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

Film Review: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Also known as: Zombie Hell House (alternative title)
Release Date: August 14th, 1981 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci, Elisa Livia Briganti
Music by: Walter Rizzati, Alessandro Blonksteiner
Cast: Katherine MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Lucio Fulci (uncredited)

Fulvia Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Ann? Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true?” – Bob Boyle

This is one of the few Lucio Fulci horror films from this era that I hadn’t seen until now. That being said, this was pretty much what I expected, however, the movie’s monster was fucking cool and the last ten minutes or so of this exceeded my expectations and enhanced the overall experience I had with this film.

It’s honestly a fairly cookie cutter haunted house flick where a family moves into a new home with some scary secrets. For one, there’s a tomb hidden under the house. There were also some bizarre killings.

Being that this is Italian horror, though, the plot is kind of all over the place and nonsensical. It’s hard to really know what the hell is actually happening but at least most of it is pretty cool.

The dubbing, especially for the kid, is really bad but it also makes the movie enjoyable in a sort of goofy way. I also thought it was funny that this little tyke’s name was simply Bob.

Anyway, crazy shit happens, the family doesn’t move, weird dialogue is exchanged in nearly every scene and we get a cool finale with a legitimately creepy monster.

All in all, this isn’t a must see but if you like Fulci’s work, it’s worth checking out. Plus, the ending makes up for the weaker aspects of the film.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: The Beyond (1981)

Also known as: …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà (original Italian), Seven Doors of Death (US cut version)
Release Date: April 22nd, 1981 (West Germany)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John

Fulvia Film, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world.” – Emily [reading from the book Eibon]

Lucio Fulci is considered by many to be an Italian master of horror.  While I generally like his films, I would rank him behind both Bavas and Dario Argento. Still, that is really good company to keep.

I’m not a huge fan of this outing, however. The Beyond or Seven Doors of Death, has gained a nice cult following since it’s release nearly 40 years ago but compared to Fulci’s more famous Zombi, I think it’s pretty weak.

The story follows a woman who inherits a hotel in the bayous of Louisiana. The hotel sits on one of the seven gates of Hell. So obviously, some evil shit has to happen.

Being Italian horror, one would expect a colorful and vibrant color palate but Fulci didn’t really employ the giallo look like most of his Italian colleagues. This film is dark, gritty but kind of dull from a visual standpoint.

The story isn’t exciting or original and this type of movie has been done dozens of times over and much better. It’s not awful but it doesn’t offer up much outside of some gross out moments and quick scares.

Fulci, coming off of Zombi and it’s famous gory eye mutilation scene, tries to tap that well again multiple times here. There are a few gross out spots similar to that Zombi scene but none of them are as effective and if you are familiar with Fucli’s work, you kind of just think to yourself, “Oh, this again…”

Fulci also has a blind character that gets betrayed by a beloved seeing eye dog. This was a concept and idea that Dario Argento did in Suspiria, four years earlier.

In a lot of ways, this film feels like Lucio Fulci emulating things he likes from older films, as opposed to digging deep and giving us something better, which he was capable of. But it feels like this was just made to try and make a quick buck on the heels of his success with Zombi.

I love Italian horror and have been watching them since my teen years, when I first discovered the work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. This just doesn’t measure up to the greats and it doesn’t even measure up to Fulci when he’s on his A-game.

Rating: 5/10