CC: Gates of Hell Trilogy

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Friday, January 24, 2014

CC: Gates of Hell Trilogy

We will be wandering away from H.P. Lovecraft proper and into the world of Lovecraft-ish.  Forgotten religions, creatures from beyond and overwhelming feelings of despair and insanity.  No one outside the Mythos authors understand the core of a Mythos story better than Lucio Fulci.

Lucio Fulci (17 June 1927 – 13 March 1996) was an Italian film director, screenwriter and actor.  He is perhaps best known for his gore films, including Zombi 2 (1979) and The Beyond (1981), although he made films in genres as diverse as giallo, western and comedy.  Fulci is known as the "Godfather of Gore", a title also given to Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Fulci was born in Rome, Italy on 17 June 1927.  After studying medicine in college and being employed for a time as an art critic, Fulci opted for a film career first as a screenwriter, then later as a director, working initially in the comedy field.  In the early to mid-1960s, Fulci directed around 18 Italian comedies, many starring the famous Italian comedy team Franco and Ciccio.  Most of these early films did not enjoy wider distribution in English-speaking countries, and are generally not available in English.

In 1969, he moved into the thriller arena, directing gialli (such as A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and The Psychic) and spaghetti westerns (such as Massacre Time and Four of the Apocalypse) that were both commercially successful and controversial in their depiction of violence and religion.  Some of the special effects in Lizard involving mutilated dogs in a vivisection room were so realistic, Fulci was dragged into court and charged with animal cruelty, until he showed the artificial canine puppets (created by special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi) to the judge and explained that they weren't real animals.

The first film to gain him actual notoriety in his native country, Don't Torture a Duckling, combined scathing social commentary with the director's soon-to-be-trademark graphic violence.  Fulci had a Catholic upbringing and referred to himself as a Catholic.  Despite this, some of his movies (such as Beatrice Cenci and Don't Torture a Duckling) have been viewed as severely anti-Catholic.  In one of his films, a priest is depicted as a homicidal child killer, while in another film, a priest commits suicide by hanging himself in a cemetery and is reincarnated as a murderous demon.

In 1979, he achieved his international breakthrough with Zombi 2 (aka Zombie), a violent zombie film that was marketed in European territories as a sequel to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978).  He quickly followed it up with several other tales of horror and the supernatural, many also featuring shambling, maggot-infested zombies which were common horror film fodder at the time.  His features released from 1979 through 1983 (most of them scripted by famed Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti) were described by some critics as being among the most violent and gory films ever made.  City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The Black Cat (1981), The New York Ripper (1982) and Manhattan Baby (1982) were among his biggest hits, all of which featured extreme levels of on-screen blood and cruelty.


City of the Living Dead (1980)

  • Original Title: Paura nella città dei morti viventi
  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed: Lucio Fulci
  • Produced:
    • Lucio Fulci 
    • Giovanni Masini 
    • Robert E. Warner
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Inspiration) 
    • Lucio Fulci (Story and Screenplay) 
    • Dardano Sacchetti (Story and Screenplay)
  • Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Luca Venantini, Michele Soavi, Venantino Venantini
  • Music: Fabio Frizzi
  • Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
  • Editing:
    • Edward Brizio 
    • Vincenzo Tomassi
  • Studio:
    • Dania Film 
    • Medusa Distribuzione 
    • National Cinematografica
  • Distributed:
    • Medusa Distribuzione  
    • Motion Picture Marketing  
    • Paragon Video Productions  
    • VCI Home Video  
    • Anchor Bay Entertainment  
    • Blue Underground  
    • Avo Film Edizioni  
    • Embassy Home Entertainment  
    • New Vision  
    • Number One Video  
    • Pacesetter Video  
    • Threat Theatre
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date:
    • 11 August 1980 (Italy) 
    • 1 May 1983 (USA)
  • Running Time: 93 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language:
    • Italian 
    • English

City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi [English translation: Fear in the City of the Living Dead], also known as The Gates of Hell) is a 1980 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci.  It is the first installment of the unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy which also includes The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. Fulci makes an uncredited cameo appearance as Dr. Joe Thompson in the film.

After Father William Thomas hangs himself in a cemetery, the gates of Hell are opened.  Zombies with the abilities of super strength, teleportation and levitation appear and start killing off people in a remote town.  Psychic Mary Woodhouse appears to die of fright during a séance, and is buried – only to revive, buried alive, in her own coffin. Investigating reporter Peter Bell, who is intrigued by the case, is present at the grave-site and rescues her – only to learn it is all fated as part of a prophecy in the Book of Enoch1.  The death of the priest is only the beginning, and they both must travel to the rural town of Dunwich, New England and close the portal to Hell before All Saints Day, or the spirits of the dead will overtake the earth.

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, City of the Living Dead currently has an approval rating of 55%, and is certified "rotten".  Allmovie wrote that while the film "suffers from the same shortcomings present in much of Fulci's other horror films", "City of the Living Dead benefits from Fulci's ability to create and sustain an intensely creepy atmosphere", though ultimately calling the film "a dry run for the blend of graphic shocks and surrealism atmosphere that Lucio Fulci would perfect with The Beyond."  Time Out called the film "laughably awful", though "with its nonsensical 'plot' randomly constructed according to the illogic of fear, and its grotesque emphasis on physical mutability, fragmentation and decay, it could just conceivably be the sort of disreputable movie the surrealists would have loved."


The Beyond (1981)

  • Original Title: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà
  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed: Lucio Fulci
  • Produced: Fabrizio De Angelis
  • Written:
    • Dardano Sacchetti (Story) 
    • Dardano Sacchetti (Screenplay) 
    • Giorgio Mariuzzo (Screenplay) 
    • Lucio Fulci (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni De Nava, Al Cliver, Michele Mirabella, Gianpaolo Saccarola, Maria Pia Marsala, Laura De Marchi
  • Music:
    • Fabio Frizzi 
    • Walter E. Sear
  • Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
  • Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
  • Studio: Fulvia Film
  • Distributed:
    • Aquarius Releasing 
    • Thriller Video 
    • Astro 
    • Grindhouse Releasing 
    • Medusa Distribuzione 
    • Rolling Thunder Pictures
    • Anchor Bay Entertainment 
    • Diamond Entertainment Group 
    • KOCH International 
    • Lamberto Forni Film 
    • SlingShot Entertainment 
    • TGG Direct
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date:
    • 29 April 1981 (Italy) 
    • 1 March 1983 (USA)
  • Running Time: 87 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language:
    • Italian 
    • English

The Beyond (Italian: L'aldilà, also released as Seven Doors of Death) is a 1981 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci.  The second film in Fulci's unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy (along with City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery), The Beyond has gained a cult following over the decades, in part because of the film's gore-filled murder sequences, which had been heavily censored when the film was originally released in the United States in 1983.

In 1927, Louisiana's Seven Doors Hotel is the scene of a vicious murder as a lynch mob crucifies and pours quicklime upon an artist named Schweick, whom they believe to be a warlock.  The artist's murder opens one of the seven doors of death, which exist throughout the world and allow the dead to cross into the world of the living. Several decades later, a young woman from New York inherits the hotel and plans to re-open it for business.  Her renovation work activates the hell portal, and soon she and a local doctor find themselves having to deal with the living dead, the ghost of a blind girl who seeks to get them to leave the house, a mystic tome called the Book of Eibon2 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 Schweick, who has returned as a malevolent, indestructible corpse, apparently in control of the supernatural forces.

All hope is lost by the end, as the hero and heroine find themselves transported impossibly from a hospital stairway back to the hotel's basement. They enter a wasteland that Schweick was seen painting at the beginning of the film. After wandering around amidst fog and lifeless mummified bodies, the two go blind and fade into oblivion.

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Beyond received positive reviews by 61% of 18 reviews; the average rating was 6.2/10.  Allmovie called the film a "surreal and bloody horror epic" and labeled it "Italian horror at its nightmarish extreme".  Time Out, on the other hand, called it "a shamelessly artless horror movie whose senseless story – a girl inherits a spooky, seedy hotel which just happens to have one of the seven doors of Hell in its cellar – is merely an excuse for a poorly connected series of sadistic tableaux of torture and gore."  Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film half a star out of four, writing, "The movie is being revived around the country for midnight cult showings. Midnight is not late enough."  An eye-gouging setpiece early in the film was rated #60 on Bravo Television's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.


The House by the Cemetery (1981)

  • Original Title: Quella villa accanto al cimitero
  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed: Lucio Fulci
  • Produced: Fabrizio De Angelis
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Inspiration) 
    • Elisa Briganti (Story) 
    • Lucio Fulci (Screenplay) 
    • Giorgio Mariuzzo (Screenplay) 
    • Dardano Sacchetti (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Doria, Gianpaolo Saccarola, Carlo De Mejo, Kenneth A. Olsen, Elmer Johnsson
  • Music: Walter Rizzati
  • Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
  • Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
  • Studio: Fulvia Film
  • Distributed:
    • Almi Pictures 
    • Levy Films 
    • Anchor Bay Entertainment 
    • Vestron Video 
    • Diamond Entertainment Group 
    • St. Clair Vision 
    • Avid Home Entertainment 
    • Blue Underground 
    • Mill Creek Entertainment 
    • Miracle Pictures 
    • Reel Media International 
    • TGG Direct
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date:
    • 14 August 1981 (Italy) 
    • 1 March 1984 (USA)
  • Running Time: 87 minutes
  • Country: Italy
  • Language: Italian

The House by the Cemetery is a 1981 Italian supernatural horror film directed by Lucio Fulci.  It is the third installment of the unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy which also includes City of the Living Dead and The Beyond.  Its plot revolves around a series of murders taking place in a New England home–a home which happens to be hiding a particularly gruesome secret within its basement walls.  Themes and motifs from popular horror films such as The Shining, The Amityville Horror and Frankenstein are readily on display.  This movie made the infamous video nasty list in the United Kingdom3.

A woman is in an abandoned house looking for her boyfriend.  After she discovers his body, she is stabbed in the head, and her body is dragged through a cellar door.

In New York City, Bob and his parents, Norman and Lucy Boyle, are moving.  Norman's ex-colleague, Dr. Peterson, who murdered his mistress before committing suicide, was the previous owner.  The Boyles are to stay there, whilst Norman researches old houses.  As his mother packs, Bob looks at a photograph of a house and notices a girl in it.  In New Whitby, Boston, Bob waits in his parents' car while they collect keys.  The girl from the photograph appears across the street.  The girl, Mae, whom only Bob can see, warns him to stay away.  In the real estate office, Mrs. Gittelson is annoyed when her colleague hands the couple "the Freudstein" keys.  She insists it is called "Oak Mansion".  Gittelson promises to find a babysitter.

Oak Mansion is in a poor state of repair.  The cellar door is locked and nailed shut.  A woman arrives and introduces herself as Ann, the babysitter.  That night, Norman hears noises and finds Ann unblocking the cellar door.  The next day, Norman goes to the library to peruse Peterson's materials.  The assistant librarian, Daniel Douglas, informs Norman that Peterson conducted private research at the house.  He studied records of area disappearances and other demographic data.

Mae shows Bob a tombstone on the grounds marked "Mary Freudstein" and says she is not really dead.  Indoors, Lucy finds the tombstone of "Jacob Tess Freudstein".  When Norman returns, he reassures her that some old houses have indoor tombs, because of the hard wintry ground.  Norman opens the cellar door and walks down the stairs only to be attacked by a bat, which he stabs.  Spooked, the family drives down to the estate office and demands to be re-housed, but are told it will be few more days before they can move.

While the Boyles are at hospital to treat Norman's injuries from the bat, Gittelson arrives at the house to tell them of a new property.  Letting herself in, she stands by the Freudstein tombstone, which cracks apart, pinning her ankle.  A figure emerges, stabs her in the neck with a fireplace poker, and drags her into the cellar.

The next morning, Lucy finds Ann cleaning a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.  Ann eludes Lucy's questions about the stain.  Over coffee, Norman tells Lucy that he's discovered that Freudstein was a Victorian surgeon who conducted illegal experiments.  Norman must travel to New York to research Freudstein.  On the way, Norman drops by the library and finds a cassette of Peterson, which explains Freudstein killed his family.

Ann goes to the cellar looking for Bob, but Freudstein decapitates her after slashing her throat.  Bob sees Ann's head, and exits screaming.  Lucy refuses to believe Bob's tale about Ann.  That evening, Bob returns to the cellar looking for Ann.

Lucy hears Bob's cries and tries to open the cellar door.  When she cannot open the door, Norman returns and attacks it with an axe.  The rotting hands of Freudstein appear and restrain Bob.  One axe blow chops off the monster's hand, and he staggers away, holding Bob.

The cellar contains mutilated bodies, surgical equipment and a slab.  Freudstein is a living corpse with rotting flesh.  Norman tells Lucy the 150-year-old Freudstein lives by using his victims' parts to regenerate blood cells. Norman attacks Freudstein, but the ghoul twists the axe away.  He grabs a knife off a tray and stabs Freudstein.

Freudstein picks up Norman and rips his throat out.  Lucy and Bob climb a ladder leading to the cracked tombstone.  Lucy strains to shift the stone, but Freudstein grabs her.  Freudstein kills Lucy by ramming her head into the concrete floor.  As Freudstein advances up the ladder, Bob strains to escape.  Suddenly, Bob is yanked upwards and finds Mae.  With Mae is her mother, Mary Freudstein, who urges them to leave.  Freudstein leads Mae and Bob down the wintry grove into a netherworld of ghosts and sadness.

 

Notes:

1. The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish religious work, traditionally ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah.  It is not part of the biblical canon as used by Jews, apart from Beta Israel.  It is regarded as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, but not by any other Christian group.  The older sections (mainly in the Book of the Watchers) are estimated to date from about 300 BC, and the latest part (Book of Parables) probably was composed at the end of the 1st century BC.

2. The Book of Eibon, or Liber Ivonis or Livre d'Eibon, is attributed to Clark Ashton Smith.  It appears in a number of Lovecraft's stories, such as "The Haunter of the Dark" (Liber Ivonis), "The Dreams in the Witch House" (Book of Eibon),"The Horror in the Museum" (Book of Eibon) and "The Shadow Out of Time" (Book of Eibon).  The book is supposed to have been written by Eibon, a wizard in the land of Hyperborea.  It was an immense text of arcane knowledge that contained, among other things, a detailed account of Eibon's exploits, including his journeys to the Vale of Pnath and the planet Shaggai, his veneration rituals of Zhothaqquah (Eibon's patron deity), and his magical formulae—such as for the slaying of certain otherworldly horrors.  Unfortunately, only one complete fragment of the original is known to exist, scattered in different places of our world, though there are translations in English, French, and Latin—Liber Ivonis is the title of the Latin translation.

3. Video nasty was a colloquial term in the United Kingdom coined by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) to refer to a number of films distributed on video cassette in the early 1980s that were criticized for their violent content by the press, social commentators, and various religious organizations.  These video releases were not brought before the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), which could have censored or banned many of the films, due to a loophole in film classification laws.  As a result, this produced a glut of potentially censorable video releases, which led to public debate concerning the availability of these films to children due to the unregulated nature of the market.

 

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