Umberto Lenzi

Umberto Lenzi was born on August 6, 1931, in Massa Marittima, Italy. At an early age, he developed a passion for movies and founded several film fan clubs while studying law. Lenzi worked as a journalist for various local newspapers and magazines. However, he put his law studies on hold to pursue his interest in filmmaking. He enrolled in the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia to learn the technical aspects of filmmaking.

After graduating, Lenzi continued working as a writer and film critic. He was an assistant director before debuting with the movie ‘Queen of the Seas’ in 1961. He went on to direct other pirate and sword-themed movies, including ‘Pirates of Malaysia (1964), which was a part of the peak of the career of fictitious tales of historical and legendary characters such as Robin Hood, Catherine the Great, Zorro, Sandokan, and Maciste. For the movie ‘Kriminal’ (1966), Lenzi sought inspiration from the new wave of adult-oriented comic books (fumetti) and started a popular trend.

During his career, Lenzi directed a war film and two “spaghetti westerns.” However, he later shifted his focus to the Giallo genre and ran Paranoia (originally called “Orgasmo”) in 1969. Starring Carroll Baker and Lou Castel, this was the first of his thrillers and also one of his personal favorites. The movie was retitled Paranoia for its USA release, but it caused some confusion since Lenzi also directed Paranoia in 1970 with Carroll Baker. During the 1970s, Lenzi directed several Giallo thrillers, including So Sweet So Perverse (1969), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972), and Eyeball (1975). However, none of these movies were particularly successful. Lenzi attributed this to his tight budgets and poor scripts, which he believed no director could do well with.

During the late 1970s, Umberto Lenzi began directing police thrillers, which helped rejuvenate his confidence and popularity. Some of his most famous and brutal thrillers from this period were Almost Human (1974), Tough Cop (1976) (also known as Free Hand For a Tough Cop), and Brothers Till We Die (1978). Before the police thrillers, Lenzi directed Sacrifice! (1972) (also known as Man from Deep River), which is credited with starting the Italian cannibal subgenre. The movie retells the western A Man Called Horse (1970) with a South Asian setting. It set the stage for a later group of extremely gory cannibal sub-genre movies, most notably Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World (1977), which featured a potent combination of extreme violence in a documentary-style realism. Lenzi responded with two very gory jungle cannibal features: Eaten Alive! (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981) (also known as Make Them Die Slowly), which attempted to outdo Deodato’s thrillers. However, the extreme violence in Cannibal Ferox, which led to it being banned in 31 countries, made Lenzi distance himself from the cannibal genre.

Lenzi directed Nightmare City in 1980, which is a zombie movie. In this movie, Lenzi decided to go for a different type of zombie than the slow-moving ones seen in Romero and Fulci movies. He created fast-moving, weapons-toting, super zombies with an anti-nuclear message. This movie is different from other zombie films as it has more action.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Umberto Lenzi, a film director, shifted his focus to other genres such as action-adventure, war films, and even made-for-TV dramas, although he directed the occasional thriller. One of his most notable works during that period was Ghosthouse (1988). Lenzi’s movie, Le Porte dell’inferno (1989), is a seldom-seen horror film that effectively utilizes its low budget. Lenzi claimed that he shot it in just three weeks for 300 million lire, whereas low-budget Italian horror films shot in Italy or abroad typically cost an average of a billion lire or more. It represents a personal challenge for Lenzi since the movie takes place in a cave, and he maintains the suspense for 90 minutes.

As his film budgets and financing reduced, so did Umberto Lenzi’s output. During the 1990s, Lenzi directed some TV productions that unfortunately never aired. This caused him to lament the changes in the Italian film industry. After forty years of directing and producing over sixty films, Lenzi more or less retired from filmmaking. However, he left his mark as one of Italy’s most creative and inexhaustible cult film directors.

Umberto Lenzi died on October 19, 2017, at a hospital in the Ostia district of Rome, Italy, at the age of 86.