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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stephen King, By Way of Lucio Fulci

I confess that up until recently, the only Lucio Fulci film of which I was closely familiar was the infamous Zombi 2, undoubtedly the closest thing to a mainstream horror movie the Italian splatter maestro ever produced. I had yet to really delve into his even more greatly revered trilogy of terrors: The Gates of Hell, The Beyond and House by the Cemetery. 

Well, I did something about that several weeks ago when I received House by the Cemetery in the mail from the fine folks at Netflix--whom I still love, even if this is the only one of the trilogy they currently offer. Now, there's nothing I love more than a good, down-and-dirty 1970s exploitation horror flick, and House by the Cemetery delivered the goods. I was mucho impressed, and pleased as I always am at discovering a horror gem for the first time. That happens less and less these days.

But there was something about the movie I immediately noticed, and after viewing it, I jumped on the internet, only to find that nearly no one else seems to have made much of it at all. But it hit me like a water-logged boxing glove, so I thought I'd share it and see who among you shares my opinion. Simply put, it seems very obvious to me that, as enjoyable as House by the Cemetery is, it's basically Lucio Fulci's attempt to ride on the coattails of The Shining.

Just as he had done in 1979 when he put out the misleadingly titled Zombi 2 to capitalize on the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead the previous year, so too, it appears to me, did he crank out HBTC in 1981, a year after Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel, as a direct reaction to it.

Let's take a look at this, shall we? Both films focus on families moving into houses that are in the possession of some kind of malevolent force. In both cases, the man is moving in for professional reasons, and has a very young son who is contacted/befriended by an otherworldy spirit. The parents are aware of this, but believe it only to be their sons' imaginary friend. Both stories focus on the father of the family, and his journey of discovery as to the nature of the house and its evil presence. Both also showcase a distraught, put-upon wife who grows more and more terrified as she witnesses bizarre events unfold in the house. The Shining ends with a time-paradox twist involving the father and the earlier period in which the disturbance originated. At the end of HBTC, the son finds himself transported somehow back to an earlier time as well.

Where King/Kubrick and Fulci deviate is that in The Shining the force is far less tangible, and eventually imposes an evil influence on the father, turning him into a killer, while in House by the Cemetery, the entity is much more corporeal in nature, dispatching of its hapless victims directly.

Essentially, HBTC is a haunted house story, with a decidedly Fulcian twist. That twist has to do with Fulci's fascination with the physical, and the horrors of the flesh. Whereas most ghost stories are atmospheric in nature, frightening viewers on a psychological level, Fulci's aesthetic requires that the antagonist be much more of a physical being, able to perpetrate acts of graphic violence to showcase his beloved gore effects for the purpose of causing revulsion. This makes the movie a rare hybrid of the haunted house story and splatter flick.

My observation of Fulci's aping of The Shining may be fairly obvious to some of you, but the fact remains that I've been able to find hardly any mention online of any observed connection between the two movies. Yet for me, it was one of the first things I noticed. The film marks such a departure for Fulci, content-wise, that one cannot help but conclude that he had beheld the enormous success of Kubrick's pic and felt that maybe the writing was on the wall, that horror was returning to its more gothic roots. And so he attempted to get on board the bandwagon, albeit not without leaving his own bloody handprints so no one forgot whose movie it was.

The result makes for a surprisingly entertaining movie, particularly for those with a good old-fashioned attention span, who appreciate having their patience rewarded with properly paced and placed payoffs. Despite the hack editing and flaws of logic inherent in any Fulci picture, it works on several levels, producing more purely atmospheric terror than Fulci was customarily known for, while also punctuating the proceedings with a healthy dose of gut-wrenching grue. Despite its derivative nature, Fulci somehow manages to make it into a fairly unique movie--a paradox if ever there was one.


Anonymous said...

I never made that connection before but now that you point it out there are many similarities there! It's been awhile since I watched either film and I think my copy is an old VHS one and since our VCR just died I may be forced to find this one on DVD finally.

Anonymous said...

The Shining is my favorite movie, and I've seen House By the Cemetary a number of times. I always thought it was one of Fulci's more underrated films. I had never made the connection between the two films, but you make some pretty valid points.

pot head pixie said...

I hadn't made this connection either. I'll have to get hold of The Shining again (already got Fulci's trilogy on DVD).

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree about "the house by the cemetery" which I saw for the first time on Halloween. It is absolutely terrible. It makes no sense whatsoever. Why anyone recommends any Fulci movies is beyond me.

B-Sol said...

The best way I can explain is that Fulci's movies are more about imagery and atmosphere than anything else. Plot and logic definitely take a backseat. He's not for everyone, I will say that.

MD said...

I agree there are some similarities, but I don't think Fulci did this on purpose, or was trying to ape on the success of The Shining the way he was doing with Zombie 2. You need to get a hold of The Beyond ASAP and City of the Living Dead. Do some research first though, don't get a hold of one of the censored versions...gah...

Also to Anonymous, some people just don't get Fulci. You have to suspend logic and just go with it....drugs are always helpful.

B-Sol said...

I did finally see The Beyond over the weekend, and I'm very glad I did. I found the new DVD release at my local video story, and enjoyed it immensely, although I will say that the tarantula scene is probably the best example I've ever seen of violence-as-pornography.

Anonymous said...

I watched this film last night on the Horror channel and I noticed The Shining connection straight away after the kid was told not to go to the house.

their is also a part in the film where an axe is being used to break down a door, and the kid can be seen playing with this toy cars on a carpeted floor.

The guy playing Bobs father has a beard and is wearing a polo sweater just like Jack in The Shining.

You gotta big surprise coming to you?

"Go Check It Out" LOL

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