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Film / City of the Living Dead

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Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead) is a 1980 Italian grindhouse horror film directed by Lucio Fulci.

In the town of Dunwich, New England, a priest commits suicide, thus opening one of the gates of hell. This causes the dead to rise and the priest's apparition to appear and haunt people around the town. The priest's suicide is detected at a seance by Mary Woodhouse (Catriona Maccoll). The gate of hell must be closed before All Saints Day, otherwise the dead around the world shall rise. Mary teams up with reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) to go the town, investigate, and close the gate.

The film would most likely be unknown but for two scenes of infamy. The first is of a girl before whom the ghost of the priest appears, causing her to vomit up her intestines whilst weeping blood. This effect reportedly required the actress to swallow several yards of sheep intestines whole... heavens above; the things one does for show business. (However, conflicting reports hold that the head consisted of a bust). The second is of a man drilling through another man's head (the latter played by Chronically Killed Actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice) with an electric drill, until the end protrudes from the other side, after he catches him sleeping with her daughter.

The film is the first in Lucio Fulci's unofficial "Gates of Hell" trilogy (with the others being The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery) and the second of four of his to feature zombies (with Zombi2 being the first and the aforementioned remaining two Gate of Hell films being the third and fourth). Also notable is the fact that it managed to escape inclusion on Britain's Video Nasties list; despite the three other films being stuck on it and despite the two above-mentioned scenes that practically begged to be cut, it's always been available in the UK.

"The tropes shall rise and walk the Earth":

  • Anti-Villain: Bob is a Type IV, if he can be considered a villain at all.
  • Anyone Can Die: The vast majority of characters appearing in the movie get killed in gruesomely over-the-top ways.
  • Artistic Licence – History / Artistic Licence – Geography: The movie keeps pointing out how the fictitious town of Dunwich is set at the same place where Salem, known for the “witch burnings”. used to be (i.e. Dunwich was built on the ruins of the abandoned Salem). However, the city of Salem, MA still exists nowadays, with a population of 41340 in 2010. Furthermore, people accused of witchcraft were executed in Salem in the past, but none of them were burned (instead most of them were hanged); however, it is possible that characters are mentioning “burning” due to their ignorance, since the movie doesn’t reveal how much of this background story told by Unreliable Narrator is true.
  • Big Bad: Father Thomas after suicide, becomes this.
  • Bloody Horror: The film involves a girl who begins bleeding from the eyes. Followed by her intestines and stomach being ejected from her mouth. The effect is... disturbingly realistic.
  • Brown Note Being: Staring at Father Thomas's restless spirit causes you to cry tears of blood before vomiting out your entire digestive tract.
  • The Cameo:
  • Date Rape Averted: The girl who vomits her intestines is making out with a boy before she sees the priest, engages in said vomiting, turns into a zombie and rips the boy's brain out.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Peter during the cemetery scene. "Good thing he didn't hang himself in Arlington."
  • Decoy Protagonist: Peter starts out as The Hero but when he and Mary reach Dunwich, he becomes a little less important and ends up getting brutally killed by an undead Sandra.
  • Disney Death: Played straight with Mary Woodhouse, who wakes up inside coffin after her supposed death.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: It's about characters trying to prevent this from happening.
  • Eye Scream: Barely subverted when Peter exhumes Mary following her premature burial; played straight, though, with the intestine-vomiting scene, when blood comes out of the victim likes tears from her eyes. Also subverted with the drill scene, which is set up as another "eyeball gag" sequence.
  • Gainax Ending: A rather unnecessary one. Mary and Gerry succeed in stopping Father Thomas' evil spirit and all the zombies die. Then they see John-John run towards them smiling and then suddenly we hear a superimposed scream with a Freeze frame implying the kid has supposedly become a zombie too despite no on-screen evidence. Apparently we got this ending because the negative for the original ending was destroyed by a cup of coffee and mounting a reshoot would have cost too much and put the behind schedule movie even further behind.
  • Gorn: Truly revolting stuff as is typical in a Fulci flick.
  • Halloween Episode: In a sense, as far as Lucio Fulci's films are concerned; given the date mentioned for a potential Zombie Apocalypse being All Saints Day, the climax takes place on Halloween.
  • Hell Gate: One of the movie's titles is The Gates of Hell.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The zombies operate like this. They're capable of teleporting and materializing out of nowhere, and have a hypnotic Brown Note ability where locking eyes with some of them will cause the victim to bleed from the eyes and sometimes puke up their own guts.
  • Idiot Ball: Poor Peter gets saddled with it by the writers at one key point. Mary, believed dead, wakes up in her coffin, after her funeral but before the coffin is buried. Peter goes to the cemetery to visit her grave. After a LONG will-he-or-won't-he hear her moment, Peter DOES hear her, and springs into action by using a pickaxe to break open her coffin WHERE HER FACE IS, and nearly puts the pickaxe through it in the process.
  • Lovecraft Country: Dunwich, New England, anyone?
  • Market-Based Title: The film was originally released in the US as The Gates of Hell. The film's German release also had it given the title Ein Zombie hing am Glockenseilnote 
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Don't be fooled by the title and poster; this isn't a big spectacular Zombie Apocalypse movie with zombies overrunning New York. Only a few opening scenes take place in New York. The zombies only infest a small country village.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: These zombies have the ability to teleport and can be killed pretty much as easily as they were to start with.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Thomas, post-mortem.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: See Decoy Protagonist.
  • Tears of Blood: Looking directly at Father Thomas' spirit causes this to happen. Used before aforementioned intestine-vomiting scene as well as scattered other places.
  • Title of the Dead
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Book of Enoch, which apparently foretell several incidents.
  • Visual Pun: The intestine-vomiting scene is probably the most horrific and nauseating literal take on the phrase "puking your guts out" in cinema.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Besides the obvious example, Sandra gives a very understandable reaction to being covered in maggots.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After hearing Mary is still alive in her coffin, Peter grabs the Idiot Ball and runs with it, using a pickaxe to break through Mary's coffin and repeatedly ALMOST slamming it right into Mary's face. While he saves her, it's a dumb move for the character to make to drive up the suspense, as it makes Peter look like an unthinking fool.