‘City of the Living Dead’ (released in the US as ‘The Gates of Hell’) is one of Lucio Fulci’s best-known works, if for no other reason than the infamous “puking scene”. It is what Fulci does best – standard gore fest fare – while also improving on a lot of his other films with a standardized linear story.
Another installment in Fulci’s loosely-related Seven Gates of Hell arc, the suicide of a priest has opened one of the gates in the small town of Dunwich. A New York City psychic who has foreseen the impending apocalypse and a reporter travel to the small hamlet to try to seal the gate before All Souls Day – when they will forever be cast open, dooming the world to an armageddon of the walking dead.
Fulci stays with a more straightforward storytelling approach here, offering up a standard zombie flick, with the exception of the supernatural abilities of these particular zombies. Romero purists will rail against the seemingly psychic, teleporting zombies, but Fulci uses them to good effect: they are omnipresent and terrifying. The gore effects are well done for the period and it stands as probably the best option for fans of the gore genre, giving a lot more than some of his other “gore” films like “House by the Cemetery” or “The Beyond”.
The film does have its warts, though. Fulci is a great director but despite all of his acclaim, was never renowned for the continuity of his films or his ability to close gaps in his stories. How is a woman in New York City buried alive in the 1980’s? Why do his characters stand around waiting for gore effects to be heaped upon them? Why is a random New York tabloid reporter bothering with any of this? Worst of all, the ending falls flat on many levels, with the final seconds being so confusing that many have postulated that it was technical glitch that Fulci didn’t have the time or money to fix.
For Fulci fans, it’s a must see. Zombie, horror and gore fans are also going to want to see this. All must approach it looking to be entertained while being willing to overlook some pretty glaring flaws, though. The film showcases the best and worst of Fulci at times, but in both cases isn’t something you’ll soon forget.