The Well-Read Ghoul: 10 Essential Books for the Horror Fan at Cinepunx

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Horror movies are so much more than splatter and jump scares, if you want them to be. While repeated viewings can sometimes yield surprises, there’s nothing quite like an informed opinion from a different perspective to offer further insight into longtime favorites. While the pendulum horror film criticism seems to frequently swing from fannish enthusiasm to academic dryness with little in between, there’s a slew of interesting reading to be had. What follows is a list of the most-readable and interesting books any self-respecting horror fan should have on their shelf.
Read the full list at Cinepunx. Published 10/3/16

Scream Saturdays: Scream 2 (1997)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wes Craven’s Scream, so each Saturday in October, myself and a cadre of like-minded individuals will be re-watching the franchise one movie at a time. Is the series influential -- and if so, positively or negatively? How does each installment reflect the time in which it appeared? What does the series’ reboot as an MTV television program indicate about the state of horror today? We’ll answer all of these questions and explore whether or not the franchise holds up as we go along. scream-2-poster SCREAM 2 Dimension Films, 1997 Craig Mann is a writer and artist based in San Diego, CA.  His work, including where to go in Tokyo to watch professional wrestling, can be seen at BadArtGoodLove and on Twitter @BadArtGoodLove. “Ain’t nobody gonna spend $7.50 to see some Sandra Bullock shit unless she’s naked in it.” Scream 2 had potential to be a great sequel. The introduction, set at the premiere of a film about the original Scream (Stab), was remarkable. When Stab is released it is viewed as an ultra-quick exploitation of the deaths of teenagers in a small town and seemingly creates a crazed copy-cat killer. The theater killer was able to disembowel two victims in plain sight amongst hundreds of fanatical masked movie go’ers, setting a terrifying tone early on. This was the perfect opportunity for Scream 2 to shed the unsustainable fourth-wall shattering horror-satire premise established in the first film and move on as an original thrasher franchise.  Stab, released nationally, with mass-produced props as part of a large scale Hollywood marketing campaign, places the potential for masked Stab killers everywhere. But the killings aren’t everywhere. The killings are isolated and despite establishing the potential for widespread pandemonium, they’re all connected to the teenage victims of the Woodsboro killings, whom were able to kind’ve sort’ve move on despite them all attending the same University. Jamie Kennedy is back as Randy, the lovable loser with encyclopedic knowledge of horror movies. Like in the original Scream, Randy is used to poke fun at horror movie tropes while establishing rules for the one we’re watching.  While in a class discussing the responsibility of the Stab film for the actions of the new murders, Randy is able to break the fourth wall early enough in the movie for the writers to abandon any real plot development while casually mocking viewers who placed their faith they might be in store for an entertaining sequel.  Spoilers alert, this sequel isn’t safe from Randy’s rule. Later on, in another plot-buster, Randy defines a great sequel as one with a higher body count and bloodier murders. Scream 2 made bold promises but yet again the first ten minutes are the most well executed and most dramatic of the film. I can’t say that the murders were any bloodier. If they were more plentiful, I didn’t notice as they were meaningless. The writers failed to give the new characters any depth and although sex and sexuality is alluded to in both films as critical criteria for slasher films, nudity in The Scream franchise through Scream 2 is non-existent. scream-2-ending The plot twist in the final moments of the film was so poorly executed and so remarkably anti-climatic I was still expecting the real twist when the movie ended. The mastermind of the murders revealed as one of the original killer’s Mother was exactly the type of predictably poor plot twist that the first film was so vigilantly opposed. Whereas Scream went out of the way to break the mold of the individual killer and established two characters as one villainous entity, Scream 2 chose to simply replicate the process while putting forth zero effort in establishing the killer’s’ motive throughout the film. Scream 2 opted instead to focus on the least likely suspect ad nauseum, insinuating that the wrongfully convicted, one dimensional, eternally awkward Cotton Weary was the masked killer until the last minute twist revelation of the Mother fueled by revenge and a barely present, entirely forgettable, friend of the boyfriend attention seeker. If one were to write twenty movies around the copy-cat killing in the first ten minutes of Scream 2, you’re bound to end up with twenty better movies. The door to creativity was slammed shut after the opening credits. What’s left is 90 minutes of teen-drama star cameos and slashings void of the drama, tension, or wit that established Scream as a blockbuster success. I’m looking forward to Scream 3. With the easy Friday the 13th/Mother plot twist out of the way and Jamie Kennedy’s character killed, the third iteration of the masked killer is bound to have a few original ideas. Nick Spacek is a writer and podcaster based in Lawrence, Kansas. He runs this website (obvs), as well as the From & Inspired By soundtrack podcast, in addition to writing for Cinepunx, Modern Vinyl, the Pitch, and the UK's Starburst Magazine. He can be found spewing nonsense on Twitter @nuthousepunks. When I first considered this series, I had a concept wherein all the films were best examined through the lenses of the movies on which they were commenting. Scream is the slasher film, Scream 2 is the sequel, Scream 3 is the conclusion of the trilogy, and Scream 4 is the reboot. When looking at each film through these lenses, then you get a more accurate glimpse at the films: considering Scream 2 as a sequel means you get more out of it when you look at the tropes which it’s aping. It kind of works, I suppose: Scream 2 returns some characters, introduces new ones, and shit gets really crazy and stupid really quickly. The vast majority of the film -- and it’s kind of reinforced by the plot summary on Wikipedia -- is pretty much a rehash of the original, until you get to the end, much as Craig opined. So, I guess, it basically is a take on sequels: you repeat what worked from the original, and then you use the ending as a way to go absolutely nuts, introducing characters whom you’ve never met, then upping the kill count. scream-2-gale-weathers   And, yes, again, the opening ten minutes are the best part of the film, especially considering the meta take of characters in a movie commenting on the movie which is based on the events of the first film in the series. Then, you double the meta commentary by killing someone during the screening of a film which is so filled with promotion that the killing itself is considered to be just another way to sell the film on screen. It aches with film nerdery, and for the second time, the remaining 80 minutes can’t possibly live up. Treble the meta-ness, actually, given the fact that there’s actually a discussion of whether sequels can be better than the original in the first twenty minutes of this one, making one wonder if it’s possible to get any more meta? The soundtrack even backs this up, using Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” again -- referencing the original Scream -- but also kicking in two covers, making this so ridiculously referential that the third will have a high bar of “hey, look at this!” to clear. Liam O’Donnell is co-host and co-creator of the Cinepunx podcast as well as Editor in Chief of Cinepunx.com. He also co-hosts Horror Business and Eric Roberts is The Fucking Man. When not hosting, editing, or promoting so many damn podcasts, Liam works in higher education in diversity and equity programming and education, and lends his promotion and event planning skills to This Is Hardcore Fest and the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Fest. Find him talking all kinds of crazy shit on twitter at @liamrulz. Let me be the first to say the thing that I am sure everyone thought when watching this film but is just awkward to acknowledge: Scream 2 tries to be less white. The original is so incredibly lacking in any acknowledgement or engagement with race, at a time when it seems like those questions were infiltrating popular culture more. Yet the world that Scream inhabits is blindingly white, in a way that is hard not to notice. I assume SOMEONE must have noticed at the studio, because Scream 2 conspicuously starts not just with African American characters, but recognizable actors! Granted, you immediately know this is not going to go well. The set up is brilliant, as folks have already pointed out, but it is also predictably doomed. The set up needs this first kill, the first sacrifice to begin the stroll down meta narrative lane. Yet, why Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett, two immediately recognizable characters? Perhaps to seal their fate, that as the most obvious cameos in the beginning of the film, much like Drew Barrymore in the first film, you are prepared to watch them die? Of course, this choice, to being the film with two African American actors, who themselves begin talking about race in film, is somehow both meta AND tone deaf, and maybe that is the issue with Scream 2 perfectly encapsulated. It is not just our first couple, with their film school level discourse of White and Black relationships to horror. Apparently, Woodsboro might be the whitest town in America, but the university has a smattering of diversity. It becomes so rote, that each crowd moment and classroom sequence must have at least one POC in the shot, and sometimes two. There are a few actual characters, as well, like Neve’s friend Hallie or the camera guy Joel. Yet, these roles are lightly written at best, caricatures at worst. scream-2-jada-pinkett It is during the ‘90s that tokenization was perhaps at it’s worst, when concerns about political correctness first raised their complicated head. Scream 2 is perhaps better because it injects some small amount of diversity, of a world not so rich and white and isolated. Yet, does it ever go past the surface, allowing the presence of a few of these faces shape the story or events, let alone have them be full and realized characters? Granted, few folks would look to this film for any sort of insight in how it deals with something as complicated and nuanced as race and representation. However, for me this reflects, in a small part, my overall issue with the film. It is, in many ways, a better experience for me than the first film. Yes, they ratchet up the mata factor to such a navel gazing self congratulatory degree it could possibly have ruined postmodernism for me as a concept entirely. However, the ideas animating the story, including the issue of sequels as an organizing concept for the movie is surprisingly effective. In fact, it is maybe the strength of these ideas that point to problem. On paper, Scream 2 is maybe a best case scenario, really building on the ideas of the first one while adding some tension, some dynamism, and some character development. As I consider the film, in abstract, it is almost a better film that the first. Watching it, however, nothing quite works as it should. Much like the sudden addition of diversity into the film, it is a good idea, and yet somehow executed in the worst possible way. This is maybe reflected in most dramatic relief in the aforementioned Black cinema discussion at the beginning of the film. How stereotypical of this time, when the nation had started to grow weary of identity and representational politics to have such a strangely self referential discussion. Maureen (Pinkett) points out that horror, as a whole, is a very white genre and the experiences and expressions therein have been dominated by white faces and norms. This seems, to me, to not be the ranting of some millitant person outside reason, but a valid and accurate critique. Phil (Epps) immediately mocks this perspective, not just for being inaccurate, which maybe it is and I am wrong as well. No, Phil mocks it for being so BLACK! This perhaps felt fun and self aware at the time, but for me, now, it was telling. Too often, when the stitching is showing in Scream 2, that is when the meta voice comes out. Much too often, the film has an interesting idea, or a realization of its own absurdity, and it responds in a way that just doesn’t work. It should, but it rarely does. Alan Miller is a writer, musician and record store clerk based in Bowling Green, KY. You can find his ramblings on Twitter @meeler_time and his writing at Modern Vinyl. Scream 2 was the first “Scream” film I saw in the theater, and I remember loving the shit out of it. Now, some 21 years later, I can safely say that 13 year old me was an idiot. I don’t even know where to begin so let me start with the good. I actually enjoyed the theater bit at the beginning, warts and all. It’s ridiculous, but it’s so over the top that it can still be fun. The use of “Red Right Hand” was unfortunate, as it has zero power during such a campy scene; not to worry though, it comes back AGAIN later in the film at a random scene that has nothing to do with the opening. scream-2-randy So yeah, I pretty much hated the rest of it. The classroom film class was too hip for its own good, the Pepsi product placement was over the top, and instead of a few Jamie Kennedy scenes we get lots of Jamie Kennedy scenes. Even the random DMB song couldn’t save it for me. One other redeeming factor; I liked the Friends joke that Courtney Cox made about Jennifer Anniston. Sometimes I miss the 90’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-KSPVGLia4

Scream Saturdays: Scream (1996)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wes Craven’s Scream, so each Saturday in October, myself and a cadre of like-minded individuals will be re-watching the franchise one movie at a time. Is the series influential -- and if so, positively or negatively? How does each installment reflect the time in which it appeared? What does the series’ reboot as an MTV television program indicate about the state of horror today? We’ll answer all of these questions and explore whether or not the franchise holds up as we go along. scream-logo SCREAM Dimension Films, 1996 Nick Spacek is a writer and podcaster based in Lawrence, Kansas. He runs this website (obvs), as well as the From & Inspired By soundtrack podcast, in addition to writing for Cinepunx, Modern Vinyl, the Pitch, and the UK's Starburst Magazine. He can be found spewing nonsense on Twitter @nuthousepunks. The first ten minutes of Scream are near-perfect, right? It’s perfectly balanced: funny, then nervous, then eerie, then absolutely taut before getting gory and gross. Casey’s basically the most likable character in the whole movie, and they ax her before the credits even roll. For real: the rest of the characters in this movie are fucking terrible. I’d never noticed it when I first saw it -- probably because I was a contemporary of the characters when it was first released -- but, man, every single dude in this movie needs a swift kicking. “You know what you do to me?” Billy asks Sidney, when we first meet him. I’m glad she pushes him off after he’s such a pushy dick, but then she flashes him and he calls her “such a tease.” Goddammit. Like, I understand that they’re in high school and you do dumb shit when you’re in high school, but Billy’s whole speech about wanting to take thing to an NC-17 relationship is fucking gross. Also gross: the slowed-down, acoustic version of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Gus is, I think, the first use of the trope before Gary Jules’ “Mad World” six years later in Donnie Darko. So, let’s blame Scream for starting this whole irritating thing -- although, I guess the real question I’m finally getting around to asking is if Scream is to blame for making horror movies winking and self-aware or, like AMC posited in 2009, is it to blame for the slew of PG-13 horror which followed in its wake? scream-drew-barrymore-gif Craig Mann is a writer and artist based in San Diego, CA.  His work, including where to go in Tokyo to watch professional wrestling, can be seen at BadArtGoodLove and on Twitter @BadArtGoodLove. It baffles me as much now as it did then. I can’t help but wonder the motives behind casting Drew Barrymore in the most significant scene, and ultimately one of the most iconic scenes of the 1990s. Scream was primarily promoted around the name and reputation of shockmaster Wes Craven.  The cast composed of Hollywood unknowns and family-friendly television actors, known more for their respected shows than their individual contributions (Friends, Party of Five). For years, Drew Barrymore had been an afterthought in film. A former child star, born into the Barrymore dynasty, stole the hearts of America as the adorable younger sister in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. She would become a notorious party animal and drug addict before reaching maturity. While looking for some of the promotional appearances of the cast for the film’s release in 1996, I found a gem of Drew Barrymore and Courtney Love on the red carpet for Primal Fear, released eight months prior to Scream1. Barrymore, not yet cast back into legitimate celebrity status is nonchalant and trying her hardest to act in a manner befitting the company of her infamous celebrity “punk” date for the evening. Barrymore quips at the host when asked about her problems with drugs and alcohol, “Who gives a shit?  Get over it!” Scream was released only a year after Barrymore’s attempted re-emergence as “Hollywood’s Wild Child,” with a stint as cover model in Playboy magazine and a year removed from a scripted “impromptu” topless birthday celebration prancing atop David Letterman’s desk. The entertainment gossip media went bonkers but few were jumping to make Barrymore a star.  Barrymore seemed more interested in eking out small paydays in insignificant parts (Wayne’s World, Batman Forever) where her legacy namesake would allow it and beefing up her “wild child” image than becoming Hollywood’s next break-out star. Barrymore’s attitude and reputation quickly changed after the mega-success of this film. For all of the effort put into making Neve Campbell a star, she accomplished very little and is known primarily for four Scream movies, while Barrymore, in under ten minutes, became one of the biggest box office draws of the following ten years. scream-neve-campbell Liam O’Donnell is co-host and co-creator of the Cinepunx podcast as well as Editor in Chief of Cinepunx.com. He also co-hosts Horror Business and Eric Roberts is The Fucking Man. When not hosting, editing, or promoting so many damn podcasts, Liam works in higher education in diversity and equity programming and education, and lends his promotion and event planning skills to This Is Hardcore Fest and the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Fest. Find him talking all kinds of crazy shit on twitter at @liamrulz. You two have really covered a LOT of my initial thoughts on this, but I can’t help but wonder if my ... frustration let's say, with Scream now may be that the entire meta effort now seems played out? Yes, part of my issue is the dialogue. When I was a kid, watching something I thought may never exist, that is a NEW Wes Craven film in a THEATER, I was entranced by all this snappy witticism. They talk so fast and they have so many snappy, and snarky, things to say. Shit, did I try to talk like this after seeing this film. Guys, I think I tried to talk like this after seeing Scream. Fuck me. Regardless, now this dialogue hurts me. It seems forced, and hard to even keep up with. I can’t care about these people, but I am not sure I need to empathize to enjoy this film. I would rather not hate everyone though, if I can choose. Yet, most of the time when people are talking in this film, I want them to die. Who are these snarky inhuman creatures, and how do I erase them from this world? That is neither here nor there, though. I don’t need Shakespeare from Craven, despite the grand heights of writing he managed in Shocker (omg burn!). The very idea itself, though -- so smart and interesting at the time -- has lost all charm for me. Scream has some effective scares, and some really taut directing. Yet, most of the film operates on this meta criticism level, winking and poking the audience in the ribs. The film keeps loudly whispering to you, “DO YOU GET IT?” and I can’t decide if I am amazed at how fucking charming I found that at the time, or if I am amazed at how frustrating I find it now. Is it simply that Scream, which is actually rather intelligent in how it does this work, inspired any number of rip-offs which simply lacked its insight? Do I hate Scream because it birthed I Know What You Did Last Summer? No, I don’t hate it. I still love it in so many ways. Yet, it no longer charms, and I am not sure which of us has changed and moved on. It hurts though, it hurts not being in love with Scream anymore. The beginning really is brilliant, though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWm_mkbdpCA
1. “Dennis Pennis Interviews Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore (1996)" https://youtu.be/DVrGgmIpD4g

The Grindhouse Sounds of Isaac Williams at Cinepunx

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Nearly every afternoon last week, my wife came home to me blasting music out of my laptop while I read on the living room couch. Despite a stack of half a dozen vinyl LPs awaiting review, I couldn’t stop listening to Isaac Williams’ Soundcloud mixtapes. Going back four years, Williams’ mixes all cull their sounds from cult and exploitation film scores and trailers, but the shapes they sonically take are astonishingly diverse.
Listen to all of Williams' best tracks at Cinepunx. Published 8/1/16

U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” video at Cinepunx

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Back in March, Noisey ran a piece entitled Fuck ‘Trainspotting’! ‘Batman Forever’ Was the Soundtrack That Truly Epitomized the Nineties, wherein J.R. Moores put forth the opinion that the Trainspotting soundtrack is highly overrated, while Batman Forever’s is highly underrated. He’s coming from a British point of view, but he does make the very astute observation that Batman Forever “wrestled the Dark Knight from the sweaty clutches of graphic novel-reading grownups and rightfully handed him back to the kids.”
Read the From the Stereo to Your Screen column on U2 and Batman Forever at Cinepunx. Published 89/1/16

The Fat Boys’ “Are You Ready For Freddy” video at Cinepunx

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If you’ve not read Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree, you can be faulted for thinking that the Fat Boys were just another novelty group, the likes of which littered the ’80s. However, for thems what know, the Fat Boys actually started out as the Disco 3, winning a talent competition sponsored by Swatch in the early ’80s, and gaining popularity through a series of MTV commercials.
Read the From the Stereo to Your Screen column on The Fat Boys & A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master at Cinepunx. Published 7/6/16

Dragnet’s “City of Crime” video at Cinepunx

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"There’s a very short list of things I miss about the movies of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. For the most part, it was a pretty transitory period for the sort of movies I like. Even given the fact that I was a kid at the time, the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia can only do so much to influence my opinions on the actual quality of things like Best of the Best or Judgment Night. Still, there was a wonderful trend at the time to include end credits songs which weren’t just a pop single they were trying to flog to the audience as it threw away its empty popcorn containers. I’m talking about the terrible end credits rap songs. There was everything from “Monster Squad Rap” from 1987’s Monster Squad to Partners In Kryme’s “Turtle Power!” in 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to even the likes of “Maniac Cop Rap” from 1990’s Maniac Cop 2. However, I feel like the pinnacle — or nadir, depending on how you look at it — of this trend came rather early, with “City of Crime,” from 1987’s Dragnet. The film — starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks — was a filmic reworking of the popular 1960s television show, which was itself a reworking of the popular 1950s radio program. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, yet managed to be a fairly faithful homage to the show, which had been running in reruns for years by the time the film came out."
Read the From the Stereo to Your Screen column on Dan Aykroyd & Tom Hanks and Dragnet at Cinepunx, published 6/13/16

Films from the Void on MAFIA VS. NINJA at Cinepunx

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"All other things considered, Mafia vs. Ninja is a fucking delight. My past experiences with late ‘70s and early ‘80s martial arts films have left me a little less than enthused, because most of the flicks have been boring, frankly. It’s hard to imagine gentlemen in black pajamas attacking one another with rice flails being anything other than exciting, but somehow, most kung fu flicks manage to take themselves far too seriously."
Check out the entire review of Mafia vs. Ninja at Cinepunx, published 6/8/16

Halloween Horror Marathon: The Black Cat

poster - black cat Each week, Halloween Horror Marathon does some themed posts. We wrap up the work week with the films of Lucio Fulci. We call them Fulci Fridays, and for those, we team up with Liam O’Donnell of Cinepunx. This week, we look at The Black Cat. Liam So, it seems like, we didn’t do so bad this time. The Black Cat is a Poe adaptation in the broadest sense, although not nearly as broad as the Argento version in Two Evil Eyes. The story follows a few characters, all connected by a black cat and all living in the same town. At first, other than various disasters and the haunting presence of the cat, these characters do not seem directly connected. However, the film unfolds various connections and plot ideas much in the style of Giallo, and eventually we see that these characters are all connected to one man. This strange psychic seems, at first, to be at odds with the cat. However, it soon becomes clear that the cat was at first following his lead, and then he following the cats into the realms of murder. The plot is a bit messy. Still, when I hear Lucio Fulci adaptation of a Poe narrative coherence is not my first expectation. Yet, though this film has much less acclaim then some of his other films, The Black Cat is a surprisingly compelling narrative. It has Fulci’s usual visual style, and it manages to be strange enough to be interesting but connected enough to be dynamic. I found myself really absorbed by it. Plus, with the main antagonist being a cat, supernatural or not, you would expect some mild kills, but oh no! The Black Cat is not a gore fest, but does have some intense scenes which work almost because they are under stated. The film is strange though in that it somehow manages to miss all the thematic elements of the original story. It gets the basic plot elements in there with a number of other complicated elements. However, by making the cat control the man, it seems to miss the point of the original story. Sure, the creepy psychic kills the cat. Yet, unlike in the story, the man is totally justified. The cat in the film is in fact evil, and when the man kills it we understand why. Even more, not only is the cat evil, but it serves the man at first. This is nothing like the story at all. Still, knowing that didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. Nick, did you find the cats to be intimidating or ludicrous? How did the themes of the film work for you? black cat cap 01 Nick The cats were ever-so-slightly intimidating. The first few kills, where the cat is seen only briefly, and the killing is more implied than implicit, are the most effective. As things go along, we get into some rather less believable territory. Now, granted: the scene in the boathouse is bonkers. It’s fantastic. However, it is in no way believable. I get the idea of the cat as an agent of harm, but it just seemed more plausible to have it doing “cat things” that led to deaths. It started out as a “What? Moi?!” sort of thing, and then just went absurd by film’s end. Granted, that sentence kind of sums up Fulci and suits him to an absolute T but, as you put it, it’s more intense than bloody. Face scratches and boathouse corpses aside, it’s rather more PG-13 than R, and it’s kind of surprising. Jill is even a strong, independent woman who survives the film, while managing to establish a sense of autonomy and strength. As far as the Poe story goes -- eh, there’ve been enough films which took nothing but a scrap of plot and ran further. The Vincent Price Poe films went plenty astray from far more scant scraps than this had, and are considered classics. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a classic or rank it with the likes of Tales of Terror, this is still a pretty great movie, and the rare Fulci film that I feel I can recommend to people without coming across a creep. Having looked at all these Fulci films in detail, do you feel that wandering too far afield from his classics starts to reveal flaws? At the very least, do you think it indicates why Fulci isn’t as well-regarded as some of his contemporaries? black cat cap Liam I mean it is hard to say. To me, yes, there are some straight up weird movies we watched. That is without even getting into his embarrassing late '80s phase at all. Yet, Fulci does have 56 directing credits. That is actually a pretty impressive amount of films. Now, we both know that a number of those were during his later period, when his name attached to a project did not mean he did much for that project. Still, the man kept working long after many directors may have given up, and that is something I respect. Now, I think the basic argument that his most well known movies are likely his best movies I have no issue with. Still, while some of the films we watched were not one I loved, I am still willing to dive further into this maestro’s work. Why? Each movie has some element of his, some aspect of something he is working out cinematically, at least in his work before Conquest. Even after, there are a few diamonds in the rough, and I am willing to sift through to find them. Even his films that are less than appealing to me, I do find them interesting in some sense. I just think we have two issues to contend with which we have covered but bare repeating. One is that, in quite a few of his films, Fulci seems to have not had much respect for women. I shudder to think anyone would watch his films and think this level of misogyny is uniquw to him among his contemporaries. This does not excuse it, but it should make it somewhat less shocking. The other is that we see, later in his life, the work of a director who seems to have lost in some sense his passion for his work. What makes A Cat in the Brain so impressive to me is the way it comments upon this, and does something creative with it despite his own medical issues at the time. Fulci was a man who struggled with emotional and mental issues as well as a severe case of diabetes. His life had some major tragedies in it, and no little amount of scorn for the art he did manage to create. To consider that, despite all that, the man managed to direct some of the greatest genre films of all time is still something worthy of deep respect. Still, there are some truly horrendous Fulci films and to pretend otherwise would be dishonest. In fact, though I did not love all the movies we watched, these still represent some of the more respected of his lesser known movies and none of the truly embarrassing ones. Maybe it is my cynical nature, but as much time as I have spent complaining about them, I have some small respect even for the bad films. Bad Fulci is spectacularly bad, so maybe, given the chance to really dig into more, I may come to respect how insane they are. I am not sure. I can say that The Black Cat, while no The Beyond, is still a great movie. I certainly prefer it to other Poe adaptations I have seen. But what do you think? Did we expose for you some of the under belly of Fulci films? Do you want to dive further into his catalog, maybe see some more films that are totally unfamiliar? What movies that you have not seen yet still intrigue you? [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofLECchzQto[/embed] Nick Get the Arrow Blu-ray release of Fulci's The Black Cat as an edition entitled Edgar Allan Poe's Black Cats, which also includes Sergio Martino's giallo Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. I barely had time to watch the Fulci disc before this went up, much less the Martino film, but it's absolutely gorgeous. Given the massive number of terrible transfers of Fulci films out there (such as my DVD of The Seven Doors of Death), every 4K transfer like this one is all the more appreciated. My absolutely wrecked hearing also appreciated the newly-translated titles. The Arrow Blu is also insanely-packed with extras. The interview with Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror - The Films of Lucio Fulci (which somebody should buy me, because it looks awesome but is prohibitively expensive) is an absolute delight. He not only analyzes the film itself, but goes into detail on Poe and how it connects to other Fulci films, and frankly just made me want to start this whole crazy project over again as a thing unto itself. The idea of doing this every week for a year sounds ... strangely appealing. However, for now, Halloween is upon us, and ending this with some Poe seems appropriate.

Halloween Horror Marathon: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

poster - schizoid Each week, Halloween Horror Marathon does some themed posts. We wrap up the work week with the films of Lucio Fulci. We call them Fulci Fridays, and for those, we team up with Liam O’Donnell of Cinepunx. This week, we look at A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Nick When this was released, Dario Argento had put out The Bird with the Crystal Plumage the year before. Given that film’s massive success both within Italy and abroad, it’s difficult to see Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as anything other than other than a response to Argento’s movie (or, rather more cynically, a cash-in). Additionally, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin also came out just a week after Argento’s The Cat o’ Nine Tales, meaning that within the span of one scant year, three of the most influential gialli would be released. Argento is obviously more well-known for giallo, while Fulci can be said to have released maybe two -- this, and Don’t Torture A Duckling. However, upon revisiting this and Don’t Torture A Duckling, it’s interesting to notice that while Fulci’s always been a fan of lingering, loving shots of gorgeous naked women, the stylishly gory violence which became one of giallo’s hallmarks is fairly absent from his work in that genre. That’s an ironic thing to notice, especially given the grotesquery which would later become Fulci’s signature. I found that revisiting this, it’s impressive to note that Fulci nails pretty much all of the rest of the giallo trademarks: hallucinatory visions,sexual intrigue, and an overly-complicated plot with more twists and turns than a mountain highway. It looks gorgeous, unsurprisingly, and it’s quite impressive to see how Fulci took all the elements that Mario Bava and Argento set down, and twisted them just enough to make it a little more his. Maybe it’s the addition of the screaming mad hippies, but something about this just feels a little sleazier than your standard giallo. Am I imposing my pre-existing knowledge of Fulci on A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, or do you also notice a patina of oiliness on this flick? Liam Yes, there is something very grimey and awful to this movie, which by the way I totally loved. I have to dispute your facts though, I would say Fulci has four gialli. One on Top of the Other and Beatrice Cenci would both count, I think. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually SEEN these films, let alone his supernatural thriller, The Psychic, so what do I know? I can only say that compared to some other Gialli, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is somehow more sanitary and more cruel. There is something about the filming which gets at a more gritty reality some of the more stylized gialli I have seen. Of course, this might be because of the horribly realistic dog operation scene. This was the first time a special effects supervisor had to appear in court to prove that his effects were not real. The judiciary was convinced that Fulci had filmed real dogs being operated on. His special effects man had to bring in his effects to show that they had not, in fact, filmed eviscerated dogs. This detail is, of course, just one element of the film, and is no surprise in a Fulci feature. Relative to other Gialli though, despite this falsified dog murder, this film is bloodless. So why this feeling afterward of being so dirty? To me, it is the way that the film’s answer is so obvious the entire film, and yet it makes so many efforts to obscure it in the most seedy of ways. This, when you get to the end, is about blackmail and murder. Along the way though we have mental illness, drugs, hippies, suspicions thrown every which way, and even suicide. This is perhaps the worst detail. It doesn’t help that every red herring in the movie plays off some of our worst assumptions as an audience, or that in between each character is morally suspect in some way. No, it is that the murderer not only faked their own mental distress so cynically, but even allowed their father to take the blame and commit suicide. It is all so calculated, so mean, it makes what is otherwise a relaxed film seem more corrupt. Granted, there is the other issue, which I also felt in Don’t Torture a Duckling. Do you feel like this film is further evidence of Fulci’s mixed relations to women on screen? Granted, there are a few examples of females who are not TOTALLY awful, but are the women in this movie particularly vile or am I just being overly sensitive? a lizard cap 01 Nick No, you’re pretty much on-point, here. By the film’s end, you’ve seen Julia calling Carol’s husband to threaten him with extortion over her affair with Carol -- while Carol sits right next to her! -- along with Carol faking her illness, and Carol’s stepdaughter Joan also seeming to be involved in some nefarious business. Most women are either vile or out of it or pretending to be out of it -- they’re either conspiratorial evil witches or idiots. Plus, every death in this film is that of a woman, with the exception of Carol’s father, who dies by his own hand. It’s like Fulci is just wanting to show that, no matter what you do as a woman, something fucking terrible will happen. It’s awful, because there’s not even the patronistic trope of one pure woman against whom all others are judged and found wanting. They’re ALL awful. What makes it worse is that they just seem to be nothing but that: women who are bad, period, full stop. It’s weird: Argento’s Suspiria features a murderous coven of witches, which should theoretically be way worse, because it’s a group of women hiding and conspiring to kill. But somehow, Argento manages to make it seem empowering, because there’s a plot, there’s agency, and there’s something of a purpose behind what the witches are doing. He’s not perfect, but his women exhibit varying degrees of duality that Fulci’s do not. Honestly, going into The Black Cat, I’m hoping to finally get away from Fulci’s repeated shitty treatment of women. Looking forward, is there anything about that film which seems like it might stray from the director’s well-worn misogynist path? Liam I have two things to say to that. First off, no. I mean not in the sense of violence and some poorly written female characters. I am just not sure Fulci has much space for developing many female characters with any depth or agency. I do want to say though that, while they are not paragons of feminist ideals, I am not sure the women in either The Beyond or The City of the Living Dead are quite as vile or useless as they are in his early gialli. I have also, as we said, not seen all of his work so it is likely there may be some surprising women in those films. I know, I am entirely mansplaining for Fulci. Look, I love many of his movies, and they helped form my imagination around what horror could look and feel like. His aesthetics, more than his sexual politics, have been really important to me. The Black Cat will certainly feature some violence that will be difficult to justify, and I doubt there will be any sort of female heroine with dignity and complexity. Yet, I still want to defend the maestro. The man was an Italian trying to please Italian audiences? Does that have any traction? I guess what it boils down to is I have to understand that not every work of art is going to match my ideological bent. That does not make me wrong, even if not especially in horror films, female characters should at the very least be human. That seems a reasonable thing to expect. That does not mean though I can rampage through the past declaring every horror filmmaker suspect. Still though I am reaching to defend Fulci because I do find him endearing as both a creator and a figure. The reality is that a film like Suspiria, also not a paragon of feminist ideals, somehow manages to feel less awful than some Fulci films. I really just need to own my personal moral suspect nature. I have to admit that, despite feeling worn down by the misogynistic ways that Fulci has portrayed women in these movies, I still tend to like them. Don’t Torture a Duckling was a bit much for me, but I really enjoyed this film. I will likely enjoy The Black Cat, as well. It really isn’t Fulci I have an issue with, it is myself, and my tendency to ignore how often I really do NOT care. Fulci was an Italian film maker in a time when portrayal of women within this industry did follow certain despicable patterns. Here is hoping our next movie has a little less awful in it. There's a very solid version of the film on DVD from Shriek Show, and Death Waltz reissued Morricone's score as a double vinyl LP last year. There's also what looks to be an excellent Blu-ray coming from Mondo Macabro sometime very soon. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOmQ0TtoBoQ[/embed]