oriented The Beyond. It feels pretty long at just 86 minutes; little exciting happens in it, aside from its foreseeably, memorably grotesque death scenes, between its terrific opening scene and its wonderfully grim closer. The conceit is basic: a family of three moves into an, er, house by a cemetery, and the house is haunted. (More "haunted," I'd say.) Mayhem ensues. You can’t expect to be safe in its universe if you are the real estate agent who sold the family the house (Dagmar Lassander) or if you are the babysitter (Ania Pieroni) looking after the family’s creepy-looking only child. (He’s freakily Aryan and his voice is dubbed by an adult imitating a child — you almost expect the movie to devolve in Exorcist-style theatrics, but it turns out he and the large doll he carries around simply emanate bad vibes.)

 

Like Zombi 2, though, The House by the Cemetery at its best makes a case for Fulci the inimitable horror director. Particularly impressive is his attention to the faces of his characters during long stretches of suspense. His money shots dependably come from darkly humorous, over-the-top acts of violence — Fulci loves a side glimpse of a butcher knife plunging into someone's head at such an angle that ensures the tip eventually protrudes from the victim's mouth, like a gleaming tongue. But he emphasizes in The House by the Cemetery how his characters look as they're anxiously awaiting what is likely their doom, flitting back and forth between the horrified expressions of a would-be victim and the movements of an aggressor with an almost rhythmic precision. In these moments, it’s natural to imagine being the person anticipating the attack. Not fun, but still a testament to how little details in Fulci’s movies can help make them a cut above other low-budget splatter offerings. It also helps to have Catriona MacColl as your lead — she’s so believably emotive that when she’s at the center of a scene, everything great about Fulci really clicks. His cheapness momentarily turns into gold.

 

Zombi 2B+

The House by the CemeteryB-

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he House by the Cemetery (1981) is a little lethargic compared to Zombi 2. It’s certainly the nadir of Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, which also includes the superb City of the Living Dead and the more surrealistically

of kindling piercing a marshmallow. Zombi 2 contains the splatter movie’s gross-out equivalent of the most famous shot from Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929).

 

It isn’t necessary to probe why, exactly, the zombies of Zombi 2 are so determined and cruel. Because when they're acting particularly out of pocket, we know it's because Fulci — christened the Godfather of Gore alongside the American Z-movie director Herschell Gordon Lewis — likely has coming our way an outrageous set piece showcasing his propensity for death scenes designed to highlight the wonders of gory special effects. A typical reaction to one of them is usually a delighted eww! (Cue bubbly, yellow comic-book lettering.) Scares are few, but squirms come in spades. 

 

Fulci (1927-1996) had been working as a director of mostly exploitation movies for a little over 20 years when he made Zombi 2. He was already an established horror director before he made it: his 1970s, for instance, notably saw the releases of giallo hallmarks A Lizard in a Woman's Skin 

(1971) and The Psychic (1977). But Zombi 2 is pretty universally accepted as the film that kicked off a key, if not defining, era in Fulci's career — one that would see a succession of splatter movies that would establish him as the preeminent gorehound (1980's City of the Living Dead, 1981's The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery).

 

Zombi 2 was not ideal for Fulci. He didn’t like the title, which was picked by distributors wanting to capitalize on 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, which had been recut and released in his native Italy as Zombi. And Zombi 2’s most famous scene excluding that aforementioned splinter fiasco — which can only be described as an underwater shark/zombie crossover event — was shot without his approval. (Fortunately, no sharks or zombies were harmed during its making.) 

 

But it’s nonetheless an ideal conglomeration of all the trademarks for which Fulci would later rightfully be celebrated by the movie lovers who saw something special in his once sniffed-at projects. Zombi 2 unforgettably 

features his penchant for charmingly gross violence; it also showcases his talent for establishing a hard-to-pinpoint phantasmagorical atmosphere, which can make his movies feel like they're taking place in a nightmare realm lurking underneath the surface of our banally mortal one. One immediately feels inclined to call a Fulci movie “bad” as they’re settling into it: there’s something so wrong, cockeyed about them — like a prototypical low-budget horror movie but also not really.

 

But as one (at least a good one) wears on, the viewer’s nerve endings start to sync up with the perennial offness — you get entranced. In The Beyond, for example, we see a sign that says “Do Not Entry” and think not right off the bat no one proofread this! but rather that this was placed intentionally. It’s another confirmation that we’re stuck in a logicless hell designed by Fulci, our master builder. (Building need not come with copy-editing skills.)

 

The plot of Zombi 2 doesn’t matter much — suspense and special effects comprise its world’s ruling class. The storyline is pretty harebrained. The boat of a prominent scientist washes up in New York City unattended aside from a few zombies on board. Weird. This inspires the scientist’s daughter (Tisa Farrow) to travel to the Caribbean island on which he was working for answers. (I will not dwell on how a deserted boat that started its journey in the Caribbean managed to get to New York City.) She is accompanied by a journalist (Ian McCullouch) who at first wants to simply get a scoop, then develops a deeper emotional attachment. Inevitably, her father is nowhere to be found once they arrive at their destination. But zombies are here in abundance. Siri, what’s the opposite of an auspicious start?

 

Zombi 2 is objectively goofy. When the scientist's daughter and her new writer sidekick team up with another pair of snoops (Richard Johnson and Olga Karlatos, portraying married scientists), in store is a lot of logic-free milling around the island that begets more zombie-related violence. Fulci so effectively lays the foundations of this hell on the Caribbean, though, that we don’t automatically think of the movie that way — one doesn’t think of nightmares as goofy when they’re currently trapped in them, after all. The lopsidedness of everything seems less like evidence of negligible filmmaking and more like this all being set in an otherworld from which we’d like to escape but know deep down we cannot, at least until credits overwash the action. Of course it actually is more a case of negligible filmmaking than pointed world-building, but Fulci has a way of maintaining a hold over us that makes us inclined to give him more credit.

Auretta Gay in 1979's Zombi 2.

through the movie, he (or it?) isn’t content merely feasting on her brains, quickly going in for the cerebral prize he’s been hungering for ever since he got a whiff of it however many miles away. Following a long game of cat and mouse around the home (the doomed woman hastily even tries the heavy-furniture-over-the-door trick to little avail), the zombie finally grabs hold of her, notices a wooden splinter sticking out in the corner of the room, and then decides he likes the gnarly idea of running her face into it before he eats said face. The undead are supposedly incapable of rational thought, but if a ghoul is so mindless, how does this not-quite-man drudge up the wherewithal to align his victim’s right eye perfectly with that splinter? Think of a piece

he zombies of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 

(1979) are unusually sadistic. When one stumbles into the home of one of the film's female characters midway

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On Zombi 2 and The House by the Cemetery, gore classics from Lucio Fulci

Splat! October 13, 2020  

  

Double Feature

Joan Collins and a friend in 1972's "Tales from the Crypt."