Favourite Five Series: LUCIO FULCI
The road to good intentions was paved with one too many social events this October. I really would have liked to have done more Favourite Five lists in honor of Halloween. Since I could not accommodate as many lists as I would have liked I will at least close the month out with a mighty duo. Two of the horror genres heaviest hitters (in my world anyway) and two of my personal faves. Lucio Fulci directed a few comedies and westerns but it is the horror entries that made me a fan for life. I adore both his beautiful, sexy, surreal and intriguing Giallos as well as his spectacularly gory gag-fests! As seems to be the case with the Favourite Five series thus far, there is always 3 or 4 that are easy choices with one or two that tear me up inside choosing. The more I love the director the more challenging this is. It was particularly difficult to leave Massacre Time, New York Ripper and Perversion Story off the list. Not to mention City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery and even the much maligned but near and dear to my heart Cat in the Brain starring Fulci as himself! I have seen all of the below films multiple times and four of the five are on my top 100 favourite horror films of all time. Fulci is a God and should be worshipped accordingly.
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
The original Italian title translated as “Don’t Torture Donald Duck”. For legal reasons Fulci was unable to use the name Internationally. The reference is to a Donald Duck doll; one of the main clues in the film. If South Park has taught me anything (and it has taught me plenty) you do not fuck with Disney.
A killer is murdering young boys in a remote Italian village. A young woman laying low after a recent drug scandal is recognized by a reporter and the two work together to attempt to solve the crime. Don’t Torture A Duckling lacks the gore of Fulci’s later work but it is definitely gritty, bleak and nasty. When young boys are killed in a small village the ugliness, cruelty and hatred of small town, small-minded folks is left behind. There is plenty of Anti-Catholic sentiment here which may have been the reason the film was blacklisted when it was released in 1972. There are several suspects among the group of eccentric locals. Their distrust of outsiders and their superstitious beliefs presents many challenges. The atmosphere is unsettling and the remote village is eerie and cloying. There are several twists, turns and a few shocks. The most shocking of which is an unforgettable mob scene that leaves me aghast no matter how many times I watch it. The performances are brilliant particularly from Barbara Bouchet who plays the smart and feisty Patrizia, Tomas Milian who plays the determined and handsome Andrea Martelli and Florinda Bolkan whose fierce and fearless turn as Maciara is truly memorable. Fulci uses some particularly wild and woolly zooms; the man does love his closeups. Compelling, smart, beautiful, well acted; Don’t Torture a Duclking is one of the best Giallo’s ever made.
THE BEYOND (1981)
The Beyond is the second in a trio of Hell on Earth premised flicks directed by Fulci in the 80s; all three starring Catriona MacColl. Besides the Hell on Earth premise and Ms. MacColl’s appearance the films have little connection to one another and were never officially released as a trilogy. The Beyond’s predecessor City of the Living Dead is about psychic Mary Woodhouse who sees the death of a priest in a vision. The priest’s death causes the gates of Hell to open. In The Beyond MacColl plays Liza Merril who inherits a hotel built on top of one of the seven gates of Hell.
An artist accused of being a warlock is murdered by a lynch mob and his death opens one of the seven doors of Hell below a Louisiana hotel. Decades later Liza Merrill inherits the doomed hotel and unknowingly re-opens a door to hell while renovating. Liza and her acquaintance Dr. John McCabe are soon fending off the living dead, ghosts, and the possessed in a tour de force of supernatural mayhem! Fulci throws a little bit of everything into this unholy masterpiece! People are nailed to walls, eaten by tarantulas, melted by acid, and of course there is classic Fulci eye trauma! And lest we not forget the undead! Beautiful, rotted wonderfully vial zombies! The zombies come in various states of grossness. In fact, a few look like old men who just need a nap. Don’t expect an explanation for everything; some of the action is bordering on illogical. Don’t look at that as a bad thing. The Beyond has such a creepy, moody, electric atmosphere and is oh so fan-fucking-tastic to look at it that it is easy as one-two-three to just get lost in the ultimate nightmare! The Beyond is beautiful, classic Fulci at his gory best!
Another Fulci film title meets controversy. Fulci’s film shared a moniker with the Italian release of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Zombie became known as Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombi 2 and Island of the Living Dead. I give both men’s films a 5/5 but one area that Fulci surpasses Romero is the vileness and pure rottenness of his zombies. No one has topped these zombies in my opinion not to this day. They are the most disgusting zombies to grace a genre film. Rotten flesh covered in maggots and worms. REAL maggots and worms too. I am sure the extras were not paid nearly enough for their roles in Fulci’s film. What a delightfully dreck treat it is to see someone fight for their life and end up with a chunk of rotten flesh in their hands! Freaking beautiful!
Anne Bowles sets out to find her father after his ship turns up abandoned in New York’s harbor. Anne hooks up with journalist Peter West and together they travel to the Antilles with couple Brian and Susan. Once on the Island they meet the curious Dr. Menard, who tells them about the infection spreading that brings the dead back to life. Zombie is one of the few genre films to feature the undead under water. Why the hell not? They don’t breath…they are dead! Fulci throws in the pièce de résistance with a zombie attacking a shark. Zombie’s awesome opening sequence sees one man shoot another and then say to someone off-screen “The boat can leave now. Tell the crew”. The next shot is a seemingly abandoned boat floating in the New York harbour. Two coast guards board the ship and one of them gets an ugly surprise when a large nasty looking zombie rips his throat out with its teeth. One must appreciate getting both a zombie and a kill in the first few minutes of a genre film! There is entrail eating, throat ripping, eye gouging and unnecessary nudity. From its quiet and haunting opening to the final frame there is more gorgeous graphic goodness than one zombie film deserves to have. Fulci delivers the gory goods! The breathtaking scenery of the Island is the perfect backdrop to the zombie mayhem to come and the brilliant score by Fabio Frizzi is the perfect accompaniment to the dread. Zombie is absolutely one of the finest zombie films ever made. Period.
A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971)
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is Fulci’s most surreal and esthetically pleasing of his resume; it is also the film with the most significant controversy. The film contains a graphic scene of sliced open dogs whose hearts are still beating. The dogs looked so realistic that Fulci was allegedly charged and threatened with a two-year prison sentence. Special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi was called into court to prove his dogs were fake. Can a special effects person get any better compliment than that?
Carol Hammond; the daughter of wealthy politician Edmund Brighton has been seeing a psychoanalyst about some disturbing dreams. The dreams features her neighbor Julia who often throws noisy parties which both irritate and titillate Carol. Carol’s dreams continue and escalate in severity. After Carol has a dream she has killed Julia she awakes to learn that Julia has been found dead. Has fantasy become reality? Inspector Corvin intends to find out. A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is a well crafted and engaging mystery. The film contains little graphic violence and is more of a surreal, psychedelic trip laced with sex and drugs. The visuals are fabulous especially Carol’s numerous dream sequences. Sexy, beautiful, dreamy and warped; just the way I like my dream sequences. The film kept me guessing and has an outstanding reveal and finale. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is loaded with great performances from some of my favourite actor and actresses from the period like Jean Sorel who plays Julia’s husband Frank, Stanley Baker who plays the Scotland Yard Inspector, Anita Strindberg who plays Julia and Edy Gall who plays Frank’s teenage daughter Joan. But first and foremost there is Florinda Bolkan who plays central character Carol Hammond. This role is one of the main reasons I have an immense respect and adoration for this extraordinarily talented actress. She is also a striking woman visually. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a hypnotic, fascinating and sexy Giallo that thrills and rewards.
THE PSYCHIC (1977)
I had little use for The Psychic when I seen it the first time around. I was all about the gore in my teens and early twenties and if it didn’t have gore I was not very interested. When I re-watched The Psychic for my 1977 top ten list I was suitably impressed with the film and gave it the number seven spot in the top ten for a very strong year in the decade. However it was when I re-watched The Psychic to compile pictures for a slideshow featuring music from the film that I realized what a particularly solid horror thriller it really was.
When psychic Virginia Ducci sees a murder in one of her visions it results in the arrest of her husband. Virginia sets out to clear her husband of the crime. Obviously that is the extremely truncated plot summary; there is much more going on in The Psychic than that. Virginia has several visions through the film that include the death of her mother among other traumas. Virginia intends to renovate a mansion her rich husband bought and recognizes it from one of her visions. She tears open a wall and finds some skeletal remains and immediately calls the police. This is how hubby gets arrested. The Psychic’s intriguing story is full of suspense and mystery. While the reveal isn’t a terrible shock it is well-executed and the finale is a memorable treat. Jennifer O’Neill is well cast as Virginia Ducci and is a strong and likable lead. The performances by all the cast are quite decent. A nice unsettling mood and atmosphere is established and the setting is perfect and suitably eerie. It is all complimented beautifully by the fabulous soundtrack from Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera. The Psychic is an ever so sweet horror thriller that I think is rather under-appreciated in Fulci’s library.