Lucio Fulci movies feature more blood and guts than your average slaughterhouse. That’s why the Italian director best-known for graphic horror films was dubbed the “Godfather of Gore,” a lofty title shared by fellow splatter icon Herschell Gordon Lewis.
While he started his career as an art critic (after studying medicine in college), Fulci later made the transition to screenwriting and then directing in the late ‘50s. He worked in numerous genres, with comedy films being his specialty early on. But his career really took off with the release of Don’t Torture a Duckling, a graphic murder mystery containing a great deal of social criticism (especially against the Catholic Church). Afterwards, Fulci worked more and more in the horror genre, and he’s remembered by most fans as the man behind some of the most gory pictures ever filmed.
Never truly appreciated during his lifetime, Fulci’s films have slowly generated a dedicated following thanks to uncensored DVD releases and the power of the Internet. Quentin Tarantino has proclaimed the director as a major influence, and he oversaw a re-release of Fulci’s The Beyond in the U.S. that generated impressive box-office revenue during a series of midnight showings.
Below, I’ve selected some of the most notable Lucio Fulci films for your enjoyment. Some are outstanding, while others are just downright weird. But whatever the case, viewers with an adventuresome spirit and a strong stomach are sure to be entertained. Fulci lives!
- City of the Living Dead (1980) – Also known as The Gates of Hell, this is the first film in a trilogy (including The House by the Cemetery and The Beyond) by the Italian horror legend. When a priest commits suicide in a cemetery, it causes the gates of Hell to open up and spew forth zombies with all kinds of un-zombie-like powers (including levitation and teleportation). If the portal isn’t closed before All Saints Day, the dead will rule the Earth. Luckily, our fate is in the hands of a nosy reporter (Christopher George) and a recently resurrected spiritual medium (Catriona MacColl). If you consider yourself a gorehound, this film is an absolute must-see. A head is forced into a giant drill, people vomit up their own intestines, and brains are forcibly removed by supernatural hands.
- A Cat in the Brain (1990) – Fulci not only directs, but he also stars in this bizarre melding of fact and fiction. As a wave of murders occur in Rome, the disturbed filmmaker consults a psychiatrist about the mental toll his films have taken over the years. The bulk of the movie is comprised of footage from previous Fulci works, with the director appearing in a couple of wrap-around segments. Serving as a decent retrospective on Fulci’s lengthy career, A Cat in the Brain shows off Fulci the actor while still delivering all the gore you’d expect.
- Massacre Time (1966) – Franco Nero, fresh off his success in Django, stars in the first Spaghetti Western directed by Fulci. He plays Tom Corbett, a rugged prospector who returns to the family ranch only to find his brother an alcoholic and the land being controlled by a ruthless criminal and his psychotic son. While it may not be a horror movie, Fulci still manages to include plenty of violence. Dogs gnaw on people, bodies are riddled with bullets, and there’s a touching scene where someone ends up on the wrong end of a whip. If you’re looking for a weird western that’s completely over the top, give Massacre Time a try.
- The New York Ripper (1982) – Banned in Britain, The New York Ripper in one of Fulci’s giallo masterpieces. A killer stalks the streets of Manhattan, disemboweling sexually active women with knives and broken bottles (and even slicing open an eyeball). As the body count rises, it’s up to a world-weary homicide detective and a gay psychotherapy professor to save the city. And did I mention that the killer talks like Donald Duck? Keep an eye out for Lucio Fulci in a small role as the chief of police.
- Zombi 2 (1979) – The most famous of all the films directed by Fulci, it was falsely billed in Europe as a sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. After a yacht drifts into New York Harbor with a zombie aboard, the daughter (Tisa Farrow) of the ship’s owner heads to the tropical island of Matool to find him. She’s accompanied by the requisite investigative reporter (Ian McCulloch), and the duo discover that the island in question is infested by hoards of hungry undead. One of the all-time classic zombie movies, due in large part to the scene where an underwater zombie battles a tiger shark for the rights to feast on a topless female diver. And don’t forget about the delightfully gory sequence where an Italian hottie is slowly pulled, eyeball-first, into a long splinter of wood. Star Tisa Farrow, by the way, is the sister of the famous Mia Farrow.
- The Beyond (1981) – The second film in the Gates of Hell trilogy, The Beyond once again deals with a portal to Hell being opened and zombies forcibly entering our world. This time, the focus of the supernatural activity is on a cursed hotel that’s recently been renovated. There’s a creepy blind girl who shows up to offer dire warnings, as well as a long-dead artist who’s returned as an almost unstoppable corpse. Heavily censored upon its original release, the U.S. distribution rights for The Beyond would be purchased years later by Quentin Tarantino and re-released as part of his Rolling Thunder Production Company. As you might expect, he made damn sure to put all the gore back in, thus giving audiences a bleak masterpiece filled with nihilism and unfettered carnage.
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) – Believe it or not, every Lucio Fulci film didn’t feature copious amounts of blood and gore. But that all started changing with the release of this horror movie about three murdered youths in an Italian village and the feverish search for their killer. As with many of his films, Fulci has a reporter (Tomas Milian) as one of the main characters, and he teams up with a wealthy socialite and all-around floozy (the smoking hot Barbara Bouchet) to get to the bottom of things. Fulci was highly critical of the Catholic Church in the film, and this didn’t exactly help its distribution throughout Europe. Still, you do get to see a priest get in a fistfight, which I’m sure the Pope got a big kick out of.
- The House by the Cemetery (1981) – Also known by the title Zombie Hell House, this gore-filled scary movie made it onto the infamous “video nasty” list in Great Britain (where it was banned for seven years before finally being released in a heavily edited version). Borrowing heavily from The Shining, the plot revolves around a family moving into a creepy old house while the patriarch finishes a research project. His young son receives a warning from a girl inside a photograph telling him to stay away, but nobody ever listens to such things in a horror film. So off to the new house they go, and it’s not long before they’re dealing with whacked-out babysitters, cellar doors that are strangely nailed shut, and bats that seem to love the taste of academics. Fulci fans will be delighted by the murder scenes, as heads are smashed into pulp, throats are ripped out by hand, and a fireplace poker is used to repeatedly puncture the neck of an unlucky victim. Part of the Gates of Hell trilogy, although this one doesn’t deal with an actual portal to Hell being opened.
- The New Gladiators (1984) – Also known as Warriors of the Year 2072, this science fiction movie is set in a future Italy where two rival TV networks compete for ratings by producing violent game shows. When one network decides that they need a champion for their gladiator-themed program, they waste no time in framing a contestant from another show and throwing him into the mix with a bunch of convicted killers. The sets are crazy, the decapitations plentiful, and Fred Williamson shows up to do a little ass-kicking. In truth, The New Gladiators is pretty awful, but it’s still recommended for those with a passion for Fulci and/or bad movies.
- Four of the Apocalypse (1975) – After the last town they were in started killing off all the riff-raff, a gambler (Fabio Testi), pregnant prostitute (Lynne Frederick), drunk (Michael J. Pollard), and crazy black guy (Harry Baird) strike out in search of a more welcoming locale. Along the way they encounter Chaco (Tomas Milian), a dangerous bandit whose actions result in murder and madness. A trippy Spaghetti Western featuring cannibalism, wall-to-wall eccentrics, and a folk-rock movie soundtrack detailing the progress of our dysfunctional little group. You’ll laugh your ass off, although much of the comedy may be unintentional.
- Special Mention: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this Fulci film that nearly earned the director a two-year stint in prison thanks to a very realistic-looking scene with dismembered dogs. People thought that real canines had been used, and it became the first time in the history of cinema that an effects artist had to go to court to prove his handiwork fake.
That completes our look at Lucio Fulci movies, but there are many more out there. In fact, the highly prolific film director turned out 56 motion pictures during his career, and they ranged from westerns and sci-fi to musicals. For a complete list, just consult our good friends over at the Internet Movie Database.