Category Archives: Directed by Lucio Fulci

Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci)

They filmed a lot of Zombie on location—New York City, the Dominican Republic, the ocean floor. For over half the movie, the location filming is the most important thing—if we’re going by what director Fulci showcases the most. Not even the gore gets a bigger showcase until the third act, though there are some rather gruesome exceptions. But the static (or just panning) long shots of palm trees once the action gets to the Caribbean island where Richard Johnson is playing Dr. Moreau only with zombies are the rule. It’s very pretty, even if it’s desolate as something has happened—an unseen voodoo witch doctor has decided the dead must rise so everyone’s a flesh-eating zombie. The film can’t decide on what happened. Johnson says things went bad three months ago, non-acting action hero and world traveller Al Cliver says the island’s been cursed at least a year. It’s also unclear how long Johnson’s been on the island. And why. Despite the almost endless exposition in Zombie, usually from actors poorly delivering it, the exposition just doesn’t matter. Because Zombie is going to be all about the gross stuff Fulci and his crew get his fake shemps to endure.

For instance, I don’t think there are any shemps covered in maggots—their faces, the zombie makeup is entirely on their faces—but lots of them have live worms wriggling around the makeup. I think one zombie has a mouthful of live worms, no doubt worms not protected by the American Humane Association. The zombie makeup itself isn’t great. There are a lot of attempts at showing bone in the makeup, incorporating masks, which just makes the zombie look bulky like their skulls are retaining water or something. So the live worms and such do a good job distracting from such deficiencies. Zombie has a lot of gore in the second half, a little in the third, with Fulci saving the grossest zombies for the finale. They’re coming out of their graves too at one point, so he’s able to get a lot of mileage out of his long (timing wise) practical effects shots. Sergio Salvati’s photography and especially Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi’s music help for those shots too. They’re really good tests of one’s stomach; the last big gross-out scene the gore is so extreme it’s actually unbelievable at least one of the characters doesn’t puke. Though then we’d have to see one of the leads trying to essay puking, which they probably couldn’t do.

See, Zombie’s an Italian production shot without a synchronous audio track, which is called motor only sync (MOS). I didn’t know the jargon until today, even though pretty much every Italian production from the twentieth century seems to use this method. Thanks Wikipedia. But what the lack of synchronous sound means is the actors, who might be speaking different languages, never get any actual rapport. Fulci tries to compensate with reaction shots. It doesn’t work.

The worst case is when ostensible lead Ian McCulloch is watching Auretta Gay undress for scuba diving. She does it topless and in a string bikini bottom. McCulloch just stares, occasionally making sure top-billed Tisa Farrow’s still watching him watching. You’re worried the male gaze compounding on itself is going to cause a cosmic singularity before the sequence ends. Though McCulloch’s exceptionally unconvincing comb-over is enough to cause a singularity on its own. Farrow doesn’t mind the comb-over by the way, in fact she’s very hot to trot for McCulloch. At one point during the long opening of the third act, “escape the zombies on foot” sequence, Farrow even gives McCulloch the “I don’t want to die without sex” speech, so they get it on in a graveyard. Too bad the now zombified corpses are waking up below.

But not really because even though Farrow’s not good, she’s not a shit heel like McCulloch. It’s hard to be a such a big shit heel when you’re dubbed but McCulloch abides.

The best performances appear to be Johnson and his assistants—Stefania D'Amario and Dakar—worst are Johnson’s wife, Olga Karlatos, Gay, Cliver, McCulloch. Farrow gets a pass from that list because she’s so irrelevant once they get to the island. She mustn’t have been willing to take her clothes off. Karlatos, who the film manages to portray negatively for not wanting to be on the zombie island of undying death, also gets a gratuitous nude scene. Unlike Gay, however, it’s not prelude to something awesome. Gay’s scuba diving sequence leads into the zombie versus shark scene, Zombie’s claim to fame. It’s an impressive underwater stunt sequence. But much like the rest of the film’s impressive moments, it’s nowhere near enough to justify it. With a better budget, Fulci and his crew probably could’ve done something revolting and realistic, instead of revolting and effective. Zombie’s set pieces are gross instead of scary, but its default—with Fulci’s often good composition, Salvati’s photography, Vincenzo Tomassi’s editing, and that score from Cascio and Frizzi—is disquieting. Maybe it’d help if the third act of the script didn’t sink it.

It also doesn’t help the best sequence—an empty sailboat showing in New York Harbor, Dracula-style—is the first one in the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lucio Fulci; written by Elisa Briganti; director of photography, Sergio Salvati; edited by Vincenzo Tomassi; music by Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi; production and costume designer, Walter Patriarca; produced by Fabrizio De Angelis and Ugo Tucci; released by Variety Films.

Starring Tisa Farrow (Anne Bowles), Ian McCulloch (Peter West), Richard Johnson (Dr. Menard), Olga Karlatos (Mrs. Menard), Al Cliver (Brian Hull), Auretta Gay (Susan Barrett), Stefania D’Amario (Nurse Clara), Ugo Bologna (Dr. Bowles), and Dakar (Lucas).


City of the Living Dead (1980, Lucio Fulci)

City of the Living Dead isn’t really about a city of the living dead, more an unincorporated municipality of the living dead. An unincorporated municipality of the living dead is far less scary than a city of the living dead. Though the film is rarely scary. It’s occasionally gory, even more occasionally awesome in its gore, but it’s rarely scary. It’s kind of a grody scary.

Most of the scares come toward the beginning, as ingenue psychic Catriona MacColl gets buried alive. Sure, the NYPD investigates her death as a possible homicide or at least drug-related thing (the detective is suspicious of pot use among MacColl’s fellow mediums), so one would think there’d be an autopsy, but no. No, she just gets buried alive. Luckily, intrepid reporter Christopher George happens to be being intrepid in the graveyard at just the right time to save her.

It’s actually one of director Fulci’s best sequences–George pick-axing into MacColl’s coffin–just because he never gets too carried away. Fulci likes his gore, doesn’t really like thinking about how it works. Later on, zombies appear and disappear at will. Both the zombies’ wills and the wills of their potential victims. The zombies are all presumably under the command of undead priest Fabrizio Jovine, who doesn’t have a character, he just stands around trying to look as much like Christopher Lee as possible.

But MacColl and George are pretty good, particularly George, and they’re able to carry the film. Fulci and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti spend most of Living Dead splitting between MacColl and George trying to get to the City (unincorporated municipality) and the residents of said city (unincorporated municipality) dealing with zombies. While MacColl and George’s scenes often aren’t great–sometimes they’re entirely useless–at least there’s a narrative drive to them. MacColl isn’t great playing a haunted psychic, but she’s not bad. And George chomps on the scenery just enough to maintain believability while still entertaining.

It’s the townsfolk who are the problem. There’s a runtime killing subplot about the town pervert (a reasonably effective Giovanni Lombardo Radice) who gets blamed for all the zombie murders. Maybe the most successful thing about how Living Dead’s narrative functions is how Radice can just disappear and the film doesn’t hit a speed bump. Because in the town, Carlo De Mejo is the lead. He’s the lovable town shrink, who seems to have gotten his degree from a Crackerjack box. De Mejo is awful. He doesn’t emote at all. You’ll have half-eaten corpses, everyone else freaking out, De Mejo blandly staring into space. In some ways, it helps the film through its sillier narrative moments. If De Mejo can’t get worked up about it, why should the viewer?

There are some decent supporting cast performances–Antonella Interlenghi, Janet Agren, not annoying little kid Venantino Venantini–but the film plods along. It’s also a technical mixed bag. Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati do create a creepy town–the wind machine effects are awesome–but Vincenzo Tomassi’s editing is weak and Fabio Frizzi’s synthesizer horror score doesn’t do what it’s going for.

But for most of its runtime, City of the Living Dead isn’t awful. Just when it gets to the third act and Fulci fails with the evil zombie priest showdown. The whole film’s been building to this scene and it tanks. De Mejo standing around like a twit doesn’t help things, of course.

Still, it’s far from unwatchable and even has its charms.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lucio Fulci; written by Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti; director of photography, Sergio Salvati; edited by Vincenzo Tomassi; music by Fabio Frizzi; production designer, Massimo Antonello Geleng; produced by Fulci and Giovanni Masini; released by Medusa Distribuzione.

Starring Christopher George (Peter Bell), Catriona MacColl (Mary Woodhouse), Carlo De Mejo (Gerry), Adelaide Aste (Theresa), Antonella Interlenghi (Emily Robbins), Janet Agren (Sandra), Luca Venantini (John-John Robbins), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Bob), Venantino Venantini (Mr. Ross) and Fabrizio Jovine (Father William Thomas).


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