One Night At MacColl’s… CATRIONA MACCOLL Interviewed In 1995

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Despite that punning title (and its allusion to a Liv Tyler film you’ve probably already forgotten), the following interview with the delightful Catriona MacColl actually began at The Convent, David Warbeck’s listed Hampstead pile on the evening of 07/10/95, and was concluded by phone a couple of days later, with a Joe D’Amato interview sandwiched in between for good measure! By God, those were the days… The event was Eurofest ’95 at the Hampstead Everyman and I believe it was here that Catriona’s eyes were opened to the devoted following she had built up among Horror fans. She has subsequently graced countless conventions, festivals and fan events.

CM & (more) FANS

Catriona, my readers will be wondering what you’ve been up to since starring in The House By The Cemetery…

I live in Paris now, and I haven’t done so many movies in the last few years, unlike David Warbeck I haven’t been working quite so much in Italy. Just recently I’ve been working on French TV. Last week I finished the first episode of an American TV series that is going to be called Troubles, I believe, with Nigel Havers.. a completely different genre but quite dramatic, nevertheless.

I believe you started off in showbiz as a hoofer?

I did indeed, I went to the Royal Ballet School for eight very pleasant but very arduous, exacting years.

And how are your feet, these days?

Mine aren’t too bad, because I only did two years professionally. That’s what took me to France, I went to dance in Marseilles with a fairly infamous character – I’ve worked with a lot of them – called Roland Petit, he’s a fairly decadent character, married to Zizi Jenmaire. Then I suffered an ankle injury … classic story for a dancer because we push our bodies so hard … it was nothing that was going to bother me in everyday life, but it really took away all the pleasure I was getting out of dancing. So there I was, wondering what to do with myself next. I didn’t really want to go back to England, because living in the South of France is pretty glamorous when you’re 18 or 19. To cut a long story short, I ended up joining a repertory company in Nice, dancing a bit and playing small parts. After two years with them I was playing Ophelia in French, and I realised that I was getting a bigger kick out of acting than dancing. I had found my niche. So I was having a great time, flirting around with all these extraordinary people… Nureyev followed Roland around quite a lot, he’d come to watch us dance and we’d go to glamorous parties at his house … Roland introduced me to a French agent and I started working on French TV, two years after that I got Lady Oscar with Jacques Demy, who was a prestigious French New Wave director … one of his biggest claims to fame was discovering Catherine Deneuve. So I was getting established in France. I tried to work in England, you’ll can probably see from my C.V. that this coincided with my marriage to the English actor Jon Finch … another infamous character (laughs), though he’s settled down a bit these days. The marriage lasted six year and I did do several things in England, but I wasn’t terribly well understood – they saw me as the woman from France, the continental actress, and I’d say: “No, I’m as British as you” but they wouldn’t have it.

A bit like Jane Birkin, who was stuck with this odd, trans-Channel sort 0f identity …

I guess I must have that, too. I’m not aware of it, but people tell me I have this kind of Continental touch and over here directors would either be swooning over me because I’d worked with people like Jacques Demy and the other French directors they’d studied at Film School, or they’d look at me and say “Who? What? You’re English, what are you doing working in France?” So when my marriage to Jon ended I tried to pick up the thread of my career In France and the industry over here was in recession anyway… and I’ve just always seemed to go down better in Europe, must be something to do with the way I am.

A certain “je ne sais quois” …

I’ve pondered this over the years, and although I say it myself and it might sound a little immodest, they tend to like more sophisticated women on the Continent. In Britain they like the more “street-wise” type of actresses and there are many wonderful ones that I greatly admire, but they’re slightly scared of sophistication, they don’t know what to do with it. As a result, various actresses of my ilk have had to leave and normally they’ve had to go to America. It hasn’t always worked out for them, but they’ve given it a go. It did work very well for Jayne Seymour… though I’m not so sure she’s as sophisticated as all that, actually,

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I think it’s safe to say that Demy’s Lady Oscar (1979) was a unique project… I’m quoting from a contemporary review, here: ” … an English adaptation of a popular Japanese comic-strip about 18th Century France, shot with mostly unknown actors in France by a Franco-British crew on Japanese money.”

Yes! (Laughs)

You play a girl who was raised as a boy and becomes the bodyguard Marie Antoinette, before getting politicised and throwing her lot in with the masses …

Yes, the screenplay was taken from 20 volumes of a Japanese strip cartoon (“Versailles No Bara” – Ed), written by a woman (Ikeda Riyoko – Ed.) They originally approached George Cukor to direct it. He declined and recommended Jacques Demy for the job. So they rushed over to France, commissioned Jacques to write the screenplay with an American writer… so already that was a strange mix … then they set about trying to cast it. They were looking for American actresses, they saw five hundred of them for that part, then George Cukor said to Jacques you should get English actors for this, because it’s a historical movie and that’s what they do well. Jacques agreed and went to England but they still couldn’t find a girl they agreed on because there was a big cosmetic contract tied up with this movie…

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… most of the money was coming from a big Japanese cosmetics company that is now a world leader, but in those days was still trying establish itself in the market place. All the top executives had to agree on this girl, but they couldn’t. Jane Birkin was up for it, and also Dominique Sanda, the actress who appears in a lot of Bertolucci’s films, but the Japanese decided that they didn’t want anybody with any sort of “a past” attached to them, which counted Jane out…

She’s certainly got quite a saucy past…

… definitely, so they decided to go for an unknown, and they still couldn’t find the girl. Jacques was in despair. Finally, very late in the day, he just happened to ring up a childhood friend of his, a TV director in France who had been his assistant, and this guy Bernard said: “The girl you want is standing right next to me at this very moment!” I was doing a TV drama with him in Brittany at the time … so I was duly packed off the next day to meet Jacques Demy and his wife, the whole thing was a bit like a fairy story … Jacques had screened samples of my previous work the day before my first interview with them, and I came highly recommended by his closest friend. It went like a dream, so at the end of the interview he slammed his fist down on the table and insisted: “If Catriona’s not doing the movie, then I’m not doing it either!” and all the Japanese started going berserk, flashing Polaroids at me, phoning Tokyo and talking in Japanese … to cut a long story short, three days later I’d signed the contract. But there was a downside, because it took a year of my life, I had to learn how to fence…

Period C MacColl

… how to ride and shoot for about 11 weeks … then I went to Spain with about four different Japanese camera crews to shoot stuff for the cosmetics campaign, we shot a New Year’s Eve special in Tokyo, I was there for several weeks to promote the movie, we went to various film festivals, and I literally became an overnight star in Japan. The sad thing was that this movie has never really been seen anywhere else, and it should have done a lot for me … even Louis Malle, who’d seen it at a private screening, came up to me at a party in Los Angeles and said “You’ll do fine now, you’re off”, you know? Unfortunately I suffered this big come-down because it didn’t happen, the film just disappeared. It took me a long time to find out why … apparently they made so much money off this movie in Japan that they weren’t too bothered about selling it anywhere else. People wanted it, they tried to buy it, but it’s like working with people from another planet, working with the Japanese. ..

… a nation of Fulci fanatics!

That doesn’t surprise me at all, actually. The Fulci movies came shortly after Lady Oscar … it was so disappointing for me because I really thought my career was going to take off on an international level, and it should have done because I was playing this wonderful part, a woman dressed a man, 18th Century costume, etc, etc. It really was the part of a lifetime, and it struck a definite chord with Japanese youth at the time. I hadn’t realised that I would be bombarded with all these questions about feminism and what it was like to be dressed as a man, we were already miles ahead of that on the feminist track in the West, but they were still battling their way through all that stuff …

They still are, I think …

Yeah. They thought this “liberated” me, having a sword and dressing like a man, it was quite difficult for me to talk to them about this without just saying: “For god’s sake, c’mon!”, you know … anyway, even though it didn’t do what it should have done for me, Lady Oscar was a tremendous experience, I loved it… really mind-boggling, it holds a special place in my heart. It was shown at the 1979 London Film …

Yeah, that’s where this review comes from, which I’m currently perusing … you’ll be delighted to hear that it says: “MacColl looks fabulous.”

That’s nice …

… and indeed you still do.

Well thank you, John! (Laughs)

Now: Lucio Fulci …

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(Rolls eyes) What do you wanna know?

Well, for starters, how you met him, your early impressions, etc … don’t worry, I’ve met him myself, so I know what a wacky guy he is …

Completely wacky and probably getting wackier as he gets older. This came about because the Italian agent I was with at the time…

Count Perroni?

Yes! He’s worth going to Italy for on his own, another of these infamous “characters” that I seem to attract. I really liked him, probably should have stayed with him, but I went with another agent who I thought would be better for me, though that’s not the way it turned out. So anyway, he had been over to England to do the rounds of various agencies, looking for blonde, blue-eyed, fragile heroine types. I got a call saying they wanted to fly me out to Rome within 24 hours to meet Lucio Fulci, and I thought it would be silly of me to say no. So off I went, and we had this rather formal meeting in these baroque, rather decadent, quite wonderful offices that Perroni had … still has … and it was like I’d arrived in a different world. Instead of going to some grotty little office in Soho, there I was in this mini-palace in the middle of the old part of Rome and of course it was absolutely wonderful. Then I found out that they had a problem with my name …

Which seems to be spelled differently in the credits of every movie …

Well, my given name is Catriona, a good Scottish name … in fact it’s the Gaelic version of “Katherine” … but when I went out to Italy to do the first movie with Lucio, our mutual agent over there just looked at me in horror and said: “Let’s call you Katherine, like the great ‘epburn … I’m afraid you’ll never make a career in Italy with the name ‘Catriona”’, and I indignantly asked: “Why not? It’s a beautiful Celtic name!”, so he told me: “It means something else in Italian… it means ‘big fat Katherine’!” I thought they should bill me as Catriona anyway, as a kind of a gimmick, because as soon as anyone saw me they would realise that I was anything but big and fat. Anyway, I had a formal meeting with Fulci, I was very dressed-up and obviously he liked that, we got on well and I can’t remember that we even discussed horror movies actually. But they gave me the script that night to read for the next day, I hadn’t ever read a horror movie script before so I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for …

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This would be the City Of The Living Dead script?

Yeah… and I thought: “Well, this is a bit over the top, isn’t it? But what the hell!”, and I suppose it was probably Perroni who persuaded me to do it. I remember at the same time I had been asked to do a small part in an internationally-respected Swiss director’s film…

Was this Claude Goretta, the guy who made The Lacemaker with Isabelle Huppert?

Yes… whatever happened to him? I had the choice to do this small part in a wonderful European director’s movie or “sell out” (laughs) and star in a horror movie. Perroni persuaded me that the latter was the correct course, and certainly the money was much better and I dunno, the whole thing seemed rather decadent and baroque and I thought: “What the hell, let’s go for this.” I got on quite well with Lucio at our first meeting. I haven’t seen him for some years, I don’t know what he’s like now, I would guess that he’s like an exaggerated version of what he was like then. He did amuse me, I’ve never been frightened of these “characters”.. that kind of thing excites and stimulates me rather than frightening me off. I thought: “I’m going to get the better of you, and win you over.” It wasn’t a fight, but as with Jack Palance in Hawk The Slayer, when everybody was terrified of him, I thought the same thing: “l’m gonna win through this – I’m gonna like you and you’re going to respect me.”

CM ON BEYOND SET 1

Was Fulci trying to draw something out of you by being such a hard-ass?

No, my strength came out in spite of him, naturally, because that’s what I’m like in real life. Now that I know myself much better than I did then, I would like to concentrate even more on the paradox. I could see, with hindsight, watching House By The Cemetery for the first time since we made it, why I got the part, and why I was right for it and I would like to explore these two sides of me a bit more, have other parts that are a bit more demanding .. I feel ready to explore the strength and the weakness, the fragile side at the same time.

The script you saw for City Of The Living Dead… was it pretty much the finished article, or as loose as we hear these things sometimes are?

No, I would have said it was pretty tight actually, right down to that graphic detail. I thought a lot of that might be watered down before shooting, but in fact those bits turned out to be substantially accurate. I don’t know quite how much care goes into the writing of these things, but it seemed to me that they stuck quite closely to the script they had.

How much of the conceptualisation for these things was down to Fulci, how much to writers Dardano Sacchetti and his partner, Elisa Livia Briganti?

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I’m not sure, I mean they were around for various points in the shoot and there was one in particular, which was probably Sacchetti, who seemed to have quite a close relationship with Lucio. You kind of felt that they were intellectually on a par … it might seem weird to say that in connection with a horror film …

But Fulci’s a very cultured guy …

Oh he is, definitely, and he doesn’t take kindly to fools and I think that’s what he respected in me, when he found that he didn’t have a neurotic, hysterical girly on his hands …

Another actor from City Of The Living Dead, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, told me that he never saw Fulci being nasty to anyone without good reason …

Exactly. As long as he respects your own intelligence, and feels that you’ve got something to offer, and that you have a certain strength… I wouldn’t say that he doesn’t enjoy humiliating people slightly, there is a certain perversion inside him… just look at the movies he makes, that’s gotta come from somewhere, but it’s almost a compliment, a bit of a back-handed one, you kind of feel that if he bothers to even play around with all of that slightly, he’s just seeing whether he can get back a bit of what he gives out and I think I can say, I hope that he’d agree, that he met his match with me. There was a real mutual respect between us.

Yeah, I know that he asked you to appear in a couple of his subsequent films … Demonia, for instance.

He did ask me to do one or two but I was on to other things by then.

There were even ones where he cast definite “Catriona MacColl lookalikes” (e.g. Martha Taylor in Manhattan Baby) …

Really? Well, that is a compliment, isn’t it? I was aware, on occasions, of various actresses who behaved, perhaps, a touch hysterically or non-professionally … that annoyed Fulci and then he would take pleasure in being a bit cruel to them, humiliating them. I didn’t necessarily like that, but perhaps in a certain sense they deserved it. Hard to say, because he is a very strange man.

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I’m told that Ania Pieroni was only cast in The House By The Cemetery because she was a good friend of the producer, Fabrizio De Angelis, and Fulci was very scathing about her …

Well there you are … as a matter of fact, I think she looks rather peculiar, personally.

It’s very odd, because she does look very beautiful in two Dario Argento films, Inferno and Tenebrae …

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lucio took a special sadistic pleasure in making her look as dreadful as possible. I wouldn’t put that past him at all … if she was imposed upon him, then that could be how he would get his revenge and in a way that’s quite funny, depriving her of the accoutrements that she was used to having in order to make her look good … I mean, she has this rather heavy sort of face, heavy features, and I kind of got the impression that she didn’t really know what she was doing in that role, I mean maybe she was used to playing a particular type of part, a sexier Italian mistress type of thing …

One actress who always suffered very badly in his movies was Daniela Doria …

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Yes, now that’s interesting. “Why her?”, one wonders. “Why does she go on doing them”, for starters and “What is it that Lucio’s got against her?” Clearly something, in a way. I don’t really have to do anything too horrible things in these movies, as the heroine I’m mainly running around screaming and nothing too hideous happens to me, certainly I don’t get my eyes poked out or anything, thank God … so from my point of view it was really a kind of a challenge to play these parts, because I had to explore my own sense of fear. And I found it more interesting than I thought it was going to be.

Your most gruelling scenes are probably in City, I’m thinking of the maggot storm … and I believe you had some problems with the scene in which you’re buried alive …

I didn’t want to do the maggot one at all! The make-up men had applied this sort of face-mask to me, which was supposed to keep the maggots off my skin, but I wasn’t convinced, so my eyes and mouth were screwed tightly shut throughout it. They had to psyche me up to do it with a double brandy, after I’d stopped crying. I think I probably hated Fulci during that take, because I felt that was the only time when he enjoyed rather humiliating me. But he was very nice to me afterwards, put his arm around me and said: “See, it was alright really…”

Easy for him to say …

Yeah, that’s when I did feel his perverted side coming to the fore. As for the “buried alive” scene, that came at the beginning of the story and I hadn’t really given too much thought to how it was going to affect me, spending all that time in the coffin. You sign up for these things, you don’t think about it too much and suddenly there I was in this coffin in a cemetery in New York. That was OK, but when we came to shoot the interiors in Rome, Lucio suddenly announced that there was going to be an axe smashing repeatedly through this coffin and stopping just a couple of centimetres from my head. At this point I thought: “Right, I should phone my agent and see if I really have to do this … I might be about to end my career with an axe stuck through my head for real!” So the special effects man explained to me that the mechanism they were using was totally safe, but I wasn’t sure if I could believe him, and he ended up getting into the coffin himself to show me how safe it was. So then I thought “I’m really going to have to go for this.” The problem then was that I Couldn’t keep my eyes open every time this thing crashed down and nearly hit me in the face, because your natural reflex reaction is just to close your eyes when something is threatening to hit you right between them. Lucio was getting more and more tense as the time wore on, so we were treated to a bit of a tantrum that afternoon, and he ended up jumping into the coffin himself to show me how easy it was, but that was him, so in the end we had to cheat our way through that one, piecing it together from various shots … it really was a problem. I asked somebody at the Eurofest, if I close my eyes in the scene as it appears on video, and I’ve been told that I blink, very quickly.

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Are you surprised that people remember these things in such minute detail… and generally at the cult status which the films have achieved?

As far as I was concerned when I made them, it was just a job of paid work. I didn’t really think much about it, although I suppose I haven’t gone out of my way in the past to tell people – in this country in particular, where they’re a bit sniffy about this sort of thing – that I’ve done a load of horror movies. But now that they’re becoming this cult thing, it’s become almost fashionable to have been in them. I’ve suddenly realised that the whole thing has changed, I mean I just saw Ed Wood … have you seen it?

Yeah, wasn’t Martin Landau’s performance fantastic?

Absolutely incredible – but the whole thing made me laugh so much, because the whole thing was a celebration of the genre as well, and although it’s tragic on a certain level because of what’s happened to Wood, he has become this cult figure, even if it is as “the worst director in the world” … and there were endless scenes that reminded me of both of the Eurofest, in a way and also of all the movies I made, and I thought well, maybe everything is coming around full circle…

Were your Italian movies really quite that chaotic?

Well, they certainly had their moments! (laughs) Lucio isn’t the worst director in the world by any means, he’s very professional and they weren’t a chaotic as that, he knows what he’s doing and he makes it look real, he hasn’t got these cardboard cemeteries and everything. He’s a true pro …

I think Fulci’s limiting factor is the resources he’s given, whereas if you’d given Ed Wood a massive budget, in the words of one of his collaborators: “”he still would have made a tasteless piece of shit!”

Oh, absolutely. But that whole sort of genre, B-movie thing seems to be so fashionable these days and I’m thinking maybe I should make some more, if somebody asks me …

I wish you would … before you suddenly stopped making horror movies, you were on the verge of becoming a sort of ’80s answer to Barbara Steele. I don’t know if you remember her, she was a bit of a reluctant cult icon …

Yes I do, as a matter of fact I’ve spoken to her on the phone several times. She’s a friend of a friend of mine in Paris, she was supposed to come and live in Paris but she hasn’t made it over from L.A. yet.

The corollary to all this “cult status” business is the dim view that has been taken of these movies by the censors …

The “video nasties” thing, yeah? I think it depends who sees them, obviously I don’t think I’d like any young children of mine to get their hands on them. They are gory, that’s true, but so very gory, so way-over-the-top that it puts them in a rather surreal, unreal dimension. They are frightening, but I think he anticipation of something horrible is always more frightening than when you actually see it. To be absolutely honest with you, at the time I was doing these films it didn’t occur to me that they might be thought of as being somehow… questionable, I think I was as much amused as anything else to how they were going to achieve half of these effects, and while making them we laughed a lot anyway, which I think is the only way to get through things like ..

… being covered in maggots …

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Well, I didn’t laugh much during that, I must admit, but generally speaking we did because the whole thing seems so ridiculous when you’re standing there in front of it. You know…  you’ve just seen the guy in the monster suit sitting in the canteen drinking a cup of coffee, or whatever. When I watched The House By The Cemetery again at Eurofest, I was struck by all the frightening scenes that the little boy, Giovanni Frezza, was involved in, and people might think that it must have been very distressing for him, but it wasn’t like that at all – his mother was with him on set at all times, Fulci was always kidding round with him and making him laugh. So they’re not frightening when you’re actually making them, and with regards to other people’s opinions as to whether you should do them or not, I mean to me it was just a job, you know … I’m a working actress. I wouldn’t do a porn movie, but everything else has its place, and I do think there’s been an over-reaction to these film. Anyone who went out and did something violent after seeing them must have been psychologically disturbed in the first place …

(At this point there was a break in the conversation while Catriona was called away to answer the front door).

OK, I’m back.

Who was it?

A man came to read the gas meter.

I’m getting this surreal mental image that it was Joe the plumber turning up in his bandanna and bib-and-brace and everything and he was going down into your cellar to get his eye poked out…

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(Laughs) I was just thinking, I do want to make one thing clear, that on the whole I don’t agree with gratuitous violence or sex, in fact, in films but I’m obviously talking about the three I did with Fulci, because several people on Saturday mentioned some of his later movies, including one that was particularly repugnant and violent in terms of what the women in it were being put through … I can’t remember the title of it..

Sounds like The New York Ripper…

That’s it.

Well, it’s a pretty notorious movie …

Well I’m just talking about the three I did with Fulci, I don’t have any point of comparison, not having seem that many of his others. I think that mainstream psychological thrillers are possibly more disturbing. The less gore you see, the more frightening it can be, if you see what I mean … because you’re living it and identifying with the characters, on the edge of your seat waiting for the violence to happen, whereas in these movies, though they are frightening, the fact that you see the monsters and you see what they do actually makes it less frightening.

Fulci is undoubtedly best known for in-your-face graphic imagery, but he’s also good with suspenseful sequences … I mean there are ones like you being rescued from the coffin in City Of The Living Dead and also the kid in The House By The Cemetery nearly being decapitated with that axe …

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Yes, I think Lucio would probably do quite a good job of making a psychological thriller, if he turned his hand to that…

He made an excellent suspense film in the late ’70s, actually, Sette Note In Nero…

There you are then, I hadn’t seen that one .. but The House By The Cemetery is probably more of a psychological thriller than the other two.. whereby you really feel for this poor woman who’s stuck between the real world and this other world, not knowing whether it’s really there or just in her head … is she going crazy or not? These are the kind of psychological aspects that I mean. But they clearly have a place, these movies, in the history of cinema, that’s something which I realise quite clearly now, having attended this event on Saturday and met all of these fans. It would be interesting to find out why you see so few girls there … what do you think? Do men feel more powerful when they see women in danger?

There’s definitely a sadistic element in there, but also perhaps a chivalrous urge, with the hero saving the heroine, the damsel in distress … I mean, in the cinema this goes at least as far back as The Perils of Pauline.

Perhaps that’s why men like these things more than women, who would identify more with the sheer fear and horror being endured by the female character on the screen ..

People say Fulci’s a sadist, Fulci’s a misogynist…

… a pervert (laughs) and all the rest to of it. I’m sure he’s got all the answers ready for all of those accusations.

Yeah, he refutes them very well. He told me that he lived with a psychotherapist for several years …

I remember her, yes, he was living with her when we were making those films.

… and she left him because she saw New York Ripper and it convinced her that he was a sadist, a misogynist and all of this. He told her that if hadn’t spotted these supposed defects in the several years they’d been living together, it didn’t say much for psycho-therapy …

That’s interesting. All I can say is he clearly didn’t hate me but I do wonder what’s going on in his head, what his relationship with his mother was like (laughs), and so on. He respected me, maybe the fact that I was foreign played a part.. I don’t know what his view of Italian women is … it’s a strange society, Italy, because although it’s quite matriarchal, the “momma” thing, it creates all these macho men, so you’ve got this strange paradox.. although they have this tremendous respect for their mothers, I’m not quite sure what they think of women in general. Particularly as far as actresses are concerned, you’re either the mother or the whore, there might be a very fine line in between as far as they’re concerned. I remember Fulci had a wonderful script continuity girl …

Rita Agostini?

CM ON BEYOND SET 3

Yes, she was absolutely wonderful, had a great sense of humour… she and I got on fantastically well and Lucio clearly respected her a great deal. Perhaps he respects strong women and it.. I’m sure his psychotherapist lady friend must have been quite strong as well … but perhaps if he feels a weakness in a female he has a desire to humiliate her in some way … probably goes back to his mother ((laughs), whom I’m sure is a very strong lady although I don’t think I ever met her … she’s probably not with us anymore but I think she was then because sometimes he talked about her. I wouldn’t be surprised because they do seem to have a strong hold over their sons, it’s particularly pronounced in Italian society.

I think the paradox of machismo is that these guys are strutting around, with this great idea of their own worth, but this idea is actually given to them by their mothers, so in a way they’re reliant on women to buttress their masculine self-image …

.. and confidence, yes. Certainly in the past – not that much these days, thank God – there was a kind of ambivalent attitude attached to actresses, you weren’t particularly respected, as if there were something slightly whorish about it. But I personally didn’t get any of that from Lucio, he respected me and was depending on me to do a professional job for him.

When I met you I was amazed at how elegant and petite you are, and yet in these movies you’re running around, screaming, all these terrible things happening to you … how did you ever stand it all?

There’s a lot of energy in there, isn’t there? I’m just one of those people who has hidden resources, I’m renowned for it. I think I just dug into that inner strength really. I was quite struck, actually, when re-watching House By The Cemetery, by how highly charged it was, emotionally, all the time … quite liberating actually, you do feel a lot better afterwards, because you got to let it all out.. it’s quite satisfying in a strange therapeutic sort of way. I hadn’t seen House By The Cemetery since just after we made it, so that’s twelve, fifteen years, whatever it was. I think you could say I was pleasantly surprised, if that’s an apt expression, by the quality of the piece … the print was half-way decent, which also surprised me … the camera-work and everything … I thought it was pretty qood!

That was probably your best role in this trilogy you did with Fulci, I mean the characters are never too well drawn in these things but your character had much more of a back story in The House By The Cemetery than the one in, say, City Of The Living Dead…

Right, and I think that’s why I like The House By The Cemetery, and The Beyond too, much more than I like City Of The Living Dead. I don’t really like that one at all…

What the hell happens at the end of that one? I’ve never been able to figure it out…

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Well, various people were asking me about that at Eurofest. I’m afraid I can’t really elucidate it that much … I can’t even remember it very well, it’s such a long time ago since I saw it. I suspect Lucio just thought it was a trendy kind of way to end it, “Let’s just burn the film stock up”, or something … I guess they were stuck for an ending. Clearly it didn’t work, because nobody seems to have understood it.

I think that film was a little thrown together, compared to the others. I mean, you have this urgent mission, to find this priest and kill him before All Saint’s Day …

That’s right.

… and yet you and the other main characters just seem to be wandering around, stopping off for a bite, etc …

Yeah, just hanging around in sewers. You’re right, that wasn’t very good. I really don’t like that movie very much at all, I find the other two much more interesting, both from an acting point of view and in every other respect. I’m glad we did that one and then progressed to the others, that was the right way round to do it.

Fulci talks about “the anti-fascist sub-text” of the head-drilling scene in City Of The Living Dead, about The Beyond being inspired by the writings of Antonin Artaud … did he ever let you actors in on any of these allegedly allegorical and metaphysical underpinnings, or do you think he’s just rationalising after the fact?

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No actually … I ‘d certainly be very interested to hear what he had to say about certain films, but he never let on to us, if he’d thought all of that out in advance. He is a highly intelligent man though, and he’s got to get his inspiration from somewhere … it would be quite hard to rant on about that if you hadn’t thought it out in advance. It’s difficult to work out where he’s coming from … what do you think?

The standard line is: “The doubts of a tortured Catholic.”

Yeah, that’s quite likely, but none of that was ever shared with us actors. One got the impression that he was just churning these things out, you know… “Another day, another dollar.”

Other actors have told me that Fulci, fairly typically for an Italian director, concentrated more on the technicalities and left them pretty much to their own devices …

Yeah, I would say that was pretty much the case, it was certainly true of Fulci. He didn’t like being asked questions. If I asked a question, he would always listen but I think that was because he had a certain amount of respect for me, more than anything else. I tried not to ask him too many because as you say. my characters weren’t particularly well developed and everything was pretty clear cut, and I knew he was depending on me to be a bit of a trouper …

How did you get on with the producer, Fabrizio De Angelis?

De Angelis was always perfectly pleasant to me, though I didn’t have much contact with him. He was a cool, removed kind of character, perhaps a little bit difficult to get to know.

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Catriona with Beyond stunt man Larry Ray…

How much did Fulci rely on the team of collaborators he had around him at that time? I mean, a couple of films later that team broke up …

Oh really? That’s interesting, that it broke up … do you happen to know why, as a matter of fact?

I think he fell out with De Angelis and went to work for other producers … it’s widely felt that his subsequent films were never as good as the ones he made with the collaborators he’d had since the mid-seventies …

That’s probably true.. I think he depended tremendously on Rita, for a start.. I’m trying to remember the name of the lighting cameraman …

That would be Sergio Salvati. ..

… he seemed to understand Lucio perfectly well. It’s hard working with Lucio, I think, if you don’t have some kind of inner communication with him. Again, I don’t think Lucio needed to say anything in particular to either of those two, they just knew what he wanted and got on with it. The make up artists as well, of course, he relied so heavily on them and they were just brilliant.

I was going to ask you about your memories of Giannetto De Rossi…

He was one of the best in Italy, and I’m sure he still is. Are there not two, the De Rossi brothers?

Giannetto and Gino, I think (apparently cousins – Bob F.)

I wish I could remember, it was so long ago…. it was mostly the assistant, Franco Rufini, who worked on me … he was absolutely wonderful. The Italians really are the top guys in that line, I think, and they’d all done lots of different films, it’s the same with everybody over there – the directors, actors, technicians – they all move in the same circle and one day they’re working with Federico Fellini, the next with Lucio Fulci and it doesn’t matter at all, there isn’t the same sort of taboo attitude as there is here, which is great.

I’ve always liked this cross-pollination between “worthy” and more populist pictures …. presumably De Rossi, Rufini and co need to have a sensitive “bedside manner” when they’re putting you through all these fiendish make jobs?

Yeah, they were fantastic, I mean always terribly caring. They have to have some psychological understanding of actors, because they’re the first people you see at 6.30 in the morning, when you’ve just crawled out of bed and the last thing you want is to have stuff put all over your face and be hit with maggots, so they really do treat you with kid gloves, they listen to your problems and try to build you up, psychologically, in that hour-and-a-half or whatever, so that you’re awake, full of energy and raring to go. I particularly remember Franco being wonderful, it was a great pleasure to work with him and I was also slightly in awe of those guys, because they had worked with so many great actors and directors, too …. Antonioni, Fellini, Sergio Leone …

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Something that looks really stunning is this vision of Hell that you and David run into at the end of The Beyond…

I think that was done on the very last day of shooting, it was just before Christmas and we were all keen to get it over with, though there was quite a nice atmosphere because everybody had the festive spirit. When you’ve been with a film crew for that long, six weeks in Rome and a few weeks in The States, you’ve got to know everybody quite well and there is a real camaraderie that builds up, which is very pleasant.

That’s the second time you’ve mentioned a scene towards the end of a Fulci film that was shot pretty much towards the end of the schedule … was that just the way that things worked out, or did Fulci – contrary to general practice – tend to shoot scenes in their scripted sequence?

Let me think … no, these things aren’t generally shot in sequence, though the more “in sequence” it is, the better for us actors. I can’t remember if it was the same sound stage we’d been working on or whether it was the one next door, perhaps we had to get rid of one set and put up another one and that’s  why they did it at the end. It was obviously more practical for them to create that sequence then … I’m sorry to be so vague about all this …

Well, it was so long ago … was it painful to wear those contact lenses?

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Terribly … terribly. In fact it was absolutely ghastly. We couldn’t see anything, we had to keep them in for as little time as possible, because they were so painful. Again, Franco did his best to make things as comfortable for us as possible, putting drops in our eyes, making sure the lenses were as clean as possible and everything, but I don’t think I could have worn them for very much longer than we did.

I don’t want to quiz you scene by scene by scene, because if I start that, I could go on for ever, but there s a scene in The Beyond which always makes people laugh, because the guy in it has been so badly dubbed …

Ah yeah …

You go into a book shop looking for this occult tome and there’s this weird little old guy cackling “It’s a very nice book … very, very interesting!”

I remember that one, yeah. They’re usually pretty well-dubbed, because the Italians are great specialists at dubbing, but sometimes it was very difficult, again because of the logisticsof movie-making – people do make these mistakes and it does affect the quality slightly, though perhaps it doesn’t matter too much in the horror genre. People get hired who aren’t actors, at the last minute they realise they need a book-seller or whatever, so they’ll drag somebody in off the streets, somebody who has something to do with the a film crew, or somebody local who fancies himself as an actor, or something ..

As we mentioned, sometimes the producer’s girlfriend ends up in the movie …

In Italy that often happens. It happens all over the world, of course, and if they’re good then nobody says anything about it, but if they’re lousy … (laughs) … then everybody seems to know why they were in it. It’s a shame in a way, about the dubbing, because there are some small roles which are totally ruined as a result.. there’s one in particular actually, in The House By The Cemetery, I seem to remember Dagmar Lassander at the estate agency with this guy who says …

“That Freudstein house … that Freudstein house!”

Yes, he’s dubbed a bit weirdly … I mean, arguably it gives the scene more of a weird, strange, ethereal quality, but I just remember him being awful … I don’t think he’d ever acted in his life before, and he was very excited about it all, but he was dreadful, absolutely dreadful, and of course when you come to dub them afterwards it can be quite difficult.

Any memories of your female co-stars in these movies? Dagmar Lassander, Janet Agren, Cinzia Monreale …

I remember Dagmar being a laugh-and-a-half, she and Janet were the kind of strong women that I think Lucio respects. Lucio really liked her, you could tell that he did, and it was the same with Janet… she’s Swedish isn’t she? Very professional, a good actress, too … delightful to work with, as was Cinzia.

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What about the guys? Christopher George, David Warbeck, Carlo De Mejo, Paolo Malco …

Christopher was terribly sweet. I did kind of feel that I could lean on him a bit because he was such an old pro and he didn’t seem phased by anything … I remember being very upset when I read about his death in Variety a couple of years later. He was a very nice family man who talked a lot about his wife and children …

She went on to direct didn’t she … Linda Day George?

Did she? She used to be an actress … good for her. Very attractive woman. David Warbeck is a case unto himself, as I’m sure you already know (laughs). He’s a delight to work with, always laughing, full of anecdotes, totally into what he’s doing, but still having a good time. Another thing I like about him is that he doesn’t bullshit about what he’s doing, he knows the quality of some of it and he’s not pretentious in any way, which is something I really admire. He just has a ball. I’m delighted that things are going so well for him and that he’s got so many fingers in so many different pies.

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Carlo was really delightful, quite a serious actor … he was Alida Valli’s son, so he had an awful lot to live up to. He was very into theatre at the time so we talked about that quite a lot. He was absolutely charming, and seeing him in these films was one of the things that changed my attitude towards them. Paolo Malco is absolutely divine, another serious actor … he got on particularly well with Lucio, which was nice because it meant that Lucio, myself and him could see each other socially outside of the film set and we did. We had various wonderful dinners at Paolo’s fantastic apartment … I think we actually filmed some stuff in his apartment, the early scene in House By The Cemetery where they’re looking at the photo of the house, for instance, though of course it was supposed to be in New York. Paolo had a very deep respect for Fulci, but I remember that he was absolutely amazed, as we all were, by the way Fulci was forever spilling his drinks over himself, and he very often looked as though he was wearing his meal on his clothes. It was quite extraordinary, I don’t now what it is, whether he’s genuinely in another world … from what you’ve told me, he clearly hasn’t changed one iota, and I’m glad he hasn’t. Lucio is one guy I certainly won’t forget in a hurry, that’s for sure, one of those people who left their mark, but in quite a sweet way … one of the world’s great eccentrics, definitely.

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CM & FANS 2

“Hey, is that Joe D’Amato over there? Behind the guy in the plaid shirt?”

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