It was twenty years ago, today (yep, this very day)… that Lucio Fulci passed away. I had intended to mark the occasion by finally publishing here the complete text of my interview with him, which has only previously appeared in excerpts (e.g. in Dark Side when the news of his death came through.) It now appears though that the interview will make its unexpurgated world debut in another and very exciting context, which I will announce on this blog if / when confirmed. In lieu of that, I’ve taken the opportunity to wallow in nostalgia with the following updated account of the weekend (09-11th December, 1994) that I spent with Il Maestro in London during his triumphant appearance at EuroFest 2 in Hampstead. Like Mark Twain, rumours of Fulci’s death had been greatly exaggerated, and although he joked that in ten years or so he would be experiencing The Beyond personally (sadly, it didn’t take anything like that long) the legions of fans who travelled from all over Britain, and indeed Europe, had come to praise Fulci, not to bury him …
Having completed the filming of interviews with the BBC (I’ve enquired with the Corporation as to what happened to this footage but nobody knows or seems to give a toss) and a London cable channel, the grand old man of Italian horror is holding court to a couple of Dutch fanzine proprietors / festival organisers amid the opulence of Beyond star David Warbeck’s palatial Hampstead spread as I am ushered into his presence, at the end of a torturous car-crawl through London’s grid-locked traffic. Resplendent in the red and black hunting hat he sported while top-lining his own A Cat In The Brain, Fulci firmly grasps my hand and fixes me with an Old Testament glower as he growls “Maaartin… I ‘ate journalists!” (uh-oh!) Looks like my long and fervently held ambition to meet and interview him is going tits up already. “But…” he continues with a chuckle “… to me you are not so much a journalist as a friend of Lucio Fulci”. As you can imagine, dear reader, this comes as quite a considerable relief.
I’m also introduced to Fulci’s charming daughter Antonella, a very sweet and helpful lady who, as well as assisting her father, follows an independent career of her own as a rock and film journalist (she’s currently preparing a piece on Amando de Ossorio.) Due to the interpretative skills of Antonella and the inestimable Loris Curci, the first interview session goes splendidly, with some fascinating insights and hilariously scabrous anecdotes (“Mama mia!” Fulci tends to exclaim when the names of certain people are mentioned: “He has the intelligence of an idiot!”)
Later, at the dinner table, the assembled company enjoys David Warbeck’s fabled hospitality in full force and effect, while Fulci rhapsodises over A.C. Roma’s recent 4-0 stuffing of Lazio before launching into an unprintable roll-call of your favourite Italian exploitation stars and their scandalous sexual liaisons, which keeps us all in stitches. Other anecdotes, which I can recount here, revolve around Al Cliver / Pier Luigi Conti’s allegedly meagre I.Q., Auretta Gay’s feat of shitting through the string of her tanga (“After that we called her ‘Ca-ca-ca’ Gay’!”), and Tisa Farrow’s similarly cavalier attitude towards defecation, plus how her stint as an inept New York taxi driver ended in her losing an eye (what better qualification for a Fulci heroine?) Fulci’s having a ball, playing the role of Pasta Paura’s elder statesman to the hilt (why not, he’s certainly earned that laurel) and thankfully at no point does he appear to be hallucinating scenes of cannibalism while tucking into his meal, a la A Cat In The Brain …
Having spent the night kipping on a sofa at Mariano Baino’s flat (where the hospitality is perhaps less lavish than at David Warbeck’s place, but every bit as graciously bestowed and gratefully received) I arrive at the Hampstead Everyman just too late to catch my cameo in Mariano’s Caruncula, obviously one of the Festival’s stand-out moments. News filters through on the grape-vine that the Manchester Film Fair has just been raided by Trading Standards Officers. Bad timing, officers – all the gore-pups are in Hampstead today, and right now they’re checking out the new multi-director anthology movie De Generazione, which starts in promising style with two Peter Jackson-flavoured episodes (Piergiorgio Bellocchio’s Our guys Are Coming , then Marco and Antonio Manetti’s Home Delivery) before, er, degenerating into under-achieving artiness. Alberto Taraglio’s creepy Is TV Bad For Children? marks him down as one to watch, but Asia Argento’s pretentious Outlook is more typical of the collection’s general tone (although I’m able to forgive Dario’s daughter on account of her feisty performance as a hippy hit-girl in Alessandro Valori’s Squeak!, which at least closes the proceedings in agreeably manic style.) Apparently we’ve been “treated” to a couple of episodes that were cut from the Italian release print, but most of the punters seem to feel that they’ve seen more than enough …
“Degeneration”, of course, could also serve as a convenient summary of what’s been happening to Italian horror and indeed, a much better reception is afforded to a film which predates De Generazione by virtually 15 years, i.e. Fulci’s classic The Beyond, soon to be the subject of a major Fangoria retrospective by Mr Curci and introduced here by its star David Warbeck. As usual, David and his entourage laugh like drains every time he appears on the screen, and there are reverential murmurs of approval for Fulci’s customary cameo. We cheer on the pipe-cleaner spiders, chuckle at the spectacle of David reloading his revolver through its snout, encourage Cinzia Monreale’s dog to “attack, Dicky… attack!” … and that frigid vision of Hell still raises the hairs on the back of your neck. In fact, seeing a slice of classic Fulci on the big screen again after all these years reminds you of the impact these films originally had on you, the sense that you were watching something quite unlike anything else you’d ever seen before, an impression perhaps diluted by subsequent years of video over-familiarity. Indeed, the heartfelt howls of audience anguish that accompany this ‘X’ print’s several censorship cuts brings it home to me that a lot of people here today have only ever seen this movie on uncut bootleg video: David Alton’s worst nightmare, an upcoming generation of video nasty brats … ample testimony to the continuing pulling power of Lucio Fulci.
Speaking of pulling power … what a ladies’ man! To rapturous applause, Fulci takes the stage (with Warbeck and Loris) to compliment the female fans on their pulchritude and announce that he’s looking for his next wife (the lady producer of The Doors To Silence pursued him but was apparently rejected on the grounds of halitosis.) Fulci also announces his mission to marry Antonella off to card-carrying Fulci fan Quentin Tarantino… “Then, at last, I will be rich!” Fulci acclaims Tarantino as “a genius”, but those who’ve incurred Fulci’s wrath are not spared his waspish wit: “Wes Craven is a very successful guy” he opines: “ … so why does he have to rip off A Cat In The Brain and call it his New Nightmare?” The audience are equally amused by Fulci’s description of John Savage as “a once-handsome actor, now weighed down by drink and his social problems”, by way of introduction to the British premiere of The Doors To Silence.
Most importantly though, Fulci announces the news over which I’ve been sworn to silence for these last couple of months: his next film is to be a remake of the classic Mystery In The Wax Museum, produced and presented by… Dario Argento. I think you could safely say that audience response is enthusiastic! The punters are still getting their heads around this bombshell as The Doors To Silence commences. I’m delighted to finally catch up with this picture, complete with its original jazzy score (subsequently changed by producer Joe D’Amato, whose infectious penchant for pseudonyms resulted in the picture being credited to “H. Simon Kittay”, much to Fulci’s chagrin.) For an hour or so Fulci skilfully keeps this virtual one-man show on the road, but by the end of Door’s feature-length running time the slimness of its premise (essentially a low-fi reworking of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) and the paucity of resources afforded by producer D’Amato have taken their toll. I discover that while watching it I’ve been sitting next to Cathal Tohil and Pete Tombs, authors of Immoral Tales, a wide-ranging, lavishly-illustrated door-stop of a guide to European erotic and horror cinema. It’s a wee (not so wee, actually) cracker, so scour your local quality bookshop (or indeed, t’interweb) for a copy now.
As Messrs Tohil, Tombs and I soak up the atmosphere (and alcohol) in one corner of the bar, Signor Fulci is being besieged by fans on the other. Although he’s just told the audience that “like a father with many children, I love all my films … even the illegitimate ones”, this obviously doesn’t extend to Zombi 3 (finished and ruined by Bruno Mattei), across stills from which he scrawls “I do not like this film!” If Fulci is entertaining any doubts at all as to his cult status, the frantically haggling German nut-case who’s just got to buy that hat off him will surely dispel them … meanwhile I’m handing out flyers for the latest Giallo Pages (am I setting a new record for most plugs in one piece or what?) and meeting many readers. I even get to sign a few copies of Seduction Of The Gullible. Thanks to everybody who came up to say hello. Skipping Zombie Flesh Eaters and Dark Waters, Mariano, Loris, Mark Ashworth and I adjourn for a pizza.
Granted a morning audience in il maestro’ s hotel room to conclude my interview, I am urged to inform the fans that Fulci didn’t receive a penny for signing memorabilia. Speaking of which, our hero lets himself in for a terminal bout of writers cramp by agreeing to autograph mountains of stuff for me (he’s particularly taken with the Japanese Zombie Flesh Eaters cinema programme and its pop-up zombie!) as he grills me on my impression of Quentin Tarantino and his eligibility; Antonella proudly shows me the runic symbol from The Beyond tattooed on her arm and I quiz her father about the upcoming Argento collaboration: “It’s going to be a ferocious film, I hope some courageous British distributor will bring it over here for a theatrical run. It has a good script, which I just finished … Dario made some suggestions, which I took on board”. Is he daunted by the prospect of working with such a powerful personality as Argento in the producer’s chair, bearing in mind the stories we hear of Argento “taking over” Michele Soavi’s films? “No, no , no …” protests Fulci: “You have to remember that I’m an older man than Soavi, and indeed Argento, so he will show me the proper respect. He’s a very intelligent, cultured man. Don’t forget also …”, he chuckles: “Lucio Fulci is a strong personality, too!” Right – so couldn’t there be a clash? “Argento will be in America in March, anyway, shooting Stendhal Syndrome while I’m shooting Mystery In The Wax Museum in Turin …” responds Fulci: “ … then he’ll return to work on the post-production. Who knows what will happen in the future, but so far we’ve had no problems at all”.
The collaboration of these two titans of Tiber Terror is a tantalising prospect for Spaghetti horror buffs, a consummation devoutly to be wished, but for Fulci it amounts to even more than that – the Italian horror film’s last stand, no less! “If Argento and I together aren’t enough to turn things around, then who is there that can do it?” (Who indeed?) Fulci’s apocalyptical pronouncements, still pounding in my head, combine with the intoxicating effect of hanging out with one of my heroes, not to mention the impenetrable architecture of this bloody hotel, and I find myself circling its infernal corridors for half an hour, seeking a way out to the street and keeping a wary eye out for pipe-cleaner spiders.
Back in Hampstead, Sunday dinner is a slice of garlic and mozzarella ciabatta from the deli over the road, then it’s once more into the fray, dear fiends. Today’s audience are a rather listless bunch compared to yesterday’s, possibly on account of the fact that it contains a much higher proportion of journos, complimentary ticket holders and general liggers (I even manage a rare meeting with Mr Bryce)… and who’s this black-garbed figure, with the face of a debauched cherub, making his way over to say hello? Why, it’s none other than Eyeball editor Stephen Thrower, a man about whom I’ve had the odd printed spat, back in the day when I felt the need to defend Samhain against every slighting comment made about it by the London horror mafia. As is almost invariably the case in these instances, we get along (reasonably) famously and I’m delighted to learn that he’s penning a tome on Fulci for Nigel Wingrove’s new Redemption Books imprint (interesting bit of trivia there for those of you reading this in 2016.) I also run into the ever-genial Norman J. Warren, who is apparently about to clinch the financing for that Fiend Without A Face remake / sequel he seems to have been banging on about for years. Always nice to see Norman.
Fulci arrives, scales the stage and puts on another barn-storming performance. “Censorship is a hypocritical exercise of power …”, insists this frequent victim of it: “Instead of censoring my films, they should censor the news!” He reprises most of his best lines from yesterday (e.g. “It’s the censors who should be shot in the brain… but it’s a very small target?”) and adds a few new ones, most of which are wasted on this comatose crowd. Even in this subdued atmosphere though, he brings the house down by answering a fan’s enquiry about the advantages of Cinemascope by informing us that it’s the best format in which to watch Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs!
Also wandering around the bar we find Doug Bradley, fretting over how Liverpool F.C. are getting on against Crystal Palace (a lack-lustre O-O draw, it transpires) and also about how to make a link between the Hellraiser series (which he takes the stage to answer questions on, teasing is with the prospect of – would you believe it? – “Pinhead In Space”?) and Zombie Flesh Eaters, which he’ll be introducing. I assure him that the film is a big favourite of Clive Barker’s. Problem solved, I settle down to watch an un-cut Italian print (“Zombi 2”, doncha know …) with semiotician / lad-about-town / future Giallo Pages contributor Xavier Mendik, who runs this country’s only academic course on Italian horror cinema at Southampton University … carve his name with pride! It’s difficult to view Tisa Farrow, Al Cliver and Auretta Gay in the same light, given some of the stories I’ve heard about them this weekend (and it never was easy to take Ian McCulloch’s hair-do in this film seriously), but for me and many others in the audience our first exposure to the uncut squashing of Olga Karlatos’s eyeball in its full Cinemascopic majesty is an experience we’ll always cherish (… whaddya mean, “sad bastards”?) I hook up with Darrell Buxton and Chris “I kissed Chow Yun Fat and I liked it” Barfield (rest in peace, dude) for the return to Saint Pancras, stopping for a moment of meaningful reflection outside the barred doors of what used to be The Scala. On the red eye special back to the The Great East Midlands we run into none other than Phil Hedgehog of Nottingham’s Forbidden Planet notoriety, who’s keen to hear our tales of les folies de Fulci… Phil, you shoulda been there!
Thanks to Lucio Fulci, of course, to Antonella, David Warbeck, Lois and Dave, to Mariano and Marilyn, to translator Loris Curci, Paul Brown and anybody else I’ve forgotten to mention.