CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) Reviews and overview

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‘The dead shall rise and walk the Earth’
City of the Living Dead is a 1980 Italian horror feature film directed by Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters; The Beyond; The New York Ripper) from a screenplay co-written with Dardano Sacchetti. The original Italian title is Paura nella città dei morti viventi “Fear in the City of the Living Dead”. The movie was released in the US as The Gates of Hell. Christopher George, Catriona MacColl and Janet Agren star.

The film is the first part of the unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy that also includes The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. The haunting score is by Fabio Frizzi.

In New York City, during a séance held in the apartment of medium Theresa, Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) experiences a traumatic vision of a priest, Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine), hanging himself from a tree branch in the cemetery of a remote village called Dunwich.


When the images overwhelm her, Mary goes into convolutions and falls to the floor as if dead. The police interrogate Theresa but fail to heed her warnings of an imminent evil. Outside the apartment building, Peter Bell (Christopher 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 overlooking Manhattan and Peter visits her grave site. The gravediggers (Perry Pirkanen and Michael Gaunt) leave Mary’s half-covered coffin at the end of their work shift and leave. Soon, Peter hears muffled screaming when he is leaving the graveyard. Using a pickaxe, he frees the screaming woman from her premature burial, but with the axe coming dangerously close to her head as it smashes through the casket lid.


Peter and Mary visit Theresa where she warns them that according to the ancient book of Enoch, the events Mary has witnessed in her visions presage the eruption of the living dead into our world. The death of Father Thomas, a marked priest, has somehow opened a door through which the living dead can enter and the invasion will commence on All Saints Day, just a few days away…

” …with its nonsensical ‘plot’ randomly constructed according to the illogic of fear, and its grotesque emphasis on physical mutability, fragmentation and decay, it could just conceivably be the sort of disreputable movie the surrealists would have loved.” Time Out

” …City of the Living Dead’s narrative is bland and workmanlike, but it does at least plod along at a solid and continuous pace like the beating drum in Fabio Frizzi’s effective, minimalistic score. That score and every other aspect of the film really come into their own in the big finale…” The Digital Fix


“While usual undead stylish Giannetto De Rossi isn’t along for the ride, these walking corpses are appropriately ghoulish and maggot infested. Their collective, grand rising occurs in one of Fulci’s best set-pieces: a dank, dark, cobwebbed crypt that exudes death. Whereas the barren wasteland of The Beyond is eerie in its vast emptiness, this is terrifying in its claustrophobia.” Oh, the Horror!

“What Fulci gives us is a collage of images, some of which fit into the film’s story arc, while others simply add to the overall atmosphere of apocalyptic doom. So, a shower of maggots appears out of nowhere, a boy’s head comes into contact with an industrial drill and a woman vomits up her intestines.” Jamie Russell, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema

Book of the Dead Zombie Cinema Jamie Russell

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“The story does verge on the incoherent at times and certainly isn’t as neatly tied together as The Beyond or The House By the Cemetery, but has a rather more dreamlike quality to it. The build up to the slightly anti-climactic ending is somewhat surreal… Andygeddon

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City of the Living Dead is saturated with technical exaggeration, teeming with oddball performances and high on its own outrageous contrivances. Elegant cross-fades and superimpositions add beauty, as do a handful of judicious, painterly details, like the petal seen dropping silently from the rose held by the catatonic Mary in her coffin. All these factors coalesce, and the film survives its thin story thanks to the eccentricity of its detail.” Stephen Thrower, Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci

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Choice dialogue:
Bar owner: “A few beers and you fellows start seeing ghouls and devils all over the place.”


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