City of the Living Dead
|City of the Living Dead|
Italian theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lucio Fulci|
|Produced by||Mino Loy|
|Music by||Fabio Frizzi|
|Edited by||Vincenzo Tomassi|
|Distributed by||Medusa Distribuzione|
|Box office||₤985 million|
City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi, lit. 'Fear in the city of the living dead') is a 1980 Italian supernatural horror film co-written and directed by Lucio Fulci. It stars Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, and Janet Agren. The film follows a priest whose hanging opens a gateway to hell that releases the undead, where a psychic and a reporter team up to close it before All Saints' Day.
City of the Living Dead was developed after the financial success of Fulci's previous film, Zombi 2, leading him to work with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti to write a new horror film inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The film was greenlit during production of Contraband, which Fulci left to begin working on City of the Living Dead. Principal photography was shot predominantly on location in the United States, with interiors shot in Rome.
The film was theatrically released in Italy in August 1980, which grossed ₤985 million. It was followed by a release throughout Europe, including a screening in Paris where Fulci won the "Grand Prix du Public" at the Festival international du film et de science-fiction, and in the United States as The Gates of Hell in April 1983 and again on Blu-ray in 2020. Upon release, the film received criticism for its performances, plot, and graphic violence.
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.
- Christopher George as Peter Bell
- Catriona MacColl as Mary Woodhouse
- Carlo De Mejo as Gerry
- Janet Agren as Sandra
- Antonella Interlenghi as Emily Robbins
- Giovanni Lombardo Radice as Bob
- Fabrizio Jovine as Father William Thomas
- Michele Soavi as Tommy Fisher
- Venantino Venantini as Mr. Ross
- Luciano Rossi as Policeman in apartment
- Lucio Fulci as Dr. Joe Thompson
- Michael Gaunt as the gravedigger
- Perry Pirkanen as the blonde gravedigger
After grossing over 1.5 billion Italian lire in Italy with his first horror film (Zombi 2), director Lucio Fulci began working on a new horror script with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti. Elements of the story are influenced by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, such as naming the town the film is set in Dunwich, after Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. Sacchetti noted that Fulci had just reread Lovecraft before working on the film's script, stating he wanted to re-create a Lovecraftian atmosphere. In Sacchetti's original writings, the story is not set in Dunwich, but Salem. This script also includes characters not used in the film, such as Gerry the psychoanalyst and a homeless man named Mike who is devoured by cats and reappears later in the film as a zombie. Sacchetti recalled that after completing the script they had to wait a while to work on the next film leaving their script to sit while working on other projects. Fulci did not want to work with Zombi 2 producer Fabrizio De Angelis again, and convinced Renato Jaboni of Medusa Distribuzione and Luciano Martino and Mino Loy of Dania and National Cinematografica to contribute. The project was greenlit during the production period of Fulci's Contraband, which Fulci left leaving his assistant director Roberto Giandalia to finish the project. Early choices for the cast included Zombi 2 star Tisa Farrow as Mary Woodhouse, Fiamma Maglione as Sandra, Aldo Barberito as Father Thomas and Robert Kerman as Mr. Ross; they were replaced by Catriona MacColl, Janet Agren, Fabrizio Jovine and Venantino Venantini respectively. MacColl had recently made her film debut in the title role of the manga adaptation Lady Oscar, and would be cast as the lead in Fulci's later films The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. Argen and Christopher George were hired to increase the film's commercial prospects.
Film historian and critic Roberto Curti stated that the according to the Public Cinematographic Register, filming was published as beginning on March 24, but it was more likely that filming had not begun until April 1980. Shooting schedule allowed for shooting on location in both New York City and six weeks shot in Savannah, Georgia, and two weeks in Rome at De Paolis Studios for the special effects scenes. Among the special effects scenes included a scene where the cast is attacked by maggots via two wind machines and a 10 kg of maggots. To surprise Fulci, one crew member took some of the maggots and placed them in his pipe tobacco which Fulci only learned after a few puffs of what he was smoking, angering him immensely. Fulci would later theorize that this incident led to his future illness as he went for heart surgery in 1985, suffered a ventricular aneurysm, contracted viral hepatitis and developed Cirrhosis of the liver. Many of the film's gory and graphic scenes were not included in the original scripts or story, such as the scene where a character vomits their own intestines is absent. This scene was achieved by having actress Daniela Doria spit out baby veal intestines, while some shots used a mockup of her head for further vomiting.
City of the Living Dead was distributed theatrically in Italy by Medusa Distribuzione on 11 August 1980. It grossed a total of 985,238,798 Italian lire domestically, a figure described by Curti as "somewhat disappointing". The film was distributed theatrically through Europe, including West Germany on September 11, 1980, France on December 10, 1980 as well as the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. The German edit of the film distributed by Alemannia/Arabella was about 10 minutes shorter than the Italian version, removing some dialogue scenes but keeping the gory scenes intact. In Paris, the film was screened as Frayeurs at the Festival international du film et de science-fiction. At the festival, the film won the "Grand Prix du Public" (The Audience Award).
The film was released in the United Kingdom on May 7, 1982, where it was passed by the BBFC after the drilling scene was cut. In the United States, the film was released on 8 April 1983, and was originally promoted as Twilight of the Dead, which resulted in a cease and desist order from United Film Distribution Company due to the title's similarity to their own film, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. This resulted in the distributor, Motion Picture Marketing, withdrawing the film and re-releasing it with a new title, The Gates of Hell.
A reviewer in the Italian newspaper La Stampa referred to the film as "not recommended for easily impressionable viewers" and that the film was a sign that Fulci had "reached expressive maturity", with a story that grew progressively to make an "expressive nightmarish atmosphere" and concluding that the film was a "grand guignol spectacle". Giovanna Grassi of Corriere della Sera found the film depended too much on gore, lacked atmosphere, and was "incoherent and stretched beyond measure". The review went on to praise actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Frizzi's score. A review by Pierre Gires of L'Écran fantastique found that the film left viewers in a series of "bloody and hallucinatory events that leave little room to breathe" that was "very well edited, with a lively pace". The review concluded that the film was "definitive film after which it will be useless to revisit the same subject matter, and which it ranks Lucio Fulci amongst the best craftsmen of the certain branch of the fantastique".
Geoff Andrews of Time Out found the film "laughably awful", with a "nonsensical plot" that "it could just conceivably be the disreputable movie that surrealists would have loved." John Pym of the Monthly Film Bulletin called City of the Living Dead a "silly, meandering horror" film. Pym concluded that "there is not much to discuss and little to recommend." Alan Jones wrote in Starburst praised the film as finding the film was "what popular cinema was all about [...] Shadow, claustrophobic atmosphere full on menace is the crux of this and there is no doubt in my mind that Fulci is the master of such manipulation." Jones went on to call out negative reception to Fulci, stating anyone describing him as a hack annoyed him, noting that "in each of his recent films he has made, there are so many worthwhile merits. At this stage in the game his talent cannot be called merely accidental."
In the United States, critics commented on the acting in the film including J.A. Conner of the Santa Cruz Sentinel ("intense overacting"), Tom Brown of the Times Recorder ("horribly acted") and Eleanor Ringel of The Atlanta Constitution stating the only appeal in the film was seeing the predominantly European cast attempting to adjust to "Fulci's muddled vision of Middle America". More critics dismissed the film due to its violent scenes, such as Jay Carr of the Boston Globe ("a film only a diehard necrophile could love"), Dick Fleming of The Daily Times ("scenes purely for the sake of shock value") and Ringel declaring it an "idiotic sleaze fest with nothing to offer but an abundance of filmed animal innards"
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, City of the Living Dead currently has an approval rating of 50% based on 12 reviews and with an average rating of 5/10. 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."
In West Germany, the film became part of press campaign against home video that allowed violent films. This was part of the June 1984 report titled Mama, Papa, Zombie - Horror für den Hausgebrauch on channel ZDF about the availability of violent films to minors. Prior to this screening, horror films such as Maniac and The Beyond were released uncensored in Germany but following this report, City of the Living Dead was banned in West Germany, and VHS tapes of the film released in 1983, titled Ein Zombie hing am Glockenseil, were confiscated after a 1986 hearing by the District Court of Munich. Continuous re-releases of the film in West Germany with content removed led to truncated releases of the film as late as 2001 in Germany.
The film was released in the United States on DVD by Anchor Bay in 2000, and by Blue Underground on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010. In 2018, Arrow Video released a limited edition 4K remaster of both the City and the Gates versions in the United Kingdom. In 2020, the "Gates" version was given a blu-ray release in the United States, as an online exclusive item.
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- Whitman and Dow 2014, p. 249. sfn error: no target: CITEREFWhitman_and_Dow2014 (help)
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- "France". City of the Living Dead (Booklet). Arrow Video. 2018. p. 49. FCD1816.
- "UK". City of the Living Dead (Booklet). Arrow Video. 2018. p. 44. FCD1816.
- "US". City of the Living Dead (Booklet). Arrow Video. 2018. p. 44. FCD1816.
- "US". City of the Living Dead (Booklet). Arrow Video. 2018. p. 48. FCD1816.
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- Firsching, Robert. "City of the Living Dead (1980)". Allmovie. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
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- "CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD 4K Blu-ray Coming this October - Dread Central". www.dreadcentral.com.
- "THE GATES OF HELL (Blu Ray Disc)". www.roninflix.com.