When you think of classic Italian-made horror films featuring gut-munching zombies and bloody onscreen dismemberment, one name primarily comes to mind: Lucio Fulci. Although the late Italian filmmaker started directing in 1959, it wasn’t until his breakthrough hit 20 years later, Zombi 2, that gorehounds worldwide began to grovel at his feet. Now, many of them declare him to be far more worthy of the “Godfather of Gore” title than his ‘60s American counterpart, Herschell Gordon Lewis.
A year after the initial Italian release of Zombi 2, Fulci began working on his second feature to focus on the walking corpse genre. Entitled Paura Nella Città Dei Morti Viventi (Fear in the City of the Living Dead ) in its native country, the film was known by many aliases in the U.S., including The Gates of Hell, Twilight of the Dead, and the more popular City of the Living Dead. It is this last title which has finally seem to stick with everyone once and for all.
Terror is about to come-a-callin’ to the sleepy rural town of Dunwich, New England. The local priest decides, “Aw, what the fuck!” and hangs himself in the cemetery, thus opening the Gates of Hell (hey, it’s in the Book of Leviticus, I think: “Should a Man of God hangeth himself in the sacred burial placeth, he will inadvertentlyeth openeth the Gates of Hell…and promptly be stoned to death for his actions” — or something like that). Soon, zombies are cruisin’ Dunwich for kicks: using their supernatural powers of teleportation, levitation, and evisceration to wreck havoc on a bunch of backwoods citizens that probably had it coming anyway.
Meanwhile, back in the civilized part of the East Coast (New York), a young psychic lass by the name of Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl, who would later work with Fulci on two more zombie classics: The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery) sees a vision of what has been unleashed in Dunwich — and promptly dies of fright. Well, everyone thinks she dies, that is. Truth is, Mary’s a’ight: she’s just a little mostly dead — but she would really honestly only be dead if it weren’t for reporter Peter Bell (the great Christopher George), who rescues her from being buried alive, and subsequently agrees to tag along with her to the City of the Living Dead.