Paura nella citta die morti viventi
The Gates of Hell
This intellectually challenged bloodbath has been given a new lease of life in 2010 thanks to the sterling efforts of British distributor Arrow Video. The treatment it has received from this company (including a blu ray presentation, and a 2 disc special edition) is far in excess of what the film deserves. This is the weakest link of Lucio Fulci’s loose ‘living dead’ trilogy; it lacks the saturated gothic surrealism of The Beyond (1981) and the claustrophobic eeriness of House by the Cemetary (1981), and only rivals those two films in its tasteless scenes of (mostly arbitrary) gore. This is a film that invents pointless subplots expressly for the purpose of an ultra-violent denoument - the drill in the head death of Giovanni Radice has to be one of the stupidest sequences in modern horror history. It gives the gore hounds something to jerk off too, but it is so peripheral to the story that it feels like its been edited in from another film. Fulci often gets a lot of stick for the nonsensical dumbness of his films, but surely much of the blame lies with the stilted and juvenile writing of Dardano Sachetti. Sachetti was the ‘brain’ behind many of the less sophisticated Italian horror films of the 70‘s and 80‘s. Although Fulci co-wrote this garbage, the film only comes to life when it functions in purely visual terms, and for that we must credit Fulci and his DOP Sergio Salvati.
The film does at least open impressively with an atmospheric mist filled graveyard in the small town of Dunwich (a reference to H. P. Lovecraft’s short story The Dunwich Horror). Into this eerie space arrives a white faced and hollow eyed priest, who promptly hangs himself from the nearest tree. The film goes downhill from there. This suicide opens the gates of hell!?, something which a bunch of psychic’s in downtown New York have witnessed during a ridiculous séance. This psychic premonition leads to the death of Mary Woodhouse (another dreary performance from Catriona MacColl) and a lot of ponderous and daft dialogue about mythical texts and the apocalypse. The premature burial sequence that follows is impressively staged and one of the stronger moments in the film (it almost goes without saying that it makes no sense whatsoever). Cynical journalist Peter Bell (an embarrassed looking Christopher George) behaves incredibly recklessly by driving a pick axe into Mary’s coffin when he hears her screaming within. The film cuts between New York and Dunwich extensively in the first half and it becomes increasingly apparent that all of the New York scenes are pointless. All it adds to the film is padding (the interminable car journey for example in which nothing happens to further the story - Mary is so concerned about the dead walking the earth she wants to hunt for restaurants!).
The film ends beneath the earth as Mary (who has somehow concluded all the nasty stuff will end if the dead priest is killed again) succeeds in averting the disaster by impaling Father Thomas with a large wooden crucifix. That should be it, but then we get one of the silliest endings of any horror film. Believe it or not this ending has actually been seriously debated by fans! Even the Fabio Frizzi score seems tired. The main theme is really good - but is seriously overplayed. And the secondary theme is far too similar to the title sequence of Zombi 2 (1979). The only two things of note that emerge from this film are the wildly exaggerated gore effects of Gino De Rossi and Franco Rufini and the occasional atmospherically shot sequence from Sergio Salvati. And if I see anymore close ups of eyes I think I’ll puke my entire guts up!
© Shaun Anderson 2010