Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Gates of Hell

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
"The Gates of Hell" poster

The VHS release sheet. Click to view a ridiculously large image!

Here lately I've been going through some of the material I have in my three bookcases which contain my sci-fi/horror collection items. Most of the stuff in there are magazines, comics, books, and various things like cards, clippings and promotional material. The reason for it is to find interesting things to post here, but the process is fun and I find stuff I had forgotten I even had.

A hi-rez image of the theatrical poster.

For a period of time during the 80's I had a friend that worked at a video store, and I got a lot of the promotional items that they were either done with or never used. A lot of it was in the form of 8 x 10 glossy color pages advertising the new videotape release, and these fit into my plastic notebook pages perfectly. The first image posted above is the one for the 1983 video release "The Gates of Hell," as "City of the Living Dead" was known in it's initial American release in 198o. I'll be sharing the high-rez scans of the other ones that fit this blog's theme as we go along. These are rare items that you may never see posted anywhere else... until, of course, other fans download them and then use on their own blog (like I did for the majority of the posters and video covers below).

A case for Visine if there ever was one. The eye-bleeding horror she is looking at literally makes her eyes bleed. And you can't watch this scene without your own eyes watering.

The phrase "puking your guts out" is also taken literally in this stomach-wrenching scene that will have you doing the same the first time you see it. The actress gamely stuffed raw sheep intestines in her mouth for this scene! This gal really must have wanted to please the director, I tell you. It might just be the single most disgustingly nauseating image ever put on film... unless you count some episodes of "Fear Factor."

"The City of the Living Dead," is my absolute favorite film by Italian gore-meister Lucio Fulci. From the first scene of the priest's suicide in the foggy cemetery, to the fiery underground conclusion as they face the undead ex-Father and his rotted minions, it's one of the most frightening films I have ever seen... and that's saying a lot. Featuring the greatest scenes of gut-barfing, brain-squeezing, worm/filth-smearing, head-drilling and maggot-raining you'll ever see, it drips with atmosphere and dread. The zombie/ghosts, appearing and disappearing to horrific effect, are nightmare-inducing and will make even a grown man like me turn on some more lights when watching alone at night.

"Accck! I... change my mind... *choke* somebody help... *gasp* Aw, hell! *wheeze*"

Poor mentally-challenged Bob gets the point drilled into his head by an irate father.

Never in the history of cinema has oatmeal been so frightening.

The music is another element worth mentioning. The score by Fulci regular Fabio Frizzi adds much of the tension, dread and terror to the brooding photography by cinematographer Sergio Salvati. The near-constant wind during the daytime, the fog-shrouded night scenes, the growls and groans of the ghost zombies, even the echoing hoot of what is supposed to be a racous owl (which is really a howler monkey) all bring an over-arching feeling of unease.

Some of the foggy scenes in the town of Dunwich were filmed in Savannah, GA, in locations I recognised since I visit there often. The bridge that the zombie jumps down from in one scene was filmed down near River Street on Factor's Walk. It's a creepy and atmospheric location at night; with the old cobblestone road, historic buildings, catacomb-like parking coves and spanish moss hanging from the ancient oaks. Although you are more likely to get mugged at night than killed by a zombie, it's still pretty scary. It was neat standing in the spot where they filmed... knowing that Fulci and the crew making the movie I loved had been in that same place at one time.

(Image source)
A location in the movie, filmed on Factor's Walk just behind the River Street buildings and shops. You can imagine it at night!

The scariest thing falling from the bridge on you at night might be from a drunk taking a leak, stumbling up from the bars at River Street.

Thin on logic and cohesive narrative, but thick with style and vision, "City of the Living Dead" is what you take out and show when the company dares you to play "the scariest movie you've got." Which is what my mother-in-law said, much to her regret. Her nerves and stomach took days to recover. Needless to say, she never repeated the mistake.

The main reason the undead are so scary to me in this film is that they are functioning with will and with an agenda (to kill you and add to their numbers) rather than the usual mindless flesheaters we have become accustomed to. They love to mess with your mind, toying with you and scaring the crap out of you before killing you. They like to grab your scalp with unnatural strength, rip off a section of your skull and squeeze out your brains as you scream and die. That's just wicked, not hungry. And the images of the undead faces are unlike any other Fulci film. With eyes full of evil, their bloody, decayed faces lit from below and filmed in close-up, the living dead are truly terrifying as they get in your face and your nightmares.

Wallpaper source: Beyond Horror

To enjoy the film, you have to overlook the usual Fulci lapses in logic. For example, when Mary the psychic dies, why is she buried without an autopsy and embalming? The possibility of premature burial no longer exists with present-day burial practices. Under such strange circumstances an autopsy would have been required, and as the medical examiners like to say. "well, they're dead now." But searching for logic in a Fulci horror film is a waste of effort. The story serves much the same function as the Doombuggies track in the Haunted Mansion; it only exists to get you from one scary scene to another. As long as it does it without too many bumps, you don't think about it much.

The Pakistani poster puts one of their local actors on it and tries to insinuate the film features their own talent. The green-faced, orange-tongued goofball is fortunately absent... unless they filmed something and edited him in. You never know with these crazy foreigners.

The large wooden cross he's holding is about to get shoved into the dead priest's crotch. An unorthodox way of killing the living dead, but effective, as it has the effect of causing him to burst into flame. Although the poster juxtaposes the two images to give that impression, probably only coincidentally, it actually happens in the film!

The mask based on the image of the famous poster art. The same zombie showed up on the poster for the Italian gut-muncher "Hell of the Living Dead," also known as "Zombie Flesh-Eaters." He does not appear in the films, however.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite movies as well - I love the "now you see em, now you don't" zombies. And the maggots bursting through the window are great! It is one of my top three maggot featuring movies along with the rain of maggots from Suspiria and the accidental ingestion of maggots from Ghost Ship.

Fred said...


Tis true, the maggot scene is a good one, and I imagine the actress barfing during that scene was unrehearsed and real. I'd get sick too!

Another good maggot scene was in "Poltergiest" where the cameraman eats some chicken then realises it is crawling with them. And the "first rice then maggots" scene in "Lost Boys" was neat.

Anonymous said...

Ahh I had forgotten about those two but those are also very good maggot scenes. I want the AFI to do a top ten movies that feature maggots.

Fred said...


why ait? Sounds like a good theme for a future blog from you! ;)

Karswell said...

Very well researched post Fred, I'm impressed with all the great images too. And guess what I learned today? This was filmed in not only GA but also the USA! Having wtached this film easily 22 times in my life, and it being Fulci, I just automatically assumed it was filmed in Europe and just merely set in America, though I now know he filmed quite alot in the US. And that's cool you live close enough to visit the locations. Have you been to the drill shed? Also, one small nitpick--- you didn't mention the creepy ass old lady who won't stay in her coffin! What's that behind the curtain... AIEEEEE!

The Headless Werewolf said...

Deee-lightful review! I had no idea they filmed scenes in Savannah. And to show this to your mother-in-law . . . wow, I must try this!

Fred said...


The granny was a good example of the ghost just trying to freak people out, wasn't she? I mean, just lying in your kitchen, how warped is that?

Beyond said...

I'm honored you used my old humble wallpaper design for Gates of Hell/City of the Living Dead in your blog along with so many other great images.

Beyond Horror Wallpapers

Frederick said...


Thanks so much for letting me know here that came from! I am posting a link under it now leading back to your awesome wallpaper page.