“Ungoregettable”… PAURA: LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED, VOLUME 1 Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Paura Productions. Unrated.

Apparently, while taping interviews for the bonus featurettes on many Eurotrash releases by the Shriek Show label, Mike Baronas moonlighted by filming pertinent interviewees’ recollections of Lucio Fulci in support of a book he was writing about Italy’s Godfather of Gore. With that project consigned to publishing purgatory (a very familiar location to me, Mike) he put out this compilation of those recollections to keep the kettle boiling.

I don’t know if Baronas wasted much time agonising over the best way to frame these clips but ultimately he’s opted for the simple expedient of letting his talking heads speak for themselves, merely splitting them into “victims” (actors and actresses), “accomplices” (Fulci’s technical collaborators) and “peers” (other Italian genre directors)… Michele Soavi appears in both the “Victims” and “Peers” categories and could, if Baronas had so chosen, have completed the hat-trick as he started working behind the camera on Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead / Gates Of Hell (1980). This unfussy arrangement suffices perfectly well, as it is the testimony of the participants that will really matter to the Fulci-lovin’ target audience of Paura.

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Baronas’ declared aim is that these off-the-cuff remembrances will go some way towards capturing the elusive essence of Fulci the man.  Naturally a wide variety of impressions are encompassed herein but themes that resurface again and again are his troubled private life (including the suicide of his wife and certain family members going off the rails) … his rejection  by the Italian film establishment and a posthumous fall into obscurity in his home country that stands in stark contrast to his ever growing cult status in other European countries, Japan and The States… his dedication to and mastery of the art and craft of film-making… and of course his fabled eccentricity. Interestingly, the popular notions of Fulci’s aggressiveness on set towards cast and crew and of the particularly sadistic treatment supposedly meted out by him to actresses take a bit of a knock, with many of his alleged victims clearly all too wise to the fact that Fulci needed to engineer these meaningless little bits of theatre to get himself into the proper working groove. Even Luca Venantini (“Jon Jon” in City Of The Living dead) seems quite chuffed about the slap he got from Fulci (of which his papa Venantino wholeheartedly approved, incidentally) and Catriona MacColl, who took Fulci’s misogynistic persona at face value, clearly has a grudging affection for him and provides an incisive interpretation of the oft-seen photo in which a grumpy looking Fulci sits on a chair in the middle of the road during the making of The Beyond…

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“It’s a very symbolic photo in more ways than one… it’s a rather isolated man and this bridge is a link between this world and another, between his world and ours… whatever you’d like to think of it as… somebody who’s on this road, his destiny, and he’s definitely defying it with the posture he’s taken and that’s very Lucio… a man who defied a lot of things!”

Many of the actresses interviewed here declare themselves pleasantly surprised at Fulci’s gentlemanly demeanour towards them, and frankly it’s not hard to see why the old fox (described as “an accomplished seducer of women” by scripting stalwart Dardanno Sacchetti) would go out of his way to be nice to them: one of the incidental pleasures to be had from viewing this documentary is assessing how many of these actresses still look hot after all this time…. take your bows Ms MacColl, Florinda Bolkan, Eleanora Brigliadori, Corinne Clery and Adrienne La Russ (Beatrice Cenci herself), among others. A special mention here for the totally scrumptious Barbara Cupisti, whose experience with Fulci was so positive it convinced her to carry on pursuing her thespian activities (that’s “thespian”, you lot… calm down, calm down). Adelaide Aste (Theresa the medium in COTLD) promises to meet Fulci beyond the grave, but is she ever going to die? She actually looks younger than she did 25 years ago… clearly their encounters with Fulci had invigorating effects for many of these girls. Barbara Bouchet only appears as a voice over (“Lucio led a big life and I’m happy to have been part of it”) accompanying some choice shots from her glamorous heyday but trust me, she’s also keeping it together nicely together.

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Not everybody is here to praise Fulci… George Hilton remembers him as “an odd man with a strange personality… quite unstable” and Beatrice Ring contends that “his unhappiness could not justify his cruelty on set… I have a hard time forgiving him.”  Jean Christophe Bretigniere from Sweet House Of Horrors concedes that Fulci was a “genius” but recalls with distaste his habit of “eating onions like other people  eat apples” and deplores his “disgusting” finger nails. I’d always understood that there was some personal animosity between Fulci and Enzo Castellari so was surprised to see the latter wheeled on to pay “hommage”, which descends (after Castellari has related once again the anecdote of how he got Fulci the gig directing Zombie Flesh Eaters) into compliments of a distinctly back-handed variety… Castellari seems determined to infer from Fulci’s slap-dash approach to his personal appearance that he “did not like much the bath” but I have to say that personal hygiene was not an  issue during the three days I spent with Fulci in London during 1994. Can’t remember if I actually managed a bath that weekend, but Fulci smelled just fine.

Other heavyweight Italian contemporaries offer kinder recollections…
Sergio Martino rates Fulci “one of the top or maybe the top giallo director” (high praise indeed from the man who made The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and Torso) and Ruggero Deodato offers “a big hug to Lucio, I know he’s doing well up there, too!” Another renowned cantankerous eccentric, Umberto Lenzi, praises Fulci as a “genius”, “maestro”, etc, before concluding, characteristically, with a casual “… and I was, too!” The reminiscences from Fulci’s magic inner circle are particularly poignant:  Dardanno Sacchetti confesses “I miss him more than Bava” and his script collaborator / spouse Elisa Briganti remembers Fulci as a lonely man searching for love. Another husband and wife team, make up FX aces Giannetto and Mirella Sforza de Rossi, come to a similar conclusion (“He hid in the fantasies of film making because the world was very bad to him”) while offering their own fondest Fulci memories. Scorer Fabio Frizzi remembers Fulci’s iconoclasm and casual blasphemy, even producer Fabrizio De Angelis (from whom Fulci became comprehensively estranged) speaks about him with great warmth and DP Sergio Salvati remembers “a film making great… a volcano who consumed us all!”

And the plaudits keep on coming… “a master, a great teacher, a bohemian, a real artist” (Gianni Garko)… “a director and human being of the highest standards” (Cosimo Cinieri)… “I miss the naughty boy more than I miss than I miss the great director” (Paolo Malco) and a moving testimonial from Fabrizio (Father Thomas) Jovine: “They are discovering now that he was a great director but to me, he was more than that, he was a life teacher… without him, I feel much more lonely.”

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We also learn what Fulci found in Giovanni Lombardo Radice’s toilet, witness Ivana Monti’s amusing impersonation of him and discover, during Tonino Valerii’s remembrance of Fulci things past, that this “extraordinary character” was a renowned expert on Marcel Proust! The contribution of  Dakar (“Lucas”) does not comply remotely with Baronas’ brief for his interviewees but confirms that Fulci wasn’t the only raving nut case on the set of Zombie Flesh Eaters… It’s left to Venantino Venantini (himself evidently no great conformist) to lay the final laurel “in memory of the unique, lonesome, absurd, schizophrenic and great Lucio Fulci… the wildest cat I ever met in the movie business.” Yeah, me too.

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The standard release of this disc came in a limited edition of 2,500 pieces. There was also a very limited double disc edition that included Dave Neabore’s soundtrack music (basically a rehashing of themes from various Fulci flicks) and the autographs of various participants… both no doubt sold out by the time you read this. Still, sadly, no sign of Volume 2. As Paura stands, you do find yourself wishing that certain people had gotten more of a say at the expense of some of the more marginal figures who acted in Fulci’s decreasingly impressive efforts from the mind ‘80s onwards. It’s a particular pity that the grim reaper denied Baronas the opportunity to have David Warbeck relate any of the wonderful and scandalous anecdotes about Fulci with which he regularly regaled me, and I personally witnessed many Fulcisms that I’ll always cherish. This release is a fitting testament to the fact that a lot of people want to remember Fulci and celebrate the life of this ol’ wild cat.

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Rest In Peace.

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