Date of Birth: 6 August 1931, Massa Marittima, Grosseto, Tuscany, Italy
Short Biography: Born in Massa Marittima, Italy on August 6, 1931, Umberto Lenzi was a movie enthusiast since his early grade school years. During those years, he founded various film fan clubs while studying law. Lenzi started out as a journalist for various local newspapers and magazines. Lenzi put off his law studies to pursue the technical arts of filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale de Cinematografia.
After graduation from the school, Lenzi continued working as a writer and film critic. He found employment as an assistant director before making his directorial debut with Queen of the Seas (1961) (Queen of the Seas). Other pirate/sword flicks followed, starting with I pirati della Malesia (1964) (Pirates of Malaysia), which was part of the height of the career of fictitious tales of historic legendary characters including Robin Hood, Catherine the Great, Zorro, Sandokan and Maciste. For the movie Kriminal (1966), Lenzi turned to the new wave of adult-oriented comic books (known as fumetti) for fresh inspiration and initiated a popular trend.
After directing a war film and two "spaghetti westerns," Lenzi turned to the giallo gene with Paranoia (1969), starring Carroll Baker and Lou Castel, which was the first of his thrillers and one of his personal favorites. Retitled Paranoia for its USA release, Orgasmo caused some confusion since Lenzi directed a movie with the same name, Paranoia, in 1970 also with Carroll Baker. During the 1970s, Lenzi directed a number of giallo thrillers among them So Sweet... So Perverse (1969) (So Sweet, So Perverse), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) (Seven Blood-Stained Orchids) and Eyeball (1975) (Eyeball). None of them were particularly successful since Lenzi blamed his tight budgets and poor scripts, which he believed no director could do well with.
In the late 1970s, Lenzi turned to the police thrillers (polizieschi), which rejuvenated his confidence and his popularity. Titles like Almost Human (1974) (Almost Human), Il trucido e lo sbirro (1976) (Free Hand For a Tough Cop), and La banda del gobbo (1978) (Brothers Till We Die) were the most popular and brutal of the thrillers. Prior to the polizieschi, Lenzi directed Sacrifice! (1972) (Man from Deep River), which was the start of the Italian cannibal sub-genre. A re-telling of the western A Man Called Horse (1970), with a south Asia setting, set the stage for a later group of extremely gory cannibal sub-genre movies most noteworthy being Ruggero Deodato's Jungle Holocaust (1977) (Jungle Holocaust) which featured a potent combination of extreme violence in a documentary realism. Lenzi responded with two very gory jungle cannibal features, Eaten Alive! (1980) (Eaten Alive) and Cannibal Ferox (1981) (Make Them Die Slowly), which attempted to outdo Deodato's thrillers. The excess of Cannibal Ferox, which was banned in 31 countries, made Lenzi distance himself from the cannibal genre.
In between Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox, Lenzi directed Nightmare City (1980) (Nightmare City), a zombie flick, with Lenzi rejected the slow-moving zombies of the Romero and Fulci movies for a more type of fast-moving, weapons toting, super zombies with action and an anti-nuclear message.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Lenzi turned his attention to other genres: action-adventure, war films and even made-for-TV dramas, although he directed the occasional thriller most notable in that time was Ghosthouse (1988) (Ghosthouse). Lenzi's The Hell's Gate (1989) (Hell's Gate) is a seldom-seen horror film, which makes the most of its low budget. Lenzi claimed to have shot it in three weeks at a cost of 300 million lire, whereas low-budget Italian horror films shot in Italy or abroad cost an average of a billion lire or more. It represented a personal challenge for Lenzi since the entire movie takes place in a cave and the suspense is maintained for the entire 90 minutes.
As his budgets and financing for his films dwindled, so did his output. The 1990s saw Lenzi directing a number of TV productions that were never broadcast, causing him lament upon the change in Italian film industry. After 40 years and directing over 60 films, Lenzi has more or less retired and left his mark as one of the most creative and inexhaustible cult film directors of Italy.