Last Friday night, a buddy of mine and I decided to finally have the horror movie marathon we’ve been talking about for months now…a Freakin’ Fulci Friday Film Fest! What did Freakin’ Fulci Friday Film Fest entail?
- 3 Lucio Fulci Films – City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetary
- Italian beer – in this case, Peroni and Birra Moretti
- Italian food – pizza qualified because we were lazy
With all three elements in place, we prepared ourselves to venture into the oddness of early 80’s Italian horror!
Unbeknownst to me until that night (my buddy is much more involved in researching this stuff than I am), all three of these movies were released between 1980 and 1981, star the same leading lady (in fact, a good number of the cast is the same in each film), and apparently make up an unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy…which makes sense for the first two – not sure how the third one fits in. So with a nice tall glass of Birra Moretti in hand, we started the show in chronological order, with….
The first entry in the Gates of Hell trilogy is City of the Living Dead. Originally released in 1980 (1983 in the USA), City of the Living Dead was the first film Fulci’s made after his hit movie Zombie (aka Zombi 2.) In City of the Living Dead, a priest hangs himself in a cemetery in the small town of Dunwich, unwittingly opening one of the gates to hell that are scattered across the Earth. A reporter and a psychic investigate the vision she had of the dead rising in Dunwich, which is apparently not even on a map. They use the Book of Eibon as a point of reference, and determine that they must close the gate before All Saint’s Day.
City of the Living Dead kind of took me by surprise. My limited knowledge of Italian horror had me thinking we were in for some psychedelic horror that didn’t make any sense. However, the film proved quite different – the story was coherent, the acting decent … really, the only piece that didn’t make a damn lick of sense was the ending. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The film is GORY. A girl vomits her guts out of her mouth (for a long ass time!) and a young guy (Bob!) gets an industrial drill put through his head. In fact, of the three films we saw, I’d venture to say that this was the goriest. Still, it mixed Lovecraftian overtones with a zombie presence, and the sense of dread prevalent throughout the film definitely kept me in suspense. I was surprised how much I enjoyed City of the Living Dead, and think it’s definitely worth a watch.
After watching City of the Living Dead, I was actually quite excited to move on to the next film of the trilogy, The Beyond. In The Beyond, a lynch mob nails and lymes someone to the basement wall of a hotel in 1927, thus opening a gate to hell. Years later (in 1981), a young woman inherits the hotel, and the shit starts hitting the fan. Her renovation work to the hotel activates the hell-portal, and soon she and a local doctor find themselves having to deal with living dead, a ghost of a blind girl who seeks to get them to leave the house, a mystic tome called the Book of Eibon that supposedly contains the answers to the nightmare at hand, face-eating tarantulas, a young girl whose murdered parents become zombies and is herself possessed by undead spirits — and the man who was killed in 1927, Schweick, who has returned as a malevolent, indestructible corpse, in control of the supernatural forces.
Easily the best of the three movies we saw, The Beyond has excellent production values, genuine scares, and, of course, great gore. The finale of the film, a shootout between the heroes and some zombies in a hospital, reminded me of the ending of The Living Dead of Manchester Morgue, in a good way, and was apparently not even in the original draft of the script. Still, the final shot makes it all work – a creepy capper to the entire piece. Definitely worth checking out, whether you’ve seen the other films of the trilogy or not (really, they have nothing to do with each other, other than these first two having VERY similar story beats).
I’m not entirely sure why House by the Cemetery is considered one of the Gates of Hell trilogy. There is no actual gate to Hell, and in fact, the villain of the piece may be supernatural, but it just…feels different than the other two films. In fact, House by the Cemetery was my least favorite of the three, only saved by a pretty decent last twenty minutes.
As the film starts, a young woman and her boyfriend are brutally murdered in a house in New England. Years later a family moves in, unknowing that a monster, a doctor who has discovered the secret to eternal life (think Dr. Satan from House of 1000 Corpses) lives in the basement.
This is by far the slowest paced of the three movies and, though it isn’t a boring film…it’s not terribly exciting either. I don’t need fast paced gore all the time, but the lead characters of the film were uninteresting, and the focus on the young son of the family, Bob, was horrendous because the kid was SO friggin annoying.
Still, the film is saved in the last twenty minutes with a super suspenseful ending. There’s tons of excitement and, if you hadn’t seen the last two films and been aware of Fulci’s tendency to make unhappy endings, you’d actually be surprised at how this one turns out. It’s worth seeing, but don’t expect the same quality as the last two.