Gates of Hell a.k.a. City of the Living Dead

gates of hell
Even diehard LUCIO FULCI fanatics must admit that the director’s oeuvre presents something of a roulette wheel to first time viewers. Although traditional coherency is never really an issue, the pendulum of success swings very wide in both directions. Will it be a visionary nightmare that you cannot wake up from like THE BEYOND, or just a nightmare that you can’t stay awake for like MANHATTAN BABY? Will it be an influential mini-masterpiece with an unfortunate name like DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING or will it feature a sleazy killer who talks in a duck’s voice while he’s torturing his unfortunate victims ala NEW YORK RIPPER? GATES OF HELL is not FULCI’s best, but it rates rather high on the list thanks to a couple of simply unforgettable scenes and a sick relentless vibe that you just can’t fake. It might not provide the simple pleasures of ZOMBIE or the campy fun of HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, but it does provide a woman crying blood just before she vomits her intestines out. With apologies to TISA FARROW, it also sports one of FULCI’s finest casts, which not only includes future THE BEYOND star CATRIONA MACCOLL, but also my personal favorite person on earth GIOVANNI LOMBARDO RADICE (HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) and GRIZZLY foe/playgirl centerfold/cigar enthusiast and all around lucky bastard CHRISTOPHER GEORGE. The horror begins when a priest hangs himself in the town of Dunwich, Massachusetts, which is not only built on the site of the original Salem (whatever that means) but also, if the soundtrack is any indication, suffers from an unlikely monkey infestation. For reasons high on the murky scale, the reverend’s deed opens up some doorways that lead to hell and if someone doesn’t get to closing said doors, the dead will walk the earth and pretty much spoil everything. Meanwhile the town is suffering from a hoard of supernatural occurrences ranging in seriousness from unsightly cracks in pub walls to maggot tornados and teleporting cadavers. With its Lovecraft love and various small groupings of people converging to battle uncanny elements and curses, GATES plays like JOHN CARPENTER’s THE FOG’s violent, hyperactive, Ritalin-starved borderline-mongoloid sibling. Whether intentional or not, FULCI pretty much invents splatvant-garde here and I’m pretty sure that if you have any idea of what’s going on by film’s end that you were not paying close enough attention. The film’s final frames, in particular,r are blatantly indecipherable and have been attributed to the director’s spontaneous experimentation with damaged footage in the editing room. In any case, the viewer better be willing to submit to G.O.H.’s lunatic charm or prepare for a rough ride, for once those gates are open, rationality exists first and it doesn’t leave a forwarding address.
indelible scenes

gates of hell

GIOVANNI LOMBARDO RADICE a.k.a. JOHN MORGHAN is the heart and soul of just about every movie he’s in. His famous head-drilling scene in G.O.H. may be the goriest murder ever filmed. Giovanni’s character, Dunwich’s dead-baby hallucinating, blow-up doll loving town scapegoat “Bob” is confronted by a young girl’s father who takes the law and (Bob’s noggin) into his own hands and adds some ventilation to the poor guy’s apparently already damaged head. Is the father possessed by the evil that has infected the town or is this just mayhem ala cart? I have yet to figure that one out, but I do know this scene has lost none of it’s try not to flinch power.
gates of hell

Is there anything worse than being buried alive? Yes, being buried alive and having to rely on the lovable CHRISTOPHER GEORGE’s slow-as-molasses-in-January detective skills to save you. FULCI wrings about as much tension as humanly possible out of his POE would-be-proud premature burial scene. Even after the goof is discovered, our beloved GEORGE decides to take a pick ax to the coffin rather than scan for latches and gets perilously close to making that whole dead thing stick by poking our already traumatized and thankfully un-embalmed heroine’s eyes out. If you’re still looking for realism after this scene you may be slower than GEORGE-y.
gates of hell

That’s director MICHELE SOAVI (CEMETERY MAN) getting the back of his head ripped off right after having a make out session with his girlfriend spoiled by her sudden need to vomit up all her intestines.

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Amanda By Night
13 years ago

You had me at Christopher George. LOVE HIM!

I love this movie. One of my Fulci faves (Black Cat and Beyond rate higher though). It’s just SO atmospheric and downright disturbed. The eyes bleeding and the gut barf are too much!

13 years ago

I always figured the guy who killed Bob was just kind of an asshole. This kind of plays into Fulci’s own explanation of the scene: “…the drill scene is a warning I wanted to give against a certain type of fascism…”