Right. Let's keep this one brief. The guys at Shameless are churning out such a number of cult classics that it's quite dizzying for the average horror fan - we love what they're doing and we hope they don't stop anytime soon. And because they're really cool guys, they send us review discs that sometimes get pushed right to the top of the ZC queue.
Tonight, we treat ourselves to some suspiciously maggot-free entertainment from the legend that is Lucio Fulci. First up, he gets all atmospheric on us with the relatively tame Manhattan Baby from 1982, and for the second course we're pleased to welcome back ZC legend Al Cliver for some moggy madness in The Black Cat.
Tonight's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee in association with lots of sand and Whiskas cat food.
Manhattan Baby (1982)
Plot Egyptian hijinks in a Manhattan apartment.
Zomblee It was great to see this bizarrely titled Fulci offering at long last. I was wise not to get my hopes up for this one, and as a result I enjoyed it immensely. We don't forget out old mates here at ZC, which is why we welcome back Bronx Warriors alumni Christopher Connolly with open arms, even though Jim was disappointed when it was discovered about 5 mins in that Connolly doesn't actually shoot laser beams from his eyes (as the pics on the cover suggests). Rather, beams are shot in to his eyes, and blind him. Still pretty cool. I think Jim still feels short changed though...
The plot is pretty simple: during a family holiday in Egypt, Connolly's daughter is approached by an old hag who gives her an amulet. Shortly after, Connolly finds a stone slab which he is convinced hides the key to ancient mysteries, and when he turns a funny looking door handle ("It looks like a Cumberland ring" - Jim), he is blinded by a bright beam. The family then move back to their apartment in Fulci's beloved Big Apple, where a curse causes all sorts of paranormal mayhem (Brilliant! It's gone all Poltergeisty!" - Rawshark).
No review of Fulci's work post mid 70's would be complete without the word 'gibberish', and Manhattan Baby is no exception. Once the family are back in the States, the curse causes all manner of bizarre shit to occur in their swanky pad, hence giving Fulci and his merry men licence to disregard any narrative logic and go all Beyond on us. People walk through doors in the apartment and end up in Egypt, smoky apparitions appear in the little girl's bed, a huge fake bird attack takes place, and - best of all - the entire apartment becomes covered in sand. Egyptian sand. We know it's from Egypt because they get a sand report back from the lab. Fucking genius.
Fabio Frizzi's score from the similarly mind-bending The Beyond is re-used here, and even though stealing a score from another movie is cheap, you can't really complain because it's so good. Fulci fans will also spot young whippersnapper Giovanni Frezza from The House by the Cemetery.
All in all, Manhattan Baby delivers most of what we want from Fulci, though gore hounds may be left feeling disappointed. Even if you do struggle to make sense of everything, you can't deny what our man Rawshark has to say about the maggotmeister: "I love Fulci. His films look great!"
Jim Yeah, so Christopher Connelly is in Egypt looking for artefacts with a sidekick that looks nothing like Alfred Molina, while his daughter is killing time in the local market accepting strange trinkets from craggy Egyptian women wearing white contacts. Chris enters a pyramid and has a brief encounter with a snake ("That snake's been there for 3000 years - did they really shoot that cobra then? It looked like it." - Rawshark) before he and his sidekick fall through a trap door. The sidekick falls head first into a bunch of spikes ("He got the point." – Rawshark, doing his best Arnie impression) while Chris Connelly combat-rolls out of the way (presumably with all that training he picked up in Raiders of Atlantis) only to then take a face full of blue lasers. Yeah, I know.
So, one trip back to New York later and he’s being told by his doctor that his sight will return in about a year, while his daughter starts to act all weird. The au pair, who’s not quite as sexy as you’d expect for a film like this, is trying to help, as is his wife, but luckily Chris gets his sight back by getting shot in the face again by some blue lasers when he opens the door to the spare room. Meanwhile, some random beardy bloke turns into a big pile of sand, or at least you think that happens until you seem him in the middle of the Sahara. Well, he did better than the au pair - she gets teleported into a wall, I think.
"They seem to have a very exotic sort of pest problem," offered Zomblee, trying to make sense of it all after seeing the scorpion in the draw and the snake in the bedroom. That’s true they do have that issue, and that’s what happens when you accept gifts of weird Egyptian ladies. That said, the soundtrack was good, and Zomblee was pleased when the kid got right into it ("Brilliant, the kid is whistling the soundtrack to the movie!" - Zomblee) although he recognized the source, which became relevant when the second beardy guy gets in trouble ("He must be really worried now the music from The Beyond is playing." – Zomblee).
Of course, that Polaroid holds the key to the mystery ("You don't see that in a film much do you, getting to see a Polaroid develop?" - Zomblee) and when it gets into the hands of that specialist, the third man with a beard ("They've called a specialist!" - Zomblee), things start to unravel slowly, sort of.
All in all this is Fulci gibberish of the highest order, right up there with The Beyond. It makes very little sense but has the occasional glimpse of brilliant cinematography, like a lot of Fulci’s work. Where would Zombie Club be without him?
"It's a good time to check on the garlic bread, I think." – Zomblee
Rawshark Yes, we all enjoy a fried slice of Fulci here at Zombie Club, and Manhattan Baby certainly doesn’t disappoint on delivering an insane plot with beautiful and baffling images. Always sensing a ‘trend’, Fulci opens with a tip of the hat to Raiders of the Lost Ark as Chris Connelly does an Indiana Jones, stumbling around secret Egyptian passages (”Snakes!”) and dodging traps before getting those dreaded blue laser shot straight into his eyes.
Holiday now over, and back at home (in Manhattan, baby), Connelly’s daughter Susie begins to play with the amulet given to her by the weird old white-eyed woman back in Egypt. This amulet seemingly opens gateways across space as well as the ability to conjure sand and control snakes and scorpions, but whilst her brother Tommy is ok with it all, it just makes Susie rather ill. After a few small set pieces (involving the afore-mentioned sand, snakes and scorpions), it turns out that Susie’s on the brink of being possessed by an evil Egyptian demon, and only Adrian Marcato of Adrian Marcato Antiques can perform the exorcism…
Ok, so no one here is saying Manhattan Baby is a classic – the pacing is a little slow, and as ever with Fulci, we do miss logic – but it is very entertaining, and, as Jim said, ”it makes Puppet Master look rubbish”. Highlights to look out for include the guy at the office who likes to wear joke masks (?) and ”snake vision” (Jim) as the bearded dude gets bitten on the cheek. The girl who comes out of bathroom with glowy eyes, a hand of sand and a scorpion is pretty cool too, as Jim says; “Bleeding ears is good!”
Best of all though is the final Birds rip-off as Fulci gets to revel in ”all the stuff Hitchcock couldn’t show” (Zomblee), dousing the climactic peck peck attack with lashings of blood and gore (”his eyes are just gagging for it” - Jim), all set to a great jazzy score. Bird attack over, Chris Connelly finally dumps the amulet into the river, and we’re straight back to the beginning, as the weird white-eyed woman hands it to another young girl for it to start all over again. Nice spot of Zomblee’s too who noted over the end credits that there’s a crewmember with a surname of Pulci.
”Oh look, a Fulci and a Pulci!” - Zomblee.
Director Lucio Fulci
Cast Christopher Connelly
Cinzia de Ponti
Runtime 89 mins
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The Black Cat (1981)
Plot Patrick Magee and an evil cat grimace a lot. Al Cliver and David Warbeck are in it.
Rawshark Boasting a menagerie of favourite Zombie Club performers (Al Cliver! David Warbeck! Patrick Magee!), Fulci’s own take on Edgar Alan Poe’s classic story was always going to be interesting. Indeed, Lucio launches us straight into ”Catcam” (Zomblee), kicking off the film by showing the titular, evil black cat causing carnage with a pre-credits car crash that pretty much grabbed all of our attentions from the off.
Enter then Mimsy Farmer as photographer Jill Trevers who noses around a bit before striking up conversation with local cop Al Cliver, who carries the most bizarre accent ever put to film. I swore it sounded Australian, but both Jim (”Lancashire”) and Zomblee (”Somerset”) had other thoughts. There’s a brief flash of nudity at 12.53 as a couple are locked in a boathouse and suffocate to death, before Inspector David Warbeck finally arrives on the scene, receiving a jokey warning from Al Cliver in the process (”It’s not often you see Al Cliver telling David Warbeck off for speeding” – Zomblee).
Anyway, Mimsy then goes off to see Miles, the ”grumpy psychie old dude” (Jim), and discovers that both he and the black cat are bound together by hatred. The cat attacks the old man, played by Patrick Magee in his last ever movie role, and draws blood, and to Fulci’s credit, appears quite intimidating on film as he stalks the dude, causing Zomblee to retract his earlier cat-acting comments. From then on it’s a battle of wits between the moggie and Magee, as Warbeck, Cliver and Mimsy Farmer run around in the background being largely useless.
Despite some nice moments including the guy who falls to his death on spikes (”Wassamatter – cat got your tongue?” - Jim), and the great house on fire scene as Miles exacts revenge on Mrs Grayson, The Black Cat does soon drag. There is another bird attack at the end that’s very similar to the one in Manhattan Baby, but not even that can save it really and as far as evil cat movies go, this one’s unfortunately more a ploddy purrr than a horrific hssss!
”Miss, let me give you some advice, don't go down there anymore”.
Jim Yes, Zomblee can be a bit harsh at times, opening with "The cat is a really crap actor." How harsh is that? I suppose that's what happens when a cat goes up against Al Cliver and Dave Warbeck. Yes, Al Cliver and Dave Warbeck, who are "the Zombie Club equivalent of De Niro and Pacino!" In many ways Zomblee's right there, although it's a shame their first scene together involves Cliver telling Warbeck off for speeding, in that accent, before both actors become pretty much useless and just hang around in the background for nigh on the entire rest of the movie.
"Me thinks there might be quite a lot of cat-cam in this film," clicked Rawshark early on, and he was right, as Patrick Magee and that cat compete for screen time. Mimsy Farmer is there too and although she reminded Rawshark of Mia Farrow ("She reminds me a bit of Mia Farrow..." - Zomblee), she's actually quite pointless too, like Warbeck and Cliver in this movie. A bit like Mia Farrow in general actually. Funny that.
In fact, Rawshark was very observant tonight. "Oh, the old fashioned chalk drawings, you don't get them in movies any more," he pointed out, talking obviously about those chalk lines they draw around where the dead bodies lay. And "There's a lot of cheek scratching in this movie," was another, although it was his observations on our friend Fulci himself which I remember clearest - "He's one of the only directors that within 3 or 4 minutes of watching one of his movies you'd know it was him," - prompting the Fulci vs Argento debate to surface again.
And I bet you Argento nearly always wins that argument, everywhere except at Zombie Club.
”Sooner or later he will kill me and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.”
Zomblee For a horror movie with serious credentials, The Black Cat just doesn't have the pedigree to place it amongst Fulci's best, or indeed the strongest Poe adaptations. Convincingly set in a quaint English village, Fulci's film purrs along without any real purrpose (sorry I'll stop that now), and if it weren't for a classy Pino Donaggio score and the presence of A-list ZC talent like Al Cliver, David Warbeck and a maniacal Patrick Magee, this one would hardly be worthy of your time at all. As Jim mentioned, Mimsy Farmer also features (what kind of a name is Mimsy anyway?), and yes, she did remind us a little of Tisa Farrow (not Mia Farrow) in a zero-charisma kind of way. Tisa Farrow gave up acting to be a nurse, you know.
Here, Patrick Magee plays the mysterious nut case Miles with raving zeal - if there's one thing Magee was able to do well, it's intense. "I haven't seen him blink once yet" , noted Jim, halfway through one of Magee's moody monologues about how he and the moggy are bound by hatred, and that he is convinced the said creature will be his undoing. It's not the most cheerful of affairs, but at least there's never long to wait before Al Cliver makes an entrance on his bike, handing torches and bits of paper to David Warbeck, and talking in his nondescript country accent. Ok, I know it's not his real voice, but I love the way Cliver was almost always dubbed by the same person (the late Nick Alexander), whatever the accent.
And Warbeck? He's as smooth as ever, here playing the dashing inspector who initially gets a telling off from Cliver for speeding, but you can tell he's of a higher rank from the start because he's got a nice motorcycle, while Cliver puffs his way around on a rickety old push bike. Warbeck's handsome features are later mauled by the four-legged fiend, but as he's already managed to snog the cute photographer, it doesn't really matter.
In summary then, quality ingredients a great meal do not necessarily make. Fulci's take on the Poe story doesn't quite cut it, and if you want to see a more accomplished variation then check out Argento's segment in Two Evil Eyes instead.
"He always hated me. And now he has won."
Director Lucio Fulci
Cast Patrick Magee
Runtime 92 mins
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What Jim said was spot-on: Zombie Club just wouldn't be the same without Fulci. Tonight has proved yet again that despite their almost reassuring shortcomings, most of his films (up until a certain point) had a special something which makes them so much fun. Thankfully, he was also quite prolific, which means we're unlikely to run out of options anytime soon. We'll know it's time to stop when we've got nothing left but A Cat in the Brain, another movie which confirms that Fulci and cats don't mix well.