lucio fulci interview

The following interview was laboriously typed in word by word, by me, Lou Rinaldi, on Wednesday, August 27th, 1997. It was taken from issue 48 of Starburst magazine (an early 80's British publication) Volume 4, Number 12, August 1982 (publisher: Stan Lee). It was Starburst's "Zombies of the Screen" Special Issue. I have typed it in "as is," meaning there will be some confusing parts (for instance, the Starburst preface mentions a second interview, which is seemingly nowhere to be found). Oh well, enjoy!

Lucio Fulci is best known to Zombie fans for his over-the-top living dead Zombie Flesheaters, now available on video tape in its uncensored form. The picture is certainly as gruesome - if not more gruesome - as George Romero at his best. Which is fine, if you happen to like that sort of thing.

Starburst has obtained permission to reprint two interviews with Lucio Fulci by Robert Schlockoff from the excellent French film magazine L'Ecran Fantastique, translated from the French by Frederic Levy.

Starburst would like to give special thanks to Alain and Robert Schlockoff and L'Ecran Fantastique for permission to reprint this interview and to Frederic Levy for his time and patience in translating the piece.

L'Ecran Fantastique: You are no newcomer in the film industry.

Lucio Fulci: I have done films for thirty years and films are all my life. I directed thirty-three movies, but I wrote the scripts for one hundred and thirty. First I studied at the Experimental Film Center in Rome, with teachers like Antonioni and Visconti. Incidentally, when I took the oral exam to be admitted to the Center, Visconti asked me what I thought of his film Ossessione (1943), which was then regarded as a masterpiece, and, with the unconsciousness of my youth, I pointed out that he had "ripped off" quite a few pictures from Renoir's films! The rest of the jury looked at me as if I was a monster, but Visconti told me: "You are the first person to have told me the truth; you know films and you have a lot of courage - which is what a director needs to have!" And so they took me in!

Then I was assistant director on Marcel L'Herbier's Last Days of Pompeii, before I launched out into the comedy with Mario Monicelli and Steno (for instance, there was that Christopher Lee film called Uncle was a Vampire). At that time, I was associated with the writing of scripts rather than the directing of films. Since then, except for Zombie 2 Flesheaters, I have been responsible for the scripts of all my films.

Does this mean you prefer writing to directing?

Not really, but my interest in directing is mainly a technical one. To me, the most important parts in the making of a film are script-writing, sound-mixing, and editing. I have a terrible fault: I do not like stars.

Mario Bava did not either.

Nor did Hitchcock, who would send notes to his actors to give them directives. When Paul Newman once asked him why he behaved that way, Hitch answered: "So I don't have to talk to you!" As a matter of fact, I like working with actors, but not with stars. Bava, since you mentioned his name, had all his films based on technique, special effects, and suspense: so he didn't really need actors. But Bava was ignored (just like Freda was), and only after his death did critics begin mentioning his genius.

As far as I am concerned, there was one exception - I did work with a star, Toto, the great comedian. I did twenty-two films with him, as a writer or assistant director, and he helped me direct my first film, The Thief, which turned out to be a big flop. At that time, I would do comedies, and rock 'n' roll films.

Did you feel any interest in fantastic films yet?

I was a great admirer of Tourneur and Corman - I love Corman's Poe series. After a while I was fed up with comedies and would not do any more. So I did not work for a year, until, with some friends, I produced a western which I feel belongs in the fantastique, Tepepa. It was very different from the other Italian westerns one could see then: both soft-spoken and extremely violent. The confrontation of two brothers in an unreal climate. Franco Nero, who had not yet been the star of Django, played the first part.

I did my first giallo, Perversion Story, in 1968. Again, it had something unreal in the way a magic San Francisco was shown. But my first true fantastic film was Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna, 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 super-impositions 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. Some people believed we had used real dogs, which is totally preposterous, as I love dogs, and we had to face a lawsuit. Fortunately, Rambaldi saved me from a sentence to two years' imprisonment by retrieving one of his synthetic dogs!

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, Sette Note in Nero.

It was no easy enterprise. I had the script ready for a while, but the producers, Luigi and Aurelio DiLaurentiis, 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 favor 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 centered 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 Long Night of Exorcism 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 mannequin 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?

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. I really enjoyed doing this film, as I had all the crew of my previous films back with me.

So you did not write Zombi 2?

I did not write the original script, but I changed it a lot. I wanted to make an entirely fantastic film, a free film, contrary to Sette Note in Nero, which was based on a mechanism requiring some cerebration. Zombi 2 is based on sensations, hinges on fear, and, of course, horror. In this connection, I am most satisfied with the achievement of Gianetto de Rossi, previously responsible for make-up effects in Jorge Grau's Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue; I am particularly pleased with that "eye scene" which impressed many people. Gianetto de Rossi couldn't participate in the making of City of the Living Dead, and was replaced by Franco Rufini, but he was back on The Beyond.

For a fantastic film, you need not only a strong team, but also people who know everything about technique, as it is particularly difficult to do special effects. My associates and myself get along together very well and work in a totally relaxed atmosphere. When we finished shooting Zombi 2, I said we had just made a horror film classic, without knowing it, and, to some extent, having fun like a circle of friends. I say that in reaction to those who think a film can't be successful if it is not made under some tension.

"Having fun?" What do you answer to those who blame you for all the horror in your films?

Horror is not a goal in itself to me. I am basically interested in the fantastic. As a matter of fact, there are few horror scenes in City of the Living Dead; tension is the important thing in this film. I have given up on horror for horror's sake, instead I wanted to make a nightmare film where horror is ubiquitous, even in apparently innocuous forms. Horror only appears in two scenes in a spectacular way, let alone the fact that the drill scene is a warning I wanted to give against a certain type of fascism, the girl's father killing the young guy in such an abject way just because the young guy is different, a frightened victim who, like the so-called witch in Long Night of Exorcism, does not understand all this hostility towards him. I wanted to show this boy as a dropout whom girls protect because of his kindness, but unfortunately, I was not able to develop the conservatism of some Dunwich inhabitants. City, to me, is a visual rendering of the metaphysical side of bad dreams.

I shot the film in Savannah, Georgia, but I changed the town into a nightmare city, so unreal that the audience can't put a name to it. I tried to achieve the same thing with New Orleans in The Beyond.

To come back to the question of horror in my films, I'd like to point out that the audience usually applauds once a horror scene is over, not while the horror is on the screen. People are wrong when they accuse my films of gratuitous horror; censorship is wrong about my films being an incentive to violence. Far from participating in this violence, the spectator, on the contrary, is rid of it, freed from horrors he holds within himself, the film being the catalyst for this liberation.

The audience indeed applauds most the scene where zombies are burnt out.

Yes, because the audience is against evil, basically, and I think that the Clint Eastwood films are much more harmful to the youth. My films are only nightmares after which you wake up relieved and relaxed. And fantastic films are liberating, especially for the youth, because of this role of the audience. In City of the Living Dead, I paid much more attention to the story than to the zombies, who are only accessories of this story.

City offers quite a few special effects, like the worm rain, or the inside out vision of the girl's bowels!

It was not easy: actors would not quite accept all those worms stuck up on their faces - we used thousands of them, over twenty pounds! As for the bowel vomiting sequence, we had to use the tripe of a freshly slashed lamb (for after ten minutes, it dries up and becomes unusable), which the actress actually swallowed, and vomited afterwards. For close-ups where bowels rush out, it was of course a doll containing a pump.

Wasn't The Black Cat a new experience for you, given its very Anglo-Saxon look?

I made this film as a tribute to Roger Corman, though he only did a sketch out of the original story (in Tales of Terror), while I had to do a feature! What interested me in this story was to comment upon the relationship between a man and a cat. The two characters are identical, even though the cat is to win: for the cat may be cruel, but after all he is only the judge, the conscience of this man. The man hates the cat, but, like in the story, he can't kill him, as nobody can kill his own sick soul. We often try to kill off our bad conscience, to no avail. I was also fascinated with the theme of imprisonment always present in Poe's works. To me, it's the most perturbing of all themes: I had Jennifer O'Neil walled up alive in Sette Note in Nero, and Catriona MacColl buried alive in City of the Living Dead.

What kind of man is Patrick Magee?

He is a marvelous actor, but shooting with him was extremely exhausting, as he has a lot of personal problems. He didn't actually collaborate much, I even had incredible difficulties with him, but his acting talent is beyond criticism. I think Patrick Magee was the perfect choice for a film I wanted to do as an atmosphere film, not as a horror film. Mimsy Farmer, on the contrary, is terrific: she is both a very friendly person and a very good actress for this type of film. Producers tried to launch her as the "leading American woman in Italy" a few years ago, but, as films like The Black Cat are very rare in Italy, I don't think she has played in any film since then.

Did you conceive The Beyond as a sequel to City of the Living Dead?

No, my idea was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of our world. It's a plotless film: a house, people, and dead men coming from The Beyond. There's no logic to it, just a succession of images. The Sea of Darkness, for instance, is an absolute world, an immobile world where every horizon is similar. I think each man chooses his own inner hell, corresponding to his hidden vices. So I am not afraid of Hell, since Hell is already in us. Curiously enough, I can't imagine a Paradise exists, though I am a Catholic - but perhaps God has left me? - yet I have often envisaged Hell, since we live in a society where only Hell can be perceived. Finally, I realize that Paradise is indescribable. Imagination is much stronger when it is pressed by the terrors of Hell.

And there is no way to exorcise this Hell of yours?

No way! I often tried to exorcise my personal Hell to no avail, so now I show it in my films. But, mind you, what is to me the most tragic thing in The House Near the Cemetery is not the people who die, but that little girl who opens for her young friend the gates to the world of the Dead, and saves him from normality (i.e., from the monster who killed the boy's parents), but also plunges him into the Beyond. In fact, those children do not actually die: they just live in another world in which adults have no power. Finally, the most frightening thing is that the house stays there and will receive other visitors.

Being a Catholic, don't you believe in Good and Evil?

This may seem strange, but I am happier than somebody like Bunuel who says he is looking for God. I have found Him in the others' misery, and my torment is greater than Bunuel's. For I have realized that God is a God of suffering. I envy atheists; they don't have all these difficulties.

It is true that all my films are terribly pessimistic. The main characters in The Beyond, for instance, become blind, as their sight has no raison d'être anymore in this lifeless world. But humor and tragedy always join, anyway. If they emphasize the tragic side of things, it may have a comical effect. Everything considered, having directed so many comedies when I started my film career turns out to be very useful for my true cinema, the cinema of the Fantastic.

Comparisons have been made between The House Near the Cemetery and Dario Argento's Inferno.

The themes are different, but I won't deny there are some connections between Argento and myself. Both films, intentionally, have no structure. We tried in Italy to make films based on pure themes, without a plot, and The Beyond, like Inferno, refuses conventions and traditional structures, while there are some threads in my other films: The House is about a monster, The Ripper is an Hitchcockian thriller, City of the Living Dead deals with Evil, Zombi 2 with death and the macabre. I like The Beyond very much because I think it was an interesting attempt.

People who blame The Beyond for its lack of story have not understood that it's a film of images, which must be received without any reflection. They say it is very difficult to interpret such a film, but it is very easy to interpret a film with threads: any idiot can understand Molinaro's La Cage aux Folles, or even Carpenter's Escape from New York, while The Beyond or Argento's Inferno are absolute films.

Some people also said that The House Near the Cemetery was a rip-off of The Amityville Horror.

This is not true: in Amityville, you are confronted with something unknown which terrorizes the tenants, while in The House Near the Cemetery, the secret is eventually given away: you know that the monster is a mosaic of corpses. In fact, this film was influenced by Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and its film version by Jack Clayton, The Innocents. That's why you can hear at the end of my film this quotation from James: "Are children monsters, or would monsters by children?", as all that is told may have happened in fact in the child's imagination - even his parents' deaths. The spectator may also see the film as a kind of cycle, the events being repetitions of events past.

The fantastic in this film is all centered upon children.

Of course! For instance in that scene where the two children talk together and understand each other though they are hundreds of yards away from each other. Everything is possible in their world; children don't have the same limitations as grown-ups. That's the reason why, despite all the audience's warnings, the little boy goes down into the cellar to fetch the baby-sitter's head. Children do not have the same hang-ups as adults. Like monsters, they have a different wavelength. So my film borrows from Henry James's works, and not, despite an accusations I have received, from The Shining. In The Shining, there was a complicity between a child and an adult - the cook of the Overlook Hotel. But in The House Near the Cemetery, adults are totally unimportant. I couldn't care less about this guy who goes mad in The Shining. I hate The Shining anyway; Kubrick's coldness was alright for A Clockwork Orange or The Paths to Glory, because it corresponded to the story. But Kubrick's genius is not made for horror films. The Shining has no feeling.

Isn't the end of The House - when the little girl helps the boy out of the grave - reminiscent of North by Northwest?

You mean when Cary Grant gets his girlfriend out of the precipice? Yes, it is. I love to make quotations, and there will be many in connection with Huston or Hitchcock in The Ripper.

So what is The Ripper about?

It's the story of a mad killer committing terrible murders in New York, but to some extent it's a fantastic film, if only because the police have to spot this madman among twenty million New Yorkers. Much less horror than my previous films, no zombies, but a human killer working in the dark. The setting is deliberately conventional: though I aim at making a new style of thriller, I want to pay a tribute to Hitchcock. The Ripper is in a way a Hitchcock revisited, a fantastic film with a plot, violence, and sexuality.

Did you shoot all the film in New York?

Yes, for four weeks, and with many difficulties, as we had to confront the unions. It's no easy job sending an Italian crew shooting a small budget film in New York. We had thought of Boston first, because of the famous Strangler, but New York, a town both monstrous and fascinating, finally seemed a better choice. Placing the Ripper in this town would make him a more fantastic figure.

Which of all your films do you prefer?

Beatrice Cenci, which is not a well-known film. I shot it in '69, and it was painful as I had excruciating personal problems then. It's certainly the film I am most deeply attached to, but there is a curse on it. It was released in very few countries, had a poor reception, and all the prints have vanished. (Note: Wrong! There is now at least a French videocassette of this film, entitled Liens d'amour et de sang.)

Is there a subject you have dreamed of shooting?

Yes, I have had a project for years, but I have never been able to get it off the ground. I want to call it Roman Black; it is a study in power. Not a denunciation of power - this has been done so many times... but a thriller à la Chandler, Hammet, or Irish set in Ancient Rome, at the end of the Empire. A new survey of the Fall of the Roman Empire in the form of a thriller. But of course I might have to shoot a totally different film right now. René Clair, once asked what he intended to do after Le Silence est d'or, simply answered: "Another film." And for us, film directors, that is the question: to be or not to be able to shoot another film.

Is the cinema the thing that counts most for you?

I ruined my life for it. I have no family, no wife, only daughters. All women left me because I never stop thinking of my job. My only two hobbies are my dogs and my sailing boat. Work is very important to me. John Ford once said, "I know that in bars they are saying bad things about me. But I am shooting films in the mountains with Indians while they are talking..."