Fulci was born in Rome on 17 June 1927. After studying medicine in college and being employed for a time as an art critic, he opted for a film career, first as a screenwriter working initially in the Italian comedy field, then later as a director beginning with I Ladri in 1959. In the early 1960s, Fulci wrote or directed around 18 Italian comedies, many of them starring the famous Italian comedian team of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia.
Most of these early films did not enjoy wider distribution in English-speaking countries, and are generally not available in English. Fulci's first film distributed theatrically in the USA was Oh! Those Most Secret Agents! in 1965. Only four of his other 1960s films were released in the U.S.: Massacre Time (as The Brute and the Beast in 1968), The Man Who Killed Billy the Kid (as I'll Kill Him and Return Alone in 1968), Una sull'altra (as One on Top of the Other in 1973) and Beatrice Cenci (as Conspiracy of Torture, in 1976).
In 1969, he moved into directing giallo thrillers such as A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Sette note in nero (The Psychic), and Spaghetti Westerns such as Silver Saddle and Four of the Apocalypse, all of which were commercially successful and controversial in their depictions of violence and religion. Some of the special effects in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin involving mutilated dogs in a vivisection room were so realistic, Fulci was dragged into court and charged with animal cruelty, until he produced the artificial canine puppets that were used in the film (created by special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi).
His first film to gain significant notoriety in his native country, Don't Torture a Duckling, combined scathing social commentary with the director's trademark graphic violence. Fulci had a Catholic upbringing and referred to himself as a Catholic. Despite this, some of his movies (Beatrice Cenci, Don't Torture a Duckling, City of the Living Dead, etc.) have been viewed as having very anti-Catholic sentiment. In one of his films, a priest is depicted as a serial child killer, while in another film, a priest commits suicide by hanging himself in a cemetery and is later reincarnated as a demon.
In 1979, he achieved his international breakthrough with Zombi 2, a violent zombie film that was marketed in European territories as a sequel to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead/ Zombi (1978). He followed it up with several other horror films, also featuring zombies, which were popular horror film trope of the time. His features released from 1979 through 1983 (most of them scripted by famed Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti) were described by some critics as being among the most violent and gory films ever made. City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The Black Cat (1981), The New York Ripper (1982) and Manhattan Baby (1982) were among his biggest hits, all of which were noted for their extreme content and amount of gore.
Several of Fulci's movies released in America were edited by the film distributor to ensure an R rating, such as The Beyond, which was originally released on video in edited form as Seven Doors of Death. Others were released Unrated in order to avoid an X-rating (as with Zombi 2 and House by the Cemetery) which would have restricted the films' target audiences to adults. The unrated films often played worldwide in drive-ins and grindhouses where they developed a cult following. Many of Fulci's horror films tend to contain "injury to the eye" sequences, in which a character's eyeball is either pierced or pulled out of its socket, usually in lingering, close-up detail.
Several of Fulci's movies were prohibited in Europe or were released in heavily cut versions. Of the original 72 films on the infamous video nasty list in the United Kingdom, three belonged to Fulci: Zombi 2 (1979), The Beyond (1981), and House by the Cemetery (1981). After viewing Fulci's The New York Ripper, not only did the British Board of Film Classification refuse the film a certificate, but every single print in the country was taken to an airport and returned to Italy by order of James Ferman; it was not until later that VIPCO allowed the release of the film, initially outsourcing production to a foreign source under police supervision before releasing a VHS in 2002 and a DVD in 2007.
After collaborating with screenwriter Sacchetti for six years, Fulci went off on his own in 1983 to direct the movie Conquest (a Conan-like barbarian fantasy) in Mexico, failing to involve Sacchetti in the deal. The film did poorly upon its release, and afterwards, Fulci had trouble jump-starting his working relationship with Sacchetti, who by that time had gone his own way.
Fulci became deathly ill from hepatitis in 1984, right after he finished directing Murder Rock in New York City, and had to be hospitalized in Italy for many months. Fulci spent most of 1984 hospitalized with cirrhosis, and much of 1985 recuperating at home. After 1986, with his diabetes plaguing him and the departure of screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti from Fulci's circle of friends, Fulci's endeavors as a director suffered.
In 1988, he had directed about two-thirds of Zombi 3 in the Philippines before having to return abruptly to Italy due to a second bout of hepatitis. The film was finished by an un-credited Bruno Mattei. Fulci later said that he hated the finished product and tried unsuccessfully to get his name removed from the credits. Mattei has said in interviews that the film was Fulci's, and that he (Mattei) just added a few extra scenes to pad out the running time.
In 1989, Fulci was hired to direct a pair of made-for-TV horror movies for the Italian market, neither of which aired in Italy due to the high amount of gore and violence. They were released later on DVD, however, outside of Italy. Fulci's intended comeback films Demonia and A Cat in the Brain were produced in 1990. Both films struggled to see release and were considered critical disappointments. His final project, the 1991 psychological thriller The Door to Silence, based on one of his short stories, also received poor reviews. The release of this film is seen by some as the critical lowest point of his career.
In the last decade of his life, Fulci suffered from emotional and physical health problems, reflected by a marked decline in the quality of his work. His wife's suicide in 1969 always weighed heavily on him (his wife Marina had killed herself with a gas oven after learning she had inoperable cancer). People who knew him spoke of a 3rd daughter he had once had who he said was killed in a car accident in the 1970s, but this story was never confirmed. Fulci suffered during the late 1980s from severe problems with his feet, which were caused by diabetes. He hid the severity of his illness from his friends and associates, so that he would not be deemed unemployable.
Between 1987 and 1989, Fulci made a deal with producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini to lend his name to the credits of some low-budget horror films that he had not directed, simply to make the films more marketable to distributors outside of Italy. Although he did supervise the special gore effects in both The Curse and The Murder Secret (and directed some additional footage to lengthen the running time of Hansel and Gretel), he was hardly at all involved with some of the other projects which bore the "Lucio Fulci Presents" label on their video display boxes. Fulci tried unsuccessfully to have his name removed from the credits of one film in particular, Gianni Martucci's The Red Monks, since he swore he had no involvement with its production (although the film's producer Pino Buricchi begged him to let them use his name in the credits). The following year, in reciprocation for the use of his name, Fulci was permitted to use gore footage culled from these various films to make his infamous A Cat in the Brain.
It could be argued that at his peak, Fulci's fame and popularity were on a par with that of Dario Argento, another famous Italian horror film director whom Fulci had avoided working with as a result of Fulci publicly criticizing Argento from time to time. Fulci was most likely resentful of Argento since Argento had always received critical acclaim and recognition in Italy and abroad, whereas Fulci had been regarded there as something of a horror film hack. Fulci always joked that when he died, the Italian newspapers would all misspell his name, if they even mentioned him at all.
Fulci and Argento met in 1994 and agreed to collaborate on a horror film called The Wax Mask, a remake of the 1953 Vincent Price horror classic House of Wax, also based on a story called "The Waxwork Museum" by Gaston Leroux. Argento claimed he had heard about Fulci's miserable circumstances at the time and wanted to offer him a chance at a comeback. It is said that Argento was shocked at how thin and sickly Fulci appeared at their meeting at the 1994 Rome Fanta Festival, and said he felt very sorry for him.
Fulci and his collaborator Danielle Stroppa wrote a plot synopsis and a screenplay for Argento, and Argento kept trying to get them to increase the violence and gore quotient, against Fulci's wishes strangely. (Stroppa had co-written two of Fulci's earlier films, The House of Clocks and Voices from Beyond). Fulci assumed that he was slated to also direct the film, but sadly he died before filming could begin, due to a series of delays caused by Argento's involvement with his own project, The Stendhal Syndrome, at the time. Wax Mask was eventually directed by former special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. The screenplay was entirely reworked by Stivaletti after Fulci's death, so the finished film contains significant changes to Fulci's original screenplay. Argento also hired Fulci's daughter Antonella to serve as an assistant art director on the film.
Lucio Fulci died alone, in his sleep, in his apartment in Rome on the afternoon of March 13, 1996, from diabetes-related complications at the age of 68. Toward the end of his life, Fulci had lost his house and was forced to move into a small apartment. Since Fulci had been so despondent in his later years, some believed that he may have intentionally allowed himself to die by not taking his diabetes medications, but this is controversial. Dario Argento paid for Fulci's funeral arrangements.
Fulci's films had remained generally ignored or dismissed for many years by the mainstream critics, who regarded his work as exploitation. However, genre fans appreciated his films as being stylish exercises in extreme gore. At least one of his films, The Beyond, has "amassed a large and dedicated following". In 1998, The Beyond was re-released to theaters by Quentin Tarantino, who has often cited the film, and Fulci himself, as a major source of inspiration. Fulci's earlier, lesser-known giallo Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) received some critical acclaim as well. Fulci regarded two of his films, Don't Torture a Duckling and Beatrice Cenci, as his best work (the latter which he said his wife had liked the best of all his films), and considered both Zombi 2 and The Beyond as the two films that forever catapulted him to cult film stardom. His daughter Camilla Fulci served as an assistant director on his last five films (from 1989-1991) and has gone on to become an assistant director in the Italian film industry.
Fulci made an appearance at the January 1996 Fangoria Horror Convention in New York City, two months before his death. Walking on crutches with a bandaged foot, he told attendees that he had had no idea his films were so popular outside of his native Italy, as hordes of starstruck gore fans braved blizzard conditions all that weekend to meet him.
Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti share many screen credits from 1977 to 1983. Indeed, most of Fulci's most celebrated horror films were written by Sacchetti. After collaborating with Sacchetti for six years, Fulci went off on his own in 1983 to direct Conquest in Mexico, failing to involve Sacchetti in the deal. The film was supposed to be a high budget production, and Sacchetti allegedly resented the fact that Fulci had not thought to involve him in the project. The film actually wound up doing quite poorly upon its release, and afterwards, Fulci had trouble jump-starting his working relationship with Sacchetti, who by this time had gone his own way.
In 1987, Fulci accused Sacchetti of stealing a story idea of his, a project which they were planning to do together in 1983 after Fulci returned from Mexico. He claimed that Sacchetti later allowed director Lamberto Bava to direct the project (under the title Per Sempre / Until Death) in 1987 without Fulci's knowledge that the film was even being made. Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta's book Spaghetti Nightmares, publishes two full interviews, one with Fulci and one with Sacchetti, explaining the reasons for the fallout.
Fulci's version is as follows: "One day I told Dardano the plot of my Evil Comes Back (later retitled Per Sempre/Until Death), a sequel on a fantastic note to The Postman Always Rings Twice, and he proposed it to several producers with my name on it as the director. Then, one day, he registered the screenplay with his name on it! (laughs) I later found out that he'd sold the story idea to a producer (Sergio Martino), but, in view of our past friendship, I decided not to sue him. I just broke off all relations with him. He is indeed a very good scriptwriter though."
Sacchetti's version differs: "When I proposed to Lucio my original treatment for Per Sempre, which was nothing more than a sequel to The Postman Always Rings Twice in which a dead man returns to life, he became really enthusiastic and had my story read by a producer friend of his who then commissioned me to write a finished script. At that time, Fulci assumed that he would direct it. Later, for various reasons, problems arose and the film was never made. Four years later, (Lamberto) Bava used my script to make Per Sempre and Fulci, who was not working much at the time, got angry with me and started hurling these accusations. It's one thing for him to say that we were originally supposed to make the film together, but to claim that he originated the story and that I stole it from him is pure science fiction".The Murder Secret (1988, a.k.a.Non avere paura della zia Marta / Don't Be Afraid of Aunt Martha, a.k.a.Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things, a.k.a. El espejo roto) – Fulci was credited as co-producer on this film written and directed by Mario Bianchi, and also supervised the gore effects.
Hansel and Gretel (1989, a.k.a. Non Si Seviziano i Bambini / Don't Torture the Children, a.k.a. Die saat des teufels/ The Devil's Seed) Fulci later directed additional footage that was inserted into this Giovanni Simonelli film to lengthen its running time. This film was never dubbed in English.
Massacre/ Massacro (1989, a.k.a. La morte della medium/ The Death of the Medium) – Fulci lent his name as co-producer on this film written and directed by Andrea Bianchi, although he claimed he was hardly involved at all with making it. This film was never dubbed in English.
Bloody Psycho (1989, a.k.a.The Snake House, a.k.a. Pesadilla Sangrienta, a.k.a.Lo Specchio / The Mirror, a.k.a.Nel Nido del Serpente / In the Nest of the Serpent) – Fulci lent his name as co-producer on this film directed by Leandro Luchetti; Fulci's involvement is dubious. This film was never dubbed in English.
Escape from Death (1989, a.k.a. Luna di Sangue/ Moon of Blood) – Fulci lent his name as co-producer on this film directed by Enzo Milioni; Fulci's involvement is dubious. This film was never dubbed in English.
The Red Monks (1989, a.k.a. I Frati Rossi, a.k.a. Sexorgien der roten Monche) Fulci fought in vain to have his name removed from this film's credits; the film was directed by Gianni Martucci whom Fulci claimed he never even met. Fulci was credited with handling the film's special effects, which he later denied having been involved with.