Il tempo di massacro (Massacre Time)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Fernando Di Leo
Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time is playing at Fantasia in conjunction with the Festival du Nouveau Cinema as part of the The Django Project. The series takes a look at the western genre, as appropriated by other cultures, as it blends with irony, excess and pop-art. Though best known for his giallo thrillers, Fulci’s Massacre Time is an exuberant and exciting spaghetti western. Starring Franco Nero in a role obviously evocative of his work in Django, he plays a prospector who must return to his home and reclaim his family’s ranch from a man named Scott and his sadistic son Junior.
Massacre Time opens with a bewildering pre-credit sequence demonstrating Fulci’s greatest assets as a filmmaker: The ever moving camera, the swift cuts and the perverse penchant for sadism. Following a man running through the woods pursued by dogs and the twitchy Junior brings to mind a world of nightmares, a universe that the film will drift in and out of throughout its running time. This feeling pervades the best scenes of the film, which bring to mind elements of surrealism and absurdity. The very best moments in the movie bringing to mind the best work of Fellini as well as Fulci’s accomplished evocations of the subconscious in Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.
After the credit sequence the film takes a brief dip in tempo, but it is quickly resumed once Franco Nero realizes something sinister is going on. The rest of the film is outstanding, a weird blend of irony and neurosis. The overabundance of zoom only seems to add to the swiftness of the film’s aesthetic, lending restlessness and uncertainty to the film’s mood. Nero stands strong as the film’s stoic hero, lending weight to the film’s premise. He is beautifully complimented by his brother played by George Hilton, who brings a refreshing lightness to his role. As Jeffrey Corbett, Hilton brings comedy and almost prescient foolishness to the character. He stands apart from the cruelness of the world he finds himself in, and through the haze of alcohol sees a deeper truth about this universe than anyone else.
Filled with one twist after another, Massacre Time is an exercise in aesthetic and narrative flexibility. It pushes the limits of expectations and with a restored copy and better resolution; it will no doubt take on iconic status along with the best of Leone and Corbucci. At times, the film takes on Shakesperean sense of the dramatic, elevating the material beyond its generic roots. Exciting, engrossing and palpable the film resonates deeply for any fans of aesthetics and genre.
Though Fulci does not always hit the mark as a filmmaker, at his best he demonstrates himself to be an apt showman and artist, who draws on the deep recesses of our unconscious to both thrill and disturb us. His work is often dangerously sexual, most often veering on the perverse. Even without any overt acts of sexuality, this film has strong ties to the sadistic works of the Marquis de Sade with a touch of homoeroticism to balance the scale. Though just a “simple” spaghetti western, the film feels like it enters a very authentic dreamspace that we most often associate with the greatest of auteurs. Though he would most often be a “for-hire” director, he demonstrated a strong sense of personality in all his projects. Massacre Time is one of his stronger pictures, and is a rare treat for the western fan.
– Justine Smith