David Sodergren’s Italian House Of Horrors: Part One
Lucio Fulci – An Appreciation
By the late 80s, the Italian horror film industry was floundering. Gone were the glory days of the Giallo, the splatter boom of the early 80s, the zombie films, the cannibal cycle. Sure, Argento was still getting decent money, and Michele Soavi was about to emerge as a thrilling new voice, but the old guard were struggling along on ever-diminishing budgets.
Italian TV channel Reiteitalia offered a lifeline. The plan, presumably concocted by a total maniac, was to give legendary gore auteurs Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi and Lamberto Bava enough cash to make two TV movies each, loosely themed around a house. Bava dropped out, but Fulci and Lenzi, never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, made their movies. In a turn of events that should have been obvious to everyone involved, the pair turned in movies so violent they couldn’t possibly be shown on Italian TV, and all four films were consequently shelved.
Luckily, the films were eventually released direct-to-video, and finally DVD. I say luckily, because while none of them stack up against the best work of the two maestros, there is enough fun and invention to make all the films worth seeing.
In this two-part article, I’ll be taking a look at all four entries in the Italian House of Horror series, beginning with Fulci’s contributions. So without further ado, let’s dive into The House of Clocks!
The House of Clocks (1989, Lucio Fulci)
By 1989, Lucio Fulci had been directing movies for almost forty years. Kids movies, sex comedies, musicals — you name it, he’d done it. In the 70s he made some acclaimed westerns and gialli, but the period he is best known for begins in 1979 with Zombi 2 and ends in 1982 with New York Ripper. Fulci excelled at Grand Guignol gothic horror, and, with a few notable exceptions, that was the way the rest of his career would play out.
1988 was one of his lesser years. He had to quit the sequel to his hit zombie movie due to ill-health, and supplied us with two of his worst horror movies, the dull Sodoma’s Ghost and the unwatchable Touch of Death. You could be forgiven for thinking the grand old man of Italian splatter had lost his way somewhat, so it’s surprising and rather delightful to discover some of the old magic is still there in The House of Clocks.
The story is a lot of fun, and shares similarities with the excellent recent horror film Don’t Breathe. Three hoodlums break into the house of an elderly couple, only to discover the occupants aren’t as helpless as they initially seem. You see, the old man is a clockmaker, who has some sort of ludicrous psychic connection to his clocks. When shit goes down and the couple are killed, the clocks stop, including — in a nice touch — the sand timer.
As the clocks begin to move backwards, time itself reverses, bringing the murder victims back to life for typically gruesome revenge, Fulci-style.
You know, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at the first screening of The House of Clocks for the Reiteitalia executives, particularly at the five-minute mark, where an old lady rams a massive pole into her housekeeper’s crotch, then watches as her insides pour out of the gaping wound.
I mean, I guess they figured Fulci would be able to rein in his bloodlust while making a TV movie, but those idiots figured wrong. The whole film feels the work of Fulci, unlike some of his later movies. Sure, we’re a long way from The Beyond or House by the Cemetery, but it’s among the better films of the last ten years of Fulci’s life.
Callbacks are rife. There’s a juicy role for Fulci regular Al Cliver, missing an eye and wearing a mustard-coloured scarf. The setting itself brings to mind the hotel of The Beyond, with its weird staff, who’s dialogue is full of pregnant pauses and hidden meanings. Then there’s a sequence where a woman hides behind a door while someone thrusts a chainsaw through, similar to the coffin scene of City of the Living Dead and the climax of House by the Cemetery.
The House of Clocks is definitely not a good starting point for those new to Fulci — or Italian horror in general — but fans will surely enjoy it.
Unfortunately, things could only really go downhill from here. Straight after filming Clocks, Fulci started work on the second in the series, and from hereon in, things get…pretty weird.
The Sweet House of Horrors (1989, Lucio Fulci)
The Sweet House of Horrors feels like Fulci trying to make an 80s Spielberg movie. I know what you’re thinking — that’s a terrible idea, right?
Well guess what, buster? You are correct. But it’s not a total dead loss, I promise. In fact, the first half of the film suggests you’re going to be watching something pretty damn fun.
The first ten minutes, especially, are dynamite. In what feels like a giallo, a masked intruder bumps off a pair of yuppies in a very, very violent fashion. Bearing in mind this was also supposed to be a TV movie, Fulci goes all-out with the gore. A man has his head bashed off the wall until his brains trickle down, but that’s not enough for old Lucio. In what feels like a homage to House by the Cemetery, the poor sap is then bludgeoned to death with a fireplace poker.
There then follows one of my favourite cinematic tropes — the corpse-disposal sequence. A shot of the killer in the forest, wearing that particular mask, gave me strong Torso vibes. Then things get even better.
The couple’s kids are at their funeral (shades of The Beyond), but these creepy little monsters laugh and giggle and make jokes all the way through. The humour is funny, and actually intentional for once. Then the children’s new guardians show up, and one of them is played by Cinzia Monreale, best known as Emily from The Beyond.
This sucker can’t miss, right? Sadly, wrong. Things are going well right up until the halfway point, wherein the mystery of who killed the parents is revealed. Revenge is swift, and — to be honest — the film should have just ended. Instead, things drag on for an interminable 45 more minutes. The dubbing of the children slowly becomes unbearable. The soft-focus image gets hazier and hazier, until it looks like you’re watching the film with shampoo in your eyes. The children reunite with their parents by talking to magic floating flames, then skip merrily through fields with their ghosts. Oh, there’s a ghost dog too, but he’s barely glimpsed.
It’s a thousand miles away from the gritty horror of the first half, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except Fulci totally fails to pull it off. By the time a fat man falls down the stairs and the children stand in front of him chanting, ‘SAUSAGE IS DYING, SAUSAGE IS DYING,’ I was out. What happens next? Wait, let me consult my notes.
Ah yes, an exorcist turns up with a fucking bulldozer.
Sorry, no, that’s quite enough of that for now.
It’s a big step down from House of Clocks, but Fulci fans will still find enough to appreciate to justify a watch. The scores for both films are by the reliable Vince Tempera, who’s no Fabio Frizzi, but his work here is catchy and upbeat. The opening kill in Sweet House has a particularly memorable, slap-bass heavy theme.
It’s just a pity Sweet House ends up so mawkish and silly, or else this would have made a pretty fun double bill.
Next week, I’ll cover Umberto Lenzi’s two entries — House of Doom and House of Lost Souls. Lenzi in the late 80s was still in good form — Nightmare Beach, Ghosthouse and Witchery are all great examples of latter-day Italian gore, so here’s hoping they make a more successful pair than these two.
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018 to critical acclaim. Up next is Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle has just recently been released.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
Find David on Instagram here
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