The legacy of author Ambrose Bierce has survived primarily through one beautiful narrative trick, an Edgar Allan Poe- like "twist" ending he conjured for a famous short story in 1890. Variations on the idea have been seen in print and films ever since, most notably in the works of Luis Borges, who gave them a literary tone somewhere between the macabre and science fiction. Lucio Fulci's 1991 Door Into Silence (Le porte del silenzio) is a straightforward adaptation of the same idea.
Lucio Fulci is the Italian director most known for his gore horror films of the early 1980s -- Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond --- that followed the lead of George Romero, upping the ante for ghastly carnage. Fulci's cannibal zombie pictures were light in logic but often commendably atmospheric. The appalling gore effects were almost unthinkable for their time. I still have dread memories of The Beyond, where a shotgun blows teenage girl's head in two ... and she stares at us as she sinks to the floor. Nothing to take home to mother, but undeniably .... impressive.
Italian horror was undervalued in earlier decades, so filmmakers like Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti routinely used anglicized credits and U.K. talent to give the impression that their films were English in origin, which explains why English actress Barbara Steele became a star in Rome. Perhaps for the same reasons, Lucio Fulci filmed one or two scenes for Zombie in New York City. Exteriors for The Beyond went on location in Louisiana. Door Into Silence, Fulci's last film, returns to New Orleans and the Louisiana countryside. The main credits have also been almost entirely anglicized, including the credit for director Fulci and his noted producer Joe D'Amato. Why this was done isn't clear. Although now a household name among horror fans, Fulci's real notoriety took off only after his death, when quality versions of his classics finally circulated on DVD.
Horror fans wondering why Door Into Silence isn't like the earlier gore pictures need to be reminded that the first twenty years of Fulci's career were spent on crime films, comedies and even a western or two. Before climbing on the giallo bandwagon his major accomplishment was Beatrice Cenci, a story of love and cruelty in Renaissance times. An attempt at something different, Door Into Silence is severely limited by an all-too familiar script. At the very least, it's not about a mysterious portal or portals into the jaws of Hell -- a theme done to death in Fulci's work.
Star John Savage plays Melvin Devereaux, a businessman first seen staring at a tomb in a New Orleans cemetery. He's accosted by a strange woman dressed in white (Sandi Schultz) and then begins a frustrating day trying to get back to his home in rural Louisiana. Melvin is delayed by detours, wrong turns, car trouble, muddy roads and a teenaged hooker, but they're nothing compared to the odd behaviors he encounters. Motorcycle cops catch him sneaking past a safety roadblock, but don't write him a ticket. The mystery woman in white refuses to identify herself but says that they'll "meet at the crossroads". He can't get anyone on the phone. The main source of Melvin's anxiety is a mystery hearse that tries to run him off the road. He's beaten up by its driver (Richard Castleman) and arrested when he breaks into the hearse to see who's inside. He disrupts a gospel funeral service by mistake before tracing the real hearse to a funeral home. A holding room contains a half-dozen corpses of different men, all bearing his name on their coffins. The last coffin contains a strange surprise ...
Actually, the surprise really isn't a surprise. Any viewer of average I.Q., even those who have never heard of Ambrose Bierce, will immediately know what's up. All the clues point in the same direction, and there's little in the film to deflect our attention elsewhere. Melvin's adventures build no sidebar angles of romance or mystery, so we must be content to follow the man as he drives halfway across Louisiana, encountering every bridge, ferryboat and causeway en route. All of this is well filmed, but since the entire story happens in broad daylight in such ordinary surroundings, not a great deal of atmosphere is evoked. The balance of the cast is uneven in the acting department as well, with the post-synched dialogue not helping to make the minor roles credible. Savage later married his co-star Sandi Schultz, which may be the happiest success story to come out of the film.
Seemingly left on his own, John Savage underplays his character, perhaps too much. Nothing seems to faze Melvin greatly, even events that surely belong nowhere except in an episode of The Twilight Zone. About halfway through the movie we realize that Savage's character is going to passively accept all that happens to him, more or less. From then on it's a matter of waiting for the clock to run out.
The matter-of-fact shooting style doesn't support the script's attempt at an uncanny mood. Some of the people Melvin meets interact with him fairly normally, but a hunter behaves as if our hero is invisible. Events seem to happen in random order. After witnessing phenomena that should tell him that supernatural events are occurring, Melvin goes back to a lower level of agitation. Door Into Silence might be compared to Steven Spielberg's Duel, another "road" picture in ordinary surroundings. Spielberg uses precise visual details -- parts of an ordinary truck -- to sell the idea that the truck is possessed by the Devil. He also works his everyman driver into a mounting paranoid frenzy. By contrast, Melvin Devereaux seems too relaxed, and Door Into Silence remains at a subdued level of creepiness.
Fulci completists will be interested in seeing Severin's Door Into Silence, a very good encoding of a 1:33 transfer. Colors are better than acceptable and the image sharp; I enlarged and cropped the picture on a large widescreen monitor and the resulting image held up quite well. The disc has chapter stops but no extras, which makes me curious to know why the names were changed for the credits. Door Into Silence doesn't seem to have been released outside of Italy -- could it have been made with a hopeful television release in mind? That may account for the film's lack of conventional horror excess and nudity.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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