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Exploring the life of Lucio Fulci, the 'Godfather of Gore'

“Cinema is everything to me. I live and breathe films — I even eat them!” – Lucio Fulci

Nicknamed the ‘Godfather of Gore’ for his gratuitously gory scenes of violence, Lucio Fulci, together with horror directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento, would go on to define the Italian Giallo sub-genre in the 1970s. Typified by bloody violence, shadowy leather-clad killers, and for Argento and Bava particularly, surreal camera work paired with ingenious use of saturated colour, Fulci preferred an altogether different approach with more brutal, realistic scenes of horror. 

Born on 17th June 1927 in Trastavere, Rome, Fulci was born into a far-left, anti-fascist Sicilian family that would nurture his early passions of art, music, sailing, and of course, film. Despite calls from his mother to become a lawyer, Fulci preferred the idea of medical school, a place he would likely learn the inner-workings of the human anatomy, useful knowledge for his future career in Giallo film. He would soon drop-out however following the completion of his training, in the pursuit of a better salary in the filmmaking industry.

Applying for the Centro Sperimentale film school in Rome, it was here that he would work his way up the ranks from an apprentice to assistant director, to screenwriter, and would later be taken under the wing of fellow Italian cinema icon Steno (Stefano Vanzina).

With large-framed spectacles and a grandfatherly persona, he was much like the American Zombie-film pioneer, and in more ways than one. As Romero straddled the line between splatter horror and films of genuine artistic integrity, in ventures such as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Fulci did the same, even if his brand of horror was slightly more sadistic. Just watch his own Zombie-explorations, City of the Living Dead, and the iconic cult classic Zombie Flesh Eaters, to see his own brand of undead horror, complete with ominous synth scores and the open cavities of copious corpses. 

It was not until his 21st film however that Fulci would come to direct and create Giallo cinema, preferring the comforting ground of genre comedies, dramas, and westerns, before 1969 and the release of One on Top of the Other. Sexy, seductive but also highly eccentric, One on Top of the Other feels like a Bond film from a sleazy otherworld, characterised by a noir soundtrack and mystery storyline. It doesn’t feature the brutality of Fulci’s later films, but it would lay the groundwork for his stark, authentic style of filmmaking. 

Amidst the establishment of his style, the release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin two years later would act as a neat crossroad, blending his naturalistic approach with his freshening taste for guts and gore. This was typified by the fact that Fulci was taken to court and charged with animal cruelty for the depiction of a dog being mutilated in a vivisection room, until he produced the puppets that were used in the film’s production, sculpted by special effects icon Carlo Rambaldi.

Regarded by himself as his best work, his 1972 film Don’t Torture a Duckling saw the directors complete transition into a Giallo filmmaker with total control of his idiosyncratic style. With a tendency to lean towards more surrealist elements inspired by Luis Buñuel, Fulci would combine sleazy torture with palpably violent death sequences, creating a cruel Giallo style that differed from his fellow, better-known contemporaries. 

Perhaps most impressive was the director’s ability to effortlessly transition between genre and style seamlessly, following the trend of Italian horror cinema at the time. From the more traditional Giallo style of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, to his own ode to George Romero with his foray into the undead with Zombie Flesh Eaters, to the genres later sci-fi influence with films such as the dark and cosmically twisted, The Beyond. He was a chameleon of Italian cinema, adapting the horror genre as it morphed and changed depending on the preferences and attitudes of popular culture. 

The late 1980s marked many physical and mental hardships for Fulci, with recurring serious health issues as well as the past suicide of his wife, that would ultimately cause his death in 1996. A director gifted with a dark sense of humour and a wicked eye for the joyously sadistic, Lucio Fulci would become remembered as a great in Giallo cinema alongside the likes of genre mainstay’s Dario Argento and Mario Bava, the former of which even paid for Fulci’s funeral arrangements. In 1998, Quentin Tarantino re-released The Beyond in national theatres, citing the film as a major source of inspiration for the filmmaker, though of course, this should be no surprise from a Lucio Fulci, “The Maestro” of horror cinema who once said:

“Violence is Italian art!”

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