Film Review: City of the Living Dead (1980)

Also known as: The Gates of Hell, Twilight of the Dead (US alternative titles), Fear in the City of the Living Dead (literal English title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Janet Argen, Michele Soavi, Lucio Fulci

National Cinematografica, Medusa Distribuzione, Dania Film, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Mr. Bell, if those gates are left open, it could mean the end of humanity. We’ve got to get them shut again. At midnight on Monday, we go into All Saint’s Day. The night of the dead begins. If the portholes of hell aren’t shut before, no dead body will ever rest in peace. The dead will rise up all over the world and take over the Earth! You must get to Dunwich, Mr. Bell. You must reclose those gates!” – Theresa

Lucio Fulci made a trilogy of similar themed films after he had a hit with Zombi 2. I’ve already reviewed the other two parts of this trilogy but I oddly left the first one for last, as I didn’t know that these were considered a loose trilogy until recently and even though I’ve seen all three, they kind of merged together in my brain.

The thing that links these three movies together is the concept of a gate to Hell opening up and spelling doom for Earth. The good people in all these films work towards trying to close these gates in an effort to vanquish evil but as these things go, many of the characters die very painful, extremely violent deaths.

This is Italian horror, though, and while Fulci’s movies don’t have the vivid giallo look, they still fit well within that Italian subgenre of horror. They’re like giallo’s dark, ugly, gritty, more realistic corner in the back of the vibrantly lit room.

Fulci pulls no punches with this one and no one should ever expect him to. However, I would say that this one is the tamest of the three films. I think Fulci kept trying to go for bigger, grosser and more fucked up with each chapter and since this was the first, the other two pushed the bar just a bit further.

This stars American character actor Christopher George and it was filmed in New York City, even if it was a very Italian production. George is pretty good in this but the acting in general is often times derailed by some shoddy English dubbing over the actors who were on set speaking Italian. This is pretty normal stuff for Italian horror flicks but it’s really noticeable and jarring in this one.

I thought that the special effects were as good as they could be and they do hold up well, presenting some really terrifying demonic threats.

Out of the three films in The Gates of Hell Trilogy, I’d say that this one is my favorite. It felt more grounded and the effects were effective. I think it’s also made better by Fulci not trying to top his previous work and just focusing on making a fucked up demon zombie movie. 

Rating: 6.25/10