I never particularly considered myself a fan of Lucio Fulci until I realized that I pretty much had all of his films in my horror collection. I also never realized City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery were a “trilogy” until I saw them mentioned as the “Death Trilogy” on imdb. As is the case with many European horrors, they’ll call anything a sequel or trilogy with little reason other than the fact that all said films might have zombies in them, might feature buckets of blood, might star the same actor or actress (not as the same character) or might consist of someone getting an eye gouged out. This particular trilogy fits several of those conditions, but other than that, I couldn’t find any real thread connecting the films logically. Hell, even the individual films aren’t very logical. But this flaw is what makes them effective horrors—the fear of the unknown and the inexplicable. You get plenty of that here.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
Who needs running zombies when you can have Star Trek zombies that just beam themselves around? It doesn’t get much better than a film with teleporting undead, so City of the Living Dead is actually one hell of a freaky take on the zombie genre. It stars king of the bad 80s horror films Christopher George (of Pieces infamy). Sadly, his wife Lynda Day George is nowhere to be seen in this film. Damn. Couldn’t they just have slapped some zombie makeup on her for a cameo to keep up the couple’s nearly identical resume?
A priest hangs himself in a cemetery, thereby opening the gates of hell, which allows the dead to roam the earth. Instead, they fricking teleport? No fair! These dang zombies don’t play by the rules! There’s talk of descendants of the small town of Dunwich being Salem witch burners. There’s some ancient book. There’s a séance at which some chick dies—but then is discovered very much alive—after she’s already been buried! Man, that embalming fluid must have stung. But she’s fine (high tolerance?), and becomes the star of the remainder of this film (and the next two in the trilogy).
The goal of our small group of heroes is to close the gates of hell. But they’ll have to contend with those fricking freaky zombies who always appear in dark corners with creepy up-lighting on their decayed faces (ah, the old flashlight under the chin trick), and the suicidal priest, who always seems to be hanging around. If you see him and his noose, your eyes begin to bleed (bleeding eyes freak me out) and you literally begin to puke up your guts: one of the nastiest scenes ever. You also run the risk of having a zombie squeeze your head until your brains pop out.
Then there are the everyday town freaks who roam Dunwich. The mortician pickpockets his “clients” (who naturally get their revenge despite being dead), there’s this weird young dude who sneaks off to an abandoned house regularly to screw a blow-up doll, there’s a psychiatrist who has a close relationship with a female patient obsessed with incest. Yeesh! Maybe the solution to the problem is to just close the gates to Dunwich.
Carrying us through this nonsensical plot is some spooky atmosphere, with the town seeming to always be deserted and the streets wet, foggy, and dark. Plus, the gross out factor is way up there. There’s also gut puking and eye bleeding, there are worms smeared into a woman’s face, a maggot storm, and an incredibly real looking drill to the head. And to top it all off, although it’s not mentioned until the end of the movie, the film takes place from Halloween night into All Saints’ Day! And wait until you see the bewildering final freeze frame shot…
The Beyond (1981)
The Beyond is about a woman (played by Catriona MacColl, the chick who was buried alive in the first film), who buys an old mansion in Louisiana with hopes of making it into a hotel. Little does she know this is one of seven gates of hell (so does that mean Dunwich was another of the seven? Is this a thread of continuity?). There’s even another ancient book in this film!
The flashback opener, which takes place in 1927, could give today’s torture porn a run for its money shot. Some dude is beaten with chains, nailed to a wall, and then has some steaming concoction thrown in his face. Such great gruesomeness is rather spoiled though by the typical horrible European film musical score as his face melts! Ugh! All these late 70s/early 80s European films should be re-edited with the theme to Halloween slapped in there just to make them actually sound as creepy as they look.
More freakiness that makes no sense ensues. A plumber goes down into the basement of the house because it’s flooded, leading to one hell of an eyeball popping scene. Meanwhile, our heroine picks up some blind girl standing in the middle of the road with her dog and brings Blindy back to live with her. Blindy keeps insisting our heroine leave this house. Blindy also has eye glaze that looks suspiciously zombie-ish.
The plumber’s corpse becomes one of several collecting dust in a rather futuristic morgue type room at the hospital. It seems just anyone can wander into this room, including a little redheaded girl. I really didn’t get it. There’s a nasty detailed and close-up scene in which a bunch of tarantula’s actually eat a man’s face (okay, so it’s not the most realistic looking scene, but it can still give you the willies if you think about it too much). Then the Blindy is surrounded by zombies in the house, which is incredibly creepy and effective if you imagine what it would be like to be blind and not exactly know what is coming after you or from which direction. Luckily, she has a trusty dog to fend off the zombies. I knew there was a reason I have dogs. This is one vicious and nasty dog attack.
The film eventually takes us to the hospital when the gate to hell opens in the house. As the characters escape the house, we are treated to an incredibly effective shot of the windows filling with silhouettes as the dead escape hell. The finale in the hospital is loaded with some jump scares and great zombie action. The male character with a gun must have punched in some sort of infinite ammo code, because his little weapon pretty much never runs out, even though he’s wasting all his bullets on body parts other than zombie heads! However, he’s a perfect shot when it comes time to blow away a child. Not the most paternal guy. As our remaining survivors find themselves at the mercy of an onslaught of the undead, there’s only one possible escape route. Well I’ll be damned…
House by the Cemetery (1981)
Now this is how you start a horror movie. We’re dropped into the middle of the action as a girl is roaming one of the most awesomely haunted houses ever put to celluloid, calling for her boyfriend to come out, come out wherever he is. Her boyfriend pops in, no longer looking very fuckable (which I assume was the couple’s intention for being there), and then a knife pops in…to her head. Rather forcefully, I might add. There’s a hot 80s synth-drenched horror jingle; too bad it’s not used throughout the film. The bodies are dragged into the basement—aha! Is this a connection to The Beyond? Nah.
It is none other than Catriona MacColl who has to contend with a freaky basement, which is initially boarded up. This time around she’s a wife and mother, moving to a Boston house with her husband and child. House by the Cemetery is probably most remembered as the film with the little boy with the blond Dutch boy haircut, huge blue eyes—and one of the WORST dubbing jobs EVER. No matter what the dialogue, the kid who dubbed in the English language version sounds how I’ve always imagined the nagging kid would in those old Mommy, Mommy jokes, such as:
- Mommy, Mommy! I don’t wanna visit grandma!
Shut up and keep digging.
- Mommy, Mommy! I keep running in circles.
Shut up or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor.
- Mommy, Mommy! I don’t like tomato soup!
Shut up, we only have it once a month.
- Mommy, Mommy! Why are you pushing me towards the elevator SHAAAAAAAAAFT!
You’ll be wanting to push this kid down an elevator shaft yourself within about five minutes. There’s even a point in the film where the mom says, “Stop whining!” Gotta wonder if that was in the original foreign language version or if it was an apology to the audience, dubbed into the mother’s dialogue.
This film also features a cemetery, you know, right by the house (hence its name). In the cemetery is a yet another little redheaded girl, who tries to warn the little boy to stay out of the house after she sees a very real looking store window mannequin lose its head in a sea of blood—a mannequin that looks exactly like the little boy’s new babysitter. Are the babysitter and/or the husband somehow responsible for the bodies getting dragged into the basement? You’d think so considering the constant staring contests between the wife and both of them in the kitchen. I can’t count the amount of times a line is spoken between the trio and then we get intense close-ups of each person’s eyes as they all stare sidelong at each other. Casting more suspicion on the babysitter is the fact that she is the one who removes the boards from the basement door. Casting more suspicion on the husband is the fact that everyone in town seems to think he’s been there before, which he denies. Hm…. He sure knows how to wield a knife, as proven during a random gory scene of a bat flying up from the basement and attacking the family.
What’s so eerie about House by the Cemetery is that there’s some sort of killer/monster living in the basement claiming victims. In essence, this is pretty much a slasher film. The most frightening and suspenseful scenes take place in the basement, which allows you to forgive the annoying brat, since he’s the one who keeps repeatedly going into the basement to trigger more terror! Let’s see. When I was a kid, if I saw a bat come out of a basement and tear into my dad’s hand, watched someone’s head roll down the basement steps, was chased by a monster up the steps as I tried to escape the basement and then had to struggle out of his gnarly-handed grasp to get away, would I go back for more? Well, considering that as an adult I wouldn’t even MOVE into a house if the basement door was boarded shut, the answer would probably be NO.
Although there is no mention of gates to hell and no zombies, and despite this film having the least amount of gore of the trilogy, I’d have to say it is the creepiest because of the isolated setting of the house. The film’s premise is definitely different than that of City and The Beyond, so it seems really forced into this “trilogy.” Heck, Fulci’s Zombi would have worked better in place of this film, making it a zombie trilogy, but instead, that film was categorized as a sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in Italy, where Dawn was titled Zombi and Zombi was title Zombi 2. If only all franchises could be as simply named as Saw.
Of course, Saw was never as fun as this Trillogical of Terror.