House of Clocks (1989) Lucio Fulci Knows What Time It Is
Back again with another slice of horror, and after tipping my hat to Dario yesterday, I thought it only fitting to talk about the other big name in Italian horror, Lucio Fulci.. The Godfather of Gore's career was winding down by the late 80s after a disastrous turn directing Zombi 3, and I expect he readily jumped at a job making a pair of Made for Italian TV films. He made two for the series, today's film House of Clocks (La casa nel tempo) and The Sweet House of Horrors. While late in his career, this is a Fulci trying to regain his game, and he did such a gory good job they wouldn't air the movies. So these went straight to a video release, which is a real shame because Fulci indeed did know what time it was. it was time for one last shot of adrenaline in a career that had hit many stumbles. So, Fulci took a moment to roll back the clocks to an earlier sharper flavor whole keeping plenty of murder, mayhem, and killer geriatrics in the 1989 film House of Clocks.
Sara and Vittorio Corsini (Bettine Milne and Paolo Paolini) are an elderly couple of live in a large mansion with their maid Maria (Carla Cassola), who suspects the couple are up to skulduggery. Late one night, Maria stumbles into the chapel to find the moldering bodies of the Corsini's gold digging Niece and Nephew. The next day Maria hands in her notice, but gets impaled in the vagina by Sara instead. After an visit from the police, the couple gets an unexpected guest when a young girl, Sandra (Karina Huff), stops in to use the phone to get help with her car. It's all a ruse for her friends Tony (Keith Van Hoven) and Paul (Peter Hintz) to bust in to rob the place. It all goes horribly wrong when the psycho Corsini's fight back. The kids murder the old folks and their gardener (Al Cliver). As the night wears on, the hooligans settle in, but when they notice that the clocks have begun to run backwards, it is too late to escape the spectral septuagenarians back for revenge. As the Balzac quote which bookend's the film says, "If time turned back, our sins would also have to start anew.."
So let me lay it right out there about House of Clocks. The plot is laughable, rife with plot holes and false endings. The acting is uneven (and not done any favors by the poor dubbing job on my copy). The special effects are gruesome and, more often than not, way over the top. However, the simple fact is that I loved House of Clocks. Perhaps with late run Fulci and Made for TV in mind I had my sights set low, but with only a light touch, House of Clocks could and should have garnered a feature release. Working from a script co-written with legendary Italian genre writer Gianfranco Clerici, the film takes a fresh approach to revenge, zombies, and even time travel. Even though the action doesn't loop in on itself, House of Clocks felt like a spiritual fore bearer of films like Time Crimes, Triangle, and, in another way, High Tension. Coupled with a good old stew of Fulci gore, including a throat cutting, several graphic shootings, and the aforementioned vaginal implement, House of Clocks surprises as a tense little tale full of enough surprises to make an Italian horror or Fulci fan glad they watched. On the other hand, for someone not baptized in the blood of the gialli may find the mish-mash of time travel, brutal murder, and dark comedy outside of their wheelhouse.
While I say the acting is uneven in House of Clocks, I actually mean in a disproportional amount. The trio of Van Hoven, Hintz, and Huff are stock stupid kids, and they are such terrible assholes that there's never anyone to get behind. Bettine Milne and Paolo Paolini rule this picture, and their separate performances as everyone's grandparents, if they had gone insane and had some kind of magic time power. When either of the actors turn the switch from genial geriatrics onto psycho seniors, despite the poor dub job, it was impressive to see. Paolini will be a familiar face to fans of Cannibal Holocaust and Argento's second in The Three Mothers Trilogy, Inferno. Milne has less genre cred, but she did appear as Satan's grandma in the Italian Omen ripoff Dammed in Venice. The best thing I can say about Karina Huff is that she looked like a blonde version of my friends wife so that kept throwing me, but she was something of a minor muse for Fulci appearing in his film Voices From Beyond as well. Al Cliver is, of course, Al Cliver, and if you like Italian films, get to know Al Cliver because you'll be seeing him around. In the only indulgence to Fulci's eye fetish, Cliver's gardener appears with only one eye and skin grown across the other.
There are a couple of things going into my rating of House of Clocks. First off, I enjoy a Fulci film. So sue me. Are they all very good? Nope, but some are better than others. I would call House of Clocks some. Secondly, it was way better than I expected which always makes for the danger of coloring judgement in favor of the film because as a viewer I was surprised that it was good. Even so, I think it is fair to say that at 84 minutes, I would sooner watch House of Clocks than Touch of Death or Ghosts of Sodom again. Letting go of the splat for splatters sake of a film which features a vaginal spearing for no reason, Fulci actually attempts to grasp for a broader meaning with this horror film, almost a terrifying parable. Blending the campy, the horrific, the strange, and giving it a twist of though provoking, Lucio pulls through a late career gem which shouldn't be slept on. So set your alarm for, House of Clocks. What? I held onto most of the clock jokes. I didn't go Cuckoo. I gave you a hand. I didn't even go for seconds. Hour you all doing out there? Hmmm, they all left, probably to check out this flick.