CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (The Gates of Hell) (1980) – The Dungeon Review!
A Priests suicide in the town of Dunwich, opens the gates of hell, now a psychic and a reporter must find a way to close them.
A priest hanging himself in an old graveyard sounds like trouble, but if that graveyard is in Dunwich and happens to be built over the old town of Salem, supernatural hi-jinx are bound to occur! What better place could there be for the gates of hell than a town famous for its witch burning trials? The film opens up with a séance where psychic Mary Woodhouse sees a priest hang himself in a graveyard and something in her vision literally scares her to death. It turns out Mary isn’t dead after all, as curious reporter Peter Bell soon finds out. Mary wakes up in the sealed coffin and begins banging and screaming. Lucky for Mary, Peter is nearby and thinks he hears a noise. Fulci really draws this scene out! It takes forever for Mr. Bell to finally realize and respond to the fact that the noise is coming from the freshly, barely covered coffin. He doesn’t attempt to pry the coffin open but instead swings a pickaxe into the top of the coffin barely missing Mary’s head…THRICE! A fairly bizarre and random way to link up two characters but it made for an interesting scene. Considering Fulci’s body of work, this is one of the more coherent storylines. Gates of Hell, open, must be shut. It’s pretty straightforward really. Although, with that said, Fulci doesn’t exactly go to a lot of trouble to explain anything in detail. The somewhat patchy story is trumped by some amazing visuals and memorable gore scenes.
The dead of City of The Living Dead are not your typical zombies. These guys and gals magically teleport and they can also make your eyes bleed when they stare at you. In fact, one of the best gore scenes in the entire film has dead priest, Father Thomas having a staring contest with a young woman who bleeds from the eyes and then ends up puking up her own entrails. Nasty! There is also a scene where someone gets a drill through the head that looks top notch. These zombies enjoy ripping the back of a person’s head off to expose the gooey brain matter inside. The zombies themselves look pretty gross and have these infected looking sores all over their faces. Of course, there are the trademark Fulci Worms and maggots to look forward to also! Overall, the gore in City of the Living Dead is super dandy and is its biggest plus.
Catriona MacColl plays Mary Woodhouse and I found her fairly likeable in the role. However, considering it was her damn idea to go to Dunwich and close the doors to hell she got pretty freaking useless in the end! MacColl would go on to star in two more Fulci films; The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. Christopher George is somewhat comical in his delivery and adds a certain amount of levity. The duo hooks up with Dunwich psychiatrist Gerry played by Carlo De Mejo who ends up being the least useless of the three characters. He manages to save their asses more than once. Father Thomas played by Fabrizio Jovine is a believable badass priest but in fairness the man barely utters a word. Supporting characters Bob, played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Tommy, played by future director Michele Soavi both have brief but memorable roles.
The patchy story and some sloppy editing prevent me from giving City Of The Living Dead a perfect mark. Despite some flaws I enjoy the hell out of City of the Living Dead. Fulci stages some creative kills and the sets and props are great. He adds some stylish direction that conjures up some impressive atmosphere. The music is used to great effect, and you know when it lulls you into warm and comfy territory that it will suddenly rip your heart out. Highly Recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Luca Venantini, Michele Soavi, Venantino Venantini