Dir. Lucio Fulci (1980)
After a priest suicide in a cemetery, the Gates of Hell have been opened. The dead are able to walk the Earth once again and must be stopped before they take over the world.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Having just watched and reviewed Zombie, I decided to go for the Fulci gold and watch, for the first time, his Gates of Hell Trilogy. After watching Zombie, I was expecting a horribly made film with some awesome gory scenes to make up for it. I was pleasantly surprised, because sometime between 1979 and 1980, Fulci learned how to fucking make movies! This one isn’t just adequate or even decent, it’s a full on good movie, with a coherent-ish plot and everything! The film still feels very much more 70’s than 80’s, but it’s moody and mysterious before it ratchets up the gore, and it is much more of a complete film than Fulci’s earlier zombie work. The beastly growls that occasionally punctuate the lack of action keep you on your toes, and the zombies are very well designed, so when the action hits the screen there are plenty of enticing sights to look at.
It doesn’t have a zombie shark, so I suppose that is a strike against it.***
After a psychic appears to die from fright during a séance, she is buried but shortly awakens. You would think that this would be something the funeral director would catch, but apparently not. Thankfully, a reporter happens to be standing nearby her freshly half-buried grave when she awakens and hears her desperate cries for help. He breaks open her casket with a pickaxe, narrowly avoiding killing her for real this time. The psychic and her handler explain to the reporter that they are studiers of the Book of Enoch, and that her last séance revealed to her the opening of the city of the dead, the living dead. This means that the Gates of Hell are opened, and that the world may end if the portals aren’t shut before the end of All Saint’s Day.
Creepy, atmospheric, and with an Argento-esque score, City of the Living Dead is actually pretty fucking cool. It’s a nice cross between Italian and American, with most of the film taking place in America while the film itself has the horrible dubbed audio of most of the Italian classics. The acting is decent and there are some excellent shots, though it’s always apparent that Fulci is no Scorsese. It is, however, one of the primary films responsible for arguments for Fulci’s claim as The Godfather of Gore, with one particularly grotesque scene involving a girl vomiting up her own intestines after bleeding from her eyes. It’s a pretty intense scene with some horrific sound effects, and it’s completely fucking disgusting (and exactly what you turn on a Fulci film to see.)
A much more watchable film than Zombie, this one is a great supernatural thriller with a chilling premise and some iconic imagery. Fulci is a legend, but one of those legends that is often ignored in serious film discussions because of the type of film he decided to make. He’s loved, but often forgotten. But he belongs more in the conversation with Bava and Argento than with Buttgereit and Boll, and films like this show exactly why he doesn’t often get the respect he deserves. When watching a Lewis film, you are there strictly for the gore and almost nothing else, because I don’t know that HGL made what could actually be considered a good film. Iconic, sure; gory, double sure. But good? Not even close, for the most part. Fulci may share a moniker with that other legend, but City of the Living Dead shows that he’s a much more capable filmmaker than his predecessor. While the film definitely drags at times, and is very slow compared to more modern horror films, the score is intriguing enough that you’re not bored and the characters do a good job of explaining things, allowing for the spread-out scares to be more impactful when they do come.
Who this movie is for: Fans of Italian horror, Gorehounds who don’t mind waiting, People who skipped lunch
Bottom line: A good (but not quite great) effort from Fulci, City of the Living Dead deserves to be held in a higher regard than Zombie. It’s an excellent film with some truly creepy visuals, and more gore than you can shake a stick at. It’s disgusting but somehow pure, and it’s absolutely worth a watch for all horror fans who want to bone up on their Italian cinema