Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Sing the Body Fulci!

Prologue: Day Trippers Prep: In Which the Author Notes: "car gassed up, check; CCS class materials in the car with directions we'll need Wednesday, check; shirts, check; socks, check --" Ad Infinitum, While Hinting at Things Unspeakable and Projects As Yet Unknowable Outside of Those In-The-Know

Marj and I are doing pretty good for our planned day-trips this week, already packed and all; I'll be away from the computer for a couple days to lose myself in and about the home state (lots of easy day trips hereabouts in VT), so this particular post is as good as it gets until Thursday, folks.

It's been a busy, at times frantic, week or so. Amid what you've read about here over the past few days, there's also been a day spent finishing up a pair of collage/painting illustrations that are designed to be used as four roughly conjoined book covers (for the upcoming S.R. Bissette's Blur tomes from Black Coat Press), considerable prep for both this week's CCS class and Wednesday's Danville High School presentation on comics and graphic novels, and a chunk of time spent writing and continuing the cataloguing of the We Are Going to Eat You! book material. And that's just some of what's happening (I've also been working with a White River Junction group pulling together a film festival for the end of April, and finally re-engaged with a board of directors I belong to dedicated to reviving a venerable eatery in downtown Brattleboro that's long been missing-in-action and quite sorely missed).

And still, so much of what I'm doing or have done is, well, secret. I mean, per instructions from "above" and such, not just because I'm being a butthead or something.

I'm scrambling over a third script for one ongoing 'secret project' that's a personal favorite (planned for a 2007 release). The second script was finished and turned in last week, and my creative partner in (and the man in charge of) this project was quite pleased with the results, for which I'm thankful. I really poured a lot of myself into the script, and it felt like it came together nicely in the final lap. I'm popping in on him next week to check out his finished pages from the script completed in 2005, and can't wait to see what that looks like.

In January, I received a phone call bringing me up-to-date on the final phase of a project I spent a lot of time on in 2004 and a bit in 2005; odd as it may sound, the success of that effort means it's all history now. Having done my part (and been handsomely compensated), I just have to let it all go and let it fade into the past, never to be spoken of again. Sigh. Ah, I've already said too much.

Last week, I got word from the man behind another 'secret project' (2004-2005) for which the promotional website launch is soon to be launched -- mere days from now! I'll at last be able to tip that hand, and you'll see some of the fruits of another venture my son Dan and I put our hand to a year or so ago. I can tell you it was comics-related, and it means some of Dan's and my artwork will be on a few big screens in the upcoming film festival season, if all goes well.

If this all seems a bit vague and maddening to you, just think how I feel about it. So much work on so many projects I can't talk about -- it's like working for the government or something.

With Criswell at last put to rest and little concrete to report from here -- here's something I've been saving up that I can at last share with you.

Part the First: In Which Bissette Introduces Fulci in a Roundabout Manner.

A "teaser" preview of my essay on Lucio Fulci for the upcoming Italian book on the late, great gore-maestro. My 'Man in Milan' Smoky Man (who extended the invitation to myself and my son Daniel to contribute to the anthology) just wrote today to say the book's come together topping 200 pages (!) and he and the co-editors are expecting it'll be selling for "...cover price: 8 euro!" News and links as & when it's available at last.

So here's a tidbit from “Don’t Fulci Yourself!” Or: How I Came to Love Lucio and His Greater Grasp of a Malevolent Universe Intent on Our Ill Being" -- it's all true, and this is just a taste of what's to come. (I will eventually be revising and expanding this into a chapter for a book I'm working on that is a sort of personalized overview of the drive-in and grindhouse movie culture of the '60s and '70s, so in a way, this is a 'double' preview.) Enjoy!

Part the Second: "Don't Fulci Yourself!" Excerpt/Teaser, to Tantalize and Stimulate a Desire to Read/See More.

"...Born in 1955, I’d grown up with the classic Universal horror films of the ‘30s and ‘40s unreeling on late night TV, usually trimmed for time slots and interrupted mercilessly by insipid commercials. The Hammer films of the ‘50s reached me via late night TV, too, usually cut and abbreviated, but the ‘60s Hammer horrors were part and parcel of my formative theatrical experiences, as were the beloved works of Mario Bava, whose colorful gothics and blood-spattered contemporary-set giallos stained my visions, dreams, and eventually my own artwork. By the time I was in high school and college, I was covertly booking 16mm prints of Bava’s films, and my addiction to Italian horror films was a pact with the devil sealed in time, love and devotion.

For me, Fulci was one of the many Italian horror maestros who emerged from the wake of Bava’s passing. I had experienced a few of his films as they came out on the big screen -- the first, GATES OF HELL (original title: PAURA NELLA CITTA DEI MORTI VIVENTI/CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1980), was caught essentially by accident during a weekend visit to my friend Jack Venooker, who lives in northern Vermont (my home state). We were such devotees of George Romero and all things horrible that we had once driven from Johnson State College the five hours to and five hours from Boston, Massachusetts to catch the first showing in New England of THE CRAZIES aka CODE NAME TRIXIE (we were not disappointed).

On impulse, Jack and I decided to catch a movie -- ANY movie -- at one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the Burlington, VT area. A double-bill led by GATES OF HELL caught our eye thanks to the lurid visage of a rotting zombie that figured prominently in the US newspaper ad campaign, so off we went, armed with a bit of beer and a lot of marijuana.

It was a deliciously schizophrenic experience, and I imagine typical of most Americans’s experience of Fulci: GATES OF HELL delighted, repulsed, and ultimately befuddled me. The skeletal semi-Lovecraftian narrative caught my fancy, punctuated as it was by faux-Lovecraft ‘landmarks’ like the use of the village name of Dunwich (“Dulwich”?). Truer to the Lovecraft and pulp-era horror short stories I was weaned on, Fulci more tellingly evoking a subterranean hell of filthy sod, root-choked walls of dirt, and fetid walking-dead inhabitant capable of appearing and disappearing with nightmarish illogic. This stuff I loved, along with the gleeful aggression of the violence, however nonsensical its escalation. And nonsensical it was: from the sudden face-fulls of maggots to the ludicrously overblown skull-drilling of pasty-faced retard ladies man Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice in the role that first burned him into my memory banks), this was a level of unslakable blood-thirst that seemed clumsy but more relentless than even George Romero’s most aggressive excesses.

Romero, at least, wielded his eruptions of gore with narrative and thematic precision and intent. Fulci, on the other hand, seemed like a mad, rabid canine, sinking his teeth into our psychic flanks without provocation at any turn. By the time the ghostly Father Thomas appeared to the necking teen couple (Michele Soavi and Daniela Doria), illogically prompting dear lovely Daniela to cry blood and then vomit up her entire digestive tract with a strangely
impassive look on her face, my friend Jack and I were stoned to the gills. We were suitably gob-smacked by this latest turn of events, and almost choked laughing as the seemingly-interminable process ended with a sloppy slip of the final intestinal loop -- mere seconds before loverboy Michele had the back of his head torn into by a ghoul that inexplicably appeared in the back seat, ripping his fucking brain out. Whew. What was this Fulci fellow smoking? Whatever it was, we wanted some. Right then and there.

Still, the early sequence in which Christopher George tries to free premature burial victim Catriona MacColl from her coffin with a pick-axe was silly but startlingly effective; clearly, Fulci had the chops to get under our skins. But demolishing all expectations and fragmenting any coherent sense of time, place, and sequential cause-and-effect seemed to be the anarchistic agenda -- were we just too stoned, or was this loopy flick deliberately scrambling our brains with the same opaque ferocity of its damned muck-and-clay slavered zombies? Bleeding walls, showers of maggots (a fillip lifted from Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA, natch), rings of fire rippling up and down corners of darkened rooms, more skull-busting brain-ripping zombie ambushes, and so on and on and on until the pallid Father Thomas at last gets his via a gut-spilling wooden cross to the midsection and everything undead spontaneously combusts. “Man, this is one fucked-up movie,” Jack muttered with some relief, but the most bewildering split-second was yet to come: as Fulci devotees know, GATES OF HELL doesn’t so much end as it shambles to a criminally abbreviated termination point. As the nominal cipher hero and heroine (Carlo de Mejo and Ms. MacColl) wriggle from the underground chamber now peppered with the burning dead, the androgynous boy John-John (echoing President JFK’s son’s name, played here by Luca Paisner) runs toward them in a seperate shot, clearly happy and excited to see them; suddenly, Carlo and Catriona look distressed and then fearful, and to the sudden intrusion of Catriona’s shrill scream on the soundtrack, the smiling image of John-John freezes and splinters, shatters.

Horns immediately began honking: enough people in their cars presumed this was a result of a film-jam in the projector to kick up a fuss, though Jack and I knew better due to the scream and reintroduction of the ominous musical score. This wasn’t a projection error, but it was a corker of a reality-fart, and we turned to look at each other before breaking up completely and laughing our asses off. We were so delighted, disoriented, and disinterested in whatever might appear on the screen after this clusterfuck (I only remember it wasn’t a horror movie; for that, we might have stuck around) that we packed up and drove home.

Thus, I entered the cinematic universe of Lucio Fulci’s horror films. I’ve since tracked down all I could or can as they were within reach. Thankfully, two of those -- HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY (QUELLA VILLA ACCANTO AL CIMITERO, 1981) and eventually ZOMBIE (ZOMBI 2, 1979) -- I saw on the big screen, the former during its initial run in Springfield, Massachusetts mall theater, the latter among the last films I ever saw on New York City’s notorious 42nd Street. I’d avoided ZOMBIE first time around, and owe an apology to my Joe Kubert School classmate John Bisson (who went on to work professionally on makeup effects, including a stint as a designer and artist with KNB, Inc.), who first recommended I check out the film. “Steve, really, it’s like a Val Lewton film or something, there’s a real sort of poetry to it,” he implored, screening the infamous underwater zombie-vs.-white-shark sequence for me and two fellow Kuberts School vets via videocassette on his home studio TV. At the time, we all laughed, but hell, John, you were right -- though the Lewton association is a reach, I later caught ZOMBIE in a piss-and-mold reeking Deuce hardtop theater, and was overwhelmed by
the impact of the film...."


Part the Last: In Which the Author Appeals to the Anonymous Reader, Hoping One Might Be He Whom He Seeks, Before Bailing on Said Reader for Days.

For those of you who recall the Kingdom (where my old discussion board "The Swamp" wallowed), yep, that's the same Jack Venooker of Kingdom fame and infamy. I haven't seen or heard from Jack in some time; such is life. We had some fine times, and it's been a pleasure to share one of them with you. (Drop a line sometime, Jack.)

BTW, if you're out there, John -- or if anyone can put me in touch with John Bisson -- I'd love to re-establish contact. Miss you, too!

Epilogue: An Enigmatic and Somewhat Cryptic Parting Quotation, Implying Much But Saying Little of Direct Relevence to the Above, But of Abundant Import to Our Current State of Affairs as a People and Country.

"Tradition is democracy extended through time. Tradition means giving the vote to that most obscure of classes, our ancestors. Tradition is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who are walking about." - G. K. Chesterton

See you all again here on Thursday.

Until then, have a great couple of days...