Born in the summer of 1927, Fulci grew up in The Eternal City of Rome having stints as both an art critic, and medical student as a young man. Following World War II, Fulci decided to seek out a career in film and enrolled in a renowned Italian film school: Centro Sperimentale Cinematografica. Upon graduating, he immediately entered the film industry, though it would be quite some time until he tried his hand at horror.
When viewed in its entirety, Lucio Fulci’s career in film is exceptionally bipolar. Nearly the first twenty years of his career were spent working on films outside of the horror genre in various capacities. He started off as an assistant second unit director, eventually working his way up to gigs as a screenwriter, producer, and assistant director. Fulci directed his first feature film, the comedy I ladri/The Thieves (1959) Though the film was not very successful, Fulci managed to find a particular niche in comedy, and directed numerous films from this genre throughout the decade that followed.
Fulci had mostly worked in comedies and even contributed to Riccardo Freda’s Double Face/A doppia faccia (1969). The move to the giallo genre was a big change for Fulci, and may be that he was simply dabbling in an emergent and popular genre. One on Top of the Other (1969) has been cited as having been inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo.
George Dumurrier is a wealthy doctor who runs a clinic with his younger brother Henry, but leaves care of his asthma-stricken wife Susan to her sister Marta and a local nurse. He is engaged in an affair with Jane, the personal assistant to Larry, a trendy photographer. Although very much in love with George, Jane is fatalistic about the future of their relationship.
George and Jane travel out of town for a romantic break in Reno. But after arriving at the casino, George receives a phone call from Henry, telling him that Susan has died during a violent asthma attack. Returning home to his plush San Francisco home, George is consoled by Henry, but frozen out by the hostile Marta, who has always disapproved of George marrying her sister. However, a $1 million insurance policy left by Susan is a timely bonus for George’s recklessly extended business enterprise. An insurance agent begins tailing George, discovers his affair with Jane, and brings his suspicions to the local police detective, Inspector Wald.
Meanwhile, an anonymous tip-off leads George and Jane to The Roaring Twenties, a strip club where they are both astonished at the appearance of Monica, a stripper who, although a luxuriant blonde, bears an uncanny resemblance to Susan. George is morbidly attracted to her and soon embarks on an affair that is part-detection, part-willing seduction. When the police, who have been tailing him, arrest Monica, she tells them that she was paid to pose as Susan by a woman calling herself Betty. Monica, as the police discover, is a popular fixture lately among the city’s high class prostitutes. She has a devoted wealthy client, named Benjamin Wormser, whose hopeless passion she toys with. When Benjamin hears about Monica’s arrest, he arrives at the police station with her exorbitant bail, but soon discover that she has already been sprung by someone the police will not name.
A police search led by Inspector Wald of Monica’s apartment turns up an envelope containing money. When George’s fingerprints are found on the envelope, the police arrest him and charge him with murdering his wife for the life insurance policy. Monica goes missing, and George is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Some months later, on the eve of George’s execution, his brother Henry arrives for a visit where in the privacy of an interrogation room, the gloating Henry reveals all that has happened: he and Susan have hatched up this entire plot to get him out of the way and get the insurance money all for themselves. Monica is really Susan all along and faked her own death to implicate him. After Henry leaves, George tries to get a stay of execution by informing his lawyer about what Henry said. But despite some last-minute investigation by Inspector Wald, George is unable to clear his name. Only Jane continues to believe his innocence, but she is held in check by Larry.
The day arrives as George is taken out of his cell to the gas chamber to be executed, still protesting his innocence. At the last moment, a phone rings where the state governor orders the execution halted as a telex arrives at the local FBI office that is forwarded to the prison authorities. In a twist of fate, the French police in Paris have informed the US authorities that Susan and Henry have been shot dead in a local café by the spurned and jealous Benjamin Wormser.
Fulci and fellow writer Roberto Gianviti collaborated on a number of films together, including Operation St. Peter’s, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, White Fang, Challenge to White Fang and Sette note in nero. Edmondo Amati agreed to produce the film as he was already present in the United States, working on Alberto De Martino’s Carnal Circuit. Fulci worked with two assistant directors on the film, Mario Castellani and Albino Cocco, while Vittoria Vigorelli acted as script supervisor. Future Oscar-winning producer Gray Frederickson, later known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, served as the film’s location manager.
Much of the film was shot on location in San Francisco, Reno and Sacramento; however, interior shots were filmed in Italy. Production began on 2 December 1968 and lasted eight weeks. The film’s gas chamber scene was filmed on location in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California. The film went on to gross ₤869,000,000, and has been cited as a thematic precursor to later films such as Basic Instinct and Body of Evidence.
Hints of horror began to spring up in Fulci’s historical costume drama, The Conspiracy of Torture (1969) The film was a pet project for Fulci, and had elements of murder and torture sprinkled throughout, but nothing to the severe degree that lay ahead of him. Based on a true story, the film concerns the noble Cenci family, and is set in 16th century Italy. Told almost entirely in flashback, the audience discovers that Beatrice (Adrienne LaRussa) and her corrupt and powerful father, Francesco (Georges Wilson), have a twisted relationship. Francesco imprisons Beatrice in the basement of the family’s castle for a year. After her release, attempts at incest are made upon her by Francesco. Fed-up with her diabolical father’s way, Beatrice plots a murderous revenge that ends with her stabbing Francesco, and attempting to cover up the homicide as an accident. As the story returns to its present-day, we see that Beatrice and her accomplices have been implicated in the murder of Francesco, despite their work to make the death look like an accident. The film ends on a somber tone with Beatrice, along with her family and lover, being led into the courtyard for their execution. Many of those who worked with Fulci say that Beatrice Cenci was his favorite film.
Lucio’s first horror films arguably came in the form of the popular giallo. The giallo was a genre of film prevalent in Italy from the mid-sixties until the early eighties, described in the simplest of terms as excessively violent and hyper sexual, whodunit murder mysteries A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971).
Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) is the daughter of a wealthy lawyer and politician named Edmund Brighton (Leo Genn). Her husband Frank (Jean Sorel) is a lawyer working for Brighton’s practice. They all live together in a large apartment with Joan (Ely Galleani), Frank’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage. Carol has been visiting a psychoanalyst because of a string of disturbing dreams she’s been having featuring her decadent neighbor, Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). Julia’s frequent, late-night parties infuriate and yet excite Carol, evoking images of wild sex-and-drug orgies.
During a meeting between Edmund and Frank, they talk about their recent court cases in which Edmund asks Frank if he has been unfaithful to Carol, which Frank denies. Then a phone call is made by an anonymous woman who claims to Edmund that she has damaging information about his family. But unknown to everyone, Frank is indeed having an affair with his personal secretary Deborah (Silvia Monti) whom he meets after work at her country house for some romantic tryst.
Carol’s dreams continue which become more complicated during scenes that appear to be dreams or hallucinations. Describing her latest one to her psychoanalyst, they depict a lesbian encounter between the two women, culminating in Carol grisly stabbing the seductive Julia to death. In an enigmatic coda to the dream sequence, Carol sees two kaftan-clad hippies who have apparently witnessed the whole thing without intervening.
The following day, it’s revealed that Julia Durer has indeed been murdered. Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) from Scotland Yard arrives to take charge of the investigation. The room and condition of the dead body are identical to their depiction in the dream sequence. To make matters even more incriminating, there is a discarded fur coat near the body. Learning of the murder, Carol insists that she see the scene of the crime and when she enters Julia’s apartment and sees the body, she faints.
After weeding out a false and self-serving confession from a delirious regular at the Durer parties, Corvin focuses on Carol Hammond. In the meanwhile, Carol, during a shopping excursion with her step-daughter Joan, see the two hippies from her dream sequence. Following them to an abandoned theater where other hippies hang out, Joan asks them if they know Carol or have ever seen her before. Neither the hippy man or woman claim that they haven’t. As the evidence against Carol mounts, the police surreptitiously obtain her fingerprints, which match those found on the murder weapon, and Carol is soon arrested and charged with murdering Julia. However, doubts begin to circulate with Corvin as he wonders if she is the killer when was she describing the murder to her psychoanalyst in detail before it actually took place. Could it be that someone has read her dream diary that she kept and modeled the killing on dream images she described in order to frame her for something she fantasized about? Corvin also wonders who the two hippies are that she claims to have witnessed her crime without intervening.
As Carol is awaiting trial in the grounds of a maximum security sanitorium, she sees one of the hippies break in and chase her through the grounds. Carol flees into the building and in trying to hide she enters a room containing a hideous experiment: four live dogs, clamped in an upright position, whimper helplessly, their abdomens sliced open and pinned with surgical clamps exposing their glistening innards and still beating hearts. Carol faints in horror. When she comes around, there is no trace of the threatening man. The sanitorium director thinks that Carol’s ramblings about the intruder, and the disemboweled dogs, must have been another one of her elaborate hallucinations.
Meanwhile, Carol’s father swings into overdrive with her case and manages to elaborate a suspicion that appeals to the police. Edmund Brighton discovers Frank’s affair with Deborah and that Julia Durer had been blackmailing him for money as not to expose his extramarital affair. Brighton’s argument is enough to get Carol released on bail, but Frank remains free and desperately tries to prove his innocence.
While relaxing at Brighton’s country estate, Carol is contacted by the hippy woman and agrees to meet with them at a secret rendezvous, at the Alexandra Palace in North London. Once there, Carol is attacked by the hippy man in the cellar and chased through the building where she gets attacked by bats in the attic and gets brutally stabbed as the hippy catches up to her on the rooftop. But Carol is rescued by the police, forcing the hippy man to flee. Another red herring emerges when Joan meets with the hippy woman concerning her stepmother’s wellbeing and agreeing to meet. The next day, Joan is found murdered in a field with her throat cut. Inspector Corvin meets with Carol recovering at her father’s estate to ask about the hippie couple and of the blackmail that Julia Durer may have been planning for Frank. Corvin finally tracks down and arrests the hippie couple, Hubert and Jenny, whom he takes to the scene of the crime to interrogate them about the Durer murder. Although Hubert admits to have stalked Carol and murdered Joan, they protest their innocence claiming not to remember anything about that night except for recalling “a lizard in a woman’s skin”. Then a phone call comes informing the police that Brighton has been found dead at his estate, the victim of a suicide, and leaving behind a note confessing to the murder of Julia Durer which seems to wrap up the case.
A few days later, Carol is at her father’s grave when Corvin arrives to offer his condolences to her. When Corvin asks Carol about the phone call that her father got from Julia Durer which Carol admits that she knew about, he asks how did she know that Julia Durer phoned Mr. Brighton on the day before she was murdered since he never told anybody about it. Too late to realize her slip, Corvin deduces Carol’s guilt as she was with Julia Durer during that day the phone call was made. As it turns out, Carol Hammond really did kill Julia Durer after she threatened to go public with their lesbian relationship which they’ve been having for several months. Carol did break into Julia’s apartment and stabbed her to death, only to realize that two hippies saw her, which made her panic and leave the scene of the crime. Carol had felt certain that the two hippies would describe her to the police. The murderous, but sane, Carol entered the event in her dream diary immediately afterwards so by combining details of the murder with images from the recurring nightmares for which she had sought treatment, she hoped to avoid a murder sentence and get off with guilt by temporary insanity that the dream diary would provide plausible evidence in court of a split personality. But Carol did not realize that both hippies were high on LSD and unable to register the significance of what they saw that night. Carol is then led away by Inspector Corvin from her father’s grave to a waiting police car.
The film includes an outstandingly grotesque scene featuring several dogs whose chests are clamped open. Appearing to be some weird medical experiment gone awry, the sequence is all the more chilling given the hearts of the dogs are still beating. The scene caused a great deal of controversy in Italy upon its release as many thought the scene was shot using real dogs. Rumors have circulated for years that Fulci was arrested on charges of animal cruelty, however this is not the case. In fact, Fulci never even appeared in court. Lizard’s producer, Edmondo Amati, and special effects maestro Carlos Rambaldi both testified in court several times. Upon proving their innocence, by producing the prop mechanical dogs in court, all charges were dropped.
The following year Fulci released his next giallo; Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972). Set in the Italian countryside, and revolving around a series of murders committed against young boys, the story is anything but your typical giallo.
In the small Southern Italian village of Accendura, three local boys, Bruno, Michele, and Tonino are engaged in mischief and other activities. Giuseppe Barra (Vito Passeri) a local simpleton, spying on two locals engaged with visiting prostitutes, is surprised when the three boys who are watching him begin to taunt him. Meanwhile, in the hills surrounding the village, a reclusive Gypsy witch named La Magiara (Florinda Bolkan), is conducting sinister black magic ceremonies, first by digging up the skeletal remains of an infant, and then plunging pins through the heads of three tiny clay dolls. It is made clear that these are the three youths taunting Giuseppe.
When a local boy, Bruno Lo Casio, goes missing, a media circus begins as reporters from all over Italy converge on the town. One of them is Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) a sharp-witted journalist from Rome whose insights into the case are acknowledged by the regional police commissioner (Virginio Gazzolo) working with the collaboration of the village chief of police Captain Modesti (Ugo D’Alessio). Amid local hysteria, Giuseppe is arrested when he picks up a ransom he demanded from the boy’s parents for the boy’s return. While he takes police to the buried body of Bruno, he protests his innocence of murder for he claims to have only discovered the body of the boy and then phoned the parents in a feeble attempt to extract a surprisingly small ransom. When another dead body of a young boy, Tonino, is found, the police realize that Giuseppe is innocent. A few nights later during a raging thunderstorm, another boy, Michele Spriano, sneaks out of his house to meet with someone he speaks to over the phone, and he too is strangled by an unseen assailant and his body is found the following morning.
Martelli soon meets and befriends Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) whom he recognizes from newspapers where he used to work in Milan. Patrizia is living at her father’s house in the town as she is laying low after a drug scandal. She is ostracized by the rest of the insular villagers, because of her big-city ways, perceived lack of morality, and modern style of dress with halter-tops and mini-skirts. She has various seemingly sinister interactions with several children from the town, including Michele, with whom she seductively teases, then rejects, while nude; Mario, a young boy whom she offers the choice of either payment or a kiss in exchange for fixing a flat tire; and Malvina, priest Don Alberto’s disabled sister, who is dragged by Patrizia across the town square against her will, in order that Patrizia could buy Malvina a doll.
Martelli also meets with the amiable young village priest, Don Alberto Avallone (Marc Porel) and his strangely reserved mother Aurelia (Irene Papas). Don Alberto runs a boys’ group at the church, which the murder victims belonged to, and encourages the boys to play soccer on the church grounds to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. As the local priest, he is well known and respected in the area.
Meanwhile, Captain Modesti and his aide visits Francesco (George Wilson), an eccentric old hermit living in a tumbledown stone hut in the hills overlooking the town, who practices black magic, offering charms and potions to the superstitious. He claims he has passed his magical knowledge to his disciple, Magiara, and also spends time with the casual thrill-seeking Patrizia. He is also rumored to have had (and then disposed of) a baby from a tryst with Magiara. Angered by Francesco’s unwillingness to co-operate with the investigation, the police proceed to hunt down and arrest Magiara. Under interrogation, the fevered woman gleefully confesses to the murders. However, it appears to Modesti and the Commissioner that she believes her voodoo dolls and incantations have alone brought about the deaths of the three interfering boys, and she professes to have no interest in or awareness of the physical methods used. An alibi provided by a policeman sighting Magiara miles away from the latest murder scene clinches her innocence and she is released. Nonetheless, the hostile and superstitious villagers are not convinced: Magiara is shunned by the local women and then attacked in a local graveyard by a small group of men who savagely beat her with heavy chains and then leave her for dead. She manages to crawl to the highway but dies. The following day, another young boy is found murdered, drowned in a local stream, which further increases police frustration to the case.
During further meetings with Don Alberto, Martelli learns that Don Alberto’s mother has a young child, a six-year-old deaf and mute girl with an intellectual disability. Martelli becomes convinced that the little girl is a witness to the killings after seeing that she compulsively pulls the heads off her dolls, as if imitating the strangulations. One doll’s head, that of Donald Duck, is found near the latest crime scene. When Aurelia disappears with her daughter, Martelli and Patrizia track her down hiding out at a remote shack on a hill overlooking the town. When they arrive, Aurelia is found barely conscious begging them to help her stop her crazy son. It turns out that Don Alberto strangled those young boys not for their sins, but to prevent them from committing sin when they grow up. In his twisted mind, Don Alberto believes that as a man of God, he has the right to kill young boys in order to send them to Heaven with clean souls.
Don Alberto now attempts to throw his little sister, a witness to the crimes, off a remote cliff. Martelli arrives in the nick of time, and after a climactic fistfight between Martelli and Don Alberto, the insane priest loses his balance and falls off the cliff to his gruesome death.
“Duckling” stirred up quite a bit of controversy due to its perverted betrayal of the Catholic Church, and was never given a theatrical release in the United States. In fact, Fulci challenged the beliefs of Catholicism in many of his films, although speculation is still rampant about how much of this was intentional versus mere coincidence. The intense themes of Duckling were far ahead of its time, and it is no surprise that the film remains one of the highlights of Fulci’s catalog with fans and critics alike.
Released in the Autumn of 1972 in Italy, Don’t Torture a Duckling is significant within Fulci’s filmography as it is one of the first in which he began using violent gore effects, something he would continue to do in his later films. There is no ‘duckling’ in the film but a doll in the shape of Donald Duck has its head removed by a girl with an intellectual disability, which provides a clue to the murders.
The Psychic (1977), which revolves around a woman who has a vision about a skeleton buried within the walls of her home. The woman attempts to learn whose body it was condemned behind the concrete. The movie wasn’t high on the scares, but that was only the precursor, as true horror was about to hit theaters, and cement the director as a bonafide genre heavy hitter.
In 1959 Dover, England, a woman commits suicide by leaping from a cliff. At the same time, her daughter, Virginia, living in Florence, Italy sees her mother’s death in a vision. In the present day, an adult Virginia (Jennifer O’Neill) lives near Rome and has married a rich Italian businessman Francesco Ducci (Gianni Garko). Ducci leaves on a business trip, and as Virginia drives herself away from the airport after seeing him off, experiences more visions—she sees an old woman murdered, a wall being torn down and a letter hidden beneath a statue.
Virginia plans to renovate an abandoned mansion her husband has bought, but notices that the building resembles the one she has seen in her visions. She tears down a wall in one room, finding a skeleton behind the plaster. Assuming the skeleton is that of the woman in her vision, Virginia contacts the police. However, they do not believe her story and charge Ducci with the killing.
Examination of the body reveals it not to be an old woman, but one in her twenties; killed about five years earlier. The skeleton is finally identified as Ducci’s ex-girlfriend, who vanished several years ago. Virginia is determined to exculpate her husband, and contacts her friend Luca Fattori (Marc Porel). Fattori is a researcher of psychic phenomena, and his investigation eventually leads to the wealthy Emilio Rospini (Gabriele Ferzetti), who may be the true culprit.
Francesco returns from his business trip where Virginia updates him on everything that has happened. He urges her to dismiss the matter from her mind, but she instead grows more and more obsessed with learning this mystery.
Virginia discusses the case with Francesco’s sister Gloria (Evelyn Stewart), and Melli (Riccardo Parisio Perrotti), a lawyer friend of Gloria’s. Gloria says that her brother left for a business trip to America in April 1972, and that she was the one who changed the furniture of the place. The room with the walled-in corpse had been Franceso’s bedroom, but it was Gloria who had bought the furniture that Virginia saw in her vision, after Francesco’s departure.
A few days later, Virginia buys a magazine which runs a picture of the murdered woman on the front cover, exactly the same magazine from Virginia’s vision. When Luca notices that the magazine has only existed for a year, it becomes apparent to him that Virginia has experienced a premonition, not a vision of past crimes. Virginia and Luca find more evidence that appears to clear Francesco, allowing him to get released on bail. Gloria, in the meantime, gives Virginia a wristwatch as a gift, one that plays a haunting tune on the hour.
Details from the premonitions start to occur in front of Virginia with greater and greater frequency. Virginia takes a yellow taxi, with a blinking CB radio light, from Luca’s office to her home (just as seen in her vision). The mysterious old woman phones Virginia, leaving a message on her answering machine, offering information about the case. When Virginia arrives at her house, she finds her dead (in the same position from Virginia’s vision). Rospini appears and Virginia flees in panic. Grabbing a vital letter featured on a coffee table in her vision, Virginia escapes down the road to a neighboring church that is undergoing repairs. Virginia’s hiding place is given away when her wristwatch chimes go off. Rospini tries to reach her on a wooden scaffold, but slips and falls to the marble floor, many feet below.
Virginia runs back to her husband’s old villa nearby, and phones him at his office to come see her right away. When he arrives, Virginia is alarmed by his limp (just as in her vision), which he claims to have twisted his ankle just a few hours before. They go inside to the fateful room. Francesco puts down a copy of the magazine with Agneta on the cover, right on the table as described in the vision. Growing more nervous, Virginia starts smoking one of Gloria’s yellow cigarettes, and places it in an ashtray also featured in the vision.
At the hospital, the police talk to the badly injured Rospini, who can barely gasp out his explanation of the events. Back in 1972, the old woman, Signora Casati, had an illicit buyer for a valuable painting in a nearby gallery. Francesco, Rospini, and Agneta Bignardi had all been involved in stealing it. Rospini killed a guard, a fact mentioned in a letter Agneta wrote to Casati. Rospini was not trying to kill Virginia, but only trying to retrieve the letter. Casati was already dead when he arrived, having been killed by Francesco, who sustained a twisted ankle after jumping out of a window. It was Francesco who murdered Agneta five years ago after she enraged him by trying to make off with the painting alone.
Alone with her husband, Virginia becomes more and more frightened by the gradual confluences of elements from her vision. The last crucial link in the chain occurs when Francesco sees the incriminating letter on the dresser. Virginia claims that she hasn’t read it, but he refuses to believe her. He suddenly attacks his wife with a fireplace poker. His first blow misses as she ducks and it smashes a mirror (seen in the vision). The next blow strikes her on the head. As Virginia lies on the floor, bleeding profusely, he prepares to wall her into the excavated hole in the wall. Finally, all the details of room fit with the vision: Virginia realizes that she was victim all along.
A little later, Luca figures out from the magazine cover about the real location and time which Francesco could have murdered Agneta Bignardi. He then races over to the Ducci villa, while being chased by two motorcycle cops who are trying to arrest him for speeding. He manages to keep their fingers off his collar long enough to elaborate his suspicions. Francesco invites them all into his house and into the room, expressing concern at his wife’s disappearance. Despite the policemen’s questions and Luca’s remarks, they cannot break Francesco’s bland self-control. As Luca turns to leave, escorted by the police, everyone hears the haunting tune, like a music box chime, emerging from the wall where Virginia is hidden
Fulci has claimed the film was in development hell for over a year as producer Luigi De Laurentiis was not sure what type of film to make out of it. Ernesto Gastaldi stated that he had worked on the original outline of the film with director Alberto Pugliese, titled Pentagramma in nero (lit. ‘Black Pentagram’) or Sinfonia in nero (lit. ‘Black Symphony’). This film was about a woman who dreams of a murder and believes it will happen in real life. Curti noted that a script kept at the CSC library titled Incubus (Pentagramma in nero) signed by Gastaldi, Sergio Corbucci and Mahnamen Velasco dated March 1972 but it appeared to be an early title for La morte accarezza a mezzanotte (1972).
Sette note in nero was written by Roberto Gianviti and Dardano Sacchetti. Sacchetti and director Lucio Fulci have collaborated on a number of other films together, including Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery, and The New York Ripper. Fulci and Gianviti also collaborated on a number of films together, including Operazione San Pietro, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Zanna Bianca, Challenge to White Fang and Una sull’altra.
Dardano Sachetti was summoned by Luigi De Laurentiis and his son Auelio to collaborate with Fulci on a script based on the mystery novel Terapia mortale, published in 1972. References to Razzini’s novel are minimal to nonexistent in Sette note in nero. Sacchetti stated he was called to contribute to the script by adding “a touch of Argento to a traditional mystery plot” This included the modalities of the deaths and the victims point of view.
The film was shot between September and November 1976 under the working title Dolce come morire. It was shot Incir-De Paolis Studios in Rome and at Arezzo, Siena in Italy and in Dover in England. Cameraman Franco Bruni commented on the cinematography in the film, stating that “we did a frantic use of zoom in this film” and “often used the tracking shot backwards, to reveal things. The camera was moving all the time.”
Roberto Curti stated that the film should “more properly be considered as a “female gothic””, with a film updated to contemporary times and blended mystery and the paranormal. In 1970s Italy, the paranormal was one of the country’s most durable obsessions. This included Pier Carpi’s popular books about history of magic and Cagliostro and a book of alleged prophecies of Pope John XXIII. Paranormal themes were also explored in adult comics and television miniseries such as Il segno del comando and ESP based on Dutch psychic Gerard Croiset. Filmmakers and screenwriters also delved into these themes such as Riccardo Freda, Piero Regnoli, Demofilo Fidani and Pupi Avati.
Fulci’s busy schedule did not slow down as the release of what may be his most controversial film, The New York Ripper (1982). The plot of the film follows the exploits of a misogynistic serial killer (dubbed the “New York Ripper”) with the voice of a duck who is brutally carving up young women on the streets of New York City. The film was a complete departure from the fantastic nightmares Fulci had been churning out at that time and, as a result, the film was harshly criticized for its intense, bleak realism. In fact, after being screened by British censors, “Ripper” was banned in the UK during the infamous video nasties fiasco, and all prints of the film were ordered out of the country. The accusations of Fulci himself being a misogynist would forever stay following Ripper. By all accounts, Fulci not only tore open women on screen, but tore into them on the set as well. Fulci had a string of three marriages throughout his life, beginning with his first wife who committed suicide. This tragedy conveniently took place in the late ’60s, around the same time Fulci began to tackle darker material for the first time in his career. The legend even mimicked his first wife’s death in one of his later films; Touch of Death (1988). One can only imagine that such personal strife would bleed over into the director’s material. The claims of misogyny were likely perpetuated by Fulci’s rough behavior on set The director would supposedly belittle his actors while throwing raving fits if he didn’t get what he wanted. Lucio was an extremely cultured man and required respect, although earning it was no easy task, as he forced his actors and actresses to really prove themselves before he would regard them in the same light that he demanded. Some claim that Fulci would assign pet names to some of the cast and crew in order to taunt them – was he treating them a particular way to draw out a performance or was he just a bitter, twisted man? Perhaps it was a little bit of both, but either way most horror fans will agree that Fulci was a mad genius of a director.
An old man is walking his dog in New York City when the dog retrieves a decomposed human hand. It is identified by the police as belonging to Ann-Lynne, a local model. Lieutenant Fred Williams (Jack Hedley), the burned-out police detective investigating the murder, interviews the young woman’s nosy landlady, Mrs. Weissburger (Babette New), who tells him that during her daily spying and eavesdropping on her tenants, she overheard the girl last week over the phone arranging to meet a man who spoke with a strange, duck-like voice.
Meanwhile, a young woman (Cinzia de Ponti) rides her bicycle down Manhattan to the Staten Island Ferry at Battery Park. After an altercation with a motorist, she rides onto the boat. When the ferry is underway, the young woman sneaks into the car-bay and begins vandalizing the man’s car, but is interrupted by an unseen figure, who adopts a grotesque duck voice and brutally murders her with a switchblade. At the morgue, Williams talks to Barry Jones the pathologist (Giordano Falzoni), who believes he recognizes the “style” of the killing and links it to Ann-Lynne, as well as a similar case in Harlem the previous month.
Having informed the press that a serial killer is at large, Williams is visited at the station by New York’s chief of police (Lucio Fulci), who tells him not to make any further public announcements about the case to avoid starting a citywide panic. Soon after the chief leaves, Williams is notified that a man “sounding like a duck” phoned while he was out at the press conference wanting to speak with him. Williams travels to Columbia University, where he meets with a brilliant young psychotherapy professor named Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) for help in creating a profile of the killer.
That night in New York’s red-light district, Jane Lodge (Alexandra Delli Colli), attends a live sex show and records the simulated moans and groans of the two performers with a pocket tape recorder. A scruffy, dangerous-looking man (Howard Ross), with two fingers missing from his right hand sits nearby and observes what she is doing. After the show has ended, the female performer (Zora Kerova) retires backstage to her dressing room only to find it totally dark. Hearing a noise, she opens a closet door and is brutally attacked and killed by the maniac. Later that night, at the home of Kitty (Daniela Doria), a prostitute regularly visited by Williams, he receives a taunting phone call from the duck-voiced killer saying that he has killed again.
The next day, Jane shows her latest tape recording to her husband, Dr. Lodge (Laurence Welles), who has agreed to support their open-marriage. Jane goes to a bar in a rough neighborhood where she’s approached by two Hispanic bar punks (Antone Pagán) and (Josh Cruze) who proceed to fondle and sexually humiliate her. The emotionally troubled Jane runs out and drives away.
That night, Fay Majors (Almanta Keller), a young woman, is riding alone on a late-night subway train when she gets menaced by the man from the live sex theater. She runs off the train, through the deserted subway station, and onto the street where she gets attacked in a dark alley by the quacking maniac, who stabs her in the leg and slashes her hands and arms as she tries to defend herself. Limping away, Fay stumbles through a doorway into an apartment building. She locks the door behind her, then passes out from the loss of blood. Reality and illusion blur: Fay is sitting alone in a dark movie theater watching cartoons when she attacked and killed by a handsome young man who slashes her neck with a straight razor. Fay wakes up in the hospital the morning after when the same man visits her in her room. He is revealed to be her physicist boyfriend, Peter Bunch (Andrew Painter).
Later Williams and Dr. Davis visit Fay, and she tells them her attacker was missing two fingers from his right hand. Williams and Davis both conclude that this is the killer since all forensic evidence points to the killer being left-handed.
Somewhere in night-time New York, the owner of the mutilated right hand picks up Jane and takes her to a sleazy hotel room for bondage sex. The S&M game she had willingly begun soon turns nasty, and he begins to beat her. Then the man turns up the radio while it plays Berto Pisano’s “Tic nervoso” and makes a muttered phone-call, describing the bound woman to the person on the other end of the line as someone who’s “right up your perverted alley.” A little later, while the man sleeps, Jane overhears a radio DJ describing the killer, whom the press has now dubbed, ‘the New York Ripper,’ as missing two fingers from his right hand. Jane quietly unties herself and flees into the hotel hallway only to encounter the real ripper just as she makes for the exit. Wielding a switchblade, he kills her by stabbing her several times in the throat and then slicing open her abdomen from the groin to the breasts.
Williams arrives at the scene when the police find Jane’s tape recordings of the sex shows and of her ‘master.’ Learning from witnesses, Williams discovers that the identity of the 8-fingered man is Mickey Scellenda – a Greek immigrant with a history of sexual assault and drug abuse. Williams and the police step up the search for Scellenda after raiding his apartment, finding photographs of most of the Ripper victims and huge stashes of pornography and drug paraphernalia. Williams also pays a visit to Dr. Lodge to inform him of his wife’s murder. Dr. Lodge tearfully defends his open marriage, which gets him a sneering response from the moralistic Williams.
Meanwhile, Dr. Davis begins to express doubt to the killer’s identity, as Scellenda is only a petty criminal, not matching the high intelligence that Davis had established in profiling the Ripper. Davis then buys a gay porn magazine at a local newsstand (revealing his repressed homosexuality) and pays a visit to Peter and Fay at their house to ask them more questions about Fay’s experience. Something about their story arouses his suspicion. That evening, after Peter goes out, Fay is attacked in their house by Scellenda, who breaks in trying to kill her. She is saved when Peter returns, and the man flees.
A few days later, Williams gets another taunting phone call from the New York Ripper, who wants to “dedicate a murder” to him. Williams and the police put a trace on the line and race to the location, only to find that the killer has set up a two-way radio to a remote phone booth, while he is presently in the home of Kitty, the young prostitute favored by Williams, torturing her. Williams races to Kitty’s apartment, but is too late as the killer has fled, leaving behind Kitty’s maimed corpse to be discovered.
Sometime later, the dead body of Mickey Scellenda is found having committed suicide. When Dr. Barry Jones informs Williams that Scellenda was dead for the last eight days, four days before Kitty’s murder, Williams realizes that they have been tailing the wrong man. He relays this to Professor Davis, who is both delighted and disappointed with the news. Davis explains that with Scellenda eliminated as a suspect, his original idea to the killer’s identity is confirmed; a misogynist psychopath who used Scellenda to throw the police off his trail.
Fay is shown visiting a hospital where Peter has a child from a previous marriage, a little girl named Susy, who is dying from a rare bone disorder. Visiting the hospital, Williams and Davis observe Susy in her hospital bed and decide to race over to Peter and Fay’s place to arrest both of them. At the house, one of them gets a phone call from a duck-voiced person, while the other one overhears. While Peter goes into the kitchen for dinner, Fay has disappeared. Going upstairs to Susy’s bedroom, Fay jumps out of the darkness at Peter while stabbing him with a kitchen knife. Peter rises, quacking like a duck, and struggles with Fay in which they both tumble down the stairs. Just as Peter grabs the knife away from Fay and is about to stab her, Williams runs in and literally blasts Peter’s face off with his gun. In the ambulance, Davis explains to Fay her deranged boyfriend’s motivation for killing. His hatred of sexually active women stemmed from bitterness at the cruel blow fate had dealt his young daughter, who will never enjoy the freedoms of his victims. After leaving the scene, the phone in the now-deserted house rings again. In her hospital bed, Susy is calling out for her father, pleading to him to answer her call, as her voice is drowned out beneath the indifferent traffic of the city.
Prior to the release of the film, Fulci discussed the production, describing it as “much less horror than my previous films, no zombies, but a human killer working in the dark.” Fulci described the film as a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, billing it as “Hitchcock Revisited, a fantastic film with a plot, violence and sexuality.” Dardano Sacchetti, who was one of Fulci’s key creative collaborators at the time, stated that much of the film’s sexual content came from Fulci, claiming that Fulci “nurtures a profound sadism towards women.” The film was shot on location in New York with interiors filmed in Rome.
The lead heroine role had originally been offered to British actress Catriona MacColl who had starred in Fulci’s, City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and House by the Cemetery (1981), but she turned it down and the role went to Almanta Suska.
Zora Kerova, who played Eva in the film, spoke positively about working with Fulci and stated that it took a while for Fulci to warm up to her. When asked what she thought of the film, she stated she “didn’t like The New York Ripper at all.”
Murder-Rock Dancing Death (1984) was Fulci’s next film.
At the Arts for the Living Center in New York, Candice Norman (Olga Karlatos) oversees the latest dance routine choreographed by Margie (Geretta Marie Fields). Candice tells Margie that the act needs even “more perfection” in preparation for a visit from three talent agents. The academy director Dick Gibson (Claudio Cassinelli) meets with TV producers Bob Steiner and John Morris, who watch a video of the dance, and Candice learns that the men will only select three dancers for an upcoming TV show. That evening after the dance class is over, one of the dancers, Susan, is murdered in the locker room by an unseen person who chloroforms then stabs her in the heart with a long hairpin needle. NYPD Lieutenant Borges (Cosimo Cinieri) arrives on the scene to investigate. Also with Lt. Borges is the police profiler and psychotherapy professor Dr. Davis (Giuseppe Mannajuolo). With Candice nowhere to be found, suspicion begins to focus not only on her but on the victim’s boyfriend Willy Stark (Christian Borromeo), as well as Dick Gibson. Candice arrives back at her apartment, where she finds Dick waiting. He wants to talk about the potential relationships between the students, and tries to convince Candice that there is nothing going on between him and any of the other students. While he is there, the DJ from the studio, Bob, phones Candice and updates her on the murder at the academy.
The next day, the routine at the campus continues as normal, causing Dick a great deal of upset, since nobody seems to care about Susan’s death. At a nearby coffee shop, Lt. Borges talks to Dick about a possible rivalry between the dancers. That evening at a local nightclub, another student from the academy, Janice, dances alone for an audience and then walks home to her apartment. She finds Willy waiting and wanting to talk. In her bedroom, Janice finds a photograph of Willy and Susan, but when she calls out to him, he is gone. Janice finds her pet canary dead with a hairpin needle through its body. Panicked, she runs to the front door, where she is attacked and killed by the unseen assailant who thrusts a hairpin needle into her heart.
Candice begins having nightmares of being attacked by a handsome young man (Ray Lovelock) wielding a long, ornamental needle identical to the one used in the killings. Candice becomes more obsessed with the dream assailant when she sees an advertising billboard which features him prominently. Unable to shake the feeling that they are in some way predetermined to meet, Candice tracks down the man in the poster to the seedy Fulton Hotel, and bribes the desk clerk for the key to “Mr. Robinson’s” room. She explores the room, but is shocked when the handsome model returns suddenly. The man introduces himself as George Webb who, to Candice’s repulsion, is a drunken and disheveled wreck. With what seems like disappointment mingled with terror, Candice flees from the room, leaving her purse and ID behind.
Meanwhile, Lt. Borges records a phone call to the police station from a person claiming be the killer. When a voice analyst identifies it as Bart, one of the dancers, Borges arrests him. Bart confesses to the phone calls as well as to killing Susan because she was crazy, and Janice because she was Hispanic. Borges, however, states his belief that Bart is not the killer, but a pathological liar.
George goes to the academy to return Candice’s purse where another dancer, Gloria, recognizes him from a modeling show they appeared in years earlier. Dick sees George and Candice on a security monitor and calls Borges saying that George must be the killer. Over lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, the relationship between Candice and George becomes closer when she confides in him about an incident years earlier, when a man on a motorcycle ran her over in a hit-and-run putting an end to her dancing career and forcing her to teach. Back at Candice’s apartment, she gets a phone call from Phil (Lucio Fulci), a local talent agent, who has made a background check for her on George and informs her that he once had an affair with a young girl who later died. At the studio, Candice is attacked by Margie, using the killer’s M.O., but she is subdued by Dick, who turns Margie over to the police.
A few days later, Jill, another dancer, baby-sits for the wheelchair-bound Molly, who takes pictures of her. When Jill answers a knock on the front door, the killer forces his way into the apartment and stabs her with the hairpin. Molly frantically snaps away, but does not get a clear view of the killer’s face. The police arrest Dick when he’s found running away, claiming that he only arrived after the attack to find Jill dead. The following night, the killer attacks and kills Gloria in the locker room in the same manner.
At George’s hotel room, Candice lets herself in and finds a hairpin and bottle of chloroform in his drawer. Candice rushes out to her car and drives away. George arrives and seeing what Candice found, tries to call her at her apartment, but she is not home. At the police station, Candice tells Borges of her discovery and that George is the killer and names the hotel where he is staying. Candice then goes over to the academy which has been closed down for the night, and finds Gloria dead in the locker room. She calls Borges and tells him to meet her at the academy.
Candice runs to the manager’s room and finds George there. He turns on the music and a video showing all the dancers who have been killed. George walks in with the hairpin murder weapon and asks Candice why she planted this evidence in his hotel room, thus connecting him to the murders. Candice then reveals that she has known from the very start that it was he, George, who was the hit-and-run motorcycle rider who ran her over, ruining her career, her future and her life. She tells him that she killed the young dancers out of jealousy of their talent, their beauty and their rising careers, all the while planning to frame him for the killings as her final act of revenge against him. She grabs George’s pin-holding hand and intentionally impales herself on it. Just as she falls to the floor, breathing her last, Lt. Borges and Dr. Davis arrive on the scene but, before George can begin to explain, they reveal that they already know he is not the killer. When they saw the photo slide Molly took of the killer’s jacket, they noticed that the buttons on the jacket were on the left side, indicating that it belonged to and was being worn by a woman. In addition, Candice told them details about the lion’s head hairpin needle used in the killings, information that, since it had never been made public, only the killer could know. George leaves with Lt. Borges as the police seal off and investigate the scene.
The Devil’s Honey (1986)
Johnny (Stefano Madia) and Jessica (Blanca Marsillach) are two young lovers embroiled in the throes of wild passion. Johnny is a musician is obsessed with sex and carries the protesting, but breathless, Jessica along with his erotic charm. The film opens at a recording studio where Johnny, after taking a break playing his saxophone, calls Jessica into the booth and sexually fondles her before other techs arrive and Jessica is forced to leave.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wendell Simpson (Brett Halsey), is a surgeon with marital problems. He never makes love to his unhappy wife Carol (Corinne Clery), and is obsessed with his work at the hospital. Carol has recently discovered that he makes regular visits to prostitutes during and after work. He visits Anna, a call girl at a local hotel where after fondling her and having quick but unsatisfying sex, forces her to leave after paying her.
The next day, Johnny continues his torrid affair with Jessica by forcing her to fondle him while riding on his motorcycle. Afterwards at their house, while Johnny fools around by riding around on his motorcycle he falls and hits his head on a stone plate. At first he appears fine, but later in the recording studio, he collapses into a coma brought on by an apparent subdural hematoma.
That evening, Carol demands a divorce from Dr. Simpson when he is called to the hospital in the operating room to perform emergency brain surgery on an injured musician. Carol follows Simpson right to the O.R. and springs the divorce plans she has for him again. During the operation, Simpsons mind wanders, and Johnny dies on the operating table. Driving away from the hospital, Simpson is chased by the grief-stricken Jessica who swears revenge on her boyfriend’s “killer”.
Jessica starts sending threatening notes and making harassing phone calls to Simpson at his office. At a private golf club, Simpson and Carol are playing on the links when they decide to make one final attempt to patch up their marriage. Carol entices her husband to bed. Just as things start to happen as Simpson begins having sex with Carol, the telephone rings. After more than a dozen or more rings, Simpson feels compelled to answer despite the urgency of his wife’s needs. He rolls off her to pick up the phone, but the phone rings off before he can answer. However, the damage is done. Carol gets up, dresses, and walks out on him for good. Seconds later, the telephone rings again. When Simpson picks it up right away, he hears Jessica’s voice again saying, “why did you let him die?”
Jessica becomes steadily more deranged with grief, spending hours watching home videos of Johnny. The next day she pulls a gun on Simpson as he gets into his car to go to the hospital. Forcing him to drive to her house, she chloroforms him when they arrive and ties him up. Simpson regains consciousness to find an Alsatian dog barking furiously at him, tied up just inches away. Outside, Jessica is smashing his car with an axe. She then informs her captive that she intends to kill him… but only when she’s ready. Jessica then sets about humiliating her captive by forcing him to eat dog food, and having him lick her bare abdomen which is smeared with his own blood from a wound she inflicts on him. Simpson finds himself strangely and perversely attracted to his tormentor. Jessica’s sadistic games go further when she forces Simpson at gunpoint to down to the beach outside the house. Whilst dragging him on a leash, she says she intends to drown him, and almost does by holding him under the water of the surf. But then she suddenly changes her mind and in a panic pulls Simpson out of the water and revives him.
In a series of flashbacks, Jessica’s memories are shown of her dead lover, which become more ambivalent as she recalls some of the cruelties and excesses Johnny was capable of. A baby she’d been carrying from her affair with Johnny miscarried at an early stage, and her periods resume. In the present, her pet dog dies as well, and she buries him on the beach. Growing ever more melancholic, she engages in further sex games with the submissive Simpson who listens with compassion to Jessica’s ramblings about her life with Johnny, until she re-calls a final recollection which changes her mind about Johnny.
Several months earlier, during a vacation getaway to Venice, Italy, Johnny bought Jessica an expensive bracelet to symbolize their love for one another. Johnny and Jessica went to a local cinema with one of Johnny’s friends, Nicky (Bernard Seray), a musical associate. During the movie, the two lovers embraced in a passionate kiss, but Jessica was horrified to discover that Johnny was simultaneously letting Nicky go down on him. The memory of this kinky ménage-a-trois was the last straw.
Back in the present, Jessica, finally seeing the self-destructive person Johnny really was, walks to the ocean and throws the “mystical bracelet” Johnny bought for her into the water. Jessica returns to the house where she unties Simpson and tells him that he is free to go. Jessica goes upstairs to her bedroom, strips off all her clothes, lies down on her bed, and puts the pistol to her head intending to kill herself. Seconds later, the besotted Simpson walks willingly into her bedroom and stops her from committing suicide by having sex with her as both of them are now drawn into a torrid passion of their own making. The film ends with Simpson and Jessica laying side by side in bed when Simpson recites a poem to Jessica that he said earlier in the film: “When you have spent your life like a fortune that never seemed to end. A second chance will come like a long lost friend. Great joy will fill you and flush you hot. No more will you ever be cool for she is the Devil’s honey pot. And you’ll drown in her you fool.”
By the second half of the 1980s, Italian cinema was finding it more difficult to get theatrical distribution. As films relead to home video did not need to be sent to the rating board for a theatrical screening certificate, some productions saved money by releasing films direct-to-video. The film was part of a series titled Masters of the Thriller/maestri del thriller that was aimed directly at television and home video release. Producer Carlo Alberto Alfieri presented the project to Luciano Martino who rejected it, and later made a deal with August Caminito’s Scena International. Caminito’s company then contacted Distribuzione Alpha Cinematographica and Cine Duck and sold television rights to the series to Reteitalia.
Touch of Death (1988)
Lester Parson (Brett Halsey) is a cannibal psychopath who regularly abducts and mutilates women, eating certain cuts and disposing the rest in his back yard to his horde of pigs. He converses schizophrenically with himself via tape recordings of his own voice. He is also being hounded by Randy (Al Cliver), a shady loan shark whom he owes money to after accruing bad gambling debts.
Lester picks up a certain Maggie MacDonald (Sasha Darwin), an obnoxious, hysterical, mustached, sexually frustrated alcoholic, whom he invites over at his house for dinner. His attempt to poison her is thwarted because she is already so drunk when she arrives at his place that she spills her glass of wine onto the floor. On the next attempt, she giddily mixed up his glass of wine with hers. He finally loses patience on the third try when she swallows the poisoned glassful, only to vomit before it can take effect. As Maggie excuses herself to the bathroom to clean up, he attacks her with a wooden stick. Her scalp splits apart and she runs screaming from the bathroom with blood streaming down her face. He chases her down the corridor bashing her head repeatedly, causing skin to rip away from her face, and a single bloodshot eyeball to roll out of her right eye socket onto the floor. Playing dead for a few seconds, Maggie rises when Parson’s back is turned and makes another mad dash for the front door, but is rounded up and punched unconscious. Furious and exhausted, the killer shoves her head into an oven and switches it on, leaving her slumped with her flesh slowly melting off her face. Dead at last, Parson shoves Maggie’s body into the trunk of his Mercedes. But he has to chop off the corpse’s feet to get the body to fit right.
When Parson ditches the body at a construction site, he is observed by a local tramp (Marco Di Stefano), who proceeds to attempt to blackmail Parson. Not to be deterred, he follows the derelict as he leaves. Catching up with him on a long stretch of country road, Parson puts his foot on the gas peddle and pursues the terrified man, eventually crunching the vehicle under him. The cars wheels roll backwards over the mangled body. The next day, when Parson sees on the TV that the tramp survived long enough to give the police a description of his attacker. Parson decides to change his image by shaving off his beard and wearing contact lenses in place of his eyeglasses.
Parsons next victim is Alice Shogun (Ria De Simone), another crazed middle-aged woman who sings opera during sex. The weary killer strangles her to death with one of her stockings. Placing the body in the front seat of his car, Parson drives away, only to get pulled over by a motorcycle policeman and gets a speeding ticket. But the policeman does not notice that the woman with Parson is dead.
Taking Alice’s jewelry with him, he tries pawning it only to discover that is all fake. He tries to meet a horse fixer at a local racing stables for a tip about putting a bet on a horse, but the person never shows up. When more TV announcements give further descriptions of the mysterious killer, Parson is forced to chance his image again by dying the color of his black hair into brown, and wearing horn-rimmed, tinted eyeglasses.
Sitting morosely at home, Parson responds to an unlikely invitation to “come on over” from Virginia (Zora Ulla Kesler), a similarly bored, lonely, wealthy, but far younger woman than his previous victims, when she dials his phone number by accident. However, the otherwise desirable Virginia is revealed to have a large and unattractive blemish on her upper lip. Even though she seems eager for intimacy, he is repulsed by her ugly scar. After Parson rings up another bad gambling debt to Randy, he decides to kill Virginia to steal whatever money and jewelry she has on her and flee the country.
The following evening, Parson meets Virginia in her apartment suite for dinner. When he is about to kill her, she shoots him the chest after discovering the truth about him after seeing another TV broadcast of the latest description of the mysterious lady killer. Mortally wounded, Parson crawls away and ends up in the building garage where he converses with his other self, a shadow on the wall, and eventually dies as it converges with him.
Cinematographer Silvano Tessicini got director Lucio Fulci involved in the series. Fucli had just returned from the Philippines after shooting Zombi 3 and was ill. Tessicini initially suggested Fulci to be part of the production as a supervisor, but Fulci submitted his own story, Touch of Death.
The other films in the series included Giovanni Simonelli’s Hansel e Gretel, Leandro Lucchetti’s Bloody Psycho, Andrea Bianchi’s Massacre, Enzo Milioni’s Luna di sangue, Mario Bianchi’s Non avere paura della zia Marta, Umberto Lenzi’s Le porte dell’inferno and Fulci’s Sodoma’s Ghost. The budget of the films varies per source with Alfieri stating each film had a 300 to 350 million Italian lire budget, while production manager Silvano Zignani stated they were about 207 million and Fulci stating it was 200 to 300 million. The films were shot in 16mm and blown-up to 35mm and were shot in three to four weeks each with the films having generally the same crew and some recurring cast members.
Filming for Touch of Death began on 22 June 1988, shortly after Fulci finished filming Sodoma’s Ghost. The film was shot around Rome and Vides Studios. Fulci later spoke negatively about both films stating that there were so many shots in the film to get the minimum running time of the films complete. Fucli also argued with the producers on set while the producers were unhappy with him as Fulci was continuously behind schedule.
Interview with Director Lucio Fulci
Before you were a filmmaker, you were a doctor. How did you make the transition from medicine to movies?
Lucio Fulci: I did it for the love of a woman. True. Originally, I had a degree in medicine. One day I had a big argument with a colleague of mine-a superior and that was that. I left the hospital. On that same day, my girlfriend left me. She was a beautiful rich girl and I was just a poor guy, after all. On my way home, on the bus, I read an ad on the back of another passenger’s newspaper about a new film school that was
about to open. I applied and learned from some of Italy’s great cinema minds. After this, I started as a scriptwriter and for a few years wrote for Steno, one of Italy’s new directors. I also worked on some documentaries and assisted some very talented directors. The real reason I did all this was to prove to my ex-girlfriend that I was capable of being someone important. Maybe it’s a dumb reason, but it’s the truth. Anyway, a few years later, I was working one night near the Spanish Steps on a film for Toto, a huge star in Italy. I was there with Tonino Delli Colli, a great cinematographer who has shot for Roman Polanski and Sergio Leone. Suddenly this fancy car pulled up and out stepped my ex-girlfriend. I walked over to her and extended my hand, like a gentleman. I was hoping, of course, that she would jump all over me because now she would see what a big important filmmaker I had become. Instead, she handed me a 25-cent piece. She thought I was a beggar! Didn’t recognize me at all. I showed the coin to Delli Colli and said, “You see? This is cinema.” And he said, “At least you’ve earned something today.”
Who did you write for before becoming a director?
Lucio Fulci: Alberto Sordi, Toto, one of the biggest comedians in Italy. I helped create that character in the legendary film An American in Rome. An important film for me back then, but looking back now, most people wouldn’t think of it. I also wrote for Mauro Bolognini, another important director, and did some stage shows. The first film I directed, The Thieves [1959), was for Toto, only he wasn’t the lead. Toto loved me. I had written for him for such a long time. He wanted me to direct his movies for years, but I kept saying no. Toto was wonderful, but he was no intellectual, and I considered myself an intellectual. So, when I got married, I didn’t have one dollar in my pocket. Then at that moment, a producer-a really shitty producer-offered me this film, The Thieves. I asked him for 200,000 lire, 200 bucks. He said, “Mr. Fulci, we are ready,” and said he would write me a promissory note. Well, he paid me after four months. “Here you are, Mr. Fulci.” But for those four months, Mr. Fulci did not eat. And, of course, the film was a flop. Terrible flop. Then a friend of mine, a very important Italian writer. Ugo Pierro (Vivarelli), called and asked me to collaborate on some songs. I said, “I don’t know how to write songs.” He said, “You’ll be paid $35,000-40,000.” I said, “When do we start?” And that became my new job. Let me explain: In Italy, at that time, there was a revolution in music. These types of songs were called “screamers”-rock and roll. Very rebellious for their time. From this I was asked to direct a musical, so we called a friend of mine, Celentano, who used to make clocks. Nobody thought he could sing, but they said, “Let’s try him anyway. Well, he became Italy’s biggest singer. We wrote all the songs for the film, The Jukebox Boys. Musical comedies became popular, so I made four of them. This is how I fed my family.
After this period, I met two comedians at a festival whom, thank God, you Americans didn’t know yet: Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. They had just come out of a huge flop, The Tomb of the Legend. The films were just horrible ripoffs of Laurel and Hardy. In one scene, we brought in a camel from Naples. The camel was dying—there were two people holding it up during every shot. As soon as the cameras stopped, the camel died.
After this, I made a film called Operation St. Peter. A producer called me up and said, “I saw the film. I want to produce a film with you starring Ugo Tognazzi. Let’s sign a contract.” So, as soon as the contract was signed, Operation St. Peter disappeared from theaters. Nobody went to see it anymore. So now I had to make this film with Tognazzi, and we all had a meeting with the producer. He was a very good man. I left the room so that he could talk over everything with Tognazzi’s agent. Through the door, I eavesdropped. The producer said, “This Fulci is a very good director.” The agent said, “He’s good maybe to play football.” When the meeting was over, we had a huge fight and I started kicking him in the ass. So this is how I got my first actual contract. The idea was to make a giallo. This was 1968 and the film was One on Top of the Other or Perversion Story. It was a huge hit. Then I made Beatrice Cenci, a historical film set in medieval Italy. It was one of my best films, but it flopped and nobody really liked it. I saw it with an audience that was shouting, “Kill the director!”
From this, you went on to direct Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. A disturbing film.
Lucio Fulci: Disturbing. Thank you, yes.
Carlo Rambaldi did amazing work in that. Those flayed dogs…
Lucio Fulci: You think so? He screwed up a lot on that movie. The bats, for instance; they were attached to cords that actually touched the floor. Florinda Bolkan, who was in that scene, kept tripping over them, so I suspended the bats so that they just floated around like some sort of mobile. It was very sad-looking, but it was the only way to do it. Rambaldi was not happy with my decision, so he took the bats home with him. Twenty years later I asked Rambaldi, “Where are my bats?” and he said, “I’ll never give them back to you.”
Then a political film, Al’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne, then Don’t Torture the Duckling. This political film was seen by a homosexual politician, Columbo, who thought I was making a comment on him. So Columbo attacked me and my film on television and for a while I was blacklisted. This lasted nearly two years.
Tell us more about Lizard and Duckling.
Lucio Fulci: Oh, my better films. Tremendous successes. Lizard, One on Top of the Other-sold well foreign. Duckling, no. That was huge in Italy only. It was never sold outside of Italy, and it’s impossible to find a 35mm print.
They’re such angry films.
Lucio Fulci: Very angry, yes. Against the church, certain levels of society. Duckling especially.
Perhaps international interest in Duckling was limited at the time because the storyline is so regional?
Lucio Fulci: Yes, that was a big part of it. It helps to understand about the different types of people and beliefs that make up modern Italy. Outside of a native audience, the people in Duckling may seem a little far-fetched. But this is how it really is. Commercially, I learned a lesson. To succeed with horror films overseas, I was forced to de-intellectualize them. Once my films stopped making sense, they made money overseas. But Duckling made sense to me. That is my favorite of my own films. You see, then I was free to do what I liked. In Italy, if you prove yourself to be a success, or rather prolific and a success, in a certain genre-Westerns or horror films-then you are free to do whatever you want. I had now done that, so I had total freedom. I don’t consider Duckling or Lizard my most extreme films, however. That would be The New York Ripper. There is not a single positive character in the whole film. The policeman sleeps with whores, the psychologist is afraid to be seen as gay and the killer
is, of course, the killer. It is not pretty, but it was a huge success.
So even though your films were popular, you yourself were not?
Lucio Fulci: There’s a story that Quentin Tarantino tells about when he was in Italy. Now, Italian television is very snobbish. So when he’s being interviewed he is asked, “Who were the directors who most inspired your work?” He responds, “Tod Browning.” The interviewer doesn’t know who Browning is. She thinks he is talking about a gun. So, noticing that she is embarrassed, he offers, “Alfred Hitchcock.” Suddenly the interviewer understands and becomes interested. Then he says, “Russ Meyer”-dead silence. Outrage. Then he says, “Lucio Fulci.” And the show, which is being broadcast live, suddenly goes to black and is replaced a moment later with another program. This should paint a picture for you.
Could you give us a brief background on the progression of your films?
Lucio Fulci: I did my first giallo, One on Top of the Other/Una sull’altra (1969). Again, it had something unreal in the way a magic San Francisco was shown. But my first true fantastic film was A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin/Una Lucertola con la pelle di Donna (1971), even though it ends like a detective story. Why this ending, which betrays the very nature of the film? We were confronted with two possibilities. The story was about a woman, Carole, dreaming of a murder, and finding, when she awakes, that the murder has really been committed. On that basis, you could have two endings, one fantastic, the other in the line of a detective story. The producer insisted that the end be a logical one. The film was very successful in Italy, anyway. The film contains a lot of astounding dreams, like the one with bats pouncing at the heroine, or that formidable sequence featuring dogs in a laboratory, with their bellies ripped open… Carlo Rambaldi was responsible for special effects in the bat scene, which was not easy to shoot. He built mechanical bats sliding on wires and flapping their wings; he also added superimpositions of bat shadows. I remember Bava was much impressed when he saw the sequence, though I am sure he would have done it better than me. As for the dogs, Rambaldi used artificial ones, inside which he placed special bags he could control from behind, giving the impression that the heart and bowels were really moving. The importance of technique is what strikes the viewer most, in this film, and also in Sette Note in Nero. I have always liked to go forward, to try new techniques. And that’s what I did with Long Night of Exorcism, too. This very peculiar film deals with witchcraft today. In a small village in Southern Italy, children are killed and a ‘witch’ is accused of these murders by a priest, and is eventually beaten to death with chains by peasants. But the priest finally turns out to be the culprit. When I saw the film it caused a sensation in Italy, I decided to keep on this line and make a totally fantastic film, The Psychic/Sette Note in Nero (1977).
It’s true it took years to get The Psychic/Sette Note in Nero (1977) made?
Lucio Fulci: It was no easy enterprise. I had had the script ready for a while, but the producers, Luigi and Aurelio Di Laurentiis, got in my way for a year: one day they wanted to do a comedy, the morning after a detective story, and so on. I refused; anyway, they had had me lose a complete year, and I couldn’t have worked in such conditions. Then I met producer Fulvio Frizzi-the father of Fabio, my composer-and we hired the marvelous Jennifer O’Neil. Thanks to his determination and tenacity, I could make the film just as it had been written originally, and the result proved I was right, as the film finds favour with the youth-the audience all my films are meant for. It’s a film I like very much, but, to some extent, a difficult film, as it is entirely centred upon a woman in relation with objects undergoing changes in their positions and shapes. The editing was particularly difficult, and we had two continuity girls, given all these sequences where dream mixes up with reality and things past and things to come continually mingle.
By then, I had formed a crew of technicians who did not change afterwards: Dardano Sarchetti, writer; Sergio Salvati, cinematographer; Fabio Frizzi, composer; etc. How did you shoot the scene where a woman falls off a cliff and has her face torn on stones? We used a trick similar to the one we had used for the final sequence of Don’t Torture a Duckling with the priest’s death. We had the actress lying on a kind of rail. Then we shifted her, on her sliding board, up to the camera and the stone. At the moment when she reaches the stone, her face is replaced by a close-up of a plastic head, which, when touching the stone, blows off without any fire. The whole sequence thus combines general shots of a manikin falling off the cliff, medium shots of the actress on the rail, and close-ups of the plastic doll.
Was this film, Sette Note in Nero, a turning point in your career?
Lucio Fulci: It was, because it was my first real venture into the fantastic, but commercially it was a flop: for the following two years, I had to do music shows for television! Then I was contacted by producer Fabrizio de Angelis who had liked Sette Note in Nero so much he was convinced nobody else but me could do Zombi 2.
It’s funny that everyone automatically assumes that you rip off Argento, but I recall a communal gasp of recognition during a screening of Lizard during the long stalking scene with Florinda Bolkan. Argento lifted it nearly verbatim for Stefania Casini’s death sequence in Suspiria.
Lucio Fulci: Don’t tell Argento this: I’ve never seen Suspiria. Argento is very good, but I’ve only seen a few films of his: Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’Nine Tails, Inferno. I’ve never seen Deep Red. I don’t really watch Italian horror films. I watch American films instead. I’m sure he’s not without his influences. He’ll say he thought of it all, “my dreams, my nightmares”…I could say the same. Argento knows that.
I loved your response when someone asked you why you made Cat in the Brain…
Lucio Fulci: So Wes Craven could copy me.
That’s the one.
Lucio Fulci: New Nightmare. Obviously Cat in the Brain. Only my film was made in 16mm for $100.000. It’s Eraserhead made by an old man. I haven’t earned a single penny from that one, either. The owner of the company just went bankrupt. Craven made a lot of money on New Nightmare. I think he’s seen Cat too many times. When I meet him, I’ll tell him so.
Roman Polanski also pays an extraordinary debt to you in Death and the Maiden.
Lucio Fulci: Polanski is a good friend.
Did the similarities between his film and The Devil’s Honey bother you?
Lucio Fulci: Only when I think of how much money and notoriety he got in comparison to me. I’m only kidding. I consider it a tribute of sorts. He is a true innovator, so I can’t say if the similarities are intentional. Besides, Polanski’s background is not that of a commercial Italian filmmaker. He was introduced to the world first as an intellectual and a political refugee. To the world, this means his films can be considered much more seriously than mine and he can make them with a much freer hand than I can.
Back to Argento…
Lucio Fulci:The new critics in Italy actually make a distinction between Argento and me. They say that his films are more visual and abstract while mine are more coherent.
At least, perhaps, in a structural sense. I wouldn’t belittle your own flair for the abstract.
Lucio Fulci: OK. I mean an understandable beginning, middle and climax. I like my ideas to be readable independently of each other. Each film’s themes stand alone. Argento likes all his films to be linked together in a more ambiguous way. But I don’t want to…make things up. I could do that for you. But I like to save the lies for the British critics. The films I wanted to make, like Duckling, luckily, I got the chance to make. Two or three that I can say represent the type of intelligence that purely represents me. The rest is all commercial compromise. But I can’t tell anybody this because nobody wants to hear it. Twenty-five years ago, when I made more personal movies, critics didn’t want to understand this intelligence. They called my art “shit.” Now, critics want to call my shit “art.” But the British critics…they see the craziest things in the worst shit. They are intelligent, but a little…repressed.
What about all the charges of misogyny?
Lucio Fulci: All the time, the same thing. An English girl once asked me if I hated women. I responded, “I hate them when they’re not with me.” But really, men get treated just as badly in my films. And the themes of my films are not, “See how evil women are, they all must be killed.” That’s nonsense. Catholic doctrine tells you to hate women, not my movies. I think that if you are a woman, then stop men from going to church at an early age. Then, maybe their world might get a little better.
You’ve put many an actress through some grueling situations. Who was the best sport?
Lucio Fulci: Florinda Bolkan, without question. She was also the best actress I’ve ever worked with. Extraordinary woman. You could expect miracles from her and usually get them. I miss working with her.
You’ve been accused of naively stereotyping America and Americans. Do you like America?
Lucio Fulci: I love American women. Some loved me, others didn’t. But really, if you want revenge, Bava’s The Evil Eye stereotypes Italians, so there’s the revenge. Besides, every time I stereotype Italy, those films don’t get released outside the country. At least if I set the films in America, they seem to get released there as well.
Deep Red Alert#02