Monday, September 13, 2010

You Are Now Entering the Gates to the City of Living Dead of Hell

The best thing about recently watching City of the Living Dead is discovering that it’s also known as The Gates of Hell. See, all this time I thought I was realllly behind on my Italian horror viewing and assumed I had not one but two Fulci classics to catch up on. Imagine, then, my pleasure at realizing I was actually killing two birdemics with one stone.

Quick Plot: When I’m talking about Fulci films, this is usually the part where I excuse myself to giggle for a few minutes. 
Deep breath...
Okay. A priest hangs himself in the town of Dunwich, a New England (sure) hamlet with a history of witch persecution. Meanwhile, somewhere else, a psychic named Mary (Fulci regular Catriona MacColl, or, as the opening credits here claim, Katriona Mac Call) dies during a seance just after discovering the titular (depending on your cut) Gates of Hell have now been opened in Dunwich, rendering all the dead into teleporting zombies. 

Meanwhile, a gravely reporter named Peter (Christopher George, he of Graduation Day ) becomes interested in Mary’s death and visits her freshly dug (and not covered) grave. This is quite good for Mary, since she’s actually alive (no reason ever really given for how that got by the doctors) and saved by the even more curious Peter. Despite the whole being buried alive thing, Mary recovers quick enough to insist on heading to Dunwich in order to save the world. Somehow.

That’s kind of City of the Living Dead, just with a lot of creatively rendered and caused gore tossed in. As we can expect from a Fulci film, great things happen, like a girl calmly vomiting up her internal organs and a young man having his head drilled in one end and out the other. There’s also a whole lot of nonsensical dialogue, extreme closeups on actors’ eyes, and a story that never quite communicates its urgency. 

At the same time, City of the Living Dead is far more linear than something like The Beyond . The plot makes some sense, but in typical Fulci fashion, the audience is less concerned about the details of the climax than they are with ensuring said climax is filled with gooey Italian carnage. It is.
High Points
You can’t fault the gore, which looks as icky as you’d expect and hope for in a Fulci film

Low Points
So this is the second movie that involves a character named Emily dying a horrible death. Were Fulci still alive, I’d make it a point of never pissing him off
Lessons Learned
Union rules for grave diggers are quite strict
In some forms of therapy, it’s perfectly okay for the psychologist’s girlfriend to barge into a private session and discuss a canceled date in front of the stressed out patient slowly coming to terms with her incestuous urges
New England is the foggiest place on earth
I streamed City of the Living Dead on Netflix which was probably enough for a casual Italian horror enthusiast such as myself. The film has recently received the fully featured Blu Ray treatment, so those with a serious Fulci fetish will probably be happy with a buy. Like The Beyond, this is certainly rewatchable in a background kind of way, particularly since the story makes such little sense that it won’t necessarily merit your full attention. It’s definitely worth a watch, particularly if you’re a completist. Not great by any means, but passable entertainment at its gooiest.


  1. It's been a long time since I watched this, so let me pose you a question: are they zombies or ghosts that can take occasional material form? I seem to recall they do a lot of "no-touch" menacing and teleport around, but they never actually hurt anyone. This leads me to remember them more as ghosts. Am I mistaken?

  2. Sometimes these flicks - zombie flicks - can get to be passable. And the only reason I make them my nightly lullabys is because the title and directors sound/are pretty cool. It's rare, but I can sometimes forgive the lack of plot but for this one, I couldn't. I barely remember it and it's only been a few years since I've seen it.

  3. You're right about the plot. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for this movie. We rented it for a PJ Halloween party and it was my first Italian horror movie. Not that I even realized that at the time, but it was seared on my brain. If I'd seen it when I was older, or had more experience with Italian (or other gorier films) I probably would have had a different reaction.

    Oh, BTW, here's yet another award for your blog of awesomeness:

  4. Hmmmmmmm Zed. You pose an interesting question. It could be argued that they're almost voodoo-ish zombies since they seem to be appear at the summoning of the head priest. But aren't they just too gooey to be ghosts? They practically drip everywhere!

    Ashlee: Fulci can usually be counted on to give you something fun, but also nonsensical. This isn't his best, but there's still a certain icky charm about it that I enjoyed. At the same time, it's nowhere near the fun extremeness of The Beyond.

    Mother F: I think that if I'd seen this before The Beyond or Zombi, I would find it more memorable. It's fun enough, but exactly as you say, just not quite as good as similar films. And thanks for the award! I'd like to thank the academy--

    Damn. The orchestra cuts you off so quickly these days.

  5. HI ho!!
    Mother Firefly says you is da bomb. Looks good, like what you've done with the place!
    Did not like this film the first time a saw it. I was annoyed and bored. It took me awhile to warm to Italian horror's nearly plotless plotting. I mean there's a story there, if you write it down it seems to make some sense. Yet throw it up on the screen and it's pure raw shark test. I actually perfer the dubbed version, the weird almost on but quite off quality of the voice work just adds to the sort of nightmare dreaminess of it. It becomes a surreal experience.

    Thank you kindly for listening.

    Lazarus Lupin
    art and review

  6. Hey there Mr. Lupin! I totally agree with the pleasure of selective dubbing. Sometimes, it kills a film but if the movie starts off damaged in a certain way anyway, it helps to add a little something something. Especially in a Fulci movie where the dialogue is always slightly nonsensical (sample from The Beyond: "You have carte blanche, but you don't have a blank check!").

    Thanks for stopping by and let us hope this is the start of a beautiful Firefly blessed friendship.

  7. In recent years, I've tended to switch my original love for this movie to "The Beyond", since the latter KINDA makes a bit more sense. But I won't take away the fact that "City of the Living Dead" is one of the genuinely ickiest-feeling Fulci movies in his catalog, and is still a favorite.

    Also, I think I'd make for an excellent grave digger. Not only am I a stickler for timely departures, but also their banter is something I could partake in. They may even recommend me some good adult flicks!

  8. This movie certainly makes grave digging look like a sweet profession. Or maybe I'm just really jealous of unions. Still, do you have deal with any of the residual guilt of knowing someone you kind of buried may actually be suffocating a few feet below?

    And I laugh at the idea of The Beyond making more sense than anything else, but I can sort of see your point. That one always wins for me due to the adorably munching spiders and charming goofs, like the Do Not Entry sign and the male hero loading a shotgun by dropping a few bullets down the barrel.

  9. Girl, I was just thinking about that Do Not Entry sign. No joke. I'm also a fan of the creepy/totally inappropriate dubbing of the little boy's voice in The House by the Cemetery. Classic!

  10. I haven't seen House By the Cemetery yet! It's climbing up the queue quickly, but now I'm even more eager knowing there's a Burial Ground-like dubbing!