Halloween Horror Marathon: The Black Cat

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

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

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

Halloween Horror Marathon: A Cat in the Brain

cat in the brain header 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. cat in the brain - fulci 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]

Halloween Horror Marathon: Zombie

poster - zombie flesh eaters 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. zombie vs shark 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]

Halloween Horror Marathon: Don’t Torture A Duckling

Dont Torture a Duckling poster 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. don't torture a duckling screencap 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. don't torture a duckling screencap 01 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]

Halloween Horror Marathon: House By the Cemetery

poster - House By the Cemetery It's best to think of the Gates of Hell trilogy as something unofficial, rather than a planned thing. Catriona MacColl is in all three films, under three differently-spelled version of her name. She's the heroine in each, but a different character each time, but always fighting creatures from hell. One would like to think Fulci planned this to create some sort of through line, but's far more likely just because she was available. The other two films in the trilogy are absolutely sane, compared to House By the Cemetery. I've seen it half a dozen times and read the plot summary on Wikipedia, and I still have no idea what this is all about. It doesn't help that I have a pretty rough copy of the film, likely edited all to shit. However, I've little faith that a better DVD release would make even the slightest improvement. That's mainly because even with a better transfer and edit, you can't get past the fact that the dubbing is ... rough. The sync is pretty awful, the voices are flat, and there is also, of course, Bob. Bob is the epitome of the kid in a movie who's constantly in danger, but rather than fear for his safety, you'd rather he die. Terribly. Repeatedly, if possible. Additionally, while the film has a great stabbing in its opening moments, after that, it's a patient viewer who can make it to the next big thrill without audibly complaining. Then, given the next big thrill is a rubber bat, one's patience is sorely tested. It's a long wait 'til the going gets good, and you have to deal with so much Bob to get there. Once Dr. Freudstein appears, though, the film kicks into batshit high gear, and I think that's what always makes me regard this movie so highly when I'm thinking of it. I mean, it's really fucking dull for a solid hour, if not annoying, but Freudstein and the madness that accompanies him is just magnificent. It's pretty much worth the preceding hour for the ten solid minutes of "WHAT THE FUCK?!?" that conclude the film. Walter Rizzati's score is creepy as hell. It's ponderous, with these electronic flourishes that go right through you. As little actually happens in the movie's first hour, you're still on edge and watching because Rizzati's music has you thinking somethign awful has to be right around the corner. The way Rizzati blends pipe organ with pulsating Carpenter-style arpeggiated synths really drives home the idea that this is almost a modern-day version of Henry James' Turn of the Screw (seriously: creepy kid seeing weird shit in a strange old house). Alessandro Blonksteiner's work on the score is especially unnerving, adding to it these descending note progressions on electric guitar, which always end up denoting some sort of impending doom. Death Waltz Recording Co. re-released this a couple of years back, and you can still grab copies from Light in the Attic on red vinyl. You can stream House By the Cemetery on Hulu below.

Halloween Horror Marathon – The Beyond

poster - The Beyond The Beyond is Lucio Fulci's best-known film, and a legitmate cult favorite. It was re-released into theaters by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures a few years back, and finally saw uncut release on DVD through Grindhouse Releasing, after years of only being available in the States as a heavily edited version under the title Seven Doors of Death. That said, watching The Beyond for the marathon is only the second time I've ever seen it. Somehow, I've seen City of the Living Dead way more, and tomorrow's movie -- House By the Cemetery -- even more than that. Still, out of the Gates of Hell trilogy, it's the film with the most coherent plot. A warlock's entombed in the basment of a Louisiana hotel, someone sets him free, madness ensues. There's more detail in terms of specific insanity, but that's basically how it goes. The dubbing's a little better in this go-'round, but the general tenor of The Beyond is essentially the same as City of the Living Dead, in that people are attacked by things from the netherworld, but it's far, far more gory. It's a madly hallucenogenic film. Fulci creates an atmosphere of nightmarish dreamscapes, wherein flesh is bloodily rent and things appear out of nowhere to cause frightened panic. Fabio Frizzi is once again on music duties, with a piano-based score which further imbues the film with a sense of impending dischord. There's also a scene where a little girl watches her mother's face get melted off with acid. It's unfortunately not very evenly paced. The beginning is a series of shocking images and terrifying actions, and the conclusion is justifiably famous, but the middle third drags. It's pretty heavy on Catriona MacColl asking a bunch of questions, finding a bunch of things, and looking confused. By the time people start dying again, it's almost a relief to watch spiders crawl over a guy's face. Also in The Beyond: dead characters that were last seen in a morgue or other locaion suddenly appearing in the hotel. I'm assuming the gate to hell allows for teleportation? The confusion Fulci creates in the viewer certainly does a wonderful job of allowing us to empathize with the characters onscreen. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ef0oH3ZizfI[/embed]

Halloween Horror Marathon: City of the Living Dead

poster - The City of the Living Dead A Lucio Fulci movie is something I enjoy watching quite a bit. Understanding, not so much. This marks my fifth viewing of City of the Living Dead, and it still makes no sense whatsoever. I can't explain why most things in the movie happen, only that they do, and look really cool as they occur. The basic plot is that a priest kills himself, opening a gate to hell, and it has to be closed before All Saints' Day or the dead will never rest peacefully again. Everything that happens around that is due to the open gate, and you just have to accept it. Characters aren't so much introduced as given lines and propelled into action with one another. The popular Fulci plot trope of the strong-willed man with the woman trying to find answers makes its debut here (you can see its American equivalent in Halloween III), and works about as effectively as it does in romantic comedies. Elements of Lovecraft (setting the film in Dunwich), witchcraft and Salem, and other such creepiness are thrown into a blender, making this not quite a zombie film, nor really anything other than "Italian horror," which seems to be a sufficient descriptor for any movie with a melange of influences topped with copious helpings of gore. The setpieces are absolutely fantastic: a woman buried alive after she dies "out of sheer fright" (I told you it didn't make any fucking sense, didn't I?), a kid gets his head ran through with a gigantic drill, a woman vomits up her own intestines, and corpses rise from the dead and burst into flame. Is it good? Not particularly -- the plot's a bear to follow, and the dubbing is pretty wooden. The visuals and Fabio Frizzi score are the real appeal. You see intense and astonishing things on screen while Mellotron flourishes punctuate everything. Much like all of Fulci's movies, City of the Living Dead is essentially a 70 minute buildup to the finale, which is absolutely insane, in both senses of the word, in that you can't believe what's going on, nor make any sense of what it is. "Teleporting corpses in an underground tomb" should sell you on watching this in and of itself. Honestly, though, City of the Living Dead is a prime example of what I love about Fulci: it's a tight hour and a half film, but the director still lets the film breathe, letting tension build. His lack of reliance on cheap jump scares -- opting instead for a legit blood and guts payoff -- gives the viewer a reason for that feeling of dread, because they know something awful's on its way after the walk through an empty room. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfDiQ99f1-4[/embed] That Fabio Frizzi score is, as one would expect, excellent and creepy. Death Waltz Recording Co. re-released it earlier this year, and I highly suggest getting it. It's available in the United States from Light in the Attic or direct from Death Waltz.