City of the Living Dead

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City of the Living Dead
Paura nella città dei morti viventi (1980 Film).jpg
Italian theatrical release poster
Directed byLucio Fulci
Produced byFabrizio De Angelis[1]
Screenplay byLucio Fulci
Dardano Sacchetti
StarringChristopher George
Katherine MacColl
Carlo De Mejo
Antonella Interlenghi
Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Daniela Doria
Fabrizio Jovine
Janet Agren
Music byFabio Frizzi
CinematographySergio Salvati
Edited byVincenzo Tomassi
Dania Film
Medusa Distribuzione
National Cinematografica
Distributed byMedusa Distribuzione
Release date
11 August 1980
Running time
93 minutes

City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi, lit. "Fear in the city of the living dead"), also known as The Gates of Hell in the US, is a 1980 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It is the first installment of the "Gates of Hell" trilogy which also includes The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery.[2] Fulci makes a cameo appearance as Dr. Joe Thompson in the film.


In New York City, during a séance held in the apartment of medium Theresa, Mary Woodhouse (MacColl) experiences a traumatic vision of a priest, Father Thomas (Jovine), hanging himself from a tree branch in a cemetery of the remote village of Dunwich. When the images overwhelm her, Mary breaks the circle and falls to the floor as if dead. The police, led by Sergeant Clay, interrogate Theresa, but fail to heed her warnings of an imminent evil. Outside the apartment building, Peter Bell (George), a journalist, tries to gain entry to the premises but is turned away. The following day, Mary is buried in a local cemetery on Long Island. As Peter visits Mary's grave, she is mysteriously revived and tries to claw her way out of the casket to no avail. Peter then hears her cries just as he is about to leave and rescues her before she is eventually buried alive by the cemetery caretakers.

Peter and Mary visit Theresa, who warns them that according to the ancient book of Enoch, the events Mary witnessed in her visions presage the eruption of the living dead into our world. The death of Father Thomas has somehow opened the gates of Hell through which the invasion will commence on All Saints Day, just a few days away. Meanwhile, in Dunwich, Bob (Radice) wanders into an abandoned house and finds a rubber sex doll which inflates itself. Before he can use it, the sight of a rotting fetus corpse scares him away. At Junie's Lounge, the barman talks with two local men, Mr. Ross (Venanini) and Mike, about recent strange events for which Mr. Ross is inclined to blame Bob. When a mirror shatters and the wall cracks inexplicably, the men are scared and leave. Across town, Gerry (De Mejo), a psychiatrist, is in consultation with Sandra (Agren), a neurotic patient, when Emily Robbins (Interlenghi), his 19-year-old girlfriend and personal assistant, arrives. She tells Gerry that she's on her way to meet Bob, whom she has been trying to help.

That evening when Emily finds Bob crying like a baby, he becomes startled and pushes the therapist to the floor upon hearing a sinister sound. The supernatural apparition of Father Thomas then appears as Bob leaves the building, smothering to death a frightened Emily with a maggot-covered hand. A short distance away, Rose Kelvin (Doria) and Tommy Fisher ( Soavi), a teenage couple, are making out in Tommy's jeep when they too see the ghostly image of the priest. Father Thomas makes Rose's eyeballs bleed and she meets a ghastly fate by vomiting her entire insides, while Tommy has his head ripped open. The next morning, Emily's body is found at the garage with mention of the couple being discovered too. Mr. Robbins tells the sheriff and Gerry of his suspicions about Bob. Meanwhile, Peter and Mary leave New York and embark upon their search for the town of Dunwich.

That evening, Bob sees Father Thomas hanging in the deserted house he frequents. At the local morgue, a mortician is bitten on his hand by the cadaver of elderly Jane Holden while trying to steal her jewelry. The apparition of the dead Emily pays a nocturnal visit to her younger brother John-John (Paisner). At Sandra's house, the corpse of Mrs. Holden appears without explanation on her kitchen floor. Sandra calls Gerry for help, but as soon as Gerry arrives, the body has disappeared. Investigating noises upstairs in Sandra's house, the doctor and patient witness broken glass fly from a shattered window into the wall opposite. The wall bleeds before their eyes, forcing them to flee the house. Meanwhile, Bob has taken refuge at the Ross household in the garage. When Mr. Ross's teenage daughter finds him and tries to comfort him after he tries to explain what's going on outside, the rabid patriarch enters, and mistakenly assumes that Bob is trying to seduce his daughter. The vicious Mr. Ross kills Bob by impaling his head on a drilling lathe.

The following morning, Peter and Mary follow a village priest's directions to the shunned village of Dunwich. Arriving at the graveyard, they begin searching for Father Thomas' tomb. There, they meet Gerry and Sandra, and the two couples exchange stories about their recent events. They begin to become acquainted at Gerry's office when a sudden violent storm blasts through the window, showering the four with maggots. When it's over, Gerry receives a distressing phone call from John-John Robbins explaining his dead sister has returned from the grave during the night and killed his parents. The four rush over the Robbins' house and Sandra offers to take the boy to her apartment while, Peter, Mary, and Gerry try to find the sheriff. Upon arriving to her apartment building, Sandra is killed by Emily, who rips Sandra's scalp off. John-John runs through the fog-shrouded streets of the town and is saved by Gerry who hands the boy over to the police.

At Junie's Lounge, Mr. Ross, Mike, and the barman are attacked and finally killed by the marauding ghouls led by Bob's corpse as a state-of-emergency is declared over the radio. Mary, Peter, and Gerry arrive back at the graveyard as All Saints Day begins. They descend into Father Thomas' family tomb, discovering an underground grotto of skeletal remains and cobwebbed putrescences. Sandra suddenly appears as a zombie and kills Peter by ripping his brains out. Gerry impales her to a cave wall with a pitchfork through her chest before she can kill Mary. Mary and Gerry continue on until they reach a weird, stained-glass chamber coated in musk and dust. There, they face Father Thomas who has re-entered corporeal existence and an army of the undead. Father Thomas once again begins to use his powerful and mesmerizing stare making Mary's eyeballs bleed. Before his stare can turn Mary inside out, Gerry grabs a wooden cross and disembowels Father Thomas. The evil priest's decayed guts are punctured, and he and the massing zombies burst into flames and return to dust. The Gates of Hell have been closed just before the dead fully rise. Mary and Gerry exit from Father Thomas' tomb into the graveyard at morning to see John-John and the police. Mary is relieved to see John-John survived the ordeal, but her relief turns to fright as John-John runs towards her and Gerry, and she screams as the film crumbles to black.


(Partial uncredited cast)

  • Lucio Fulci as Dr. Joe Thompson
  • Michael Gaunt as the Gravedigger #1
  • Perry Pirkanen as the Blonde Gravedigger
  • James Sampson as James McLuhan; Séance Member
  • Martin Sorrentino as Sgt. Clay
  • Robert E. Warner as the Policeman Outside Theresa's apartment building


The exteriors for the film were shot partially in the United States in New York City, New York, Midway, Georgia and Savannah, Georgia which stood in for the fictitious town of Dunwich. Manhattan exterior locations were filmed mostly in the Upper West Side, including the Gothic apartment house which stood in for the character Madame Theresa's apartment which was located at the northwest corner of West 76th Street and West End Avenue. The cemetery where the character Peter Bell rescues Mary Woodhouse from her sealed coffin was filmed in an area of Calvary Cemetery overlooking Manhattan. Midway Cemetery features prominently as the Dunwich Cemetery location in which Father Thomas hangs himself and where the protagonists must go to battle his entombed corpse. The cemetery grounds, founded in the 1750s, are located in Midway, Georgia near the intersection of North Coastal Highway (U.S. 17) and Martin Road. Midway Congregational Church, which appears in the film's opening shot, sits directly across the road from the front entrance gate of the cemetery grounds. All of the interiors were filmed in Rome, Italy at Dear Studios.

For the filming of the intestine purging scene, actress Daniela Doria swallowed and regurgitated a plate of tripe (some sources say it was sheep entrails[3]), whilst close-up shots used a fake head which contained a pump that spewed the organs out more forcefully.

While editing the film, the original ending print was destroyed when coffee was spilled. Fulci had to come up with a new ending with what ever footage he had available. Eibon Press announced it will be releasing a comic adaptation of the film's original screenplay, but there has been no confirmation if they will adapt the lost ending, or if there is one at all.[4]


City of the Living Dead was released in Italy on August 11, 1980. In the United States, the film was almost titled "Twilight of the Dead" as a way to cash in on the upcoming Romero film Day of the Dead. Romero learned this and filed a cease-and-desist, delaying the release. Fulci was also upset by the distributor's actions, reflecting on the similar actions taking place with his previous film Zombi 2, and made his following film The Beyond for German distributors. The film was ultimately released on May 6, 1983 as The Gates of Hell. [5]

On 25 May 2010, Blue Underground released a Blu-ray of the uncut film, which drops the U.S. title, includes the documentary Making of City of the Living Dead. A Special Edition DVD (region 1) was also released the same day, with the making-of documentary on it as well. Austin based El Rey Network screened the film in his series El Rey Network Presents: The Director’s Chair on 14 February 2015.[6]

In 2018, Arrow Video released a limited edition 4K remaster of both "City" and "Gates" versions, and will be releasing them on a Region 2 Blu-ray pack in the United Kingdom. As of 2019, this release is out of print.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, City of the Living Dead currently has an approval rating of 55% based on 12 reviews and with an average rating of 5/10.[8] AllMovie wrote that while the film "suffers from the same shortcomings present in much of Fulci's other horror films", "City of the Living Dead benefits from Fulci's ability to create and sustain an intensely creepy atmosphere", though ultimately calling the film "a dry run for the blend of graphic shocks and surrealism atmosphere that Lucio Fulci would perfect with The Beyond."[9] Time Out called the film "laughably awful", though "with its nonsensical 'plot' randomly constructed according to the illogic of fear, and its grotesque emphasis on physical mutability, fragmentation and decay, it could just conceivably be the sort of disreputable movie the surrealists would have loved."[10]


  1. ^ Chiti, Roberto; Poppi, Robeto (1991). Dictionary of Italian cinema, Volume 5, Issue 2. Rome: Gremese Editore. p. 191. ISBN 9788877424297.
  2. ^ Thrower,Stephen (1999). "Beyond Terror, the Films of Lucio Fulci". FAB Press
  3. ^ "Interview with Lucio Fulci". Fangoria (29).
  4. ^ "Lucio Fulci's GATES OF HELL #1 Now On Sale". Eibon Press. 10 February 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  5. ^ Firsching, Robert. "City of the Living Dead". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 2013-08-30. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  6. ^ "El Rey Network Wants to Rip Your Heart Out on Valentine's Day - Dread Central".
  7. ^ "CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD 4K Blu-ray Coming this October - Dread Central".
  8. ^ "Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City Of The Living Dead) (The Gates of Hell) (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  9. ^ Firsching, Robert. "City of the Living Dead (1980)". Allmovie. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  10. ^ "Paura nella Città dei Morti Viventi (1980)". Archived from the original on 5 February 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2012.

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