Sunday, October 28, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 7: FULCI FINALE


It's only a few days till 🎃 All Hallows' Eve 🎃. What better time than now to finish out Lucio Fulci's viscera-soaked filmography?

The following ten films are the horror "stragglers" on his resume I never got around to during my initial Fulci binge years ago, either because I'd heard bad things or had yet to dig up decent digital copies. Most of these films are from his late '80s, early '90s "declining years" when illness, age and industry fluctuations began to sap his output. That said--trick or treat!--I was pleased to find that there are still a few yummy Kit Kat bar caliber flicks in the mix. It's not ALL rotten caramel apples stuffed with razor blades (though there are a few of those too). 

At this point, I've seen every Lucio Fulci film that is readily available out there. Or at least all his horror stuff. All that's left (according to Wikipedia) is a handful of comedies and musicals that haven't received any kind of DVD/U.S. release. Maybe someday some benevolent media conglomerate will release an all-inclusive 57-film box set or start a streaming Fulci channel. Obviously, it won't be FilmStruck (R.I.P./F-U AT&T!). But, hey, a horror fan can always dream.

Until then, let's dig into the last of the Lucio candy bag, shall we?


#66 - MANHATTAN BABY (1982)
Lucio Fulci

An Egyptian "evil eye" amulet wreaks havoc upon archaeologist George (Christopher Connelly) and his family back in Manhattan, temporarily blinding him with blue lasers and vanishing his daughter through a time-space portal somewhere in her bedroom. Cobras appear without warning in high-rise apartments, as do mounds of inexplicably imported Nile River sand. Manhattan Baby is an unholy mess of a movie, nowhere near the grindhouse pedigree of Fulci's similarly NYC-set slasher masterwork, The New York Ripper, released the same year. The script plays like a hastily slapped together horror mash-up of Raiders of The Lost Ark and Poltergeist but with all narrative coherence stripped away. That said, there are a few fun-size Fulci trademarks to enjoy here: the continued obsession with eyes/eye trauma, everybody's favorite blonde moppet Giovanni Frezza as the foul-mouthed little brother, and what might be the nastiest taxidermy bird attack ever committed to film.

Grade: 


#67 - THE DEVIL'S HONEY (1986)
Lucio Fulci

The Godfather of Gore goes softcore (with a touch of early torture porn). When a woman's concussed musician lover dies on the operating table thanks to a distracted doctor with marital woes (Brett Halsey), she takes the sleaziest S&M tinged revenge this side of Takashi Miike's Audition. There are upskirt saxophone seductions, handjobs on motorbikes, brain surgeons with prostitute addictions, and movie theatre three-ways gone terrifyingly wrong. While uncommonly light on the signature bloodshed, The Devil's Honey may be Lucio at his most nakedly romantic. It's syrupy and lurid in equal measures, like some mad combo of Love Story, Red Shoe Diaries and Lynch's Wild at Heart. Supposedly, this was Fulci's comeback film after a year of sick leave due to hepatitis. Judging from the content, I think that malady's biggest side effect was that it made him even more of a perv. Best Line: "My name is fear…but you can call me Jessica."

Grade: 


#68 - ZOMBI 3 (1988)
Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei

Revolving door protagonists. Wall-to-wall action and gore. Cut-rate Filipino zombies. A slo-mo end death scene straight out of Platoon. This is Fulci's scattered, confused version of Day of the Dead (i.e., militarized zombies) handed off to Bruno Mattei after a liver tumor or second bout of hepatitis (there are conflicting reports) made him unable to complete it. As expected, it's not nearly the caliber of its Romero rip-off predecessor Zombi 2. But I'd rather watch this on repeat than even the best episode of The Walking Dead. Scotch-taped together by two directors though it may be, Zombi 3 at least knows how to skip the bland, overly earnest dialogue and cut to the chase.

Grade: 


#69 - TOUCH OF DEATH (1988)
Lucio Fulci

Aging Lothario Lester Parson (Brett Halsey, again) spends his days wooing rich, homely widows, turning them into hamburger meat, then disposing their bodies and taking their jewels/cash to pay off his gambling debts. He spends his evenings watching the nightly news to make sure he's not the top story. He occasionally hears his own voice taunting him on dual cassette recorders and suspects he has a double trying to foul his schemes. But his foil eventually comes in the form of a younger widow, a real looker except for the fact that she possesses the crustiest harelip/herpes sore in all of cinema history. This made-for-Italian TV quickie is Fulci in his late career gore n' gags dark comedy mode. It's fun in spots, a bit tedious in others, like an extended, explicit Twilight Zone episode or a hastily lensed knock-off of Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Touch this flick (and that lip) at your own risk!

Grade: 


#70 - SODOMA'S GHOST (1988)
Lucio Fulci

Another made-for-TV Fulci quickie. This one begins promisingly, smack dab in the middle of Visconti Land during a cocaine-fueled Nazi sex orgy at a country house in the 1940s. The lurid proceedings are even being recorded for posterity in grainy 16mm. But it's all downhill 40+ years later when a group of teens stumble upon the same house, only to find themselves trapped in a hellscape of less-than-threatening SS "ghosts" tempting them with bedroom seductions, ancient stag films and Russian roulette poker games. It's all rather ho-hum and '80s Skinamax dull. The "Haunting of Heil House" this is not! Don DeLillo wrote a entire novel based on the same subject (the search for a lost Nazi porn film) called Running Dog. That I'd recommend.

Grade: 


#71 - THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS (1989)
Lucio Fulci

A trio of teen thieves (two dudes and a lady) get more than they bargained for when they rob and accidentally kill a strange old couple at a secluded estate filled with antique clocks and a couple of hidden corpses. When the clocks start ticking furiously backward, time pops out of joint and the old fogies arise from the dead to seek revenge. Fulci directs this routine home invasion thriller with a time travel twist as if he himself is counting down the seconds to retirement. It's light on the gore by his theatrical film standards, but apparently still too bloody for Italian TV producers who released it straight to video. The best thing about this movie has nothing to do with clocks but a black cat suffocated in a plastic bag (the same gato from 1981's The Black Cat perhaps?) who get his own Toonces-worthy revenge in the final reel.

Grade: 


#72 - THE SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS (1989)
Lucio Fulci

A strong contender for the worst of Fulci's made-for-Italian-TV horror efforts. Sweet House begins with yet another botched home invasion resulting in the brutal death of the married homeowners. This time, it's an inside job (spoiler: it's not Michael Myers behind that flimsy mask but Guido the Gardener). The house is left to the couple's two bratty kids who eventually conjure the spirits of their dead parents, much to the chagrin of their aunt and uncle, various real estate agents and ghost whisperers. If you ever imagined what it would be like if Lucio directed a third-rate Spielberg flick, SHOH has got you covered. A bad fit for Goremeister's skill set. It seems the old sourpuss couldn't pull off whimsical and sweet.

Grade: 


#73 - DEMONIA (1990)
Lucio Fulci

A group of international archaeologists on a dig in Sicily unearth a gaggle of crucified nuns from the 1400s, upsetting the locals as well as some demonic spirits. Fulci's first '90s era effort was set to be his big return to theatrical films after several years toiling on the boob tube. Sadly, Demonia turned out drabber than a nun's habit and never made it past the straight-to-video bin, failing to excavate his career. The plot unfolds at a snail's pace, and the marginally interesting backstory (verboten nun orgies instead of Nazi orgies, this time) doesn't come until more than halfway in. For gore hounds, there are scant few reasons to stick around, other than one hilarious pack of cats attack and some poor fella getting ripped in half between two trees.

Grade: 


#74 - VOICES FROM BEYOND (1991)
Lucio Fulci

When rich prick patriarch Giorgio Mainardi dies of explosive hemorrhaging under dubious circumstances, he visits his favorite daughter Rosie from the afterlife (i.e., spooky voice-overs, hazy super-impositions) and enlists her aid in unraveling the mystery of his death. There are lots of suspects to choose from—cheating wife, duplicitous business partner, angry maid, angrier mistress, illegitimate brat kid who likes to crush up glass light bulbs. There are also plenty of juicy dream sequences shared among the cast—eyeballs floating in poached eggs, a sex scene that nearly turns into a child homicide, a cryptic callback to the days of Zombi 2. It's hard to watch this movie and not think it's Fulci simultaneously imagining his own death and attempting a summary of his career, though this turned out to be his penultimate film. Voices is perhaps the most narratively coherent/compelling of Lucio's later efforts and arguably contains his cleverest cameo (he plays an autopsy doctor). I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Reminded me a bit of Hitchcock's career-capping Family Plot. Best Line: "Your stupid face is putting me off my breakfast."

Grade: 


#75 - DOOR TO SILENCE (1991)
Lucio Fulci

If your idea of a good time at the movies is watching John Savage drive around rural Louisiana for 90 minutes in a mud-spattered Caprice with a bottle of Cutty Sark, have I got the snooze-fest for you! This barest of bare bones premises finds Melvin Devereaux (Savage) leaving his father's funeral and running into all manner of detours on the way home—road closures, rickety bridges, strange women who claim to know him, a hearse that may or may not be transporting his own dead body. A better title might have been "Road to Nowhere," because that's where this curiously uneventful, amateurishly lensed flick ultimately leads. The whole endeavor feels like an elongated student film that somehow managed to snag an name actor. Fulci's name is nowhere to be seen in the credits, the "Directed By" on the version I watched attributed to one "H. Simon Kittay." It's a crying shame Lucio went out on such a low note, never making it to his planned collaboration with Argento on The Wax Mask. But, hey, the Gorefather gave us plenty of innovative scares in his prime, and it's Lucio (more than Dario) I'll have in mind when I catch the new Suspiria in a couple days.

Grade: 

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
But how many is a bird in the head worth?

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