June 17, 1927 – March 13, 1996 Lucio Fulci was only 68 when he passed away, too young an age I’ve decided. But he left us quite the legacy with his filmography (THE BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, NEW YORK RIPPER, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, MURDER ROCK, ZOMBI 2, etc.), good or bad, it was all Fulci, as uncompromising as possible. Whether it was shoving a broken bottle where it shouldn’t go, or tarantula’s tearing the face off of an unconscious victim, Fulci had an eye for the gory and the inhumane.
I was only 15 (and had only been 15 for two days) the dday he died. Before that date I had seen ZOMBI 2, but had no idea of Fulci, or his other films. I had recently learned of the ZOMBIE/ZOMBI 2 debacle (I’ll explain briefly next paragraph) and by luck I was able to pick up a copy of ZOMBI 2 (the box said ZOMBiE).
So back in the 60s George A. Romero made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, than in the 70s he did a sequel called DAWN OF THE DEAD along with his friend Dario Argento (remember him?). DAWN was such a hit that the powers-that-be decided it should be released overseas. The European cut of the film was edited by Dario Argento. However, instead of DAWN OF THE DEAD, it was called ZOMBI. Well, ZOMBI was such a huge hit overseas that zombies became all the cinema rage, but they looked to one man (a sort of hired gun, if you will) to make a sequel to ZOMBI. That man? Lucio Fulci. So he made ZOMBI 2, which was an enormous hit overseas, so much so that they decided to bring it to America. One problem, the title. See, there was no ZOMBI in the states for it to be a sequel of. So what did they do? They retitled it ZOMBIE and released it in the states. Fulci would go on to make a ZOMBI 3, as well. To make the story even funnier you have to follow the path. DAWN OF THE DEAD took place in a mall, ZOMBI 2 took place on an island. Well, in the recent remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, if you watch the credits, the crew gets to the boat and makes it to an island where they think they’d be safe, but there are zombies there too. This was the filmmakers nod to Fulci as he bridged the gap between the two films. That man was Zack Snyder.
I wish I had been exposed to his stuff at a younger age so I could have legitimately mourned his passing, understanding the mark he had left on foreign film, and more importantly, the horror genre.
That’s not to say that all he did was horror, he directed a few sex comedies, and if I remember right, there’s a western in there somewhere as well. If you were to ask a person in the know to name a Fulci movie you’ll probably get ZOMBI 2, THE BEYOND, you may even get MANHATTAN BABY, but I highly doubt they’d answer THE SENATOR LIKES WOMEN. So, end of that argument, Fulci is best known for his contributions to the horror genre.
Fulci is best known for gore. Gore, gore, and more gore, especially penetration of eyes. My favorite being the one in ZOMBI 2, a zombie has Olga Karlatos by the hair and it is slowly pulling her towards a sharp, broken, piece of wood between them. She tries to pull away, but instead of getting away, it just makes the inevitable take longer as eventually her eye is impaled on the sharp piece of wood. As if that wasn’t worse enough, the piece of wood breaks off, leaving her writhing with a chunk of wood sticking out of her eye. It’s so brutal, it’s so Fulci.
Maybe we should have that talk now. From all accounts I’ve read, it appears Fulci is somewhat a misogynist, and it really shows in his films. Constantly weak female characters (even the lead females need a man to do things for them), brutal deaths of more women than men. On set he was more easy going on the men than on the women. This could have an answer, however. Since it’s the women in his movies that are usually in the death scenes, and the men are usually the heroes, perhaps he had to be harder on the women because to film a death sequence is much more difficult than a scene where a guy comes to the rescue. Eh, a boy can dream.
Fun fact, he was set to collaborate with Dario Argento on a film called THE WAX MASK, it would have been their first, but Fulci passed away before they could get started on the production. It was later made anyway by other people, but I haven’t seen it.
I’ve mentioned this already, but Fulci was more a gun-for-hire than he was a grand visionary. Certain trends would demand the world’s interest, someone would put up money for a film displaying said interest in hope of making a lot of money when released. We talked about how he put zombies in THE BEYOND because German cinema asked him to because zombie films were all the rage in Germany at the time. But it goes deeper than that. Fulci made entire films as a gun-for-hire. Take THE EXORCIST for example. When released internationally, THE EXORCIST was a phenomenon. So distributors were clamoring for other similar films. Fulci answered back with MANHATTAN BABY (there’s a much more notorious film from this same situation called HOUSE OF EXORCISM by Mario Bava that we’ll talk about when I do an article on him…it’s a doozey).
It could be said that his greatest contribution to the horror genre was his Gates of Hell trilogy. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BEYOND, and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, all done in the early 80s. By this time he’s a seasoned veteran that knows how to get the most fear from a scene. These three also show a bit of maturity as they tell more of a story, whereas NEW YORK RIPPER is a little bit more like murder, dialogue, murder, dialogue, murder, dialogue…you get the idea. There’s more of an overarching narrative to the three films.
In the later 80s, Fulci was having moderate success, TOUCH OF DEATH, ZOMBI 3, THE BLACK CAT, he retired from filmmaking altogether in 1991, he was slated to return with Argento in the aforementioned THE WAX MASK, but one night in 1996, Fulci, who was a diabetic throughout most of his life, forgot to take his insulin before he went to sleep. Whether it was on purpose or an accident is a controversial discussion, but regardless, he died in his sleep. A sad day, a sad day indeed. Had Fulci lived I would think he would have found a resurgence of sorts. We’ll never know.