Non Canon Review: The Gates Of Hell (1980)

OCTOBER 30, 2008

GENRE: ITALIAN, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

Next up in the Fulci triple feature, after Zombi, was The Gates of Hell (Italian: Paura Nella Città Dei Morti Viventi), aka City of the Living Dead. This was one of the first movies I saw at the New Bev, so it holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it has Giovanni Lombardo Radice, so I automatically love it, even if his role makes absolutely no sense in the grand scheme of things, and his death scene may be the most extraneous in horror movie history.

Radice plays Bob, a guy without any seeming motive or backstory to explain why he appears to be a zombie himself, why he has no home, and why his best option for a place to sleep is in the backseat of a car belonging to a guy who hates him. The rest of the movie is about a priest’s suicide opening a gate to hell and besieging a few folks around town (including another English journalist named Peter; apparently a Fulci theme), but Radice’s scenes don’t seem to have any connection to any of that. Then the guy who owns the car sees him, and despite being a seemingly reasonable man and upstanding citizen, he immediately shoves Radice’s head into a goddamn power drill. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome scene, but you could cut the end credits or maybe the production company logo out of the film and it would have more of a narrative impact than if any of this stuff was removed.

The drill scene is one of two great gore highlights in the film. The other finds a girl suddenly puking up her insides. And I mean all of em: her intestines, her spleen... it all comes up, as a young Michele Soavi looks on in horror. Again, not quite sure what the scene has to do with anything (no one else has this reaction, sadly) but also again, it’s fucking awesome.

The story itself is fine. I like that it takes place on the “ruins of Salem” (Massachusetts), since Salem was never destroyed. Fulci apparently liked my home state; his House by the Cemetery (itself with a memorable character named Bob) also took place there. This led to my being confused by a joke; when the heroes discover that everyone in the cemetery where the priest killed himself is coming back to life, Peter says “Luckily he didn’t hang himself in Arlington!”. There is a MA town called Arlington (it’s where I lived before I moved to LA), so I thought he was inexplicably referring to it, but then my buddy explained he meant the Arlington National Cemetery. Yeah, I’m dumb.

This movie also has the most inexplicable ending in horror movie history. Our heroes escape the pit or whatever the hell they are stuck in for the finale, and as they do, they see a little kid named John-John (who kept loosely fitting into the plot throughout the film) standing a hundred feet or so away. They call to him, and he begins to run over. Suddenly, our heroes scream! Why? No idea. Fulci cuts back to the kid and everything looks normal to me, but there’s a freeze-frame and then the movie ends. Huh? Anyone catch what we’re supposed to be afraid of here, exactly?

Oh well, good movie.

What say you?


5 comments:

  1. I love the film (actually more than the more "classic" The Beyond), but I don't think there is an explanation for the ending other than Fulci trying to mess with his audience by making the film's ending just that little more surreal.
    It's definitely the sort of ending one doesn't forget.

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  2. According to Fulci the whole "Bob subplot" was apparently meant to be a statement against facism, not that it makes more sense this way.
    There are also plenty of rumours that the final reel of the movie was lost in post production and Fulci thus had to end with a freeze-frame, but since we're talkig about Fulci here, it might just as well have been another attempt at a big statement.

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  3. I have watched enough Fulci to think that the "Bob"-subplot as a statement against fascism makes some kind of sense to me. I don't think this is a good sign.

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  4. Love this movie. Saw this as a kid and it freaked me out and still love it today. With most Fulci movies you really can't spend too much time trying to figure out what happend or how things are connected or trying to make sense of the movie at all. Could probably generalize this to Italian horror in general. For some reason I don't mind doing that with Fulci. Are these zombies or ghosts in this movie? They have so many powers from making people's eyes bleed to teleportation that I'm not sure what they were. How did the heroes solve the problem in the end? And why the hell were they screaming at the cute kid running with seeming no bad intent? I have no idea. For some reason I love this movie though.

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  5. I've expressed my love of Nightbeast a time or two in the past. My friends and I watched it a million times on an old VHS tape. We loved the previews just as much. There were trailers for Just Before Dawn, Boarding House, Molly & Lawless John, (some Dukes of Hazzard like film called) Hotwire, and The Gates of Hell. I watched The Gates of Hell (mine was called City of the Living Dead). So, I saw a handful of these scenes a million times immediately followed by the theme song for Hotwire (which is an upbeat country song). So, every time I saw a familiar scene my mind wold immediately begin playing that goddam song. It was VERY distracting.

    Anyway. I was just as baffled by Bob and that ending as you were, BC. However, I wasn't as baffled by the gut puking scene as you were. If you remember, the gut puking was preceded by the blood crying. The priest had the power to stare at someone until they cried and puked up their guts. I assume that the victim must remain in eye-to-eye contact in order to complete the procedure. The final girl cried blood twice before being rescued by someone else. That's how I see it. At any rate, I loved both the gut puking and the blood crying. The blood crying was especially impressive because you could tell that the blood was actually coming out of the eye after being mixed with tears. in most horror productions (True Blood) it's easy to tell that the blood was merely applied on the outside of the eye. So, my hats off to the actresses (notice, this only happened to women so that their hair could be positioned next to the eye in order to conceal the blood delivery appliance) who allowed that shit to be channelled directly into their eyeballs.

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