Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Spit On Your Grave

This is not a film post. This is in response to an anonymous criticism leveled at me via a comment on a post more than a year old. Last year on March 26th I posted a review of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. This year on February 19th, someone very angrily asked me if I had taken the film's release date into consideration when I chose to criticize it. He or she then told me that I was spitting on Fulci's grave. It's perfectly within his or her right to say and think this about me and post it here or anywhere he or she chooses, I'd just like to offer a defense now and always of what I do here before I launch into a really despicable chapter of film history, one where name calling is unavoidable.

To the first. Yes, I do take into consideration the release dates of each and every one of the films that pass through these pages. In fact that's a good deal of my analysis, is looking at the films of Mario Bava, Jesús Franco, Lucio Fulci or anyone else for that matter and seeing how the films they were notorious for making stack up against the time. I do believe when there are films like The Entity, Dawn of the Dead, Rosemary's Baby, or The Hills Have Eyes, that the competition ought to have stood a chance of being just as good, budget be damned. The films above and many others were made for modest budgets (certainly they could have withstood smaller ones) and many of them were made outside the hollywood system and yet came out as decently as could have been hoped for. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead are just two examples of films made for comparably no budget and came out classics. It isn't just in the allocation of funds, mind you, it's in the presentation, the realistic performances, expert direction, and story (considered however carefully it needed to be). You don't need a hundred million dollars to make a good film. With that in mind, it comes down, to me, anyway, to the director. So why then is The Beyond, gorgeous and harrowing though it is, so utterly nonsensical while something like The Entity, made for a similarly small budget in the same year, much easier to watch? Why did Fulci make his film so strangely. That is what I want to examine, and those are the questions I hope to raise. The release date of a film is not an excuse nor an edification for its content. The black and white and silent components and maybe even the expressionistic set-design of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari can be explained by its 1920 release date. It's truly bizarre subject matter, dream-like narrative, and excellent performances can not so easily be written off as a sign of the times. Should we simply take the 80s as they come to us, ignore all else and write everything off as a natural product of the times. That is to ignore the individual works of directors and their triumphs inside monetary systems and genre expectations. I don't believe that Just Before Dawn is a typical 80s film in its presentation, even if its story is about as simple as could be asked of a slasher movie. Jeff Lieberman managed, with the help of cinematographers Joel & Dean King, to make a film that transcended expectation. Why and how could he do that in 1981?

To the second, Lucio Fulci's memory is going to live on pretty much exactly like it does now with or without my commentary. Let me say that I know that one shouldn't enter his zombie films expecting standard fare. Like Alain Resnais, Charlie Kaufman, or Dario Argento a hefty grain of salt is needed up front. This is why I gave each of his films the Z rating because they cannot be judged on ordinary film terms. Their failures and successes are on a different plane than those of your run-of-the-mill zombie film and so enjoy a special distinction outside ordinary judgment. How can I hate something I don't fully understand? For the record I enjoyed watching Zombie despite it's failings. That said, I don't think it's completely unreasonable that I have questions and criticisms for his continued abandonment of reality. There were zombie films that managed, in spite of themselves, to make sense. They had Wholeness, if that makes sense. Fulci's films didn't focus on wholeness and thus couldn't fully justify many of the films' more off-putting set-pieces. Anyone who isn't quite sure what I mean, examine Giovanni Lombardi Radice's character in City of the Walking Dead. He exists solely to be the brunt of two particularly galling scenes of repulsive behavior. Also, I'd like to point out that the review of The Beyond was actually pretty even-handed. I don't call him out nearly so much as in my reviews of Zombie or City of the Walking Dead. I even cite Fulci as being the man who brought Italian zombie films to their pinnacle. For better or worse, eurozombie films never got better in the 80s or even late 70s than under his direction. His camera work and zombie make-up are unrivaled after 1978 across the Atlantic and I say as much in my review. I'd also like to state that of all the reviews on the internet, in print in books or magazines or on film, mine may be the most caustic of all of them. The sample at IMDB right now reads like this: Fulci's masterpiece is by far one of the best Italian gore flicks of the eighties. That sound like someone in need of defending? Consider that in the B-Master Cabal alone you can find positive reviews on Braineater, 1000 Misspent Hours & Counting, Stomp Tokyo, and Cold Fusion Video. Well kind of, Cold Fusion didn't have the full uncut version, but the review is still pretty complimentary. You see what I'm saying? Nobody, not me, not anyone, is going around tearing down statues of Lucio Fulci when there are people like Bruno Mattei, Umberto Lenzi and Franco Prosperi to worry about. People who really revel in the torment of animals and human beings, real and imagined. I admit to being scared by The Beyond and for that reason always have a hard time watching it, and you know what else? I don't think anyone who's ever read my reviews has then gone to a video store and paused before picking up anything by him. Have sales decreased because I didn't like New York Ripper? No. I'm offering commentary, asking questions, and attempting to give a new perspective on all things zombie. I've done outrageous things in the name of my love of all things grotesque, so I'll thank everyone to simply consider that an opinion is just that. I'm not spouting the gospel and Lucio Fulci does no more spinning in his grave now than before I saw Zombie. I do not spit on his grave because he had a vision, something most of his peers never imagined having, even if it only lasted a year.

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