The Seven Gates of Hell have been thrown open in maestro Lucio Fulci’s “City of the Living Dead”

By on March 15, 2019

The Seven Gates Of Hell have been thrown open, and in three days the dead shall rise and walk the Earth, in legendary Italian filmmaking maestro Lucio Fulci‘s hallucinogenic supernatural zombie gorefest City of the Living Dead (Paura nella Città dei Morti Viventi / Fear in the City of Living Dead, 1980).

Watch this Blue Underground cult classic — considered the first film in Fulci’s Italian zombie cycle trilogy, along with 1981’s The Beyond (…E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà ) and The House by the Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero) — on Night Flight Plus.

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In City of the Living Dead — released in the Unites States as The Gates of Hell — a young psychic named “Mary Woodhouse” (Fulci regular Catriona MacColl) is plagued with the terrifying vision of a priest named “Father Thomas” (Fabrizio Jovine) hanging himself from a tree branch in a church graveyard, in the seemingly permanently fog-shrouded little New England town of Dunwich.

(Fulci shot the film almost entirely in New York, although the towns of Midway and Savannah, Georgia, stand in for the fictitious town of Dunwich).

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We later learn that Dunwich was the infamous scene of some of the famous witch trails of the 17th Century, which may or may not be the reason that the priest’s death by suicide precipitates a series of strange events, and quite suddenly, demons and the undead are wandering through the village, randomly murdering the citizenry.

When Mary dies during a séance held in the apartment of a medium named “Theresa” (Adelaide Aste), a journalist named “Peter Bell” (Christopher George) goes to her funeral as part of his initial investigation.

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He later goes to a Long Island cemetery, where she’s buried, but when he visits her grave, he finds that she’s alive, and trying to claw her way out of her wooden casket.

Peter uses a pick axe to chop open her coffin, narrowly missing her skull, to save her from her suffocating death in the dirt.

We learn what will happen if the seven gates of Hell, opened by the priest’s death, cannot be closed in time — if they don’t locate the priest’s grave before it’s too late, evil will be unleashed upon the Earth.

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They decide to travel to the sleepy hamlet of Dunwich, where they team up with another couple, a psychologist/therapist named “Gerry” (Carlo De Mejo, who also appears in The House by the Cemetery) and his high-strung artist patient “Sandra” (Janet Agren).

They race to close the portals of the damned before All Saints Day, when the risen dead will begin roaming as hungry zombies in a terrifying zombie apocalypse, killing off the rest of the living in a seething nightmare of unspeakable evil.

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Read more about City of the Living Dead below.

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Considered Fulci’s own sequel to his 1979 film Zombie (a.k.a. Zombi 2), the screenplay — by Fulci and longtime scenarist Dardano Sacchetti — expands the story by borrowing liberally from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.

What is mostly significant about the film is that the zombies are not the result of some kind of scientific lab mishap, as typically is the case in American-made zombie flicks, or linked to Caribbean voodoo magick.

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Instead, the zombie infestation seems borne from some kind of strange supernatural or dark metaphysical spiritual force, which is unexplainable and simply presented as reality, much like the very worst of our nightmares cannot truly be explained but still seem so very real.

Fulci offers up what amounts to an atheist’s take on the Christian belief of bodily resurrection, a re-tread of the Book of Revelation perhaps, although the medium named Theresa actually mentions an ancient work called the Book of Enoch, which forewarns of the events Mary witnessed in her visions.

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Lucio Fulci’s outlandishly graphic death scenes — including a protracted shot of a lobotomizing mechanical drill puncturing the side of a man named “Bob”‘s skull (played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice) before coming out the other side, and a woman named “Rosie Kelvin” (Daniela Doria) who bleeds from her eyes as she pukes up the entirety of her bloody intestinal tract — are beyond gory.

Hats off to Franco Rufino for creating two of the horror genre’s most memorable deaths, frequently singled out as among the most shocking and controversial cinematic splatterific horror sequences of all time.

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In an interview originally published in the “Zombies of the Screen” special issue of the UK’s Starburst magazine (August 12, 1982), Fulci talks about horror not actually being his goal:

“I am basically interested in the fantastic. As a matter of fact, there are few horror scenes in City of the Living Dead; tension is the important thing in this film. I have given up on horror for horror’s sake, instead I wanted to make a nightmare film where horror is ubiquitous, even in apparently innocuous forms. Horror only appears in two scenes in a spectacular way, let alone the fact that the drill scene is a warning I wanted to give against a certain type of fascism… City, to me, is a visual rendering of the metaphysical side of bad dreams.”

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Cinematographer Sergio Salvati and composer Fabio Frizzi both do great work here, and Fulci’s supporting cast — including future director Michele Soavi (as “Tommy Fisher”), Venantino Venantini, and Robert Sampson, who plays the sheriff — give top notch performances too.

Fulci himself makes a cameo appearance as “Dr. Joe Thompson” in the film.

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Watch City of the Living Dead and other great Blue Underground titles on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.