Monday, February 21, 2011

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980),
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981),
THE BEYOND (1981) - Lucio Fulci


This past weekend, I went on a three-movie Fulci tear smack dab in what is arguably his most fertile period, the early '80s. Flush from the success of his fun Romero cash-in Zombie (or Zombi 2, depending on who you talk to), Fulci briefly abandoned the giallo genre and delved whole hog into horror, upping the ante on the gore and lowering the stakes on plot to the point where it becomes irrelevant. Not that plot was ever was ever the man's strong suit. But dropping those serpentine murder mystery tales in favor of sheer witchcraft-inspired hokum seems to have been a boon to Fulci's craft, a mainline into the fat vein of the man's viscera-drenched subconscious.

The plots of all three movies -- City of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetery and The Beyond -- can be summed up as thus: The Gates of Hell open up in a small town and/or large house and fucked-up things start to happen. Sure, there are minor mysteries afoot to be fretted over by various interchangeable journalists, psychics, house renovators or vacationing families, but it can mostly be explained away as the conjurings of the Devil. I guess this is why these three films have been unofficially termed Fulci's "Gates of Hell trilogy." The moniker cuts right to the chase.

There are also zombies in some form or other in each film, probably because Fulci realized from Zombie that zombies are money in the bank. But these are not your father's zombie. They're not always out to chomp on brains. Sometimes, they're happy to rip the backs of people's heads off or practice telekinesis or teleportation or make people's eyes bleed. On occasion, one look from a zombie will cause you to slowly vomit out all of your intestines (see pic above). Other City highlights include a rainstorm of maggots, a man's jawline getting custom realigned by a drill in a vice, a buried alive scenario where the rescuer almost kills the rescuee by chopping through a coffin with an axe and coming within millimeters of her eye (a favorite Fulci motif).

Eyes and eye trauma are numero uno in the Fulci playbook. So it only figures that a gorgeous blind lady with green marbles for eyes figures prominently into his most famous work, The Beyond. I saw The Beyond years ago and at the time didn't really get what all the fuss was about. But watching it again this weekend I started see the light. Of the films I've seen, The Beyond is the most "lyrical" of Fulci's gorefests, a stream of consciousness surrealist oddity much like Un Chien Andalou if Un Chien Andalou were wholly concerned with its infamous razor blade to the eye sequence. Yes, there is a lot of face melting, New Orleans voodoo foofaraw and a great, pulsing Fabio Frizzi soundtrack. But there is one cut alone that, for me, raised The Beyond from pure exploitation to something close to "art." It starts with a man getting his eye plucked out by a demon in a dark cellar then cuts to a bright daylight shot through a car windshield moving down a very long, very flat Louisiana bayou bridge. It holds on this destabilizing change of scenery until the car arrives to a disturbance in the road. It's not everyday you find a blind supermodel and her seeing eye dog hitchhiking on a bridge.


Rewatching The Beyond made me reconsider previous judgments, but the last film in the "trilogy" was probably my favorite of the three. The House by the Cemetery is basically Fulci's riff on The Shining without Kubrick's great actors and or his perfectionist camera placement. It featurse one of the best bat attacks/gougings in history and, more importantly, the blonde-haired moppet below. This tyke seriously gives The Shining's "redrum" rasping Danny a run for his money in the creepy child department.

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