Italian horror auteur Lucio Fulci is one of the most prominent voices to shape horror, both in his native country and on an international scale. Known as the Italian godfather of gore thanks to memorably gruesome titles The House by the Cemetery, Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The New York Ripper, Fulci drew the ire of critics yet became widely embraced by genre fans. However, the mind behind these films remains a mystery long after the filmmaker died in 1996—documentary Fulci for Fake attempts to unlock those mysteries. Under the guise of a biopic, it uses personal anecdotes from those closest to Fulci to discover what drove him to create such gory features.
The framing device for this documentary features actor Nicola Nocella recently cast as Fulci in a biopic about his life. To nail his portrayal, the actor dives deep into research, seeking out those that were either closest to Fulci or studied him. From there, Fulci for Fake mostly devolves into your standard documentary featuring rotating talking heads to reveal insight to the director’s life and the inner pain that likely fueled his horror.
Written and directed by Simone Scafidi, the interview subjects include notable speakers like Fabio Frizzi, Michele Romagnoli, Sandro Bitetto, Enrico Vanzina, Sergio Salvati, Michele Soavi, Paolo Malco, Berenice Sparano, and Davide Pulici. All of whom worked with Fulci in some capacity during his life, and recount tales specific to them. Soavi tells of earning Fulci’s admiration on set, a feat considering the director’s grumpy and tyrannical attitude left most of the cast and crew afraid of him. Frizzi shares of his relationship with Fulci, both working and personal, providing insight to scoring Fulci’s films. Others discuss Fulci’s troubles with women, long after the tragic passing of Fulci’s wife.
While these interviews do provide insight into the man behind the camera, they’re fractured snippets. Scafidi’s purpose seems to be to demonstrate how Fulci harbored a lot of inner pain from the more tragic events in his life, and how he exorcised that pain on screen, through the gore and horror. That the director otherwise hid that pain well from those in his life. Yet, outside of significant milestone events, the interviews reveal random anecdotes that don’t feel cohesive to the whole. They come across more as fragmented pieces left for the viewer to string together to grasp the thesis.
The most significant insight comes from the talking head that the documentary dedicates most of its time to, daughter Camilla Fulci. With almost a lifetime of family memories, from her childhood to his death, she’s the best entry point in unlocking Fulci. His other daughter, Antonella, pops in near the end to present another critical insight. Still, the true heart of the film belongs to the father/daughter bond between Camilla and Lucio. Fulci for Fake is dedicated in her memory; Camilla Fulci passed shortly after filming of the documentary wrapped. A straightforward doc about Fulci through his daughter’s candid yet heartfelt perspective might’ve fulfilled Scafidi’s purpose much more effectively.
As a whole, Fulci for Fake is for fans of the director, only. Despite the clear intent to unlock the mysteries of Fulci and examine what drove him in creating his horror films, the scattered focus leaves many blanks still. Because this is a documentary about the man, not his films, it requires some familiarity with his work. Meaning the casual fan or anyone without working horror knowledge will find this documentary near inaccessible. The biopic framing device presents an engaging, visual way to approach the documentary, but it also detracts from Fulci as the focal point. You will come away with great insights about the filmmaker, but you’ll also have so many more questions that go unanswered.