AN ENIGMA SURROUNDING FULCI

There was a time where a female eye gauging, neck strangling, head bashing, limb cutting, spider drowning and face melting were awesome, funny to watch, and not to mention, a hell of an evening to spend with your friends. This incredibly brutal, but ultimately safe environment was created inside the films of LUCIO FULCI. Known as ‘THE GODFATHER OF GORE‘ (a title that he shares with HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS, the other ‘Godfather of Gore’), he established secure gore fests, where even teenagers anticipated every frame to be filled with blood. When he was tired of the same ol’ magic trick, he tried to experiment, but that decision let the fans to believe that he lost his mojo. Why would he do that? A Fulci movie without gallons of blood? Fulci is doing what, a comedy? From that moment on, his career was doomed to die, like a poultry during duck season. In the midst of his downfall, one abomination emerged struggling to remain on the surface, simply named AENIGMA. A comatose teenage girl, named KATHY (Milijana Zirojevic), gets her revenge on the bastards that put her in a coma, by possessing a newcomer that arrived in her school. It’s a revenge flick, but this one has an unhealthy low percentage of gore. As a stubborn director that he was, he directed this little sprightly piece of work in former Yugoslavia, the town of Belgrade (today a capital of Serbia), but he didn’t bother to check the exotic spelling of his actors’ names, when they appeared on the screen during the credits. On the left picture is the original name as it appears in the credits, on the right is the correct way to spell the name (omg, the apostrophe is way wrong!).

Robert Anderson: ‘He was an old fashioned top down regisseur –
a didactic director working out his visual and dramatic
ideas with human props. He was a driven man with a
furious work ethic and volatile temper.’

THE CHARACTERS

Not only are the characters stiff and wooden fan memorabilia figures, they also don’t undergo the slightest change throughout this mini spectacle. Not even the main character EVA (Lara Lamberti) ends up somehow different as in the beginning of the film.

Stephen Thrower: ‘Instead of being an eighties
sex android the female lead looks toothy and rather plain.’

Most characters fail to show any kind of reaction or emotion besides screaming or laughing and that is what this low budget movie really needed, to get the Fulci crowd hooked,but it turns out it’s not exactly the actors’ fault.

Lara Lamberti: ‘Fulci was in fact more technical. However, we had some talk about the characters before we started shooting. When we were shooting, he usually would tell us what to do, rather than talking about the emotions behind the actions. It drove him crazy when people didn’t function technically the way he wanted it. He had the scene in his mind and it had to be done that way. I remember a young girl with a small role who had her own ideas about the way she wanted to work. She was looking for the expression that comes out of the emotions, while Lucio just wanted to see her actions the way he had designed them. He didn’t care whether she found the real emotions inside herself or not. Their encounter ended up every day with Lucio screaming and the girl crying. Her character ended up being almost completely cut out.’

image007

FULCI’S STYLE

Lara Lamberti: ‘We were shooting all the time in Yugoslavia, with no break at all. The producers were in Rome and didn’t visit. So there was no interference on the set.’

Although Fulci wanted to go into a different direction with this movie, and he had the freedom to do so, he didn’t exactly run away from his specific style. Most of Fulci’s motifs are inside this movie because they are the structure of all his movies.

  • PROLOGUE – Most of Fulci’s movies have a story before the main story, in this case it’s the story how Kathy wound up in coma.
  • SURREALISM – Every story includes a supernatural phenomenon. In this movie it’s surreal how Kathy possesses Eva and brings Havoc to the school.
  • NEW PLACE – The main character is coming as an outsider into the happening, just as Eva does.
  • PAINTING – It’s always a disturbing painting connected to the murders, so it’s not hard to guess if there’s one in Aenigma
  • DROWNED IN INSECTS – One victim has to be covered in insects, in THE BEYOND, a guy was covered with spiders, and here it’s snails that cover the victim.
  • HEAD INJURY – Every Fulci film has victims lose their heads, bash their heads, melt or disfigure them in some nasty way by the murderer.
  • NEGATIVE ENDING – Most of his movies have a bleak and unsatisfying ending for the main character. Kathy deserved a happy ending, but Fulci didn’t think so.

THE DEATHS IN AENIGMA

  1. A phys teacher is STRANGLED by his double
  2. A girl is COVERED in snails, which causes sour wounds
  3. A girl is STRANGLED by a statue in a museum
  4. A girl JUMPS through the window after seeing Kathy as a vision
  5. A guy gets DECAPITATED by the window after looking for his girlfriend

The deaths in Aenigma have lost their disturbing creative character of Fulci’s previous films, because Fulci’s focus was drawn to something else.

Lara Lamberti: ‘ Lucio was bitter and lonely. He had a very rare form of hepatitis – today I would think it was hepatitis C – and couldn’t really eat. He sat at his table with his daughter and swallowed down his rice without any condiment, while we all had fun; we were eating good stuff and were sitting together at other tables.’

HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR KATHY TO KILL WHILE LYING IN COMA?

Well, that’s ‘an enigma’ in Aenigma, isn’t it?

image013

First things first! This movie is not a Giallo film; it ain’t a slasher flick either. So what is it? It’s a revenge movie, but a revenge movie with a supernatural twist. The name AENIGMA is very significant. The letters A and E are written together (Æ), like a closed entity, and that represents a grapheme, a letter used in several languages, like Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic. It means ‘ash tree’ and represents something like ‘rising like a phoenix from the ashes’, just like Kathy did. She is brain-dead, but she came back to have her revenge. But how is that possible?

It’s really a tough one to figure out, but if you pay close attention, it’s evident that Kathy’s mother, nicknamed ‘crazy Mary’, pulls all the strings. She doesn’t talk much, or interferes into other people business, since she is the loyal janitor inside the college, but when she is left alone, her eyes turn red and that is a direct hint that she has some kind of powers. Telekinetic powers. Kathy is her daughter which suggests that she has powers too. That power came to good use, when Kathy’s spirit is leaving her body in the hospital and she yelled out:

‘I can’t die!’

Her powers are also evident on the brain-activity monitor and on the tape the doctor is recording (no information, just a lot of question marks). Both are signals that something isn’t quite right with her.

Kathy is present in two places at the same time, as a body in coma, inside the hospital, and as a spirit inside Eva.

Many scenes are specifically designed to show how Kathy’s spirit is inside Eva’s body, thus repeating something we already know multiple times. Since that is not enough, there is a detective on the case (played by Fulci himself) who, of course, can’t figure it out, then there is the doctor, who is asking himself questions to which he already knows the answers to, but the most surprising character is the doctor’s assistant, who at this point in the movie, seems like Sherlock fuckin’ Holmes:

Doctor: ‘How can the person have the memory of another person?’
Assistant: ‘Because she is that person!’

SYMBOLISM AND METAPHORS

THE EYES

Throughout Fulci’s filmography, it is evident that he has a special relation to the eyes of the characters. They are either pierced through like in Zombie 2:

Or the eyes are a sign that your soul is forever gone, like in The Beyond:

In Aenigma, Fulci has also used the eyes to tell a specific message.

Peter Hutchings explains what the message is, in the best possible way:

‘In many ways the eye is the principle human organ for horror cinema. Directors will frequently use close ups of the eyes of victims, wide and helpless, and monster narrowed and aggressive, to accentuate the sadomasochistic thrills. In addition, injuries to eyes have contributed to some of the more assaultive moments in horror, invoking as they do an audience’s sense of vulnerability about this softest and most exposed of organs.’

THE NUMBER THREE AND THE WOMEN

Many elements are connected to the number 3. Characters, scenes and even the outcome of the movie entail the number 3. First off, Eva is greeted by three women working inside the college.

image043

Next up, exactly three women are killed during the movie. Two men are killed too, but that doesn’t make a difference, since the main character focuses on women.

Near the end of the film, the showdown goes down inside a mortgage with all three bodies of the victims present.

image051

The number 3 is carefully chosen, in Chinese language it symbolizes that ‘someone is alive’. We all know who they are talking about! Three women are down. Eva/Kathy is alive and she is about to kill the fourth victim, but sadly Kathy’s mother pulls the plug on Kathy in the hospital and Kathy’s spirit disappears from Eva’s body. So, the fourth victim means Kathy’s death, just as the number 4 symbolizes ‘death’ in the Chinese language. Also present in the film are many religious themes:

1. Number three or the HOLY TRINITY. The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit, which is the equivalent to Kathy’s mother, her daughter Kathy and Kathy’s spirit.

2. The catholic school Kathy and Eva are attending is called SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE and the welcome committee represent the three Graces, they are the only positive characters inside the film.

image061

3. One victim dies inside the museum after seeing the painting MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS by Guido Reni.

‘The work shows a series of episodes at the same time but is classically composed with each element carefully mirrored by an answering one.’

It represents the metaphor how Kathy is in different places at the same time and that she wants to kill everyone that was involved in her accident.

YELLOW

A very remarkable colour is present in the movie, the colour yellow. It first appears as the colour of the bed post of our beloved main character, but as the movie goes on, it becomes clear that everyone connected with Kathy is marked with that colour.

image063

The yellow sweatshirts, the phys teacher’s shirt, the broom of crazy Mary or a yellow lamp are all hints for the audience to pay attention to these characters. They all will go through immense pain during the movie. The colour itself means ‘drawing attention to’ and ‘amusement, optimism’, as well as ‘envy, jealousy’, just like the emotions Kathy is going through. In China, an emperor by the name HUANG TI (the yellow emperor) explains how his memory is connected to objects which surrounded him as a child that were yellow in colour:

‘It made me understand from my most tender age that I was of a unique essence, and it instilled in me the consciousness of my “celestial nature” which made me different from every other human.’

Kathy’s nature is also different from any other character in the movie and she is unconsciously drawn to the colour yellow.

Robert Anderson: ‘He was a perfectionist; and filmmaking is the absolute wrong profession for perfectionists unless you are working in animation or have a huge budget and squadrons of qualified assistants.’

JUSTICE ON THE WRONG SIDE

A prank. Mean students. And gone is Kathy’s life. She was innocent, didn’t harm anyone. She was in love with the phys teacher, but he played a cruel joke on her. When Kathy came back as a haunting Spirit, cruel students as well as the teacher are portrayed as victims. Wait, what? And till the end of the movie Kathy is portrayed as a cold and unforgiving monster, although none of the ‘victims’ is sorry about what they did to Kathy. They deserve to feel pain. This was supposed to be some kind of ‘cautionary tale’, but Fulci went down the wrong lane. The movie treats real criminals as victims and the innocent girl as a monster. Instead of ‘It’s good to help others’; the message is more like ‘If you are young, you make dumb shit. But if someone is going to punish you for it, he/she goes down as the bigger loser.’ Even the almighty great and lovable doctor is a bastard in disguise.

Not only does he drive a red Porsche and takes students for a spin, who btw. are at least ten years younger than his manipulative persona, but he also cheats on Eva/Kathy right in front of her nose with another student. Fooling Kathy once was a big mistake, but fooling her twice? Come on! On top of that, she came back as the Spirit and through Eva’s body she experienced at least a little love, but what a shame, she always chooses the wrong guys, it seems. This guy doesn’t even get to be punished. No, he and the student with whom he’s cheating on Eva are living happily ever after. Life, or death just isn’t fair.

ENDWORD

Although not a masterpiece like THE BEYOND or A WOMAN IN LIZARD’S SKIN, AENIGMA is still a decent Fulci film and if we take his disease into consideration, it’s a wonder he even wanted to go on and make other movies. This film looks like it’s filmed during the concept phase, because many deeper layers are present, but obviously they are not well connected to make a richer texture. The characters are not developed enough and some effects are missing too, it seems. But if you’re into Fulci, you should consider this film a great effort, some directors wouldn’t sacrifice everything just to entertain you.

Reporter: Is the cinema the thing that counts most for you?
Lucio Fulci: ‘I ruined my life for it. I have no family, no wife, only daughters. All women left me because I never stop thinking of my job.’