Showing posts with label lucio fulci. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lucio fulci. Show all posts

Sep 20, 2020

HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981)

Second only to Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci is likely Italy’s most infamous and highly regarded director of horror, murder, and the macabre. Though Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling is considered to be the director’s masterpiece, it never achieved the same amount of adoration as Argento’s own masterpiece, Suspiria. Having said that, the bulk of each director’s filmography has very different goals. While Argento was more interested in sexualized murder-mysteries, Fulci, though his earlier work explored similar material, eventually became indebted to the “monster” sub-genre. Perhaps best known as having directed the famous unofficial Dawn of the Dead sequel Zombie, he also helmed what’s known as the unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy. Not quite zombie movies, City of the Living Dead aka The Gates of Hell (1980), The Beyond (1981), and House by the Cemetery (1981) tread familiar ground about a remote or infamous location concealing a literal doorway to hell that becomes inadvertently open, unleashing sentries of the dead to kill in extremely gruesome ways. This theme and the presence of lead Catriona MacColl in all three entries are the sole ties that bind them together, along with Fulci’s unrelenting dedication to executing the goriest and most surreal deaths you’re likely to see in Italian horror.

As usual with “trilogies,” every fan has his or her own favorite (I’ve always been partial to City of the Living Dead, even with its hilariously nonsensical and unfinished ending), so I honestly don’t know where House by the Cemetery lands with fans. I do know that it’s among the director’s most unintentionally amusing, mostly thanks to the character of Bob (Giovanni Frezza), an unnaturally cherubic looking young child dubbed in post-production by what sounds suspiciously like a grown woman putting on a “kid’s” voice. A line of dialogue as simple as “My name is Bob” shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but it’s part and parcel with how charmingly clumsy all of House by the Cemetery is. Each film in the trilogy isn’t known for its concrete and fluid storytelling (The Beyond is downright befuddling), and House by the Cemetery continues the trend by presenting a story that somehow feels both incomplete and overstuffed, seemingly propelled by the movie operating by its own rules. Zombies, ghosts, potential and otherworldly co-conspirators – Fulci is ready and willing to throw them all against the wall to see what sticks – if it does: great, and if it doesn’t: whatever. This is and always has been the Italian way: directors feeling more indebted to atmosphere and style than presenting an air-tight story with every t crossed and i dotted; so long as there is forward momentum that eventually leads the audience to the conclusion, even if they stumble through the dark for most of their journey, then that’s good enough.

As far as generating genuine terror, there are moments that work as intended, and sometimes, it would seem, in spite of the flick’s clumsiness. None of it ever makes much sense, like young Mae (Silvia Collatina) hallucinating walking nightmares of headless, bloody mannequins or the extended bat attack that goes on forever. When Bob has his final-act encounter with the walking terror that haunts his new country house, the sequence goes on for so long that the action turns from suspense to tedium before turning back to suspense again, and it’s because Fulci reinvents the sequence with added horrific imagery during a chase scene that is already horrific enough. (I’m just speculating, but this sequence seems to have informed how James Wan directed one of the creepier scenes in The Conjuring, featuring Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren cowering from a hanging specter in a farmhouse cellar.) Also helping the scary agenda: Italian horror has never shied away from not just gore, but from committing on-screen taboos. Children aren’t safe from their film’s respective boogeyman threats, and neither are the lead characters whom we are brainwashed to believe that just because their names are first in the opening credits that they’ll walk away terrified but relatively unscathed. Anyone can bite it at any time, and when it comes to Fulci, everyone normally does.

Italian films, especially horror films, have their own look, feel, and complete disregard for a cogent story. Because of this, the style is upped significantly to at-times overbearing degrees. Characters rattle off more extraneous dialogue than is necessary; the camerawork, though fluid and beautiful even when capturing moments of the grotesque, can sometimes come off as excessive. Take that, add in all the aforementioned gore, and there you go: Italian horror. There’s nothing like it, and that’s both good and bad. House by the Cemetery, for better or worse, is the prime example of that.

House by the Cemetery is now available in beautiful 4K UHD and 3-Disc Blu-ray editions.

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Jul 7, 2020

ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH (1989)


Zombi 4: After Death began life simply as After Death, which explored similar ground but was otherwise completely unconnected to the Zombi series. But, in keeping with the Italian horror tradition, producers shoehorned it into the Zombi series in hopes of making a few more shekels.

Zombi 4 comes to you courtesy of Claudio Fragasso, screenwriter of Zombi 3, but who is most known (and infamous) to American audiences as being the co-writer/director of Troll 2. (I can’t state I’ve seen every Fragasso film, but the ones I have offer a very specific kind of entertainment. Troll 2 isn’t an exception to that rule, but more like an indicator of what a Fragasso film looks and sounds like.) As you watch Zombi 4, it’s clear that the filmmakers were going for something different, as it actually feels more in line (at least at first) with another popular Italian horror franchise, Demons, than the Zombi series. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some pretty lengthy scenes of zombie carnage with ghouls getting their entire heads exploded all while doing the slow-moving, dead-grunting thing, but the film’s opening deals with voodoo priests, hellish concubines, and mythological aspects, offering a bit more gimmickry beyond just “oh fuck, zombies,” which had been primarily the driving force of the series up to that point. (Zombi 3 played around with scientific experimentation being the reason behind the resurrection of the dead, but this whole subplot honestly feels like it’s going down in an entirely different movie, and in Zombi 4 it goes largely ignored beyond one line of dialogue.)


The plot of Zombi 4 is also more streamlined and coherent than the previous, but there’s also not a whole lot of substance, either. Characters end up in a place where they shouldn’t be, get stranded, and begin a fight for their lives as legions of ghouls begin unearthing and very very very slowly coming at them. Continuity is also insanely out the window, not just in terms of logic (characters transport from one environment to another with no explanation as to where they are or how they got there), but also in terms of flatout recklessness. For instance, one character (played by gay porn star Jeff Stryker) bellows that the only way to put the zombies down is to shoot them in the head; however, a little later, he sprays some automatic bullets into the chests of half a dozen ghouls and brings them down, anyway.

Zombi 4 is only slightly less insane than its predecessor, but believe me — that hardly has an effect on its overall level of enjoyment, which is damn near in line. The gore remains, as does the bad dubbing, worse dialogue, and the overall sense of “what IS this?” you’ll be frequently asking yourself. The assault rifle action hardly ever lets up, and when it does, there’s some bad bad dialogue to fill the void. (“When a man’s afraid he’s gonna die, there’s nothing he wants more than a woman by his side…and I want YOU.” ) That the zombies also talk and even use weapons (like the aforementioned assault rifles) only add to the nutsness on which Zombi 4 mostly depends to be worth a damn.

It also has a hell of a soundtrack, featuring tremendous ‘80s synth goodness by composer Al Festa, along with the rocking Zombie 4 anthem "Living After Death," which would have sounded right at home in Rocky 4, had Rocky 4 been a zombie movie.

If you’re in the mood for a curious and somewhat introspective take on Italian zombie horror, Fulci’s Zombie/Zombi 2 seems like the most obvious choice. But if you’re in the mood for something crazier, by all means, skip that one and jump right to Zombi 3 and Zombi 4: After Death. Fans of nutso Italian horror like Demons, StageFright, and Troll 2 (yep, it counts) are about to fill the Zombie voids in their lives they never knew they had.


Jul 6, 2020

ZOMBIE 3 (1988)


Let’s catch you up on the Italian Zombi series, which currently holds steady at four entries, despite the last chapter being titled Zombie 5: Killing Birds.

It all began with George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was released in Italy under the title Zombi. Following that, horror director Lucio Fulci (The Beyond) made his own unrelated undead ghoul flick, which was released as Zombie in the U.S., but as Zombi 2 in Italy, therefore suggesting it was a sequel to Romero’s film. (It wasn’t.)

Following, Fulci made Zombi 3, Claudio Fragasso made Zombi 4: After Death, and Claudio Lattanzi made Zombi 5: Killing Birds, though, according to that latter’s Wiki page, “…zombies only feature in the last half hour of the movie, and only one character is attacked by birds.”

Meanwhile still, the Zombi films were released in Britain under the Zombie Flesh Eater moniker, which ejected Dawn of the Dead from the canon and reset the numbering scheme (Zombi 2 became Zombie Flesh Eater 1, etc.). Every territory had their own titling scheme, numbering scheme, and even added or dropped otherwise totally unrelated films to make them part of the ongoing series. (One territory added the joyfully nuts Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, which was the best choice they could have made.) Honestly, it’s all confusing as fuck and probably not worth the effort to navigate, because when you think about it, every zombie movie ever made could be a sequel to the one that came before.

Basically, if you’re a passionate movie collector living in the U.S. AND you have OCD, your complete Zombi series would consist of Zombie, and then Zombi 3-5, and it probably kills you.

Haw haw!


Having recently revisited Fulci’s Zombie/Zombi 2 in preparation for my mini Zombi 3/4 marathon, a film I hadn’t seen for a very long time, I was expecting my newfound appreciation for Italian horror and the film’s ongoing semi-respected reputation to usher in an undiscovered enjoyment of the gory zombie shocker. That didn’t happen. Surprisingly, Zombie is actually kind of dull, relocating most of its action to an island in the Caribbean after a promising opening in which a small boat containing a handful of ghouls washes up in New York harbor.

I’m no big fan of Fulci’s films in any legitimate way (although I sort of adore City of the Living Dead), but despite his very diverging outputs of quality, the man at least had a distinct visual style, which makes Zombi 3 feel so odd. Zombi 3 is just stupidity, featuring flying, biting zombie heads and one action set piece after another. And the gore! So much gore! Sadly, there’s a reason for this. Fulci (who was very ill during filming) and two ghost directors Claudio Fragasso (the film’s screenwriter) and Bruno Mattei (Italian shlockmeister director of the highest order) present Zombi 3 as a more ridiculous and action-packed experience. Whatever sense of mood, or satire, or “moral” Fulci was vying for in Zombi 2 has gone right out the window here (or perhaps was phased out after some of Fulci’s footage was tossed and replaced with new material from his collaborators). Plotwise, Zombi 3 takes somewhat of a page from Romero’s The Crazies with the presence of hazmat-suited soldiers laying waste to anything deemed a threat, as well as Return of the Living Dead, relying heavily on the idea of the zombie scourge spreading across the landscape from the cremation of infected corpses. The zombies are also of the running variety. But Zombi 3 is also much funnier than that beloved zombie comedy, even though it wasn’t trying to be. Hysterical overroughtness tends to happen when you’re dealing with an Italian horror production, usually aided by the overly emphatic dubbing which offers every character a very animated and highly emotional presence.

(And again, flying zombie head.)

Picking on Zombi 3’s lack of plot feels like low-hanging fruit given the Frankensteinian nature of its production, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: there’s barely a plot beyond a couple groups of wandering people intermittently finding each other, running afoul of ghouls, and getting eaten. That’s honestly about it.

Zombi 3 is not a “good” film by any stretch, but lordy is it entertaining. It also feels incredibly unlike anything Lucio Fulci has ever done, but with him having been responsible for only 60% of the final cut, that shouldn’t come as any surprise. My second go-around with Fulci’s original semi-classic Zombie will likely be my last. But Zombi 3? I’ll definitely be revisiting this one…much sooner than later.



Jun 16, 2020

THE WAX MASK (1997)


If you’re a horror lover, and if you’re on this site you likely are, then by now you’ve likely seen Vincent Price’s 1959 horror classic House of Wax, itself a remake of 1933’s Mysteries of the Wax Museum. Based on the unpublished short story “The Wax Works” by Charles Belden, the concept about an owner of a wax museum moonlighting as a killer and turning his victims into wax dummies as a means to get rid of the evidence has been used numerous times, the most recent example being 2005’s House of Wax. The Price version is certain to go down as the definitive take on the story (with an honorable mention for Tourist Trap), but as you can see, that didn’t stop people from trying new iterations. 

One of those attempts is 1997’s The Wax Mask, produced by legendary horror director Dario Argento, who also provides the story alongside another legendary horror director, Lucio Fulci. Those familiar with House of Wax will definitely find similarities in The Wax Mask, right down to actor Robert Hossein, who with his pencil thin mustache bears a striking resemblance to Vincent Price. Despite the similarities to House of Wax, produced by Warner Bros., Argento and Fulci decided to lean on Gaston Leroux's short story "The Waxwork Museum" to offset any legal claims made by the studio. Somehow this worked, even though The Wax Mask is clearly borrowing many elements from Price’s most infamous feature, but if Italian filmmakers know how to do one thing, it’s skirt trademark infringement.


Though The Wax Mask bears the presence of several Italian heavy hitters, and though it’s both set in and shot in Rome, the most frustrating aspect of The Wax Mask is how un-European it feels. If you’re well versed in Italian films, you’ve come to expect them to feel a certain way: gaudy, opulent, and very stylistic. The Wax Mask is none of these. Directed by special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti after Fulci, who was originally going to direct, died in 1996, The Wax Mask feels less like an Italian horror production and more like something that would’ve been produced by Charles Band and his cheap mini-studio Full Moon. Subsisting almost entirely on close-ups, the scope of the flick feels stunted from the start, and though there is admirable costume and production design, one can’t help but walk away after having watched the production and thinking you’ve just watched something made for television or the direct-to-video market. Also missing, considering the personnel involved? Fun and gory set pieces. That’s not to say that The Wax Mask is a chaste production because it’s not. There’s plenty of flesh to stoke your fires along with some flying limbs, but when it comes to the latter, especially given the film’s concept, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough, which is odd, given director Stivaletti’s special effects background. The visual effects, though scarcely employed, are dreadful. However, the final twenty minutes are so ludicrously stupid that they more than make up for the previous plodding two acts. 

Italian horror consistently remains a watermark for many horror fans, who point to various aspects as the selling point for them, whether it’s the fluid style, the lurid content, or something less definable. As a film, The Wax Mask doesn't quite work. Though it certainly boasts some heavy Italian personnel, with Argento, Fulci, and producer Giuseppe Columbo coming together for one project, but it’s a shame that this Italian production doesn’t feel very Italian.