Italian 'Godfather of Gore' Lucio Fulci had a very storied career. Making a start with just about any projects under the sun, he eventually moved onto horror and carved out a big name for himself. His movies were often known for their bleak tones and extreme violence, as well as surreal atmospheres. Fulci sadly passed away in 1996, leaving Door into Silence as his last film.
Melvyn Devereux is an insurance salesman on his way home from a funeral, when he meets a mysterious woman. She says they've met, but he can't place her, nor does she give a clue. As he drives through a blocked-off road to get home quickly, Melvyn finds himself repeatedly harassed by a hearse, and close examinations reveal sinister information about its contents. As the journey gets harder, and he has repeated encounters with the mystery woman, Melvyn grows more desperate, and is compelled to discover who's lying in the hearse...
Door to Silence is a decent little film. Produced for TV, it represents a bit of a change for Fulci, who attempted something more low-key. It's worth knowing this going in, so any gore fans aren't disappointed at the total lack of a body count here. While not a masterpiece, this is able to stand on its own without needing any flashy effects or death scenes, which probably would've felt out-of-place in such a story.
The biggest drawback here is that the movie's structure is a bit dull. The majority of Door into Silence is Melvyn driving. It's never boring, and there's always something happening, so it's not like we're watching Manos: The Hands of Fate. But still, it is quite slow, repetitive at times, and it's surprising how the film seems all ready to set up one thing, only to forget about it. For example, when Melvyn's car breaks down, I was fully expecting the mechanic to say "Sorry, this'll be an overnight job", and the remainder of the movie would portray this man trapped in a creepy town, encountering all sorts of horrors during this odyssey. Instead the car actually is fixed in 15 minutes, and despite having booked a motel room, Melvyn leaves immediately, with nothing really being accomplished.
The story is reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode, and is building towards a big twist the whole time. I figured it out only a few minutes in, and it's really not hard. He's dead the whole time, and the mystery lady is death. This kind of plot has been done a million times, and I guess even Fulci realised this, because the twist seems to become - halfway through. What matters is how well you tell a story, even if it s an obvious one, and a talented writer can turn even the most hoary of cliches into something unique. Door to Silence handles it satisfactorily, but it's nothing special.
There is some confusion though. If Melvyn was dead the whole time, how can he interact with people? But then some people he knows can't see him. And when he dies at the end, it only seems to happen because he was dead the whole time!...Am I making sense? Well, he died because he tailgated that spectral limo one too many times. But since it was a ghost limo that was carrying his own dead body, how can it kill hm? This isn't a huge plot hole or anything, and probably could be adequately explained with a further rewrite, but as it is it's a bit of a muddle.
The scares in Door to Silence are never extreme, and like I said, we don't see anyone getting their heads lopped off or brains eaten. The film does maintain a good atmosphere throughout, and I appreciate its subtlety. One of the biggest scares of the film is when Melvin reads the names on each coffin at the mortuary.
Our protagonist Melvyn is a bit of a dickhead. He ignores road safety, thinks he knows best, tailgates like a maniac, and readily cheats on is wife despite admitting to the other woman that he's happily married and loves his partner. This all helps build a strong portrayal of a flawed and truly stubborn man. He consistently ignores signs, big or small, he doesn't have to tailgate the guy, and has an opportunity to just leave, but refuses to take it. What he says to his father's grave at the start really solidifies his viewpoint. It's a little thing, which I didn't think about until near the end, but it indicates his refusal to back down, how ingrained it is into him, and why.
The hearse driver is portrayed as almost villainous, though I honestly sided with him. I'd beat the shit out of this guy too, tailgating me for a hundred miles before trying to mess up my work, not to mention despoiling the dead.
Temporary hitchhiker Margie breath of fresh air. She's a goofball, and while she has a bit of an abrasive personality, she adds something to the proceedings, unlike before, when Melvyn had exactly no-one to interact with, besides a one-sided 20 seconds with a washboard player. She turns out to be a bit of a skank, before revealing herself to be a prostitute. Because hookers normally force their way into your car, ask for a lift, then steal your booze before coming on to you. This leads to a bizarre almost sex scene, and the whole exchange is over before you know it.
The last major character to mention is palm reader Martha Devereux She has a bubbly personality, and it's appreciated to finally see Melvyn interact with someone who knows him, and doesn't treat hm like shit. Her scene with him has a neat spooky moment, though her end doesn't make much sense.
The actors do decently here. John Savage is an alright lead, and carries the film well. Sandi Schultz is effectively enigmatic as the mystery woman, though could've done with more screentime. Richard Castleman manages to make a simple driver into a villain, Jennifer Loeb is sexy and cute, and Mary Coulson adds some levity to the last act.
The score here is predominately made up of jazzy tunes, which fit the setting. Though some of the action beats sound a bit ill-fitting, more at home in a tv adventure show, rather than atmospheric horror.
Door to Silence returns to an old haunt of Fulci's-New Orleans. It's nice to revisit these locations after seeing them in The Beyond, and it's fitting this his final film include them. Beyond that, we have an effective series of locations, from the always eerie and sparse causeway, to ramshackle old towns, truckstop diners, a secluded forest, and an African American church.
As Lucio Fulci's last film, I'd say Door to Silence is a disappointment. Like I said, it's not bad, but it's just too small-scale and uneventful to really make for a good sendoff. It's more of a whimper. Fulci had intended to keep going, with a swansong Wax Mask, but he sadly passed away before it could happen. At the very least, Door to Silence is something different, and while it may not be the best sendoff for a horror legend, it's at least a novel one...