Though more often than not working on a strict budget and a short time line, Lucio Fulci ranked among the masters of blood-soaked Italian horror/fantasies and sexy thrillers. Fulci's zombie films, beginning with Zombi 2 (1979), a loose sequel of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), are especially prized by genre aficionados for their shocking violence and graphic gore.
According to Fulci, it was the love of a woman, not a passion for cinema, that led him into filmmaking. He met her while studying medicine and working as a part-time art critic. Their affair was brief for she came from a wealthy family who lost their fortune after the war, and so wanted a man with more income. Following the breakup, Fulci spied a newspaper ad announcing the reopening of the Experimental Film Studios. Thinking a filmmaking career might provide him with an impressive income, Fulci decided to apply. The great director Luchino Visconti, impressed by Fulci's examination, personally admitted the young man into the program. Fulci found himself in the company of such budding directors as Michelangelo Antonioni and Antonio Pietrangeli. Though students had no access to mechanical equipment or film stock, they were thoroughly indoctrinated into the theories of filmmaking. After leaving the studio, Fulci spent 15 years as the assistant director under Steno, whom Fulci credits as a master filmmaker. During this period, the aspiring director launched a busy screenwriting career. One of his early scripts includes the comedy Americano A Roma. Steno loved comedies and though he worked on a shoestring budget, he taught Fulci the value of honesty in dealing with audiences and potential buyers. By the time, Fulci was ready to direct himself, he was married and in need of quick money. He made his directorial debut with I Ladri (1959) starring the popular comic Toto. But for one attempted musical, Urlatorialla Sbarra, Fulci primarily made comedies during the 1960s and only occasionally dabbled in other genres, including spaghetti Westerns such as Tempo di Masacro (1967), the costume drama Beatrice Cenci (1973), and children's movies such as White Fang (1973). He made his first thriller, Una Sull'altra, in 1969. His first horror film, Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna (A Lizard in a Woman's Skin) (1971), has become a cult favorite. Subsequent films became increasingly gory with Fulci often sacrificing story and cohesiveness in favor of shocks and thrills. His subject matter and the decidedly uneven calibre of his work resulted in critics hating Fulci's films. But despite the critical barrage of sticks and stones, the director brushed them aside knowing full well his fans were devoted to his artistry with blood, guts, sharp objects, and eyeballs.
Fulci battled with diabetes in the latter stages of his career and at one point was too sick to make films. After spending much time in hospital, Fulci made one of his worst films, Zombi 3 (1987), in order to pay his bills; during production he again fell ill and director Bruno Mattei had to finish it. Nine years later, Fulci succumbed to his illness and died while directing M.D.C. Maschera Di Cera (1996), a remake of Gaston Leroux's tale The Wax Museum. The production was taken over by first-time helmer Sergio Stivaletti. One of his last films, Un Gatto Nel Cervello (Cat in the Brain) (1990), is comparable to Fellini's 8 1/2 inasmuch as it is a semi-autobiographical film with surrealistic overtones about a director (albeit a chainsaw-wielding director) agonizing over his latest film on the couch of a murderously psychotic psychologist.