Monday, January 4, 2010

Lucio Fulci's Door Into Silence (Le porte del silenzio) (1991)

"As for future projects," says Lucio Fulci during an interview (from Shock Masters of Cinema), "I'm writing a script with Franco Ferrini and Dario Argento. We're doing a remake of THE HOUSE OF WAX, an extremely sadistic tale of the fantastic. We are planning are getting it running in 1996, so wish me good luck." Unfortunately, Italian genre maestro, Lucio Fulci would die before helming what would be Maschera di cera (The Wax Mask) (1997), and the film would become the directorial debut of special effects maestro, Sergio Stivaletti. The anticipation of Fulci and Argento working together was high: they were arguably the two biggest names in Italian horror with an international audience, and because of this international audience, the two were still directing horror films while many of their colleagues had moved out of the genre. The anticipation of this project was perhaps as high as for Fulci's notorious Zombi 3 (1988), the sequel to his extremely popular splatter film, Zombi 2 (1979). Stephen Thrower writes in his book, Beyond Terror: The Flims of Lucio Fulci, "After a gap of nine years, the trade papers announced a forthcoming Fulci sequel that, had it worked out, could have stimulated a fresh wave of enthusiasm for the Italian horror genre. In 1988 Zombi 3, first announced as Zombi 3-D, would go before the cameras. A follow-up to the wonderful Zombie Flesh Eaters directed by the inimitable Fulci himself. It seemed perfect...Zombi 3 as it eventually appeared, to a howling chorus of disappointment, is one of the worst films ever made in Italian horror cinema." (The debacle and production history of Zombi 3 is for another day.) As they stand, both Zombi 3 and The Wax Mask, for all of their anticipation, are filled with sound and fury. Lucio Fulci's last directorial effort would be the little-seen and appropriately and eerily titled Door Into Silence (Le porte del silenzio) (1991).
Melvin Devereux (John Savage) is standing in front of the Devereaux mausoleum, in one of New Orleans' hauntingly beautiful cemeteries, speaking aloud and cryptically to his dead father, Richard. Melvin and his wife, Sylvia (Elizabeth Chugden), are realtors who work and live out in the more quiet and sleepy area in Louisiana. Sylvia is crying and is escorted home by comforters. Melvin is going home in his own car and taking his own special journey. Over numerous bridges and around road closings, Melvin takes a few frolics and detours: with a mystery woman (Sandi Schultz), who knows Melvin very well yet Melvin doesn't even know her name; a bubbly little sprite named Margie (Jennifer Loeb); and a hearse driver (Richard Castleman), who ends up anywhere and everywhere on any road which Melvin takes and always in front of Melvin. Melvin spies in the back of the hearse a name on a funeral wreath, and that name becomes Melvin's object of obsession, as he attempts to track down the hearse and learn who's occupying the coffin inside.
Fulci has this to say about Door Into Silence (during his interview included in Spaghetti Nightmares): "Well, it's a fine film, produced by my friend, Massaccesi, and based on another of my stories from Le Lune Nere. However, for various reasons, which I won't go into now, it's been beset by difficulties which have blocked its release for some time now...We shot it in two weeks on location in Louisiana, New Orleans and the surroundings. Another aspect of the film which has been given a lot of attention is the jazz soundtrack. Jazz is one of my great passions, by the way; I used to play when I was young. (edited by me out of Fulci's answer is a spoiler description of the film)." Door's producer and Fulci's "friend, Massaccessi" is Aristide Massaccessi, aka Joe D'Amato, whose production company, Filmirage, made four films in 1991 in New Orleans and/or its surroundings. Joe D'Amato has this to say about Fulci (and Door Into Silence, included in the documentary "Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut," a supplement on the Shriek Show Anthropophagus DVD): "Fulci's films were the best I produced. Unfortunately the ones I worked on weren't so successful, maybe because of distribution problems, or financial problems and so on...Even that one [Door Into Silence] was affected. It didn't do well, even if I think it's the best film I've worked on. It was a great film, with a great atmosphere. Fulci's very good so the shoot went great, with John Savage, and we brought a jazz band in to do the music, since there was a jazz soundtrack...We had helicopters...But it didn't make a single cent...But it's probably not the movie's fault. It's maybe the fault of the mess we'd found ourselves in at the time." D'Amato's helicopter reference (it's safe to assume since no helicopters appear in Door) relates to the film's opening aerial shots of Savage's Melvin driving across the Pontchartrain Expressway and the Crescent City Connection (bridge imagery is used extensively in Door). The jazz soundtrack that both Fulci and D'Amato reference is by Franco Piana. The costumes were designed by actress Laura Gemser. From his own story and screenplay, Fulci crafts a low-key, atmospheric, and fantastic film with not a drop of his signature blood and gore in sight. Door Into Silence is a film about death, immediately introduced by the opening cemetery sequence. Fulci, who always comes off as extremely erudite and conversant in music, art, film, and literature in his interviews, is able to fill Door with as many symbols relating to death as he can conjure. Door is a film about a journey, and as noted above, bridge imagery is prominent. Road signs indicating closures and detours lead Savage's Melvin all over the Louisiana countryside (in a seemingly curiously directed destination). The film is shot (by Giancarlo Ferrando) completely in the day light, but Fulci manages, with some very adept compositions to heighten the atmosphere, to create nightmare imagery, such as the small church funeral into which Savage timidly creeps or the understated and static shot of a blind newspaper salesman, who is sitting all alone and strumming a rhythm with a washboard. The mystery woman, who Savage meets at the beginning and encounters throughout Door, seems an archetypal character out of a famous Milton poem. The most obvious symbol is the hearse and it needs little flourish to become nightmarish.
Since Door is shrouded in mystery, Fulci wisely abandons any character exposition and keeps plot exposition to a minimum. Savage's Melvin appears initially a tired working man who wants nothing more than to go home to his wife. Over the course of the film, Melvin reveals himself a lonely, sad, and pathetic person. When Melvin first meets the hearse driver at a local bar, the driver has no problem swatting him aside and to the ground when Melvin starts to angrily bombard him with questions. Melvin picks himself up only to purchase a bottle of Scotch to keep him company on the road. Later, Loeb's Margie crawls into Melvin's car seeking a ride. She tempts him sexually, and it's an uncomfortable scene. It's as if Melvin doesn't want to have sex with the young hitchhiker, but he's craving human contact so badly that he'll engage in any. The scene ends quite embarrassingly for Melvin. The funeral scene is wonderfully curious as Savage's Melvin is tempted to disturb grieving families and walk forward to the coffin and open it in front of all. This scene speaks to Melvin's obsession, which is either completely irrational or the most important thing that Melvin will ever uncover in his life.Piana's jazz score is perfectly appropriate and moody. Ferrando's photography is very good. If anything sounds loudly from Door Into Silence, then it's Fulci's creative talent. Long overshadowed by his popular splatter flicks (which I very much enjoy, by the way), Fulci's filmography is quite diverse, and he's shown his talent in many genres. Completely eschewing the visceral, Fulci creates an ethereal gem. Door Into Silence, his final film, as far as the viewing public goes, has passed into its title.


Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. The funeral scene in this movie is fantastic. It is sad, bizarre, and strangely comical. And that is large and in charge.

Alex B. said...

I really enjoy this film up to the motel scene. Once Sandi Schulz disappears and Melvin gets back on the road, the film begins to drag.
Continuity is perfect and there are tons of great shots. But that footage needed trimming to achieve maximum effect. That way the film may have had appeal not only to dedicated Fulci scholars, but to a slightly wider audience.
I was glad to learn that the jazz soundtrack came out on CD, because it is absolutely excellent.
I too think Fulci was trying something very different with this film. Shame he didn't get the chance to perfect this new approach of his.