“City of the Living Dead” (1980)


Studio: Dania Film
Starring: Christopher George. Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 93 min.

Synopsis: A priest hangs himself in a graveyard and opens the gates of hell. A woman tries to go to the town where madness is happening and tries to close the gates before it’s too late.


Chris Woods

I just recently revisited this horror classic from Italian maestro, Lucio Fulci, City of the Living Dead. I first saw this film in the mid-90’s a short time after I watched Fulci’s all time classic Zombi 2. From the title (City of the Living Dead) I thought this was some type of follow up or at least the same type of zombie film that was Zombi 2. It turned out to be more of a supernatural/ghost film then really a zombie flick. At the time I was a little disappointed, but after watching it a few more times I liked it for what it was.

The film starts off with a priest in a cemetery in a small town called Dunwich. Meanwhile, in New York City, a séance is going on. A woman named Mary (played by Catriona MacColl, who also starred in Fulci’s The Beyond) can actually see what is happening in Dunwich. She sees the priest hang himself, and once that happens the woman sudden dies of shock.

The police and a newspaper reporter, Peter Bell (played by genre vet Christopher George) look into the woman’s mysterious death. When Mary is finally laid to rest, she suddenly awakes in her coffin. She’s not really died (I forget why she comes back to life or she was never really dead in the first place). She yells out, hoping someone will hear her. Luckily for her, Peter was there on the scene and busts her out.

Mary tells Peter the vision she had of the priest hanging himself and by doing that he opened the gates of hell. She has to go to the town of Dunwich and close them before it’s too late. Peter travels with her to the town while strange things start to happen there and people start popping up dead.

This very eerie, creepy, frightening film is worth the watch and for any hardcore horror or Fulci fan it is a must see. Probably one of his best films, next to Zombi 2, The Beyond, and The New York Ripper. It’s also a very stylish film with great atmosphere. Great photography as well and it has those great Bava-like zooms. I can’t forget to mention the great score the film has from Fabio Frizzi, who also did the score to Zombi 2 and The Beyond.

They are a number of scenes that are major standouts in the movie. Most of them are teased in the trailer to the film. The scene that I mentioned earlier, when Mary awakens in her grave, Peter hears her screams and gets a pitch ax to open the coffin, almost coming very close to hitting her head every time he strikes, a very tense scene. There’s a part where a little boy is looking out a window and he sees his dead sister outside. Great zoom in to her rotting face. A shower of maggots fills up a room when a window bursts open. The tiny critters come showering in like a snowstorm on the heroes of the film. A great scene where Italian actor and genre favorite, Giovanni Lombardo Radice (House on the Edge of the Park, Cannibal Ferox) gets drilled in the head by a massive power drill. Last but not least…still, one of the grossest scenes ever in any horror movie I seen, is when a girl pukes out all of her guts as she’s being possessed by the dead priest. When I first saw this scene I wanted to puke myself. It is still very gross after watching it again.

City of the Living Dead, which is also called Gates of Hell on some titles, is a very eerie cool film. Some great horror moments through out and some good craftsmanship from an excellent filmmaker. Only draw back I have to say is at times the movie is very slow and if you are looking for zombies, you have to wait until the very end, but like I said before, this is really not a zombie film and more just a ghost film and just a strange scary movie from horror master Lucio Fulci.