Lucio Fulci shares the “godfather of gore” title with fellow director Herschell Gordon Lewis. But Fulci may win between the two of them solely for the visceral response his movies evoke. They’re very often gross, sometimes even too gross for the most hardened of fans to handle. I know people who have watched plenty of gross and nasty genre films, but just about everyone still has to look away during the eyeball scene in Zombie. And while he is a maestro of blood and guts and gross-out gags, Fulci is also excellent at crafting the suspense, dread and atmosphere that is needed to make those gags (and the overall film in general) work. Here are our picks for the top five movies from the Italian maestro of gore.
5. HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY-
House by the Cemetery is the third film in Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy about seven doorways on Earth that open up a gateway to Hell. In this, the smallest of the three movies, the gateway to Hell is found inside and old Victorian house in rural New England. It’s style is almost like Romero meets Hitchcock, while still being pure Fulci of course. The focus is a group of people staying within the house, which has an obviously mysterious past, and someone or something is picking them off in predictably grotesque ways. Yet it is still technically a zombie movie, as the thing doing the dirty work is the house’s former owner, Freudstein (virtually the least subtle name for a mad scientist in horror history) who is a pretty ripe and angry corpse. He’s not a corpse by means of traditional voodoo or zombie virus, though. He takes his mangled victims back to his basement lab where he uses individual parts of them to regenerate his blood cells. It’s the weakest of the “Gates of Hell” trilogy, but it is heavy on atmosphere and gore.
4. DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING-
Don’t Torture a Duckling has the very important distinction of being Fulci’s first gory movie. Before this, he was focused almost entirely on suspense until he realized he liked to gross people out too. This is a giallo film, a genre which would be made famous by directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Fulci’s giallo efforts fit right in with them, though, crafting a great mix of murder mystery and stylish thriller. It upholds the mystery aspects of virtually every giallo movie, as well as the gore. Even though this was Fulci’s first time working with significant bloodshed, his love for it is fairly clear.
3. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD-
City of the Living Dead is the first chapter in the “Gates of Hell” trilogy. It focuses on a small New England town called Dunwich (and nod to H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”) in which a priest commits suicide in an old cemetery, thus opening up the gates of Hell. The zombies here are interesting because they’re somewhere between fully-realized living dead and ghosts. They can appear out of thin air, they can teleport and levitate, but they are definitely physical presences and cause no shortage of carnage and bloodshed. Due to the paranormal, supernatural nature of the film, the deaths have a more supernatural slant to them. They’re not less gory than Fulci’s more realistic gore sequences, though. If anything they’re gorier because they are driven by pure imagination.
By far Fulci’s most well-known and most widely regarded film, Zombie is a fun gory romp from beginning to end. It was released in Italy as Zombi 2 because Dawn of the Dead was released over there as Zombi. But this movie has nothing whatsoever to do with George Romero’s film. It’s a completely different movie and in some ways a completely different type of zombie. Even though these zombies act like Romero’s flesh eaters, voodoo factors into the movie pretty heavily. The makeup is simple and great, the gore scenes are outlandishly grotesque, the aforementioned “eye scene” is one of the most shocking moments in horror history. On top of that, the “zombie vs. shark” scene, in which a zombie and shark fight over skinny dipping (skinny diving, technically) prey has become so mainstream that a shirt depicting it was scene in the major blockbuster comedy This is the End. This is the only Fulci film to really infect pop culture, but it’s probably the director’s most accessible film as it is an exploitation classic.
1. THE BEYOND-
Fulci’s finest film overall, though, is probably The Beyond. It’s the middle chapter of his Gates of Hell trilogy and the chapter that most concretely states the idea and concept that drives the three films. It’s a movie that oozes atmosphere and dread, but also brings with it all the gore sequences and gags that Fulci fans have come to expect. This one sets the action around a hotel in Louisiana, where a man was lynched years earlier as he was believed to be a warlock. This act opens the gateway to Hell that allows the dead to cross into the world of the living, though nothing much happens until the hotel is bought in the present day and the renovation process begins. The suspense here is fantastic, as this time the gateway is slowly opening throughout the film until all Hell literally breaks loose toward the end. By the end, it becomes a full-fledged zombie movie, but these are dead people who have climbed their way up out of Hell itself and their rage is clear. There are some unbelievably shocking and disturbing sequences in The Beyond, some that are fairly straightforward like the spider scene that will have arachnophobes on edge, and some that you simply can’t believe they got away with. While it’s not Fulci’s most famous film when compared with Zombie, it certainly deserves the same level of recognition and holds up as a genre classic.