Reimagining Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell in Zeder (1983)

Whenever a movie becomes a hit, it's guaranteed to spawn at least a handful of blatant rip-offs. However, there are rare cases when a lesser-known film appears that has clearly been influenced by a more popular movie (or movies) but takes the themes of its more well-known counterpart in a familiar but different direction, thus adding something new to the viewer's experience. For example, director Francesco Barilli was clearly inspired by Roman Polanski's work--especially Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968)--when he made The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974), yet Barilli's interpretation of the themes within Polanski's films is unique enough that Perfume feels more like a variation on Polanski's work and not an empty imitation.

With that in mind, here's my post about Pupi Avati's Zeder (1983), a horror movie that's clearly influenced by Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy: City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981). What makes Zeder so intriguing for a Fulci fan like me is that Avati approaches his film in such a way that it feels like an extension of Fulci's trilogy, even though Avati's directorial style is very different from Fulci's surreal, blood-drenched visions. Read on for my comparison between Zeder and Fulci's trilogy, with some mild spoilers.

Zeder tells the tale of Stefano (Gabriele Lavia), a writer who receives an old typewriter as a gift from his wife Alessandra (Anne Canovas). In a fit of writer's block, Stefano unspolls the typewriter's ribbon to decipher what was previously written on the machine. He discovers that the typewriter used to belong to a scientist named Paolo Zeder who posited the existence of "K-Zones", places where the rules of death do not apply and that bodies buried in such areas can come back to life. Stefano becomes obsessed with Zeder's work and eventually comes into contact with a secretive group that is continuing his research--by whatever means necessary.

Unlike Fulci, Avati handles the supernatural situation in Zeder like a mystery, with a greater emphasis on methodical investigation and the unknown than the hallucinatory and grotesque; as such, the film isn't as eerie as Fucli's trilogy or Avati's own giallo chiller, The House of the Laughing Windows (1976). Yet there are so many similarities between Zeder and the Gates of Hell movies that Fulci fans should see it at least once. For example:

* Because they can resurrect the dead and even bend the nature of reality, the K-Zones are very similar to the Gates of Hell Fulci depicted in his films.

* While Paolo Zeder is never seen clearly in the movie, his research and the impact of his exposure to a K-Zone will remind Fulci fans of Dr. Jacob Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava), the seemingly immortal madman who serves as the sentinel of his own grave in The House by the Cemetery. (Given their similar interests in the macabre, Zeder and Freudstein could also have been almuni of H.P. Lovecraft's notorious alma mater, Miskatonic University.)

* One of Zeder's followers is an ex-priest named Don Luigi Costa (Aldo Sassi). The role Costa plays in Zeder, both in terms of theme and plot, runs parallel to that of Father William Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) in City of the Living Dead.

Horror buffs who are looking for Fulci-style gore won't be satisfied by Zeder because of its restrained use of blood and guts for shock value. However, Fulci aficionados who are fascinated by his morbid depictions of the metaphysical might be interested in how Zeder puts similar subject matter in a different disturbing light.

Zeder was briefly released on video in the U.S. under the title 
Revenge of the DeadHowever, unlike what the above cover art suggests, 
Zeder is not a George Romero-style zombie apocalypse movie.


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