City of the Living Dead (1980)

I remember back in the early 1980s when this movie played the local drive-in under the title of The Gates of Hell for something like three straight months and accompanied by the greatest poster ever. Watching it again all these years later, I still found this to be an enjoyable ride with a pleasingly ample supply of gooey special effects. Plus the DVD cover mimics the incredible poster and whenever I doubted the movie was indeed awesome, I just looked at the front of the DVD to remind myself that it was!

A psychic (Mary) dies during a séance following a vision of ashen-faced Father Thomas committing suicide in a graveyard. The police are called in and their investigation consists of ridiculing the surviving participants of the séance by rattling off their entire criminal history to them!

Since this is a death involving a psychic and a priest that has hanged himself, you’ve got to expect a little supernatural hijinks at the crime scene. We get that when these balls of fire shoot up in the air near the dead woman. Try putting that in your report, Officer Jerkface!

Outside the apartment building the requisite nosy reporter shows up and starts nosing around. The reporter, Peter, is played by Christopher George. He’s best described as a poor man’s George Segal, squinting a lot, making smart comments, and generally being a doubting Thomas all the while going along with everything that happens.

He doesn’t get any information at the crime scene, so he checks out the cemetery where Mary is buried. After exchanging some witty banter with the no-account gravediggers he hangs around until he hears what sounds like screaming. Screaming that sounds like it’s coming from Mary’s grave!

As should be done with all psychics, Mary has been buried alive! Peter grabs a pick ax kept on the cemetery grounds for just such emergencies and busts her out of her casket in a fairly suspenseful sequence.

Meanwhile over in the little town of Dunwich, strange things are happening. A mirror in a bar cracks and then the walls crack and fog starts to seep out of the opening, sending the customers hastily back to their own trailers and leaving the bar owner to bemoan the lack of craftsmanship in modern day construction.

Back in New York, Mary tells Peter that she had a vision of this priest killing himself and that by doing so he’s opened up the gates of Hell, themselves! And they’ve only got three days to get to Dunwich to close the gates!

Peter immediately recognizes this story as complete and utter hogwash. So he immediately agrees to drive Mary around in his really ugly, beat up, blue station wagon and help her try to find Dunwich.

The only problem is that neither one of them has any idea where Dunwich is, because it isn’t on any map!

I found this a little hard to believe because we would learn later in the movie that Dunwich is located in Dunwich County of all places, it has a police force, a radio station, a bar, a mental health counselor, a funeral home, and of course a graveyard. Plus it’s built on an infamous site that most people in the area would be familiar with – Salem!

By the time they get to Dunwich though, the dead priest is running amok, chicks are vomiting up intestines, guys are getting their heads ripped open, and parents are being killed by their already dead daughter! Even the local deviant is having his head impaled by a drill! Why, if even our mentally challenged sex offenders aren’t safe, civilization itself is surely already doomed!

After a freak maggot storm that the Weather Channel failed to warn them about, a trip to the cemetery results in an underground showdown and the completely anticipated non-ending that leads you to believe maybe the screen door to the gates of Hell hasn’t gotten shut all the way.

The story really makes no sense, from a psychic having a vision that the Gates of Hell would open upon the death of the priest, to them not knowing where Dunwich was, to finding it anyway, to not having any idea how to close the Gates of Hell once they got there, to the supposedly shocking, but utterly nonsensical finale.

City of the Living Dead leaves one with the impression that director Lucio Fulci (The Beyond, The House By the Cemetery) had some kick ass death scenes in mind, then cobbled together the barest outline of a story to hang those scenes on. To the extent that that was the intention, the film is an unqualified and upchucking success.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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