Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lucio Fulci's The Eroticist (1972) review

Cardinal Maravigli: "You can make the presidential palace a brothel as far as I'm concerned, just do it once you're president!"

Most movie fans cringe when they hear the name Lucio Fulci. They think of rotting zombies and guts spilling everywhere in a lake of gore and putrescence. Fulci made around 58 individual motion pictures from 1959 to 1991, and it's only in the final quarter of this body of work that he made the horror films he's known for throughout the world. But what about the earlier ones? Few ever made it out of Italy at the time.

What's surprising--or not considering one's take on comedy and horror--is that the great majority of Fulci's output were comedies. He also directed a number of spaghetti westerns, a Jack London story (White Fang with Franco Nero,
and some of the best giallos ever lensed like A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, The Manhattan Ripper, and Don't Torture a Duckling.

The truth is, there were many sides to Lucio Fulci.

"The Eroticist" is one of those movies whose images never leave you, which is quite an achievement for a social and political satire wrapped in a sexual farce! But it's not that difficult in the hands of such a skilled director as Fulci and the flesh parade of Laura Antonelli, Anita Stringdberg, the handsome and hilarious Lando Buzzanco (as the senator), Agostina Belli, and a gaggle of nunsploitation sex-pots. It doesn't need to be repeated that the 1970s were that "decade of violence" in Italy, but the Eroticist is a good reminder of how absurd and explosive Italian politics were at that time.

Fulci created this story and co-wrote the screenplay with two other writers, Alessandro Continenza and Ottavio Jemma. Making this film in Italy in 1972 took guts, something Fulci had plenty of, he was unflappable. The Eroticist is a film that's both blasphemous and sexually redemptive besides being a very pointed political satire. You don't have to be familiar with Italian politics to understand it.

The story is fairly simple: an Italian Christian Democrat (as in Germany, the party the fascists joined after the war) senator named Gianni Puppis (the square-jawed Lando Buzzanco) is heading for the "highest office in the land," the presidency of Italy. Puppis has been so caught-up in his rise in politics that he's never had sex--and yet he's still Italian. This being a slam on Italian politics and politics in general, viewers might think that senator Puppis might seem demonically possessed as part of this delicious sexual farce, but he's not, and that's what makes this a movie that speaks loudly to our own scandal-ridden era or any other modern era. Hypocrisy is universal.

Senator Puppis is, simply-put, just a very horny man in a profession that doesn't allow for it. His only alternative is to head towards life, leaving the old one behind. This is something he struggles with, and the results are uproariously funny. Fulci even patterned Buzzanco's appearance after a real Christian Democrat senator!

Yet, the senator isn't possessed by anything unnatural--we find--it's just that he needs to get laid. He begins by subconsciously engaging in some grabb-ass at public events he has to preside over! On one occasion, he grabs the ass of the president of India! Enter Fulci's favorite target: the Vatican. For anyone even mildly acquainted with Italian politics, one knows that the Church is that constant irritant blocking as much progress as possible and that they still meddle in the elections and the ways of life and government of a nation.

Whenever you see a zombie in a later Lucio Fulci horror, it's a reference to the "dead hand" of the Church, the Italian curse. Fulci--to his credit--hated the Vatican as most reasonable people do, and they get special treatment here. Puppis is the Vatican's and the Sicilian Mafia's man. The Vatican is represented by Cardinal Maravigli (played by American actor Lionel Stander, the guy with the croaky-voice from tv's 'Hart to Hart'--he was also in Polanski's forgotten "Cul-de-Sac" and Spielberg's "1941").

And so, we get one sexual escapade after another, a kind of "what's he going to do next?" comedy. Will the senator be able to control himself? Will his handler, Cardinal Maravigli be able to watch him and keep him out of trouble until after Puppis has won the presidential elections? Sending Puppis to a convent filled with German nuns doesn't work--he has sex with all 21 of them, and why not? Far from being the sexless "fag" that his political rivals thought he was, il senatore is making up for lost time in a big way. Embarrassing? Si! Better for the body and the body politic? Si!

There are so many hilarious and embarrassing moments of sexual humor here, and as usual, the photography and composition are as luscious as they are in even the goriest of Fulci's work. Will senator Puppis win the presidential election, or will he decide to be a normal man with a normal and healthy sex life? He cannot have both. Fulci seems to be saying that one cannot truly live when one focuses their life purely on the pursuit of power and influence. Sinning, then, is normal and human, a better path.

Regardless of religious repression, the forces of life prevail. The Eroticist also says a lot about why we think our politicians shouldn't have a good sex life (considering how they behave, it could be a
torture that is earned ), but attitudes towards this have changed substantially in Europe, and certainly in France. Still, the Church has its undying influence...