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? 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? 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.
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? 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]
The final Italian mind bender this week is Suspiria, the crown jewel of Dario Argento's giallo crown, according to critics and film scholars. It's not my favorite -- I like Goblin's score for Profundo Rosso a lot more, and Cat O' Nine Tails far outstrips Suspiria in terms of plot twists and insane kills. However, Suspiria is the big giant to slay -- and, perhaps not coincidentally, the one Argento film I have with a good transfer and subtitles. The plot is surprisingly straightforward: a bunch of weird things happen at a ballet school, we find out it was ran by a coven of witches, they all die. Now, actually motive and intent are entirely absent, and the deaths of all these people go unexplained, but you know what was going on, if not why, and that's better than usual for most giallo. The most-interesting plot points come as an expository monologue -- it's almost as if Argento set the stage for later slasher scenes in the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and any other film where the villain needs an interesting backstory. The film oozes with symbolic tension. As Suzy arrives at the school, the rain drips down the front of it like blood. It's a film that's riveting -- you can't look away, for fear of missing a scene beautifully framed, or a detail that will lend some much-needed information. The way by which Argento drives home the growing panic is masterful. His alternating between intimate close-ups of violence -- shot like love scenes -- and wide-angle establishing shots of characters in panic absolutely emphasizes the characters' solitude. The monochromatic shots, and the use of warm colors to demonstrate death and cold ones to speak decay both create further visual cues which telegraph mood and emotion. Suspiria has justifiably earned its reputation as a pinnacle of Italian giallo horror, even if there are other films I find more fun. Goblin's score -- while admittedly not as fun as that for Profundo Rosso -- is still interesting, if a bit sedate. The theme's creepy as hell, though, and you can snag the Cnevox pressing of the score from 20 Buck Spin. Watch Suspiria on YouTube below. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onTYKt5lFNU[/embed]