Easter Egg: cursor left or right, and once under main sections a red graphic from Zombie will appear. Hit ENTER, and director/producer Mike Baronas recalls his efforts to meet and speak to Lucio Fulci in 1996.
Director Lucio Fulci will forever remain a controversial director not because his greatest fame came from crafting gory horror entries with often bizarre plots, but whether he was a genuinely proficient filmmaker.
Most of his 50+ films are unavailable to English language audiences, which leaves a handful of spaghetti westerns, crime films, horror films, gialli, and erotic films as samples of his skill - and the quality varies.
From his horror films, one can find extraordinary depictions of sadism the razor torment in The New York Ripper is still one of the ugliest sequences ever committed to film, and tough to sit through and simultaneously a wonderful sense of the ridiculous; whether it's severe eye trauma (splinter-in-the-eyeball), a face torn apart by tarantulas (take that, King of the Spiders!) or a child's head blasted open (truly hysterical in its boldness and insane detail), Fulci new how to smack his audiences with outrageous images that are inarguably traceable to some of the craziest deaths in recent films.
This isn't to say the ax-below-the-teeth trauma in Wrong Turn came from Fulci, but it's fair to hypothesize that the spirit of deranged deaths particularly where the victim has a final moment of self-awareness before the last drop of blood closes the eyelids can in part be attributed to the director's flair for the macabre and serious physical trauma.
But is that basically his sole claim to fame? If deaths and violence were hacked out from his work, would they still stand out as technically accomplished and dramatically rewarding films worthy of contemporaries like Mario Bava or Riccardo Freda (their respective eccentricities and weaknesses notwithstanding)?
When director/producer Mike Baronas and Kit Gavin, a DVD Supplement Producer, tracked down the director's associates, colleagues, and friends for the various Fulci DVDs ultimately released by Media Blasters, they ended each interview segment with one simple question: What is your fondest memory of Fulci?
Baronas had planned a book on Fulci with an emphasis on the man rather than a dry examination of his work, but various events and the passage of time stalled the project, which eventually led Baronas to winnow down the replies to that final question, and organize them into a DVD release (limited to 2500 copies, plus a separate signed edition).
Paura: Fulci Remembered, Vol. 1 isn't a screaming fan-boy tribute, but a broad discourse via anecdotal, personal, and restrained if not carefully constructed diplomatic replies from nearly 90 actors, colleagues, and technicians who worked with the director at least once during his lengthy career, which culminated with The Wax Mask, the film he was prepping and had planned to direct for producer Dario Argento before dying in 1996.
Professionally, the consensus is clear that Fulci was an experienced technician who knew his craft: he could command the resources of his crew, nurture sensitive actors, write scripts with potent themes, and had a strong visual sense, down to his knowledge of cameras and precise lenses. He didn't waste time, knew what he wanted, and lived to work.
Personally, he was a man with a wicked sense of humour, and like accounts from actors familiar with director John Ford, if Fulci didn't like someone, that poor bastard was subject to some heavy anger (otherwise known as Production Whipping Boy Syndrome). Fulci is also (and often) described as unkempt; his clothes were dirty and ash-burned from his constant pipe smoking; his fingernails long and unclean, and director Enzo Castellari recalls a nickname, Lucio Pulci, which roughly translates as Lucio Fleas.
Some actors love the man because they found beneath the tough, sometimes viciously profane shell lay a humane and compassionate director with a taste for fine art and culture; others give vague or diplomatic statements, making it clear their time with the director wasn't the best experience of their careers.
Unlike Bava, who chose to stay and work only in Italy, Fulci did travel to international locations, and he seemed to enjoy that aspect of being an elder journeyman director who, prior to his horror wave, executed whatever was in vogue in Italy at the time, which many Italian directors endeavored because it paid the bills, kept the creative juices going, and built up the filmography.
Both Bava and Fulci eventually moved away from voguish genre entries demanded by the marketplace or producers towards more personally satisfying works, but unlike Bava, whose output became sparse in his final years, Fulci's remained quite steady, which led to a mix of personal projects, but also generic genre entries, sequels, and riffs that lacked even B-level budgets, and felt like impersonal films made by a bored hack.
One of the interviewed actors feels Fulci could've been a great filmmaker had he not taken so many films for the money; the director admitted he often took projects to maintain a specific lifestyle, but one could also believe, based on the few snippets about his family life, that Fulci's work ethic remained steady to combat boredom, keep his mind off health problems (diabetes), deal with his wife's death (suicide), and cope with having to look after three teenage daughters, a responsibility he wasn't all that crazy about.
Baronas' Paura: Fulci Remembered isn't overtly designed to vindicate or rectify Fulci's stature, but to stand on its own as a portrait of a misunderstood, maligned, and ignored filmmaker. Like Bava, Fulci's reputation within Italy is far less than on an international level, and perhaps his personality was more complicated than his colleagues, resulting in a more qualitatively varied output.
For fans, there's the joy in hearing some deeply affectionate anecdotes, with each person (except Barbara Bouchet and Jared Martin) appearing on camera. The footage is sometimes archival a bit hot in bright, sunlit locations and the statements span from under a minute to several minutes. Some are concise, others are vague and negligible; a few are taken off-guard and struggle to find something of note from their participation in a generic genre entry. Others are more passionate, and repeatedly thank the documentary crew for showing such keen interest in their old friend.
Baronas divides the interviews into three groups: Accomplices has composers (including Fabio Frizzi and Riz Ortolani), cinematographers, screenwriters, and effects technicians; Peers focuses on directors (Castellari, Luigi Cozzi, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato, and Michele Soavi); and Victims gathers a multitude of actors.
Most of the replies are in Italian (with English subtitles) or the occasional French, and a few struggle valiantly in their limited English to recall specific memories. The subtitles are generally well-centered, although a few are fairly close to the screen's lower left edge.
The filmographies and stills montages preceding each interview segment are well organized, but like the title menu for each of the three sections, the film credits are too close to the screen's left edge.
Each interview can be played on its own, or the whole section with a Play All option. Each menu page has music by Dave Neabore which effectively evokes Frizzi's scores, although the three themes for the interview sections are repeated over the filmography intros without any variation. (Scoring almost 90 separate themes would've been absurd, but there should've been perhaps 5 significant variations for each theme.)
Baronas' liner notes, titled Why Lucio Fulci? are very thoughtful, and he explains the film and events that led him to discover and regard the director as a neglected auteur of very personal horror films. (A more personal and bittersweet version is told by Baronas in the DVD's Easter Egg segment, although the video has serious compression issues.)
For fans, Paura: Fulci Remembered as a mandatory resource is a no-brainer, but for those still unsure or struggling with their own perceptions of Fulci's stature and his career peaks and valleys, Baronas' doc/interview compendium is worth a peek, because just might compel fence-sitters to revisit his work certainly his genre classics and maybe trigger, at best, a slight reappraisal of a director who, when the material, the financial and creative resources, and personal will were present, could make a pretty good (and insanely bloody) cinematic ride.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan