In the realm of Italian filmmaking, there are generally three big names that come up again and again in conversations about innovation, style, and universal appeal: Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. Argento is still alive and making films, and Bava had a very successful career as a cinematographer before coming into his own as a visual director. But it is the staggering variety (and prolific career) of Lucio Fulci that is the focus of this week’s column.
Fulci’s career is an excellent reflection of the varied interests of the Italian film market itself during the years that Fulci was active. Beginning as an assistant director and writer in a wide variety of genres (“An American in Rome” and “Sins of Casanova”) and doing producing on action films like “The Last Days of Pompeii,” Fulci directed his first feature film (“Howlers of the Dock”) ten years after beginning his career in film with an uncredited assistant director position on “Sins of Pompeii” in 1950.
Shifting nimbly back and forth between genres with his direction, he became known for his Italian comedies (“Oh! Those Most Secret Agents”) and spaghetti westerns (“Massacre Time” and “I’ll Kill Him and Return Alone”). It was two projects in 1969, “A doppia faccia” and “Una sull’altra,” that began to move his writing/directing career in the direction of crime, suspense, mystery, and thriller films.
His conversion to that medium was perfectly timed with the Italian market’s love for (and market saturation of) new subgenres like the poliziotteschi (crime and action films focusing on police procedure) and giallo (films focusing on murder mysteries with unidentified killers).. He made a couple of contributions to the giallo genre with “A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin” and “Don’t Torture a Duckling” (both of note for continuing the strange theme of having animals in the titles without having animals in the movies).
“The Psychic” was Fulci’s foray into pseudo-horror, and it led to a lucrative career in horror with his more well-known films internationally, like “Zombie,” “City of the Living Dead,” and “The House by the Cemetery.”
His career continued until the late 1980’s, with a couple of minor entries in the early 1990’s (including the insane and fascinating “A Cat in the Brain”) before passing away in 1996.
Fulci’s skill in juggling genres, his fascination with darkness, and his adherence to excellence in special effects technology have made his works some of the most respected and rewatched films to come from the fruitful period of the Italian B-movie era.