Those Were the Days: My Introduction to Italy's Maestro

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2011-03-13 03:52
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There have been few times in my horror experiences that I've literally been blown out of my seat when watching a film. I don't mean it as a film I really enjoyed, I mean a film that kicked the shit out of me and left me lying on the floor in a bloody mess. From the moment I first got the internet I was browsing horror sites and gathering knowledge. Italian horror kept popping up and before I knew it, Lucio Fulci was a name that became synonymous with violence. The sad thing was that I had no chance in seeing any of his movies; none of his filmography was present anywhere locally. The stars aligned as A/V Entertainment in my town happened to get a bunch of Anchor Bay VHS tapes (they were in original aspect ratios and many had special features) the summer/fall before I started the high school. It was truly a time of change. New school, new teachers, new peers and most importantly, a new realm of horror viewing bliss.

At the time, the cover of Fulci’s breakthrough horror flick to the “mainstream”, Zombie, was without a doubt the greatest thing I’d ever seen. The zombie looked so decayed and grotesque, it was everything I wished I would see whenever I’d watch a new horror film, but never got. Enter the aforementioned store. For Christmas that year, I was getting whatever horror films I could find and one day I went to A/VE with 40 bucks in hand (from my Auntie Claire – thanks more than you’ll ever know…) hoping for the best. I never dreamed I’d spend every penny of it (plus tax). There wasn’t exactly a huge horror selection around town, I mostly had to pick up stragglers here and there. As I sit here slamming away at the old keyboard, I can remember buying most of the videos I acquired during the season, but I can assure you that I remember more vividly about this little spending spree than any other. A/VE had Demons 1 & 2, The New York Ripper and most importantly to me at the time, the film that I’d gawked at for a couple years, Zombie. All of ‘em were 10 bucks apiece and I can even remember looking at the movies on the way home riding in the car. I can recall peeling the sticker off of The New York Ripper’s case (all of the films were in nice glistening clamshells), seeing if there was a nipple on the cover art beneath it. There wasn’t. I didn’t see those until Christmas after that, it was a long wait.

In retrospect, all four of those movies played a key part in how I look at horror today, it was those four seedlings that grew into a forest of Italian horror on my shelves. I finally got to see Zombie and it was everything I expected it to be. I couldn’t believe the amounts of nudity and violence The New York Ripper had to offer. Fuck Maniac, The New York Ripper is the true king of slasher disgust. Admittedly, I was more impressed with Demons at the time (The fucking RHODES), but that’s not an insult to the maestro of Italian horror at all. I appreciated Zombie much more with time. It didn’t take long after I’d acquired Zombie that I realized I needed to see more where this came from, but pickings were slim. Now that I was able to look past that hideous beauty of a cover, I delved into two films of Fulci’s I was sure I’d be enjoy even more than the two I already owned. The Beyond and House by the Cemetery were the two Fulci classics I was most confident I’d enjoy; the plots of the films were completely in tune with what I liked most in horror. It took until 2002, but I finally got my hands on these two gems which have went on to become amongst my favorite horror films of all time.

Fulci’s masterpiece of surreal cinema, The Beyond, is the greatest Italian horror movie ever made and is up there with my favorite movies ever; its surrealism, score and ideas (the ending in particular, of which is paid tribute to in OTH’s banner) are tough to match. It was gorier and downright crazier than any film I’d seen prior. I loved the movie from first watch and when Jill loses her head, I just about shit my pants. Back then I was still pretty inexperienced with uncut horror and I’d not yet seen Scanners, so seeing a young girl’s head literally explode before my eyes was shocking, yet gratifying at the same time. Lucio Fulci combined great music, great direction, fun plot and outrageous gore to bring forth a movie experience I’d not encountered since The Evil Dead. I immediately watched The House by the Cemetery next and of course it doesn’t compare to The Beyond, but it was such a fun movie in which much the similar things can be said. Great music, great direction, nice gothic sets and blood squirting like I’d never seen before. Long-time Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi’s scores for the films are two of the best examples of music in horror movies I’ve ever heard. Fulci always gave the viewer what I consider the three keys to successful horror flicks; atmosphere, music and quality direction (with buckets of blood and guts along the way). I ordered City of the Living Dead the next day. When it arrived, I felt it was weaker than the two I’d just seen (I look at those two incredibly highly, though), but I still enjoyed it a lot. It was very claustrophobic and brought forth a feeling of doom and inevitability that I really admired. It was a different breed and I loved it in its own right.

I’d seen the classics and I was anxious to track down Demonia, Touch of Death and basically every other film of Fulci’s to appear on DVD. Not surprisingly the films he directed later became less and less intense, but I always felt that Demonia was underrated by Italian horror fans in particular. Fulci went back to the supernatural plot and steered clear from the comedy he dabbled in with other efforts of the time and along with that brought back his trademark gore. The wishbone scene in Demonia is worth the price of admission alone. It’s fair to say that without question, Lucio Fulci is my favorite director and it is a shame that he doesn’t get a bit more respect within the horror community. The most common negative spoken of his films is the lack of plot and it tends to leave potential viewers turned off, thinking they’re along the lines of Guinea Pig or Faces of Death, some obscure piece of shit that degrades the genre rather than adding to it. Truth be told, the plots in Fulci films are generally equal or better than most films of the era and it is a misconception I wish would be cleared up.

Fulci’s zombie epics could stand toe to toe with Romero’s classics, his gialli could go 12 rounds with any of Argento’s more critically acclaimed gems and his popcorn flicks are as fun as the majority of slashers looked upon so fondly today. If it weren’t for Lucio Fulci, I wouldn’t admire the genre as much as I do today and I certainly wouldn’t be out searching for every Italian zombie film I can get my hands on. Fulci is mostly considered a hack because of Zombie being titled Zombi 2 in Italy, making it seem like a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, which was called Zombi. The problem is Zombie isn’t a rip-off of Dawn of the Dead. Not even close. The only thing the film has in common are the walking dead. Fulci went back to the roots of the zombie subgenre, bringing back some voodoo flavour and changing the tone completely. It may have been made because of Dawn of the Dead’s success, but that’s about all that the films have in common.

Fifteen years ago today, Lucio Fulci passed away from complications with diabetes and horror lost one of its greatest icons. I just wish he’d have lived a few more years to see his classics reborn on digital formats, totally uncut and loaded with special features. I often wondered just why Lucio (or other directors that dabbled heavy in gore back in the day) would insist upon filming such graphic movies when they’d get butchered for theatrical and video releases. The coming of DVD showed me just how important it was for Fulci and others like him to stick with their instincts and film the movie they wanted to film. It all makes sense now seeing as we live in a time in which we are able to view films the way the director intended. Lucio Fulci will never be forgotten thanks to his fans and the digital format that revived the sleeping giant known as horror. A master of the surreal, a believer that violence is art, and a top-notch director; Lucio Fulci brings terror unlike anyone else who has stepped behind the camera.

Rest in peace, Maestro.

Brett H.
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