Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #377
Also known as The Gates of Hell
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 11 August 1980
Sub-Genre: Italian Splatter
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producers: Lucio Fulci, Giovanni Masini, Robert E. Warner
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Special Effects: Franco Rufini, Gino De Rossi
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Score: Fabio Frizzi
Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
Studios: Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, National Cinematografica
Distributors: Paragon Video Productions, Embassy Home Entertainment, Blue Underground
Stars: Christopher George, Katriona MacColl, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Carlo De Mejo, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Luca Venantini, Michele Soavi, Venantino Venantini, Enzo D’Ausilio, Adelaide Aste, Luciano Rossi, Robert Sampson, Janet Agren
Suggested Audio Candy
Fabio Frizzi “Soundtrack Suite”
Some folk have to die before they get any respect. Lucio Fulci is one such misunderstood soul. Despite the fact that he is often referred to as The Godfather of Gore (an honor he shares with Herschell Gordon Lewis), in his homeland he was regarded as little more than a hack. In a career which spanned five decades, he struggled to win over his countrymen, and by the mid-eighties his glory days were far behind him and his later efforts were largely universally panned. However, the thing which I find most troubling, is that credit was never given for a particularly ripe spell at the end of the seventies and turn of the eighties.
Nowadays, his H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Gates of Hell Trilogy is seen as indisputable genius and I would only hope that he has been informed of this U-turn in public opinion from beyond the grave. City of the Living Dead was the first in this three-piece splatter buffet and perhaps the most overlooked of the trio. Whilst The Beyond will always be my personal favorite, it’s a fairly close-run affair and there is ample evidence of a true professional on the top of his game. In 1984, when the BBFC were exercising their right to banish any film deemed as misogynistic, all three were seized by police although only The House By The Cemetery was ever successfully charged.
Despite this, it remains every bit as visceral as the other two entries into the trilogy. There are a number of scenes which offer prime example of his ability to nauseate his audience with an insistence that they share in every single gut-wrenching detail and become ensnared by his roving camera lens. There is a physicality to his blood-letting which few other film-makers operating at the time were willing to necessitate and many directors plying their trade in the industry since have offered a nod of appreciation to Fulci, citing him as their chief influence. Say what you will about Lucio but there can be no denying that he had an eye for the grotesque.
City of The Living Dead did come under fire from the censors and the notorious head drilling scene was removed before the BBFC would reward the film its X-certificate but, bizarrely enough, it wasn’t until later, when it was re-submitted, that other similarly vomitous scenes came under scrutiny, with additional cuts being applied. However, for as much as the splatter was admittedly particularly nasty, one of the most stomach-churning moments was entirely bereft of grue. The scene in question featured our female protagonist being prematurely buried and Fulci hung this out to unbearable levels, making a mockery of those who believed he had no idea how to build and sustain tension.
As for the story, well anybody familiar with his body of work will be only too aware where to apply that pinch of salt. The plot was largely nonsensical, delivery hardly what you would call esteemed, and making sense of proceedings was utterly superfluous to our viewing pleasure. Fulci knew of his strengths, with narrative not being one of them and, while City of The Living Dead featured more in the way of bankable narrative than many of his works, it was still very much secondary to gory incident. Having said such, he also knew how to set a scene, and his dank, gossamer-ridden crypt was a thing of great insular marvel.
Like The Beyond, which further explored the science, the metaphysical notion of our realm bleeding into that of the dead, via freshly opened hell portals, was explored here after an opening act steeped in even more mystery than was customary for Fulci. The rural town of Dunwich played host to the madness and an investigative reporter Peter (Christopher George) and psychic Mary (Katriona MacColl) booked their one-way tickets to New England in an attempt at sealing the gateway before All Saint’s Day, when all hell was suggested to break loose according to the ancient book of Enoch. Naturally, they had time to stop for a bite to eat before recruiting psychiatrist-cum-local hero Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) to aid them in their plight. It’s hungry work closing the gates of hell; have you ever tried saving the world on an empty stomach?
Of course, as with all three entries into his Gothic trilogy, the audience remains invested on one condition: that he serve up the goods with regards to grue. Fulci had no qualms with taking on the role of feeder and City of The Living Dead featured some absolute doozies. If you consider it as uneven then I applaud you on your perception skills and ask that you dig a little deeper to find your frolics. Fulci was like an unlicensed surgeon and disinterested in paperwork as he knew that, once his zoom lens focused, he had you by the short and curlies and refused to relinquish his grip until good and ready. This may not have been his best film but it does keep rather marvellous company.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Set pieces were numerous but two scenes in particular warrant additional mention. The infamous drill bit through the temple gag remains one of his most ingenious work and holds up astonishingly well over three decades on but, for Keeper, nothing says “here comes your lunch” like the sight of a woman orally purging forth her own intestines under the glaring gaze of a resurrected clergyman. If you consider snacking before viewing City of The Living Dead then I would remind you the good it done Mary and Peter. Strictly a nil by mouth experience.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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