Friday, March 21, 2008

Fulci's Trilogy - Do Not Entry

Shortly after the...well, whatever it was you might call City of the Living Dead, I wouldn't use success but logically it can't be called a failure because a year later he made effectively the same film. Granted there was an interim between his first zombie movie and his second in which he made easily the worst of his 80s movies. I'd review that film but quite frankly I don't even like thinking about it (House By The Cemetery is it's name and awful doesn't even start to describe it). Anyway, shortly after that shit...Fulci set his sights on the project they'd remember him for. I came across this next movie when it was featured on Bravo's 100 Scariest Horror Movies of all time or some such thing (the show is a farce unto itself. Volume 2 consisted entirely of movies with upcoming DVD release dates). The Beyond was one of the ones I'd never heard of and when I went to watch the rest of the 100, imagine my surprise when amidst The Dead Zone and Don't Look Now, this lurid, satanic gorefest pops up. Watching it, I was struck by the moments the pundits kept talking about. Eli Roth in particular said that what scared him was the moment when a little girl gets shot in the face and said face explodes. That...isn't what I'd call scary, but Eli Roth isn't what I'd call smart, either, so... This movie isn't really frightening, per se, but it does have scary moments (ones left out of the program, needless to say) and a conclusion that finally manages to strike a balance between dismal, thoughtful, and cogent.

The Beyond
by Lucio Fulci
This review is going to try and outline the plot of the film as best as possible. The problem with trying to do this is that the film is so full of holes you could grate cheese on it. The actions of every character are easy enough to summarize, but there is no definitive version of every nuance in this movie. There are so many unanswered questions that just about everyone with a website has a take on them, but as Fulci died about ten years ago there is no one to consult. So, after anything that might seem a little confusing I've added my own take on them. Prologue time: A mob swarms an inn to kill an artist they suspect of witch-craft (this is actually a really nicely shot sequence, which is funny because the cinematographer is on camera as one of the mob members. Maybe that's why it was the most beautiful shot in all of Fulci's career, cause his cameraman wasn't filming it!) The mob melts the artists face off (his name is Schweick) with some of the quicklime stewing in the basement of the inn. Skip to the present: a woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl once again playing the heroine) has inherited the inn and is showing it off to her friend Dr. Mccabe. She seems to having some trouble dealing with supernatural accidents that keep happening to the help. A carpenter sees some ghastly eyes floating in a window and falls off his ladder. Joe the Plumber goes into the basement to see what's been blocking up the pipes and a big arm comes out of the wall and takes his eyes out. Liza has only one thing to console her, her new friendship with a blind woman and her seeing-eye dog who she picks up on the side of the road one day (wish I was making that up). The woman has a big scary book in her house that (small world) used to adorn the inn when Schweick was killed all those years ago. Outside of that little plot thread we have Liza's assistant trying to figure out what it is that's hidden beneath the house and Joe's family dealing with his death, both of which lead to some truly sick death scenes.

Joe's wife Lizaann and child Jill visit him in the morgue to dress him for the funeral (I've come to the conclusion that this must be something Italians do. Screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and Fulci must have just assumed that Americans do it, too, but I've never heard of such a thing happening before the autopsy at the goddamn MORGUE! Especially since there is a sign on the door that reads: Do Not Entry. On the most recent DVD pressing of this movie the scene is called "Do Not Entry"; one assumes they just love shit too much to care that they're taking a dive into it). Worth noting is that when the police found Joe they also found Schweick's body in the cellar and bring him along too. Inside the morgue Joe's poor wife gets frightened by something, knocks into a bowl of surgical acid and gets her face melted off. Then her leavings chase her daughter around the room until she sees what probably scared Mom in the first place: Zombie Schweick! Jill then has both of her parent's funerals to sit through; afterwards, strangely she is left completely alone as all the adults present abandon her. (Maybe this happens in Italy, too?) Anyway, Jill now has the same eyes as the blind woman Liza picked up. (I guess what Fulci's trying to say is that Emily [the blind woman] and Jill are now both affected by evil, but that means that Emily has no reasonable cause for her blindness and the only reason she's blind is to make her death scene scarier). Anyway, she'll come back into the story later in the same kind of illogical way that Michael comes back into Burial Grounds.
Then there's Larry, Liza's assistant. He goes to town hall to look up the plans of the inn and after the town clerk goes to lunch, he too falls off a ladder (their stunt guy must have been an expert with ladders). Then while he's lying unconscious on the floor some fucking spiders eat him...Spiders! There are some real ones present but the ones that do the biting are some very fake puppets. Then the zombies show up. Just after Liza figures out that Emily's house has been putting on the appearance of being new and only looks that way when Emily's in it. The next time Emily and her seeing eye dog come back to the house (looking brand new once again) she isn't alone. Zombie Schweick isn't alone either, he's got three or four of the meanest, decomposing living dead thugs I've ever seen. The more I remember this scene the scarier it becomes. the zombies don't advance on her, she sicks her dog on them. Even still they don't attack her. She still ends up dead, or, redead. You see Emily's recently snuck out of hell and so one of the seven portals to Hell was opened up, Schweick's long-dead body summoned as a zombie bounty hunter to bring her back by any means necessary. I think this means that they just have to separate her from her earthly body.

Now the next part doesn't make too much sense to me. Schweick's accomplished his mission, so why do he and his buddies stick around and turn the rest of New Orleans into zombies, too? Reason aside, zombies abound. McCabe and Liza go to the hospital to ask the former's colleague Dr. Harris (Al Cliver) what his take on all this is (McCabe rather hilarious gets to say "I'm gonna talk to Harris" before and after the edit that takes us to the hospital). They get there in time to see every body in the morgue rise from the dead. Harris gets a face full of glass after some pretty inexcusable friendly-fire from McCabe. They find Jill in the morgue where Schweick hid the first time and sure enough Schweick comes out of the same body locker he did the first time; at the same time Jill attacks Liza so McCabe shoots her in the face. The two escape into a closet which leads them into the basement of the Inn and right into Hell, their eyes the same as Jill's and Emily's.
The Beyond was probably the best movie Lucio Fulci ever made but believe me when I tell you that doesn't mean shit. This was obviously the most technically savvy and scariest of his movies, but that doesn't excuse it from being a Lucio Fulci movie. The plot doesn't really make much sense and he insists on having his characters say things that, though they sound creepy and profound, just set the film up to be more complicated than he can get away with. There is talk of seven portals to hell, we only really see one. Unless Fulci was counting the closet at the morgue, but I'd like to think that he knew better than to suggest that if Satan were gonna put seven doors to hell he wouldn't put two of them in the same zip code. Perhaps he just meant that all of New Orleans was just one big doorway, what with all the debauchery and partying (have to wonder how screwed Amsterdam's gonna be when someone breaks out of hell over there). And of course there's that Italian penchant for disregarding common sense (and rather uncommon sense as well). The name of the villain for one: Schweick doesn't sound like the name of a witch who settled in 1927 New Orleans, but screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti wasn't really big on accuracy. Consider his use of Dunwich as the setting of City of the Living Dead, which is supposed to be a town built over Salem, which has never needed a town constructed over it because it's currently sits about a 45 minute drive from where I sit). House by the Cemetery takes place in "New Whitby, Boston". See what I mean.

Fulci gets points for making both the appearance of the first batch of Zombies and the ending scary. His zombies were really the most disgusting to date, and I mean that in a good way. Romero gave us the fresh dead and then the few weeks dead. Fulci was the first person to attempt a much later date of death. Schweick in particular is one icky bastard. What really would have been something is if he had taken the zombies out of the controlled studio environments (the morgue, the inn) and moved them into the streets. He would have really broken ground there. The budget here must have been a little bigger than before; he is able to afford better camera equipment, better lighting (for once), permits and a real town to film in. Interesting to note that though he was clearly given a lot of money for this picture (more than ever before, I should say) he must have had a hard time getting people other than greasy nobodies like Al Cliver to appear in his movies; even Ian McColluch and Giovanni Lombardi Radice sat this one out. Regular Catriona MacColl is here but filling out the majority of supporting roles were crew members. His cinematographer, writer Sacchetti, Fulci even makes an appearance as the town clerk (the scene on the DVD is entitled "Lucio goes to lunch"). Maybe he just like a sense of community. Maybe the rest of the Italian film industry thought he was completely insane. Tisa Farrow wasn't above appearing in Joe D'Amato's Anthrophagous but coming back for another Fulci picture was out of the question.
Lucio Fulci very quickly became irrelevant after The Beyond. He returned to making ultra-violent Giallo's like New York Ripper, Manhattan Baby, A Cat In the Brain and The Ghosts of Sodom. He even messed around in projects clearly beneath a mind like his (Fighting Centurions, Murder Rock). When the time came for an official sequel to Zombie came about they asked him to do it but was so disappointed by it (Claudio Fragrasso's script especially, as I understand it) that he walked away from it and left Hell of the Living Dead's Bruno Mattei in charge. Zombie 3 has nothing of Fulci's eye for colorful madness and is too stupid even to be called his work but it bears his name. This must have been a real blow to his pride because Zombie 3 is pretty widely regarded as the worst zombie film of the 80s and of all time (there are quite a few on that list); it's dumber than just about any Uwe Boll film. By the end of his life, Fulci had become so marginalized that he even used a pseudonym on his last film, Door To Silence. So much for the man who once compared himself to Dario Argento. He may never have made a film that I'd call good, but he got the Italian Zombie film to its pinnacle, something it's never gonna return to.

1 comment:

anon said...

Jesus christ man, you're talking like these movies just came out yesterday or something. When you watched them, did you take notice of the years they were filmed all?!

Way to spit on someone's grave, holy shit.