“City of the Living Dead” aka “The Gates of Hell” (1980) one of the quintessential Luci Fulci zombie movies, is about a news reporter and a psychic that race against time to close the Gates of Hell before they are opened for good. As once the Gates open, the dead dig out of their graves and seek out human flesh!
A mysterious priest named William Thomas walks among the headstones of an ancient graveyard in Dunwich, Massachusetts. A psychic named Mary Woodhouse takes part in a seance in New York City that connects her mentally to Thomas as he hangs himself in the cemetery, which kills both himself and poor Mary.
His death begins the first rumblings that will open the Gates of Hell; causing all sorts of delightful troubles as the rotting dead rise and consume the living. Storms of maggots coat folks in wriggling layers of filth, and several unfortunate souls get the back of their heads ripped off. It’s a disturbingly effective finishing move used by the ghouls.
If you like exposed brains, have I got a movie for you!
A reporter (Christopher George of “Pieces”) gets involved and winds up rescuing Mary from her grave as she returns to screaming life inside her coffin after being buried. This scene, in which Mary shreds the sating lining of her coffin lid as her hero rams a pick axe through it, is one of many highlights of Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece. These two crazy kids set off on a road trip to the village of Dunwich, which was built on the ruins of Salem. They have two days to prevent the opening of the Gates of Hell.
Do they make it in time? You’ll have to watch the movie and find out for yourself! No Spoilers here folks!
But enough about plot. Let’s talk about the gorgeous imagery and gore.
- A woman who looks too deeply into the resurrected Father Thomas’s evil eyes (in a moment that recalls the Christopher Lee Dracula films) weeps blood and then vomits up her entrails, followed by our first taste of brain squishing. I absolutely love this scene!
- A young man gets a massive industrial drill through the head. Fantastic practical effects.
- Gruesome blood-soaked zombies appear and disappear, occasionally crushing a skull or two.
- In a cave beneath the town cemetery corpses hang down out of the earthy ceiling.
- Several horrifically decomposed bodies and pieces are discovered covered in insects.
- Crimson-eyed rats eat a victim’s brain through his skull. Awesome!
- The night scenes, especially in the Dunwich graveyard, are chock full of evil fog.
I may get punched in the face for saying this, but I wasn’t a big admirer of Fulci’s “The Beyond” aka “Seven Doors Of Death.” It was too meandering, too aimless and abstract. “House By The Cemetery”, on the other hand, killed! I loved every minute of it, but during “The Beyond” I just sat there thinking “There sure is some weird stuff going on in that hotel. Meh.”
“City Of The Living Dead” may top them all. (Except Zombi’s Girl vs Zombie vs Shark scene. Nothing will ever be as cool as that.) It feels like a stronger linear narrative than some of Lucio’s other stuff, but retains his knack for incredible effects-filled death scenes and rich, spooky atmosphere. The man is a true artist, a bona fide master of horror, and that is not a term I use frequently.
Treat yourself to one of Fulci’s best and watch this movie. You won’t regret it!