INTRODUCTION: A WORKING CLASS AUTEUR
My name is Stephen Romano. Among other things, I write graphic novels based on the flamboyant horror films of Italian director Lucio Fulci, who is one of the great touchstones of my life as a cinephile and my career as an author, screenwriter and filmmaker. When you say something like this with a straight face to anyone who knows their film history, you tend to get a lot of funny looks. Everyone else just kind of scratches their head and says, “Fulci who?” The reason for this is strangely complicated and brutally simple. In his life, Lucio was much maligned and misunderstood, and in death he has remained largely forgotten by the critical mainstream. Because Fulci worked in a variety of genres and usually on very low budgets, his output was wildly varied and often compromised by the practical realities of production. Yet he was highly prolific and artistically uncompromising, obsessed with dark themes, stylistic conceits and notions of “pure expressionism.” In many of his films, he insisted on odd “dream logic” and super-intense scenes of unflinching graphic violence, which pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in the mainstream. To this day, that is what he is most well-known for. And with good reason. At his most intense and unbridled, few other artists were as angry or as fearless.
Though Lucio Fulci began his career as a director of bedroom farces and comedies in the 1950s and helmed many visionary works as a younger man — such as the brutal proto-feminist revenge thriller BEATRICE CENCI (1969) and the psychedelic freak-out giallo LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971) — he found his greatest commercial success at age 52, when he signed on to direct a cheap horror knock-off in 1979 called ZOMBI 2. Designed by its producers (at least on the surface) to be a shameless cash-in on the massive success of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, this feature changed movies forever. Released in America in the early 1980s as just ZOMBIE, and staking its claim as a darkly inventive undead epic in its own right, the film hit hard at a wild frontier moment in horror and made Lucio Fulci into an overnight international darling of exploitation cinema, slaughtered by critics yet embraced by audiences.
Today he’s mostly remembered for a small number of visionary low-budget fright flicks that followed ZOMBIE, the truth is Fulci _did it all _during the ‘80s: Horror, gangsters, science fiction, sword and sandal, erotic perversions. He was a working-class director who never turned down a gig. He even toiled on other people’s films as a technician, as in the 1987 H.P. Lovecraft riff THE CURSE starring Wil Wheaton (the second screen version of THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE), on which he served as second unit director and special effects creator. But what made Lucio different from other workman-like Italian directors in this vein (such as Umberto Lenzi or Bruno Mattei) was a persistence of unique vision, radical ideology and a desire to find a larger message in his own work, no matter what genre or budget level he had. For example, his contribution to THE CURSE was less motivated by the paycheck than his respect of H.P. Lovecraft. Even Fulci’s hardest critics in the 1980s had to agree, although often in a smarmy and judgmental way. Cinefantastique magazine, in a 1984 capsule review of Fulci’s THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, called him “the best of the post-(Mario)-Bava gore auteurs — by default; the others are so much worse.”
And yet, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is a film of real ambition and hidden treasures. On the surface it’s your basic monster-in-the-basement story, where a young couple and their 6-year-old son are menaced in the dead of winter by a ghoulish undead doctor who emerges to wreak bloody havoc on the bodies of the living. Fulci started there to appeal to a commercial audience. He was, after all, a working-class director and knew what his core audience expected. The plot basics are cut-and-dried and quite easy to get a grip on. What lies beneath the surface,however, is something far more baroque and intellectual: a film of pure theme, surreal imagery and an obsession with H.P. Lovecraft. Beyond the obvious trappings of typical 1980s horror films, you can plug into a higher truth in the director’s work — we’re not just reading between the lines. It’s all there. You just have to squint a little to see it. Sometimes.
For example, did you ever notice that the little girl in THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and the ghoulish monster are one and the same? It’s a genius visual riddle imbedded within the film. (Even as a deeply committed professional fan of Fulci’s work, I never noticed this until decades after first seeing the film, when Silvia Collatina, the actress who played the little girl, pointed it out to me.) The ending of HOUSE is also particularly challenging and unconventional, especially for the drive-in horror film audiences of 1984. No spoilers here for those who haven’t seen it, but I challenge anyone reading this to tell me Fulci wasn’t trying his damndest to be some kind of artist in a sea of schlockmeisters. That he was himself a schlockmeister of sorts may speak to one of cinema’s greatest debates: What is art and how the heck do we recognize it in a form so often dominated by clichés, market trends, raging egotists and commercially-minded producers who want to ride the latest wave? Finding a voice — any voice — on such a battlefront is a struggle. For some, it is totally impossible.
I have a theory, for what it’s worth. It’s a theory Lucio Fulci also believed. It’s really simple: Everything is art.
It’s only a matter of which sort of art you choose to believe in.
In 1999, I met Alamo founder Tim League when he was almost single-handedly running the original Drafthouse location with his wife Karrie. They were just a single screen back then, not the giant empire they are now. Tim loved to “put on a show,” and together we curated THE ANNUAL LUCIO FULCI FILM FESTIVAL, which ran for three years on that screen. I programmed the films and Tim ran the projector. We had live punk rock music and Lucio’s most beloved cinematic atrocities/masterpieces in 35mm. During that time, future Academy Award-winning film editor Bob Murawski had partnered up with Sage Stallone and Quentin Tarantino to restore Fulci’s THE BEYOND to its original director’s cut and put it out in theaters. Bob and Sage had done the legwork of tracking down the film elements through their newly-minted Grindhouse Releasing and brought in their Oscar-winning tech buddies to restore the sound and picture, while Quentin lent his name to the release, through his short-lived theatrical film distribution company Rolling Thunder Pictures. THE BEYOND, for those who don’t know, is still considered Fulci’s masterpiece and with good reason. It’s an amazing film of vision and style which finds a strange sort of poetry in the grandest, most shameless traditions of classic exploitation horror. It’s another haunted house movie, but this time with a difference. We showed THE BEYOND to a sold out midnight crowd on October 28, 1999, and let me tell you: It was glorious. The problem in those days, however, was tracking down prints of those movies to show. Actual 35mm film cans containing Lucio’s lesser-seen works were becoming more and more rare. Eventually, we had to throw in the towel. But those years were also the start of something really important with Tim and the Alamo. It was the nascent birth of what would eventually become a clutch-cargo nationwide venue and preservation society for genre films. So when Tim asked me to write the words for this new platform devoted to Fulci, I was overjoyed. It’s like a full-circle to old, cherished roots, and a real celebration of a man whose works have inspired so many of us. In the years before and after Fulcifest, Lucio has been celebrated in many books and countless articles, not to mention soundtrack albums, toys, t-shirts and just about every other kind of merch you can think of. Naturally, his best horror and giallo films have been given lavish HD restorations, allowing digital age kids to experience Fulci for the first time and oldsters like us to understand him as never before.
There’s bizarre irony in all this. It must have amazed Lucio that he had a full career behind him as a director of comedies in the years before he became known as a “post-Bava gore auteur,” and it would have really amazed him now that in the wake of his status as a legendary director, not a single one of those comedies has been given its due in a proper HD restoration or Blu-ray release. (It would be kind of like John Carpenter fans ignoring DARK STAR or ELVIS because they weren’t horror films.) Those of us who have been “fanatical” enough to seek out those early Fulci comedies know that they were definitely the work of the same guy — brash, over-the-top, totally in-your-face and wildly varied in terms of overall success. But then again, what is success in a career so varied and filled with adventure?
Among the many critical works on Lucio Fulci, author Steven Thrower’s oversized hardcover tome BEYOND TERROR stands a cut above and I recommend it highly. While it may not be the definitive last word on the Maestro from a critical perspective — Fulci made so many movies of varying “quality” that the vast chasms of stylistic variance tend to divide Lucio’s more ardent fans rather passionately — but Thrower’s book is a loving tribute and an exhaustively researched and impeccably well-written retrospective on the man’s entire career. The newly revised and expanded edition, now available at FAB PRESS, has almost 100,000 additional words and a treasure trove of over 1,000 color and black and white illustrations (a few of which are shown here). Thrower is often a guest speaker and commentarian on Fulci’s many video releases, and no one would argue that he knows more about the Maestro than most any professional fan currently alive.
And, of course, at EIBON PRESS, we also keep the legacy of Fulci alive, with a long-running series of licensed comics and graphic novel collections based on his most beloved horror works. Our books delve deep into the characters and backstories of the films, finding Lucio’s themes and obsessions and expanding them into highly ambitious and critically acclaimed graphic storytelling. It has been my dream since I was 11 years old to do these books. I hope you’ll check them out. Our artists are second-to-none and, like the four-walled indie flicks of yesteryear, our books are produced and distributed totally outside traditional publishing platforms, brought directly to readers.
It was, therefore, only a matter of time before the first feature-length documentary about Lucio Fulci would come forward.
FULCI FOR FAKE is a highly unconventional, truly moving and inspiring piece of cinematic work. Not content to be like any other “talking head” documentary, it arrives fully-formed as its own mysterious thing, filled with the same obsessions and eccentricities evident in Lucio’s best films. For me, it’s an essential part of the Fulci mythos and filmography, probing the depths of the legend in a way that’s reverent and enigmatic and intimate. The interviews with Lucio’s daughters Camilla and Antonella are as bracing and telling as they are heartbreaking and hilarious, and the film is bookended by an intriguing narrative device that places it firmly in an artistic class more-or-less all its own, allowing us a way into Lucio that is disarmingly real and deeply personal. And all the while, the ghost of Fulci refuses to be known. He walks just ahead of us, his secrets still secret, and he looks back and winks, as if we’ll never know the true man behind the mystique.
I hope you’ll watch the doc many times and discover the mystery of the man, as well as his movies which we’ve gathered here for you. Fulci made a wide variety of motion pictures. Not all of them can be assembled in one place. Many are owned by different people, some are lost forever. But what you will find on this platform is a sizable cross-section of his most celebrated classics, and still a few others that are lesser known. And in this feature article, you’ll find an examination of those films through another personal lens which will hopefully enhance the experience in a different way and place them in historical perspective, through the eyewitness view of a child who grew up during Lucio’s most prolific period in the 1980s as the Italian Godfather of Gore. In this way, we have returned to the Lucio Fulci Film Festival of 1999 and finally gotten it right. And while nothing beats the experience of_ seeing one his films_ in an honest-to-god hardtop theatre with the stunned reactions of a sold-out festival crowd screaming alongside you… well, this is pretty damn awesome too. Tim and his partners have made this amazing thing happen, which is like a pushbutton video store for freaks like us.
Watch these movies. Watch every damn one of them. They are artifacts of a life in the cinema and relics of a bygone era. And if you happen to be new to the films, never fear. We’ll guide you along the way. So welcome to the sea of darkness where anything goes. And art is everywhere.
The in-depth essay that follows is broken into two parts. First we’ll discuss the obvious: Who Fulci was and his place in film history among the drive-in/video store legends of the 1980s. Then we’ll dive into the films, briefly discussing each one that’s been curated, and I’ll give you a “viewing order” which I believe will work best for those who are new to him. If you happen to be among the already converted, or if you’re the type of die-hard superfan who likes reexamining old faves in new and interesting ways, this will work for you too. In any event, I hope it’s at least amusing and somewhat informative. If you are a newbie to Fulci, I recommend CLICKING HERE to skip down to the VIEWING ORDER chapter. It’s where the fun really starts and the list will provide the most bang for your buck. But if you’re interested in why we really love this guy — if you wanna go REALLY DEEP with us — you could do worse than check out the first chapter. I promise to fill you in, show you a good time and piss you right the hell off. Hell, it’s what Lucio would have done.
And who would dare argue with the Maestro?
In 1981, I saw an article in Cinefantastique magazine which championed the imminent arrival of a new Italian horror film called CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. It looked amazing, and it was from the guy who directed ZOMBIE, which had blown my mind a couple of months earlier. I was 11 years old, and the world was very different then. The theatrical moviegoing experience was still pretty rarefied and possessed a great deal of mystique. Video stores were just starting to dot the landscape and I didn’t even own a VCR. To make matters more complicated, movies like this didn’t_ just show up_ in a theater after you read about them in a magazine. You had to wait months for them to tour the States, from drive-in to drive-in. This was especially true with the low budget stuff — films that were lucky to be made at all, much less land a distribution deal. I waited and waited. I checked the local newspaper daily for ads ballyhooing CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and none ever appeared. My young mind eventually moved on to other things.
CUT TO 1984. I was 14 and all grown up. I was standing in the horror section of EZ Video, a downtown hole-in-the-wall carved off the back room of a local pool hall in Houston, Texas — the first video rental store I ever owned a membership in. The place was located deep in the scum-encrusted depths of a neighborhood known as the Montrose Area, which was filled with wildly varying forms of human entertainment. You didn’t get messed with if you kept to yourself, but the crime was pretty bad. You scraped together a few bucks in change, hopped on a bus, hiked down to the EZ and took a look at what debauchery was on display. The walls were festooned with gore and boobs, films with titles like MICROWAVE MASSACRE and SLAVEGIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY. The owners were weird, jaded middle-aged men. One of them had a greasy duck mullet, mutton chops and a mechanic’s shirt with the sleeves rolled up, like some T-Bird cruiser from the 1950s. These enterprising blokes even had a delivery service in the early years, where they’d bring you a VCR and some tapes, along with beer and pizza. This service was discontinued when their driver totaled the delivery car. The twisted hull of that car remained in the parking lot of the place for years afterwards, as a grim reminder of why the really awesome shit never lasts long. EZ Video was — without fail — my very first stop for every sleazebucket horror film, low-rent science fiction epic, and even mainline classics like THE BEASTMASTER. The place was hardly bigger than a coin laundry. It reeked of just-dried ink on abused cardboard and recycled freon from a tiny air conditioning box that chugged away in a far corner. It was magical. We saw the information age begin in this shitty dive. It was the coolest, sleaziest spookhouse on the midway where everything happened.
That day I saw a movie called THE GATES OF HELL sitting on the shelf. I didn’t realize it, but I was looking right at CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. The theatrical and video distributors had changed the title of the damn thing and the movie had flown in totally under my geek-radar. Even after I watched the film and it became one of my favorites, I still wouldn’t know about the sleazy bait-and-switch for many years. After all, I was young and naive, and the cynical politics of genre film distribution were still unknown to me. The irony is that no one ever refers to that movie as THE GATES OF HELL anymore, because it was finally re-released under the original title in the digital age and came back into the world on its own terms. And if you wanna get really technical, the actual Italian movie moniker was FEAR IN THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, a more intellectual tag that refers to the film’s deeper metaphysical overtones.
But I digress. Back to EZ Video. That afternoon, what I saw on the shelf was pure pulp horror fiction: A smiling green zombie looming over the city of the living dead, leering out from that Paragon Home Video box. Paragon had always been a front-runner in exploitation video, and that zombie spoke to me. His voice was like some drug-addled carnival barker. _“Come on in, kid. It ain’t safe in here. At all.” _He wasn’t kidding. The film turned out to be a pretty major revelation in a wasteland of home video. You see, a lot of the time it seemed like I just got _ripped off _back then, especially by big green zombies promising unsafe times. The video boxes themselves were probably the best part of the experience for so many of us in the 1980s. I loved to be fooled then and I love to be fooled now. There’s a Halloween-Every-Day-Of-The-Year quality to being suckered in by every single goddamn garish promotional image that screams “THIS IS THE ONE THAT WILL SCARE YOU RIGHT TO DEATH!” That’s the fun of horror.
It seemed that THE GATES OF HELL was a sort of gateway drug, which allowed me to see the rugged universe of exploitation movies in a more progressive way and identify the real art embedded deep within them. On the surface, it was a somewhat cheesy film of moaning wind and howling wolves and unmerciful gore and a badly-dubbed English language track — you know, broad strokes for simple folks. But something else was lurking just inside this garish waking dream. I was suddenly able to watch films like MICROWAVE MASSACRE and see them for the low-budget triumphs they actually were, rather than sleazy rip-offs. The carnival barker was screaming that the game had changed… and now that you’re here, kid, there’s no going back.
In 1984, the landscape of American fright cinema was evolving rapidly, even as its old school influences held on for dear life, creating new waves of popular entertainment. It was a dangerous landscape, filled with audacious efforts by real mavericks and true auteurs like Abel Ferrara and Frank Henenlotter, not to mention hundreds of imitators, wannabes and quick-cash confidence tricksters. The cutting edge in those days dealt with themes of violence against women in blunt fashion. Of course, Carpenter had made the stalking and killing of teenage girls by a faceless slasher into the most popular trend. Roger Corman was making his movies of this ilk at New World, films such as HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and GALAXY OF TERROR, which presented startling sequences of such profound and shocking “political incorrectness” that they could never be released today by a major studio (or really any studio). Yet women were usually the emerging heroes of these films, portrayed as strong and resourceful in the clutch and as powerful as the monsters, zombies and/or serial killers that hunted them. Indeed, HUMANOIDS was directed by a woman and it’s pretty obvious whose side she’s on by fade-out. And MS.45 had blown us all away with a truly original and totally psychotic take on the woman-gets-revenge mythos. Amid all of this, the late arrival of Lucio Fulci was clocked by most professional critics as just another face in the crowd, among all the misogynist flotsam and jetsam of an overloaded genre that was more often misunderstood than embraced.
Then again, how do you defend a film like Fulci’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982), which is mind-bogglingly cruel, even by post-modern standards? I saw that one via EZ Video when it finally came out on cassette in 1985 and I have to tell you, that may have been the first horror film that actually made me feel unclean. It would be easy to say that Lucio was in some sort of “bad phase” then and inflicted it on all of us without mercy. Indeed, in the documentary FULCI FOR FAKE, he is shown in behind-the-scenes archival footage on the streets of New York City as a dark specter of a man, clearly haunted by demons and struggling with the realities of production. RIPPER is easily his blackest, most confrontational film on many levels (with THE DEVIL’S HONEY not far behind), all about a black-gloved killer who quacks eerily like a duck as he gleefully dispatches his female victims by way of razor blades and broken bottles. In that way, RIPPER is a real streetfight horror film, one that aims its blows relentlessly low and painfully dirty. And not just in its murder sequences; there’s a creepy, slimy worldview on display that speaks to a raging heart against all of humanity.
But even at his darkest, Fulci wasn’t just some random voyeur. He was a writer. He was an intellectual. From the beginning of his career in the 1950s as a director of comedies to his final years as “the Godfather of Gore,” he wanted to make movies of pure expression. His idols were raging-Id experimentalists like Antonin Artaud, who dealt in cruelty and surrealism. And so, while THE NEW YORK RIPPER is difficult to experience, it remains one of my favorite Fulci films for many reasons. First, it’s extraordinarily well conceived, more challenging and about a thousand times deeper than most giallo or slasher efforts of the day; the final prey is a deeply haunted human being with dark ties to the killer — in fact, she may actually BE the killer — and the film’s dark resolution suggests a blood-stained legacy transcending generations. Next, on a level of pure craft, RIPPER is among Fulci’s most accomplished works, with a sense of focused filmmaking style that seems to find each beat with a sure hand of confidence and power. And for the Joe Bob Briggs crowd — all of us drooling psycho mutants who still hang out at online equivalents of EZ Video — there are few other films that deliver the drive-in goods with as much sheer audacity and total exploitation funk. The music score alone is deliriously over-the-top, anchored by a theme tune that sounds like some late ‘70s TV cop show instilled with the lurking dread of a composer who may have_ just figured out_ what kind of scummy madness he’s in for. That composer, by the way, was the great Francesco DeMasi, who went on to immortalize kung fu versus Chuck Norris in the notorious 1980s actioner LONE WOLF McQUADE. Fulci almost always worked with first-rate composers, from legends like Ennio Morricone, Riz Ortolani and Pino Donaggio to rising stars like Fabio Frizzi, who eventually became globally renowned for the many scores he did under the Maestro.
This kind of craft was important to Fulci. Doing a thing and doing it right, even if that thing is totally horrifying, and even if it only shows one night at a drive-in. Though many of his other films were far less brutal and cynical than THE NEW YORK RIPPER, there was always a burning need inside every damn one of them, the desire to honor an ideal and pull it off with vision and substance. And he didn’t just walk in the shoes of serial killers and zombies. He saw the future the same way in WARRIORS OF THE YEAR 2072 (1984) — a truly bizarre science fiction oddity that mashes up THE RUNNING MAN with THE ROAD WARRIOR and makes you swallow it whole — with such eccentric touches as a sequence in which a gang of men wearing suits whistle the same strange discordant tune in unison as they close in to kill a helpless woman trapped (literally) in a glass house. And don’t get me started on CONQUEST (1983), Fulci’s batshit answer to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, set in a cruel “other world” complete with musclebound warriors, a half-nude sorceress, and scary wolf-headed monster men who descend on their victims with giant clubs, scalping them instantly with savage force.
So are we talking about exploitation films that barrel straight through every sleazy cliché and find truth in deep dark places, ruled by the horrors of the human soul? Well, yeah, we kinda are. And to me, that’s noble as hell. We’re getting the carnival barker’s promise screaming off the tape box covers at EZ Video AND the art we always wanted to back it up. By fade-out on THE NEW YORK RIPPER, if you’re not deeply disturbed by the evils that men do and the state of the world we live in — if that film doesn’t make you truly want to be a better person — then I’m probably in the wrong business.
Of course, the problem with all of this is that not everybody agrees that schlock is art. They roll their eyes and dismiss you as some sort of tasteless schmuck who bends over backwards to defend the raving mad works of some semi-talented hack. And MICROWAVE MASSACRE? Gimme a break, right?
They wouldn’t be wrong. But I don’t think they’re right either.
Remember, art is everywhere. And that means it surrounds us. Which probably also means it’s totally out to get us. If it seems cheap and lowbrow and pisses you off, well guess what else? It was probably working. The themes of violence and cruelty in Fulci’s most affecting films are discussed in many forums. Like directors such as Verhoven and Argento, the Maestro saw the world in dark terms. All throughout his career, Lucio was attacked and hated for what he did (but he didn’t give Fuck One about what the neighbors thought of him). We’re talking about creators with real obsessions, real missions. They want to find out what makes us scared and what will save us from it. They want to get right in our faces and find out what makes us tick.
Fulci, the man, was complicated and difficult. By most reports he was a terror on set and hard to understand. But movie sets aren’t generally happy places to begin with, even the ones run by directors who are not universally despised. These nose-to-the-grindstone battlefronts are ground zero for the creative process, where the first splashes of paint are thrown on the canvas in a sweaty, desperate game of beat the clock. That’s how Frank Darabont, who is hardly universally despised, refers to the process of principal photography. You never have enough time or money. About a million people want to ask you a question. There’s always a fight over something. You’re wrangling the disparate sensibilities of countless artists and technicians and trying to inspire them to do what they do for you. None of this is easy. It’s controlled chaos, and often not even well controlled. Fulci weathered this maddening process on lower budgets than you can imagine as a blue-collar director for damn near half a century. That he maintained any level of sanity at all is probably a genuine miracle. When I met Robert Warner, the American producer of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, he told me about how Fulci would rage at 2:00 in the morning, demanding more maggots! “I was Fulci’s assassin,” he said. “You had to be ruthless to get anything done around him and you had to come across with the goods or you’d face the wrath of the master. But that’s the name of the game. You live up to it or you get out.”
Indeed, the stories of Lucio’s handling of the actors and crew on CITY have passed from infamy and into legendary, particularly in that scene with the maggots. Not that anyone’s job description should necessarily excuse him or her from being some sort of ruthless asshole, but there is still much about Lucio we don’t know and probably never will. Movie sets are also filled with gossip, agendas and personal axes. Memories mutate into legend, and those legends continue to evolve, the more distant from the event they get. What we do know about the man is the work he left behind. There’s a lot of it. And it’s amazing.
So we should remember him for that.
We should also remember him as part of a rare breed of directors like Jim Muro, William Lustig, John Waters, Eric Red and John Woo, who transformed genre cinema into something important and difficult in a changing era of production and distribution. These were the guys who made those trips to the drive-ins and rental stores a little less like getting ripped off, and more like actually discovering something. Guys who took the rollercoaster seriously and allowed us to find art in the damndest places, even as they hawked it to at EZ Video with no apologies, screaming to come inside, where it’s not safe, where it’s not simple… and where a final unassailable truth can be found among the tombstones and maniacs and zombies and creatures and two-gun shooters.
That’s Fulci’s truth.
And it is as dark and complicated as it is brazen and bloody.
THE VIEWING ORDER
Okay, so now that we’ve gotten all pseudo-intellectual about the Maestro and placed him in a tiny bit of context, let’s talk about how you should view these films in our virtual video store.
First of all, some technical notes. Those of you who are old hands with this type of movie, please feel free to skip through this intro. Others may find my blather informative. Please take what you need and leave the rest. Ahem. Now then…
The release dates I list are usually the American theatrical ones, though each film came out originally in Europe, often two or three years prior. Keep in mind that these movies are more than 30 years old. And they are Italian movies made for an international audience. What that means is they were created by people who hardly spoke a word of English, and yet these films are usually headlined by English-speaking actors such as Catriona MacColl and Richard Johnson. This incongruity in the filmmaking process often produces work that is very strange to behold, even at higher budgetary levels. All of these films, even the classics of Sergio Leone and Mario Bava, were dubbed in English after they were filmed and edited. Many Italian horror movies of the 1980s never even had a sound crew on set. And even though the English-speaking actors were almost always brought back in to dub their own lines, most of the Italian actors were not. As a result, there are about five or six oddly familiar English voices in constant rotation on the soundtracks of these films. For example, the character of Misses Menard (Olga Karlatos) in ZOMBIE is voiced by the same actress who plays Emily (Cinzia Monreale) in THE BEYOND. Fulci regular Al Cliver has many different actors speaking for him in many films. And so on. It’s something you just have to squint your ears at, and ultimately makes this type of film interesting and unique. Ironically, the Italian language tracks for these films are usually irrelevant. They were dubbed that way for domestic release only.
A final note about critical perspective: In addition to the above-mentioned dubbing factor, all of these films were made on low budgets — sometimes SUPER low — so an objective evaluation of them from a hard-nosed mainstream angle is not only difficult, but grossly unfair. My feeling goes like this: If someone gives Marvel Comics two hundred million dollars and they make a pretty decent movie like, say, ENDGAME with it… well, sure, why not? But was the end result ever in doubt? It’s probably not as impressive as making something like THE BEYOND for a few bucks in a Louisiana swamp, working out of a script roughly translated from Italian and directed by a mad genius who only had a marginal idea of what Catriona Macoll was actually saying when he called “action.” That a truly remarkable film of theme and atmosphere emerged from such a process is probably some sort of perverted miracle. Then again, many critics have labeled THE BEYOND pure garbage. Read what you will into that. And keep in mind that when I heap praise on something like this in relation to Fulci’s other work, we’re boxing in a relatively small arena. Marvel movies are not invited to this party and we do not compare ourselves to films like FURY ROAD or even John Carpenter’s THE THING. We love those films — hell, we worship those films — but with Fulci and other directors in his weight class… well, we’re in another dimension. It’s one that requires you to check certain preconceptions and assumptions about the basic technical aspects of filmmaking at the door.
So here’s a few brief words about our films, in the order we think you should watch them. Have fun, expand your mind, and remember… everything is art.
I list this one at the start because it was probably the first Fulci film that any of us old-school hardcores actually saw back in the 1980s. It had a long and hugely profitable American theatrical run in 1981 - ‘82 and was released on tape shortly after by Charles Band’s notorious Wizard Video label, where most of us caught it at the local rental shops. This was the film that made the Maestro famous, after a lifetime of being infamous. And is it any good? Absolutely. In fact, it’s one of the most well-made and atmospheric work-for-hire directing gigs on record, with Fulci stamping his timecard and emerging as a real talent to watch. The campfire-story-simple plot of young Ann Bowles (Mia Farrow’s older sister Tisa) trying to track her father down on an island of voodoo zombies in the Caribbean won’t win any awards for terrific dialogue or innovative plotting, but since when did a zombie need a brain? The film has strong lensing, with a leering camera that creeps and zooms, finding the icons of each scene, and the film gives horror cinema one of its most chilling “noir” opening shots. (“The boat can leave now, tell the crew.”) It’s this shot that immediately stakes the film’s claim as its own thing, rather than the market-hype cash cow it was initially designed to be. Following up on that promise in spades, the film provides some of the most flamboyantly original horror set pieces of all time, including Shark-vs-Zombie and Eyeball-vs-Wood Splinter. Fulci had a thing for eyeballs and slaughtered many of them in his career (he once famously said, “The eyes must be destroyed because they have seen too many bad things.” The low-budget synth-based score is somewhat legendary as well, composed by Fulci regular Fabio Frizzi, who provides a central earworm that haunts you for hours after viewing the movie. (Check out Romano’s critically-acclaimed comic series based on ZOMBIE at EIBON PRESS)
ZOMBIE was a huge international success and allowed Fulci to strike multi-picture deals with producer Fabrizio DeAngelis and others, cueing up an ambitious slate of films that spooled into cinemas and video stores throughout the decade. ZOMBIE is still his most mainstream commercial hit from that period and it influenced many post-modern genre filmmakers including Guillermo Del Toro, who said, “No other movie matches it for shock value and sheer madness!”
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1983)
Released theatrically and on video in the States as THE GATES OF HELL, this was the start of Fulci’s infamous Gates Of Hell Trilogy — as it has been unofficially referred to for the past 15 years or so by fans — and which are the three films besides ZOMBIE he is most known for. I’m listing these films in the order I believe they should be watched, even though HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY was made after THE BEYOND. Of the three films, CITY is the most overtly exploitative in nature, with a queasy sense of perversion that lurks around the edges of a fairly traditional horror scenario. A young psychic played by Catriona Macoll (who was Fulci’s cinematic muse for several years) dies and emerges from her grave in a well-executed suspense bit, only to find herself on a lonely quest to shut the gates of hell in the city of Dunwich — Lovecraft much, guys? — with an intrepid newspaper reporter at her side (exploitation film legend Christopher George). ZOMBIE also had a newspaper reporter in it. In fact, they are both named Peter. Like ZOMBIE, the film features several showcase buzz moments of unflinching, sadistic violence, including what may be Fulci’s most talked-about horror sequence, in which the specter of a dead priest makes a young girl vomit up her entire intestinal tract on cue. In a 1981 Cinefantastique article, Fulci said that the scene was “insisted upon” by his co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, but… come on. And if that’s not enough, CITY also features the equally infamous and horrifying “drill press.” Set pieces such as this, along with the prevailing macabre atmosphere — created on a budget of exactly nothing — truly elevate CITY above other more “pedestrian” zombie movie efforts of the day. (Oh, and hey nerds: That’s DELLAMORTE DELAMORE director Michele Soavi sitting next to the girl who pukes up her guts.) The film’s denouement is more overtly heroic and traditional than the other movies in this trilogy, and the final inexplicable shock coda has been debated for years, but GATES still possesses a stinging street-wise power and overflows with imagination and darkness. Fabio Frizzi’s score, though derivative of Goblin — specifically in the movie’s opening cue — is wonderfully atmospheric and accomplished.
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1984)
This was made after THE BEYOND but I’m listing it here because most of us saw it first back in the 1980s; it’s a perfect ramp-down from the sleazy backbeat of CITY and a descent into a far purer nightmare of Lovecraftian horrors. There’s no naughty stuff like mouth-breathing perverts or blow-up love dolls on display here. What remains is a creeping sense of doom and terror that swirls into a spiral of madness and ends in a surreal and unexpected confrontation. It’s a back-to-basics horror scenario as old as the hills: Nice young couple and their plucky young son are haunted by a THING in the basement. But the film plays with those expectations and subverts them while hiding many of its more oblique cards. Mysteries are hinted at and abandoned. A lurking fear permeates every frame. And the subterranean specter of Doctor Freudstein is a thing of real visual terror — a true monster hiding in the dark that must feed on blood to survive, but who may also be a sentinel of the Beyond. It’s never overtly established in the film that any literal “gates of hell” are opened. But the movie itself is a work of dark genius and macabre beauty. The score by Walter Rizzati is strong as well.
THE BEYOND (1983)
Released in America in a heavily edited and rescored version as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH in the 1980s, and later in 1998 under its original title and director’s cut, this is Fulci’s more-or-less undisputed masterwork, a creepily-paced haunted house film of dark corners and creaking doors that eclipses both CITY and HOUSE as the closest thing to a “film of pure theme” made by Fulci. It’s less well known for its gore set pieces, though there are plenty. What people tend to take away from this one is the almost certain sense that hell is already on earth and most of us are unable to escape it. The story is also campfire-simple, about a woman named Liza (again played by Catriona Macoll) who inherits a hotel in the swamp of Louisiana, only to find… well, yeah, there’s a curse and zombies and such. In any other hands this would be more of the same. Here it becomes dark magic, a real apex moment in Fulci’s eclectic lexicon. The overall feeling of bottomless dread that permeates until the very last frame seems tightly designed and keenly focused. Nearly everything that happens “logically” in the story seems almost an afterthought. Fabio Frizzi’s score is triumphant and epic, though often butchered in the dub, as on HOUSE. Frizzi was actually so unhappy with how his score was handled in the film that he eventually composed a new version with alternate cues and performed it live with the film on an unforgettable tour of the world in 2016 - 2017. This became a remarkable “composer’s cut” soundtrack album released by Mondo.
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1984)
Fulci followed up his beloved trilogy with this mean motherfucker, which usually always separates the weak from the strong. Then again, the word “weak” in this context may be a metaphor for “perfectly sane.” Those of us who love THE NEW YORK RIPPER might be totally out of our goddamn minds. Of the films discussed so far, RIPPER is the dirtiest of the bunch by many extra-wide margins, wallowing in a Big Apple-sized swamp of human filth and raging over-the-top torture and violence. But RIPPER may also be among the most socially important films of Fulci, exploring the darkest compunctions of the human animal and rolling the bones across a very bloody crap table. Even the most jaded will squirm through a few of the film’s most nauseating shock sequences as the faceless slasher wades through victim after victim, quacking like a deranged cartoon and enjoying the work maybe just a bit too much.
This is also one of Fulci’s best-made movies, with sharp cinematography and tight editing. Coming off a long string of back-to-back-to-back films, he was seasoned and knew exactly how to roll those bones.
THE PSYCHIC (1977)
This is an elegantly-mounted and subtly-paced giallo thriller from Lucio’s “pre-horror” period, filmed and originally released as MURDER TO THE TUNE OF SEVEN BLACK NOTES, and is admired by many serious cinephiles as some of the director’s best work. Quentin Tarantino champions this film and even showed it at the Alamo Drafthouse back in the old days, during his QT Film Fests of the early 2000s (he showed THE GATES OF HELL also, one year before the fest moved to the Alamo. With its deceptively simple tale of a young women who foresees her own death and the mysteries that evolve around it, complete with all the trappings of black glove killers and plot reversals that were so prominent in the Italian thriller cinema of the day, the film begins with an intriguing mystery that transcends time and then focuses on Jennifer O’Neill (SCANNERS) and the crumbling walls of her sanity, which manifest both figuratively and literally. In terms of graphic excess, it’s Fulci at his most restrained, as he allows story and character to come forward, building the tension. The music score, co-composed and directed by Fabio Frizzi, was an early triumph for the composer and is often singled out as one of the film’s key assets. And with good reason. It’s phenomenal, ranking alongside the best progressive scores of all time, with constant inventiveness and a looming sense of dread. The “Seven Black Notes” of the film’s title are motivated within the story and expended powerfully into one of the score’s key climax moments. This moment was famously repurposed in Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOL. 1, within a jaw-dropping soundtrack made up of greatest hits from Italian film scores.
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
Here’s a shining artifact of Fulci’s pre-1980s horror period, which was never released theatrically in the United States. It’s a well constructed giallo with powerful and realistic threads of pure drama that bring the dark side of humanity to light and hint at the graphic and philosophical excesses of Fulci’s many films to come. This was at a time when Lucio had a bit more money to work with and yields a slightly more professional sheen. The smoother, less “translated” nature of the indigenous dialogue track also allows us to see a purer Fulci at work, an uncompromising artist trying his best to make sense of an insane world. Though it doesn’t exactly possess the raging heart of THE NEW YORK RIPPER (which may be a good thing), it’s still a pretty mean mother and quite socially aware, following the events that unfold in the wake of a child’s murder. The denouement is cruel and unflinching in the way the best art of darkness always is. The music score by Italian legend Riz Ortolani is remarkable, playing off the onscreen perversions and insanities with great passion, skill and sensitivity. Riz was known as a “Morricone imitator” by some in his early years, because of his ability to counterplay grim beats on screen with whimsical motifs that evoked some of Ennio’s work on the spaghetti westerns. For me, however, Riz was a real original and his style is instantly recognizable, from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to GOODBYE UNCLE TOM. He’s also one of those composers that ends up on the turntables of hip post-modern heavyweight directors like Nicolas Winding Refn, who used a vintage Riz song in DRIVE. At any rate, DUCKLING is an easy fave amongst Fulci devotees if for no other reason than the audacious potshots Fulci takes at the Catholic Church along the way.
FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975)
This one is absolutely required viewing for any burgeoning fan of the Maestro’s work. It’s an odd-spirited spaghetti western from the middle of Fulci’s “six-gun trilogy,” which began with MASSACRE TIME (1966) and ended with SILVER SADDLE in 1978. This is the first film I know about that literally addresses the notion that these bleak western landscapes are often quite like looking at the end of the world in a sort of historical reverse. It’s easy to see where films like THE ROAD WARRIOR — often considered apocalyptic westerns — borrowed their sceneographics and prevailing ideologies. The story grabs us fast with a down-on-his luck gambler railroaded by the local sheriff in an old west frontier town, just as a violent mercenary blitzkrieg turns the whole place into a blood-riddled bullet dance. In the aftermath, four survivors set out on a bleak journey into no-man’s land. Though FOUR has been referred to as a horror film by various critics and fans, it really isn’t brutal enough, gory enough or scary enough to fall in the category — at least not compared to the lunacy of Fulci’s later work. Make no mistake, there are many horrors on display and a lot of it is not for the weak of stomach. But the overarching story is far more reaching and philosophical than all that, with an epic sense of apocalypse that gives way to an unexpected hope for the future. In fact, of all the films discussed so far, this is Lucio’s most weirdly optimistic. It comes up with the lunatic notion that even old crusty cowboys jaded with life and resigned to their inevitable ends will one day be moved by something greater than themselves, a theme and an ideal almost nonexistent in Lucio’s other work. This also marked the start of his long collaboration with Fabio Frizzi, who composed the bittersweet score and songs, which stay with you long after the film’s final fade to black.
A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971)
With a powerful 1960s-era score by Ennio Morricone blasting us right into one of Fulci’s more lavish and thematically ambitious giallo scenarios, this film throws down the gauntlet early and shows us a filmmaker struggling to break from the traditions of whodunit murder cinema, venturing into more bizarre and risky territory. It was bought by AIP years after its release, cut down and released in US theaters as SCHIZOID, backed by one of the more misleading ad campaigns of the day, which made it seem like some old school castle-horror film. Later re-released under it’s original title, the film found a small audience, but it wasn’t really “discovered” by serious cinephiles until much later. It’s a movie that wants to be many things and may not achieve all of them, but in his more uncompromising moments, what Fulci devises is truly shocking and original to behold. It drips of the late ‘60s, with mini-skirts and bobbed hair and that crazy Ennio doing some variation of his DANGER DIBOLIK routine, as we barrel through orgy sequences, bizarre dreams and some unflinching visceral assaults. A highly realistic onscreen animal vivisection might make some turn away for its political incorrectness, but never fear: Though some Italian movies are notorious for scenes of live animal slaughter, this one is all fake. The whirlwind of surreal LSD-inspired dread is what you mostly take away from this. Indeed, there is probably no other giallo in the world that features a giant monster bird descending from another dimension to cast its long and ominous shadow across the world of the living.
PERVERSION STORY (1969)
Also known as ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, this is more restrained than LIZARD but still in the same wheelhouse, deeply embedded in the psychedelia of the 1960s and quite stylish. It’s one of Fulci’s more polished early efforts, but less eccentric in theme than later films and more overly plot-driven in the Hitchcockian mode. In fact, there are traces of VERTIGO in the story, which deals with a widower who discovers a beautiful woman who reminds him of his late wife. Of course he’s accused of whacking the ex-wife, and we’re off to the races. The film seems to possess an eerie sense of humor, which Fulci was famously not famous for in his horror period. From his prevailing filmography, it was probably fairly easy to formulate that he believed comedy should be in comedies and horror should be in horror films. But here he blurs that line and opens up the playing field, all the while constructing sneaky bait-and-switch games, luring the audience into places of relative comfort, then clobbering the hell out of us with something sleazy and unexpected and even hilarious. This allows us to look at his other films with a more evolved eye and see what we might have been missing — and we may have been missing quite a lot. When I think of this film, I’m often reminded of the gruff police detective’s line in THE NEW YORK RIPPER: “You want a serious answer to your question or do you wanna hear a funny story?” This movie seems to be asking that question constantly, even as it zips from scene to scene, descending into pitch black territory to the merry strains of Riz Ortolani yet again, who provides a gliding, effortless “conscious” to the film’s ambitious onscreen eye-jackings.
THE DEVILS HONEY (1986)
Signaling the technical fatigue of a director weighed down by nonstop work and personal tragedy, this is among a series of films Fulci made in the mid-to-late ‘80s that suffered from lack of budget and no lack of compromise during shooting. Though it eschews many of the familiar visual motifs for which Fulci was famous, it contains enough sheer energy and audacity to put it on the short list of must-see films for serious Fulciphiles. The movie was released only on video in the United States, under the alternate title DANGEROUS OBSESSION — which makes it sound like any other thriller in the ‘80s or a Skinemax film from the ‘90s — and only in 2017 was it finally released uncut in a true-and-proper edition, by our pals at Severin Films. And is it any good? Well, sure it is. It’s Fulci. Even worn down, he had enough genius in him to buoy a number of work-for-hire projects. The story involves a rising musician and his obsession with his girlfriend, which begins as something merely uncomfortable to watch, then descends into truly unpredictable depravity. This is the most overtly sexualized film in this collection — perhaps even in Fulci’s entire filmography — approaching soft-core porn, seemingly powered by the same cruel demons that Fulci let loose in THE NEW YORK RIPPER. Lucio always dealt with sex in a squirmy way, making the experience of THE DEVIL’S HONEY somewhat difficult to take in politically. It’s not as graphically violent as RIPPER, but it does a deep dive into perverted waters (literally, at least in one key scene) and provides an inventive and twisted plot full of dark character machinations.
THE BLACK CAT (1984)
The late, great Patrick Magee, who was probably most famous for playing the tortured-mad revenger of Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, takes on one of literature’s most doomed protagonists in this fascinating attempt at bringing the legendary Edgar Allan Poe story into the 1980s. The film is both faithful to the source material — about a man driven to murder his wife by the specter of a feline monstrosity that won’t let go of his soul — while Fulci’s personal obsessions sometimes veer wildly off-topic, mixing up traditional elements of giallo and supernatural horror in a rich stew that brims with ambition. Mimsy Farmer of Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (who somehow doesn’t look a day older in the 10+ years since) is cast as Magee’s obsession, though she is not his wife in this version and has a bit more to do. Meanwhile, Dagmar Lassander, the German beauty who had the most cruelly extended death sequence in THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, gets an almost equally gruesome demise here — did Fulci have something personal against this woman? — and the also late-great David Warbeck of THE BEYOND shows up as the story’s obligatory police inspector, only to have his face ripped apart by the murderous cat (a scene that even made it into the film’s theatrical release poster). But Fulci doesn’t seem as interested in all that, focusing more on the dark heart of the Poe story, buoyed by Magee’s typically scene-stealing performance. His yellow-eyed madness haunts every frame, filling the dark spaces with painfully human follies of fear, obsession and self-loathing. It’s all the more chilling in that Magee died shortly after the film was completed, leaving this among his final performances. Genre legend Pino Donaggio delivers a first-rate score, combining whimsical motifs with tragic refrains and a full bodied orchestral tapestry rushing to meet contemporary instrumentation. The theme tune is especially memorable, which seems to find the schizoid personality of the cat amidst a series of simple leitmotifs that identify the old man and the young heroine, and then circles back in an eerily optimistic modulation. Though the film is obviously made on something of a shoestring and a few moments clunk loudly, it is among Fulci’s most stylistically assured, with strong cinematography on display, a terrific sense of atmospheric dread, and a final, quite satisfying feeling of old ghosts reinvented. And speaking of cats…
A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990)
Also known as NIGHTMARE CONCERT, this film was made at the end of Fulci’s long run in the 1980s and released the next year overseas. The feature never officially made it stateside in theaters or on video, outside of bootleg VHS tapes cloned from the Japanese laserdisc (don’t judge us; it was the only way to see certain films back then). Against nearly all odds — and some might even say logic — this film is considered by many serious horrorphiles to be among the director’s best work. Splatterpunk pioneer David J. Schow says this is his favorite Fulci film. They’re not wrong. It’s probably safe to say that no other film like this will ever happen again. Like many of Fulci’s later efforts, it is less polished, made on a fraction of even his lowest budgets. But with an intriguing central concept — in which Lucio plays himself directing a horror film while being targeted by an evil psychiatrist who wants to frame him for murder — the whole glorious experiment somehow finds a way to work and serves as an intense capper to this primer course in the Maestro. The other central conceit is that a lot of scenes are lifted from other films, which Fulci either directed himself or had some involvement with as a presenter. So it’s a bit of a clip show, with Lucio as our host through a “here is your life” reel that puts a lot of past depravity on view amidst a constant intellectual commentary. Fulci’s bizarre English-dubbed performance is something to see — and hear, as he is voiced by one of those guys we’ve listened to many times in many other films (can you tell which one it is? He had a featured role in THE BEYOND). Along the way, Fulci pontificates on filmmaking, life and his general eclectic (and eccentric) positions on the various forms of cruelty on display in the films over the years. The music score by Fabio Frizzi, one of his better efforts, has a central theme so complex that his band had to spend weeks in rehearsal to master it. The film is unforgettable and required viewing for anyone still with us at this point. And it gets us right into…
FULCI FOR FAKE (2020)
This amazing brand-new documentary — which was the whole damn reason we collected these movies for you in the first place — can either be watched on its own or placed here in the viewing order list. If exploring Fulci for the first time, you can really only get the full “Fulci Effect” of the doc after taking in the above-mentioned movies. But it’s still a great film on its own. Like Fulci’s best work, it takes risks. It gets in deep and provides a passionate commentary on the man behind the films. With all my heart, and as a lifelong fan, this movie gets my highest recommendation.
And once you’ve had the chance to delve this deep, we move on to the lesser known and less well-received films of Fulci’s career. Yet they each have their important place in his filmography and have much to recommend them…
This was made just before Fulci was hired to direct ZOMBIE in 1979, and it was a troubled production from day one. Some of that shows in the final film. Still, it’s generally considered one of his better efforts, finding its way through with a deft visual style and good pacing. It’s about smugglers and gangsters doing what they do best, and in Fulci’s world, you know that ain’t gonna be pretty. With a solid cast, a terrific funk-based score by Fabio Frizzi and some truly startling scenes of violence, this marks an interesting moment in the Maestro’s career, when he was getting his sea legs to enter the ‘80s as an in-demand auteur in genre film.
MANHATTAN BABY (1984)
The American release posters called it EYE OF THE EVIL DEAD. That probably makes more sense than the inexplicable Italian moniker, but it also may speak ironically to the film’s bizarre identity problem. It’s easily the most divisive film of Fulci’s early ‘80s period, and the subject of much debate amongst the faithful. The story is more ambitious than usual but no less traditional: an archeologist returns to his family in New York, his eyes blinded by ancient laser beams (or something) and a curse embedded in an ancient Egyptian amulet he’s brought back. Though it’s pretty easy to see this is not a conceit in which Fulci was fully invested — the film is bizarrely meandering and lopsided — he does come through with his signature eyes-obsessed visual style and at least one extended showcase gore sequence, which has always come off to me like a sly commentary on the usually fake-looking nature of bird attacks in movies. The Maestro literally has a stuffed and mounted falcon come to life, which then attacks its human target relentlessly, pecking his face apart. This automatically excuses Fulci from any reliance on realism and allows him to do a big damn wink right in our faces, even as the blood runs down the screen. Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack is again scorchingly strong and the composer’s own personal favorite of all his scores to this day. That’s saying a lot. Fabio is the composer of almost a hundred scores for film and television. Unfortunately, the score was again compromised during the dub and inexplicably padded with greatest hits from other Frizzi/Fulci films. It all adds to the rather doomed-to-oblivion feeling the film possesses. Still, it’s a must-see for serious fans.
Although less successful than Fulci’s other works, I would argue that it’s quite a triumph in its own odd way. In this film, a young female coma victim periodically swaps minds with a newly arrived “bad girl” on a college campus and drives her to acts of murder and hallucinogenic horror. Fulci effectively distills ideas from other films yet somehow keeps things fresh. While one misses the presence of Fabio Frizzi in the scoring department, the general mood established is weirdly effective and the setpieces are at times quite remarkable, such as the Maestro’s elegant “god’s eye view” miniature shots of the campus and the infamous “death by snail” sequence, in which a young coed is smothered into an early grave by escargot.
Fulci was reportedly obsessed with telling this story, and managed to get it produced despite working on a tiny budget. DEMONIA is also generally reviled by many horror aficionados. But even if it never finds the delirious heights of THE BEYOND, there is clear passion on display. I mention THE BEYOND because Fulci had apparently intended this to be a sort of spiritual successor to that film, with its original title of LIZA, named for Catriona McColl’s character in the former and a plot centered around curses and demonic activity. Is this worth your time? Definitely. Though it’s not considered canonical, there’s quite a lot to like here and stands as an object lesson in genre cinema: If you say it like you mean it — if you’re really damn committed to something — some kind of magic will happen. Even on a bad day.
ZOMBIE 3 (1998) This is last on the list because it is not a true film of Lucio Fulci. You see, his ZOMBIE was originally called ZOMBIE 2 because it was an unofficial prequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD, which was released in Italy as ZOMBI. Confused yet? ZOMBI 3 was to be the true and proper sequel to Fulci’s ZOMBI 2. Still confused? Fulci shepherded the film through pre-production and began directing on location, only to be replaced the producers. The reasons for this shake-up and the circumstances surrounding it vary depending on who your sources are. The Maestro was never happy with what happened and publicly disowned this film. Who could blame him? When my partner at Eibon Press met Lucio just before his death in 1996, Fulci screamed, “DAT’S NOT MY MOOOOVIE!” and wouldn’t talk about it anymore. The remaining scenes were finished by “post-Bava gore auteur” Bruno Mattei. Nonetheless the film is an interesting footnote in the career of Fulci and many of the scenes he directed are still intact. And I’ve always admired the ending (I won’t spoil it for you), which is just the kind of craziness that only Lucio can conjure.
The shock waves ignited by the Maestro are being felt even today, as Lucio’s legacies continue to re-inspire, energize and inform. He was part of an all-important movement that redefined genre films through sheer force of audacity and vision. Because of him and others like him, we had movies like DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and a whole new wave in the 1990s that paved roads into bloody territory, allowing the form to mutate and evolve.
My deepest thanks to Tim League and David Gregory and Zack Carlson and Bob Murawski and Sage Stallone (rest in peace, buddy) and Bill Lustig and Quentin and Guillermo all the people out there who work hard to keep the legacy of Lucio Fulci alive. So long as these guys have breath in their bodies, his films will live on. And the next generation will live after us. Because art is everywhere. That’s what Lucio would have told us.
As he led us by the hand into darker territory, towards understanding.
And into fear.
Essay by Stephen Romano.
Learn more about his comics, writing and his further exploration of Lucio Fulci at Eibon Press