Eat Him Up

First Annual Lucio Fulci Halloween Horror Festival

Like many gorehounds my age, my first introduction to the work of director Lucio Fulci came almost 20 years ago, in the last place anyone would ever expect to encounter an Italian splatter-maven's handiwork: the local Mann Theater in one of Amarillo's several sizable shopping malls. I can still vividly recall strolling out of a screening of some other, lesser exercise in cinematic human target practice (if memory serves it was Sean S. Cunningham's seminal Friday the 13th, but don't quote me on that), only to find myself face to face with a genuinely disturbing "coming attractions" one-sheet hanging in the lobby. Above the scabby, worm-encrusted visage of a flesh-challenged ghoul was perhaps the best declarative tagline ever: "We are going to eat you!" -- offset by the film's title -- Zombie -- below. Whoa. Heavy stuff, that. Checking at the box office, I made a date to sneak into this obvious classic-to-be as soon as it opened. It would still be a year or two before I managed to catch George Romero's seminal zombie holocaust-cum-consumerist rant, Dawn of the Dead, on a then-state-of-the-art Betamax, and so up until then I sated myself with Fulci's extreme and often incomprehensible vision of nonredemptive horrorshows on the screen. The Gates of Hell appeared the following year, and sometime after that a severely truncated version of The Beyond -- inexplicably retitled Seven Doors of Death for its U.S. video release. It was, needless to say, a gooey time of life for a young horror afficionado like myself. If you've yet to fall under Fulci's spell, this weekend's Lucio Fulci Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse is a perfect introduction to a quartet of the director's more outré outings. Compiled by Austin author, soundtrack archivist, and general jack-of-all-trades Stephen Romano, the fest features The Beyond, The Gates of Hell, Zombie, and the little-seen Cat in the Brain, all of which are more or less guaranteed to get audiences in the Halloween spirit while simultaneously scarring you for life. Trust me, it's that kind of festival.

"Until QTII," says Romano, referring to Austin's semi-annual Quentin Tarantino festival, "I hadn't even seen any of Fulci's film in the theatre, but then after that I became really obsessed with him. He always worked on such low budgets and was so much more creative than [Dario] Argento, to speak the unspeakable. He was much more like Mario Bava -- he had more atmosphere in his movies, especially his really early stuff."

Trying to find functioning copies of old horror films, especially Italian ones, is a labor of love in and of itself. The prints for this festival have been culled from various sources, including a restored version of The Beyond overseen by Sage Stallone's (son of Sly) Grindhouse Releasing with the cooperation of original cinematographer Sergio Salvati (it played here last year as a Dobie midnighter). The Gates of Hell print is one of 30 originals struck in 1982 for its U.S. debut, Zombie is Romano's own private copy and one of the original 58 from the Jerry Gross Organization's 1980 U.S. release, and Cat in the Brain arrives on laser-quality video from the collection of the Floridian "Godfather of Gore" and Sixties underground icon/huckster Herschell Gordon Lewis. Whew!

Fulci, who passed away in 1996 from the relatively prosaic cause of diabetes (you'd like to think he went down swinging, machete in hand, surrounded by an ever-encroaching ring of the undead, but such was not the case), has too often been dismissed by mainstream critics as yet another Italian horror hack, content to implode the occasional prosthetic noggin and savage bare-breasted grade-B Euro-trash starlets. A more accurate description of the man is that of a career artist who toiled throughout the past five decades to impose his colorful, twisted visions on moviegoers the world over, painting with a garish filmic palette that frequently recalls the atmosphere-drenched work of Mario Bava. Although Fulci would not achieve stateside notoriety until the end of the Seventies, he had already been heralded as one of the continent's most original directors of mid-to-low-budget shockers. His 1972 film Don't Torture a Duckling, despite the inane title, remains a watershed moment in the history of the Italian giallo genre, which deftly mixes aspects of mystery, suspense, and outright horror.

Even the most cursory examination of Fulci's work -- from 1959 through 1991 he produced no less than 53 films, among them Westerns, comedies, sex farces, and mysteries -- reveals a wildly fertile, maddeningly provocative imagination in constant overdrive. Granted, not all of his films make perfect, linear sense to audiences outside of his very Italian sphere of influence (continuity at times appeared to be a dirty word to Fulci, and the dialogue in his films at times evokes as many unintended guffaws as it does intended shivers), but dismissing them out of hand, as has so often been the case, is not just shoddy criticism, it's besmirching an artist in every way as reputable as his far more celebrated compatriot Dario Argento (Suspiria, The Stendahl Syndrome). He's the Buñuel of rent limbs, the Welles of the gag reflex, the Leone of very bad dreams.

He's Lucio Fulci: Eat him up.

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lucio fulci, horror films, giallo, cat in the brain, the beyond, gates of hell, zombie, alamo drafthouse

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