FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 17, 2011

Paura- Fulci Remembered: Volume One

Love him or hate him, there's no denying that even after his death, Lucio Fulci remains one of the most interesting filmmakers in the horror genre. That, of course, is putting it rather mildly. His films tend to be short on plot and long on total gross-outs and shocks. Ask anyone about, say, Zombie (aka Zombi 2) and there's a good chance you won't start talking about the story- you'll start talking about the underwater zombie vs shark fight, or the scene where a piece of wood goes through a woman's eye. You may not remember the character's name, but you'll remember the scene in City of the Living Dead where that character pukes up her own guts.

When horror fans are subjected to scrutiny for non-fans, the question that begins the barrage is often "How can you watch that stuff?" I consider myself to be a lite Fulci fan- that is, I really like some of his films, don't like others, and in the end, probably haven't seen all that much. Still, when I think about Fulci, I find myself asking "How can he make that stuff?"- not in a judgmental way, or a way meant to imply that he shouldn't be making these films, but rather that I'm fascinated by someone who would. Fulci's extreme approach to horror is doubly fascinating considering all of the work outside the genre, from westerns to comedies and everything in between. You'd think someone whose horror work is so hardcore would focus exclusively on that genre.

I don't know anything about Fulci, really, beyond his reputation as a hardass director and a misogynist. Does the latter stem from his actual beliefs and behavior offset, or is it simply fallout from the violence against women in his films? I figured that the documentary Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered, Volume One (2009) should give me some insight and answer more than a few questions I have about this complex, enigmatic filmmaker.

Paura sets out to provide answers to only one question: What is your fondest memory of Lucio Fulci? Answers are given by men and women who fall into one of three categories: accomplices, peers, and victims. The interview clips aren't assembled into a cohesive whole as much as they're plopped onto DVD. You can choose to "play all", or simply jump to the response by a particular person. Each is introduced by a written mini-bio that lists his or her relationship to Fulci (ie, which films they collaborated on) over the same ten-second loop of Fulci-inspired (or, more to the point, Fabio Frizzi-inspired) music. I was glad I opted for the "jump around" approach, as listening to that loop for each of the near-90 interviews on the disc would have driven me mad.

I introduced some friends to City of the Living Dead the other night, and their response to scenes like the maggot storm and the aforementioned guts-puking-uppening was "Oh, those poor actors". By all accounts, Fulci's actors endured more than a few hardships during the making of his films- not just having, say, maggots whipped at their faces, but also the unpredictable temperament of the director himself. Given all this, I decided to jump in by checking out the "victims" section. I began with Catriona MacColl, who'd worked with Fulci on more than one occasion, and who I'd just seen in City of the Living Dead. Surely she'd have some insights.

And she did, as she talked about a photograph of Fulci that she feels is symbolic of the director: he sits on the memorable bridge used in The Beyond, sitting in his chair with his arms folded. According to MacColl, it's very representative of his isolation and his defiance. She hinted that she had much more to say about the man, but "you wanted my fondest memory". How frustrating!

As the subjects are answering the one question, the clips tend to be brief. The level of revelation about Fulci is quite varied: Cinzia Monreale of The Beyond gave a terrific, lengthy answer discussing the man's roughness, rudeness, and humor. They got along well and she found him amusing. On the other hand, Adrienne La Russa, titular star of Beatrice Cenci, shared a mutual enmity with the director. She told an amusing story about how she wouldn't do nudity in the film, so Fulci hired a less-than-flattering body double for her as payback. If that's her fondest memory of him...but alas, curiosity about the rest of the relationship is not to be satisfied on Paura: Volume One. Then there are responses that perhaps should have warranted the addition of a "deleted scenes" section. Barbara Bouchet's fondest memory of Don't Torture a Duckling is simply the fact that Fulci hired her, while director Bruno Mattei doesn't say much more than "I liked him".

Paura is indeed a noble undertaking, and Fulci fans will find much to love. With seven years of filming and more than 100 of the director's colleagues interviewed, the mountains of footage surely comprise an unwieldy, intimidating beast for Paura director Mike Baronas. Unfortunately, I don't that this beast was wrangled in the most effective manner. I don't feel I know Lucio Fulci much better than I did before I gave the DVD a whirl. Sure, some of the anecdotes are interesting and on more than one occasion it's said that Fulci should have been more recognized as a filmmaker, but his lack of diplomacy stifled his career. I wanted to dive into that idea. I wanted to get a real idea of this curious man. The limitations presented by the format simply don't allow for this. I imagine that Volume Two may feature everyone's "least favorite" memory of Fulci, and that will probably provide more insight into his nature. Still, the material would have been best served as a straight-up biography of the man, or perhaps a walk through his work in horror where more questions are asked and answered at once. As a companion to other, more in-depth works about Fulci, Paura is undoubtedly invaluable; as an ignoramus taking in the film on its own, however, I feel like I'm standing at a party where I don't know anyone. Like maybe they're all speaking Italian and laughing at inside jokes while I nervously sip my Riunite on ice and blankly smile. When oh when will I belong?


Miskatonic said...

I just so happen to watch House of Clocks last night so I figured I could spout off about it here.

Fun as hell. But it was a terrible film. And I don't mean that in a "so bad it's good sort of way." The sheer audacity of some of the ideas here are what make it fun. One kill in particular displayed a complete and utter disdain for women that my reaction could only be amusement because seriously... really? No way. The man was clearly a misogynist.

The plot only made sense in a very abstract sense. I wish I could comment on the characters but since this film was pretty much the worst dub I've ever seen on an Italian film that the acting was pretty much moot.

Speaking of dubbs, what the hell is with that? It's not a language thing since half the time you can tell the actors are speaking English. Are they just trying to mask Italian accents? Do they rewrite the dialogue after filming? Why does this happen in Italian horror cinema. Sorry. I know I'm supposed to know the answer to this since I'm such a horro fan but it seems like one of those things that no one will ever talk about. Reviewers will mention how good the dub job but they never address why. Can anyone help me out here?

Also, the female would-be hooligan sported a pair of jeweled inverted cross earrings. Now, you're most likely picturing a black-clad/goth/black metal/satanist type of character, right? No, she's preppy as they come yet she's got these subversive earrings. Weird.

Haven't seen this doc but I have watched a number of interviews of his acquaintances from various DVD releases. It is weird to see people talk about him. When asked a question about him it always seems like they're searching that part of their brain that processes how to spin bad experiences into good ones. It sounds like this DVD is chock full of such reactions.

Thomas Duke said...

Thanks for this. I threw it on my queue (or pushed that add button, or whatever you wanna call it).

"Fulci the goremaster" basically started with Zombie, but his career was extremely varied before that, doing everything from spy movies to comedies to westerns, etc. However, most of his 60's work can no longer be seen.

He even directed a comedy starring Chet Baker! I'm a huge Baker fan, as was Fulci, and it was weird reading his biography with Fulci popping in and befriending Baker, and creating the movie as an opportunity for Chet.

CashBailey said...

Man, I want to see this.

My favourite Fulci films is still probably THE PSYCHIC (aka SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK). I think it's his best-directed film and, dare I say it, most classy. It shows he wasn't all about ripping eyeballs and annoying child actors.

Lee Russell said...

Nice review. I'm a pretty mild Fulci fan, too. I'm used to Euro horror films not being heavy on plot...or in some cases far too heavy on plot. Fulci really was one of the worst/best when it came to dumping plot in favour of extreme gore and other disturbing ideas, so it's little wonder that pretty much everyone remembers him for scenes like Shark vs. Zombie (and that comes from one of his stronger horror efforts), or teleporting zombies that kill by pulling the brains out of the back of the heads of their victims.

I don't know enough about Fulci's personal life, nor do I find much in his films to get a clear idea about what he was like in person. Generally I find I can pretty much put a directors personal life aside and enjoy his actual "art".

When watching something like the Blind Dead films, for example, it seems fairly obvious that director Amando de Ossorio had a very dim view of women. Almost every female character is dumb, stuck-up, and a potential rape victim. And it's implied that the women are pretty much asking for it...and then asking to be muched on by undead Templar Knights. Still, the films in the series are fun (even the really bad Ghost Galleon), and I can enjoy them for what they are, even if Amando de Ossorio was a major creep (but do we really know if he was?)

A better example...Chuck Berry. I love Chuck Berry, I love his music. I think he's the true king of rock 'n' roll, but he's a penny-pinching control freak, that spent most of his career on the road phoning it in and treating his back-up-bands like garbage. James Brown used to fine his band members if they played off notes. Still, does anyone deny how great or important he was to the genre of art he was part of?

Hell, I'd probably watch a film by Adolf Hitler if it happened to have some sort of entertainment or artistic value.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write-up, I definitely want to watch this sometime. I consider myself a Fulci fan, I own copies of The Beyond, Zombie (as well as Zombie 2-4) and House by the
Cemetery and have watched them all many times. I've seen all the others you mentioned but can't say I enjoyed them. I think House by the Cemetery is one of the lesser known ones but I highly recommend it. A bunch of people who worked with fulci were at the cinema wasteland convention last year and did an excellent panel about him.


Erin said...

Have you watched The Beyond with the commentary on? It's very entertaining and informative, and even though Catriona Maccoll stays polite, David Warbeck has some great catty comments about Fulci and the other Italians involved.

Anonymous said...

Hey Erin - I've listened to that commentary track and you're right, its very good. I really enjoy listening to the commentary, especially on my favorite horror films.
The girl that was in zombie 3, Beatrice Ring, was at a con last year and told some really horrible stories about fulci - I felt really bad for her. She was seriously traumatized. Richard Johnson and Ian McCulloch (from Zombie 1) were there and backed up everything she was saying. Dude came off as a real asshole - but he was also really sick for a lot of years so that may have had something to do with it.

Phantasmagoria said...

Reply to an old (dead, zombified?) post, i know...

If you like to know more about Fulci i recommend Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower. I interviewed him a while ago about his book and horror in general:

What about Hollywoods sudden interest in the horror, leading to glossy and anemic re-makes of classics and the money-driven "re-imaging" of foreign genre-movies?
Do you think this is the end of horror as the rebel amongst genres?

Good question. It's worth mentioning that the success of the re-made DAWN OF THE DEAD has given George Romero's LAND OF THE DEAD a push into production, so it's not necessarily a bad thing. But these re-imagings are a sign of Hollywood bankruptcy, not the bankruptcy of the horror genre. In the 1970s they gave us THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, supposedly 'superior', 'classy' horror films - now they're forced to plunder the despised exploitation and Euro-imports for ideas. It's more funny than depressing. The idea of a Hollywood re-make of SUSPIRIA is a hoot! Horror is only a rebellious genre as long as it's doing something that's unacceptable to the mainstream. That has to change as time goes on. Can you see a re-make of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT leaving a multiplex audience feeling as brutalized as Wes Craven's original did? Instead you get a film like CABIN FEVER, trying to tart up its terrors with subliminal recollections of LAST HOUSE by using some of the same music! Real horror is something that at first we can't absorb, it defeats our attempts to control it. The fascination comes from the fact that we hate to be defeated! So we're always returning to the trauma, trying to find some way of gaining mastery. And of course, the cinema only gives us approximations of horror, visions, fantasies, so there's always going to be a need to find better techniques to depict our fears.