It’s not an entirely rhetorical question: if you showed a bunch of Lucio Fulci movies to audiences that had never seen anything by him, could they detect that they were all directed by the same person? I’m guessing they would, thus providing a kind of confirmation of the auteur theory that might have made Pauline Kael vomit.
What would be the giveaway, though? Would it be Fulci’s tendency to double down on shock tactics? After all, you know it’s a Fulci because he’s the only filmmaker who’d zoom in for a close shot on extravagant gore when others would cut away at the last second, or at least take care not to linger on all that ruined flesh. Oh, but Fulci avoids those kind of tasteful, faintly hypocritical, filmmaking traditions—in effect breaking taboos that you didn’t even know really existed until he broke them. To be clear, he was never anything close to being intentionally transgressive; in fact, he was the opposite in many respects as he wanted to make films that were nothing if not immanently watchable. The goal of his aesthetic wasn’t to offend. If he gave you a graphic image of impalement, it’s because he thought that’s what you wanted to see. Otherwise, why were you attending one of his movies?
So if you live anywhere near New York City, and would like to test some of these theories, you’ll be given the chance at Anthology Film Archives starting tomorrow and continuing through Halloween. “The Genre Terrorist: Lucio Fulci” is a retrospective that could have taken place in New York at any point in the past two decades—so, yes, this is well overdue in addition to being sorely needed. My impression is that Fulci only fully came out from the shadows in the past dozen years or so. Argento was already a living legend. People wrote books about the Bavas. In the U.S., Romero had the audacity to keep making movies. Fulci, though, had faded into the background except for the cultists and exploitation junkies. His rise was a gradual, post-mortem process, buoyed by the growing interest in giallo and the worldwide zombie craze across all media earlier this century. In the wake of the latter, Fulci’s underwater shark vs. the undead throwdown in Zombie became something of a twisted iconic moment.
If you head to Anthology, you can be the judge of whether it still holds up as such. You can also find evidence to refute my claims, of Fulci not repeating the same aesthetic gestures. For surely the demented insanity of The New York Ripper is different than the gonzo insanity of Zombie. And both diverge sharply from the moody mystery of Don’t Torture a Duckling… and the measured creepiness in The House by the Cemetery… and the meta-film madness of Cat in the Brain… and the apocalyptic trippiness of The Beyond… and the compelling cheesiness of Manhattan Baby… and the ‘70s-saturated excesses of Contraband… and the would-be eroto-fantasy aspirations of Conquest.
Of course if you already know these films and take exception to my stylistic summaries, bring a Fulci neophyte with you and enjoy his or her response as the master lays waste to whatever genre he happens to be venturing into.
But don’t forget how lucky are you—to be in downtown Manhattan while watching The New York Ripper or Manhattan Baby on a big screen. Well… just wow.