). Whereas Salem is still intact and therefore does not have “remains” to build on.


For a while, handsomely shot and with Fulci’s typically restless camerawork, this was looking pretty fine, with a bizarre plot that keeps shifting gear and throwing in rogue elements. Once it settles down, it’s unfortunately a simple zombie attack flick — the illusion of a weirdly convoluted narrative was created by the miracle of sloppy storytelling.


Wait, an intermission? In a 98 minute films? These Italian horror fans are such lightweights.

Lots of gore, of course — as in a Peter Jackson film, all the characters “come part easy” — lots of shots of people being grabbed by the scalp until their brains come out. Yuck, and also huh?

Catriona MacColl is very attractive, Christopher George really, really isn’t, and Fulci himself turns up playing a doctor, as was his wont (and as was his real-life training, it seems. I’m not sure I’d want Dr. Fulci as my GP). And there’s future gialli director Michele Soavi* as the village idiot/paedophile/all-purpose pervert, who has a self-inflating blow-up which I at first took to be a supernatural manifestation. Did the filmmakers really think blow-up dolls inflate themselves, like dinghies? What a waste of heavy breathing that would be.


Moriarity (sic) and Sons Funeral Home.

*Not true. See comments below.

9 Responses to “Things I read off the screen in City of the Living Dead”

  1. Isn’t a “package shop” a liquor store?

  2. Catriona MacColl was lovely in Jacques Demy’s Lady Oscar. But it was Fulci who made her a star (of sorts) in his gore-fests.

  3. Actually Soavi played the young man whose girl friend literally pukes her guts out. The village pervert “Bob” was played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen. A “package store” would be a liquor store. I’ve never heard them called “package shops.” This may simply be a different regionalism or it could be the Italians making a mistake.

    Although I admittedly hated this film when I first saw it in my youth, I’ve since changed my tune and love it. I don’t think it’s that functional as a horror film (great atmosphere but not really that scary) but I enjoy it as Surrealism. The anti-clericalism embodied in the suicidal priest, deviant sexuality (what kind of evil tries to tempt one with a blow-up doll anyway), zombies that pop in and out of existence as if they just escaped from a Melies film, the completely nonsensical ending. The original old-school Surrealists probably wouldn’t have made this film as it doesn’t show off any intellectual/artistic pretensions, but somehow I think they would have rather enjoyed it.

  4. The ending really felt like they were searching for the worst possible version of the “it’s not all over!” type horror twist ending, and they found it. Worse than Jacko’s glowing eyes at the end of Thriller!

    Package Store is just as weird as Package Shop but I’m delighted it’s a real thing. What Americans choose to have euphemisms about is almost as weird as the Brit versions. Here, the same establishment would be called an Off-License, which barely even sounds like a noun.

  5. I think the “real” original ending was ruined in the lab, so they just improvised with the footage that came right before.

  6. Ah, that makes sense. Italian filmmakers tended to shoot two good takes of everything, traditionally, one for the movie and one for the lab to lose or ruin.

    But the same proud tradition exists here, where we say “One for Lloyds,” meaning “for purposes of insurance.”

  7. Speaking of “Cities” . . .

  8. The other ‘Seward’ (not Stoker’s Dr John) seems to have sway in your admirable memory palace; I refer of course to William Seward – it’s not a London ‘burrough’ but a ‘borough’. ;-)

  9. Correct. Oh well, at least I didn’t call it a ‘burrow’.

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