A Different Kind Of Metaphysical Horror From Fulci
I am in agreement with the general consensus among viewers' opinions regarding this, Lucio Fulci's final film, that it contains a marginally interesting core concept that, drawn out to feature length, is too threadbare to maintain one's interest consistently. Indeed, its often been said of this 93-minute picture that if you were to cut the right 60 minutes out of it, what you would be left with at most would barely amount to something equal to a serviceable Twilight Zone episode. However, I am mildly impressed that at such a late stage in his career Fulci would upset all expectations by making this attempt at an existentialist horror film that is strictly concerned with mood, place and character instead of violence.
By the late 1980's Fulci was starting to express his boredom with gore films and even stated as much that the genre was moving in a direction that, to remain interesting, would have to find its horror "from within". Door to Silence was Fulci's first declarative step (or second, actually, as I believe Aenigma follows this trait) toward this new direction, and if he had lived longer I suspect it would have indicated the path his twilight years as a filmmaker would have taken.
What intrigues about Door To Silence, at least for me personally, are the film's mood and the uncanny circumstances that the main character, played by John Savage, finds himself puppeteered by. The movie is of a kind I term a "situation film", meaning its unconcerned with linear plot and more concerned about the evolution of a certain predicament and how it affects its protagonists. Fulci's movie is fundamentally about a single tragic day in the life of a man, Melvin Deveraux, a traveling real estate agent currently on a business trip who, for reasons not evident to us and even himself, is drawn to aimlessly traveling about the back roads of Louisiana bayou country. It begins to dawn on us that he may longer be inhabiting the real world. In essence he is dead, a non-entity, and is drifting in a strange limbo through unpopulated wastes while we as viewers are cognizant of it while he isn't. Fulci is admirably able to communicate the strangeness of Melvin's situation in the oddly empty landscapes and roads he travels, the few people he interacts with along the way and the long, unending day he seems condemned to inhabit eternally. Its a day in which the sun strangely never seems to set, an observation which he comments on at one point late in the film.
Some of the other posters have commented on the brief sex scene in the car with the girl named Margie, describing it as unnecessary, but I must argue that the scene fits perfectly into Fulci's plan. In the scene Melvin proves impotent and unable to consummate sex with a young female hitchhiker and is obviously meant as another one of the many clues that Melvin is either dead already, or, in some metaphysical way, is no longer a part of the world around him. Certainly its meant to mirror another scene in the movie where he follows another attractive woman to a hotel room believing he is going to have sex with her, only to be thwarted again when she mysteriously vanishes. In the grand scheme of the film these scenes are hardly unnecessary. Notice also the scene where Melvin stops at at an isolated gas station and approaches an odd, taciturn black man seated in a chair who is staring at him strangely while playing a religious musical instrument like some silent gatekeeper guarding the entrance to a netherworld. This scene is one subtle indication among others that Fulci may have had an intention, albeit vague and underdeveloped, to re-imagine his original vision of the beyond as a southern Gothic hell.
Meager resources were likely this film's undoing, but I feel that what Fulci was attempting to do here was creditable. In fact, this may seem like an unlikely comparison, but Fulci's movie could be perceived as an Italian relative of sorts to Abbas Kiarostami's highly respected Iranian film Taste Of Cherry. Both films are concerned with distant, disconnected men driving about aimlessly through desolate, nondescript landscapes through the period of a single day in search of their own deaths. The only appreciable difference between them is that in Kiarostami's film the main character was intentionally seeking death, while in Fulci's opus the John Savage character is being drawn toward it unwittingly in a predestined sense, or more likely he is a ghost catching up with the fact that the body he still inhabits is already deceased, much like a spirit trapped within the house that it haunts. The kinship between Fulci's and Kiarostami's films (made six years apart) is so striking, indeed, that I seriously suspect Kiarostami saw Door To Silence and it stuck in his mind. Of course, Taste Of Cherry was a highly honored film in reputable circles that received glowing reviews from major critics as well as winning the Palm d'Or at Cannes in 1997, while Door To Silence endures as an obscure no-budget Italian film made by a director who has always been critically dismissed and ridiculed, supported only by his fans.
As far as John Savage's performance goes I think he does admirably well under the circumstances. If his acting here seems rather stiff and unemotional I think it has less to do with Savage's talents and more to do with the fact the script just doesn't give him much to do, again stemming from the fact that Door To Silence is a film not about events, but a condition. However, if one is inclined to be buoyed along by the film's metaphysical implications, then Melvin Deveraux's muted personality and lack of character traits for the viewer to connect with could reasonably be construed as just a result of the transcendental quandary that he is unknowingly a victim of.
Self-Commenting Horror Film Could Use More Resolute Finale
Horror movies that reference their own genre have been more prevalent lately, but it seems they come attached with a certain degree of mordant comedy, signifying that the directors probably aren't completely convinced of their own convictions. But that's not really a problem with this film. DEADLINE is a horror picture that begins like any typical slasher film would, but later becomes more laid back in an effort to reflect on itself from an idealistic point of view. The film chiefly appears to be another examination of the effects of graphic violence in cinema on its viewers, particularly child viewers. The narrative framework for all this is built upon the story of a horror movie screenwriter whose life begins to disintegrate when he begins writing for more violent and more lowbrow productions than he'd prefer. As to be expected, it eventually leads to a collapse of his sanity.
I liked the film for its first two-thirds because director Azzapardi was trying to do something different and even attempting a resonant observation or two along the way. But like so many of these self-referential type films, it paints itself into a corner in the end to where it doesn't really have an ending. It rather just trails off in the final minutes, not knowing how to tie its various story threads. Nonetheless, its worth a look since much of it does hold some promise, at least before the third act.