Thursday, January 06, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: City of the Living Dead

I continue to rant like a mad man that Tarantino alludes to other movies in an interesting interpretive way -- the same way Milton alluded to epic poety.

[a priest stares at a woman in a car and her eyes begin to bleed, a trail of blood from each eyeball running down her cheek. You can see it here but be warned it is VERY gross:


[Thurman kills GoGo and her eyes bleed down her cheeks. You can see it at 3 minutes in here:

City of the Living Dead is a Lucio Fulci movie, an Italian horror movie that, like Scanners, is primarily built around the technical ability to make gross things happen to bodies. The plot is really beside the point, but the gist of it is that a priest has killed himself in a cemetery and opened the gates of hell. A psychic has a vision of this and joins with a newspaper guy to go to the town and stop it. They only have 48 hours because All Saint's day means it is too late. Horrible and gross things happen in the town, our guys manage to go underground and re-kill the undead priest. The plot really makes no sense.

The town of Dunwich, where the movie takes place is built on the remains of Salem, but I feel like Salem is not so much in the form of remains. I feel like there is a town of Salem. Though there is a time limit to save the world, characters causally stop for food and seem in no hurry. When they arrive the deadline has actually passed, but no one cares. Our psychic is buried alive in New York City, and our newspaper man gets her out with a pick-axe, nearly killing her. A scene shows someone being embalmed, making you wonder why that step was skipped before they buried our psychic. Also, it seems that the final scene in the movie was damaged and Fulchi just made due. Our heroes emerge from the crypt safely and this nice kid they were looking after runs up to them in the daytime backed by the police. It is all smiles and sunlight but then the psychic just looks disturbed and starts screaming off camera for no reason. The end. It is a pretty fun movie.

Tarantino actually name checks City of the Living Dead in the Kill Bill script apparently, though I have not seen it myself. He supposedly compares the bit where Thurman is buried alive to the scene in City of the Living Dead where the psychic is buried alive. They are both women buried alive, but there is not much more to the connection there. Thurman get's herself out, the psychic has a man get her out, so that is a kind of revision (my heroine can do more than yours). But there is not really a visual echo there so I let it be.

The scene above is the beginning of the movie's first gore set-piece. The undead priest appears where these two kids go to make out, stares hard, and the girl's eyes start bleeding. You will be thankful to know I cut here as it gets much much worse -- she vomits all her internal organs. The actress actually swallowed a plate of tripe and regurgitates it.

The Kill Bill link is not exactly a lock. If you want to show a character bleeding from the eyes, chances are that someone has done it before, and it is going to be hard not to make it look similar. Whether you were inspired to go with eye bleeding because you wanted to allude to the earlier movie is tough to prove.

I also do not know what to say about the Kill Bill link aside from The House of the Blue Leaves certainly alludes to a lot of diverse material, which makes me think this is an allusion too. It is a connection between martial arts gore and Italian horror gore, a connection not dissimilar to elsewhere where he connections Italian Spaghetti Westerns to Samurai movies. The only problem with this is that there IS a connection between Westerns and Samurai movies -- many Westerns are based off of Samurai movies. The martial arts Italian horror connection (which should totally be the name of a band) I don't really know what to do with. It does not seem like enough to say that the genres justify or reinforce each other.

It also does not make too much sense to say that Tarantino is really trying to outdo Fulci. Kill Bill is very violent, and the violence is often over the top, but it is in no way Fulci-esque, except maybe here. It does not feel like he is trying to say "Hey, Fulci, look how much better I can do your thing." He adds an aesthetic quality to Fulci maybe. In Fulci the eyes bleeding are gross and a prelude to one of the grossest things I have ever seen on film. In Tarantino the bleeding eyes are weird moment of beauty. Perhaps this is his revision on his source -- to make something aesthetic out of grindhouse's anti-aesthetic material. Now that I think about it that may be a way of looking at the whole Kill Bill project. Or he finds the beauty in Fulci that other lesser directors would pass by.

I could go crazy and make an argument similar to the one I made about Watchmen in my book: the return of the dead in The City of the Living Dead parallels the return of films past that "haunt" Tarantino's movie; the girl who vomits up her insides (in City of the Living Dead's first set piece) parallels Tarantino "purging" himself of his influences in the House of the Blue Leaves (Thurman's first battle chronologically). The fact that I am not 100% sold on the link is keeping me from developing this point in more detail.

On a side note: is The City of the Dead also referenced in X2?

[Lady Deathstrike's eyes bleed Adamantium tears because Wolverine has hit her with the injection gun. 3 minutes in here: ]


Mutantville Productions said...

Interview with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti.


Geoff Klock said...

Thanks Streebo! I knew you would comment on this one.

David said...

Great blog, and an incredible job on your analysis of the allusions in Kill Bill. I invoked Dante (and his tendency for auto citation) in an article on Death Proof for my own blog, and it's nice to see someone with so much cred make the QT/Epic Poetry connection.

About Fulci-
Have you seen "The Psychic"? It's a much subtler Fulci film, Argento-esque. It's the story of a girl traumatized by witnessing her mother's death who becomes clairvoyant and gets wrapped up in a series of murders that turn out to be committed by her husband. In the end she gets "Cask of Amontilladoed" by him and the credits tragically role.

The movie has an extremely memorable theme that Tarantino lays down over the Bride waking up from her coma. The Bride had also been incapacitated (in the dark?) but not killed by her "serial killer" (isn't that what Bill is?) husband, except where Fulci roles the credits QT's just getting started.

Again, thanks for the INCREDIBLE series of posts on Kill Bill.


Geoff Klock said...

I have seen the Psychic but I have not yet had the chance to blog about it. It is pretty awesome. But doesn't the watch play the song so she gets saved at the end because everyone knows she is in there?

David said...

Good call, I thought they walked out and THEN just the audience got to hear the 'seven notes in black'. They have in on youtube at a very high quality. Here's the ending in question—

I still think the allusion's interpretive; like the burial reference to 'City of the Living Dead' it shows that The Bride can save herself. Where Fulci's victims need an intrepid male reporter or detective to save them, the Bride gets herself out of her own jams.

Geoff Klock said...

I think that is exactly right!