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John’s Horror Corner: City of the Living Dead (1980; aka Paura nella città dei morti viventi, Twilight of the Dead, The Gates of Hell), Lucio Fulci’s second gory Italian zombie movie and the opening film of his Gate of Hell trilogy.

July 8, 2018

MY CALL: This is the first film in Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy and a worthy education in early non-Romero zombie horror for any genre film fan. It has a decent premise, good pacing, and a satisfying diversity and abundance of special effects. Highly recommended. MORE MOVIES LIKE City of the Living Dead: Easily the best choice is Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Fulci’s Zombie (1979). Fans of Fulcian gore may continue with The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981), which are the remaining films of Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy.

Journalist Peter (Christopher George; Graduation Day, The Exterminator) investigates the mysterious simultaneous deaths of a suicidal priest and a woman (Catriona MacColl; The House by the Cemetery, The Beyond) who saw the Gates of Hell opening during a séance. Despite many locals’ skepticism of the supernatural, winds eerily pick up, mirrors shatter, buildings begin to crack, walls bleed, and Mary (the woman who died during the séance) rises from the dead to speak of the horrors she witnessed and to warn that the gates must be closed before All Saints Day or the dead will overtake the Earth.

I don’t think enough attention is paid to the fact that she rose from the grave (and that Peter seems just fine with that), but Fulci was never really known for thorough writing. So, Mary and Peter go on a road trip to Dunwich (a lot like In the Mouth of Madness) to stop this great evil at its origin. Apparently, reclosing the gates to Hell requires destroying the ghastly priest who serially appears hanging before his victims.

References to witch ancestry from Salem and a 4000-year-old of Book of Enoch hint at the ancient evil they face… although these concepts never really get explored so much as mentioned for the sake of flavor.

While the premise is interesting enough, this film observes a significant change in effects quality from Zombie (1979)—specifically, with respect to the zombies. Many of our zombies are simply pale-faced people, I was generally unmoved by the completely random worm-enshrouded rotting fetus, and when our undead priest smothers a woman with a handful of wormy grave mud I’m equally baffled as to the significance of this poorly executed scene. This is some of the random lunacy we see in Fulci’s more haphazard films Manhattan Baby (1982) and Aenigma (1987). Later the zombies get messier, with sloppy chunky gooey latex wounds and worms about their faces—but still, they don’t look very good. Just sufficiently gross to be entertaining or even off-putting.

But the film certainly has its moments—a LOT of them! A gorehound fan favorite scene would be when the zombie priest gazes upon a young woman who then bleeds from the eyes and starts to slowly vomit up her own organs—just pounds and pounds of gore-slathered intestines. There’s also when her date (Michele Soavi; Alien 2: on Earth, Phenomena, Demons) has the back of his head chunkily ripped out (a gory gag that gets repeated in the film to our messy delight). But even the occasional bite wound, hideous zombie face, power drill through the head, gusting storms of insect larvae, or crypt zombie will continue to please horror fans of diverse interests.

Among the cast, you’ll notice some familiar faces other than those cast members mentioned above. Among them are Giovanni Lombardo Radice (The Omen, Cannibal Ferox, The Church), Carlo De Mejo (Alien Contamination, Manhattan Baby, The Other Hell), Daniela Doria (The New York Ripper, The Black Cat, The House by the Cemetery).

Writer and director Lucio Fulci (Manhattan Baby, Aenigma) stormed the horror scene riding in on George Romero’s undead coattails with Zombie (1979). Deviating significantly in style from Zombie (1979), this feels less like a zombie movie and more like an infernal undead demon movie. This is no infection or virus, but an affliction prophesied in an ancient tome. Moreover, these teleporting gooey zombies and their passage through a gateway to Hell leave me with the sense that this may have influenced the monsters of Prince of Darkness (1985), Evil Dead (1981) and Demons (1987). Just when you thought you saw everything this film had to offer, there’s the crypt scene (at the end of the film) loaded with cobwebbed corpses and a subterranean set offering a nice change of pace.

This is the first film in Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy and a worthy education in early non-Romero zombie horror for any genre film fan. It has a decent premise, good pacing, and a satisfying diversity and abundance of special effects. Highly recommended.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2018 10:54 pm

    I don’t mind the look of the Zom-Ghosts. Part of the appeal for me of Italian horror is the DIY aspect of the FX. American films had FX crews of 10 or 15 artists. Those Italian movies had one guy running around slapping latex and corn flakes on people, throwing around pig entrails, and hiding the seems with shadow and fog. I’ll always take that raw energy over corporate polish.


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