A cinephile’s view of a filmmaker is often shaped by their first experience with the filmmaker’s work, particularly if there’s not a lot of information available about the filmmaker’s career. This was definitely the case for Schlockmania with a lot of Italian directors who made horror films in the ’70s and ’80s.
Lucio Fulci is a great example: Zombie and City Of The Living Dead created an image of him as a gonzo shock-horror auteur. As more writers explored his career and more films were made available on video in the U.S., it was revealed that Fulci’s career covered much more ground. Like many Italian directors of his era, he embraced the demands of his home’s commercial marketplace to build a career and took on a variety of genres with a journeyman’s skill: westerns, comedies, action fare, even t.v. serials and commercials.
If want to get a feel for the contours of Fulci’s varied career, Troy Howarth’s book Splintered Visions offers a solid overview of the man’s work. It methodically goes through his career, first looking at his work as a screenwriter then moving on to his work as a director. Biographical material is included within the various film entries, geared towards helping the reader understand the twists and turns of his career instead of going for an in-depth portrait of his life off of film sets.
The early parts of Splintered Visions can feel a bit dry – not because of Howarth’s writing but mainly because it can get a little trying to read entry after entry on films involving Italian comedians that are are seldom seen outside of Italy. However, interest perks up when Fulci makes his first western, Massacre Time, and things really get rolling when he starts making gialli in the late ’60’s/early ’70s, including now-acclaimed favorites like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture A Duckling.
At this point, Howarth gets to dig into material that the director’s enthusiasts will appreciate. The biggies, like the run of edgy horror films from Zombie through The New York Ripper, get plenty of pages and there are also thoughtful appreciations of underrated entries like Four Of The Apocalypse and The Devil’s Honey.
The various entries mix history, interview material and critical analysis in a straightforward, even-handed style. Howarth establishes a format early on and sticks to it throughout the book: it begins with the circumstances behind the project, gets into a critical analysis and closes with biographical sketches of unique actors or crew members involved in the production. The prose is economical but smart with some nice insights along the way, like his commentary on the recurring “outcast martyr” figure that often ends up crucified for the ignorance of others in Fulci’s films.
Additional interest is provided by a series of interviews, several done by Howarth. Some participants can be a little general or perfunctory in their responses but there are a good number that offer interesting details about Fulci as well as life in the Italian genre film mill. Highlights include chats with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Al Cliver (great anecdotes here) and a memorably candid session with Brett Halsey.
Some of these interviews were conducted by Fulci authority Mike Baronas, who also contributed a wealth of additional interview material for the main text. It’s worth noting he penned a fascinating intro for the book that details how he grew from fan to a keeper of the flame for the director. Along similar lines, Scooter McCrae contributes a compelling essay for the close of the book that chronicles his experiences with Fulci during the director’s one U.S. convention appearance prior to his passing.
If there’s a complaint to make about Splintered Visions, it’s that the presentation is a little “plain Jane” in terms of layout and paper quality for the price tag. That said, the book is full of eye-catching stills, posters and candid shots, particularly if you spring for the color edition, and the entries and interviews are worth it for Italian horror buffs. If you want to look beyond Stephen Thrower’s Fulci tome for added perspective, this is a worthwhile entry in the Fulci-analysis canon.