... aka: Ein Zombie hing am Glockenseil (Zombie Hung on a Bell Rope)
... aka: Fear in the City of the Living Dead
... aka: Frayeurs (Fears)
... aka: Gates of Hell, The
... aka: Pater Thomas (Father Thomas)
... aka: Zombiernes by (Zombie City)
In a small New England town, priest Father William Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself in a cemetery. Meanwhile, in New York City, psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) and some of her colleagues are having a séance. Mary has visions of the suicide and of a zombie rising from the grave, freaks out, breaks the link and keels over onto the floor dead. When police show up at the scene, they're told she was scared to death. Not buying into the story, wisecracking journalist Peter Bell (Christopher George) decides to look into matters. He goes to the cemetery, rescues Mary from being buried alive when she miraculously springs back to life and then accompanies her to a friend's apartment to learn all about a prophecy contained in the Book of Enoch, a religious text written over 4000 years ago. According to the book, the gates of hell will open somewhere in a small town and mankind will be wiped out because no dead body will ever be able to rest in peace again. The only remedy to the situation is closing the gates before All Saint's Day.
Back in Dunwich, strange things are afoot. Winds are atypically strong, the town is enveloped in a cloud of “dust” (fog), windows and mirrors shatter on their own, walls crack open and sometimes bleed and cute little kittens attack their owners. Even worse, the dead priest has returned from the grave and now has supernatural powers that he doesn't hesitate using against the townsfolk, who are rumored to be descendants of “Salem witch burners.” He starts out by force feeding pretty young Emily (Antonella Interlenghi) a mouthful of worms and muck. During the film's most memorably gross bit, he appears before a pair of necking teens and squeezes the brains right out of the guy's head after making his girl puke up all of her internal organs. Others disappear or start turning up dead and the recently deceased return to life and add to the army of the undead. At a mortuary, an old lady kills a thieving mortician. Emily returns as a pizza-faced zombie to haunt her parents and kid brother. And so on and so on.
Since Mary saw “Dunwich” written on a tombstone in one of her visions, she knows just where to go. Peter, despite his skepticism, decides to tag along. I'd like to say the two are in a big hurry to get there considering a zombie apocalypse and the fate of all mankind life is at stake. But nope. With just 48 hours to find the town (which isn't even on a map), the two decide to flirt, act casual about the whole ordeal and even take a detour to sample some fine regional cuisine. Getting directions from another priest in a nearby town, the two finally make it to their destination, but not until many have died and everything's pretty much gone to (literal) hell. Our heroes eventually team up with town shrink Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and one of his patients, neurotic painter Sandra (Janet Agren), in an effort to close the gates. The four get showered with maggots at one point and the big finale takes place in an underground tomb and some catacombs.
This is one of the key titles on Fulci's filmography that helped turn him into a cult director during the early days of home video. Like most of the director's other works, it drags at times (particularly around the midway point), some scenes work better than others and there are about 1001 zoom shots into eyeballs, but it's also atmospheric, gloomy and gory. Nicely shot by Sergio Salvati (who shot all of the director's films around this time), this also boasts an excellent score from Fabio Frizzi and a more straightforward and less confusing story line (co-written by Dardano Sacchetti) than some of Fulci's other efforts.
Italian horror / exploitation fans should recognize much of this cast. Aside from those already mentioned, small roles are also played by future director Michele Soavi, Fulci regular Daniela Doria (who almost always gets the best death scene in these things), Venantino Venantini, Luciano Rossi, Robert Sampson and Fulci himself as a pathologist. Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka “John Morghen”) has a memorable bit as the slow-witted town outcast whose girlfriend is an inflatable doll and who may or not be a sex predator. He also meets a memorable demise when the father of one of his supposed victims pushes a huge electric drill through his head (an excellent effect). American porn actor Michael Gaunt also turns up playing a gravedigger in one scene alongside Percy Pirkanen of Cannibal Holocaust fame.
Here in America, this was picked up by Motion Picture Marketing, who wanted to release it as Twilight of the Dead with ad art copying Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) until they were served a cease and desist order. It was then re-titled The Gates of Hell, great new posters were made and it played theaters unrated and uncut in 1983. On home video, it was issued the following year by Paragon, also unrated and under the same title. Later VHS, DVD and BR releases (from Anchor Bay, Arrow, Blue Underground, etc.) used the City of the Living Dead title. The full running time of the uncut version is 93 minutes, though some countries (like Australia) received a shorter cut missing some of the gore.