For a man dubbed 'The Godfather of Gore', Lucio Fulci was, in fact, a cultured, romantic individual. A native of Rome, he studied medicine, made a meagre living as a film critic, crafted rudimentary documentaries and served in the technical departments of other, more established directors such as Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Federico Fellini. Fulci aligned himself with the Experimental Film Studio. He admitted that his chief motivation for entering the film industry in the first place was to impress a woman.
Though that relationship didn't develop, Fulci's professional reputation did. Having been mentored for over a decade by the Italian comic master, Stefano Vanzini, aka 'Steno', Fulci made the move into directing, first making a film with Italy's most popular comedian, Toto, in I Ladri (1959), before moving onto westerns, musicals and pulp thrillers. Three films in 1969 brought him considerable notoriety: Beatrice Cenci (aka The Conspiracy of Torture), the 16th Century-set tale of a woman who murders her abusive father and incurs the wrath of the local diocese (it stemmed from his outspoken disdain for the Catholic Church); the dark thriller Double Face (A Doppia Faccia, co-directed with Riccardo Freda, though Fulci went uncredited), which led him down the path of horror film glory; and the provocatively-titled Perversion Story (Una sull'altra).
His first foray into the grotesque world of 'giallo' cinema would be the 1971 shocker A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Una lucertola con la pelle di donna), its success dictating a career that would see Fulci celebrated as one of horror's darkest storytellers. With films such as Don't Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino, 1972) and The Psychic (Sette note in nero,1977), he honed his craft until unleashing his 1979 blockbuster Zombie (Zombi 2) in all its hideous glory. A shameless pilfering of George Romero's 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead, it's nevertheless considered a turning point in the history of the all-or-nothing Italian genre. Fulci, along with contemporaries Mario Bava, Luigi Cozzi, Joe D'Amato, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and the great Dario Argento would carve a bloody niche for the European horror film industry that remains to this day.
The 2012 Italian Film Festival is honouring Fulci (who passed away after a diabetic seizure in 1996) with rare screenings of his famous 'Gates of Hell' trilogy in a sidebar the organisers have called 'Porte Dell'Inferno: The Fevered Cinema of Lucio Fulci'.
Here's a preview of what's in store. In case you hadn't guessed, these clips are not for the faint-hearted...
City of the Living Dead (Paura nella città dei morti viventi; 1980)
Plot: When a priest hangs himself, a portal is opened that allows the denizens of the underworld to spew forth. Much carnage ensues. A psychic (Fulci's favoured leading lady of the day, Catriona MacColl) and a journalist (Christopher George) travel to England to thwart the murderous zombie-types and close the portal for good.
Critical response: “What separates Fulci from his more blunt colleagues is that he also pays a good deal of attention to the creation of a truly sick, spooky atmosphere.” – Brian Holcomb, CinemaBlend.com
The Fans Love: The infamous 'intestines' scene, during which a woman regurgitates her entire digestive system.
The Beyond (...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà; 1981)
Plot: Considered Fulci's most accomplished work and a landmark giallo film, The Beyond begins with the Deep South crucifixion of Schweick, an artist and suspected warlock, that forces open one of the seven 'Doors of Death'. Jump forward to modern times and the site now belongs to a New York socialite (MacColl, again), who stumbles unaware into the horrific world of the resurrected Schweick and his army of possessed undead.
Critical Response: “It's never clear what's happening, where the characters are running to, why corpses are hooked up to EKG machines and why 'imaginary' characters are prone to the sufferings of the flesh. Nonetheless, The Beyond is, literally, an eye-popping experience.” – Ed Gonzalez, San Francisco Chronicle
The Fans Love: The wave of tarantulas descending upon the face of one poor sod, his lips and eyelids fodder for the eight-legged killers.
The House by the Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero; 1981, pictured)
Plot: MacColl's young family can no longer stand the cramped living quarters of their NYC flat, so they head for New England and a spacious new home. But their due diligence failed to unearth the creature living in the basement, the mutated by-product left over from the evil Dr Freudstein's experiments that once filled the halls of the mansion with the cries of the tortured.
Critical Response: “Boring, badly dubbed dialogue scenes give way to bursts of brain-melting violence, as The Shining and The Amityville Horror are rehashed with Fulci's trademark mix of flair and negligence.” – Matt Glasby, Total Film
The Fans Love: Maggots for blood, kids! Maggots for blood!