Poche Pictures
e-mail: rich@pochepictures.com
Lucio Fulci: The Gates of Hades

   Some of the original European films in this genre could be judged more outrageous than those that we are
used to seeing today.  This is true of the film director Lucio Fulci, born in 1927 in Rome, who is well known to
horror film aficionados as a master of erotic terror, gore and unforgettable grisly montage sequences.
   Fulci, referenced by some as the ‘Godfather of Italian Gore’, studied medicine at college whilst also working
as an art critic. Perhaps it was this passion for art that drove him to explore an interest in the moving image
and sign up with Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografía as a scriptwriter. Here he spent many years earning a
living both as a writer and director on Italian comedies. During this time he became assistant to the comic
filmmaking legend Stefano Vanzina better known as ‘Steno’. He worked with Steno on many of his well know
comedies and alongside him on the films of Italian comic Totó. His directorial debut came in 1959 with, I Ladri
(The Thieves) which also starred Totó and Giovanni Ralli. Even though this film did not garner much critical
acclaim he continued to work on a variety of projects from spaghetti westerns through to musicals throughout
the sixties.
   Although Fulci would be later quoted as saying that he didn’t like directing comedies, he nonetheless enjoyed
his first box office successes during the late sixties with the well loved comedy partnership Franco Franchi and
Ciccio Ingrassia in a number of screwball comedies.  During this time his personal life suffered a terrible blow
after the death of his wife Maria who left him with two children. It is said that Maria committed suicide after
receiving the devastating news that she was suffering from cancer and this trauma could go in some way
towards explaining Fulci’s change of genre and style at this moment in his directing career.
Whether or not this is accurate the fact is that in 1969, the same year as his wife’s death, he went on to carve
out what has become known as the darker side of his career. The first hint of things to come arrived with a
mysterious thriller, Una sull'altra (One on Top of the Other), Hitchcockian in style and set in San Francisco. It
was at this moment that Fulci stepped into the ‘giallo’ or Italian thriller/mystery with slasher/gory tendencies
category. His next work as director was on Beatrice Cenci, also in 1969, which chronicled the infamous historical
story of a woman who bears the same name as the title wronged by her father and the church. Audiences
reputedly hated the film which could have been related to the sympathy given to the protagonist Beatrice
(Adrienne Larussa) which painted the Catholic Church as clear wrongdoers in the story.  
The two films that followed were clear giallo classics; Na Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna (A Lizard in a Woman's
Skin) in 1971 and Non Si Sevizia un Paperino (Don’t Torture a Duckling) in 1972. However it wasn’t until 1979
that he was able to achieve real international critical acclaim with Zombie 2. Cunningly although falsely marketed
as a sequel (hence the 2 in the title) to the then hugely successful George A. Ramiro’s Dawn of the Dead this
was the film that saw Fulci find his gore niche (and later earn his Godfather title). A catalogue of horror blood
fests followed with Paura Nella Città dei Morti Viventi  (City of the Living Dead, 1980), L’aldilá (The Beyond
1981),  Quella Villa Accanto al Cimitero (The House by the Cemetery, 1981), Gatto Nero (The Black Cat, 1981),
Lo Squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper, 1982) and L'occhio del Male (Manhattan Baby, 1982). It was
during this time that he began a successful collaborative relationship with the writer Dardano Sacchetti who
scripted the majority of this work. This partnership was viewed favourably by horror genre fans who enjoyed
the fruits of this collaboration. However, not satisfied with staying in genre, Fulci famously ‘left’ his partnership
with Sacchetti in 1983 when he decided to work alone on the film Conquest. This is when the rift between the
two creatives appears to have started which later culminated in Fulci accusing Sacchetti of copying a plot they
had discussed when working together. They never worked together after this division.
From 1984 to 1986 Fulci was reputedly plagued by illness and a series of low successes in his work. In 1990
Fulci attempted a career comeback with two films Demonia and Un Gatto Nel Cervello (A Cat in the Brain) both
produced in the same year. Sadly the films did not find success and he continued to receive poor reviews and
unenthusiastic audiences for new releases although his fans remained loyal to his back catalogue.  His last film,
Le Porte del Silenzio (The Door to Silence) was completed in 1991 and failed to set audiences or critics alight.
Despite his ‘golden era’ of gore, Fulci could not get his career back on track. It was in 1996 after suffering for
many years with diabetes that Fulci died in Rome at the age of 68, alone and at home, from an attack of this

   Apart from the box office successes of his blood soaked horror movies it has taken many years for Fulci’s
career to be recognised as hugely important to the Italian horror genre and many horror fans could spend
some time arguing about which is the best Fulci film often heading towards the middle part of his catalogue
which deals with the classical zombie plots. However, it certainly is worth looking at his two earliest films as
examples of how he prepared for what was to come.
A Lizard in A Woman’s Skin was released in 1971, set in London it centres around the plot of a young woman
who is tormented by dreams of sex and orgies with her downstairs neighbour. Her neighbour dies and she
becomes the prime suspect which duly unfurls a whodunit plot laced with false clues, lesbian sex scenes, orgies,
nightmares and hallucinations. Florinda Bolkan plays the lead protagonist Carol with Stanley Baker as the
investigator on the case. The film was highly controversial due to the graphic special effects created by Carlo
Rambaldi which were so realistic that Fulci was taken to court for suspected offences related to the animal
cruelty shown. The director would have faced up to two years in prison for the scene involving dog mutilation
were it not for Rambaldi taking his special effects creations into the court to prove that no animals had been
harmed in the making of the film.
   Don’t Torture a Duckling followed in 1972 and the film plays out the mystery of child disappearances in a
small Italian village which are finally attributed to the local priest. Film industry gossip supposes that his
negative portrayal of the church in this film left Fulci completely out of favour with the Roman Catholic Church
and possibly damaged his directing career in Italy.

   Although these early films gave a taste of what Fulci was capable of it is undoubtedly true that his first real
commercial success was Zombie 2 in 1979.
   This film begins with a mysterious scene where a corpse wrapped in a sheet is shot in the head followed by
the words, ‘the boat can leave now.’ What is set up as a tantalising opening concept soon develops into stylish
and gory zombie mayhem. An abandoned boat arrives in New York carrying a zombie, the unknowing policeman
who comes across it is bitten on the throat and the zombie disappears into the water after being shot by the
policeman’s partner.  What follows is a fantastical plot where a newspaper reporter Peter (played by Ian
McCulloch) and the daughter of the boat’s owner Anne (Tisa Farrow) set off to solve the mysterious
circumstances of the boat’s arrival and her father’s apparent disappearance. Heading to the island of Matul in
the Antilles they attempt to gather information only to discover that the island is subject to a zombie invasion
with corpses coming alive and attacking the living. The only way to stop the undead is to shoot them in the
head. The film develops into a rollicking gore fest which includes some memorable and much loved scenes for
Fulci fans such as a zombie fighting underwater with a shark and a woman’s eye being slowly impaled on a piece
of wood. The film’s zombies manage to kill off nearly everyone involved apart from Peter and Anne who end up
in a climatic battle at the island’s hospital throwing petrol bombs at the ever advancing undead. Finally, escaping
on a make shift boat with their infected friend Brian, Anne and Peter try to get back to New York with him as
evidence to prove the existence of the deadly virus to the public. The film ends with another memorable scene
of Peter and Anne listening to radio announcement about a zombie epidemic gripping New York which then cuts
to New York City and a shot of a group of zombies making their way across the Brooklyn Bridge.
It has been argued that the success of Zombie 2 was largely due to the already released film by George A.
Romero which had started a worldwide craze for Italian gore and zombie feature films. In fact, on release
Zombie 2 although commercially successful received lukewarm reviews and was compared, often unfavourably,
to Romero’s work. It hasn’t been until more recently, perhaps with the resurgence of the zombie genre, that
Fulci’s film has been given the credit that so many horror fans firmly believe that it deserves. What has been
unarguably popular about the film since its release is the musical score composed by Fabio Frizzi who became a
long time collaborator of Fulci and the horror genre.

   City of the Living Dead, released in 1980,  brings us on to the three ‘Gates of Hell’ films that come together
in an unofficial trilogy by sharing similar plotlines  (the other two being The Beyond and House by the Cemetery)
and also being written by Dardano Sacchetti.  The film begins and ends with the scream of its protagonist Mary
(Catriona MacColl). Attending a séance she has a strange vision of a priest hanging himself which sends her into
a fit and seeming death. It’s not until she is later buried that Peter (Christopher George), a local journalist
trying to cover the story, hears her muffled screams and realises that she is still alive. Freeing her from the
coffin with a memorable shot of a pickaxe coming dangerously close to her head they head off together to try
to find the village that she saw in her vision. The village is Dunwich and meanwhile in this strange and sombre
town strange things are beginning to happen. Locals are disappearing in gruesome circumstances and Father
Thomas, who Mary saw in her vision, reappears hanging in a house or killing someone with a maggot covered
hand. When Mary and Peter arrive in town they meet another couple Sandra and Gerry who share the traumatic
events with them. What follows is typical of Fulci, the main protagonists (usually two couples) are witness to a
series of awful deaths whilst trying to evade or fight the undead. Everyone else is killed off  (including Sandra
and Peter) in order to reach the climax where Father Thomas returns to finish the job. Here the plot diverges as
Gerry manages to disembowel Father Thomas and by his death the Gates of Hell appear to have been forced
shut again. Leaving the audience think that perhaps for once Fulci has favoured a heroe’s win as the resolution.
However, in classic Fulci mode where he loved to leave a little ambiguity, Gerry and Mary escape to be faced with
a child running towards them. A shot of their faces turning from happiness to terror is broken by Mary’s scream
and the film ends as it began.
   In this film there are some truly terrifying Fulci moments, from the priest who can make people’s eyes bleed
and stomachs turn inside out to a sickening wall that bleeds by itself. The protagonists endure a storm of
maggots and viewers are witness to a horde of gory deaths from a head impaled on a lathe to a possessed cat
who attacks her owner. It’s not hard to see why such gore, carried off with a signature Fulci style, had horror
film fans praising the footage and wanting more.

   House by the Cemetery, released in 1981, features the repugnant and ghoulish semi human body of
Freudstein who is 150 years old and stays alive in the cellar of his old house by eating the body parts of his
victims. The house again is built over one of the gates of hell, hence its inclusion in the trilogy. Not then a
zombie invasion as such but this film doesn’t scrimp on the gore regardless of numbers. When Norman (Paolo
Malco) and Lucy (Catriona MacColl) unknowingly take their son to Boston to live in Dr. Freudstein’s house they
have no idea of the sinister secret that they are going to discover in the basement. Cue unexplained
disappearances, psychic warnings and a lot of smashed, ripped out, crushed and bloody body parts later, the
couple discover the hideous secret below the stairs. In typical Fulci style he spares no victims and Lucy and
Norman both meet a horrible ending. The film ends with their son Bob evading the evil monster only to be
pulled to safety by two mysterious members of Freudstein’s family who lead him off into the melancholic

   The Beyond was also released in 1981, directed by Fulci, with another screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti. Set
in Louisiana, USA (as many of Fulci’s works are) the film begins with a flashback to 1927 when the first
incidence of ‘opening the gates of hell’ occurs. Flash-forward to modern day and Liza, a woman from New York,
buys the hotel and attempts to renovate and reopen it. When she employs a repairman to investigate some
flooding in the cellar he has his eye gouged out by an evil hand. Deaths begin to mount up as all supporting
cast members are killed off in gloriously gory and sinister ways. It appears that opening the gateway has let out
a stream of the undead into the world and various zombie killings spill forth until Liza and John are the only
ones left alive but find themselves trapped in a state of perpetual return to the point they started to travel
from. Closing scenes see them surrendering to the darkness as they disappear.
   Quentin Tarantino has cited this film as a huge influence on his work. Tarantino’s company, Rolling Thunder
Pictures, in association with Grindhouse Releasing, found the original master and restored the film releasing it
on home video. This film has been called by many ‘Fulci’s Masterpiece’ for its ability to combine a sinister
supernatural atmosphere with scenes of unnerving gore such as eye gouging, a demonic dog turning on his
mistress, killer spiders and acid face removal.

   It’s fitting then to round up with Fulci’s last film, Door to Silence, which was written and directed by Fulci
then released in 1991. Moving back to suspense and the supernatural after many years of gore and pure horror
Fulci creates a clever tale of a businessman who keeps encountering the signs of his own death. The film opens
with a smashed watch bearing the hour of a car crash death and cuts to Melvin Devereux (John Savage) who is
attending a funeral. Here he meets a woman (Sandi Schultz) who knows his name even though he doesn’t
recognise her. This meeting puts in motion a series of events that leave Melvin haunted by a hearse with a
coffin that appears to bear his name. He follows the hearse to various locations in an effort to try and find out
the truth and each incident sees the situation become more mysterious and unexplainable. In the climax of the
film he desperately goes to visit a psychic Tarot reader who breaks the news to him that he has been dead for
hours. She then suddenly dies after receiving a phone call from a ‘Mr Devereux.’ This stylish concept concludes
with Melvin’s actual death in a car crash. We see the watch again with the same hour and the woman he met at
the funeral driving off in a car with a licence plate that reads D.E.A.T.H. Although this plot has all the ingredients
of a slick box office pleaser it failed to connect with audiences and was deemed a failure. Perhaps those who had
hoped for more horror and gore were left disappointed with what is really a contemplative and understated

   Fulci had a varied and somewhat successful career although a great deal of the critical success has been
enjoyed posthumously. He was a talented director who was greatly appreciated by die-hard horror fans and
could turn his hand to many genre forms from westerns to comedies. Undoubtedly it was in the horror genre
that he found his niche and was able to explore his various fascinations with the supernatural. Fulci’s successful
tropes in this genre can be seen as, zombies, superstition, dream sequences or premonitions, ambiguous or
desolate endings, Catholic imagery, sex and the erotic, the characters of ‘the couple’ and ‘the loner’ and psychic
happenings. The director also makes some cameo appearances in his films. Add to this his signature gore of
highly imaginative and brutally shocking death scenes, explicit special effects and the sheer volume of the
bodycount in his ‘golden era’ films and you have an idea of what horror fans would say makes a ‘classic Fulci.’