In a desolate church cemetery, Father Thomas hangs himself from an old oak tree.
Miles away in New York City, medium Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) sees the act via a seance, convulses, and drops dead from shock.
Nosing for a story, reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) attends Mary’s funeral. As the mourners trickle away, Peter lingers and Mary awakens in her coffin, alive and frantic to escape. Peter hears her scratching at the coffin lid–or thinks he does, thanks to Mary’s psychic talents–and frees her.
Mary tells Peter about her vision, and how Thomas’s suicide was a sacrifice intended to open the gates of Hell. Peter is skeptical but curious, and agrees to travel with Mary to where she believes the gate to exist, a remote New England village called Dunwich.
In Dunwich, people are starting to disappear thanks to the now undead Thomas, who claims a pair of teens in a horrific–albeit memorable–sequence. Peter and Mary arrive and connect with the few locals with enough sense and luck to stay alive. Together, they head for the cemetery, desperate to close the gate and avoid the apocalypse.
Director Lucio Fulci’s film, the first of his unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy (followed by The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery) is a blend of mystery and horror with MacColl and George trying to track down the source of her vision while Fabrizio Jovine’s Father Thomas racks up the victims in increasingly gory ways.
The supernatural aspects of the plot defy logical explanation, with Jovine appearing and disappearing at will. It’s not a matter of lazy screenwriting, but a calculated measure to show the characters battling forces they can’t possibly understand.
Combined with Fabio Frizzi’s haunting score, the resulting chaos only adds to the film’s gut-wrenching sense of dread, making this a must-see for horror fans and 80’s gore aficionados.