Actor Film director Film producer Lyricist Screenwriter Writer

Lucio Fulci

Quick Facts

IntroItalian film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, lyricist
Known forMy Sister in Law, Aenigma, The House by the Cemetery, Howlers in the Dock, Sette note in nero, Don’t Torture a Duckling, Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, The B…
Was Film director
Screenwriter
Film producer
Actor
Writer
Lyricist
From Italy
Type Film, TV, Stage, Radio
Literature
Music
Gendermale
Birth 17 June 1927, Rome, Italy
Death 13 March 1996, Rome, Italy
(aged 68 years)
Star signGemini
Genre:
Spaghetti western
Horror film
Commedia all’italiana
Splatter film
Comedy
Western

Biography

Lucio Fulci ([ˈlutʃo ˈfultʃi]; 17 June 1927 – 13 March 1996) was an Italian film director, screenwriter, producer, and actor.

Although he worked in a wide array of genres through a career spanning nearly five decades, including comedy, spaghetti western, adventure, science fiction and comedy, he garnered an international cult following for his giallo and horror films. His most notable films include the “Gates of Hell” trilogy—City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981)—as well as Massacre Time (1966), One on Top of the Other (1969), A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), White Fang (1973), Four of the Apocalypse (1975), Sette note in nero (1977), Zombi 2 (1979), Contraband (1980), The Black Cat (1981), The New York Ripper (1982), Murder Rock (1984), and A Cat in the Brain (1990).

Because of the high level of visceral graphic violence present in many of his films, especially Zombi 2, The Beyond and The New York Ripper, Fulci is frequently referred to as “The Godfather of Gore”, a title also given to Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Fulci was in his young adult years a politically active radical for the Italian Communist Party.

Life and career

Lucio Fulci was born in Rome on 17 June 1927. His mother was from a very poor Sicilian, politically anti-fascist family, from Trastevere. Fulci’s mother’s relationship wasn’t well-liked by parts of the family.

Fulci grew up during WWII. After completing high school, he became interested in art, music and cinema. He was enrolled in the Giulio Cesare state classical school and began attending intellectual circles with the Italian Communist Party. At this time all his friends were also communists and rebellous and they formed the paper Fabbrica. He also wrote two early scripts which were never filmed.

After studying medicine in college and qualifying as a Doctor, he then switched careers and became employed for a time as an art critic, writing for Gazzetta delle Arti and Il Messaggero, and also joined the critical art group il Gruppo Arte Sociale, he then opted for a film career, working in theatres and then as a director of documentaries, then a screenwriter working initially in the Italian comedy field, and later as a director beginning with I Ladri in 1959.

Fulci was arrested by the Police while demonstrating with the Communist party, whose members was angry after an assassination attempt on party leader Palmiro Togliatti was committed by Antonio Pallas (a fascist student and member of Fronte dell’Uomo Qualunque). The attack on Togliatti caused political crisis in Italy and calls for a general strike. After this incident and the ongoing tensions in the country, his relationship with his family was also tense and chaotic, being kicked out by his mother and lived a tough and poor life, but eventually began working in a movie theatre and got into the film business.

In the 1960s, Fulci wrote or directed around 18 Italian comedies, many of them starring the famous Italian comedian team of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia.

Most of these early films did not enjoy wider distribution in English-speaking markets, and are thus generally unavailable in English. Fulci’s first film to be distributed theatrically in the USA was Oh! Those Most Secret Agents! in 1965. Only three of his other 1960s films were released in the U.S.: Massacre Time (as The Brute and the Beast in 1968), Una sull’altra (as One on Top of the Other in 1973) and Beatrice Cenci (as Conspiracy of Torture, in 1976).

Fulci then moved into directing giallo thrillers with Una sull’altra (1969), A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) and Sette note in nero (The Psychic, 1977), as well as Spaghetti Westerns such as Four of the Apocalypse (1975) and Silver Saddle (1978), all of which were commercially successful and controversial in their depictions of graphic violence. Some of the special effects in A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin involving mutilated dogs in a vivisection room were so realistic that Fulci was dragged into court and charged with animal cruelty until he produced the artificial canine puppets that were used in the film (created by special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi).

His first film to gain significant notoriety in his native country, Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), combined scathing social commentary with the director’s trademark graphic violence. Fulci had a Catholic upbringing and referred to himself as a Catholic. Despite this, some of his movies (Beatrice Cenci, Don’t Torture a Duckling, City of the Living Dead, etc.) have been viewed as having very anti-Catholic sentiment. In one of his films, a priest is depicted as a serial child killer, while in another film, a priest commits suicide by hanging himself in a cemetery and is later reincarnated as a demon.

In 1979, he achieved his international breakthrough with Zombi 2, a violent zombie film that was marketed in European territories as a sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead/ Zombi (1978). He followed it up with several other horror films, also featuring zombies, which were popular horror film trope of the time. His features released from 1979 through 1982 (most of them scripted by famed Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti) were described by some critics as being among the most violent and gory films ever made. City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The Black Cat (1981), The New York Ripper (1982) and Manhattan Baby (1982) were among his biggest hits, all of which were noted for their extreme content and significant amount of gore.

Several of Fulci’s movies released in America were edited by the film distributor to ensure an R rating, such as The Beyond, which was originally released on video in severely edited form as Seven Doors of Death. Others were released Unrated in order to avoid an X-rating (as with Zombi 2 and House by the Cemetery) which would have restricted the films’ target audiences to adults. The unrated films often played worldwide in drive-ins and grindhouses where they developed a cult following. Many of Fulci’s horror films tend to contain “injury to the eye” sequences, in which a character’s eyeball is either pierced or pulled out of its socket, usually in lingering, close-up detail.

Several of Fulci’s movies were prohibited in Europe or were released in heavily cut versions. Of the original 72 films on the infamous video nasty list in the United Kingdom, three belonged to Fulci: Zombi 2 (1979), The Beyond (1981), and House by the Cemetery (1981). After viewing Fulci’s The New York Ripper, not only did the British Board of Film Classification refuse the film a certificate, but every single print in the country was taken to an airport and returned to Italy by order of James Ferman; it was not until later that VIPCO allowed the release of the film, initially outsourcing production to a foreign source under police supervision before releasing a VHS in 2002 and a DVD in 2007.

After collaborating with screenwriter Sacchetti for six years, Fulci went off on his own in 1983 to direct the movie Conquest (a Conan-like barbarian fantasy) in Mexico, failing to involve Sacchetti in the deal. The film did poorly upon its release, and afterwards, Fulci had trouble jump-starting his working relationship with Sacchetti, who by that time had gone his own way.

Fulci became ill from hepatitis in 1984, right after he finished directing Murder Rock in New York City, and had to be hospitalized in Italy for many months. This was likely from working in Mexico. Thus Fulci spent most of 1984 hospitalized with cirrhosis, and much of 1985 recuperating at home. After 1986, with his diabetes plaguing him and the departure of screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti from Fulci’s circle of friends, Fulci’s endeavors as a director suffered. He spent almost two years in hospital with his feet due to diabetes.

In 1988, he had directed about two-thirds of Zombi 3 in the Philippines before having to return abruptly to Italy due to a second bout of hepatitis, aggravated by the Philippines location and production-trouble. The film was finished by an un-credited Bruno Mattei. Fulci later said that he hated the finished product and tried unsuccessfully to get his name removed from the credits. Mattei has said in interviews that the film was Fulci’s, and that he (Mattei) just added a few extra scenes to pad out the running time.

In 1989, Fulci was hired to direct a pair of made-for-TV horror movies for the Italian market, neither of which aired in Italy due to the high amount of gore and violence. They were released later on DVD, however, outside of Italy. Fulci’s intended comeback films Demonia and A Cat in the Brain were produced in 1990. Both films struggled to see release and were considered critical disappointments. His final project, the 1991 psychological thriller The Door to Silence, based on one of his short stories, also received poor reviews. The release of this film is seen by some as the critical lowest point of his career.

In the last decade of his life, Fulci suffered from emotional and physical health problems, reflected by a marked decline in the quality of his work. Fulci also continued to suffer during the late 1980s from reoccurring problems with diabetes and his liver. He hid the severity of his illness from his friends and associates, so that he would not be deemed unemployable. His wife’s suicide had always weighed heavily on him (his wife Marina had killed herself with a gas oven after learning she had inoperable cancer. She had also recently had an affair). People who knew Fulci well spoke of a 3rd daughter he had once had who he said was killed in a car accident in the 1970s, but this story was never confirmed, and the daughter’s name was never revealed by any of his biographers. Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower wrote “….the suicide of his wife in 1969 was followed not long after by the death of a daughter in a road accident.” Dario Argento is quoted in one book as saying of Fulci “His life was terrible. His wife committed suicide, and his daughter was paralyzed because of an accident.”

Between 1988 and 1989, Fulci made a deal with producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini to lend his name to the credits of some of their low-budget horror films that he had not even directed, simply to make the films more marketable to distributors. Although he did supervise the special gore effects in The Murder Secret, and directed some additional footage to lengthen the running time of Hansel and Gretel, he was hardly at all involved with some of the other projects which nonetheless bore the “Lucio Fulci Presents” label on their video display boxes. The following year, in reciprocation for the use of his name, Fulci was permitted to use gore footage culled from these various films to make his infamous A Cat in the Brain. Fulci tried unsuccessfully however to have his name removed from the credits of one film in particular, Gianni Martucci’s The Red Monks, since he said he had had no involvement whatsoever with the project (the film’s producer Pino Buricchi begged him to let them put his name in the credits).

It could be argued that at his peak, Fulci’s fame and popularity were on a par with that of Dario Argento, another famous Italian horror film director whom Fulci had avoided working with as a result of Fulci publicly criticizing Argento from time to time. Fulci was most likely resentful of Argento since Argento had always received critical acclaim and recognition in Italy and abroad, whereas Fulci had been regarded there as something of a horror film hack. Fulci always joked that when he died, the Italian newspapers would all misspell his name, if they even mentioned him at all.

Fulci and Argento met in 1994 and agreed to collaborate on a horror film called The Wax Mask, a remake of the 1953 Vincent Price horror classic House of Wax, also based on a story called “The Waxwork Museum” by Gaston Leroux. Argento claimed he had heard about Fulci’s miserable circumstances at the time and wanted to offer him a chance at a comeback. It is said that Argento was shocked at how thin and sickly Fulci appeared at their meeting at the 1994 Rome Fanta Festival, and said he felt very sorry for him.

Fulci and his collaborator Daniele Stroppa wrote a plot synopsis and a screenplay for Argento, and Argento kept trying to get them to increase the violence and gore quotient, against Fulci’s wishes strangely. (Stroppa had co-written two of Fulci’s earlier films, The House of Clocks and Voices from Beyond). Fulci was slated to also direct the film, but sadly he died before filming could begin, due to a series of delays caused by Argento’s involvement with his own project, The Stendhal Syndrome, at the time. Wax Mask was eventually directed by former special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. The screenplay was entirely reworked by Stivaletti after Fulci’s death, so the finished film contains significant changes to Fulci’s original screenplay. Argento also hired Fulci’s daughter Antonella to serve as an assistant art director on the film.

Lucio Fulci died alone, in his sleep, in his apartment in Rome at around 2 P.M. on the afternoon of March 13, 1996, from diabetes-related complications at the age of 68. Toward the end of his life, Fulci had lost his house and was forced to move into a small apartment. Since Fulci had been so despondent in his later years, some believed that he may have intentionally allowed himself to die by not taking his diabetes medications, but this is controversial. Dario Argento paid for Fulci’s funeral arrangements.

Fulci’s films had remained generally ignored or dismissed for many years by the mainstream critics, who regarded his work as exploitation. However, genre fans appreciated his films as being stylish exercises in extreme gore. At least one of his films, The Beyond, has “amassed a large and dedicated following”. In 1998, The Beyond was re-released to theaters by Quentin Tarantino, who has often cited the film, and Fulci himself, as a major source of inspiration. Fulci’s earlier, lesser-known giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) received some critical acclaim as well. Fulci regarded two of his films, Don’t Torture a Duckling and Beatrice Cenci, as his best work, and considered both Zombi 2 and The Beyond as the two films that forever catapulted him to cult film stardom. His daughter Camilla Fulci served as an assistant director on his last five films (from 1989-1991) and has gone on to become an assistant director in the Italian film industry.

Fulci made an appearance at the January 1996 Fangoria Horror Convention in New York City, two months before his death. Walking on crutches with a bandaged foot, he told attendees that he had had no idea his films were so popular outside of his native Italy, as hordes of starstruck gore fans braved blizzard conditions that weekend to meet him.

Fulci vs. Sacchetti

Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti share many screen credits from 1977 to 1983. Indeed, most of Fulci’s most celebrated horror films were written by Sacchetti. After collaborating with Sacchetti for six years, Fulci went off on his own in 1983 to direct Conquest in Mexico, failing to involve Sacchetti in the deal. The film was supposed to be a high budget production, and Sacchetti allegedly resented the fact that Fulci had not thought to involve him in the project. The film actually wound up doing quite poorly upon its release, and afterwards, Fulci had trouble jump-starting his working relationship with Sacchetti, who by this time had gone his own way.

In 1987, Fulci accused Sacchetti of stealing a story idea of his, a project which they were planning to do together in 1983 after Fulci returned from Mexico. He claimed that Sacchetti later allowed director Lamberto Bava to direct the project (under the title Per Sempre / Until Death) in 1987 without Fulci’s knowledge that the film was even being made. Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta’s book Spaghetti Nightmares, publishes two full interviews, one with Fulci and one with Sacchetti, explaining the reasons for the fallout.

Fulci’s version is as follows: “One day I told Dardano the plot of my Evil Comes Back (later retitled Per Sempre/Until Death), a sequel on a fantastic note to The Postman Always Rings Twice, and he proposed it to several producers with my name on it as the director. Then, one day, he registered the screenplay with his name on it! (laughs) I later found out that he’d sold the story idea to a producer (Sergio Martino), but, in view of our past friendship, I decided not to sue him. I just broke off all relations with him. He is indeed a very good scriptwriter though.”

Sacchetti’s version differs: “When I proposed to Lucio my original treatment for Per Sempre, which was nothing more than a sequel to The Postman Always Rings Twice in which a dead man returns to life, he became really enthusiastic and had my story read by a producer friend of his who then commissioned me to write a finished script. At that time, Fulci assumed that he would direct it. Later, for various reasons, problems arose and the film was never made. Four years later, (Lamberto) Bava used my script to make Per Sempre and Fulci, who was not working much at the time, got angry with me and started hurling these accusations. It’s one thing for him to say that we were originally supposed to make the film together, but to claim that he originated the story and that I stole it from him is pure science fiction”.

Accolades

YearAwardCategoryFilmResult
1983Fantasporto Film FestivalInternational Fantasy Film AwardThe House by the CemeteryNominated
1986Avoriaz Fantastic Film FestivalFear Section AwardMurder RockWon