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Lucio Fulci - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2008

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Without a doubt, Lucio Fulci is one of the most prominent Italian horror directors, at least among genre afficionados, and his name is regularly cited along other Italian horror greats like Mario Bava [Mario Bava bio - click here], Riccardo Freda or Dario Argento ... which is not all that fair because Fulci may have made some genre classics, but his output as a whole was remarkably uneven while Freda's, Bava's and Argento's oeuvre was always rather consistent (despite the odd failure), and he only found to all-out horror relatively late in his career, starting out in (of all things) comedy.

That all said, if Fulci really put his mind to it, he could turn out excellent shockers (even if they were never far from trash), and despite the fact that he is nowadays mainly known for his gore flicks (in which the violence sometimes bordered the extreme), he did actually know how to create suspense and atmosphere (which he ably demonstrates in his early gialli as well as his gothic trilogy), and when he claimed that many of his not so great films were destroyed (on an artistic level) by inconsequent, incompetent and greedy producers combined with meagre budgets, I'm sure that he was at least partially right - though his claim that the only difference between his films and those of Dario Argento was the budget might be stretching the facts a bit ...

 


 

Early Life, Early Career

 

Born in Rome, Italy in 1927, he was still in his teens during World War II, yet he reportedly fought at the side of the Resistenza against fascism.

After the war, he immediately attended medical school and worked as an art critic on the side. Eventually his interest in art took over and he studied filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia under none other than Luchino Visconti. Graduating from filmschool in 1948, Fulci initially tried to make it as a documentary filmmaker along Carletto Roman, but soon he gave up that line of work to become an assistant director and, more importantly, screenwriter from the early 1950's onwards.

 

As a screenwriter, Fulci soon specialized on typical Italian comedies often starring the great Italian comedian Totò (a comedia dell'arte actor who started his career back in 1917 and who has been in the movies since the late 1930's), or other popular comedians still in their formative years. At the time, Fulci was associated with many big name Italian comedy directors, especially Steno, whose career, spanning from the late 1940's to the late 1980's, makes him one of the most persistent and most prolific Italian comedy directors as such.

 

By and large, Italian comedies of the time were not big on scripts or sophisticated dialogue, they depended more on slapstick scenes, a few musical numbers, a bit of topical humour (which is why Italian comedies often seem a tad odd when seen out of context), and a star with enough charisma to carry a film - reasons to both love and hate Italian comedies.

 


 

Lucio Fulci, Comedy Director

 

After spending around 10 years as scriptwriter and assistant director, it was almost inevitable that Fulci was offered a job as director eventually. Actually, he was offered to direct Totò all'Inferno, which he co-scripted, back in 1954, but he turned it down, feeling it would be too much Totò's film lacking his own input as a director - which was probably right (the directing job eventually went to Camillo Mastrocinque by the way).

 

In 1959 though, Fulci got married and suddenly found himself in need of money - so when the chance to direct a movie came along (again, actually), he didn't turn it down - even if it was another film starring Totò, I Ladri/The Thieves (1959). But while the film, a low budget comedy, turned out to be a box office failure, Fulci was soon to get more directing assignments, at first almost exclusively in the comedy and/or musical genre:


  • Ragazzi del Juke-Box/The Jukebox Kids (1959) was a rock'n'roll musical (or musicarello, as they are often called in Italy) that featured Elke Sommer and Antonio De Teffè (= Anthony Steffen), plus popular singer/comedian Adriano Celentano in one of his earliest film roles.
  • Adriano Celentano was the star of Uratori alla Sbarra/Howlers of the Dock (1960) alongside singer Mina, Elke Sommer and Chet Baker, while in Uno Strano Tipo/The Strange Type (1963), Celentano plays a village idiot supposed to impersonate - Adriano Celentano. Rosalba Neri is also in this one.
  • In 1962, Lucio Fulci had his first breakthrough as a director, when he directed Franco Franchi and Chiccio Ingrassia, a popular comic duo that has been together on stage since the mid-1950's, in one of their first feature films, I Due della Legione Straniera/Those Two from the Legion (1962), and Fulci is in fact credited with creating a good deal of their screen personalities. Over the years, Franchi and Ingrassia would make over 100 films together, most of them fairly successful, and Fulci directed a good bunch of their early output. In all, Franchi and Ingrassia might be best comparable to American comics Abbott & Costello.

  • Flix.com

  • Franchi and Ingrassia are also in one episode each of Fulci's anthology films Gli Imbroglioni/The Swindlers (1963) and I Maniaci/The Maniacs (1964), the latter one also starring Barbara Steele [Barbara Steele bio - click here].
  • I Due Evasi di Sing Sing/Two Escape from Sing Sing and I Due Pericoli Pubblici/Two Public Enemies (both 1964) and I Due Parà/Two Parachutists (1965) are all crime/adventure comedies yet again starring Franchi and Ingrassia while 002 Agenti Segretissimi/002 Most Secret Agents (1964) and 002 Opeazione Luna/002 Operation Moon (1965) put the duo into context of James Bond spoofs. And then there's - once again starring Franchi and Ingrassia - the Come ... (or How we ...) -series of films, consisting of the army comedy Come Inguaiammo l'Esercito/How we Got into Trouble with the Army (1965), Come Svaligiammo la Banca d'Italia/How we Robbed the Bank of Italy (1966) and Come Rubammo la Bomba Atomica/How we Stole the Atomic Bomb (1967).
  • Fulci's last film with Franchi and Ingrassia was Il Lungo, il Corto, il Gatto/The Tall, the Short, the Cat (1967), a convoluted comedy about a weird inheritance and - you guessed it - a cat. After that, the comic duo and the director, who had since started to branch out into genres other than comedy, went stheir eperate ways.


Away from Franchi and Ingrassia, Fulci made his last handful of comedies, starting with Operazione San Pietro/Die Abenteuer des Kardinal Braun/Operation St.Peter's (1967), a film with numerous so-so allusions to the Catholic church that tries to cash in on the Father Brown series created by G.K. Chesterton (a character Operation St.Peter's' lead Heinz Rühmann played twice in the early 1960's), but placing him in the unlikely context of an Italian crime comedy. The esult is less than satisfactory, with only American veteran gangster actor Edward G.Robinson giving a decent performance.

 


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After Operation St.Peter's, Fulci pretty much abandoned the comedy genre for good, he only got back to it three more times: 

In 1972 he made All'Onorevole Piacciono le Donne (Nonostante le Apparenze... e purché la Nazione non lo Sappia)/The Eroticist/Senator Likes Women, an a tad silly erotic comedy co-starring Lando Buzzanca, Lionel Stander and Laura Antonelli with once again allusions to the Catholic church that by and large fails to be as intelligent as it's supposed to be though. 

Il Cav. Costante Nicosia Demoniaco, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza/Young Dracula/Dracula in the Provinces (1975) is a horror comedy that likens vampirism to modern day industrialism but the film unfortunately once again stays behind its possibilities. This one once again stars Lando Buzzanca, plus Rossano Brazzi, Sylva Koscina, Moira Orfei and John Steiner. 

And finally, there's the Edwige Fenech (erotic) comedy La Pretora/My Sister in Law (1976), which is pretty much as subtle (and as funny) as Italian erotic comedies from this era tended to be.

 


 

Branching Out: Westerns, Gialli, Adventures, Period Pieces

 

Though having amde quite a name for himself as a comedy writer, Lucio Fulci was never too happy a comedy director, basically because he thought comic actors (especially the talented ones, naturally) would always take over his films and make them theirs - which is of course totally comprehensible as a good comedian invariably has to put his stamp on a film to make it work as a comedy, regardless of the director's pride. Actually, as I have already mentioned above, this is why Fulci was hesitant to get into comedy in the first place.

 


Flix.com

However, it took Fulci quite some years to shake his reputation as a comedy man, and it was not until 1966 that he made his first serious film, the Western Tempo di Massacro/Massacre Time starring a young Franco Nero [Franco Nero bio - click here] who had at the time just made Django (1966 Sergio Corbucci), but the film had not yet made him into a big star. Massacre Time was made at the height of the spaghetti Western boom and it did feature a familiar vendetta story, but Fulci managed to include quite a few existentialist elements in the film one simply wouldn't expect from a film like this.

 

Even though Massacre Time was a reasonable success though (as spaghetti Westerns tended to be in the mid-1960's), it took Lucio Fulci three more years to make more non-comedies, but with 3 films in 1969, he finally established himself as a non-comedy filmmaker.

 


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Considering the Italian film industry at the time, one of these films was almost naturally another Western, Los Desesperados/Quei Disperati che Puzzano di Sudore e di Morte/A Bullet for Sandoval (1969), which Fulci co-directed with Julio Buchs and which starred Ernest Borgnine and George Hilton. Over the next ten or so years Fulci would return to the Western genre every now and again.

 


Then there was Beatrice Cenci/The Concpiracy of Torture (1969), a period piece starring Tomas Milian which suffers a bit from an indecisive screenplay but which seems to be a herald for things to come with its proto-horror plotline and its many scenes of torture and sexual perversion. Plus, once again Fulci mocks the Catholic church, something he has grown good at over the years (and an element that would pop up every now and again in his future films as well, even his gore shockers of much later).

 


The most important of Fulci's three 1969-films (at least considering his later career) is the giallo (= Italian murder mystery, often incorporating horror elements and mad serialkillers) Una sull'Altra/One on Top of the Other/Perversion Story (1969), a film about a man (Jean Sorel) whose carefully planned insurance scam that includes the death of his wife (Marisa Mell) backfires ... or indeed has he been tricked in the first place? In 1969, it has to be noted, the giallo genre was still in its infancy, and Dario Argento's L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo/The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), considered by many to be the genre-defining film, hadn't even been released yet - yet Fulci delivers a stylish and moody crime thriller, even if many of the plottwists are incredibly far-fetched (something that many gialli have in common, actually).

 

The giallo was a genre completely to Lucio Fulci's liking: He loved the almost mechanical plots, the notion to favour the story over the actors (as opposed to comedy's reliance on strong leads), and the many opportunities to create atmosphere and suspense, something which Fulci, when he put his mind to it, was quite good at. So it comes as little surprise that over the years prior to his coming out as horror director, he would return to the genre every now and again.

 



In fact, Fulci returned to the giallo genre pretty soon, in 1971 with Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna/A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and again in 1972 with Non si Sevizia un Paperino/Don't Torture a Duckling. Both films showed the director at the height of his game, creating tension, suspense and atmosphere like nobody's business and putting the whole thing in a stylish frame. Sure, the plots of both films were a tad weak on logic (actually a weakness of the genre as such, as mentioned above)), and the films were not as glossy as comparable films by Dario Argento or Sergio Martino (who back then were the top giallo-directors), but they were gripping and exciting films nevertheless that are effective even by today's standards.

 


Even though A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Don't Torture a Duckling were both reasonable successes, Fulci then turned his back on the giallo genre (for a while at least) to make a couple of films based on Jack London's novel White Fang: Zanna Bianca/White Fang (1973) and Il Ritorno di Zanna Bianca/The Return of White Fang (1974), both starring Franco Nero [Franco Nero bio - click here], Virna Lisi, Raimund Harmstorf and John Steiner. And while both these films are reasonably well-made and were even reasonably budgeted, they at the same time show that adventure movies (for the whole family) were simply not Lucio Fulci's strength, and his disinterest in the films is shown in many a scene that could have been an exciting action setpiece in the hands of a more ambitious director. Fact is, more like the films of most other directors you always could see how interested Fulci was in any particular film simply by his directorial effort. And judging by that, he did not care too much for his White Fang-films.

That said, the White Fang-films were pretty successful and quite a few more were produced in Italy over the course of the next few years, though without the participation of Lucio Fulci or any of his principal actors.

 


Flix.com

Fulci followed his Jack London-adaptation with a Western, a genre he has grown accustomed to over the years, I Quattro dell'Apocalisse/Four of the Apocalypse (1975) starring Fabio Testi and Tomas Milian as the villain, a violent and unusual film ... that did fail to reach its audience since the spaghetti Western genre as such - with the notable exception of Enzo G.Castellari's Keoma (1976) [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here] - was definitely on the decline.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

After directing two more comedies, above-mentioned Il Cav. Costante Nicosia Demoniaco, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza/Young Dracula/Dracula in the Provinces (1975) and La Pretora/My Sister in Law (1976), Fulci once more returned to the giallo genre with Sette Note in Nero/Seven Notes in Black/The Psychic (1977) starring Jennifer O'Neill - which bombed at the box office. This is rather a pity since the film - despite another plot that stretches credibility to (or even beyond) the limits - is very well-made, very stylish and suspenseful giallo, perhaps even Fulci's best (and certainly among those of his films he himself liked best). But in 1977, the time of the giallo was by and large over and the genre as such meant no longer box office gold.

 


Still, Seven Notes in Black must have impressed at least someone in India, as in 1991, the film got its Hindi remake with 100 Days (Partho Ghosh) starring Madhuri Dixit and Jackie Schroff, a film that left Seven Notes in Black's storyline more or less intact but added a few song-and-dance numbers - and didn't turn out at all bad actually.

 

While in 1977, the giallo was no longer box office gold, the spaghetti Western was pretty much box office poison in 1978 - yet for some reason, Lucio Fulci made another Western (his last) that year, Sella d'Argento/They Died with their Boots on/The Man in the Silver Saddle starring Giuliano Gemma in a serius role. But unfortunately was the film not only made at the wrong time and thus a failure at the box office, it was also Fulci's worst Western, a story about a gunman (Gemma) and a young boy (Sven Valsecchi) bonding in the violent old West - a storyline that is already doomed to fail from the beginning.

 


 

Lucio Fulci, Gore Director

 

In 1979, Lucio Fulci had been a director for 20 years, yet his filmography did still lack direction: Sure, he had made himself a name as a comedy director in the 1960's, but he had by and large turned away from the genre in the following decade, making all kinds of movies, some pretty good ones even, but failing to deliver what one would call his signature film. This should all change in 1979 though, and ironically with a film that he had made as a director-for-hire.

 

The previous year, George A.Romero's Dawn of the Dead/Zombi (1978), a film about flesh-eating zombies actually co-produced by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, made sensational box office worldwide, and since the Italian film industry as a whole was always quick to follow every trend - at least if it was a formulaic genre fare -, producers were quick to jump the bandwagon, but none was obviously quicker than Fabrizio de Angelis, a notorious but successful trash-producer - among other things he had his hands in Joe D'Amato's Black Emanuelle-films [Joe D'Amato bio - click here] and would later produce and direct the Karate Warrior-films. In no time,  de Angelis had made up a script for another flesh-eating zombie film by Elisa Briganti which he even planned to market (at least in Italy) as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead (Italian title: Zombi) to cash in on Romers's successful film to the fullest extent.

 

 

The film in question is of course Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), and originally the film was to be directed by action specialist Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here], who declined though stating that horror and gore were just not his thing - a statement hard to argue with considering Castellari's track record so far. So producer de Angelis next approached Lucio Fulci, who after two box office failures and with a career that has somewhat lost direction, gladly accepted.

However, while Zombie Flesh Eaters sounds like little more than a mere copy job by a hired hand, the actual result was turned out to be something quite different: First of all, despite a similar subject matter (flesh eating zombies), Zombie Flesh Eaters chose a vastly different setting (a Caribbean island as opposed to Dawn of the Dead's mall), plus Fulci's film did not neglect the zombies' voodoo roots like Romero did, and Fulci's film totally left out the social commentary Romero's film was so big on. 

Instead, Fulci really seemed to understand the attraction of the genre as such and put in many a quite creative gore scene, like the famous splinter in Olga Karlatos' eye and a fight zombie vs shark (possibly an attempt to cash in on Steven Spielberg's immensely successful animal trasher Jaws from 1975 as well). And somehow, even the film's almost annoyingly monotonous music works for the movie here, not against it, while the decidedly B-list cast - Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos - has surprisingly little (negative) effect on the full effect of the movie.

With Zombie Flesh Eaters, Fulci also developed what would eventually come to be considered his personal style: The camerawork in his films from Zombie Flesh Eaters onwards consists of lots of zoom-ins, shows a fascination with gore, and close-ups of eyes pop up with extraordinary frequentcy. In all, Fulci's way of directing shockers was nothing for the squeamish.

 

The results at the box office were astonishing: According to reports, Zombie Flesh Eaters became an even bigger success worldwide than Dawn of the Dead, plus as a crowning moment, the film was put on the infamous British video nasties index and therefore banned from the UK for many years (not the last time that would happen to Fulci), and all of a sudden, Lucio Fulci's future career was all laid out for him: He has become a gore director !

(Of course, being on the British video nasties index was a disaster for the film's success in the UK, obviously, but it also gave the film a certain notoriety that was just priceless.)

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Fulci did not immediately follow up Zombie Flesh Eaters with another shocker though, he first directed the tv-series Un Uomo da Ridere (1980) starring Franco Franchi and the violent gangster pic Luca il Contrabbandiere/The Smuggler/Contraband/The Naples Connection (1980) starring Fabio Testi, which is actually a very effective (if not particularly original) action flick - a genre that Fulci, interestingly enough, had so far by and large neglected (even if his films in other genres, especially his gialli, did at times feature quite well-handled action setpieces).

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Later in 1980 though, Fulci made one of his best films, at least one of his best horror films: Paura nella Città dei Morti Viventi/City of the Living Dead. This film is, as the title might already suggest, another film about the dead rising from their graves to attack the living. But instead of once again relying on voodoo like in Zombie Flesh Eaters, this time the dead rise because someone tries to open the seventh gate of hell - and it's up to our heroes, a reporter (Chrisopher George), a psychic (Catriona McCall), a psychiatrist (Carlo de Mejo) and a painter (Janet Agren) to close it again. Actually, the plot doesn't make all that much sense, and it seems to be little more than a hanger for one gore scene after the other - but on closer inspection, City of the Living Dead is a horror masterpiece, a shocker that relies heavily on a very creepy and otherworldly atmosphere and follows the logic of a nightmare rather than relying on realism and plausibility - which is actually a good thing because horror as such is deepy rooted in nightmares.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com


Flix.com

City of the Living Dead was in 1981 followed by two more films that were quite similar in atmosphere, storyline and nightmare-logic (which is why the three films were eventually christened Lucio Fulci's Gothic Trilogy), but each of these films seemed to come across as even more effective than the last. These films were L'Aldilà/The Beyond and Quella Villa accanto al Cimitero/House by the Cemetery, both also starring Catriona McCall and both equipped with equally confusing and confused screenplays that surprisingly work for the films and not against them.


Flix.com

Interestingly, just like Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond and House by the Cemetery made it onto the UK's video nasties-list - which shows how little the censors understood (or wanted to understand) the horror genre as such.

 

While the films of the Gothic Trilogy are true horror film classics though (which to this day are still underapprecited by many an undistinguishing film critic and film historian), other films Fulci made during that era are by far less accomplished and might put into question the notion of regarding Lucio Fulci as a true auteur: Il Gatto Nero/The Black Cat (1981), a film with a relatively stellar cast (Patrick Magee, David Warbeck, Mimsy Farmer, Al Cliver, Dagmar Lassander) only allegedly based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe is nothing short of silly - actually when watching the movie one can't help but wondering if anyobody responsilbe for it has ever read Poe's original story.

 


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Flix.com


Flix.com

Regarding pure entertainment value, Lo Squatatore di New York/New York Ripper (1982) is far more satisfying than The Black Cat, but that said, New York Ripper is anything but a masterpiece, rather a flashy, trashy and sleazy giallo with strong BDSM-undercurrents. Sure, the film still is fun, if you are the guy for this kind of entertainment (and I know I am), but it's far cry from Fulci's artistic heights with films like his Gothic Trilogy or in fact his earlier gialli that were far more refined and less dependent on cheap effects.

 


Flix.com

But while New York Ripper was at least entertaining, if on a rather lowbrow level, the same cannot be said about Manhattan Baby (1982), a totally confusing and confused mess of a movie about kids possessed by an Egyptian spirit or something (I'm not even quite sure about that) somehow reminiscent of The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin).

Again, Fulci has thrown plausibility (and linear storytelling, as a matter of fact) overboard in Manhattan Baby, but what worked like a charm in the Gothic Trilogy just refuses to work in this one, basically because Fulci's heart doesn't seem to be in the movie, and so, instead of delivering another piece of fascinating nightmare-filmmaking, Fulci made this film into nothing more than an unintelligible mess, and what's even worse, a boring mess, too. 

Thing is though, Manhattan Baby boasts amazing production values other (better) Fulci-films could only dream of, including massive location footage shot in both Manhattan and Egypt and convincing special effects - but all, apparently, to no avail ...

 


 

The Long Decline

 


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After Lucio Fulci had made seven shockers in just four years (and some of them are even good), he decided to stray away from the genre again (but not too far) and try himself out in fields yet unexplored:

First there was La Conquista/Conquest (1983) starring Jorge Rivero and Sabrina Siani, a barbarian flick quite obviously inspired by the success of Conan the Barbarian (1982, John Milius) - there were quite a few Italian Conan the Barbarian rip-offs in the early 1980's actually -, which was followed by I Guerrieri dell'Anno 2072/The New Gladiators/Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984) starring Jared Martin, Fred Williamson and Al Cliver taking obvious cues from the original Rollerball (1975, Norman Jewison) and Stanley Kubrick's classic A Clockwork Orange (1971) - without matching (or even trying to match) either film's social relevance.

 

Neither of these films became a big success (both commercially and artistically), so Fulci returned to what he could do best in a declining Italian film industry: making shockers - actually, for the remainder of his active career as a director, Fulci would never again stray away from the horror genre. At best though, Fulci's films from the mid-1980's onwards were a mixed bag of goodies: While some of them were quite ok, many of them were marred by their very limited budgets and clumsy special effects, and some were outright abysmal.

 


Murderock - Uccide a Passo di Danza/Murder Rock/Slashdance (1984), the film that marked Fulci's return to the horror genre, was not exactly a highlight in Fulci's filmography. Somehow its focus on an overconvoluted mystery plot on one hand and the bland slaughtering of attractive teens on the other beautivully marks the transition from the classic Italian giallo to the more current slasher movie, but Fulci doesn't manage to impress in either category. However, it isn't the approach tot he genre as such that makes Murder Rock a failure, it's the ill-adviced idea to blend the slasher formula with elements of dance movies like the then immensely successful Flashdance (1983, Adrian Lyne), a combination that simply cannot work out - and as a matter of fact it didn't, the elements of the two genres just refuse to work out with each other at all. 

Truth to be told, not even all that many bad movie lovers find Murder Rock worth a look.

 


After Murder Rock, Lucio Fulci came down with viral hepatitis that eventually developed into cirrhosis and that almost cost him his life. As a result, he was unable to work for two years, and when he finally returned to filmmaking in 1986, things had changed for the worse: The horror genre had almost completely lost the drawing power it had in the early 1980's, gore was no longer fashionable, and the Italian film industry was virtually on its last leg, about to admit defeat to the Hollywood blockbuster. In that respect it is rather surprising that Fulci found producers for his films at all, but he had to work now on very low budgets, and the remaining few films he made varied from ok to horrible, without any more masterpieces in the vein of his gialli, Zombie Flesh Eaters or the Gothic Trilogy.

 


The first film Fulci made after having recovered from his illness was actually one of his better ones from that era, Il Miele del Diavolo/Devil's Honey/Dangerous Obsession (1986), an interesting excursion into sadomasochism starring Corinne Clery and Brett Halsey and featuring more sex and nudity than usual in a Lucio Fulci film - but on the bright side the film at least tries to be more than a piece of sleaze.

 



The Italo-Yugoslavian co-production Aenigma (1987), the story of a comatose student whose spirit returns to have her revenge on those who bullied her in her dorm, might be more on the silly side and features a waggonload of 1980's teen clichés (including garish makeup and hair and synthiepop aplenty), but it still features some nice gore setpieces to make up for its shortcomings.

 


Things took a turn for the worse in 1988. This year saw the release of the long-awaited (?) sequel to Zombie Flesh Eaters, the Filipino-lensed Zombi 3/Zombie Flesh Eaters 2/Zombie 3, a film that, to put it simple, did not work in the least: Where Zombie Flesh Eaters was highly atmospheric and creepy (if trashy) and featured many an interesting and memorable gore setpiece, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is just a tired piece of going through the motions that totally lacks a coherent script or likeable characters and shows no love for the genre at all. Plus, the directorial effort in this film is so terribly bland one wonders if Fulci cared at all ... and according to all reports he didn't as he left the set before the movie was finished and Bruno Mattei (not exactly an inventive or even terribly talented director) [Bruno Mattei bio - click here] took over to do the rest. As a result, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is the only one of his films that Fulci has ever disowned.

 


Almost as bad as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is Fantasma di Sodoma/The Ghosts of Sodom/Sodoma's Ghosts (1988), an atrocious shocker about Nazi spirits haunting a gang of your typical bland teens that is probably only memorable for being one of the last films featuring (still young) Jessica Moore [Jessica Moore bio - click here], who naturally has a (topless) nude scene in this one.

 


Flix.com

Quando Alice Ruppe lo Specchio/Touch of Death/When Alice Broke the Mirror (1988) on the other hand is a surprisingly entertaining (if gory) film about a modern Bluebeard who kills his wives in the most cruel of ways - but having said that, the film plays more like a macabre comedy than a serialkiller flick, even if Fulci eventually seems to abandon the macabre, comedic undercurrents of the film.

 


Around this time, Fulci also became involved with the production of a few films by other directors, presumably mainly to have his still prestigious name in the credits, because the films as such were all forgettable little shockers. These films included Non Aver Paura della Zia Marta/The Murder Secret/The Broken Mirror (1989) by Mario Bianchi, Massacro/Massacre (1989) by Andrea Bianchi, Bloody Psycho (1989) by Leandro Lucchetti, Fuga dalla Morte/Escape from Death (1989) by Enzo Milioni, and Hansel e Gretel (1990) by Giovanni Simonelli. By themselves the films are of little interest, but somehow they would pop up later in Fulci's career.

 

In 1989, Lucio Fulci was also hired to do two films for a four-part horror anthology series, Le Case del Terrore, with Umberto Lenzi doing the other two [Umberto Lenzi bio - click here], but for whatever reason, the series was never aired - which was probably just as well, because while La Casa nel Tempo/The House of Clocks (1989) - the story of three low-life punks who want to rob an odd couple who turns the table on them until rather by magic the tables are turned again - is at least a so-so entry into Fulci's filmography, La Dolce Casa degli Orrori/Sweet House of Horrors (1989) - here the spirits of two killers make friends with two kids - is truly abysmal.

 



In 1990, Fulci announced what sounded like his most interesting film in a long time, Un Gatto nel Cervello/Nightmare Concert/A Cat in the Brain. In this film he himself was going to play a horror director haunted by his own horrific visions, and Fulci promised plenty of gore.

And that film, it just has to be said, turned out to be a major disappointment. Sure, it delivered the promised story and it featured plenty of the promised gore, but while the plot of the film was plain silly, at times unintelligible and was taking itself much too seriously, the gorescenes were almost all lifted from earlier movies, both his own (Ghosts of Sodom, Touch of Death/When Alice Broke the Mirror) and above-mentioned movies he merely produced, The Murder Secret, Massacre, Bloody Psycho, Escape from Death and Hansel e Gretel, rather clumsily incorporated into the plot of Nightmare Concert. And as neither of the movies Fulci borrowed from was very good (with the possible exception of Touch of Death), neither of course was Nightmare Concert - I would in fact go so far as to say it was an especially unnecessary piece of tired trash (but that's of course merely my opinion).

 


Flix.com


Flix.com


Flix.com

Fulci's remaining three movies were nothing great, but at least they were improvements over Nightmare Concert and other films he had made of late:

Demonia (1990) is the story of an archeologist haunted by the spirits of five nuns who died centuries ago.

Voci dal Profondo/Voices from Beyond (1991) somehow manages to blend the ghoststory- and giallo-formula to quite some effect, even if the film is marred by a low budget and a bunch of horribly clichéd scenes. And despite having presented in 1991 at the Cannes film festival, it wasn't actually released until 1994.

Finally, Le Porte del Silenzio/The Door to Silence (1991), a film produced by Joe D'Amato [Joe D'Amato bio - click here], is about a man who has premonitions of his own death - or indeed has he ? And while the film is decidedly not a masterpiece, it is not without interest. Interestingly, for this film (Fulci's very last directorial effort), Lucio Fulci was billed as H.Simon Kittay because his own name, despite all of his successes, was no longer considered bankable.

 

After The Door to Silence, Fulci's career went on a hiatus. It was the beginning of the 1990's, and the state of the Italian (genre-)film industry was worse than ever before. Cinemas by then had pretty much completely been taken over by Hollywood blockbusters, and the Italians had even lost out on the video market to their American competitors. Apart from that, gore films had lost their novelty value, and their popularity was on the total decline, and the horror genre as a whole found less and less of a market, being killed off by a few too many installments of a few too many ailing (American) movie franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween.

During this time, Fulci concentrated on writing, and he published a few (horror) stories in Italian books and magazines.

 


Flix.com

Everything was about to change in 1996 though, when a project was announced that seemed to be a dream-come-true for every fan of Italian horror cinema: Fulci was to direct Maschera di Cera/Wax Mask, a special effects-laden film to be produced by none other than Italian horror maestro Dario Argento (a man towards whom Fulci actually had mixed feelings), which was to be written by Fulci and Argento. This would have been a major development in Fulci's career, as for the first time in years he was to be given a decent, even high (by Italian standards) budget, plus better distribution channels than his previous films.

Unfortunately though, this was simply not going to happen, as in early 1996, while already busy with pre-production of the film, Fulci died from diabetes-related causes - and with him went one of the last big names of Italian horror.

 

Wax Mask, the film that was to be Fulci's comeback, was eventually made in 1997, directed by Italian effects wizard Sergio Stivaletti (who of course also did the effects on the film), but the result is at best mixed. On one hand the film looks slick as can be and the special effects are top notch, on the other hand its story is pretty pointless and predictable and it lacks strong characters - and the film's plot as such is almost drowned by the special effects. The question is of course, what would have Lucio Fulci made out of the screenplay with the same ressources at his disposal ?

Pretty hard to say, but it's a good bet that he would have made the film a lot creepier, blunter (but blunt in a good way) and more violent - at least if one caught him on a good day ...

 


 

Closing Words

 

It's not an overstatement to say that when Lucio Fulci died in 1996, with him died one of the last name-directors of Italian horror cinema.

That said though, it should also be noted that Fulci's body of work as a whole, and especially his work in the  horror genre, varied significantly. While Zombie Flesh Eaters and the Gothic Trilogy are nowadays deservedly considered genre classics, his gialli from the 1960's and 1970's deserve rediscovery, and even the trashy New York Ripper manages to somehow impress, he has made especially in his later years a waggonload of trash (which to be quite honest was quite often some shortsighted producer's fault rather than his), and quite often he himself or others tried to capitalize on his name alone rather than on the quality of his work.

 

Having said all that, Fulci still deserves his good name in horror history, and despite the many bombs in his filmography, the man has given us hours upon hours of compact genre entertainment - sometimes good, sometimes trashy, sometimes both -, and undoubtedly he was one of the directors who really pushed the envelope (considering violence and gore) and helped shaping modern horror cinema - and that's no small feat for an Italian director who started out as a comedy writer.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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