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.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Demonia (1990)

AKA Liza

The mid to late 80’s going into the 90’s weren’t the easiest of times for Lucio Fulci. From 1971 to 1982 Fulci was on a serious role, with seemingly one classic after another ranging from giallos like A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), the brilliant spaghetti western Four of the Apocalypse (1975), and of course his string of horror masterpieces Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982). During the mid’80’s, Fulci became seriously ill and numerous heath problems would plague him for the rest of his life and there is a prevailing opinion that just like Fulci’s health, his films from this period also began to decline. Fulci would again fall ill during the filming of Zombi 3 (1988), his intended sequel to Zombie forcing exploitation stalwart Bruno Mattei to complete the film, its disastrous reputation now legendary. 1990’s Demonia was envisioned by Fulci as a comeback film of sorts, a supernatural horror film in the vein of his early 80’s classics featuring elements of the nunsploitation subgenre. Unfortunately the film failed to connect with viewers and is often cited as being one of Fulci’s worst films. A hyperbolic statement for sure as Demonia is a much more interesting film than its critics are willing to give it credit for.      

While in Sicily researching the ancient Greeks, Liza, a member of a team of archeologists finds herself drawn to an old monastery and while exploring discovers the remains of five crucified corpses. Already unwelcome by the superstitious locals, Liza faces even more hostility when inquiring about the monastery and is warned by the leader of her team to stay away. After being approached by a strange woman, Liza soon learns that the monastery was once home to five nuns who made a pact with Satan and were executed for their heresy by being crucified and burned at the stake, and Liza’s entering of the crypt has awakened their spirits who begin enacting their revenge on the current residents of the village.

If there’s one thing that’s bound to hold Demonia back in the eyes of many its that Fulci was clearly going for the same vibe found in films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, however the overwhelming sense of apocalypse that defined those films just isn’t present in Demonia. That’s not to say that the film is without mood. On the contrary, the film is defined by a feeling of oddness from very early on and the quintessential Fulci irrationality is ever present. Interestingly, the history of the nuns and the cursed monastery is detailed at great length yet Fulci still leaves enough room for some left over mystery. Another thing that is often mentioned as a negative is the films slow pacing with most of the “action” so to speak, involving the vengeful nuns reserved for the very end however this too works in the films favor in the sense that it plays out like a hazy, unusual sleepwalking session. The utter randomness of some of the scenarios also gives the film a feeling of surreality including a very memorable death scene involving a man being split in two halves by two trees. The films photography is also a main complaint for many, even Fulci himself claimed the film was ruined by it although the locations are stunning, particular the monastery and the interiors of the nuns crypt and Fulci adds some neat post production filtering during some dream sequences featuring Liza wandering near the monastery to hypnotizing effect.

Considering the circumstances, it’s a miracle the film was even completed at all. According to actor Grady Thomas Clarkson in an interview with horror writer Alan Jones for Eyeball, the production was bound to be a mess long before shooting began. Clarkson recounts that miscommunication was common due to none of the American actors being able to understand Fulci’s broken English and in a hilarious anecdote, Clarkson gives an example of just how low the films budget was due to the fact that the alcohol seen in the film was really ice tea and nobody was allowed to swallow it in order to avoid having to spend more money buying more tea, forcing Clarkson to ask “What sort of film are you making where you have to be fake drinking fake booze?!” In the piece Clarkson also recalls almost being killed for real during his death scene and just hammering the point home that Murphy’s law was in full effect during the shooting of the film. Still, despite all that went wrong, Demonia is far from Fulci’s worst film. Fulci fans who’ve put off seeing the film based on bad press should go in with an open mind. Let films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond be what they are and let Demonia be what it is, which is a fun supernatural horror film with a welcome spoonful of nunsploitaion.