Horror Scenes That I Love: The Ending of Zombi 2


For our next horror scene that I love, we have one of the greatest horror endings of all time.

As Lucio Fulci’s 1979 masterpiece, Zombi 2, comes to a close, Ian McCulloch and Tisa Farrow are on a boat.  They’ve managed to escape from an island that been overrun by zombies.  However, as they listen to a New York radio station, they discover that the zombie outbreak is not over.  In fact, it’s just begun!

And then you get the final scene, in which hundreds of zombies are seen stumbling into New York!

Enjoy the end of the world!

Italian Horror Showcase: Aenigma (dir by Lucio Fulci)


If there’s anything be learned from 1988’s Aenigma …. well, actually, that might be giving the film too much credit.  There’s probably nothing to learn from Aenigma.  The film does start with a pretty cruel prank and that prank leads to some snail-related mayhem but really, you should have already learned the truth about pranks after Carrie burned down the prom.

The prank involves the cruel girls at St. Mary’s boarding school tricking their classmate, Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), into thinking that she’s on a date with a gym teacher (Riccardo Acerbi) and then jumping out of the shadows and surprising her when Kathy and the teacher start making out in his car.  This leads to a humiliated Kathy running out into the middle of traffic, where she’s promptly hit by a car and goes into a coma.  While everyone agrees that sucks for Kathy, at least it means that no one will ever know the truth about the prank.

Then people start dying.

They die in a variety of weird ways and since only the people involved with the prank are the ones being targeted, it doesn’t take much effort to guess that the comatose Kathy is probably involved.  It also doesn’t take much effort to guess that the newest student at the school, Eva (Lara Lamberti), has been possessed by Kathy and is mostly just hanging around to make sure that everyone’s dead.

What’s weird is that, in her coma, Kathy has so many different powers that you have to wonder why exactly she needed to possess Eva.  For instance, the gym teacher is strangled when his own reflection jumps out of a mirror.  One of the girls is killed when a statue in a museum suddenly comes to life and attacks her.  Yet another girl is somehow killed by snails.

Yes, you read that right.  She wakes up to discover that she’s covered in snails and this leads to her dying.  Aenigma is regularly criticized for the scene with snails.  “Why didn’t she just get out of bed and take a shower or something?” many a commentator has asked.  I guess they have a point but, honestly, if I woke up and there were a few hundred snails on me, I would totally freak out.

Apparently, the main reason that Eva’s there is so she can try to seduce Kathy’s handsome doctor (Jared Martin) but the doctor is more interested in Jenny Clark (Ulli Reinthaler), who was involved in the prank but who, unlike everyone else, felt really bad about it afterward.  I’m sure that would lead to any complications….

There’s kind of a sad story behind this rather forgettable if occasionally entertaining horror film.  After making horror history by directing films like Zombi 2 and The Beyond, director Lucio Fulci entered into a career decline.  Struggling with ill-health and having had a falling out with some of his former collaborators, Fulci found himself working with lower budgets and less interesting premises.  That’s certainly the case with Aenigma, which was shot in Sarajevo with a largely unknown cast and which blatantly ripped off the plots of Carrie and Patrick.

Aenigma has got a terrible reputation among fans of Italian horror.  Personally, I think it’s a very flawed film but I also think that it’s not quite as bad as some have made it out to be.  I mean, the snails are ludicrous but they’re also so weird that you can’t help but kind of love it when they show up.  For that matter, the coach being killed by his own reflection and the scene where the statue come to life are clever ideas, even if their execution leaves something to be desired.  Even in his later years, Fulci still had his talent.  Unfortunately, when it came to films like Aenigma, he rarely had the resources necessary to truly make his vision come to life.

4 Shots From 4 Other Lucio Fulci Films: The Black Cat, Aenigma, Demonia, Door To Silence


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Since I finally got around to reviewing Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond Trilogy (as Arleigh can tell you, I’ve been talking about reviewing those films ever since I first joined this site), it seems appropriate to dedicate today’s horror-themed 4 Shots From 4 Films to Lucio Fulci’s other horror films.  We present to you….

4 Shots From 4 Other Lucio Fulci Films

The Black Cat (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Aenigma (1987, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Demonia (1990, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Door To Silence (1991, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Italian Horror Showcase: The House By The Cemetery (dir by Lucio Fulci)


Lucio Fulci’s 1981 masterpiece, The House By The Cemetery, begins as so many slasher movies have begun.

A teenage couple fools around in the basement of the deserted Oak Mansion.  Just from listening to them talk, we can surmise that the mansion has a reputation for strange events.  Suddenly, the boy vanishes.  The girl looks for him, telling him that whatever he’s doing stopped being funny a long time ago.  Suddenly, a knife is driven through the back of her head, the blade eventually exiting through the girl’s mouth.  Fans of Italian horror and Fulci films in particular will not be shocked by this grisly turn of events, mostly because the girl was played by Daniela Doria.  Doria appeared in several Fulci films and, in each film, her character was brutally murdered.  The House By The Cemetery was her third Fulci film.  She would later appear and get killed in Fulci’s The New York Ripper.

From that rather conventional horror movie opening, The House By The Cemetery goes on to become progressively more bizarre and surreal.

 

The Boyles — Lucy (Catriona MacColl), Norman (Paolo Malco), and their young son, Bob (Giovanni Frezza) — are to spend the next six months living in a mansion in New England.  It’s all so Norman can work on a research project.  His colleague, Peterson, previously stayed at the house and basically went crazy, killing his family, his mistress, and himself.  This doesn’t seem to particularly disturb Norman.  Before they leave New York, Bob stares at a picture in his father’s office.  It’s a black-and-white picture of a dilapidated house.   There’s a young girl staring out the window of the house.

Suddenly, we can see and hear the girl (Silvia Collatina) as she yells at Bob to stay away from the house.

In the small town of New Whitby, the girl — who is named Mae — stands on a sidewalk.  She’s clutching a doll and it doesn’t appear that anyone else can see her.  Mae stares into the window of tailor’s shop.  One of the mannequins has fallen over and its head has become detached.  Mae watches a dark blood oozes out of the plastic head.

Sitting in the back seat of his parent’s car, Bob watches Mae.  Mae turns to stare at him.  Despite the fact that there’s a road in between them, Mae and Bob are able to calmly speak to each other.  Again, Mae tells Bob that he shouldn’t have come.

When the family arrives at their new home, Lucy says that the Oak Mansion looks a lot like the house in the picture in Norman’s office.  Norman shrugs it off as a coincidence.  As for the house itself, it turns out to be a bit of a dump.  Yes, it’s big but the inside of the house is covered in dust and cobwebs and there’s a particularly nasty bat living in the basement.  However, what really upsets Lucy is the fact that there’s a tombstone in the middle of the front hallway.  Norman dismisses her concerns, saying that it used to be very common for people to be buried in their homes.

Much as how Jack Torrance was “always the caretaker,” everyone in town seems to be convinced that they’ve met Norman before.  Norman swears that he’s never been to New Whitby before.  Meanwhile, Lucy grows more and more anxious inside the house.  Sometimes, she thinks she can hear noises in the walls.  Are they alone or is there someone else living in the house?  Bob spends his time playing with his new friend Mae, who shows him a nearby headstone for someone named Mary Fruedstein.  “She’s not really buried there,” Mae tells him.

Things get stranger.  A mysterious young woman named Ann (Ania Pieroni, who has previously played The Mother of Tears in Dario Argento’s Inferno) shows up and says that she’s the new babysitter.  A real estate agent (played by Dagmar Lassander) comes by the house while the Boyles are out and is promptly murdered.  Lucy wakes up one morning to discover Ann scrubbing a huge blood stain and says nothing about it.

Norman’s research reveals that the house once belonged to a Dr. Jacob Freudstein, a Victorian-era scientist who conducted illegal experiments.  Could that have something to do with all of the strange things that have happened in the house?  Norman goes to New York to do further research and once again, he finds himself dealing with people who are convinced that they’ve seen him before….

In an interview, Lucio Fulci once described The House By The Cemetery as being his answer to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining and there are some obvious similarities, from the ghostly girl to the little boy who appears to have psychic powers.  Fulci said that he didn’t feel The Shining was dark enough and make no mistake about it, The House By The Cemetery is a very dark film.  Even by the standards of Lucio Fulci, there is very little hope to be found in The House By The Cemetery.

As a follow-up to both The City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, it’s also the concluding chapter of Fulci’s Beyond trilogy.  When Mae offers Bob a chance to escape to a safe place, those who have viewed The Beyond will immediately realize that she’s talking about the same dimension that was visited by David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl at the end of Fulci’s previous film.  And while Mae may be offering Bob an escape from what’s happening the House, those who have seen the entire trilogy know that the Beyond is just as dangerous as our world.  The end of the film seems to suggest that there is no escape from the horrors of the world.  At best, there’s just a temporary delay to the inevitability of doom.

The House By The Cemetary is Fulci at his most atmospheric as he combines the gothic visual style of City of the Living Dead with the aggressive dream logic of The Beyond.  In much the same way that the The Beyond indicated that the price for discovering the truth about the world was blindness, The House By The Cemetery indicates that the longer the Boyles remains in the house, the more incapable they are of seeing the horror right in front of their faces.

And what horror!  When Dr. Freudstein does make his appearance, he’s a monster straight out of Lovecraft, a mix of Frankenstein, Freud, and the Great Old Ones.  And yet, the film’s real horror is not to be found in the monster but in the disintegration of the family living in the house.  In the end, Bob is stalked not only by the monster in the basement but also by his parent’s increasingly unhappy marriage.

Giovanni Frezza actually does a pretty good job in the role of Bob, though you might not notice because he’s been so atrociously dubbed.  (Far too often, in Italian horror films, children were dubbed by adults speaking in squeaky voices and that seems to be what happened here.)  Frezza would later appear in Fulci’s perplexing Manhattan Baby while Paolo Malco would play another arrogant academic in The New York Ripper.  And then there’s Catriona MacColl, appearing in her third and final Fulci film.  Fulci was often criticized for the way women were portrayed in his films but MacColl gave strong lead performances in The City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House By The Cemetery and, most importantly, her instantly relatable presence helped to provide some grounding for Fulci’s surreal vision.  Even if the films didn’t always make perfect logical sense, audiences would continue to watch because they wanted things to turn out well for whichever character MacColl was playing.  (Of course, they rarely did.)

The House By The Cemetery was the third and final part of Fulci’s Beyond trilogy and one of his strongest films.  Lucio Fulci passed away in 1996 but, like the inhabitants of the Beyond, his films live forever.

 

Horror Scenes I Love: The Beyond


The Beyond

Lisa has written in detail how much she enjoys Fulci’s The Beyond. From it’s Lovecraftian themes of otherworldly dangers to Fulci’s stylistic choice of focusing on characters’ eyes and blindness.

Others also love how Fulci is able to combine not just the grand guignol sequences that his films have become famous (or infamous depending on how one judges horror films) with an ethereal look to the visuals that borders the line between being dream-like and nightmarish.

This particular scene doesn’t have that grand guignol panache of Fulci’s more dynamic scenes, but it does give a hint to the desolation and etheric sense one feels seeing that empty causeway with just Liza driving on it then suddenly seeing Emily and her guide dog just standing there at the lane divider.

While I have always had a boyhood crush when it comes to Catriona McColl, I must admit that Cinzia Monreale was quite beautiful in this film even with the weird contacts she wore to show her as having being blinded by what she saw in the beyond.

Italian Horror Showcase: The Beyond (dir by Lucio Fulci)


David Lynch reportedly once described Eraserhead as being a “dream of dark and disturbing things” and the same description can easily be applied to Lucio Fulci’s 1981 masterpiece, The Beyond.

The second part of Fulci’s Beyond trilogy, The Beyond sits between City of the Living Dead and The House By The Cemetery.  With its portrayal of naive humans getting an unwanted look at the inexplicable reality that hides just a little beyond ours, it’s a film that very much calls to the mind the work of H.P. Lovecraft.  While insanity was often the punishment for gaining knowledge of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, the punishment for discovering the Beyond often seems to be blindness.

(Ocular damage was one of Fulci’s trademarks.  Starting with Zombi 2, almost every Fulci film seemed to feature someone losing an eye.  In The Beyond, a plumber played by Giovanni De Nova loses an eye while wandering about a flooded basement and, over the course of the narrative, several character are rendered blind, making them incapable of seeing the true horror of what they’re experiencing.  Fulci struggled with diabetes and the threat of blindness runs through almost all of his horror films.)

The Beyond starts with a striking, sepia-toned sequence that’s set in the year 1927.  While a young woman named Emily (played Cinzia Monreale) reads from a book, a mob attacks a painter named Schweik.  They believe Schweik to be a warlock and they view his grotesque paintings as being proof.  (In many ways, the mob is comparable to the critics who insisted on judging Fulci solely based on the subject matter of his films while ignoring the skill with which Fulci directed them.)  Schweik is tortured and left crucified in the basement of the Seven Doors Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Jump forward 54 years.  A woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl, who appeared in different roles in all three of the Beyond films) has inherited the long-closed Seven Doors Hotel and she’s moved down to New Orleans to reopen it.  Unfortunately, her efforts to renovate the place aren’t going smoothly.  It’s been one disaster after another, almost as if someone or something is trying to keep her from reopening the place.  The latest was the flooded basement and the plumber who lost both his eye and his life.  Of course, Liza would probably be even more concerned if she knew just what exactly it was that attacked the plumber in the first place.

While driving down one of Louisiana’s many bridges to nowhere, Liza is forced to come to a stop when she sees a blind woman and her guide dog standing in front of her car.  The woman is Emily, who doesn’t appear to have aged at all since we last saw her.  Emily is now blind.  She tells Liza that her hotel was once home to an evil warlock and she warns her to stay out Room 36.

Meanwhile, the plumber’s wife and his daughter visit the plumber’s corpse in the morgue.  This not only leads to the plumber and several other dead people coming to life but it also leads to an accident with a beaker of acid that was, for some reason, sitting on a desk.  Soon, the daughter is blind herself.  On the plus side, all of the drama at the hospital does give Liza a chance to meet Dr. John McCabe (played by the always welcome David Warbeck).

Fulci never got much credit for his work with actors.  (Some of that, of course, is due to the fact that most of Fulci’s film were atrociously dubbed for overseas release.)  However, The Beyond is definitely one of the best-acted of all of his films.  In fact, one reason why we stick with the film even when things start to get really, really weird is because we genuinely like Liza and John.  Warbeck and MacColl had a lot of chemistry and, in the midst of all the mayhem, they created two very real characters.  Cinzia Monreale is also impressive in the role of Emily.  Fulci made good use of her other-worldly beauty and Monreale keeps us wondering whether Emily is trying to help of Liza or if she has a secret agenda of her own.

(Towards the end of the film, during a zombie siege, there’s a scene where John and Liza get in an elevator and, as the doors close, Warbeck tries to reload a gun by forcing a bullet down the gun’s barrel.  MacColl sees what he’s doing and breaks character, laughing as the doors close.  The Italian crew apparently did not realize that Warbeck was playing a joke because this was the take that they used in the film.  Needless to say, it temporarily takes you out of the film and yet it’s such a charming moment that you can’t help but love it.  It’s nice to see that with all the grotesque insanity going on around them, Warbeck and MacColl were having fun.)

The Beyond gets progressively more bizarre as it continues.  It doesn’t take long for Fulci to abandon any pretense of traditional narrative and the film soon becomes a collection of vaguely connected, increasingly surreal set pieces.  A man goes to a library and ends up getting eaten by an army of spiders.  Ghouls suddenly roam through the hallways of the hospital.  Yet another person loses an eye, this time to a loose nail.  Another relatively minor character suddenly has a hole in her head.  A chase through the hospital’s basement leads to the characters somehow finding themselves back in the hotel.  And finally, we go to the Beyond….

This is going to be heresy to some but, as much as I appreciate it, The Beyond is actually not my favorite Fulci film.  Overall, Zombi 2 is my favorite and, as far as the trilogy goes, I actually prefer The House By The Cemetery.  That said, The Beyond is the film that best exemplifies Fulci’s cinematic philosophy.  Fulci called it pure cinema, the idea that if your visuals are strong and properly edited together, the audience will use them to supply their own narrative.  That’s certainly the case in The Beyond.  A lot happens in The Beyond and it’s not always clear how everything’s related.  But since every scene is full of Fulci’s trademark style, the viewers builds the necessary connections in their own mind.  The end result is a film that, perhaps more than any other Fulci film, capture the feel of having a dream.  It’s not a film that will be appreciated by everyone.  Fulci’s work rarely is.  Still, for fans of Italian horror, The Beyond is one of the key films.

Fulci followed The Beyond with one of his best-known movies, The House By The Cemetery.  I’ll look at that film tomorrow.

Italian Horror Showcase: City of the Living Dead (dir by Lucio Fulci)


In New York City, a group of people sit around a table, holding a seance.  One of them, a woman named Mary (Catriona MacColl) has a vision.  She sees a sickly, hollow-cheeked priest walking through a cemetery.  She watches as he hangs himself and, as the priest dangles from a tree branch, Mary lets out a piercing scream and collapses to the floor.  The police are called and they promptly declare that Mary has died.  Later, while a hard-boiled reporter named Peter Bell (Christopher George) watches as two grave-diggers walk away from her half-buried coffin, he hears something coming from the grave.  From insider her coffin, Mary is screaming and struggling to get out!

Peter grabs a pickax and smashes it down into the coffin.  Peter may be trying to free her but what he doesn’t realize is that, with each blow of the pickax, he comes dangerously close to hitting Mary in the face.  Somehow, Peter manages to avoid killing Mary.  Once he gets her out of the coffin, Peter and Mary go and see a medium to try to figure out the meaning behind Mary’s previous vision.

What they don’t discuss is why or, for that matter, how everyone was convinced that Mary was dead for at least a day or two.  Mary doesn’t mention that Peter nearly killed her with the pickax.  In fact, for two people who have just met under the strangest and most disturbing of circumstances, Peter and Mary seem to be getting along famously.  For that matter, they don’t appear to be too surprised when the medium informs them Mary’s vision indicated that the dead will soon be entering the world of the living.

And so begins Lucio Fulci’s wonderfully odd and surreal City of the Living Dead.  Reading the paragraphs above, you might think that I was criticizing City of the Living Dead but nothing could be further from the truth.  From the start, Fulci establishes that City of the Living Dead is going to fully embrace its own unique aesthetic.

The majority of City of the Living Dead takes place in a small town with the name of Dunwich, a name that immediately (and, I believe, intentionally) brings to mind the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.  Dunwich is a town that always seems to be covered in fog.  At the local bar, men talk about the recent suicide of Father Thomas and they discuss what to do about Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), who the majority of them believe to be a a pervert.  Meanwhile, Bob comes across an inflatable sex doll in a deserted warehouse and, for the most part, just tries to stay out of everyone’s way.

(Bob was one of Radice’s first roles and, along with his turn as David Hess’s sidekick in The House On The Edge of the Park, the one that many fans of Italian horror continue to associate him with.  It’s a testament to Radice’s talent that he could make even a creepy character like Bob sympathetic.)

Even without the presence of the living dead, Dunwich doesn’t seem like the ideal place to live.  A greedy morgue attendant attempts to steal a dead woman’s jewelry.  A psychiatrist named Gerry (Carlo de Mejo) struggles to calm the nerves of his patient, Sandra (Janet Agren).  At one point, one man gets so angry with another that he drills a hole in his head.  That’s Dunwich, for you.  Who needs the dead when you’re surrounded by the worst of the living?

Speaking of the dead, that dead priest is still wandering around town.  When he comes across two teenagers making out in a jeep, he rips open the boy’s head while the girl bleeds from her eyes and proceeds to vomit up her intestines.  (Somewhat inevitably, the boy is played by Michele Soavi who, before launching his own acclaimed directing career, always seemed to die in films like this.  Even more inevitably, the girl is played Daniela Doria, who appeared in four Fulci films and suffered a terrible fate in every single one of them.)

By the time that Peter and Mary actually reach the town, the dead are already moving through the fog while storms of maggots crash through windows.  Even the sight of a seemingly innocent child running towards the camera leads to the sound of people screaming off-screen….

Even though it’s actually one of Fulci’s more straight-forward films (i.e., a character says that Dunwich is going to be overrun by zombies and then Dunwich actually is overrun by zombies), it still plays out like a particularly intense dream.  From the fog-shrouded visuals to the often odd dialogue, City of the Living Dead is a film that plays out according to its own unique logic.  The film’s surreal atmosphere may have partially been the result of a rushed production schedule but it also serves to suggest that, as a result of the priest’s suicide, the nature of reality itself has changed.

City of the Living Dead is not a film for everyone.  If I was introducing someone to Fulci for the first time, I would probably have them watch Zombi 2The Black Cat and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin long before I even suggested they take a look at City of the Living Dead.  That City of the Living Dead is a gory film should come as no surprise.  That was one of Fulci’s trademarks, after all.  Instead, what makes City of the Living Dead a difficult viewing experience for some is just how bleak the film truly is.  Even before the living dead arrive, Dunwich is a town the seems to epitomize the worst instincts of humanity.  There’s a darkness at the heart of the City of the Living Dead and it has nothing to do with zombies.

First released in 1980, City of the Living Dead is generally considered to be the first part of Fulci’s Beyond trilogy.  Catriona MacColl, who gives such a good performance here, appeared in the film’s two follow-ups, The Beyond and The House By The Cemetery.  (MacColl played a different character in each film.)  With each film, Fulci’s vision grew more and more surreal until eventually, he seemed fully prepared to reject the idea of narrative coherence all together.

Though initially dismissed by critics, The Beyond trilogy is today celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in the history of Italian horror.  City of the Living Dead is probably the most narratively coherent film in the trilogy, even if its ending raises more questions than it answers.  Personally, I love the ending of City of the Living Dead, even though it was apparently a last-minute decision.  (According to Wikipedia — so take this with a grain of salt — someone spilled coffee on the original work print of the ending, which led to Fulci having to improvise.)  It’s an ending that suggests that not only has the film broken apart but that the world is shattering right along with it.  In the end, the world falls apart not with a bang but with one long scream.