Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lucio ad nauseum

Has it really been a year since my last post? It has! So much to catch up on! Let's see...I had a birthday! And...that's pretty much it. If you're wondering what manner of eldritch incantation finally awakened me from my ancient slumber, it was none other than the Final Girl Film Club pick for this month, to wit - "The Gates of Hell" (AKA "City of the Living Dead") Great choice, Stacie. Just for that, here's an animated GIF just for you.

Who can name all four of those iconic broads?

Anyway, for the sake of those unfamiliar with the basic plot of GoH, here's the rundown: during an ill-considered séance, a woman (Catriona MacColl) named Mary Woodhouse ((not to be confused with Mary Whitehouse, bellicose British busybody, distinguished Doctor Who detractor and all-around Anglian alarmist) clairvoyantly witnesses a priest's suicide in the churchyard of a New England town called Dunwich. The shock of the vision triggers morbid catatonia, so before anyone can even wipe the drool from her chin, she's pronounced dead and without so much as a by-your-leave (or a post-mortem), is planted six feet under. Fortunately for Mary, a nosy reporter (Christopher George) happens by before her dirt nap turns permanent. At the behest of her magnificently coiffured medium (think Rhea Perlman as SHAFT), Mary and Peter travel to New England with some vaguely-articulated plans of closing a gateway to the City of the Dead.

This old collar is dying for a little accessorizing...

Meanwhile, in Dunwitch we meet some of the locals, none of whom are particularly interesting except Bob, the town pariah and pervert (played to the squirrely hilt by Italian splatter mainstay Giovanni Radice). We learn that the town's ancestors were witch hunters (a plot point that adds up to zero, btw), and that supernatural goings-on are definitely afoot.


It doesn't take long before the town's population dwindles dramatically thanks to the murderous spectre of the dead priest, or in Bob's case, a drill through the face via industrial lathe.

Bob, getting some much-needed colour in his cheeks.

When Peter and Mary (Paul probably figured that leaving on a jet plane was a prudent course of action. Well played, Paul) FINALLY arrive in Dunwich following an unbelievably leisurely road-trip, the dead are a-walkin' and the maggots are a-flyin'. Seriously, Fulci interrupts one of the few moments of essential exposition with a whirlwind of WORMS. We're talking Cloudy With A Chance of Maggots here. Damn, if only today's directors had the clout and/or nerve to glue live squirming maggots to the faces of their four principal actors. I can almost hear Fulci instructing his crew in his thick Italian accent "Worms first! Actors second! Story last!"

Ultimately, the remaining characters band together and come up with a plan to find the final resting place of the priest, dig up his body, and do something to it in order to close the hell-gate. It's never made very clear, and frankly the whole grave-desecration thing seems counterintuitive in regards to closing infernal portals and such, but what the hell do I know? I'm a Unitarian. I'll not spoil the ending, suffice it to say that a) this is a Fulci flick, and b) by the time the credits roll. there's scarcely a zombie in Dunwich with an empty tummy.

Overall, one helluva great movie. I'm not being sentimental here, either; the f/x sequences are show-stoppers, the soundtrack and ambient sounds are unsettling and often way OTT (at various points, the hooting of a Kookaburra!), the plot. thin and incidental, moves along at a brisk pace, and the actors emote gamely, though the dubbing can be pretty jarring. The shambling undead are back in fine form here, too. Some of them teleport, which really cuts down on the shambling time, and decreases your odds of outwalking 'em exponentially. One spry cadaver, violating about a dozen Zombie Union rules, actually jumps down Jackie Chan-style from atop a thirty-foot fence. Totally badass.

They say Fulci unofficially counted Gates of Hell as the first entry in a potential series known to fans as the "Seven Gates Trilogy". The follow-up was "The Beyond" released a year later in 1981, but a third movie sadly never materialized. When people talk about this director's work, the time period under discussion usually centers around the early eighties in general, and four films in particular. I've made a handy little comparison chart which shows some commonalities between the "Big Four", and how they stack up. Everyone has their favorites, obviously, so there are no "winners" here, except you, dear reader. For your elucidation I present the Fun Fulci Factsheet. (Humor me and click it.)

So many common elements! Obviously, the primary link is Catriona MacColl, who starred in all but Zombi. She makes for a fiesty, albeit oft-overlooked Final Girl. And then there's Lucio himself, who brought all these wonderful gutmunching epics to life. When the dead do rise (and they will, dammit), I hope Fulci picks up right where he left off...

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