Odds and DEAD Ends: Lucio Fulci, Italy’s Godfather of Gore

When people think of Italian horror, Dario Argento is the first name that invariably comes to mind. And why wouldn’t it? With some of the most influential films in the horror genre, (Suspiria (1977), Profondo Rosso (1975), and Opera (1987), to name but a few), he brought Italy to our attention with the care and style that few could match.

After Argento we might think of Mario Bava, who brought stylised violence to the screen with Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Black Sabbath (1963), and set Italy going in horror movies, and their closely related counterpart of the giallo, like never before. Slasher films in the 80’s consistently came back to the ’64 movie time and time again for inspiration.

Next on the list, however, is Lucio Fulci, this article’s focus. This is a man who created some of the most astounding visuals, in the pulpiest films you’ll ever see. He crafted a unique oeuvre of gore and gristle, but with a mastery that few have touched.

Born in Rome in the mid nineteen-twenties, Fulci was first set on medicine, and whilst working as an art critic, turned his mind to film. Whilst starting off with comedies in the fifties, as the sixties neared their end he began crafting violent thrillers which, understandably, saw him fall out of favour with the Catholic Church.

Beginning really with Lizard in a woman’s skin in 1971, and Don’t torture a Duckling the following year in 1972, Fulci began to blend the stylish giallo of his contemporary, Argento, with graphic violence, pushing extreme filmmaking to new levels.

He brought out a slew of films in the next few years, a particular favourite of mine being Seven Notes in Black (also known as Seven Black Notes or The Psychic) in 1977, but Fulci really left his mark on cinema starting two years afterward. Zombie Flesh Eaters (or Zombi, or Zombie 2) released in 1979, was Italy’s answer to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Coincidentally, Dario Argento, worked on Romero’s film. Flesh Eaters really brought something a little exotic to the zombie genre, as well as conceiving two of the greatest scenes in horror history, the first being the zombie vs. shark fight. The second, which I’m indulging myself to discuss at length now, is the famous eye piercing scene.

Fulci takes his time to construct this scene, heightening the tension up like stretching an elastic band. He focuses on the shadow of the light from outside in the battle with the zombie to close the door, with no loud noises or music. There are no tricks, just showing an image of two sides struggling for purchase, pure cinema, as Hitchcock would have called it. The door closed, the heroine puts a chest in front of the door, and then, two minutes into the scene, the zombie bursts through and grabs her head. Splinter on the shattered door. And an eye to be pierced.

Fulci is obsessed with eyes and sight, one of his directorial trademarks being a quick zoom into the face for a reaction, almost a crash cut. This time, however, he takes his sweet time. Her head comes closer, and we cut to a POV of the splinter, tracking in. Reaction shot, and in we go a little tighter. Fulci does this as many times as he can get away with, building, building. And then, as with all scenes of suspense, you need a pay-off. If you’re a gore-hound, what a magnificent pay-off it is.

This scene is incredibly Hitchcockian in its construction, that you begin to understand that there’s a great talent behind the camera. Fulci isn’t just about gore; he’s about crafting a memorable scene. So memorable, in fact, that although I’ve no confirmation of it being conscious, I invite you to take a look at the spike eye-gouging scene in Saw 3D (2010). It’s almost exactly the same construction. Over 30 years later and a pulpy little Italian film is referenced in one of the biggest horror franchises of all time.

Fulci might have had his moment in the spotlight here with Zombie Flesh Eaters, were it not for his crowning glory. The triple-header of City of the Living Dead in 1980, and both The Beyond and The House by the Cemetary in 1981, formed his ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy. These three films, and especially The Beyond, are his masterpieces. Fulci doesn’t so much create or direct these films as dream them, surreal images like a collage of nightmares, culminating in a dark, mist-soaked atmosphere of unutterable dread. Buckets of gore thrown in for good measure help to create some of the most beautifully constructed nightmare-fuel ever to emerge of Italy. Fulci knows how to create an image worthy of putting up on your wall, and these three films are his perfect showcase.

I was lucky enough to see Fabio Frizzi, who scored many of Fulci’s films, perform his new composer’s cut for The Beyond, as a live accompaniment, at Abertoir Horror Festival 2016. Sat on the row behind me was Luigi Cozzi, another Italian director of the same period and good friend of Argento and the Bava family. It was the European Premiere of the new music as a live score, and there was something magical in the room that night. I won’t get too romantic, but it was there. Every second of that film and performance dripped with something special, from every zombie killed to each misty alleyway, right to its surrealist final moments in that landscape of beyond, it was like watching a lovechild between Salvador Dali and David Cronenberg, with a perfect prog-rock accompaniment. If Fulci’s ghost was there, I think he would have been proud to see a packed house enjoying his film decades later.

Unfortunately, a few years later, Fulci released Conquest (1983). An epic fantasy trying to cash in on the trend being started by films like Conan the Barbarian (1982), it flopped. This was Fulci’s big break, and it killed him instantly. There wasn’t much more of note ever produced, and I’m inclined to think that Fulci was a little bitter by it all. The House of Clocks (1989) is a very nice supernatural home-invasion style thriller, and A Cat in the Brain in 1990 is good fun, but that’s about it. Succumbing to medical conditions in the mid nineties, he passed away in 1996, in the middle of production for a remake of Vincent Price’s House of Wax with Dario Argento, with whom Fulci had finally agreed to work with after many decades of petty spites.

Fulci’s work is vastly underappreciated, even, I think, within the casual horror scene itself. He was a craftsman that was severely overlooked, and it wasn’t perhaps until Quentin Tarantino used the theme for Seven Notes in Black as a part of his Kill Bill (Kill Bill (Vol. 1), 2003) score, and released a few of his movies in cinemas for limited release, that people really paid attention to him. His writing could be as tightly plotted as any Argento giallo; his love of voyeurism and tension could rival Hitchcock. He used as much gore as Cronenberg, and yet his vivid imagination never really caught the public. His is a volume of work that takes a little digging to get into, but once experienced fully, is never forgotten.

And that’s the point. Fulci’s movies are never forgettable, even some of the later films where his declining health undoubtedly played a part in their quality. A horror hack he might have seemed to the public, but underneath it all was an incredibly talented individual who is only now, decades after his passing, beginning to get the true recognition that he deserved.

Article by Kieran Judge (2018)

Bibliography

A Cat in the Brain. 1990. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Exclusive Cine TV.

Black Sabbath. 1963. [Film] Directed by Mario Bava. Italy: Emmepi.

Blood and Black Lace. 1964. [Film] Directed by Mario Bava. Italy: Emmepi.

City of the Living Dead. 1980. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Dania Film.

Conan The Barbarian. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Milius. USA: Dino De Laurentiis.

Conquest. 1983. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Clemi Cinematgorafica.

Dawn of the Dead. 1978. [Film] Directed by George A Romero. USA: Laurel Group Inc..

Don’t Torture a Duckling. 1972. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Medusa Produzione.

House of Wax. 1953. [Film] Directed by Andre DeToth. USA: Warner Bros..

Kill Bill (Vol. 1). 2003. [Film] Directed by Quentin Tarantino. USA: A Band Apart.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. 1971. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: International Apollo Films.

Profondo Rosso. 1975. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seda Spettacoli.

Saw 3D. 2010. [Film] Directed by Kevin Greutert. USA: Lionsgate.

Seven Notes In Black. 1977. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Rizzoli Film.

Suspiria. 1977. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seda Spettacolli.

Terror At The Opera. 1987. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: ADC Films.

The Beyond. 1981. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Fulvia Film.

The House by the Cemetary. 1981. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Fulvia Film.

The House of Clocks. 1989. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Dania Film.

Zombie Flesh Eaters. 1979. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy : Variety Film.

A Christmas Carol Vision by Willo Hausman

A Christmas Carol

VISION

Director: Willo Hausman 

Melancholy Lurking 2Being a director who is smitten with ghosts and monsters I was immediately drawn to taking on the job of directing a theatrical version of Charles Dickens’ haunting tale.  When I think of A Christmas Carol I go immediately to the world that the author so clearly created in this classic story. None of the schmaltzy over-bright happy-go-lucky stuff that is so often presented in this traditional holiday fare.

The Undertaker Man_Samuel Millard

So the first rule of thumb in taking on this endeavor, was that I would be allowed free rein to stick to the original story with all it’s strange and ominous intent.  The elements that make this novel intriguing and caused its incredible success depict frightening ghosts (four of them to be precise), depressing poverty and illness, the permanence of death and a central character that is an incredibly mean-spirited man, living his life in miserly bitterness. It is only at the very end that Scrooge is redeemed and if we have gone through this truly dark journey alongside him, experiencing all the nightmares that he does, then we too will rejoice in his enlightenment, as well as our own.

Bob CratchitI first pitched the idea of putting up A Christmas Carol to Steve Coleman, The Throckmorton Theater’s fabulously gifted set designer. After realizing that we were kindred artistic spirits and connected creatively in numerous ways, the notion of putting up this play burned that much brighter in my mind.  I felt even more driven to direct this piece on that particular stage, surrounded by such appropriate ambiance. There is a very old-fashioned charm to this space (it began as a cabaret in the 1920s) and it really rang true for the vision I had in mind for this production. This inspiration was fueled even further after reading a certain version of the script, written in England (by Charles Ludlam) and true to the original tale; shadowy, mysterious, witty and finally, upbeat.

The Bag LadyAs Scrooge enters the realm of his memories, confronts the truth of his present and imagines a future without hope, we learn what truly matters; truth, kindness and heart. What better way to impart lessons then with spooky apparitions, intense imagery, haunting realizations, rich dialogue and in the end, utter spectacular joy? Dickens does it best with his original intent, just as the fairy tales of old were wont to do. With this production we planned to stick as close as possible to the real message within the authors words and use his inventive tactics to present them.

Bag Lady Pomegranate

We ended up with a terrifically twisted and authentic set (which ultimately went through 18 shifts during the show, carried out primarily by the performers themselves); a talented cast of 25 (aged 7-77), consisting of both professionals and amateurs; old-fashioned stage trickery (we used black-lights and human-made sounds to announce the arrival of Marley’s ghost); new-fangled elements (9 fantastic projections depicting Scrooge’s memories and ghostly travels, filmed by the masterful Mark Bowen) and mesmerizing Ghost Girllive sound fx (Steve Kirk, our composer, designed an incredible cinematic score, which underlined the action and added to the shadowy mood). We also mixed in a few modern day splashes via our fantastic costume designer, Morganne Newson, who brought some steam-punk hues to her slate of Victorian clothing and then topped it all off with fantastically unique looks created by Maya Lopez and Leonie Meissner, our hair and make-up designers, who worked their magic on our diverse set of characters.  Many of the actors played up to three roles each and needed to change looks fairly rapidly.  After the initial opening night jitters, the play acquired a great rhythm and the audience (including Robin Williams) laughed and appeared in awe at all the right places.  Happily, I even heard reports of some folk being rather frightened by the eerie specters and mesmerizing illuminations.

The Nephews Party

Currently in the works are a grand scale version of FRANKENSTEIN, a theatrical trilogy of GRIMM and a play based on the intriguing life of my mother, actress Diane Varsi. In active development are two feature films: CLARE, a murder mystery revolving around a clan of modern-day clan witches living in the midst of a bustling metropolis (screenplay by Maria Bernhard) and AMONG THE WONDERFUL (based on a novel by Stacy Carlson); a vintage circus tale set at Barnum’s NYC museum circa 1842 with a giantess and a taxidermist at the center of the mix.  Also on the slate are a sitcom THE VIBE (written by Jon Mosher), an Edward Gorey based film, a Buster Keaton bio-movie and a documentary film about mental illness.

Willo Hausman Bio

Director WilloAfter graduating NYU with a BFA in acting, Willo was the Founding Artistic Director of NRG, a theatre company in NYC which primarily employed a film-based crew and performed verite’ style throughout Manhattan.  NRGS’ most notable endeavor, THE HOBBYWOOD CANTEEN, was performed on a soundstage at Culver Studios in LA where it received much kudos and notoriety.  While attending he Tisch School at NYU Willo was also honored with the opportunity to perform in a few David Mamet movies where she honed her skills as an actor.  Willo enriched her film knowledge by continuing training on many high-powered film sets, working in a multitude of capacities, including NOBODY’S FOOL (Stand-in/Perdiem-Envelope-Stuffer and Art Department Production Assistant), FAMILY THING (Set PA and Casting Assistant), PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (Extras Casting Director), TWILIGHT (No, not That Twilight, a different film with Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon) as a Producer’s Assistant and MAN ON THE MOON (Camera Assistant).  Willo also spent many years working by her father’s side at his NY-based production company, CINEHAUS.

FAIRIE was Willo’s filmic directorial debut. A fantastical tale about 9 fairy creatures celebrating the new millennium at the Hollywood sign. Willo also shot and directed LAST DAY AT CINETEL, a short work in the reality genre, humorously revealing the inherent frustrations of being an artist trapped in a menial job. Recently, Willo directed a well-received and elaborate theatrical production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, combining cinema, an original score, Victorian Steampunk costumes and an exquisite gothic-hued set. She has also helmed an innovative stage version of DRACULA.

Willo is the founder of GRYPHON PICTURES, a LA and SF-based film company.

MY COMPANY WEBSITE

www.gryphonpictures.com

http://www.gryphonpictures.com

FACEBOOK PAGE-GRYPHON PICTURES

https://www.facebook.com/gryphonpictures