City of the Living Dead
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|
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 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. 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 experiences a traumatic vision of a priest, Father Thomas, hanging himself in a cemetery of a village called Dunwich. When the images overwhelm her, Mary breaks the circle and collapses to the floor. The group presume Mary is dead, and call the police, who suspect foul play. Theresa warns the police chief of an imminent evil. Journalist Peter Bell begins to investigate Mary's mysterious death, and visits her grave as she is about to be buried. However, she is still alive, and Peter saves her after hearing her cries. 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 opened the gates of Hell through which the invasion will commence on All Saints Day, just a few days away.
In Dunwich, a young vagrant named Bob visits an abandoned house, but flees after seeing a rotting carcass. Across town, Gerry, a psychiatrist, is in consultation with Sandra, a neurotic patient, when Emily Robbins, his 19-year-old girlfriend and personal assistant, arrives. She tells Gerry that she's on her way to meet with Bob, whom she has been trying to help. That evening, Emily finds Bob at a derelict garage exhibiting strange behaviour. The supernatural apparition of Father Thomas then appears as Bob runs away, smothering to death a frightened Emily with a maggot-covered hand. The next morning, Emily's body is found. Emily's father tells the sheriff and Gerry of his suspicions about Bob, due to Bob's previous history of crime. Meanwhile, Peter and Mary leave New York and embark upon their search for the town of Dunwich.
That evening, Bob returns to the deserted house, where he sees a vision of Father Thomas. After Emily's funeral, her younger brother John-John sees a ghostly image of her outside his bedroom window. At Sandra's house, the corpse of an elderly woman, Mrs. Holden, appears without explanation on her kitchen floor. Sandra calls Gerry for help, but as soon as Gerry arrives, the body has disappeared. The two search the house, but are disturbed by many strange occurrences, such as a window breaking, with the glass then dripping human blood. Meanwhile, Bob has taken refuge in the garage of a local man, Mr. Ross. Ross's teenage daughter Ann finds him and offers him marijuana, but Ross bursts in and attacks Bob, fearful he is trying to seduce his daughter. Ross kills Bob by impaling his head through a drilling lathe.
The following morning, Peter and Mary arrive at the graveyard that Mary saw in her vision. They begin searching for Father Thomas' tomb and meet Gerry and Sandra. They go back to Gerry's office to discuss Father Thomas' death, when suddenly the four are showered with maggots in an apparent supernatural attack. Gerry then receives a distressing phone call from John-John Robbins explaining his dead sister has returned during the night and killed his parents. They rush over the Robbins' house and try to find the sheriff. While trying to get John-John to safety, Sandra is killed by Emily, who rips Sandra's scalp off. John-John runs through the streets of the town and is saved by Gerry, who hands the boy over to police.
Mr. Ross is drinking at a bar when it is suddenly attacked by the re-animated dead people of the town, led by Bob. Ross and two other men are killed, as a state-of-emergency is declared over the radio. Mary, Peter, and Gerry arrive back at the graveyard as the clock strikes midnight, and All Saints Day begins. They descend into Father Thomas' family tomb, discovering an underground cave of skeletal remains and cobwebbed putrescences. Sandra suddenly appears as a zombie and kills Peter, before she is killed by Gerry, who impales her with a wooden spike. Mary and Gerry continue on until they face Father Thomas, who is commanding an army of the undead. Before he can kill Mary, Gerry grabs a wooden cross and disembowels Father Thomas. The priest and the other revived corpses burst into flames and disappear. 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 becomes frightened and screams as everything fades 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, a psychoanalyst, and Mike, a homeless man who is devoured by cats and reappears later in the film as a zombie.
Sacchetti recalled that after completing the script, it was shelved for some time due to their commitments to 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 of Contraband, which Fulci left with his assistant director, Roberto Giandalia, to finish principal photography. 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. Argen and Christopher George were specifically hired to increase the film's commercial prospects.
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. When she was approached for the film, she felt that the script was "badly written" and almost declined taking part. "It seemed to me like a series of special effects without a story", she said in an interview in 2011. She called her agent from her hotel room to seek his advice; he told her to take the role, because "nobody was going to see the film anyway". MacColl said her agent turned out to be wrong about that.
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 performed by having the Daniela Doria spit up baby veal intestines, and then having her head replaced with replica for further vomiting.
The scene where Christopher George smashes open the coffin with a pickaxe was shot in New York, but the interior of the coffin was shot in Rome. Catriona MacColl says she would blink every time the pickaxe entered the coffin. "It was just a nervous reaction. And Lucio was getting crosser and crosser. He pulled me out of the coffin and shouted: 'I’ll show you how easy it is!' So he climbed into the coffin and did the same shot without blinking. 'If I can do it, you can do it', he said."
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.
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.
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 46% based on 13 reviews and with an average rating of 5.80/10. 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."
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