VHS Review: The Gates of Hell aka City of the Living Dead


The massive Paragon VHS box that was continually beckoning me as a child. Now I have it!

When it comes to zombies, I strongly believe Lucio Fulci is the master. That being said, City of the Living Dead is no ordinary zombie film mainstream lame-os are use to. For instance, Italian films are forgiven for their thin plot lines that make NO SENSE WHAT SO EVER because of the simple fact that they’re masters of their craft. Forget about the plot holes. Italian horror directors provide effective ambiance, spectacularly disgusting special effects, gorgeous cinematography, and the perfect score to fit the mood. Fulci is especially good at capturing the terror in his character’s eyes and he is one of the few horror directors who is able to convey a sense of encroaching Godless damnation. His films tend to make me uncomfortable and icky. Not like Rob Zombie films make me want to take a bath because his characters are so gross icky. More like, profoundly sickening and vomit inducing ickiness. Even the superb sound effects makes your skin crawl as you hear the worms and maggots slurping around.

Onward to the nonsensical plot, we got this priest who decides to hang himself in a cemetery that was built on top of the burial ground for the Salem witch trials… Because that makes sense. Somehow, this dude opens the gates of hell with his death. Cut to a psychic who dies but comes back to life without the embalming fluid torturing her…… Bare with me here….. The psychic is aware that the gates of hell have opened and the world will soon be flooded with the walking dead. That is, unless she can close the gates before All Saints Day. A reporter, who is always sucking on his stogie, comes together with the psychic in hopes to destroy the body of the priest in time.

Any who, the psychic and reporter make it to the town Dunwich that’s apparently ‘not on the map’ and built on top of the Salem witch trial ruins. The inhabitants of Dunwich are plagued with windstorms, bleeding walls, swarms of maggots, and what appears to be a badly decomposed baby corpse covered in warms. A scene that torments loving mothers like myself.

As I said before, these are not your typical zombies. They come and go as they please by disappearing and reappearing. You’re basically not even safe hiding in a small cabinet. However, I distinctly remember one of our lasting characters closing his eyes then opening again to see that the zombie disappeared because he didn’t believe? Another plot hole. Shit, if this worked before, it’s a doozy how this man didn’t think to try this out again later while surrounded by several maggot and boil faced zombies.

This dude Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Racide) is blamed by the town for the mysterious deaths and disappearances that all seemed to occur in the past 24 hours which makes sense to me. Lets be honest here, I do not believe in ghosts, zombies, or hell for that matter so I would be one of the inhabitants saying, “It’s probably that weird guy. There’s no such thing as dead priests walking around. What a bunch of nonsense. Amirite?” But this is movie world where nonbelievers die and the believers have a chance to defeat the beasties.

The ending is completely retarded and my least favorite but everything up until those last few oddball seconds was sheer terror and carnage with enough blood and guts to make even Jeffrey Dahmer quiver.

Aside from our two protagonists, there’s no character development so it’s hard to care about who lives and who has their brains ripped out. Catriona MacColl stars in the entire Gates of Hell series. It’s a shame I haven’t seen any of her work outside of Fulci films because she’s a splendid talent and gorgeous to boot. Giovanni Lombardo Radice frequented a batch of particularly grotesque horror films back in the day which is funny because he claims to hate horror films. That being said, he’s one of the creepiest actors I have ever seen on screen. I don’t know what it is but something about the guy just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s his bottom teeth or his creepy eyes. He’s a gifted actor so I am surprised his work is limited to horror films. There are a couple of other horror veterans with small roles, including that dude with the unattractive blonde mustache. Keep an eye out for the legendary Michele Soavi accompanied by a brutal death!

City of the Living Dead has it all; A plague of maggots, drills going through people’s heads, brains are yanked out of victim’s heads, and women are puking up their insides. One poor unfortunately young lady even gets shoved in the face by the dead priest with a fist full of maggots, worms, and some sort of black, muddy, goo. Ewwwwwww. They just don’t make them like this anymore. Keep City of the Living Dead’s ickiness in mind then muster enough courage to watch The Beyond while eating spaghetti. City of the Living Dead is the first in the Gates of Hell series by Fulci with The Beyond and House by the Cemetery following behind.  I highly recommend a blu-ray viewing, if there is such a thing.