Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fulci's Trilogy - Kill The Director!

Lucio Fulci! Oh how you make my heart weep! Lucio Fulci might be the single most irksome director I've ever had the pleasure of encountering. My problem with Lucio Fulci comes from the fact that for every stupid with a capital S decision he's made, every dumb goddamn film, every obscene second of celluloid he committed, people can't seem to get enough of this guy. He was by all accounts a lucky idiot who happened to stumble upon a goldmine and then people decided he was some kind of secret genius. He wasn't and his death or the hundred films he left behind will not change that (nor will it change the public's opinion of him). Firstly: none of his films are scary, save The Beyond. Second: most, if not all, of his films were in poor taste and didn't seem to realize they'd ended up there. Third: Gore does not equal tension, fright, or quality, especially when it wouldn't fool an 8-year-old. I don't how many times someone has to pour red paint on a mannequin before you realize it looks just as stupid as it sounds. He seemed to thrive on subject matter that average people would call shameful. I don't ordinarily have a problem when people who love violence get a hold of cameras and lights and stuff and decide to make a film, but I start to bang my head against a wall when people call their bluff, take them seriously, and then make films to either rip-off, cash-in or pay homage to these idiots. Join me as we walk through the history of Lucio Fulci abridged part 1: Fulci became a filmmaker (I feel comfortable calling him one of the worst in revered b-horror along with no-talent masturbators like Jean Rollin and Jesus Franco) to win back an ex-girlfriend. He was an art critic and evidently felt he could do better work than the folks he was critiquing. I don't mean to over-simplify, but this is rarely if ever a good sign. The New Wave people I get, cause they actually revolutionized Cinema by being abject and strange and honest. Fulci was strange alright, but he was no Godard, friends. He started off making musicals and light comedy. Musicals and Light Comedy. The guy who did Cat In The Brain was a fan of musicals. He quickly moved up the Italian food chain, graduating to swords-and-sandals to westerns then thrillers then the much praised Giallo. My favorite story of this path-to-glory period of Fulci's is during one screening of Beatrice Centi, a medievel film Italian audiences hated the movie so much that they started shouting "Kill The Director!" mid-screening. Anyway, he made his giallo's like The Psychic and Lizard in a Woman's Skin until he was given a gift no amount of begging could ever take back. That gift was actually second-hand. In 1978 George Romero changed the face of cult horror when he released Dawn of the Dead. Dario Argento helped him make it and so when it made it to Italy Argento recut it, dubbed it and sent it to theatres as Zombi. It was like the Emmannuel of Italy. It was incredibly popular and made Argento a truck-load of money, which he took and made the incredible Inferno. So, as often happens with popular films in Italy a sequel was requested. You'll never guess who asked to make it. That's right...

by Lucio Fulci
A boat drifts into a dock in New York City. The police board it and are attacked by an ill-tempered, chewed-up fellow. The registered owner of the boat is a Doctor who nobody, including his daughter Ann, has heard much from in the last few months. So Ann, and three other hairy and able people take a boat to his island to see what all the fuss is about. On the way there, the second girl is attacked by a zombie on the ocean floor, who is then attacked by a zombie (this is not nearly as exciting as you've been led to believe). This is clue £2 that something fishy is going on. They get to the island, find out that Ann's father Dr. Menard has been stuck in the nominal hospital while voodoo turns the bodies of the many, many dead folks on the island into zombies. Then we get treated to a brief Night-style barracade, torches 'n shotguns finale and only two of them get out alive. In between we have close-ups of eyeballs (one of which is gouged out on a sharp piece of wood), much moaning and slow-reactions to throats being ripped out. We have zombies shambling down the main street of the island, much munching on guts and ignorance of continuity. We have topless scuba diving and a shark fight made boring. I don't know what Fulci's aim was but last time I checked things go SLOWER when they're underwater. How anyone could still make a movie where people resolutely refuse to run is astounding. Argento may not have had the strongest grip on reality but at least people fucking booked it when the time came.
The zombie violence in this film is wild, colorful and plentiful, don't get me wrong, but I've never understood when people all of the sudden confused schlock with quality, sick with scary. This movie is not frightening. I saw the cover art of the decaying zombie face for the first time when I was probably 9. It wasn't frightening, but I understood I shouldn't have been staring at it. It was in the Z section of the horror films, after all. It was 4 years later when I saw the film for the first time and the only thing that really stayed with me was that everything was so slow. Everyone in the movie sure seemed scared, but at no time was 13 year old me scared. The zombie make-up was impressive (a little more haunting than Romero's, i'll admit) and the gouged-eye looked like a gouged-eye to be sure, but it wasn't frightening, it just happened. If you make a horror film where a woman being deocculated is just something that happens, then what exactly have you got left to be proud of. I could go on at length, as I do, about the fact that no one's performance (or the dubbed voices of Tisa Farrow or Richard Jordan) is naturalistic or even slightly believable. Regulars Al Cliver, Ian McColluch, and Dakkar are professional, if risible and devoid of pride. The average performance in a b-list Italian movie is not generally something that people write home about, so I won't stress over it. I will however stress the problem inherent in most of Fulci's work. The gore makes its appearance and Fulci seems to think that showing us something disgusting is the same as showing us something scary. It's not and I have Andrea Bianchi, Bruno Mattei, Luigi Cozzi, and Umberto Lenzi to back me up on that one. I might also point out that Lenzi had already proved that point when he made Man From Deep River seven years earlier. Now, Dawn of the Dead wasn't exactly terrifying, but I point out that Romero's films sink or swim based on the people in their films. He's a character director, which is why Night and Dawn worked and Day and Land didn't. That's shorthand, but ask any nerd and they'll clear it up for you. Anyway, back to Fulci.
Zombie is a serivceable shambler picture (I know a good many people who are more than pleased with it) with admittedly striking visuals every quarter of an hour or so but it is not scary, it is not suspenseful, it is not smart, it is not grounbreaking, it isn't much of anything in my eyes. It did, however, forecast a trend in horror films for the next 35 years. Thanks to Quentin Tarentino, Eli Roth and the Spierig Brothers, this small man and his below-average horror movie will now live on forever.

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