Color, 1991, 86m.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring John Savage, Sandi Schultz, Richard Castleman, Jennifer Loeb
Severin (US R1 NTSC)

Suspense and horror directors have a funny way of closing out their careers. Alfred Hitchcock turned out the decidedly family-friendly and bloodless Family Plot before his death, and Lucio Fulci, the master of shambling zombies and psychedelic thrillers, bid adieu to his fans with the likewise bloodless and oddly ethereal Door into Silence (with the film's credits listing the director as "H. Simon Kittay" for some reason). The film was financed by Joe D'Amato's s short-lived Filmirage, a company better known for Stage Fright, Witchcraft, and, uh, Troll 2. This film, Fulci's only for the company, came near its final days, and D'Amato was fond of lensing softcore films in New Orleans like Any Time, Any Play. Of course, this was also Fulci's old stomping grounds from The Beyond, and a modest, peculiar supernatural quickie was born.

While driving through Louisiana, Melvin Devereux (Savage) passes a funeral where his last name is prominently on display. He becomes more alarmed when he sees that the body bears a striking resemblance to him, and that night he encounters a beautiful but spooky woman (Schultz) who helps him find an auto repair shop. As he passes further away from the city, he repeatedly becomes involved in a Duel-esque game of cat and mouse with a slow-moving hearse whose creepy driver (Castleman, D'Amato's location scouter) won't let him pass. A colorful gallery of characters also passes through, including a hot-to-trot teenager trying to get to Memphis for the "Country Music Festival" ("Randy Travis! Tammy Wynette! It's gonna be great!") and offers to sleep with him for fifty bucks.A ter a particularly nasty phone call involving a tarot reader, Melvin finally reaches his destiny involving the hearse and a particularly fateful sunset.

On the surface this story might sound like yet another predictable knock-off of Carnival of Souls, though Fulci's script somehow manages to still make it odd and perplexing with an odd ghost story twist at the end which makes the seemingly obvious payoff a little more interesting. Of course, anyone looking for his trademark splatter antics will be left in the dust; he definitely bid farewell to his gore days with Cat in the Brain. However, the comparatively low gore factor in The Psychic and Manhattan Baby didn't stop them from finding an audience, so his decision to go plasma-free here shouldn't stop any of his fanatics from seeking this one out. The arty, meandering tone of the story is offset by a strong, paranoid, somewhat Brad Dourif-like performance by the still-busy Savage (definitely the biggest name Fulci had in the second half of his career), and his decision to shoot on the obscure backroads of Louisiana rather than the familiar tourist areas makes for much more visual interest than usual for the area. Of course, this also means some weird, stilted performances by some of the locals who were apparently non-actors recruited on the spot (check out the two cops), and the one-off score by Franco Piana veers wildly from jazz to thunking suspense cues, with some uncredited filler dropped in from the score to Stage Fright. Incredibly, this was the first Fucli score released in its entirely on CD, while the film itself was barely distributed at all, popping up most widely as a Japanese VHS which barely made a blip on the bootleg market.

Like most Filmirage productions, Door into Silence seems designed more for a home video market than the big screen, so it's not surprising all the masters are full frame. Nothing substanital seems to be missing on the sides, and the 1.33:1 framing actually looks about right. (The same goes for most of D'Amato's films around the same period.) The transfer used for Severin's DVD, the first release ever in the U.S., is several notches above the mediocre VHs dupes floating around for years; it won't win any AV awards given the nature of the source, but it's surprisingly colorful and clean and still plays well on larger monitors, too. Bear in mind it'll still look like a 1991 low budget production, and the disc comes through just fine. The mono English audio (which uses on-set dialogue recording for all the actors) sounds okay and true to the original sound mix. The DVD is no frills, containing only chapter stops from the main menu. Someone should get around to asking Savage about this film one of these days, as his memories of its creation would be quite interesting.

Color, 1989, 80m. / Directed by Lucio Fulci / Starring Cinzia Monreale, Pascal Persiano / Shriek Show (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A made-for-TV companion piece to House of Clocks, this gory oddity finds Fulci returning to the theme of haunted children explored in his more widely seen House by the Cemetery and Manhattan Baby, among others. As this is later period work for the director, the film's execution is bumpier than his golden age classics but still bears the unmistakable stamp of his gore-soaked obsessions.

Things start with a bang, literally, as a married couple is slaughtered in their home, with the husband's head pulverized against a wall and the wife viciously knifed. The children of the deceased, Sarah and Marco, become the charges of their aunt and uncle, Marcia (Cinzia Monreale) and Carlo (Jean-Christophe Bretigniere), at the family estate. Unfortunately the grounds seem to be haunted, much to the childrens' delight, and cruel mishaps befall visitors including a real estate agent and the neurotic gardener (Demonia's Lino Salemme). Marcia is terrorized by the ghostly presence, which appears to manifest itself as a glowing, animated swirl of light; however, the spirits turn out to be as protective as they are ruthless, and the true villain is soon unmasked.

Apart from the sadistic opening (which is replayed later for good measure), Sweet House of Horrors is a competent but fairly restrained ghost yarn. The murder mystery angle is no great shakes, with the culprit unmasked and dispatched in an offhand manner long before the wind-and-thunder finale. Unlike House of Clocks, this film suffers from one of the most grating dubbing jobs in recent memory; though the actors often appear to be speaking English, the looped voices are so disembodied and inappropriate they constantly detract from Fulci's modest visual achivements. The children are a particular embarassment, voiced by lousy adult voice performers who just yell in a high pitched tone. It's enough to make the dubbing of Bob in House by the Cemetery almost sound seamless.

Shriek Show's DVD sports the usual lavish extras for what once amounted to a throwaway title relegated to the graveyard of Japanese home video and bootleg traders. The letterboxed image quality looks very good overall, and the hazy '80s cinematography (a trademark of most of Fulci's work from the period) registers well enough with only a couple of darker scenes betraying any mild digital flaws. Extras include an introduction from the lovely Monreale (probably shot the same time as her interview from Beyond the Darkness, while video interviews go to Bretigniere, Salemme, and actress Pascal Persiano, all of whom offer their own recollections of working with Fulci. (For some reason, Bretigniere is mentioned nowhere on the box's special features.) Salemme has surprisingly little to say considering his oddball genre experience (both Demons films, for example), but the others are cheerful and more than forthcoming. Also included are the usual trailers, including an incredibly clumsy, bleary-looking promo for Sweet House could single-handedly account for its lackluster international distribution.

Color, 1989, 80m. / Directed by Lucio Fulci / Starring Keith Van Hoven, Karina Huff / Shriek Show (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Designed as part of a four-film series for Italian television entitled Houses of Doom, the quasi-metaphysical House of Clocks is certainly gorier than most countries' concept of made-for-TV fare and makes for minor but enjoyable late-period Fulci viewing. Wisely kept to a small scale and limited to a single remote country location, this modest effort delivers some gruesome goodies to satisfy hardened Luciophiles.

An elderly couple, Victor (Paolo Paoloni) and Sarah (Bettine Milne), passes the time by collecting clocks, ambling around their nicely appointed country home, and killing off those who prove to be inconvenient, such as the nosy maid (Carla Cassola). Meanwhile three semi-young delinquents stop off to loot the house by pulling a Clockwork Orange traffic accident story and then raiding the premises, killing the husband and wife along with the devoted handyman, Peter (Zombie's Al Cliver). However, the guard dogs prevent the homicidal trio from leaving; even worse, all of the clocks begin to turn backwards as time itself reverses, bringing the dead back to life...

Though it makes little to no sense (especially the pointless "gotcha!" final scene), House of Clocks ambles along well enough for most of its running time and features some halfway competent dubbing, unlike Fulci's other TV movie, Sweet House of Horrors. Naturally the characters are all one-dimensional pawns in a game ultimately proven to have no point, but the central conceit is an intriguing one and makes one ponder what Fulci might have done at the peak of his powers with this material. Some nice gothic touches like the cadavers stashed in the cellar bounce nicely off the suitably gory effects, including some nasty shotgunnings and an effective nod to the malicious hands-in-the-lawn scene from Mario Bava's Shock.

Previously released only in Japan (with lots of hazy-looking bootlegs generating in years since), House of Clocks receives an unlikely and surprisingly lavish American welcome with Shriek Show's DVD. Considering the preponderance of filters used throughout the film, the DVD looks relatively good with stable colors and only a few compression-generated problems cropping up during some dark hallway scenes in the film's midsection. Extras include a strange, noisy-looking trailer with video-generated text, as well as trailers for Zombi 3, Sweet House of Horrors, House on the Edge of the Park, and Eaten Alive. Paolini and Cassola turn up for video interviews running 5 and 9 minutes respectively; both seem to have fond memories of working on the low budget production, with the special effects and make-up receiving most of the attention. R. Ian Jane contributes an overview of the House of Doom series on the printed insert's reverse side, though the black on dark red type causes more than a little eyestrain.

Color, 1975, 104 mins. / Directed by Lucio Fulci / Starring Fabio Testi, Lynne Frederick / Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Though ostensibly a western, the grisly and bizarre Four of the Apocalypse fits more snugly with director Lucio Fulci's gothic horror outings than most of his other work outside the genre. Many of the collaborators who would shape some of Fulci's most nightmarish visions, such as composer Fabio Frizzi and cinematographer Sergio Salvati, demonstrate how significant their contributions were even this early in the game, and for once, Fulci seems to be engaged enough in the proceedings to experiment with his visuals and narrative form in some unexpected ways. Though possibly a difficult place to start for newcomers, Apocalypse is a must see for Fulci fanatics and proves once again that his grisly excesses were grounded in a firm stylistic approach.

In the late 1800s, con artist Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi) arrives in Salt Lake City and promptly winds up tossed overnight in prison, with his marked cards consigned to a fireplace. In the cell he meets three fellow misfits: young pregnant hooker Bunny (Schizo's Lynne Frederick), town drunk Clem (Michael J. Pollard), and delusional slave Bud (Harry Baird), who has an unusually friendly relationship with cemeteries. A brutal attack by masked gunmen leaves the town back under the thumb of the law, so the sheriff (Zombie Holocaust's Donald O'Brien) ejects them from town into the desert. Along the way to a new destiny they meet Chaco (Tomas Milian), who seems like a nice guy until he gets everyone stoned on booze and peyote, then proceeds to blow out Clem's kneecaps and rape Bunny while Stubby and Bud are tortured and left tied to the ground. The four manage to escape and resume their trip to the promised land, only to encounter something far different from what they expected. After a number of sacrifices and tragedies, fate finally allows events to come full circle as Stubby decides to seek revenge against Chaco.

Spaghetti western fans expecting cool, mysterious gunmen shooting in out against mythic landscapes will be shocked by this downbeat, deliberately paced portrayal of the West as a merciless land capable of swallowing men's souls without leaving a trace. The criminally underrated Testi is excellent in the lead role, which allows him to transform both physically and emotionally several times throughout the course of the sprawling narrative. However, Milian also swipes his precious minutes of screen time as the memorable villain, a nightmarish figure whose sadism hits a fever pitch when he skins off one unlucky victim's stomach and pins a sherrif's star into his the flesh of his chest. The always eccentric Pollard (best known for Bonnie and Clyde) really doesn't have much to do; he made a much stronger impression as a western figure in 1972's rarely seen oddity, Dirty Little Billy. Like many other '70s spaghetti western scores (most obviously Keoma), this one sports a freakish mixture of vocals and experimental instruments interrupted by crooning folk tunes which are, shall we say, best appreciated as irony.

The back cover for Anchor Bay's DVD of Four of the Apocalypse promises the inclusion of footage deleted from all circulating prints of the film, with the reinstated dialogue in Italian with optional English subtitles. These scenes include the aforementioned Chaco torture routine as well as a greatly expanded version of Bunny's rape (though only the former contains subtitled dialogue). The only previous English language release in Japan looked watchable despite these studio-imposed cuts, but the DVD's quality is tremendously improved. Though detail is hampered by some of Salvati's soft focus compositions, particularly during the misty opening scene, the transfer looks as good as one could expect, with accurate color reproduction. The only significant debit is a tiny vertical line running through a few scenes near the right side of the screen, similar to the flaw in the negative of Fucli's The Black Cat. The film can also be played with its entire Italian language soundtrack, though alas no English subtitles are provided. The Italian track contains several notable variations from the English version, including the (thankful) absence of an opening narration.

Extras include the nicely edited English language European trailer, cast and crew bios (including some illuminating anecdotes about Testi), and a compact but informative featurette, Fulci of the Apocalypse, in which Milian (in English) and Testi (in Italian) reminisce about working with the notorious director, whose questionable behavior is one of the primary focuses. Milian also offers some hilarious stories, expanded further into an Easter Egg on the special features menu.