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 3 Dimension Films, 2000 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. It seems like the opening gave Scream 3 an opportunity to really be something different. Cotton Weary being a douchebag on a cell phone notwithstanding -- which is evidently a way to set this in Hollywood even more than the sight of the iconic sign would have otherwise -- using the Ghostface voice-changer in a new way, as well as killing off a franchise character is definitely new. Unfortunately, from the moment they kick in with a Creed song, Scream 3 shows itself to be the tertiary film in every way: far too many character actors? Check. Unnecessary pop culture references? Check. Character actors making cameos and thus becoming living, breathing pop culture references? Check and fucking check. Thanks, Jay and Silent Bob. I mean, fuck: they even manage to bring back a popular dead character with a video. Still, we do get the likes of Emily Mortimer in an early role, and Parker Posey being weird and funny is always a delight, to say nothing of a deadpan Patrick Warburton. All that can’t possibly make up for a plot which is even more self-referential than absolutely necessary. Not only do we have Stab 3, the film within a film, but we have the set of the movie being the set from the original Scream, thus making all the discussions of film and pop culture and cinematic violence ever so much more meta. Downside to Scream 3 is that, unlike so many other sequels this point in a series, doesn’t ramp up the violence. I think that’s my big problem with Scream: for a slasher series, the kills peaked early. By this point, it’s all jump cuts and aftershots. This movie sleepwalks through its plot, which is so much a rip-off of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, it’s basically a fucking remake. God. This makes Jason Takes Manhattan look like Shakespeare in the Park. That Carrie Fisher cameo is fucking amazing, though. God, she’s amazing. It’s so wonderful to see a strong, take-no-shit woman who doesn’t get killed or beat the fuck up or punished in some way. The treatment of women in these films at the hands of abusive guys is pretty horrid overall, but Roman’s opinions and the story of Maureen Prescott is absolutely gross. So, yeah -- thanks for being dope as hell, Carrie Fisher. 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. I cannot muster much to say about this movie that Nick did not already cover. It really is a painful exercise to watch it. The first film rubs me raw with the constant barrage of meta commentary and jokes, but shit at least it takes wit and insight to write that stuff. This film is lazy, boring, and offensively cliche. The worst part for me may be the arch to somehow “deepen” or “complexify” the story with some sort of pre-origin scenario for this mess. First, I have watched a LOT of trilogies and I cannot even name how many third installments rely on this trope, but let's take it as a given. The idea of adding some layer of narrative to this series is actually exciting. I would love for hidden layers to be revealed. Of course, the narrative would have to have the sort of ambiguity to support that, and Scream doesn't. I guess that is why the final reveal is such a frustrating shit show. No, having some secret brother, and a rape narrative that somehow explains someone's sexual identity, is not what I was looking for. Shit, this feels like some kind of grimey sex anxiety Giallo plot but without the charm, style, or sexiness for that matter. If anything, this is somehow the LEAST sexy of these films, which is saying a lot. I could similarly rail about how uninspired the kills are, how the cameos other than Carrie Fisher are awful. Scream 3 is every sequel stereotype you can imagine, a warehouse of bad ideas that only greed and drugs can justify. Is it the worst sequel I have ever seen? No, of course not. Come on: this horror. It is though a reminder that, though they are better than this, the entire series seems a little ill-conceived at this point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYi-rmHfrP8
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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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
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 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? 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. 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
1. “Dennis Pennis Interviews Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore (1996)" https://youtu.be/DVrGgmIpD4g
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]
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 Cat in the Brain. Nick: It's astonishing that this late in Lucio Fulci's career, he managed to turn out a film that exceeds his earlier work. You can look at just the first five minutes for examples both in terms of oddity -- a herd of cats devouring a brain -- and in regards to casual brutality -- a man carving up his mistress and eating part of her thigh. Of course, you find it's all just a scene from a movie: in fact, a Lucio Fulci movie. Fulci is actually in A Cat in the Brain, playing himself. The movie repeatedly calls back to Fulci's past work, commenting on it, making this sort of a meta fin-de-sicle sort of thing. I've read a lot comparing it to Fellini's 8 1/2, but can't really comment, having never seen it. However, it does remind me quite a bit of Vincent Price's 1974 film, Madhouse, which also used clips from the lead's actual films to present a fictional basis for murder. That, too, was sort of a career retrospective at the end of things (sidebar: I am aware that Price would continue working up until his death in 1993, but pretty much everything after Madhouse was mostly voiceover work). Back to the ways in which A Cat in the Brain exceeds Fulci’s earlier work with which I started, though. In addition to starting out with a scene that manages to be weird, excessively violent, and encompasses casual nudity, one must really give points to the director for one-upping past depravity with Nazisploitation in this one. That particular scene gets supremely weird, and manages to disturb without a single drop of blood. Still, the movie's basically a clip show of the director's greatest his. Even with the frequent hallucinatory asides, it's actually the easiest to follow of all of Fulci's films. Strange to think that this amalgamation of past work allows for a fairly straightforward plot without too many points or aspects of it requiring you to suspend your disbelief to the point of exhaustion. Random thought: is the use of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" before the good doctor Schwarz kills the prostitute an homage to Fritz Lang's M? I mean, it has to be, right, especially given that it pops up again? Liam: Lucio Fulci takes a variety of kills and scenes from other films, some of which he made and many of which he did not, and films wrap around sequence to accompany them in which he plays himself. This should be truly awful, no? So, why does it work? I have to be honest, this does not actually play better for me then the early and in my mind masterful works of the great maestro. The pieces fit together too sloppily, and the gore, most of which was not actually filmed with Fulci’s involvement, lacks his sense of style. Is it better than most of Fulci’s later output? Of course. It is in fact a strange shining gem in this later half of his career, in what is otherwise a sea of dreg. Not that all of these later films are unwatchable, but many give off a sense of boredom and a lack of concern. This film though, even with some of its rougher elements, largely makes sense. So why make a movie like this? The comparisons to 8 1/2, I think, are quite fair, if actually a bit gruesome in its humor. Ok, a lot gruesome. The film plays in some ways like a tour of awful things, with only the faintest plot line to tie it all together. Yet that plot line is so meta, so reflexive on Fulci and his art, I am sucked in. What has his work been about, what has his life been about, what has he even made? In fact, in a larger sense, what is the work of any horror director mean? It is difficult, knowing as I do Fulci’s real life emotional and health struggles, not to see something terribly maudlin and sad about the film. Yes, it is filled with some gags here and there. The gore aspect is played gruesomely, but still with a sense of how fun it is to be so very gross. Yet, at its heart I sense a brilliant man making a mockery of himself. When one does something like this from a space of certainty that is one thing. Fulci though is creating as a man past his prime, struggling with horrible diabetic complications which I am sure pained him in every moment. He did participate in a few films after this one, but nothing that gained him the kind of attention I am sure he would have wanted. So do I revel in the fact that perhaps Fulci did have a sense of humor about his unique and strange life before he died? Or do I feel despondent that Cat In The Brain is perhaps a dark joke, a feeling of failure? Is this a kind of death's head humor before the end, or an embracing of something wonderful in the man’s life? Honestly, it doesn't matter. A Cat in the Brain is a film that works despite having everything going against it. Perhaps, by injecting the personal into this final grand guignol exploration of death and art Fulci hit some sort of magic mixture? What do you think? How do the rumors surrounding Fulci’s death affect how you see the film? I will be honest, I did not make the Lang reference you did, and I feel less cultured for having missed it. Nick: Well, if it makes you feel better, I just had to look up Lucio Fulci’s death in order to answer your question. That just seems like such a sad possibility, and a strange departure after this film, because it seems like the director is actually having fun with this picture. His character, despite the repeated wondering as to what’s it all about, ends up with a happy ending twice over -- he gets the girl, and he successfully finishes a film. Yes: the film’s such a reflection on the man’s work that as a meta work (the director reflecting on himself in a film in which he stars), it succeeds. The unfortunate aspect of that is that as a viewer, you start reflecting on the films he made and wonder why they show clips from terrible movies he put his name on, rather than going further into the Madhouse vein and explicitly referencing his earlier work. The only “explicit” references to that early work are a sad reliance on nudity that just seems crass and an appeal to the inevitable home video market at the time. The film’s fun, to be sure, but the fact of the matter, while I enjoyed its ridiculousness, it’s a film that’s surprising in that it’s better than I thought it would be, but not nearly as good as it could have been. You always wonder what makes a director lose their mojo, and I can’t imagine what being pigeonholed, on top of a near-constant level of pain, could have done for the man. Here he took a chance to make a movie that reflected where he was, as well as where he’d been, and I think the fact that it absolutely shines through is why this movie is as compelling as it is. Do you think that Fulci succeeded in the grand guignol career summation for which it seems he was aiming? Liam: Well, reading about this film on Wikipedia and the recent Fulci feature by my boy Jacob Knight over at Birth Movies Death, I get the feeling that some of the footage was made available to him as part of a settlement. It seems that some companies had started putting his name on movies without even directly asking him, and the footage we are seeing in this film is mostly cutting room floor gore, stuff that was left out of other films. So, Fulci is given access to a bunch of someone else’s gore -- some he approved some he did not -- and he pieces it together to make a fun and weird commentary on his career? Yeah, I think this does work as a commentary on him. Isn’t, in some ways, that what Fulci has done? Taken what was made available to him and done his best with it. No one, I do not think, would describe any of his films as art films. Yet, especially in his earlier career, Fulci had a knack for taking what was essentially pedestrian material and raising it up. Not offense to the grand Italian tradition of ripping off other film maker by making unauthorized sequels, but Zombi 2 has to be the GREATEST unauthorized sequel I have ever seen. The City of the Living Dead is a triumph, to me, because of the directing. Now, I do not want to make my case to hard. Clearly, his partnership with long time collaborator Sacchetti was an important aspect of his work. In fact, this film is maybe the lone movie from his work without Sacchetti that is kind of great. However, nothing he made with Sacchetti that I have seen is great only because of the script. Between them existed some alchemy where exploitation was elevated to new heights, and their films were somehow still their gritty core but also something more. The Beyond is still a grindhouse level horror film. It is also sublime. So, in deep pain and even a bit of shame, Fulci manages to string together a moving bit of magic. A less spell if it were, a minor miracle. He takes other folks rejected violence and with it makes one last romanticized version of himself to almost say goodbye to his audience. I dunno, I am likely looking to deeply again, but there is in that something maudlin but also victorious. Good for you maestro, and thank you. You can find a lovely copy of the Fabio Frizzi score from Mondo, and A Cat in the Brain is also available on DVD from Grindhouse Releasing. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLwvOZTd1Sg[/embed]
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 Zombie, aka Zombi 2, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters. Nick: This was the first Fulci film I ever saw, and it’s still my favorite. There’s quite a few reasons why: its fantastic music by Fabio Frizzi, which includes the piece “Sequence 8,” featuring the ominous mellotron to which the composer would return for so many other Fulci scores like A Cat in the Brain and The Beyond. Additionally, the pace at which this movie unravels is something with which modern audiences ought to have an issue, but personally, I love. The heat of the island can be felt in the fact that Zombie moves at a sedate pace. However, the way it’s punctuated is almost metronomic -- it kicks off with two back-to-back situations that give the viewer a glimpse into what’s happening, but raises more questions than it answers. There’s then a long, mood-setting bit of expositional plot which seems to be going nowhere but some gratuitous nudity, until said nudity also leads into A FIGHT BETWEEN A ZOMBIE AND A SHARK. After that, Fulci’s film starts to pick up steam -- again, slowly, but with a purpose that starts stacking shocking horror upon shocking horror. Liam: The pace is part of the magic. No, really. From the opening sequence, as messed up now as it was when I was 17, to the utterly depressing finale. Zombi 2 somehow manages to vacillate from entirely atmospheric to over the top gross without losing any steam. This film defined Fulci for me until I had really dug into the man’s output. Sure, it is an Italian rip off film, maybe lacking in certain unique qualities. Yet it also sets up so many of its own ideas. The aforementioned zombie vs shark is a brilliant if also insane move. The idea that SOME form of magic or voodoo is definitely to blame really adds a white guilt element missing from some of the other famous zombie films. The gore is some next level stuff. The infamous “eye scene” really established not only the point at which fun and stomach churning meet for me, but also made me watch for eyes n every other Fulci film and realize how much eye close-ups are a technique of his. Beyond all that, the cast are all scenery chewers in their own way. None plays it subtle, and none should. This film demands they respond to every aspect of it as if it were happening on some hyper plane of reality. I wonder though, do you think Zombi 2 became the new standard of undead gore over the Romero film of which it is an unlicensed sequel? Would a completely naive modern audience make it through the long stretches of inaction to get at the brief but wonderful moments of ultra gore? You can snag Zombie as an excellent Blu-ray from Blue Underground, and Death Waltz Records has remastered and reissued the Fabio Frizzi score on vinyl. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UYvhyzugtA[/embed]
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 Don't Torture A Duckling. Nick The real mark of a zonkers Italian flick is being able to watch it over and over, reveling in its strange visuals and plot twists, and having fun with the absurdity of the violence. The first time through, Don't Torture A Duckling is an enjoyable watch, but the second? Man, knowing the ending and all the twists just make for a slog. It's good, solid, filmmaking, but Fulci hadn't yet learned to be fun at this point. There are moments of ridiculousness, like a naked woman mocking a young boy, or repeated zooms on a Donald Duck toy, but nothing really goes into "nasty because we can" territory. I appreciate that, at heart, this is proto-Fulci. Notably, it’s the gore effects that you’d see in his later works. When the villagers corner the village witch, Maciara, and attack her, take a look at the way she’s beaten with the chain: seven years later, in The Beyond, it’s pretty much repeated when the villagers attack Schweick. You also have your woman with no agency until a man takes charge -- in this instance, Barbara Bouchet as Patrizia (you could also include Irene Papas as Dona Aurelia Avallone, the priest's mother). That's a pattern that repeats in each and every Gates of Hell movie, as well as the likes of The New York Ripper. It does get delightfully fucked-up in the middle, while the witch confesses and speaks, but it's otherwise a blip in the middle of an otherwise pretty bog-standard thriller. Once her very disturbing, and hallucinogenic death scene is over, it's back to boring until the end. For the five minutes it lasts, it's quietly disturbing violent intensity. The ending is great pay-off if you’ve been watching attentively, but if you’ve seen it once, that’s enough. Is it giallo? There's a mystery, there's highly-stylized violence, very pointless nudity of very beautiful women, and strangely-framed shots. And, much like a giallo, the actual plot is pretty negligible -- but, in this case, not full enough of absurdly psychedelic imagery to make being able to ignore it a possibility. That's what separates this from Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy: in the case of those films, you don't need to know what's going on to enjoy them. Don't Torture a Duckling is too much detective story to be able to just sit back and zone out on the oddity unfolding in front of you. But having watched it a second time, there is something a little more which can be sussed from the film, beyond the action highlights. For instance: is there something we're supposed to take from the opening scenes of the town witch, holding a child's skeleton in her hands, standing within view of the modern highway? Absolutely: the film's as much about the battle of a small town against encroaching modernity as it is a search for the killer of these young boys. If you really want to read into it, you can reduce the film to being about trying to freeze time in a specific mileau, be it the city trying to cope with modernity (even as they hide their own perversions or stone a witch) or the priest "saving" the boys from their own adolescence, or even when they intersect in the priest's lecture on the people who watch TV or read the news, and how "certain magazines" don't make it to town. There’s a line in this old Video Watchdog review that sums it up perfectly, saying that Don't Torture A Duckling "transcends glib finger-pointing to speak truth to a culture unbalanced by having one foot planted in an ancient world of saints and martyrs while the other is set in a modern age of lonely people without a vocabulary to express their sadness." Liam I am not gonna lie, this is one of those Fulci films which, for whatever reason, I entirely missed. I am not sure if it is the “giallo” nature of it, or perhaps the simple fact that it is an early movie which is more difficult to find. However, while I have seen the Gates of Hell trilogy so many times they feel like home, this film was not even on my radar to watch until you suggested it. Don’t Torture a Duckling is a real head scratcher when you consider the entire breadth of Fulci films, and I am not sure how I feel about it. I agree with your basic idea that, while this movie is well made, it lacks a lot of the ridiculous aspects of Fulci’s later work, the strange and cruel elements that make those movie so unavoidably entertaining. I think though, when it comes to questions I have about Fulci, this film is now at the top of my list of examples. In fact, if one is concerned about the ways Fulci depicts gender, and issue only further complicated by stories of his behavior on set, this film doesn’t help. I cannot think of another of his films I have seen in which women are so clearly objects of both fear and derision. Not to say that a film like New York Ripper does not have many of its own problems. What gets to me here though is how many varieties of stereotypical female characters are on display here, and how many of them are negative. From the loud and large prostitutes to the young drug addict, and of course the witch who is murdered so brutally, the film seems to have no little anxiety about women. This of course bleeds into a second aspect of the film, which is its anxieties around sex. Here though, I suspect your idea about the old/new dynamic, or rather the traditional smashing into the modern is really at play. Still, while Fulci wants to use sex in his film in the same entertaining and sultry manner of many giallo, this film drips with a certain awkward attitude about sex. The scene which really stuck with me was the one of the hip young women with the young man. Yes, there is more going on in this scene, but there was also some really strange sexual tensions in it. I was impressed by it in some ways, but taken as a whole I am not sure what to make of it. I was reminded again of New York Ripper in that it is the only other of Fulci’s films I could think of in which sex plays such an important role thematically. Yet, it was entirely different. Of course, I am reading far too deeply into this one, as is my tendency. Unfortunately, what Don’t Torture a Duckling suffers from, for me, is more plot turns and reveals than interest. Giallo are deliciously lurid, disturbingly violent, and stylistically masterful. For a director who, in many ways, is one of my favorites specifically in his stylistic mastery, I was disappointed at how bland the film is. The small bursts of gore are very satisfying, and the murder of the witch is as you described. A nightmare scenario hinting at some of the beautiful insanity that was to come later in Fulci’s career. The final reveal (spoiler: the priest!) speaks for me very much to this anxiety around the old Italy and the modern. In this I am not referencing the most recent scandals around the catholic priesthood, though this film may remind any of us of that for sure. No, but they are also not unrelated. In Italy, if not around the world, for many the priesthood represents some sort of hold over from another time. An entire class of people living off of superstitions that for many seem not only irrational, but archaic. The reveal of his murderous rampage is not entirely unsympathetic, but it does hint at this feeling, that old Italy must make way for the new. In this case, the old is literally killing the future, in the form of the very young men it was meant to protect and prepare for the future. There's a pretty great Don't Torture A Duckling DVD you can get from Blue Underground, while there's a discount version from Anchor Bay with lesser video quality, but it comes as a two-pack with City of the Living Dead. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_M3a3m6wOc[/embed]
The Halloween Horror Marathon returns to Rock Star Journalist, starting this Thursday. Once again, we're doing a weekly team-up with Liam O'Donnell of Cinepunx for his Journal of Fear. You can find the complete list after the jump. We're doing some thematic things this year: Resurrection Sundays, with zombie movies; New Movie Mondays, covering films that were released in the last year; Fulci Fridays, where we do a Lucio Fulci film with Liam; and Cinematic Saturdays, where we cover a film we saw in an actual movie theater the night before. GET HYPED. 1 Tourist Trap 2 Don't Torture A Duckling # 3 The Green Inferno ^ 4 The Dead Next Door + 5 It Follows * 6 Spookies 7 Witchboard 8 Slither 9 Zombie Flesh Eaters # 10 The Final Girls ^ 11 Living Dead Girl + 12 Housebound * 13 Dead & Buried 14 Frogs 15 Madman 16 Cat in the Brain # 17 Crimson Peak ^ 18 The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue + 19 Cooties * 20 Lurking Fear 21 Dead Pit 22 Dolls 23 The Black Cat # 24 The Last Witch Hunter ^ 25 Anthropophagus + 26 We Are Still Here * 27 Curtains 28 Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers 29 Eyes of a Stranger 30 A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin # 31 Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse ^ + Resurrection Sundays (zombie movies) * New Movie Mondays (recent releases) # Fulci Fridays (with Liam O'Donnell) ^ Cinema Saturdays (movies in an actual theater)
Today's post features special guest commentary from Cinapse's Liam O'Donnell. He and both do this "watch a shit-ton of horror in October and write about it" thing, and so we've decided to team up on a few films this month. His column his entitled "Journal of Fear," and you should totally read it. He also does a podcast called Cinepunx with Joshua Alvarez, and it’s super-fun. Go listen. On to the film ... Nick Spacek When you watch a movie that has influenced so many other pictures, it's hard to separate what it was from what it now is. A Bay of Blood (aka Blood Bath, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) was Mario Bava taking the violence of giallo and making it the focus of a film, rather than yet another stylistic element. However, seeing how much of Bava's film would shape the next three decades of slasher pictures, one can't help but see how many tropes were lifted from A Bay of Blood, as if its plot was the Ten Commandments, written in stone for later directors to use: teenagers getting offed in a decrepit location, overly-complicated deaths, a creepy character in the background, and even the one kid who's super-awkward and weird around girls. Divesting one's self of the "oh, well, this has all been done before" attitude is paramount for enjoying A Bay of Blood, because in 1971, it hadn't. This was all new, and watching it through unfiltered eyes makes it pretty astonishing. While gore'd been done before -- Herschell Gordon Lewis' films certainly set the standard a decade before -- it'd never been done so realistically and so up-front. Bava set the stage with Blood and Black Lace, but that film's an emotional step away from A Bay of Blood, and is as prototypical a giallo as this is a slasher. It's a strange and powerful movie that Bava's crafted here, and the cross and double-cross plot keeps things moving along at a brisk clip, leaving you wondering who's going to die next and how. Any character's up for the killing, and the kills still shock. Bobby getting a cleaver to the face had me gasping aloud. A good portion of A Bay of Blood's shock potential has to do with the absolute contrast between the pastoral long shots and sweeping piano pieces which accompany them and the tight, up-close and personal attacks. The atmosphere is absolutely crafted, and while there are a few moments of levity early on with the teenagers and their frolics, it only serves to make the shocks which follow that much more intense. Liam O'Donnell I carry the great and unavoidable shame that I have not seen nearly as many Bava films as I should have. This is only my third, and yet even with that little experience with his work, this felt like an intense shift. The violence in Bay of Blood is quite pronounced. It is in these shocking scenes I guess the film had the most influence on the forthcoming slasher subgenre. Indeed, some films, like Friday the 13th Part II -- which I reviewed for this series -- borrowed quite obviously from these kills. Strange though, because while I noticed the violence as an intense shift, and I could see how the way it was portrayed was such an important part of the future of filmmaking, it was largely insignificant for me. You so astutely point out, Nick, how difficult it is to see a work which has been so influential for what it is rather than for what it would become reflected in other films. That is true of this movie, but for me perhaps it allowed me to see how unique Bava's film is compared to the horror films I am accustomed to. There is something I am having trouble describing about the film, in that I am not sure if it is something anarchic or something nihilistic. That is specifically the way there is no good or bad character in the film, but rather a great net of murder and selfishness which cover the whole. Yes, one could argue the young people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time represent "innocent victims," but do they really? It seems to me that Bava goes out of his way in this film to show something negative or grating or frustrating about most of the characters on the screen. More importantly, though the film plays at first as a giallo style mystery, it very quickly becomes a tale of murder which includes many many people. In spreading out the iconic role of "the killer" across so many, it is true that Bava creates some dynamic tension to a slightly over burdened script. No one could accuse Bay of Blood of being too kinetic, I don't think. However, he also takes apart the structure of these kinds of movies, intentionally or no, that does not translate to the slasher films he seems to have inspired. While classic slasher films do like to show us the moral failings of many of the victims of their insane murderers, they still maintain a classic good and bad structure. There is the killer and their are the killers victims. Perhaps we feel a certain sympathy or a certain disdain for the killer's various victims, but of course they are victims. I am being a bit too broad, as there are certainly exceptions to this idea, though those films usually spill over into revenge narratives or wish fulfillment narratives. The point is that not only do so many characters kill in this film, they do it for so little. There is not even the noble wronged person but, rather, awful people killing each other. This seems in one way anarchic. It overthrows, possibly, our assumptions about relationships of power and good. Yet, it is also nihilistic, as it seems to assume that almost every person, given enough reason, could decapitate someone or embed a machette in their skull. Of course, I am getting a bit too heady. At base, it seems that Bava was doing exactly as you suggested, that is highlighting the violence of the Giallo genre above all else. Do you think then there is more to the film then that? Should we thank him for the history of movies he spawned or regret his unintentional creation? Nick: I think that the innumerable variations on the theme created by Bava demonstrate so very well the flexibility of what he created. Given that the slasher genre has been shown to take place in any locale, with any character, with any victim, and still manage to provide new and interesting twists over forty year on, I'm amazed that it took as long as it did for someone to combine the masked killer story with the Rube Goldberg deaths of b-movies. All the ingredients were there for decades, and yet, it took decades before someone thought to combine them. I think your point of nihilism isn't too heady at all. This film came at the very start of the ‘70s, and that was a decade of movies absolutely loaded with moral ambiguity. Be it Jake in Chinatown, almost any character in The Godfather, Travis Bickell in Taxi Driver, or even Han Solo in Star Wars, the decade became defined by characters who operated in moral gray areas. This was just a bit more black and white -- well, almost purely, darkly evil. Do you think this is due to an Italian way of thing, like Sergio Leone's pictures? Liam: Well, one thing that did not originally occur to me was humor. In other words, is it possible that this stunningly dark turn is not -- in some sense -- comic? Certainly, the film has some comic moments, and I don't think that would be outside of the Bava style. Then again, a darkly comic take on something so morally grey, or rather so intensely evil, would not be too far outside of Leone either. I can't help but wonder if, as an American, I am inclined perhaps to take the film too seriously, which is perhaps to take it not seriously enough. That is, am I not peering below the surface to how utterly comic it is to have a "murder mystery" where many of the supposed red herrings are still actually killers. There is just simply not one main killer, a sort of focus of our intention. Is Bay of Blood some sort of comic farce? Or is the film simply having fun with a genre Bava was, at this point, one of the pioneers of? Is it too simple, when it comes to these Italian films, to look for genre clarity at all? Nick: I'm astonished at how many layers this movie ends up having, when you take a look at it. I didn't even think about the humor. Upon further consideration, it really is almost a parody of giallo, if you really think about it. Rather than one killer, masked or otherwise hidden, you've multiple, all of whom are easily tied to the deaths they cause. The deaths aren't shown in artily-framed shots, lit like a dream (or nightmare, depending), but are instead presented in a stark manner. This is almost the lead-in for the cannibal films which would later follow, as well -- death as shock in and of itself, as opposed to some greater artistic statement. In this case, death is the statement, and it's blunt: "Here, this is what you seem to enjoy the most." And -- going back to the humor -- I don't think it's a coincidence that the future films which took this template and not only succeeded, but are still considered worth seeing, also have that strange sense of humor to them. Given that, is there a film that came later that you think a worthy heir to this progenitor? Liam: I am actually not sure. From one perspective there are many, be they the F13 series or The Burning, slasher films that take a lot from this movie. However, to focus on them as directly from Bay of Blood does exactly what seems to have not been the point. It almost seems that Bava made a film similar to Hanneke, in that it pointed a finger at its audience and asked what it was they wanted to see. It then played with the feeling of tension, the fear and drama of the piece, until it becomes farcical. It pushes the boundaries between what is the dramatic real that we can accept, and when the performance goes beyond that. Not that I think Bava is attempting to make so complicated a point, but it is still the direction the film seems to go. Then again, Bava also claimed this was his favorite of his films. Perhaps this tension, between what is plausible and not, and between what the audience wants or does not want to see is the point. In that way, I am reminded of, say, Funny Games or similar films. However, those movies are more literally "meta," in that this commentary on a genre or condition is the entire point and content. Bava has made a suitably horrifying giallo, certainly one that bends and even transcends the genre, but is still what it is. The question is, are there any films that seem to push so far, but are not clearly satirical. I am reminded of another unlikely film, Mothers Day, but this is also more clearly a satire. The question for me, and perhaps you can give your insight on this, is whether Bava is laughing with the audience or at them. If we are supposed to be in on the joke, so to speak, then I think Nightmare on Elm Street might be an interesting comparison. Not a comedy, but with some real humor injected. However, if he is laughing at the audience, something I think the ending suggests a bit, then I am at a loss as to what might be related. Do you think I am being too harsh on Bava? Is Bay of Blood a cynical commentary or simply a good time playing with gore and violence? If anything, does it say negative things about us that we enjoy the movie so much? I found it fun if a little confusing at times, and I am now wondering if I should have! Nick: I think it's meant to be fun. Given that everything else I've seen of Bava's -- Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby Kill, and Black Sabbath -- has some element of humor to it (especially Karloff's parched desert dryness of delivery in Black Sabbath), I can't but imagine that this is supposed to be the film that's an exercise in ridiculousness. Maybe Bava's laughing at you while you laugh at the film, because that ending is just over-the-top in terms of one last absurd plot twist. However, I think he's willing to let the viewer enjoy themselves, showing nudity, showing blood, and just generally amping up the ridiculousness inherent in giallo to an extent that he accidentally created a new genre along the way. Liam: I think you are right and perhaps that is what he also did, as far as innovation: commentary with humor. That is to say, it really feels like Bava is in some way satirizing the audience's desire for this violence, but I don't think he is judging it. The film is having so much fun with it's bevy of ridiculous villains, the various ridiculous character traits and odd ways they interact. In fact, even the kills are amazing, and done in such a way that I cannot believe Bava is not enjoying his art as much as we are in watching it. Yet that ending does seem to suggest to me some silly nod to his audience, he is not just performing at his art, which is creating this intense murder film. No, we are part of it, he acknowledges us, and thus implicates us in his fun I think. He is going over the top, to new heights of blood. Granted, here we are some 44 years later and it may not seem like much. It was a rough year for movies though. Bay of Blood was one of many to face backlash and censors for its extreme content. Bava, I think though, hints not just that he is pushing his art form to new extremes, but that this is where it is going. It is in many ways a watershed moment not only for film and the horror genre we both love, but for the culture as a whole. Bay of Blood is still powerful in it's intensity, and while it may not be as extreme as it seemed then, it is an incredibly well executed bit of brutal fun. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGSJCLWAL3Q[/embed] Christopher Brown's Video Nasties podcast did an excellent episode on the film, and you can listen to that here.