The Godfather of Gore: 34 Lucio Fulci films, ranked

I’ve watched every Lucio Fulci movie except for some of his early comedies over the last couple of months (indeed, I watched many of them twice), and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve always been more of an Argento and Bava guy, but no more: I am 100% onboard the Fulci train. I can’t get enough eyes getting stabbed, sinister cats, and awesome Fabio Frizzi music.

You can watch most of Fulci in English. Like most Italian films at the time, the audio was dubbed in post-production, and so both the Italian and English tracks are dubbed. The English often syncs better. I’ve noted the few Fulci films that I think should be watched in Italian.

PSA: most of the Fulci on Amazon is in the wrong aspect ratio and in bad quality. Shudder is better. Also, as noted below, Conquest is on the Shout Factory app.

34) Silver Saddle (1978)

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This and Door to Silence are the only Fulci movies that can be described as “tame.” There are a few moments of inspiration, but not enough to overcome the annoying child factor.

33) The Sweet House of Horrors (1989)

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This and House of Clocks are two haunted house movies that Fulci made for a TV series that never aired because it was too gory. There are a few fantastic things in this movie but the production quality is abysmal and the kids are super, super annoying.

32) Door to Silence (1991)

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Great premise: business man gets stuck in traffic by a funeral procession… but is it his own funeral? The New Orleans setting is vivid. But again the production quality is terrible and this is ultimately toothless.

31) Touch of Death (1988)

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Late horror-comedy. It’s suitably nasty and the high points are high but it’s very repetitive.

30) Sodoma’s Ghost (1988)

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Haunted house movie where a group of Nazis are killed by a bombing in the middle of an orgy and then haunt a group of teenagers many years later. It’s pretty bad but it’s so perverse and bonkers that I give it a marginal thumbs up.

29) My Sister in Law [aka La Pretora] (1976)

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One of the two Fulci comedies I watched. This one is a fairly raunchy sex comedy starring 70’s genre icon Edvige Fenech. The premise is great: she plays an imperious magistrate who is about to send a crooked businessman to jail for selling dog food as goulash. But she has an identical twin sister who works as a prostitute, and the businessman and his conspirators hire the twin sister to engage in all sorts of indecent activities to ruin the judge’s reputation and force her off the bench before she can hand down a sentence. Things do not go as planned. It has tedious stretches but overall I enjoyed it.

28) The House of Clocks (1989)

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The other made for TV haunted house movie that was too gory to actually air. This one also has pretty lousy production quality but it’s so insane that it’s overall appealing. An old couple live in a house full of clocks. A gang of home invaders murders them. The clocks start running backwards and the home invaders get stuck in a time loop (the rules of which are incomprehensible) where they are terrorized by the couple they killed.

27) The Eroticist [aka The Senator Likes Women] (1972)

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The other comedy I watched. This is about a senator who tries to be chaste but who experiences an uncontrollable compulsion to grab every ass he sees (heads of state, nuns, priests, doctors, etc.). There’s a lot of material digging at the Catholic church where they try to manipulate the senator for their own nefarious purposes. This is about 20 minutes too long and the papal-political machinations grow tiresome, but the high points here are incredible (particularly the dream sequence).

26) New Gladiators [aka Warriors of the Year 2072] (1984)

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This was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Escape from New York and Mad Max in the Italian Exploitation milieu. It is completely batshit. The action scenes are incomprehensible and the movie drags for stretches, but there are enough insane Fulci touches to sustain interest. Like, there’s a scene where they meet the designer of a supercomputer. It could have been a pretty mundane scene but instead it’s like “MY MACHINE HAS A SOUL!!!!”

25) Challenge to White Fang (aka The Return of White Fang) (1974)

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Everything from here on up I really like. This sequel doesn’t stand up to the first one but it is a delight in its own right. Fulci turned White Fang into a fusion of a Spaghetti Western and family animal drama, balancing equal parts violence and sentimentality. The great Franco Nero plays the Man With No Name/Jack London figure. This one doesn’t have quite as good a story or supporting cast as the first one but there’s a dog vs. eagle battle and lots of other delightful touches.

24) Voices from Beyond (1991)

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Delightful late effort featuring one of Fulci’s craziest dream sequences. This is about an asshole patriarch who is murdered in a manner that makes his death appear to be due to natural causes. But he is able to telepathically communicate with his daughter from beyond the grave and he leads her to investigate his murder.

23) Demonia (1990)

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Fulci does nunsploitation! An archaeologist has wild visions of an orgy cult of nun witches and is drawn to the ruins of a monastery where a group of nuns was crucified 500 years earlier. One of his better late efforts.

22) Aenigma (1987)

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Very campy mean girls 80’s boarding school horror. The popular kids play a cruel practical joke on the outcast daughter of the school’s cleaning lady, which leaves her in a coma. She telepathically murders them one by one. Tons of snails.

21) Zombie 3 (1988)

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This is a total mess, and that’s the whole point. Fulci was unable to finish this and it was completed by genre madman Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, notorious screenwriter and the director of Troll 2. A zombie supervirus escapes from a military testing facility after a terrorist attack and infects an entire flock of birds. Mayhem ensues.

20) A Cat in the Brain (1990)

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Fulci’s 8 1/2. For Fulci fans only, and I recommend watching it only after seeing most of his horror films. He plays himself, driven mad by his own perverse imagination as he works on the films Sodoma’s Ghost and Touch of Death. He visits a therapist, who turns out to be a crazed murderer who frames Fulci for his own crimes. Fulci’s sense of reality breaks down and he’s not sure what’s real and what he’s imagining. The ending is oddly heartwarming if you love the man– it feels like a warm goodbye from the Godfather of Gore. Watch this one in Italian.

19) Murder-Rock: Dancing Death [aka Slashdance, aka Murder Rock] (1984)

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Campy 80’s ballet school giallo where the nicest slasher ever painlessly kills their victims with a hairpin after knocking them out. Fulci was forced to turn this into a musical to capitalize on the success of Flashdance, and the result is delightful.

18) Massacre Time [aka The Brute and the Beast] (1966)

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The earliest Fulci film of broad interest. This is an excellent Spaghetti Western starring Franco Nero and George Hilton. The script is by Fernando Di Leo, who wrote the first two parts of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, and his voice shines through clearly. This feels like a meaner, nastier, more lurid Fistful of Dollars. Highly recommended both to Fulci fans and Spaghetti Western connoisseurs. I recommend watching this one in Italian with subtitles (as for most Franco Nero movies, though I prefer the English dub for White Fang and its sequel).

17) White Fang (1973)

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This is totally excellent. Franco Nero plays a Jack London figure named Jason Scott who visits Dawson City in the Yukon during the Gold Rush. The sublimely creepy John Steiner plays the town’s resident robber baron, Beauty Smith. He bleeds the miners dry with the cooperation of a debauched priest played by the legendary Fernando Rey. Nero takes the side of an Eskimo family wronged by Beauty Smith and we get a classic Spaghetti Western war between the corrupt local power-brokers and the mysterious stranger. The twist is that he’s aided along the way by White Fang, and the movie is about 30% sentimental animal drama. I love it.

16) One on Top of the Other [aka Perversion Story] (1969)

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Fulci’s exploitation revisioning of Vertigo, starring Jean Sorel and genre icon Marisa Mel. In this version, the Kim Novak character (played by Mel) is an exotic dancer and prostitute. This and De Palma’s Obsession are the two great ultra-lurid Vertigo homages.

15) The Black Cat (1981)

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Very fun Poe riff with some giallo trappings. It’s not really a giallo, because we know all along that the killer is the cat, but there is a mystery about what the hell is up with this cat and its creepy psychic owner (played by Patrick Magee, who you’ll remember as the unfortunate writer from A Clockwork Orange).

14) Beatrice Cenci [aka The Conspiracy of Torture] (1969)

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Fulci does… um… historical drama. Beatrice Cenci was a real historical figure, famous for her bizarre murder trial. Fulci of course focuses on all the nastiest bits. The narrative is fractured and non-linear, with brilliant editing, and this film represents a big leap in the development of his style. I watched this in Italian and liked it that way. I’m not sure if an English dub exists.

13) Manhattan Baby [aka Eye of the Evil Dead] (1982)

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This one doesn’t have as much gore and it wasn’t as immediately appealing to me, but once I watched it a second time I realized how insane it is. An archaeologist enrages some spirits by defiling an Egyptian tomb, and his daughter is given an evil magical talisman by a blind woman in the market and brings it back to the USA with her. The vengeance of dark forces ensues.

12) The New York Ripper (1982)

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This is Fulci’s second sleaziest movie, after The Devil’s Honey. It’s a slasher flick set in grimy pre-Giuliani New York City. This is pretty gruesome, but it has a core of angry feminism: every single man in this movie is a disgusting creep, and the film’s horror is drawn from the inescapable terror of being a woman in a world full of men. The killer talks like Donald Duck (!).

11) Contraband [aka The Smuggler] (1980)

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Fulci’s one poliziotteschi, and it’s a doozy. Four words: sulfur pit knife fight. This is a super mean and nasty movie. I recommend watching it in Italian with subtitles. The overall quality of the English audio track is a little better but the voice acting on the English dub is just terrible, and it takes away from how badass this thing is.

10) The House by the Cemetery (1981)

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My least favorite of the Gates of Hell trilogy, but still amazing. Dr. Norman Boyle takes his family to live in an extremely creepy old mansion in New England. As others have pointed out, what makes this special among haunted house movies is that there’s nothing forcing them to stay there except Norman’s arrogant male confidence that he’s got it all under control. This is full of terrifying omens and crazy Fulci editing.

9) Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

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The most bizarre Spaghetti Western I’ve ever seen. Fabio Testi stars. An oddball group of four prisoners in a small town jail are sent packing. They are given peyote by sadistic bandit Chaco, which does not go well. They end up hiding out in a ghost town and things just get nuts.

8) The Devil’s Honey (1986)

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Softcore exploitation mayhem. You’ve got a saxophone player with an unhealthy dom-sub relationship with sultry Jessica. He dies. She blames his doctor, who she terrorizes, with the result that she finally becomes the dominant one. This is at the far extreme of sleaze in Fulci’s filmography, and it’s a blast. I liked the Italian audio track much better than the English dubbing but the subs I had were just a transcription of the English dub, so they didn’t always sync up with the Italian. When I watch it again I’m going to look for better subs.

7) Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

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Excellent giallo about a series of child murders in a small village. Great cast includes Florinda Bolkan as a crazed witch and Barbara Bouchet as a rich girl from Milan lying low after a scandal. Bouchet teams up with a journalist to investigate the killings. This and the next two are Fulci’s three great classic gialli. They’re all high points of the genre.

6) The Psychic [aka Seven Notes in Black] (1977)

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The only Fulci movie I would describe as “classy.” This is a very tight giallo with a strong narrative and relatively minimal luridness. A psychic has visions of a murder in a country villa owned by her husband. She finds a corpse in the wall, and her wealthy businessman husband is arrested. She teams up with a paranormal researcher to try to exonerate him. Things get twisty. All of Fabio Frizzi’s Fulci scores are great, but his work here is particularly memorable.

5) A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

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My favorite Fulci giallo (though I must say it was a difficult choice). Well-behaved rich wife of a philandering lawyer has kinky dreams about her hard-partying neighbor Julia. She dreams about murdering Julia, who is indeed murdered, and she investigates the mystery while fearing that she may in fact be the murderer. Lurid, twisty, and perfect.

4) City of the Living Dead (1980)

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Part of the Gates of Hell trilogy. The suicide of a priest opens up a gate to hell in a small town. A psychic makes contact with the priest during a seance and suddenly dies, but then returns from the dead. She seeks out the small town along with a journalist, and all sorts of mayhem ensues. This is full-on Fulci madness, with batshit editing and production design.

3) Zombie [aka Zombi 2] (1979)

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The titling is a little confusing: there’s a Zombi 2 and a Zombi 3, but there’s no Zombi by Fulci. Zombie is the American title of Zombi 2. It’s called Zombi 2 because it’s an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (itself a sequel to Night of the Living Dead), which was released in Italy as Zombi. This gory monstrosity connects the Romero universe with the original zombie masterpiece, Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. The roots of the zombie apocalypse are traced back to the transgressions of colonialism, which is vastly more interesting than the sort of sci fi explanation we often get in crappy zombie movies nowadays. This movie famously features the most incredible shark vs. zombie confrontation of all time.

2) Conquest (1983)

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One of my great regrets in life is that I did not discover this as a kid. This sword & sorcery flick was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Conan the Barbarian, but Fulci took it to an unsurpassed level of visionary madness. The entire film is shot through an aggressively foggy lens filter, and then he pumped as much fog as he possibly could into every scene. The result is like a transmission from another dimension. Handsome young adventurer Illias is given a magic bow by the god Cronos, which it turns out is the only weapon that can kill the evil witch Ocron. Ocron sends her army of werewolves to retrieve the bow, promising that she will take away the sun for all time. Illias teams up with an older misanthropic loner played by Jorge Rivero, and their relationship simmers with delightful homoerotic subtext. Things just get more and more insane from there as Ocron redoubles her efforts and performs all sorts of pagan rituals.  There’s an easy way to see this in the proper aspect ratio in good quality: the Shout Factory App, which I was able to download on my Roku player.

1) The Beyond (1981)

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The greatest entry in the Gates of Hell trilogy, this is the apocalypse distilled down to 87 minutes of cinematic doom. The finale of The Beyond is arguably the most insane, abstract stretch of film in the entire horror genre. Roger Ebert wrote a famously vitriolic negative review of this, where he reveals exactly who The Beyond is not meant for: fuddy-duddies who think that narrative continuity matters and horror dialogue should aim to imitate generic prestige pictures. No, sir, you will not find much narrative continuity or MFA dialogue in The Beyond. What you will find is buckets of gore, virtuoso editing, and one of the greatest horror scores of all time.

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