Every religion needs its place of worship, but most religions also subscribe to the idea of a holy land. The holy land is a place of immeasurable reverence where the God (or gods) of their people can be honored in a more communal, and more dedicated fashion. Jews go to synagogues, Christians to church, and Muslims to mosques ... and inconveniently all have their holy land in the same place. For horrorphiles like me, the holy land is Austin, TX and our temple is Terror Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Every Tuesday night for the past several years, the Alamo Drafthouse has been witness to some of the greatest, the cheesiest, and the schlockiest horror films ever made. In this hallowed theater, these late night forays into madness find joyous purchase no matter what textbook definition of quality they may lack. The high priest of horror in this temple is one Zack Carlson who introduces each movie with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker and an unmatched encyclopedic knowledge. He warms up the crowd with wit and excitement to the point that the crowd can be quite frenzied by the time the reels start spinning. I feel entirely at home in this Mecca of genre love and I have decided to make it my charge to attend as many Terror Tuesdays this year as humanly possible.
Each week I will break down both the film featured and the subsequent audience reaction. For this, the first Terror Tuesday of the year, Zack has chosen Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell
Gates of Hell is about a small town in Connecticut called Dunwich where the seemingly innocent suicide of a local priest has set in motion a chain of events that could result in the destruction of mankind. It turns out the gates of hell have been opened and a whole maggot storm of weirdness has escaped. Suddenly bodies are rising from the grave, mirrors are randomly breaking, and folks are spilling their guts...orally! It is up to a group of four dopes to find the tomb of the fallen father and destroy his reanimated body before all hell truly breaks loose.
I love Fulci. His ability to create otherworldly landscapes out of exceedingly terrestrial settings is remarkable. Like Argento, he seems to strive for a heightened, dreamlike state but unlike old Dario, Fulci is more concerned with creating horrifying gore effects than arresting visuals. He is so focused on effects that sometimes the films themselves can suffer from a lack of structure. Take Gates of Hell for example; alternatively titled City of the Living Dead. To say the film has a confusing ending is to say that the Titanic hit a speed bump. It is easily the most inexplicable ending to any film of any genre I have ever seen. I don't even know that I can explain it without spoiling anything but sufficed to say, a woman goes berserk over a happy child for no reason visible to the audience.
The disappointing thing about the ending is that it sort of ruins what is otherwise a creepy, interesting, though momentarily silly tale about the end of the world. Between this film and The Beyond, Fulci seemed just as interested in the end of days as he was in the undead. He uses zombies as the heralds of doom, but the larger picture was a rapture of Biblical proportions. I felt he did a great job creating an unsettling mood as an eerie wind travels through the deserted streets and a bizarre, disembodied howling keeps everyone on edge. The zombies at the end are quite disturbing. The interesting thing abut a Fulci zombie is that he bucks the idea that you have to be able to make out all the humanoid features of the undead. The young woman zombie's eyes were about the only discernable feature, but they were so prominent under her makeup; Fulci complementing her creepiness by having her subtly appear in the corners of the screen.
Not to mention the fact that this film features a pair of Fulci's greatest kills. The esteemed Mike Bracken has already eloquently written up the drill kill so I will let him speak for that one. But the one everyone will remember from this film is the girl who throws up her own insides. Oh yes kids, this happens. The pain-staking detail employed to differentiate the different parts as they cascade from her mouth is amazing. Not only that, but it is 100% sold by the girl's boyfriend who reacts exactly the way you would expect someone seeing that to react.
Bundle all that up with the trademark syntho-score and you have a very cool film that I wish had a better ending. Quel dommage!
As you can expect with a horror crowd, there was a palpable excitement hovering over the crowd at the idea of seeing this film on the big screen. It is not often that I go into Terror Tuesday having already seen the film and even though I had seen this one about a year ago, I enjoyed it much more on the big screen. I even liked the slight warp on the film toward the end that made hideous orange blobs creep onto the screen and then vanish.
The audience erupted in laughter with every dead line read or off color remark. Zack warned us that leading man Christopher George was overly apathetic, and we latched onto that immediately; providing a whole new substratum of entertainment. This is definitely the perfect movie to kickoff a new year of Terror Tuesdays. The stationary, flaming zombies at the end were like the candles on the delicious horror cake that was Gates of Hell.
Next Week: Rawforce (82)