City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead is the first movie in Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy. Lucio Fulci is an Italian horror movie director who worked in the late 20th century (mostly the 70’s and 80’s). His movies are cheaply made, nihilistic affairs that revel in excess; Fulci is the guy who goes for the gross-out every time. Love him or hate him, he’s hugely influential.

Set in scenic Dunwich New England, City of the Living Dead opens with a priest hanging himself. Cut to a séance in New York City, where psychic Mary Woodhouse dies of fright, leading to a scene where a hardboiled trench-coated cop questions the other members of the séance. Ah, I thought, here’s our main character, except the cop never appears again.

It’s hard to figure out who the main character of City of the Living Dead is. Is it Mary Woodhouse, miraculously resurrected from the dead? Perhaps it’s Peter Bell, the crusty yet lovable reporter who is old enough to be her father. Or it could be Gerry the psychiatrist, who tells us that 70% of the women in this country are neurotic. Maybe it’s the woman who draws rhinos for a living or young John-John, who wears a Yankees jersey in New England (one of the most unbelievable things about this movie).

In many ways City of the Living Dead is the Spoon River Anthology of horror movies. There are almost too many characters to keep track of. We have the guys who hang around the bar drinking Schlitz; the necking teenagers; the lecherous mortician. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention town pervert Bob and his blow-up doll, who is unfortunately uncredited. Well, you get the idea. An ensemble cast!

The priest starts hanging around Dunwich. When he stares at you, your eyes bleed. This leads to one of the grossest scenes in horror movie history where a character literally pukes her guts out. A word of warning: don’t eat dinner while watching this. The dead start to rise. We learn there’s a deadline: if Father Vomit isn’t killed a second time by midnight of All Saint’s Day, the Gates of Hell will open! The rest of City of the Living Dead consists of our inept heroes bumbling around while Father Vomit creates teleporting zombies and blows maggot swarms at people.

I have a love-hate relationship with Lucio Fulci: I hated The Beyond and House by the Cemetery, the second and third movies in the “Gates of Hell” trilogy. But I must admit to really liking City of the Living Dead, right up to its gonzo wtf? ending, which supposedly came about because the editor spilled coffee on the film of the original ending. I don’t know if that’s a true story, but I sure hope it is!

House by the Cemetery

Young Bob utters the best line of House by the Cemetery when he goes into the basement in search of his babysitter, Anne. A few scenes earlier Bob saw Anne’s severed head rolling down the steps. As he walks down the stairs Bob says (paraphrasing) – “Anne. Are you dead? Mommy says you’re not dead.”

I’ve seen enough horror cinema to know that House by the Cemetery, directed by Lucio Fulci, is an influential movie. It’s an important entry in the Monster in the Basement subgenre and contains an element of sadism that was way ahead of its time. This is not torture porn, but it’s close, and nowadays you can see about a hundred horror movies like this: threadbare plot, cutout characters, sadistic killer and lots and lots of blood.

House by the Cemetery opens with a guy and girl, post sexy-time. Instead of treating his date to a nice motel, maybe with mirrors on the ceiling, the dude takes her to a disgusting, grungy basement. He dies and she gets a knife through the back of the head. Cut to Dr. Norman Boyle, his wife Lucy and their son Bob, who are off to the same house in New England.

We meet another little kid, a girl named Mae who doesn’t want Bob to go into the house. Bob sees Mae’s face in a picture, peeking out of the window of the house they’re about to move into. The house the Boyles are renting – which is a piece of shit – was owned by Dr. Freudstein, a half-assed mad scientist who performed medical experiments on people in the basement.

You couldn’t pay me to spend the night in that place, but the Boyles are made of sterner stuff. The results are predictable. Norm and Lucy hear children crying in the middle of the night, even though their son is fast asleep. There’s an honest-to-God tomb in the hallway hidden under a carpet. A bat attacks Doc Norman and he stabs it about three hundred times before it dies. Bats don’t act that way unless they have rabies, so anyone sane would leave the house, post-haste. The Boyles stay. Of course they stay. They’re begging to be killed, and the thing lurking in the basement is more than happy to oblige.

I’m sorry to say that House by the Cemetery wasn’t to my tastes. It has lots of gore, but the script is a mess and the characters are dumb even by horror movie standards. This could be a translation issue. House by the Cemetery is an Italian movie, and maybe the dub isn’t too good. Still, if you want to see the flick that helped inspired the latest hack ’em up streaming on Netflix, check out House by the Cemetery.

Helloween Day Fourteen: The Beyond


Click on the image for the trailer!

A total gross-out of a movie, The Beyond is a 1981 horror flick directed by Italian director Lucio Fulci. OV Guide was supposed to have it for free, and indeed they did – the first twenty minutes. I watched the rest via a seven-day subscription to Shudder, so technically it is free. If you’re like me, you’ll forget to unsubscribe in time.

The plot: Liza inherits an old Louisiana hotel from her uncle. Fifty or so years earlier the angry townspeople killed the hotel’s resident painter, who was painting a portrait of Hell; sort of like Hieronymus Bosch, if Bosch had no talent and lived in Louisiana. The hotel itself is located over one of the seven gateways to Hell. This is NOT a spoiler, as that tidbit appears in the first sentence of the synopsis.

The action starts when Joe the Plumber (?!?!) gets his face squeezed off, treating us to a popping eyeball scene. For some reason much of the gore in The Beyond centers on faces. Tarantulas eat a character’s face, a dog bites off a woman’s face and acid melts no less than two people’s faces off.

A mysterious blind woman with freaky eyes tries to warn Liza off, but our heroine is determined to reopen the hotel, even though nobody but cackling ghouls and flesh-eating demons live here now. She’s aided and abetted by hunky Doc John McCabe. Could there be romance brewing? No. The Beyond has no interest in sex at all. After 70 minutes of extras getting killed off, the dead finally rise. Can Liza and Doc McCabe escape?

The Beyond is considered a classic in certain quarters. I don’t know about that, but I would advise you not to watch it while eating. There’s no plot. Even though there’s lots of jump scares, The Beyond isn’t a scary movie. If you have a strong stomach, it’s sort of funny. I like Fulci’s Zombie a lot better, maybe because there’s a shark-zombie battle and the eyeball-popping scene is better. Recommended for gore-aficionados only.