Saturday, June 17, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 17: Fulci!




    The opening act of this set-in-England, Fulci-directed/co-written murder mystery made me think I was about to watch the greatest 'giallo' I'd ever come across. Part psychodelia (acid-induced hallucinations play an integral role in the plot), part avant-garde (dozens of beautiful naked people in sexual ecstasy inside trains and long hallways) and 100% sexy (full frontal redhead woman laying atop a red bed with red carpet underneath = out-of-control symbolism! :-P), "Lizard in a Woman's Skin" completely switches gears for its last two thirds. Though the body count is low and the Fulci-isms infrequent (and mostly dealing with animals attacking and/or being grotesquely torn apart) Florinda Bolkan is a likable protagonist who retains audience sympathy with Carol's dilemma of being the prime suspect of a murder she dreamt about committing but didn't actually do. He's low-key and mostly in the background compared with the more show-off character types (supporting father, unfaithful husband, back-stabbing best friend, etc.) but Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) gradually emerges as the unicorn of the giallo genre: an intelligent police detective that eventually lands on the killer's identity by being very good at his job.

    I came to see a stylish over-the-top giallo and instead wound up with the best "Columbo" episode I didn't know the Italians had turned into a feature. Oh Fulci, will you ever stop being the Junesploitation! gift that keeps on giving? :') 4 MRS. GORDON'S GIGOLO DRIVERS (out of 5)

    THE WAX MASK (1997, TUBI).

    If Lucio had lived a few more weeks before his untimely passing in 1996 this would have marked his return to big-time (by Italian movie standards) feature-length horror. A collaboration between Fulci and Dario Argento (both co-wrote the screenplay and Dario co-produced the final film), "Wax Mask" is an eons-nastier remake of André De Toth "Wax Museum" by way of a very loose re-interpretation of Gaston Leroux's original novel. Directed by special effects man Sergio Stivaletti ("Cemetary Man," "Phenomena") with a professional-but-imperfect meshing of Fulci's eye for atmosphere with Argento's then-penchant for unrestrained gore, this is to De Toth's "Wax Museum" what Chris Walas' "The Fly II" was to Cronenberg's '86 remake: an entertaining, messy freak show. A young woman named Sonia (Romina Mondello) is hired by eccentric Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein) to dress-up the violent exhibits for the wax museum he's about to open. A series of violent deaths (including children! :-O) and abductions begin occurring, and only an investigative photojournalist (Riccardo Serventi Longhi) starts digging into truth... if he can stop making love to not-afraid-to-show-boob-on-camera Sonia.

    Maurizio Abeni's score punches way above "Wax Mask's" weight (so good!). Sergio Salvati's cinematography is great except during the handful of CG/morphing special effects sequences (yikes). The strong Paris 1900 opening scene sets the stakes/characters for what's to follow in 1912 Rome, and it's the final warning for those that are easily offended by graphic violence to get the hell off this crazy Italian train before things get much nastier. The narrative plays like a "Batman '89"-inspired whodunit (with flashbacks that further point away at obvious suspects), so it's not exactly clear-cut villains we're dealing here. It all leads to a batshit-insane ending I won't spoil, but it's about the craziest 'twist' I've seen this J! this month. If Fulci not being on the director's chair is a deal-breaker then please consider "Wax Mask" for your upcoming Italian Horror! day candidates. 3.75 SPINNING OPERA RECORDS COVERED IN SPLATTERED BLOOD (out of 5).


    I will get this out of the way first: the plot is The Running Man a few years before Schwarzenegger’s film was released. I was impressed by that. What did not impress me is the overall mess this film is. Perhaps watching the VHS quality version on Prime is not the optimal way to see it, but that does not alter the confusing script, repetitive editing, and generally poor acting. When the film does get to the gladiators, however, I was entertained. The cheapness of everything does add a bit of charm to the action scenes. Some people may find enough to enjoy in The New Gladiators to redeem its weaknesses, but I could not get there.

    FULCI FOR FAKE (2020)

    The conceit behind this documentary, of an actor preparing to portray the infamous director, is one that I find detracts from enjoying the film. Those sections I can do without, honestly. The interviews with Fulci’s daughters and the people who worked with him (including the composer Fabio Frizzi and cinematographer Sergio Salvati) are terrific. They reveal many details about the difficulties of his personal life that I was not aware of. One of the critics dismisses much of his early work, stating that the run from Zombie to The New York Ripper is the only worthwhile version of Fulci the filmmaker. My enjoyment of his late 1960s and 1970s films tells me otherwise, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

  3. Conquest (1983, dir. Lucio Fulci)

    Happy birthday Lucio!

    A warrior for good has a magical bow and goes on a mystical journey to fight against evil or something.

    The story's mostly just a bunch of fantasy clichés thrown together, but there are some interesting concepts thrown into the mix. The sets, costumes and monster makeup are charmingly cheap, and the actors take their silly dialogue way too seriously. This being a Fulci movie, there's of course a couple of nice gore effects. Claudio Simonetti's synth score is the star of this movie.

  4. The Psychic a.k.a. Seven Notes in Black (1977)

    A woman experiences visions of a murder scene in vivid detail. After her seemingly implicated husband gets arrested, she embarks on a private investigation with the help of a parapsychologist friend - the only one who believes her premonitions. The movie is a sort of a supernatural giallo mystery with a hazy atmosphere and a relatable heroine who’s desperately trying to get to the truth while unwittingly marching into deeper and deeper danger. Just when I started thinking that her path seems to be filled with too many convenient coincidences, the reveal of the true nature of the woman’s visions made everything click again, setting things up for a really good and tense final stretch.

  5. The Devil's Honey (1986, dir. Lucio Fulci)

    I have seen most of Fulci's major work, but this was my first time viewing The Devil's Honey. Hoo-boy...

    All I can say is Happy Birthday and RIP Mr. Fulci, you magnificent bastard.

  6. New-to-me: SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK (1977)
    A woman finds a skeleton behind the wall in her new home, and then there's paranoia and repressed memories and whatnot. This is more of a stock whodunit rather than full-on horror. It's slow-paced and talky, but fortunately, it builds to an exciting finale. The opening "cliff dive" scene is also worth the price of admission. Not Fucli's best, but there's some good stuff here.

    Old fave: ZOMBIE 2 (1979)
    Although I didn't see this until fairly recently, I certainly knew of it by reputation over the years. It's one thing for a movie to live up to the hype, it's another to surpass it. There's so much to enjoy here. Yeah, the violence and gore are quite rockin', but so are the quieter scenes that full of eerie menace. It's such a horror classic that even though I didn't see it until a few years ago, it's as if I'd always seen it. It's zombie-ception!

  7. Conquest (1983)

    I wish the movie didn't look quite so soft and gauzy, but as far as fantasy/sci-fi fever dreams go, it's a great watch.

    Happy Birthday Mr. Fulci!

  8. 002 Operazione Luna (1965)

    The only bad thing about being a Lucio Fulci fan is that you eventually start to run out of first watches of his movies. Once you’ve even entered into the post-80s high and learned to love movies like Voices from Beyond, Sodoma’s Ghost, Touch of Death, The Sweet House of Horror and Demonia (and more) the only way out is backward. That’s when you start to watch the movies that Fulci created before he was only known for gore, quality films like Perversion Story, Don’t Torture A Duckling and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin are waiting for you.

    Before that, Fulci went to medical school and decided, upon graduation, that there was more money in movies than in treating patients. After apprenticing at Centro Sperimentale, he directed documentaries and worked as an assistant director and screenwriter in the Italian comedy genre throughout the 50s. He apprenticed under famous Italian comedy director Steno and eventually became known for a series of movies starring Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia.

    A sequel to Oh! Those Most Secret Agents!, this follows almost the same plot as that movie. Franco and Ciccio get confused for cosmonauts Colonel Paradowsky and Major Borovin, which makes sense as the comedy team plays both roles. The Italians are used to take the place of the two missing Russians who have gone missing in the cold void of space, so they land the rocket so the space race can be lost by America. Then the Russians come back and hijinks ensue.

    Mónica Randal from The Witches Mountain, Linda Sini (who would also be in Fulci’s Massacre Time and Don’t Torture A Duckling), Maria Silva (Tombs of the Blind Dead), Francesca Romana Coluzzi (Marisa Mell’s body double in Danger: Diabolik! as well as Giovannona Long-Thigh and Fulci’s Dracula In the Provinces; she’s also Red Sonja‘s mother) liven things up.

    Fulci said that this movie and The Two Parachutists were both filmed in just seven weeks.

    While this has a 002 in the title, it is not a Eurospy movie. It’s also one of only two science fiction movies Fulci would make, along with Warriors of the Year 2072.

  9. The Black Cat (1981)

    Good atmosphere, creepy vibes. I kind of enjoyed this more as a Poe adaptation than what I expect from a Fulci movie. I liked the style but it didn't reach the extreme peaks of horror or gore of some others I've enjoyed. Has a good score by Pino Donaggio.

    Rewatch on Arrow BluRay, 9/10.
    I haven't seen this one since Anchor Bay released their DVD in the early aughts. It's better than I remember, but the cleaner transfer might just be the clarity I needed. Also, I didn't remember it as a lesser Fulci, it just played better today. And I had forgotten the special effect at the end, making it all the wonderfuller.

    Rewatch on Arrow BluRay, still 10/10.
    This was my second Fulci film ever, ZOMBIE being the first. I watched it on an EP tape as GATES OF HELL about 25 years ago. I'm tempted to say it's my favorite, but a handful of contenders are clustered tightly at the top. It's safe to say that any of those might evoke a cry of "favorite" if I were watching them. LIZARD is up there, as is HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, despite its potential to send me to the City Of The Sleeping Living.

  11. THE BEYOND (1981)
    My first Fulci! 1981 seems to be my magic year this Junesploitation...
    I'm not sure yet if Italian horror is for me, but I did find a lot to enjoy in this one. I really dug the atmosphere (especially the opening) and score.

  12. Warriors of the Year 2072 - 1985, dir. Lucio Fulci

    Holy shit, how have I not seen this until just now?!! I love ‘Conquest’ and ‘The Devil’s Honey’, both slight swerves from horror that Fulci took in the mid 80s, but I somehow ignored this one and shitgoddam I am happy I’ve corrected that mistake. ‘I guerrieri dell'anno 2072’ aka ‘The New Gladiators’ aka ‘The Fighting Centurions’ is equal parts ‘Rollerball’ and ‘Escape from New York’, shaken ultra violently, and poured over ice that was scraped out of a gutter in downtown Rome.

    This is easily one of Fulci’s most visually stylish works, utilizing split screen, slow-mo, rotoscoped lasers, strobes, lavish models of ‘Blade Runner’-esque “Nuova Roma”, and plenty of neon. Riz Ortoloni’s score kicks ass, you can see the silver paint fumes coming off the goofy angular sets, and the costumes would fit right into a Euro Diskotek. The lo-fi, handmade quality of the movie is so endearing.

    Considering the WGA strike, the mechanics of the streaming business, fears around AI replacing human creativity and decision making in entertainment, and the influencer culture of social media, all of the industry and business satire still hits home in a very real way. The ultimate villain as it turns out, is actually an artificial intelligence gone rogue, with even deeper twists, turns, motivations, and religious allusions. Seeing just how destructive social media has been over the last several years, it’s not at all unreasonable that a rogue entertainment AI could actually cause real world chaos.

    Our hero Drake is the ultimate future influencer - “Kill Bike” champion and celebrity boyfriend one minute, alleged murderer turned revolutionary the next - leads a team of rag tag criminals (including Fred Williamson) as they attempt to escape the clutches of the future death sport. After he tells the soulless Cortez to “Go to hell!”, the station exec responds, “I would, if I thought it would raise my ratings.” That’s some prime “Zaslav giving a commencement speech” shit right there.

  13. The New York Ripper (1982)

    The brutal murders, sex, and that duck voice! What ride!

  14. Challange to White Fang aka White Fang 2 (1974, dir. Lucio Fulci)

    I watched White Fang last year, so I decided to watch the sequel this year. It was pretty good, but needlessly complicated with too many characters for what should be a simple "boy and his dog" movie. As I read in one review, it's too violent for children, but too much a "young boys fantasy" to appeal to adults. Unless you're me, I suppose!