I totally missed out on last month’s Film Club, Spider Baby. But this months, the Final Girl has given us an assignment to test our faith. Or something. And it is more of a TOWN than a CITY. Serving Schlitz at your bar doesn’t mean you are magically “big city,” folks.
The assignment is the Italian shocker The Gate of Hell. Actually, the version I watched is City of the Dead, a Lucio Fulci romantic comedy. The movie opens with sad music as a Priest wanders through a cemetery. He hangs himself, at the same time, in New York some hippies are having a seance. A young attractive woman has a vision of said priest…she froths at the mouth and dies, but only after uttering City of the Dead.
As the priests dangles, we hear moaning in the cemetery. A corpse rises from the grave. Apparently this small town? The townspeople bury bodies about a foot in the ground and toss leaves on them. Back in New York, the skeptical cops are giving the hippies a hard time, until a ball of fire shoots up and down from the floor to the ceiling and it screams. The Detective scoffs, but the lead Medium warns him that in some random town? Things that will freak you totally out and give you nightmares are now happening.
For example? Some creepy guy finds a blow up sex doll in an abandon house. Oh, and a zombie. Damn dirty zombies. A mirror cracks in the local bar. “The town hasn’t been the same since Father Thomas hanged himself.” One guy offers up more logical explanations, until the wall cracks open. Then he goes outside into a sudden thick fog.
We finally meet our main character, a reporter. He tried to bribe his way into the apartment where they had the killer seance. We also meet two hot ladies (Hot Blonde and Hot Brunette) and some guy with a very seventies looking beard. These three live in the small town, which I finally catch is called Dunwich. I’ve read enough Lovecraft to know that cannot be good. If your town is named something like Dunwich? Move.
I love this bit of dialog:
Bearded Guy: Where were we?
Hot Blonde: The same old problem. Men. Why do they have to make life so difficult?
So it’s a FEMINIST horror film. Anyways, the reporter goes to a cemetery in the big city where the dead seance girl is being buried. The grave diggers are partially way through burying the coffin and notice it is five o’clock and time to go home for the day. They leave the coffin exposed, citing Union Rules. A-ha! It is actually a Republican propaganda horror film! Fulci needs to make up his mind. He gets the best story ever when she is resurrected-well, actually, he almost kills her trying to break open the coffin with a pick axe after hearing her call for help from inside the coffin.
The Medium and the resurrected attractive girl sit with the reporter and tell him about an ancient and dangerous book. Not the Necronomicon… just something like it. They need to get to Dunwich to close the gates of hell, which is getting urgent, as in Dunwich, Bearded man writes the name Bob on a piece of paper and circles it!!!
Things are getting worse, such as the couple who are making out, only to see the dead priest who can make all your blood and gut spew out of your head by looking at you! And he can turn your dead girlfriend black!!! Seriously. Either that or continuity be damned, some black guys hand fills in perfectly well for a white actress. What’s the difference? Anyways, dead girlfriend grabs her boyfriend’s hair and rips out his brain. The biggest sign to the Dunwich authorities of the fact that bad things are afoot? Worms. It makes them so made they decide some local kid is guilty of the murders (including hot brunette).
At the funeral home, as the family weeps for Hot Brunette, while the creepy guy with the blow up doll (now known to be Bob) runs back to the abandoned . He meets up with dead priest, but gets away. The Reporter and the Resurrected Woman flirt their way to Dunwich with clever interplay like, “Let’s check out the local cuisine.” At the funeral home, the guy who runs the place tries to cop a feel of Hot Brunette, but he almost gets his hand ripped off, by what? Don’t know… Hot Brunette has not moved an inch in her coffin.
Theres suddenly some little boy, he might be hot brunette’s little brother…I cannot really remember. But he hears noises outside the window. Kind of a moaning. Peaking out the window he sees decomposing Hot Brunette. Apparently she has a flashlight, because her face is brightly lit and then suddenly the light goes out. Bob is also out and about town, wandering aimlessly. Meanwhile, Hot Blonde is hearing noises so she does the sensible thing to do in a town called Dunwich…she goes to investigate. She soon calls Bearded Guy who stares at his ringing phone like he does not understand what it is he is supposed to do when a phone rings. To my friends, this is what happens when you call me. I stare at my cell phone-unsure of what to do. Bearded Guy shows up and knocks on Hot Blonde’s door and she is ready to shoot him, because he might be a zombie. And most zombies are pretty polite and knock on the door.
The thing that really freaked out Hot Blonde? A random neighborhood corpse is laying on the floor of her kitchen. They hear a strange roar and find the body is gone. Bearded Man is sure this is not some silly Twilight Zone thing. That’s crazy. So they go to investigate the roaring and thumping going on upstairs. A window shatters and the shards are imbedded in the wall, which starts bleeding. Bit I am sure there is a logical explanation, right, Bearded Guy?
Bob finally meets his end at the tip of a big old drill bit. Who do they pin the murders on now? Bearded Guy, Resurrected Woman and the Reporter meet up in the cemetery. The three go back to Bearded Guy’s place and Hot Blonde shows up. Bearded Guy and Hot Blonde are pretty quick to accept that the living dead are wandering Dunwich. Suddenly, the window bursts open and thousands of meal-worms blast into the room. It looks like a Minnesota blizzard, except worms instead of snow. Then the phone rings and no one knows what to do.
The caller is the little boy who says his dead sister, Hot Brunette has killed his parents. They go over and discuss how the bodies were torn apart and take the kid with them. When they arrive at the funeral parlor, they find the caskets are empty. So they split up. Hot Brunette shows up and rips Hot Blonde’s brains out of her skulls, freaking out the ittle boy who runs away. But apparently, the zombies are now teleporters and can just appear on screen instantly. The Little boy keeps trying to outrun them or tell them to run away. Bearded Guy knows the real trick though. If you close your eyes really, really tight? The zombies… uh… teleport…away? So, they go to the safest place if you want to avoid the dead-the cemetery. It’s safer than the local bar, where the zombies show up to toss a few back.
While in the cemetery, the Reporter, Resurrected Woman and Bearded Guy hear jungle sounds in the trees… like monkey and jungle birds. This is pretty clearly a reference to…? Suddenly Resurrected Woman checks her calender and realizes it is All Saints Day. They find the priest’s family tomb. It is a hole in the ground that leads to a room full of coffins. So they all crawl inside. They open the sarcophagus and a rat leaps out. Hey, no cat? Use a rat. Bit there is no body, the other end of the sarcophagus is already busted open. So the three crawl through to the otherside and find more rats. For someone who cam back from the dead? Resurrected Woman is a real chicken.
Hot Blonde shows up and rips out the Reporter’s brains. While that trick is getting old, they do a nice shot of the rats eating his brains. Hot Blonde then tries to do that Staring and Making You Bleed Your Guts Out thing to Resurrected Woman (who you would think might have SOME kind of mystical protection). But Bearded Guy stabs Hot Blonde who is now really, really dead. As they walk down the underground corridor, the music starts to swell. Bodies are rising behind them, but they are oblivious to this. The corridor opens into a apparent dead end, and the dead surround them-including that damn priest. Bearded Guy stabs the priest in the balls with a wooden cross and he bursts into flames and the dead around them start to collapse in a heap of flames. So this is a CHRISTIAN horror movie!
Then the sun rises and they crawl out of the family tomb and see the police and little boy. As the little boy runs towards them they freak out. Cause they… hate kids? Then the credits role.
The movie reveals that Dunwich was built on the ruins of Salem. Home of witches and other demonic forces. So that makes sense. The modern Salem isn’t a doorway to hell because it’s not the real Salem. The film left me… confused. I mean, the priest hanged himself…why? He wanted to open the gate of hell… why? Did he make a deal with the devil? Why? Admittedly, a Fulci film seeming to be rather incoherent is not that out of line. His films have loose plots that come together-but the logic and coherency is not to be found. The dead rise because they do and you have no idea what happens at the end.
Granted, that not uncommon for Italian zombie/gore flicks in general. They tend towards focusing on the gruesome and if it makes sense? Nice surprise! Due to this, there are points where many of Fulci’s works can be a bit of a chore. But Fulci makes it at least makes up for it by way of making it interesting visually. The atmosphere in the film is great. Part of an unofficial “gates of Hell trilogy” along with House By the Cemetery and the Beyond (which has the beauty of a character named Joe the Plumber-cause he is a plumber…named Joe) the incoherency of the film is amusing. This might be even better when watched with a group.
I really dug the strange string arrangement that plays anytime something mysterious or scary is happening. It is seriously quite cool.
And a sample Joke:
“Good thing he didn’t hang himself in Arlington.”