Interview: Mike Baronas, Lucio Fulci

Mike Baronas has had a hankering for horror since his impressionable, pre-teen years of the 1970’s. Growing up in front of the television, Saturday afternoons found him enveloped in WLVI Channel 56’s Creature Double Feature, the Massachusetts staple for Hammer and giant monster (Gamera Vs. Guiron being his favorite) classics.

The move to more graphic styles of filmmaking came about almost by accident when Baronas, an avid fisherman by the age of 12, was intrigued by a movie about his favorite bait called Squirm. To this day, his father’s voice still resonates, “Uh, Michael, you’re looking a little green,” after the film’s poor redneck slob gets a little too frisky while out in his boat and is pushed face-first into a gaggle of electrified nightcrawlers that proceed to burrow under his skin and up into his head. This shock left an indelible impact… and a curiosity that needed to be satiated.

The above introduction was taken from Mike’s site, Paura Productions. For more on his life, and all the work he has done tracking down Italian stars for film’s supplementary material and on his own Lucio Fulci documentary, Paura – Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1, please see that site.

And now, a one-on-one chat about the Italian master himself, Lucio Fulci:

Gavin Schmitt: Mike, why have you invested so much time and money into honoring Lucio Fulci?

Mike Baronas: I was 15 when I sat through my first Fulci film, THE GATES OF HELL. It was during the VHS boom of the mid-1980s. I was transfixed on its atmosphere and visceral beauty as it was unlike any Hollywood horror movie I had ever seen. I immediately noticed the true craftsmanship and wanted more, renting the obtainable classics at that time like ZOMBIE, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH. In college I began ordering unreleased titles such as ZOMBI 3 and AENIGMA through underground video dealers. Then in 1996 I had the opportunity to meet the Maestro at his one and only US convention appearance in New York City. While I attempted to interview him for a magazine I was writing for at the time, a tremendous blizzard was on the way and we left in the nick of time. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to speak with him as he passed away 3 months later.

Since then I have been learning bits and pieces about who he was through those that worked with him and put out a memorial DVD back in 2008 called PAURA: LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED. It was the first of two volumes I’m looking to complete to pay tribute to this man that inadvertently helped in deciding my career path. It has been an amazing journey thus far.

GS: What is volume 2 of “Paura” going to cover?

MB: It will basically follow along the same lines as the first volume because Lucio worked with SO many people in SO many different genres. I toyed with the idea of asking current directors how they might have been influenced by Lucio, as well. In any case, it’s moving very slowly, so I couldn’t possibly give you a potential release date.

GS: He was a critic of the Catholic Church, as evidenced in “Don’t Torture a Duckling” (1972). Is it safe to say that criticizing the Church in Italy is a bigger deal than doing so here?

MB: Of course, as Vatican City is part of Rome and Catholicism’s ground zero. I’m sure there was even less tolerance when it came to speaking against the Church then than now, making such outcries even more taboo in cinema.

GS: Later on, Fulci would say, “I’m a man who searches for God and who has doubts.” Where did his search take him?

MB: Not one person I’ve spoken with discussed his religious ways directly, so I couldn’t say for sure.

GS: Although his biggest success was from 1979-1982, Fulci worked in film for many decades. Can you identify at least one underrated work of his?

MB: Without a doubt it’s BEATRICE CENCI from 1969 starring Tomas Milian and the breathtaking Adrienne LaRussa. It’s a gorgeous period piece that happened to be his favorite film. I still can’t believe it hasn’t received a proper DVD release here in the US.

GS: Where can die-hard fans track down a copy of “Beatrice Cenci” and who should we petition to release a decent DVD?

MB: A German company, New Entertainment World, released a decent version a number of years ago. I think Severin would do a great job with Beatrice Cenci as there is a bit of sleaze to it and they have done a noble job releasing some of Lucio’s lesser-known films like THE EROTICIST & ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER.

GS: What brought about the shark versus zombie scene from “Zombie”?

MB: I’m quite sure it was scripted as such. I’ve heard that the original stuntman was conveniently sick for the scene so the shark’s trainer had to step in and wrestle with it. It probably made the whole sequence better in the end as the zombie showed no fear in attacking that poor drugged-up fish.

GS: Jim Harper has called “Zombie 3” (1987), “sloppy, derivative and stupid”. Would you care to defend the film?

MB: Defend it?? No, because you can tell it’s a complete clusterfuck while watching it. It does have some memorable scenes – like the head flying from the refrigerator – but it’s not a film to be taken seriously like Fulci’s Gothic horrors. It’s a tongue-in-cheek comedy for the most part and hardly should be called a Lucio Fulci film as Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso both had a hand in finishing it when the director had taken ill.

GS: Fulci described himself as “mild” and “weak”. What do you think his personality was?

MB: Having met him and from all I’ve been told, Lucio was a perpetually grumpy individual. He was an intellectual and very cultured, but was never really taken seriously as his hygiene and manner of dress were often grungy.

GS: An intellectual how? What were his interests outside of film?

MB: He was a writer of books, screenplays and even songs, most notably for crooner Adriano Celentano – the Italian Elvis – who had major hits with the Fulci-penned “24,000 Kisses” and “Your Kiss Is Like A Rock”. He was much more than the gore film director most want to remember him as.

GS: At times, Fulci was a sharp critic of Dario Argento. Fulci accused Argento of claiming to be the creator of the zombie film, called him a bad writer, called his music “false” and said his work was too repetitive. What can you say on this apparent feud?

MB: Daria Nicolodi told me there was no true feud per se, but I’m sure the budgets he received for his films in comparison to Argento’s did piss him off to some extent. He did the best he could with what he was given. I truly wish that THE WAX MASK wasn’t taken out of Fulci’s hands as it would’ve been an endearing chapter closed for the both of them on this subject.

GS: It has been written that Fulci died of diabetes, but “some unanswered questions remain about his death.” Can you elaborate on this?

MB: I’ve heard numerous things from numerous people like Fabrizio Jovine who witnessed Fulci’s insatiable sweet tooth as he plowed through a dish of hard candy in a single sitting, stuffing the wrappers between seat cushions. So it’s obvious he didn’t take very good care of himself in that respect.

I’ve also been told that on the night prior to his death he had a large piece of chocolate cake before retiring to bed, forgetting to take his insulin injection. There is some speculation surrounding this but no investigation was conducted to my knowledge.

GS: Obviously, Fulci is one of the biggest names in horror. More specifically, though, what are his influences on the horror genre?

MB: Lucio was a visual director and very in your face about it. He knew his audience and gave them what they wanted and obviously much of what he did still holds up today.

GS: Some have called Michele Soavi the successor to Argento. Could anyone be considered the new Fulci?

MB: Not at the moment, as the film industry in Italy is spotty at best. Budgets have primarily been for television projects for years now. In fact, when I met Michele, he was shooting a movie-of-the-week for RAI.

GS: Why are Italian horror DVDs so expensive, often asking as high as 15 or 20 bucks for a used copy of, say, “Cat in the Brain”?

MB: Licensors got wise to the value of these films with the DVD boom in the early 2000s and costs for DVD companies to obtain them skyrocketed. For example, I heard second-hand that the cost of Fulci’s ZOMBIE back in 2000 from Variety was $10,000 and today it’s 10 times that!! Prices haven’t come down much and it’s probably why films like BEATRICE CENCI will never see the light of day stateside.

Thank you, Mike, for your wisdom and knowledge… again, for more on his work, check out his website. To support me, consider ordering Fulci products from the Amazon Page at this link.

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