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.
A classic giallo film (and Fulci’s second foray into the genre after “A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin”), “Don’t Torture a Duckling” is both typical of the genre (a murder mystery involving a reporter and a young woman) and surprising in its twists (in this film, it is children who are the target, rather than the models/fashion icon women typical of the genre). Excellent cinematography and some thematic kill elements that would return in his later work are of note in this excellent example of the subgenre.
GET IT ON AMAZON
A pseudo-giallo film (light on ultraviolence and without the standard black-gloved killer), this marks Fulci’s transtition phase from giallo and crime to outright horror. The film, which follows Jennifer O’Neill (who is well-remembered for another psychic film, “Scanners”) as a woman whose psychic vision leads her into adangerous murder mystery. A solid element of the era is intact here, as English-speaking O’Neill is surrounded by Italian actors doing their best to look like they understand each other.
GET IT ON AMAZON
A fascinating observation and commentary on his own, with footage from his previous movies, and a lead role played by himself, “A Cat in the Brain” is a wild and bizarre exercise in self-observation. Like choreographer/director Bob Fosse did a decade earlier in “All That Jazz,” Fulci creates an ostensibly fictional story to wrap around concise and interesting observations about his own work, the reception of it worldwide, and the effects of that work on his own psyche. The gore is both excessive and not of the highest quality, but the overall effect is still impactful, and the concept itself is enough to make the film worth seeing.
GET IT ON AMAZON