Review Date: August 15, 2009
Released by: Severin
Release date: 07/14/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Full Screen 1.33:1
For a label that initially prided itself on softcore erotica, Severin has made quite the mark on horror cinema. They’ve brought out several solid, forgotten works from big names in Euro exploitation like Jess Franco, Joe D’Amato, Enzo Castellari, Walerian Borowczyk, Mario Bianchi, Andrea Bianchi, oh, and some guy named Lucio Fulci. While they’ve generally been without extra, the films they’ve brought over from Fulci’s canon have all been essential – two early, important gialli, a softcore romp and now this, Fulci’s final film. Door into Silence
certainly doesn’t come with much pedigree: designed for television, without gore, from his treacherous later career and crewed with much of the same crew that shot Troll 2
. Yikes! Still, it remains the last completed film from one of the true legends of the genre. Is this a fitting send off, or should we stick to picking at his Cat in the Brain
Heh, story…Fulci…yeah, I know, right? But sometimes eyes can be deceiving. The film begins with a car crash edited in typical Fulci quick cut close-up juxtaposition. We take up next with Melvin Devereux (John Savage
, The Deer Hunter
, The Killing Kind
), saying a few words at his father’s grave. “Nobody’s as important as I am, and nobody can stop me.” That’s our first indication that Melvin is a not so veiled foil for Fulci himself. Melvin returns back to his car, where a woman dubbed only Mystery Woman (Sandi Schultz
, John Savage’s wife and frequent co-star, also a dancer in Stage Fright
) in the credits offers her greetings. He can’t really recall where they’ve met, but she certainly knows him. Odd.
Melvin’s heading home after a business trip to New Orleans, where it appears much of his friends and family have gathered for the funeral. His journey home is going to be a long one, though, as he runs into one road block after another. The first road block is literal, where he drives past a road closed sign and draws the attention of the local police force. No harm. He continues onward through some treacherous back roads, many of which seemed to be weathered by a recent storm. Next up, some car trouble. Luckily that mysterious woman is there to give him a lift. They almost get it on, but she leaves a message in lipstick on his hotel mirror saying “Don’t take this wrong, but it wasn’t the right moment yet. I’ll wait for you at the cross-road for Abbeville...” Not really the most romantic of messages, but at his age he’ll take what he can get.
On Melvin drives, but his journey keeps getting weirder and weirder. First he’s driven to an almost Duel
-esque showdown with a hearse driver, and then he stumbles into a black gospel church where he’s attacked by all the congregation. He sits down for a beer at the local pub, but ends up drinking far too much, taking off with a two six of vodka, to which the bartender humorously notes “It’s a shame, since he was dressed like a decent man!” “Was” being the main operative there. Melvin continues this twisted travel into terror, getting hassled by a prostitute and finally coming face to face once more with that damned hearse. It’s all distraction when Melvin would kill for nothing more than to be at home.
I, like almost all Fulci fans, was weaned on his most famous films, Zombie
and The Beyond
. I loved every gory, unbridled, inexplicable and surprisingly artful moment of them. What next? “Well, you’ve got to finish the rest from that golden period…” House by the Cemetery
, The Gates of Hell
, New York Ripper
. Check. “His early gialli are great too, can’t miss those.” Don’t Torture a Duckling
, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
, The Psychic
. Check check. “Hey, you can’t forget the westerns, polizi, and fantasy flicks he made, too!” Conquest
, Four of the Apocalypse
. Done, so what’s next? “Forget about the later period, he was either phoning it in, toning it down for television or literally lifting from better films.” That’s what I had been told, and that’s what I had always assumed. I mean, you look at his filmography for the last ten years and see TV movies, films he was replaced on and even a credit for Hansel & Gretel
. How can you not think the guy was in a serious state of decline?
Then I saw Cat in the Brain
. Here was Fulci putting himself right up there on screen and dealing with his preoccupations and his detractors head on surrounded by bits from his and other notable gore works. Argento took his detractors with Tenebre
, but even he didn’t have the brawn that Fulci did to put himself right up there for target practice. It was with Brain
that I was introduced to a seriously personal side of a notoriously difficult man. Was this just a final pulse for a figure so long in a flatline, or were they all wrong and this was only one of many Fulci masterpieces? Well, inside the Door into Silence
reveals all, and like Cat in the Brain
before it, it’s a deliriously personal descent into madness that marks a man not at the end of his game, but on top of it.
If you thought Cat in the Brain
was thin on plot, wait until you take a ride in Fulci’s Buick for Door into Silence
. There is a lot to admire in the way Fulci pares down plot in order to more lyrically plum the mind of himself and his protagonist on his series of Dante-esque encounters. In his series of follies Melvin seems to sample all the vices before ultimately colliding with fate. Religion, sex, booze, shoplifting, car chases and baring arms, Fulci sends his protagonist through one unmentionable after another. That these things just sort of happen to Melvin without him ever initiating them is like Fulci’s coming to terms with the fact that no matter how honestly one approaches life, it’s still bound to descend into a series of pleasures, mistakes and regrets. You’d never think it from the endless supply of terrible American-made cars on display throughout, but the film is surprisingly classical in construction. Mature, even. For a guy apparently so transfixed on shock over substance, there’s nary a drop of blood in this wild probe into the psyche.
The common conception has always been that as Fulci aged he cared less and less for story and instead gave into gore. In truth, though, Fulci cared just as much about story, he just found simpler, subtler ways of telling it. Before the Spielbergian shallowness of Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense
, Fulci showed that the punch lines are always secondary to the journey. He doesn’t massage story in Door into Silence
to make his ending oh so shocking. No, instead he shows his cards at the start and then marvels in just how they got that way. Like The Beyond
, Door into Silence
effectively utilizes an elliptical narrative that bends the parameters of time to create a sort of grand metaphysical statement on the inseparable eternity of life and death. His starts and stops are very much the same and it’s almost hopeful the way he sees death not as finite, but as yet another journey on a path to absurdity. Whether you’re stuck in a painting or driving aimlessly on the road of life, it’s all just one wild, inexplicable travel.
You certainly don’t watch a Fulci movie for performance, but I’ve got to digress in mentioning just how surprisingly rock solid John Savage is in the role. He certainly doesn’t have a lot to do, but he injects that role so full of helpless nuance you truly pity the dire dislocation he experiences throughout. Hell, he even injects the Italian-requisite masculine empowering hooker scene into something of pathetic pathos. No disrespect to David Warbeck or even Fulci himself, but Savage’s performance here is no doubt the most notable of Il Maestro’s work. You wonder, though, if Savage’s performance is so good because he’s such an esteemed American actor, or if Fulci’s autobiographical handling of the material made it easy for Savage to parrot. Whatever the truth, looking at Savage is like seeing into the essence that was and is Lucio Fulci.
As his last completed picture, Door into Silence
by default takes on a grander significance as his final farewell before the grave. He doesn’t entirely wax poetic, but you do get to see the sardonic humor so many of the actors recall of him off camera in the way John Savage gruffs through this never ending display of absurdities. You see Fulci in the structure of the story, you see him in his main character, and ultimately you see him past the credits as his final title card leaves much to linger:
“…When you cross the gates of nothing, no one will be near you: only the shadow of your own death…”
-IV book of the Apocalypse
No doubt a clever play on the title of one of his most famous films, The Gates of Hell, the gates of “nothing” here no doubt represent death on the surface, since death is to be without life, hence nothing. And in that nothing, you are alone with only your death behind you. Yet, you get the sense that really, Fulci means that “nothing” is instead inconsequence – when you die nothing happens, your body leaves a shadow but you continue on unaltered. As The Gates of Hell
tagline goes, “The Dead Walk the Earth” and whether in life or death, we’re always moving on a trajectory of uncertainty.
Fulci may have god his happy ending in Cat in a Brain
, but here, his final statement, Fulci says to hell with that, I’m not going anywhere – I’ll meet you on the road to salvation. What a ride he’s had, and I’ll keep playing catch up trying to watch all these late career gems. No door, not this one nor the seven doors of death could ever silence Fulci’s fabulous voice. Fulci Lives!
If there’s one good thing you can say about Troll 2
it’s that it’s shot well, and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando does this film similar justice, with some kinetic wide angle photography and plenty of well orchestrated chase scenes. Unfortunately that camera prowess is not entirely given justice by this interlaced transfer. Door into Silence
is presented in its proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but sharpness suffers from all the interlaced blurring. The color timing doesn’t quite seem right, a little more muted than it should be, although admittedly this is a problem that plagues most Italian horror product made during the video age of the late eighties and early nineties. The print used here is nice and clean, and even if the colors don’t pop from the screen, they are all properly saturated by Severin. It’s a shame it’s not progressive scan, but since this was shot for nothing and for television, this is probably the best elements they had to work with.
Now the score is distinguishedly credited to the Franco Piana Big Band, but in reality it’s mostly comprised of tracks lifted right out of Troll 2
. That in itself makes for kind of a surreal sound experience, but all the big band jazz at the start and the end certainly gives the film an unstructured, jazzy elegance similar to Franco’s Venus in Furs
. The sound has been effectively preserved here in English mono, without any noticeable drop outs or hiccups. Hiss and crackle are almost non-existent, too. Good job, all around.
This would have been the perfect place for a Fulci retrospective, being his last release. Sadly, as is there is not a single extra. Surely John Savage could have spared a few moments from all the low rent crap he’s been thinning himself on for years. Too bad, since the film is more than deserving.
Door into Silence
is a delirious self-reflexive send-off for one of horror’s most interesting personalities. Although it’s John Savage in the role, it’s all Fulci up there on the screen, and it’s a surprisingly lucid and perceptive little look at the lines between life and death. That Severin released this final obscurity at all is enough cause for celebration, and with no extras, a mono soundtrack and an interlaced picture, there isn’t much more to actually celebrate. Still, Severin has done a good job on Fulci’s much forgotten final work. It’s a movie to be remembered, and while certainly not for all tastes with its intentionally rambling and unfocused narrative and lack of overall gore or even violence, for this reviewer it’s one of his most personal documents…and one of his best. May the door to Fulci never be shut!
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B
Supplements - F
- Running time - 1 hour 27 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono