Thursday, September 4, 2008
Once, many, many years ago, I had a Halloween Party. I don't know how old i was but I'm pretty sure we watched Sixteen Candles that night. And i'm also pretty sure that sixteen was still a couple of years away.
I can't say why we watched Sixteen Candles..but if memory serves, it's because the previous movie fucked us up so much that we NEEDED Molly Ringwald and her petty sweet sixteen concerns to take us away from what we'd just experienced. I say petty because we'd just witnessed the gates of hell opening and unleashing images that would be seared on my brain forever. Whatever poor Molly was going through seemed pleasant and a cake walk compared to what I'd just seen.
I had definitely seen my fair share of horror films at that point-I started my career early at the ripe age of 3 or 4. I started out with Universal and Hammer and all kinds of B horror films that were shown on Saturday afternoons. But I had only seen movies edited for television for many years. At some point my grandmother got ON television (an early cable service for those of you that remember) and I began to get exposed to uncut horror films. Friday the 13th, The Howling, My Bloody Valentine, and Happy Birthday to Me are some of the standouts from that period of time. My experience of horror films exploded, and most of these films scared me to death.
A few years later, VHS rental stores began popping up and I started to see more and more films on VHS, with one of my early rental favorites being Creepshow. My sister was my most favored horror movie partner, and we spent many late night weekends while she visited devouring such favorites as One Dark Night, Halloween I and II, the Amityville Horror series, and anything else we could get our hands on. One favorite activity was to watch Jaws late at night and then go swimming in the backyard pool. Even though the odds of a hungry great white lurking in our four foot deep pool were mightily low, there was always an adrenaline rush (tinged with paranoia) when we went out into the dark water after watching our favorite shark eat people.
So by this eventful night I'm refering to, I considered myself to be a seasoned horror vet. They still scared me but I loved pushing myself to watch and be terrified. I don't know if we owned or just rented a VCR for this evening, but it was still at the point where not everyone owned one, and it was kind of a treat for everyone to come over and watch movies on TV.
I don't know who to blame for the decision. I don't recall who picked it. I only remember the horror that continued to unfold....and unfold....in front of my eyes. If I ever find out that any of my girlfriends had to go to therapy because of that night, I wouldn't be surprised. I didn't even know I was about to see my first film of a genre that I would come to know and love even more in the years to come....the Italian Horror Film.
When I saw it, it was called The Gates of Hell. Directed by the great Lucio Fulci.
it started with a priest in a cemetery who hung himself. That was enough to scare me to begin with. Little did I know we had only BEGUN. Then there is a seance- and somehow, someway, this priest's hanging causes all kinds of bad-including the 'death' of a woman who goes into a trance at the seance. (She doesn't really die-watch the movie to see the freaky buried alive scene)
All I got from the plot was -priest hangs himself-bad shit happens. VERY bad shit. Things are breaking, fires are leaping up from nowhere, scary noises going on, all this was enough to freak me out. All I could figure out was this all involved Hell and the Gates leading to it.
People started becoming zombies. there were worms and maggots and all kinds of funky nasty, bloody, slimy, decomposing things.
Then....what I could have never imagined in my wildest horror movie imaginings happened.
It just happened...and happened....and we screamed and yelled but it just kept happening...and I couldn't keep my eyes off it.
A zombie approaches a car with a young man and woman in it- he looks at the woman and her eyes begin to bleed...bad enough but then she began to foam bloody foam at the mouth.....and THEN began to vomit up her intestines and stomach. it felt like it went on for an eternity. I couldn't believe that someone actually put this on film, and yes, I was watching it.
I can't prove this, but I bet you-we rewound it.
Oh-another fun fact-this is not just an empty fake head forced to spew intestines (although there is one shot which appears to be just that) it is, shot after shot, of the ACTUAL actress letting the viscera pour out of her mouth. (I've read they used pig intestines for the shot. Fun!)
So after we recovered from that, we were treated to yet another new type of imagery -behold
The drilling of the head. Now, I'm sure with all the slasher films I'd seen up to that point, I had seen SOME person's head impaled with SOME kind of power tool or fascimle thereof. But- and here's the HUGE difference-I had never seen the Italians impale SOME person's head with SOME kind of power tool. The citizens of Italy could make shirts- Impaling Heads With Power Tools-We Do It Better, Longer, and We'll Show You The Whole Damn Thing. Don't Worry, You Won't Miss a Bloody, Gory Minute. Ok, maybe they'd need to use the back of the shirt for that one.
My point is (and I've said this before) is that with most American horror (especially mainstream) you will see the implement, the stabbing motion, the cutaway, and then the implement pulling away. With the Italians, you see the implement, and the camera FOLLOWS the implement as it makes contact and impales the victim. You'll probably even see it twisted and poked around in there for good measure. (Herschell Gordon Lewis also did this, but I hadn't been introduced to that particular love of my life yet. )
so in this fun scene, you see it ALL. I'm only surprised that they didn't have the guy open his mouth and let the viewer watch the drill pass through the back of his mouth. I'm sure if they could have figured out a way to do this, they would have.
The end of the movie was confusing- after all we'd been through, we really needed closure. But it was not to be found.
I recently bought this film. It's easily been fifteen years since I saw this film. I own most films that influenced me in childhood, so this omission was especially strange. It has to be because I was just the tiniest bit scared to witness this all again. But, because I have a fairly small collection of Italian's finest by Bava, Fulci, and Argento- this was a glaring omission that needed to be filled. And so it has.
I give you-The City of The Living Dead
I could research the difference in titles but I'm too lazy. One thing I do know is that many Italian films were for many years only available in heavily edited versions. I can attest that Gates of Hell was not edited for gore. I was hoping that maybe someone decided to cut out major plot points of the film I saw. No such luck. Even with age and a college degree on my side, the only plot synopsis I can offer still is: Priest Hangs Self. Bad shit Happens. and Happens. and Happens More.
But I faced my demons, I watched the maggots and the slime and the vomiting and the drilling scene by scene and didn't even blink. I found the film to be creepily charming in that Italian way. I loved the hokey music (GOD how I love cheesy horror movie music -it makes me feel all warm and toasty inside) and I'm glad I bought this film so I can watch it AGAIN. I enjoyed it and not just because of the nostalgia factor in revisiting this again.
I did some research on IMDB, mostly looking for pictures, and I found this gem. IMDB contains a parental warning on this movie, with a link you can click on. And nice old IMDB will tell you every reason a child shouldn't see this movie. Here is a portion of the list: (my comments are in red, the rest is copied directly from IMDB- and the typos are theirs, not mine)
We see a couple making out while in a parked car.
You're gonna wish all they did was make out.
Several mild refrences to sex and/or rape.
Some uses of the word "Sh*t" and other milder profanities.
I really HATE when people use the word 'Sh*t', it's soooooooooo offensive.
A man tends a bar. We never actually see anyone drink, but we see beer. There are also several refrences to being drunk.
No-not ACTUAL REFERENCES TO BEING DRUNK!!!!!!!!!!
There are quite a few "jump" scenes.
'Jump' scenes in a horror movie require a warning???? Aren't they pretty much considered part and parcel?
The scenes mentioned in the violence/gore catagory can be considered frightening.
The gore in this movie is quite sickening and therefore disturbing.
We see a man hang himself.
The movie has a dark, gothic tone.
Again-in a horror movie-how unusual.
A woman cries tears of blood before vomiting up her own intestines.
A man is drilled through the head.
Several zombies are stabbed with weapons.
A man hangs himself.
what slays me about this list is they take the time to mention that people talk about drinking and they may even mention sex (and for God's sake, you might see an actual beer in the movie-although nobody will be drinking it), people will be saying the dreaded 'Sh*t' word, and then they just sliiiiiiiiiiiiiide in there that a woman will be vomiting up her entire digestive system. Then they just finish the list. Like, oh by the way, yeah, it's gothic, disturbing, you might jump, and then (with covered mouth) a woman vomits up her intestines. Don't you think they could have covered any and all parental warnings by just saying: "A woman will be vomiting up her intestines after crying tears of blood. No joke. It's pretty f**king nasty. If this doesn't sound like good cinematic fun to you, you might want to rent The Lion King 2. P.S. We're not kidding'
-Love and Pig Intestines,