THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD
Fun zombie gore madness from the one and only
Lucio Fulci! The story of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (originally released in the
US as THE GATES OF HELL) makes no sense, but the rain of maggots, brain ripping,
intestine barfing, drill through a head, worms rubbed in a face and perky
blow-up sex doll make this film the enjoyably nasty lark that it is.
During his lifetime Lucio Fulci was never regarded as much more than a
marginally talented hack caught in the soul destroying clutches of the Italian
film industry (where all filmmakers must answer the pivotal question “What’s
this like?” in order to finance their films), yet in the past decade his
popularity among Western horror fans has grown to surpass that of fellow
countrymen Michele Saovi (who incidentally appears in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD),
Lamberto Bava, Bruno Mattai and even Dario Argento. At first
glance it’s difficult to discern why, as most of Fulci’s movies frankly suck,
even “classics” like ZOMBIE 2 (or, as it’s known on these shores, ZOMBIE).
Look closer at his films, though, in particular the dog
throat bite from THE BEYOND; the straight razor full body slice from THE NEW
YORK RIPPER; CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD’S drill through the skull; and of course
the unforgettable eyeball piercing from the above-mentioned ZOMBIE. I don’t
know that I buy the grandiose claims made by Fulci’s more fervent admirers (who
compare him to Orson Welles and Andrei Tarkovsky), but the man really
knows how to do grue, and has an uncanny ability to tap into the pleasure points
of true gorehounds everywhere. The fact is, Fulci’s movies are FUN!
In the town of Dunwich, a priest hangs himself, which somehow opens the
gates of Hell. This causes dead people to be resurrected and other uncanny
events to occur. A gust of maggots blow through a window, blanketing a room’s
floor and its inhabitants; a blow-up sex doll inexplicably comes to life, much
to the delight of a young transient; a young woman bleeds from the eyes and
vomits up her intestinal track before her horrified boyfriend (who in turn gets
his brains ripped from his skull); a dude makes out with his girlfriend in her
home, but the girl’s father catches them in the act and puts a drill through the
guy’s head. Peter, a determined journalist, tries to stop the madness by
busting into an underground crypt and burning the zombies inside. He fails.
Lucio Fulci is capable of making good movies, as proven by the stylish and
poetic THE BEYOND (1981), but most of his films are at best competent hackwork.
THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD falls into that category. It’s filled with
intrusive zooms (a staple of cheesy Italian movies) and has a somewhat careless,
thrown-together feel. It’s difficult to tell if the irrationality of the
narrative was intentionally surrealistic or is simply a result of poor
What the film has in its favor are some utterly astonishing gore scenes.
Like all Fulci’s best bits, they tend to be shot in extreme close-up and often
in slow motion. Fulci crafts his gore FX the way other filmmakers do sex
scenes. There’s real passion and imagination in these sequences, yet they’re
far too outrageous to be troubling or disturbing. As I said earlier, the
majority of Fulci’s work is FUN, and this film is no different.
THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (a.k.a. THE GATES
Dania Film/Anchor Bay Entertainment
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Giovanni Masini
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Editor: Vincenzo Tomassi
Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi,
Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Luca Venantini,
Michele Saovi, Venantino Venantini, Enzo D’Ausilio, Adriana Asti, Luciano Rossi,
Robert Sampson, Janet Argen