Manhattan Baby (1982)

Manhattan Baby (1982) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 07/27/2017

The opening of Manhattan Baby gives fans a glimpse of what a Lucio Fulci Raiders of the Lost Ark might have been. But alas, it’s cut more from the Poltergeist and Exorcist cloth, and assembled in a patchwork far more patchwork than patterned.

It’s been written that this was the final collaboration between producer Fabrizio De Angelis and Fulci, a fraught collaboration, particularly here where the budget apparently tanked. Writers Elisa Livia Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti apparently had something more far out in mind and it seems that nobody was particularly happy with the results.

But it’s Fulci so it’s not a total wash. Disjointed and weird editing gives the film a pace full of weird disjunctures and there are some really nice shots and moments alongside some strange dialogue and weird moments of unintentional hilarity.

Fulci is, at the very least, always entertaining.

The New York Ripper (1982)

The New York Ripper (1982) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/26/2017

Lucio Fulci takes giallo to New York and finds it a city full of perversity. Sex is on sale on every corner, live sex acts are applauded like great theater, open marriage is a license for the licentious, and even the cops shack up with prostitutes. If you think you aren’t full of smut, you’re probably repressing something.

It’s in this landscape, the still very gritty New York City of the very early 1980’s, that a serial killer who talks like Donald Duck takes to great extremes of sexual violence, like the unleashed Id of a sick society.

It’s a filthy, gritty giallo with primo gore effects to make even the least squeamish to grimace or cringe. It’s also Fulci at the top of his game, delving into the depths of sleaze to come up with a gruesome classic.

It also seems to take a cue from perhaps Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) or even William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), delving in the darkness of the city and the openness of lurid sexuality. God knows this is our lost New York.

The New York Ripper lives up to its reputation.

Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

Four of the Apocalypse (1975) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 11/07/2016

Lucio Fulci isn’t known for his Spaghetti Westerns, but wouldn’t you want to see one anyways? Cinematographer Sergio Salvati gives Four of the Apocalypse a classier aesthetic than a lot of Fulci’s films, still operating with a good production budget, one would assume.  Good looking and interesting doesn’t necessarily add up to cinematic greatness.  Cinematic goodness, yes.

Based rather loosely on some Bret Harte short stories, I actually took Four of the Apocaplypse as possibly a semi-psychedelic social critique and play on John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939).  The motley crew of our four include a card sharp, a pregnant prostitute, an inveterate drunk, and a somewhat crazy gravedigger.

From the very get-go they meet up in a jail cell and are kicked out of a town that lynched everyone on the street after a certain point of night.  Set adrift with their wagon, they find themselves bonding despite their differences, against a landscape of barren ghost towns and carnage.  That is until they meet up with a consummate villain, Chaco (Tomas Milan), who feeds them peyote, rapes the woman, and maims the drunk.

By the end, two are dead, one is insane, and they’ve managed to literally cannibalize themselves.  Though revenge is wreaked, the havoc reigns and this bloody and morose story can sit with the most pessimistic of the genre.

The cast is strong and the ideas are interesting.  Flashes of Fulci-esque gore underscore the gritty picture.  And yet it’s only SO good.  Definitely worth seeing.

The Black Cat (1981)

The Black Cat (1981) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 10/11/2016

The Black Cat makes the 10th Lucio Fulci flick that I can claim to have seen.  So I guess I can no longer say that I’m a babe in the wood with Fulci anymore.  But I also don’t know that I can claim a complete picture of the Italian director.

Fulci’s 1981 film The Black Cat is a little Edgar Allan Poe and a lot Fulcian weirdness.  Poe’s short story is gory and bizarre in its own right, but Fulci’s version extends that psychological horror into the far out and supernatural.  Close-ups on eyes abound, as do Patrick Magee’s fantastical eyebrows.  This black cat is more than a projected upon victim and more of a demonic phantom.

Coming the the heart of Fulci’s fecund “Gates of Hell” period, The Black Cat seems to get shorter shrift from Fulci aficionados.  The film is far less gory, there is no “gate of hell”, nor a zombie in sight, but it’s highly surreal and strange and evocative. To my mind, it’s as strong and as strange as anything he made.

Sure, it’s sort of bizarre to have a potential slasher film in which the killer is a somewhat ordinary black house cat.  I don’t know.  I’d definitely give this one another go.

A lesser Fulci that I would suggest isn’t a lesser Fulci at all.  A full-on Fulci.

The Psychic (1977)

The Psychic (1977) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/10/2016

Giallo isn’t Lucio Fulci’s #1 genre, but his efforts in the field have proven interesting.  The Psychic isn’t as good as Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and maybe less lurid than A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), but it’s got its merits.

The rich color palette could have been lifted from fellow Italian auteur Mario Bava, but the version that Fandor has available wasn’t in nearly as good of shape as some.  It really looks like it could use a restoration.  Something is working against cinematographer Sergio Salvati’s aims and the print itself could be of issue.

Titular psychic Jennifer O’Neill first witnesses her mother’s suicide as a child and then envisions another murder, which leads her to a walled-up corpse, but is this a vision of the past, present,…or future?

Not utterly riveting.  But a nice poster.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 11/18/2015

Doused in LSD and awash in surreal psychedelia, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a 1971 giallo from Lucio Fulci. Featuring a score by Ennio Morricone and perhaps most notably fine cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller heighten this swinging Sixties London decadence spiraling into the 1970’s.

Like any giallo worth its salt, it’s a mystery murder and convoluted beyond any concise recounting.  A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a good-looking film, with Kuveiller’s stylish eye and some rather lush sets.  Dream sequences, psychological hypnotism, psychedelic drugs lend some trippy sequences to this extremely period picture.

I’m no Fulci expert, but this film felt quite different from other films of his, even Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), another better giallo of his only a year later.  Because as nice as Lizard looks at times, it’s not overly compelling or interesting, even with its titillating materials.

Conquest (1983)

Conquest (1983) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 09/15/2015

Conquest must be seen to be believed.

From the often far out Lucio Fulci, Conquest is a low budget fantasy film whose narrative weirdness and odd cinematography push forward into the surreal.

Words fail me here.  I’ll just leave it at that.

A Cat in the Brain (1990)

A Cat in the Brain (1990) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 03/20/2015

Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain is a strange and interesting mess of a film.  Compiled somehow by Fulci from pieces of other films he had made, he features himself in a starring role as a horror film director whose work is getting to him.

Shooting limbs getting sawed off and blood spurting and heads rolling eventually leads the filmic Fulci to hysterical hallucinations and delusions of real-world gore.  He takes himself to a local psychiatrist to try to cope with the visions, but unfortunately for him, his psychiatrist is a closeted killer himself, who hypnotizes Fulci into believing his visions are real and goes on to commit crimes that Fulci also comes to believe that he has committed.

Considered by some to be the “maestro of gore’s” Fellini-esque 8 1/2 (1963), it’s an odd and still very gory self-reflection of potential real trauma.  Did Fulci really have such visions?  It would be easy enough to imagine.  I had a job in a deli as a meat slicer one summer and dreamed of my hands constantly slicing through fresh and sinew.

Sadly, it’s a kinda crappy movie ultimately, made in Fulci’s later years when he was facing poverty and obscurity.   You feel the sincerity but the quality just slacks off.  The ending exemplifies this in that the capture of the killer is all off-screen in a rather unusual unfolding of climax into anti-climax.  Possibly some compromises led to this?

The House by the Cemetery (1981)

The House by the Cemetery (1981) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 05/31/2014

The third and final entry in Lucio Fulci’s so-called “Gates of Hell” supernatural horror films is a bit less gruesome and a bit less far out than its predecessors, City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981).  It actually seems to take more of its inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), something that has been noted before.

A family moves from New York to a small village near Boston into an old house, haunted by the evil spirits of their predecessors.  In fact, the house seems to have driven the father’s colleague to murder his girlfriend and commit suicide.  And then there is the weird ghost girl in a photo who appears to the little boy (one of the world’s most annoying little boys) and befriends him.

In a lot of ways, it’s far more coherent of a story than Fulci’s other “Gates of Hell” films, a more conventional haunted house story, though with more gruesome elements than most, though it typically dissolves into a semi-unclear finale, one that perhaps helps connect it to the other two films.

Frankly, I’m still noodling on the whole series. City of the Living Dead was shockingly gory and a bit of confused fun, which I think makes it the one that I liked the most of the three.  The Beyond has its moments and values too.  I don’t know.  More time is needed to let all the putrescence sink in.

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 05/18/2014

My birthday movie marathon of course had to have an ending.  There are only so many hours in a day.  Having just watched Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981), my final film turned out to be another Fulci film, an earlier non-horror giallo film, titled in English Don’t Torture a Duckling.

My experience with the giallo film is oddly limited.  I was first exposed to giallo in the 1990’s while living next to Le Video, San Francisco’s great video shop, probably at its late heyday, sadly only a few years before it became nearly unnecessary with the advent of Netflix and eventual streaming platforms.  Back then, video (even prior to DVD really taking over) was the way that movies were proliferated.  And Le Video cornered the market on obscurity, with lots of “illegal” bootleg versions of films that just weren’t available anywhere.  And the staff was tuned in to the pre-internet research of obscurity and genres.  I never heard of “giallo” before Le Video.

Oddly enough, the one giallo that I saw from that time was Giulio Questi’s curiously titled Death Lays an Egg (1968).  I think that’s one of those funny things about giallo, the tendency to some really strange titles.  Maybe that’s actually what had me queue up Don’t Torture a Duckling.   Maybe if you wind up torturing a duckling, death will lay an egg.  I don’t know.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is the story of a serial child murderer wreaking havoc in a small village in rural Italy.  So, it’s not Fulci’s later zombie type horror, more perhaps of a horror/thriller, I suppose.  It’s also quite a different style of direction for Fulci, much more cohesive in its narrative and focus, with a much more pronounced sense of social critique in it.  It’s considered significant as the first of Fulci’s films to include some of his bloody gore effects, though it’s nothing like his later zombie gore.

It’s a really interesting film, actually, more accessible perhaps from a narrative stance and yet still very complex.

I really don’t have an explanation why I never got around to seeing more giallo films.  But when I did some post-film research, I realized that I’ve seen virtually none.  And yet it’s a genre that is right up my alley, with horror and “the fantastique” and all that Italian eroticism.  I’m really all about pulp when it comes down to it.  Maybe it’s just that Dario Argento never really “did it” for me when I was younger, even if I liked some of his films.  If he was the “master” of the giallo then maybe it wasn’t so interesting for me.

Whatever.  I’ve queued up about every notable giallo that I could find now.  So, my future will indeed have some serious tints of giallo in it.