Monday, September 19, 2016

Mannaja: A Man Called Blade (1977)

Quite possibly Italy’s most popular contribution to the world cinema landscape, the spaghetti western was certainly one of the most lucrative subgenres to be born during a time of intense productivity in the Italian film world. There may have been an innumerable amount of films made in other popular Italian genres, namely giallo and poliziotteschi, but in terms of the sheer volume of films made during a specific time period, the spaghetti western trumps them all. While there were European westerns made before, clearly the film that jumpstarted the Italian western craze was Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and from then on until the mid to late 70’s it seems as if virtually every Italian director tried they're hand at the western genre. This included many who would go onto to become horror maestro’s such as Giulio Questi, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. Dario Argento even received a writing credit on Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Being the gene chameleon he is, naturally Sergio Martino spent some time in the wild west. Following his two mondo oddities Wages of Sin (1969) and Naked and Violent (1970), Martino made his narrative film debut with Arizona Colt Returns (1970) and would return to the west 7 years later with Mannaja: A Man Called Blade, one of the best and more unusual films the spaghetti western genre has to offer.

A mysterious, hatchet wielding bounty hunter ominously known as “Blade” (Maurizio Merli) arrives in Suttonville, a corrupt mining town to collect the reward money for capturing a wanted man. Almost immediately after arriving however Blade runs afoul of Theo Voller (John Steiner), the ruthless right hand man to Ed McGowan, who rules both the mines and the town with a fanatically religious iron fist. Blade confronts McGowan, although things aren’t what they seem as Voller is soon discovered to be disloyal, kidnapping McGowan’s daughter with plans to take over the town which prompts McGowan to plead with Blade to deliver the ransom money Voller is demanding in order to save his daughter. Reluctantly, Blade agrees and sets out to get rid of Voller all the while confronting his own personal demons.

Mannaja is a deceptively unconventional film. To be sure, as far as western canon is concerned, Martino covers quite a few of the bases with the character of Blade being a fairly archetypical western hero, i.e. the mysterious nomadic drifter with a dark past who’s arrival disrupts the order of the town, plenty of bandits (which leads to a brilliantly composed stagecoach ambush) and vendetta’s to be settled. At the same time however Martino makes the genre his own and what really sets Mannaja apart from the majority of westerns, spaghetti or otherwise, is its mood, visual design and atmosphere. There is downbeat esotericism to the film with the preverbal dark cloud trailing both behind and in front of Blade and Martino essentially lenses the film as if it were a horror film which gives the film an air of surreality, with the town of Suttonville shrouded in rain, fog and copious amounts of mud. In proper western fashion, it’s a landscape as unforgiving as its inhabitants and one particularly unforgettable method of torture employed in the film wouldn’t feel out of place in a Jodorowsky or Arrabal film. Martino also masterfully utilizes slow-motion during the films memorable opening and a haunting shot of a near death driver manning the aforementioned stagecoach. A literal “phantom carriage” so to speak. The films odd theme song also bears mention as it features some of the most bizarre vocal styling’s heard in any spaghetti western theme song fitting in perfectly with the films other offbeat tendencies.

By the time Mannaja was made the spaghetti western was beginning to decline and interestingly Mannaja was one of the very last spaghetti westerns made. Martino assumes it was either the second to last or the very last of the cycle that began in the 60’s. Martino also insists that his casting of Maurizio Merli was not simply because of Merli’s resemblance to Franco Nero, a common criticism but rather because Merli was also an established genre star and was the right fit for the role of Blade. Martino has also explained that the films unique visual design relied heavily on environmental factors as the film was shot at Elios Studios near Manziana which was in a state of decay and rather than spend the money to repair it, Marino shot it as is which allowed him, in his own words, to portray a "ghost town". The weather also played a major hand with the constant rainfall leading to even more mud and fog. Despite the technical difficulties the area posed, in the end it contributed to the films singular look and feel. Despite being made when the spaghetti western was beginning to die off, Mannaja doesn’t at all feel like the product of a dying era. Thanks to Martino’s original stylistic approach and the films interesting tone, Mannaja is a must see for spaghetti western fans and a fairly essential Martino title.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Naked and Violent (1970)

AKA America così nuda, così violenta (America So Naked, So Violent)

Although pre-dated by the cautionary films from the 1930’s and 40’s such as Reefer Madness (1936) and Mom and Dad (1945), the “mondo” film is nonetheless one of the oldest subgenres in the exploitation field. Generally speaking, the mondo film in its classic form is very much an Italian creation with the main men responsible being Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi and Paolo Cavara with their film Mondo Cane (1962), which caused a sensation worldwide and spawned numerous imitators. While Jacopetti and Prosperi continued to steer the ship with other infamous films like Africa Addio (1966) and Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971), more Italian directors decided to throw their hat in the mondo ring such as the Castiglioni brothers Angelo and Alfredo with their series of African based mondos and Antonio Climati and Mario Morra with their “savage trilogy”. Of course there are other international examples of films that came in the wake of mondos, perhaps the most infamous being the Faces of Death series which in turn led numerous similarly themed imitators, however by and large, the exploitation documentary market was cornered by the Italians. Sergio Martino, an Italian master, began his directorial career in the mondo genre with Wages of Sin (1969) which he quickly followed-up with Naked and Violent, a stand out film in the mondo genre for its setting but also for being of the most bizarre films of its type.

Unlike other Italian mondo films of the time which mainly focused on Africa or other exotic locations, Naked and Violent is a travelogue across the United States casting its leery and often scandalous eye on a variety of topics ranging from the homeless, living conditions of the elderly, the hedonism of Las Vegas, hippies and the anti-Vietnam war movement, race relations, the sexual practices of the bored bourgeois, fringe religions, bikers, the plight of Native Americans and everything in between.

Taken at face value, Naked and Violent probably comes across as cynical and crass and in truth it is, however like the majority of mondo films the manner in which it approaches its subjects is so hyper sensational and over the top its impossible to take completely seriously. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that a good portion of what the film presents is accurate, although it becomes a guessing game of what is and isn’t as the film also makes use of another mondo trait, staged scenes. More often than not its fairly obvious to figure out what was staged, for instance the crew following the police to the scene of a “suicide”, a gang of rednecks attacking a black man or a hippie cutting off his fingers as to avoid the draft. There are however scenes in the film who’s authenticity is a tad more ambiguous. What really sets the film apart from other mondo’s is its sheer oddness with some “exposes” being so strange they almost cross over into surreal territory such as an African tribal ceremony being performed in New York City, a man getting close with a rather frightening looking blow-up doll, a bourgeois orgy where all the participants dawn grotesque masks and the obligatory satanic ritual featuring a sacrificial chicken. Of course there is “lighter” material like young hippies being “rented” by bored middle class ladies for a weekend rendezvous and the condescending Italian narration throughout makes everything a bit more humorous.

There are those who will no doubt be quick to label the film racially insensitive although such reactions are quickly dismissed considering Martino’s condemnation of the bastardization of Polynesian culture in Hawaii for tourism purposes, and the film does paint a fairly sensitive portrait of the struggle of the American Indian. Plus those with racist beliefs shown in the film are generally portrayed as backwards thinking and ignorant. Its bears mentioning that the film was scored by Bruno Nicolai who would go on to score Martino’s Arizona Colt Returns (1970), The Case of the Scorpions Tail (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972) and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972). Jess Franco fans will immediately recognize cues from Nicolai’s soundtrack for Franco’s Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion (1969) reused here during the satanic ritual which, despite being recycled was a perfect choice. Naked and Violent isn’t mentioned all that often despite having an official DVD release from Mya Communications. Like all mondo’s its bound to incite some sort of reaction, never apathy. Its an interesting look into Martino’s pre-giallo days and a fascinatingly weird film in general especially when compared to other mondo films. Those looking for a serious Italian critique of early 70’s America should know better, however as an exploitative freak show, Naked and Violent has all the bases covered.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Maps to the Stars (2014)

One of David Cronenberg’s biggest strengths as a filmmaker has always been the ability to contort reality by introducing slightly futuristic concepts into what were otherwise fairly real world situations. In early films like Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), a man made parasite and surgical advances caused an outbreak of sexual mania and a unique form of vampyrism of sorts. With Videodrome (1983), technology really came to the forefront with the “watching is better than living” idea of television causing hallucinations, an idea Cronenberg would expand upon using video games and virtual reality in eXistenZ (1999). While not a “genre” film per-say, the fetishization of metal colliding with flesh in Crash (1996) also has a slight sci-fi bend to it. Psychology has always been of the biggest weapons in Cronenberg’s armory and with films like Dead Ringers (1988), Spider (2002) and A History of Violence (2005), it’s the psychology of the characters that distort the perceptions of what’s real and unreal with the protagonists of said films either living in their own self-created realities or slowing slipping into one. Maps to the Stars is a logical continuation of films like Spider, A History of Violence and Cosmopolis (2012), shining a darkly humorous and at times uncomfortable light into the minds and worlds of the Hollywood elite in what has to be one of Cronenberg’s most demented films and easily his best since Spider.

Fresh off a lengthy stay in a mental asylum, Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a badly burned schizophrenic arrives in Hollywood. Thanks to an online correspondence with Carrie Fisher, Agatha is able to land a job as a personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging starlet desperate to land a role in a biopic playing the part of her dead mother, a former actress who’s ghost constantly haunts Havana. Pop psychotherapist Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), the father of both Agatha and Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a 13 year old child star and recovering addict, doesn’t take too kindly to the news of his estranged daughters arrival in town as it threatens to let known a dark secret, the consequences of which would spell disaster for all involved.

If Mulholland Drive (2001) was David Lynch’s love letter to Hollywood then Maps to the Stars could be considered Cronenberg’s break up letter. While its true that Cronenberg gleefully gives tinsel town and the big personalities it can create a proper skewering, saying that the film is solely about Hollywood would be selling the film short. By and large, Cronenberg seems more interested in exploring the self-involved, insular worlds these characters have created for themselves. Its not always a pretty picture, with there seemingly being no low any of the characters won’t sink too which is where the film gets its perverse sense of humor from with several moments that are sure to make many question whether to laugh or cringe. As funny as the film is, there is also an element of Greek tragedy to it all with the final moments of the film being equally touching as it is twisted. Cronenberg also has the film take the occasional foray into hallucinatory territory with multiple characters seeing visions of the departed and his use of schizophrenia here is interesting when contrasted to how the condition was portrayed, although never named, in a past film. The performances are all around brilliant with Moore being more than deserving of her best actress award at Cannes by relishing in Havana’s despicable nature, but stealing the show with ease is Evan Bird as the egotistical rotten little bastard child star who’s deadpan delivery of many of the films best, awkwardly hilarious lines is just pitch perfect.

Longtime Cronenberg fans will no doubt spot the films connection to The Brood (1979) by way of Stafford Weiss’ very psychical approach to psychotherapy which echoes the psychoplasmic practices of Dr. Hal Raglan in The Brood. Cronenberg also has a wink to his previous film Cosmopolis by casting Robert Pattinson (which is sure to hilariously irritate the same people that scoffed at his casting in Cosmopolis) in a role as a limo driver as opposed to having him reside in the backseat of one for the majority of the film ala Cosmopolis. Much like Cosmopolis, Maps to the Stars was a hard sell with Cronenberg trying unsuccessfully for several years to get it made. Cronenberg stated “…it's a very difficult film to get made as was Cosmopolis actually. Whether I can get this movie to happen, I tried it five years ago, I couldn't get it made, so I still might not be able to get it made." and Maps To The Stars is very extreme. It's not obviously a very big commercial movie, and even as an independent film it's difficult.” So perhaps it could be considered a miracle that it did get made as its yet another example of Cronenberg’s ability to still make films that are not only as off center and challenging as his classic work but wipe the floor with the dreck that passes for cinema these days.




Monday, August 8, 2016

A Night in Nude: Salvation (2010)

The cinematic landscape of Takashi Ishii is filled with several reoccurring motifs whether they be represented visually via his obsession with torrential rainfall and neon drenched lighting which are found in virtually everyone of his films, or thematically, for instance his predilection for sadomasochism in films such as Flower and Snake (2004) and Sweet Whip (2013). One particular idea that Ishii is constantly exploring no matter what genre he may be working in is just how rotten the human race can be to itself and there is a great sadness running throughout all his work. Ishii has never shied away exposing the physical and psychological trauma humans inflict on each other and more often than not its women who are on the receiving end of the abuse. This has led to many westerners dismissing Ishii as a misogynist while in Japan Ishii is applauded by many feminists and its easy to see why, as all of Ishii’s films are incredibly heartfelt and it should be glaringly obvious that Ishii is always on the side of his female protagonists as evidenced by films like Angel Guts: Red Vertigo (1988), Freeze Me (2000) and Sweet Whip. A Night in Nude: Salvation, Ishii’s sequel to A Night in Nude (1993), is one of Ishii’s most potent plunges into the abyss of human cruelty and yet another example of Ishii’s sensitivity while dealing with wounded female psyches.

Jiro (Naoto Takenaka), an odd job man willing to take on any task depending on the payment, is approached by Ren (Hiroko Sato), a young woman asking him to locate a missing Rolex. Although skeptical of her story, that the watch was accidentally dropped out of a helicopter while scattering her late fathers ashes, Jiro accepts and finds the watch. Impressed by Jiro's never asking questions, Ren goes to him again for another job, to locate the whereabouts of a missing girl named Tae whom Ren credits with having saved her life. Jiro once again accepts and the further he gets into his investigation of Tae, the more over his head he finds himself in Ren and her family’s strange and dangerous world of sex and murder.

To the uninitiated, A Night in Nude: Salvation (Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau, ヌードの夜 愛は惜しみなく奪う) will probably seem like a barrage of nihilism and exploitation and there is quite a bit of truth to that idea. The film is one of Ishii’s bleakest projections of his worldview, presenting a vision of Japan where the rain never stops, human bodies are nothing more than a form of currency and the concept of family is perverted and synonymous with nothing but suffering. At the same time, those already familiar with Ishii will recognize an attempt at understanding the behavior of the characters, specifically Ren. Ren is one of the Ishii’s most tormented creations and the more time Ishii spotlights her family, the more her reasoning becomes apparent which makes the involvement of Jiro all the more gripping and ultimately tragic. Ishii’s way of setting up the story is a bit deceptive with the mystery of Tae quickly revealing itself to not be much of a mystery at all. Instead of loosing its momentum, Ishii’s letting the audience know more than the characters beforehand gives the film even more, with the mystery being how will the main players react to certain situations and just what depths will they sink too. The sheer bizarreness of Jiro’s journey down the rabbit hole make the film all the more fascinating and Ishii even finds time for some pitch black humor thanks to the lunatic antics of Ren’s family and their nonchalant attitudes towards some fairly risky activities.

In what instantly became one of the most infamous moments in Ishii’s oeuvre and a make a break factor for many viewers, Ishii has lead actress Hiroko Sato repeatedly flagellate herself for an extended period of time. It’s an exhausting sequence and while many have complained about the length and indulgence of the scene, Ishii brilliantly uses the scene to give a glimpse into Ren’s state of mind and the harrowing voice-overs heard throughout make it a scene of immense self-loathing and emotional purging. The scene is not only a testament to Ishii’s unique way of handling some pretty loaded subject matter but also the phenomenal performance of Hiroko Sato who follows in the footsteps of a long line of fearless actresses like Harumi Inoue (who appears here as one of Ren’s demented sisters), Aya Sugimoto and Mai Kitajima who’ve gone through the psychical and psychological ringer for Ishii with astonishing results. As good as Naoto Takenaka is in his 9th role for Ishii reprising his role as Jiro the handyman from Ishii’s first Night in Nude, as is often the case in an Ishii film, it’s the female who gets center stage and Sato leaves a lasting impression. Despite being a sequel, A Night in Nude: Salvation works perfectly on its own and is further proof of Ishii’s willingness to go to places most contemporary directors don’t have the nerve to go.



Monday, July 25, 2016

One Missed Call (2003)

Its funny how trends come and go in the horror genre. These days, its hollow patchwork "homage" films and remakes of classics and it would appear that Hollywood has gotten so bored of remaking films that have passed the 30 year range that plans are in motion to remake films from the 90’s. In the late 90’s and mid to early 2000’s however, Asian horror was all the rage. Clearly the most popular country of origin during the Asian horror boom was Japan and in particular Japanese films belonging to that specific faction of J-horror dealing with vengeful poltergeists with the most popular examples being the Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge) series of films and of course their Americanized remakes that just had to follow. While Takashi Miike is rightfully considered a master of Japanese horror, he interestingly chose to stay away from these types of films for the most part with his horror films from around the time period covering a wide variety of styles from the dramatic Audition (1999), to the over the top zombie/musical/comedy hybrid The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) and the surreal and abstract Gozu (2003). Miike did eventually throw his hat in J-horror ghost story ring in 2003 with One Missed Call, a film that hits all the right notes of the subgenre making it stand out in a crowded sea of similarly themed films.

Yumi, a young psychology student witnesses her friend Yoko receive a missed call notice on her cell phone. Strangely, the call was dated two days in the future and sent from Yoko’s own number and the voice on the message appears to be Yoko’s own, in mid-conversation before letting out a blood-curdling scream. Two days later while walking home and talking to Yumi on her cell, Yoko is suddenly killed by an oncoming train. Not long after, another friend of Yumi’s confesses to getting the same missed call notice and is immediately killed in front of Yumi which is followed yet again by another one of Yumi’s friends receiving the call. Yumi eventually meets Yamashita, who’s sister was one of the first victims of the cursed call and soon enough Yumi too gets the call as the two set out to uncover the origin behind the calls in hopes of saving Yumi from the fate of her friends.

Although relatively straightforward on the surface, One Missed Call (Chakushin ari, 着信アリ) could nevertheless be interpreted in a few ways. Detractors of the film dismiss it as a mere Ringu rip off while others see the film as a parody of the J-horror craze of the time. The later is somewhat understandable given the films almost hilariously familiar trajectory as similar films however the film seems more like a deconstruction of J-horror, as if Miike took all the familiar tropes of the subgenre that were prevalent at the dawn of the new millennium and said “Now this is how its done!” and therefore as a stand alone horror film, One Missed Call knocks it out of the park. Despite being one of Miike’s more commercially minded films when compared to the likes of Ichi the Killer (2001) or Visitor Q (2001), the film isn’t exactly lighthearted even with some well placed humorous commentary on the media and one very over the top death scene. Much like Audition and even Imprint (2006), there is a feeling of great sadness that hovers over the entire film with virtually every character dealing with some kind of past trauma and Miike finds a way to brilliantly fuse Yumi’s tragic past with the exceptionally grim origin of the cursed phone calls which culminates in a scene which turns from horrifying to heartbreaking in a matter of seconds. This overwhelming gloom is further emphasized by the films equally bleak visual design and a general feeling of unease and unusualness.

Yasushi Akimoto's novel, the cover
of which was the basis for the poster
art for the American remake.
Considering its subject matter and the time period in which it was released, its almost as if Miike was begging an American studio to remake the film which is exactly what happened in 2008 which funnily enough was a few years after the J-horror craze in the west began to cool off a bit. Unsurprisingly the remake is considered a failure in pretty much every area and is normally classified as one of the worst American remakes of a Japanese film. In Japan the original film spawned two sequels although Miike didn’t return to direct any of them. What’s also interesting is that while the film is technically based on a novel by Yasushi Akimoto, the script for the film and the book were written side by side with both differing from each other in various ways. According to Miike, he was forced to make some compromises while making the film and that if he had it his way the film would have probably turned out more in the vein of Gozu. Nevertheless the film still retains several of Miike’s signatures and again manages to do something personal even with the tried and true premise. Definitely one of the best films J-horror has to offer and a peculiar film for Miike that, despite its relative lack of eccentricities normally associated with Miike, still fits right in with many of his other horror films.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Crimes of Passion (1984)

While there have been exceptions, for the better part of the past 20 or so years it seems as if Hollywood and American films in general have stopped caring about taking chances in terms of material, choosing to stay stagnant in a sterile CGI/green screen rut. It might seem strange that there was once a point in time however when a Hollywood film with several million dollars behind it could cause a major stir, draw the ire of the MPAA and be completely subversive. Paul Verhoeven for example had this down to a science with films like RoboCop (1987), Showgirls (1995) and Starship Troopers (1997), films infamous for their content but for their intelligence as well. William Friedkin’s notorious Cruising (1980) also immediately springs to mind. So its not entirely surprising that Ken Russell would be invited to Hollywood to make Altered States (1980), although Russell’s reputation as a result of his clashes with Paddy Chayefsky who adapted to screenplay from his own novel not only led to Chayefsky taking his name off the film, in the process Russell found himself becoming a persona non grata of sorts in Hollywood. Never one to let reputation get in the way, Russell again managed to cause a major fuss with his follow-up to Altered States, 1984’s Crimes of Passion, one of Russell’s most outrageous films and at the same time one of his most heartfelt.

Electronics salesman Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) is hired by a fashion designer to do some nighttime surveillance trailing one of his employees, Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) whom he believes is stealing from him. While following Joanna, a serious, no nonsense business woman by day, Bobby is shocked to learn that at night Joanna takes to the streets as China Blue, a sharp tongued prostitute willing to fulfill any fantasy. Bobby, who’s marriage to his high school sweetheart Amy is in shambles, pays Joanna, as China Blue, a personal visit and soon finds himself falling for the real Joanna, all the while Joanna is being relentlessly pursued by reverend Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins), a psychotic preacher obsessed with “saving” her.

Crimes of Passion is a blunt as a film can be in the way it presents it ideas yet at the same time can still be a bit difficult to get a read on in that while its subject matter is incredibly heavy, this is also a Ken Russell film filled to the brim with bizarre and flamboyant moments. On a purely surface level, this is a film about sex, however deep down its really a film about fear. Bobby’s fear of admitting his marriage has lost whatever spark it may have had, Amy’s fear of admitting her lack of interest in sex and Joanna’s fear of being herself and letting anyone into her life in an intimate manner outside of her China Blue persona. Its these things which give the film its heart, particularly in the dialogue department. The discussions of sex are frank and at times awkward yet purposely so, for instance in a brilliantly performed scene between Bobby and Amy where the two are finally honest with each other for the first time in what seems like ages. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be the back and fourths between China Blue and Reverend Shayne, which are just fierce but also darkly comic and the film does have a tendency to bounce back and forth between being a serious drama, erotic thriller and absurdist comedy and the later takes over every time Perkins is on screen in one of the most hilariously deranged performance ever captured on film.

Russell would return to similar territory and controversy later in his career with Whore (1991) which in many ways could be seen as somewhat of a sequel to Crimes of Passion with its pull no punches look at the life of a streetwalker mixed with the occasional moment of Russell oddness, although nothing that comes close to the lunacy that is Perkins in Crimes of Passion. Whore also features a typically fearless performance from Theresa Russell just as Crimes of Passion features Kathleen Tuner in one of her most iconic and greatest roles, no hyperbole. Aesthetically however the films are worlds apart with Whore being no frills and shot documentary style whereas Crimes of Passion is smothered in flashy neon lighting and 80’s kitsch even featuring a random moment of classic Russell surrealism represented by a television commercial and the film is equally defined by its gloriously 80’s synth score via Rick Wakeman. Despite the controversy surrounding the film upon its original release, it would appear that the film has been somewhat forgotten about over the years especially when compared to other Russell titles like Women in Love (1969), The Devils (1971) or Tommy (1975) just to name a few. Both perverted and poignant with astounding performances from Turner and Perkins, Crimes of Passion is a quintessentially Russell experience and deserves to hailed as one of his best films and a 80’s highlight.



Monday, June 27, 2016

Door into Silence (1991)

Popular consensus seems to dictate that the 90’s were a down time for horror following the massive boom of the 70’s and 80’s. Italian horror found itself in a particularly interesting place at the dawn of the 90’s with many fans feeling that as the 80’s drew to a close, the Italian horror industry began to decline, despite the emergence of new blood like Michele Soavi and films like Stage Fright (1987) and The Church (1989) and Gianfranco Giagni’s The Spider Labyrinth (1988). While Dario Argento remained on top in terms of popularity and box office draw, other Italian masters like Sergio Martino began to move away from horror and concentrate on TV work while others like Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi continued to make horror films going into the 90’s only to basically retire from features by the mid-90’s. Despite numerous health setbacks, Lucio Fulci stayed the course throughout the 80’s and going into the 90’s. Even though his post-New York Ripper (1982) films are often looked down upon, several of Fulci’s films from this period are nonetheless interesting and some rather personal, A Cat In the Brain (1990) immediately springs to mind. Although it wasn’t intended to be, 1991’s Door into Silence would eerily and prophetically wind up being Fulci’s final film and its an effective, low key little chiller that essentially see’s Fulci looking the inevitable right in the eyes.

After a pit stop to visit his fathers grave, real estate agent Melvin Devereux (John Savage) sets out on his return home to his wife following a business trip in New Orleans. With the main highway closed, Melvin is forced to take the back roads and along the way encounters a hearse which no matter how hard he tries is unable to pass. Melvin’s trip home soon take a turn for the unusual as he discovers a mysterious woman following him who claims to be “waiting” for him and begins to find himself in one strange situation after another. The more Melvin confronts the hearse on the road, the more obsessed he becomes with the contents of the casket inside, gradually turning his journey into a waking nightmare.

Door into Silence is often negatively compared to a feature length Twilight Zone episode and although those comparisons are dismissive of the film they're somewhat accurate in terms of the films trajectory. Much like a Twilight Zone episode, the film beings with a typical, everyday situation and gradually takes a turn for the freighting and its precisely what makes the film work as well as it does, Fulci’s turning of the mundane into something surreal. Stylistically, the film is an exercise in minimalism. There are long stretches of time in the film where seemingly nothing happens except Melvin driving, however Fulci uses these moments to really let the increasingly bizarre nature of Melvin’s day sink in. A common criticism of the film is its lack of mystery and its true that its fairly obvious where the film is headed but in a way Fulci makes it glairing apparent from the first few frames of the film. In the end, this is a film where the answer of where its heading is far less important than the way the question is asked, and Fulci poses the question in a variety of interesting ways. To his credit, Fulci also does pepper the film with instances which may make some question the films ultimate destination so its not entirely out in the open. The film was shot on location on the back roads and small towns of southern Louisiana, a place with a mystique unique unto itself making the eerie mood of the film very naturalistic.

The film was produced by Joe D’Amato’s Filmirage company who, amongst other things, also produced the infamous Troll 2 (1990) and if some of the music in the film sounds familiar its because certain pieces were lifted from Troll 2 although they’re quite effective here and surprisingly don’t clash with the phenomenal jazz music that makes up the rest of the score. Interestingly, D’Amato muse, Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser, is credited as the costume designer for the film just as she was for Troll 2. While D’Amato went on record saying the film was the best he produced, the film was barley released and where it was it was tinkered with by distributors who changed the music much to Fulci’s disappointment. The opening credits also read “Directed by H. Simon Kittay” as according to Fulci, one of the films distributors felt that Fulci wasn’t an in demand name at the time therefore nobody would want to see the film. Another fun fact, star John Savage and actress Sandi Schultz who plays the mystery women in the film were married in 1993. While Door into Silence may seem worlds apart from Fulci’s more famous horror titles, its nonetheless an interesting watch not simply because it was Fulci’s final film but also in the way it sees Fulci exploring a heavy subject that was clearly on his mind quite a bit at the time.