Lucio Fulci was one of the most prominent horror movie makers of the eighties. Indeed; he would rank alongside Dario Argento and Mario Bava as one of Italy’s finest ever exports. His career spanned decades and during that time he became influential with his specific style; that influence still being felt all these years later. Fulci’s films were largely incoherent, flawed masterpieces which pushed boundaries and opened doors for aspiring Italian directors to showcase the Italians’ distinctive flair for visceral storytelling. And he reached the peak of his prowess at a pivotal time for horror.
The turn of the eighties had bought with it thicker skin, stronger stomachs and a universal desire to stay with the camera that little bit longer as it reveled in going in that extra bit closer, resisting the urge to pull back from the sorrow it depicted with more and more explicit glee. His trademarks; dark, moody cinematography, close-up zooms, the eyes of female victims as they scream and the continual use of cats and dogs in his works, were evident particularly within this period of his career.
Lucio’s Gates of Hell Trilogy would become destined for posthumous plaudits from avid devotees and media professionals alike. It’s fruitless to attempt recollection of any three films which form such a consistently distressing whole. A brave broth of storm-beaten parables; each corroborating a common theme – unsurprisingly a gateway to Hell, Fulci’s triplets each stood on their own idiosyncratic merits but were perhaps more logical and cohesive when viewed as a Ménage à trois.
If one so desired, criticisms could be constructed for all three with some credence but their meaning would then become dilute as their focus was never on sturdy narrative, Fulci was concerned instead with the beguiling visual and audio aspects which transcended any distinct element. He defied convention quite openly; structuring in a non-linear fashion (less so with City of the Living Dead) and keeping the premise threadbare. This allowed him to hone in on bequeathing violent excess, dumbfounding the censors who strimmed all three films of key scenes.
The Beyond was pilloried as a nasty and removed from circulation between 1983 and 1985, hanging in limbo for seventeen years before finding eventual distribution in its full glory. House by the Cemetery fared even worse with the classifiers; persevering acolytes being kept waiting until 2009 before the prodigious Arrow Video reinstated it to its complete and far more intelligible realization of Fulci’s grand vision. City of the Living Dead was trimmed also, the drill scene in particular incensing the suits; again enthusiasts playing a waiting game until 2001 to get their paws on its full incarnation.
Of course, Fulci had other tribulations to contend with. Zombie Flesh Eaters, the film with more aliases than Fletch and more disparagers than Jimmy Saville, found itself alongside The Beyond on the offending list and Olga Karlatos’ eye-gouging exasperated fault finders who in turn ensured a lengthy wait for Fulci’s followers before being freed fully from its shackles in 2005.
The New York Ripper was perhaps the most difficult to vindicate; cries of the misogynistic nature were difficult to overlook, especially given the fact that the depiction of violence was aimed towards female sufferers. At times there is a whiff of voyeuristic about proceedings and throughout, a sense of bitterness which is all the more potent given his wife’s suicide in 1969.
He also tragically lost his daughter and the last few years of his mortality were beleaguered with declining health. Lucio died during the planning stage of Wax Mask, an ill-fated concept which would have paired him with the great Argento for a remake of 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum but alas never came to fruition.
Looking back on this man’s career which spanned well over three decades, originating with comedy in 1959, it was the period between 1979 and 1982 which yielded films which would become his true legacy. A short-lived collaboration with script writer Dardano Saccheti ended acrimoniously and his later films suffered; only offering fleeting glimpses of his past talent.
When at his creative summit his eye for excess was remarkable; combining with the beautiful photography of Sergio Salvati on most of his more fertile pieces to produce surreal results. It’s only now that Lucio Fulci’s works can be enjoyed endured in their entirety and I would argue vehemently that there has never been a more appropriate time to delve into the delirious mind of one of horror’s true visionaries.
Over the course of upcoming inspections I will revisit not only the thoroughbreds from his stable, but also his lesser known works such as The Black Cat, Aenigma, Cat in the Brain, Manhattan Baby and the highly regarded and surprisingly restrained House of Clocks as well as his 1972 native box-office smash Don’t Torture a Duckling.
It will be a rough ride at times, a slog at others but ultimately an absolute pleasure taking in his tortured works once more. A bastion for explicit gore and on his day the nearest thing to a modern-day HP Lovecraft; Fulci was also an ambassador for Italian horror cinema and the ripples of his fractured ingenuity are still being felt today.
Lucio Fulci aka The Godfather of Gore (1927-1996)
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