Monthly Archives: February 2017

World Gone West… THE REzORT director STEVE BARKER interviewed

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Nothing, to paraphrase Victor Hugo, is as powerful as a film whose time has come. By the time I caught Steve Barker’s The ReZort at Nottingham’s Mayhem festival in October 2016, it had spent some months marooned in distribution purgatory, a period during which reality seemed to be catching up with its dystopian vision of mindless leisure for the few, victims as villains and an unreconstructed economic / political system spiralling ever deeper into disaster. Having already directed Outpost (2008) and Outpost: Black Sun (2012), Barker was apparently reluctant to be drawn back into another zombie epic but it’s our great good fortune that he was persuaded. Thanks to everyone at Mayhem, particularly Chris Cooke for setting up the following interview which, like our recent conversation with Billy O’Brien, was originally intended for a certain long running genre mag …

Steve, I know you’re busy writing now, are you able to tell us something about what you’re working on?

I’m actually working on three projects, about which I can’t say too much just yet, but everyone seems to be very upbeat about all three of then so fingers crossed.

Hopefully The ReZort will put some wind in your sails in that respect because although the vagaries of distribution have held it up, it seems to be very much a movie with its finger on the pulse of 2016 and presumably 2017…

The distribution thing seems to have resolved itself. The fact that it was a co-production between three countries led to some complicated biz… I finished it at the end of July 2015, everybody seemed happy and the vibe about it was very good, then it sat on the shelf for quite a while, while I got very nervous. Your instant thought is: “Maybe I just got this wrong” but the disappearance of the film had nothing to do with the quality of it and everything to do with the vagaries of how such international co-productions are distributed. Various investors want at least to get their money back and there are different ideas about how best to do that.  Multiple countries and companies talking to each other just stalled the process for a while, meanwhile the reviews were really good and  festival audiences seemed to be enjoying it and being very vocal about it. A lot of credit goes to Charlotte Walls, the producer, who really worked hard on getting it out there. It did help a lot that the Edinburgh Film Festival saw it… even though I’m from the North West of England, I’ve lived in Scotland for a decade now so I kind of count as a local film maker and they were incredibly keen to show it, after which a lot of festivals started showing interest and Charlotte kept working away in the background… I don’t know if it’s been fully confirmed and announced yet, but The ReZort has been picked up by Netflix and comes out on January 17th in The US, Canada and The UK, which is fantastic. I know it’s doing its VOD window now but I never really quite understand VOD, to be honest…

… me neither…

… it’s just beyond me. I know that every major movie comes out on VOD in a certain window before it gets released anywhere else but I’m just a bit too Old School to get it! It’s out and about in certain countries already. I’ll be very interested to see how it goes because I was nervous, when I finished, that there’s this political aspect to it…

Very much so…

When we were making the film, that was much more speculative. This was the first project I’d done that I hadn’t instigated, they already had a script for about a year and the thing they initially sent to me was a pitch rather than a script… I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to do zombies again…

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… but they keep dragging you back in!

I ended up calling two really close friends, one a producer and another who’s actually the production designer on the film, to say: “Try and talk me out of it, ‘coz I think I’m going to do it!” The clear attraction was that the concept was disenfranchisement… in the very first conversation I had, in November of 2013, we were talking about Syria but it hadn’t yet escalated to the level it subsequently did. It was essentially a civil war and an awful humanitarian crisis, the thing that drove me nuts was how quickly that became a political football. The people suffering it were completely forgotten. We were talking about that and the post-economic meltdown situation. I hadn’t seen a zombie picture that dealt with that in the great Romero tradition, where the themes are inherent within the story and not bolted on the side. During a shoot you’re doing 19 hour days, 7 days a week and the outside world just disappears. Then I spent 8 months in post production in Belgium with very little access to the outside world and within a month of coming back to the UK, the real imagery of what was going on in the Mediterranean was all over the news and I was nervous that people would think we were exploiting that situation, though the film had already been finished. We’d come up with the final image, of zombies coming out of the sea, at the beginning of 2014! Timing is important in every walk of life and I wonder if the film sitting on the shelf for that extra couple of months has given people enough distance from it to see it as social comment and satire rather than exploitation.

The world’s awash with zombie movies at the moment and a lot of them are getting spoofy to the point of silliness, so it’s refreshing that you’re taking the genre back to satire and those dark metaphors…

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That was the appeal, very much… the world is indeed awash with zombie pictures and they all seem, to me, to come from a certain point of view, i.e. Lord Of The Flies They’re all about what the world will look like when you take the rules away and what I found fascinating was the idea of how much more terrifying we are as a species when we win! This was the first time I was coming to a picture as a hired gun and I didn’t know how I was going to approach that. They let me run with it but I think the politics were more subtle early on because I had the responsibility to make a genre picture that was still a ride. The only stipulation they gave me was that they didn’t really want a horror picture, they wanted an action-adventure film that had scary bits in it. This was the Michael Crichton thing… the first thing they told me was: “It’s Westworld with zombies” but obviously Jurassic Park, because it’s so much better remembered, became the comparison point. There was a feeling that nostalgia for that would give us a boost, because nobody had made a movie like that for so long and of course while we were making it, Jurassic World came out! That was the first movie I sat down and watched when I returned to the UK and I was just sitting in the cinema thinking: “Oh No!” to myself…

It must be so daunting to find yourself up against the big boys…

I was glad that I hadn’t seen any of their imagery because some of it is so close… my first impression was that we has a boat but they had a proper fuck off Jurassic World boat… the whole scale thing, that we had 3.5 million and they had 175 million! There were certain scenes that, you realise, just come with the thought process. These days, the way you do your research is strangely homogenised by the internet. If you put certain words into google, you’re going to get a certain bunch of images coming back at you. There were obviously certain reference images that both teams had looked at and we’d gone in separate directions with, or sometimes the same direction. Bits of costume design were amazingly similar and there’s an image in the control room in both films that’s essentially the same shot. They were made a year-and-a-half apart, with no knowledge of each other whatever but if you’re being pointed in similar directions those things come together and it fascinates me. I was worried that people would think we were just jumping on the coat tails of Jurassic World but then again, the fact that Piranha is a knock off of Jaws doesn’t make me love Piranha any less…

Certainly not!

Anyway, it’s fascinating to see how somebody with all that money does something that we were struggling so hard to do with a much smaller amount of money.

Despite the obvious discrepancy in budgets, you really did get a lot of bang for your buck. What was the secret in making such a low-budget production look like a much bigger one?

It’s a combination of things. I was coming out of ambitious films on low budgets. The Outpost films had both been done for about a million quid so. On The ReZort I obviously had more money than that but it was a massive jump in scale… the key is to know what you want, to know what’s readily achievable and to be aware of which shots are going to give you the impact and which will eat time and money without giving you the same pay-off. If I learned that anywhere, it was from a whole childhood of watching John Carpenter… look at the scale you get from Escape From New York, with such a small

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budget. The trick is hire well, hire really good people who know what they’re doing. My brief was to make it feel big so as much as telling the story and making the characters work, there was always that in the back of my mind. The big challenge was to make people believe in this multi-million pound facility, which would spend as much on their logo as we could spend on the actual place itself. We had about three weeks to lock down on a logo and get a look and a feel so you make sure that your teams work well together… costume and production design work hand-in-hand. Thankfully I have a “family” crew, I use the same people as often as I can so Ali Mitchell the costume designer and Jamie Lapsley the production designer know each other well and kind of cross-pollinated each other. A lot of credit goes to my brilliant cinematographer Roman Osin. This is the first picture I had done with Roman and I was looking for someone who had never done anything like this, then I went out of my way to make sure that he didn’t watch anything like it for research. The idea was that, for the first half of the film, until the wheels come off, it should look like the people who ran The ReZort would want it to look, as if it was a trailer for that holiday, so it’s very smooth, very slick, we were on dolly and tracks and steadicam until it started getting more and more fucked up… we worked on that from the beginning, essentially it was like shooting a commercial… Mallorca was a magnificent location with fabulous crews that worked really hard and it hadn’t been overshot. Hardly any movies had been shot there but a lot of commercials had, so the crew were used to that look, that vibe and naturally brought that gloss to it. It’s about being on top of a lot of very different things, choosing various shots through the acts of the film, knowing that those were going to be my scale shots and working my way down from there. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. There were some really memorable shots in the film and a couple that particularly stuck in my mind were very high altitude shots… of the boat leaving for the island and then, at the climax, of streams of zombies converging on the last survivor, who’s legging it to get off the island before The Brimstone Protocol is initiated… how were those shots achieved?

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That’s a really interesting one actually. While you have to be strategic and get everything planned out, you also have to be able to manoeuvre your way in and out of stuff as it arises. Those were scale shots, originally we were going to shoot them with a drone but this was just before the appropriate cameras got light enough for that to happen so in fact both those shots are entirely digital, but I actually came to them almost backwards. Originally it was going to cut from the close up of our leading lady to this very high and wide shot, let the audience know that they were travelling to the middle of nowhere and once they get to the island, they’re stuck there. I’m really pleased with how those shots turned out and a lot of the credit, particularly for the boat one, go to our vfx supervisor Dominique Fiore, who was quite magnificent. I grew up reading Cinefex and loving the old school models, foreground miniatures and all that, the illusions you could create that way. There are things you can do now, in the digital world, that are kind of like that in the sense that it’s smoke and mirrors. So the high shot … I don’t want to destroy the illusion here (laughs) … Dominique put it together himself because we were really under the gun trying to finish the movie at that point and it’s effectively a still but with some smoke actually integrated into it above and below to make it seem like undulating water and a layer of highlight plus a cardboard cut-out of a boat and some animated water, yet when you put it together with a bit of artistry… he just took it home from the office and played it to me next morning and I went: ”Wow! I completely buy it!”

It totally fooled me…

I totally buy it and I’ve seen all the elements that go into making it! My favourite thing about movies is those moments where it fools me. Similarly, when she jumps over the cliff at the climax, that’s almost entirely digital apart from a shot of her running which has been digitally looped. I was very lucky that the vfx facility was in Belgium… because we had less money than most movies it was gonna be a lot easier to make decisions quickly if I was actually there, so we put the cutting room right next to me. It was actually in the office next door so I could literally walk between the two every day, which must have driven the vfx guys nuts but it meant that we didn’t go down any false paths, we were always moving in the right direction.

It’s obvious from what you’re saying that although you were this “hired gun”, you didn’t just slide in, film what was in the shooting script and say: “There you go, then…”

I wouldn’t even know how to do that, Bob. It was a fascinating thing to go into, I was wary to start off with and I probably created problems just in terms of how I approach things. I became aware that I was driving the writer Paul Gerstenberger – who’s a lovely lad – nuts! I did that total director / wanker thing of walking in and saying: “I love it… let’s change everything!” What I would do, if I was instigating a project, is push in all directions on the idea so here we were, shooting in four months and I was putting him through it early on. I couldn’t understand a director who would just cynically walk in, take the money and run.

There are plenty of them about.

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I think I’ve just been lucky but all the people I know and work with, once we’re committed to something we’re all in and we’re trying to find the thing that will make it at least stand out from the crowd, as much as that is possible. My philosophy is almost like the old studio system before it went freelance, where directors were under contract, they’d be assigned a picture and would make it the best film they could…

… you still had auteurist directors working in that system…

To be honest I’ve never been the biggest fan of the auteur theory. I don’t get an amazing amount to of joy out of… I can’t watch my pictures when they’re finished because I can’t stand to see how much I did wrong. I don’t get much out of touring pictures around, either, I just say thank you very much and keep my head down. I do love crafting and making the film,  the joy of that for me is working with the people who are making it with me. I’ve never taken one of those “a film by…” credits because I think they’re nonsense, in the end there might be a shot that is incredibly stylish but there are a million different people whose ideas are accumulated in that shot. I understand the propriety credit “a film by Steven Spielberg” or whatever, I get that it’s part of the way things are done in the industry rather than saying “Look, it was all down to me!” There are genuine auteur film makers in the world… David Lynch… I think Kubrick represented a heroic tale of somebody trying to beat the system… David Fincher, these days… but the stuff I really enjoy is when I’ve got something in my head about how the shot should be done but then the DP kind of modulates it slightly or the actor turns round and has a way of playing it that’s completely unexpected yet makes it so much better… then something totally random happens like it starts raining or the sun comes out and all of those things then combine to make it special. I’m not into the idea of fighting all of those things to keep going, I think you should embrace that and hopefully know what you’re trying to do well enough that you can modulate it and accommodate all of these new and exciting things that are happening around you. The thing is that my collaborators are all so much better at it than I am! Every DP I’ve ever worked with understands photography so much better than I do. It’s something I’m interested in but I’m probably only good enough at it to be dangerous rather than helpful. Likewise, when it comes to music…. I’ve never been able to play an instrument, I know what vibe I want but I have almost no vocabulary to talk to composers, they have to speak with me almost like I’m a child because I’m literally talking in terms of emotions. It’s the same with actors, I’ve got no conception of what they have to do to go to the places they go to and I think that’s brilliant, I love them but I still have this certain sense of wonder when they pull it off. I like to trust actors as much as possible, tell what the movie needs and where I think that character is but also asking them what  they want to bring to it.

You got a compelling performance out of Claire Goose, playing somewhat against type…

Oh, Claire’s lovely and deserves so much credit in the sense that she took it really late. There’s always one of those that happens on every movie, one or two roles that, for whatever reason, just never get sorted… whoever you had in mind isn’t quite right or you can’t afford them or whatever. One of the producers thought of Claire, I didn’t know her for that kind of performance and was already well into prep, days from shooting and so had no time to meet her, plus she was working on something else so we literally built it down the phone, had a few core conversations in which I gave her the idea of what I wanted. It really helped that she was able to have a long conversation with Alison Mitchell the costume designer, because Ali and I had discussed at length how we imagined that character. Unfortunately that caused all kind of traumas for Claire, wearing this dress in which she couldn’t sit down because it would have creased instantly. So she was always propped up on set and we didn’t roll until seconds before we turned on her because we wanted her to have this pristine look throughout most of the film. I was amazed at how easily she just slipped into it, with instant confidence but without overdoing it. For this long intro speech she has, where she’s by the swimming pool greeting the guests, she got her lines at about 10am and we were shooting at 6 but she nailed it, instantly. No disrespect to  Paul, who wrote the film, but a writer friend of mine gave me the fabulous line: “Every apocalypse deserves an after party” and she just got that instantly and knew how to play that, how to play against all the zombie stuff. She’s cracking, she really is and incredibly lovely, she’s as lovely in real life as she is nasty on screen.

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We could probably have found a less gratuitous picture of Claire Goose but decided not to…

The film just seems to me to be more relevant to the times we’re living through with every passing day and every time I turn on the news…

I  know!

Dunno if this is pursuing it too far but when you’ve got Claire Goose’s chic, alpha female character being mean to refugees and justifying everything in the name of business, supply and demand… it just makes me think of Theresa May and her thousand pound leather trousers!

Somebody said to me after the screening in Edinburgh, possibly just because of what had been in the news that week, how much Claire reminded them of… I can’t remember her name, now, that hideous fucking woman who thinks refugees are cockroaches…

Katie Hopkins?

Yeah, Katie Hopkins, that truly hideous human being… such a terrible, terrible waste of the oxygen she breathes. People were asking if Claire’s character was based on her…

She should be so lucky as to be played by Claire Goose… but character-wise, yeah, absolutely. You’ve made three zombie movies now… are you at all a buff in this genre and if not, did you research by watching a bunch of them?

(Laughs) This is probably not the thing to own up to in an interview with a horror blog, but although I love genre film making, Horror is probably the genre that I’m least well genned up on. I was never really a horror guy though I’m friendly with people who are, like Paul Hyatt and Jake West… he’s a really full-on horror guy who did that amazing documentary about video nasties. People like that are at one with the genre whereas I go to something like Frightfest and feel like a bit of a fake, they obviously know so much more about this stuff than I do even though I grew up watching these things, pooling pocket money with friends so that we could rent videos and John Carpenter became a massive influence on me… I actually went to see Carpenter play his scores live in Manchester about three weeks ago.

I heard it was a great gig but the venue was awful…

The sound was terrible. I loved it though because it was more like a gig rather than video I’ve seen where they treated it as a classical performance with seating and it didn’t have the atmosphere, but this was real gig with so many people in fancy dress, girls everywhere dressed in the wedding gear from Big Trouble In Little China and a lot of people dressed as the aliens from They Live… amazing! Anyway, from those VHS renting days there are titles that still comfortably in my top 10 or top 20 movies of all time, obviously Alien, Escape From New York but also on that list would be Jaws, The Apartment by Billy Wilder, All The Presidents Men… so I don’t know, I love Horror when it’s great Cinema but also I like it when somebody like Cronenberg pushes the boundaries really hard. Where I’m not so big on it is… I’m not disparaging them because I don’t know them, but I’ve never gone very far into this whole other world of Italian stuff…

Interesting that you should mention that, because… maybe this is down to Paul Gerstenberger as writer or maybe it’s a complete coincidence, but the climactic revelation in your film of what is really going gone, although it’s really effectively handled, is almost identical to the pay off a truly awful Bruno Mattei film called  Zombie Creeping Flesh…

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Zombie Creeping Flesh?!? That’s a hell of a title! If he did pinch, it he never told me about it.

Well, they say that mediocre film makers quote bits from other movies but the great ones just go in there and steal them… it’s done with much more aplomb in your movie anyway, in Mattei’s it gets delivered in this really dead pan: “So, the Western powers decided to solve the problem of world hunger by turning Third World people into zombies who would eat each other” kind of way…

Oh, I can pretty much vouch for him on that then, because the first script I read for The ReZort was actually set entirely within the UK. Then they took the decision to make it international but they were waiting until a director was on board before they agreed on how they were going to do that. Paul’s original version was about the exploitation and eradication of the displaced though just within one nation, but certainly the idea of using the refugee crisis came with me pitching into the job, right at the point that they were making this translation from the UK to a more international setting. A lot of the stuff I built up for that got lost, I actually cut so much of that out because my preference was ultimately for viewers to enjoy the action-adventure ride rather than risk alienating them with too much sub text and arguably we lost a little artfulness and elegance in the process.  There was a lot of stuff about how the world was rebuilt after the Zombie war but what I realised was that, when I started pacing up the opening via montage, you got all that stuff in one line.

However it happened, the film is so on the money as a metaphor for what we’re currently living through… wars, social dislocation on a global scale, victims as villains, the underground resistance and hacking, the glorification of the entrepreneurs who took us down the toilet and are hard at work on doing it again…

The feedback I’m getting is that the film feels very timely to people who are seeing it… actually you could probably release it again in two or three years.

To underscore the cyclical nature of it all?

Yeah. I think there actually is a cycle and it looked like this year was going to be the year of fighting back against globalisation, of a backlash against the way the world is going, but unfortunately it seems to be going in directions that we didn’t account for, which are frankly rather alarming.

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It’s like that old Chinese curse… may you live through “interesting times”! You’ve talked about the pleasure you take in the collaborative aspect of making movies… what about the more solitary business of writing them?

Well, I obviously didn’t write The ReZort but I did as much as any director would do, tweaking it here and there. Even if I had a new element I wanted to introduce, I would turn it over to Paul to do it. I’ve gotta say that writing is my least favourite part of film making in every way, simply because it’s the antithesis of everything I love about the process… working with people in a team to construct something.

It’s a hermetic thing, isn’t it?

I fucking detest it! I learned on The ReZort how much I love NOT writing!

As you mentioned before, you’re not crazy about promoting them either, are you?

The festival circuit’s an odd one because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I love meeting the fans though, particularly at genre festivals, which are just amazing, they’re just like family events. I owe an enormous amount to The Edinburgh Film Festival, who were first to get this one out there but the next one we went to was Frightfest, where I’d been with my previous picture and everyone there knows everybody else, you’re wandering about and folk will come up to you constantly… in fact that led to RamaSkrik in Norway, which was absolutely amazing! One of the guys who runs that saw The ReZort at Frightfest and came up to me with an invite to theirs … it’s in the Norwegian hills in the middle of nowhere, all the film makers go for the entire three or four days, everybody watches everything and there’s a genuine sense of community which you just don’t get with other genres. I think part of that is about being a genre that was, in previous times, maligned. It’s like the geeks have taken over the asylum, so much that’s now massive in our culture has come from these movies and comics. All the stuff that I was considered very geeky for loving when I was a kid is now the absolute norm, a standard Saturday night out. I don’t know if I would even have a career now if it wasn’t for the fact that my first movie, Outpost, was this tiny little film and Sony, thank you very much, bought it worldwide but they were never going give it a big release in The States and kinda just threw it out there … but before they threw it out anywhere else, it was the community that found it. The fans don’t like having something shoved down their throats, they like to be able to find something for themselves and we were lucky that we were little enough for it to be a bit of a surprise and then folks started talking about it and they started talking about it loudly enough so that Sony in the UK noticed and started putting some money behind us so that we got a relatively big release and it did very well, which obviously helped me enormously. As somebody who’s not very good at festivals, I find that  genre festivals are the ones I do OK at because the folk there are so lovely.

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What kind of stuff do the fans talk to you about?

A lot of folk were really interested in and asked a lot of questions about the slow / fast thing. Paul, who’s a real genre fan, came up with that very early on, the idea that this action is set ten years after The Zombie War so the old zombies moved around slowly and the more recent ones were fast. I thought that was cool though I really don’t have any ideological standpoint on it. I think Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake is a belting film.

You got the best of both worlds with that because you had those lumbering masses of slow zombies and also the fast ones to give you those shock moments…

Exactly and I tried to break down the set pieces so you would get the maximum, or as much as I could get anyway, out of each variant… when to use the fast ones, when to use the slow ones and I think some of that was clearer in my original conception of the movie. Any film you do for this kind of budget, you’re not gonna get everything that’s in your head but I got more on this than on any picture I’ve made before.

Because I saw and enjoyed The ReZort at Mayhem in Nottingham, I was wondering how you enjoyed your time there…

Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil are top lads, they really are. It was fab. The only difference from the Norway one was literally that I obviously got to go to Norway for that, which was rather more glamorous…

Well, the River Trent can’t really compete with those fjords…

Mayhem was brilliant, what I love about that was again that it had this real sense of a community for one long weekend… another thing I love about it, that I didn’t know till Chris told me, was that it started as a short film festival and they’ve managed to maintain that at the heart of it and again, this is the kind of stuff that was previously maligned or ignored. I think the good festivals and the good genre festivals have managed to maintain something at the heart of them, the little gem that brought folk together in the first place.

Mayhem is a great festival… did you get a chance to watch anything else while you were there, or were you just in and out?

I was only there for one day. I missed The Greasy Strangler, which I finally caught up with in Norway. That one is…

… interesting…

… it’s absolutely insane, Bob! I actually got to know the producers of that film and they’re lovely, really sweet guys.

I would love to have sat in on the brainstorming sessions for the script on that one…

Yeah (laughs) … I told them, there’s no hiding how fucked up your film is and they said yeah, either people are going to dig it or they’re not. What I did get to see at Mayhem was part of Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires, it was getting quite late and I was tired but I watched the first act of that just to see how it played on the big screen.

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Bava was the king of this thing we talked about earlier, getting more bang for your small budget via amazing key shots and scale shots…

Absolutely. I came to his stuff backwards because I knew Argento from Suspiria and found my way to Bava from there. Stuff like Danger Diabolik… what the fuck? Again it’s got this real grand sense of scale about it and I think Planet Of The Vampires is one that just keeps giving. I mean, everybody talks about Alien but if you take a look at the costume design it’s so close to what they ended up using in Prometheus, amazingly close with the off blue colour and the yellow piping… you know, Ridley Scott has clearly seen this film!

I think The ReZort got a boost at Mayhem by following another film, which shall go unnamed, that was really pretentious and up itself…

It’s amazing, I’d never quite realised the importance of where you fit into the running order at a festival. I do know that one of the few screenings where we didn’t go so well was a festival at which they screened Last Train To Busan and us right next to one another for two nights and on each night, whichever film came on second didn’t go down as well. The movies were too similar… although they had a lot more money than we did.

Reminds me of the Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix and The Who were arguing about who was going to close it, because neither of them wanted to have to follow the other…

Yeah. When we screened The ReZort at GrimmFest in Manchester, we went on right after a film called Tonight She Comes by a lovely young American guy, it was his first fest anywhere outside The States and I won’t spoil it for you but it’s got a truly memorable last scene and I thought: “My film is almost polite in comparison to this… fuck!” Yet strangely enough, after everybody had digested that over a drink and come back in they were ready for something a little more “mainstream” as it were. So that was a real learning experience, too…

Programming is a real art in itself…

It is and I don’t think I’d ever considered it, never had an opinion on that before.

Promotion is an art in itself, too… now that it’s finally getting out there and all this stuff has gone on in the meantime, your guys could really push The ReZort as some kind of horror film that’s got this grip on the zeitgeist… I’d like to think it will be seen by as many people as possible and given the credit for what it is.

I have very little say in it but yeah, I kind of like the idea that it’s that kind of film. I’ve only made three films but everything has changed so much since my first one came out in 2008… we had a very traditional low-budget release for that, you’d go out in about 150-200 cinemas for about a week or two weeks and effectively it was a very long, elaborate advert for the DVD and BD releases. Nowadays it just seems like an entirely different world, cinemas have so little interest in those kinds of movies and you can pretty much blanket wall to wall for the entire year a film that’s going to have cost 70-100 million. I kinda dig the idea that if film is meant to break through, the fans are going to find it.

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“Mr Crowley’s Not Himself Tonight”… I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER director BILLY O’BRIEN interviewed

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One of the many pleasures afforded by the 2017 Mayhem Film Festival at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema was Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not A Serial Killer, a mesmerising Irish-American indie effort that pits a sociopathic slacker against a superannuated serial killer… and once you’ve just about gotten your head around this outlandish premise, out of left field comes one of the least anticipated twists in recent memory. I was keen to have a word with Mr O’Brien but for the next couple of months he was hitting the international festival circuit pretty hard and it wasn’t until the film’s UK theatrical release in early December that I managed to catch up with him for the following…

Billy, I must apologise to you actually for an intolerable breach of urinal etiquette at Mayhem. I’m the guy who was bugging you about how much I enjoyed the film while you were trying to take a leak… dunno if you remember that?

(Laughing) I don’t, actually …

There you go, it must happen to you all the time. I know you’ve been in heavy rotation on the festival circuit and I wonder how it’s been going…

It’s just come to an end, for which I’m grateful because it was pretty full-on but we got an amazing, amazing reception. I was in Korea in July for a big fantastic film festival then from September onwards all the European ones, plus the odd UK one. It’s like, every ten days I’ve been at a festival, you know? At one point I went from the London Film Festival to Sitges and then back to Mayhem, all in a run. Probably by the time I got back to Mayhem I was feeling the effects. I was saying to Chris Cooke at Mayhem, I don’t know how bands do it, I’m buggered after three festivals…

Well, they’re all probably much younger than we are… with the obvious exception of The Rolling Stones. Chris hooked us up and Mayhem is my local festival, so please feel free to big it up a little…

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I’ve known Chris for years, I met him at a dinner for directors because he had just done One For The Road. We kept in touch and he invited me to the festival, it was great to see him again and it’s a great festival, I genuinely enjoyed it. What I liked about it was there’s a real sense of community. Christopher Hyde, my co-writer and I took part in the pub quiz in the bar, and didn’t get one question… that was the hardest quiz I’ve ever done!

That Flinterrogation is tough stuff! (I refrained from mentioning to Billy that I was on the winning team… you don’t want to rub your interviewee’s nose in it! BF)

We were on a table with people from the University and what a great sense of community. What a great venue, too…

The Broadway…

The Broadway, yeah. It’s great and we got to sign the projector which has got Norman Wisdom, Ken Loach… everyone on it.

I’m going to have to check it out, I’ve never seen that…

Yeah, they’ve got a white box around the projector that everybody has signed… Chris and I were kidding them that we were going to get a big sponge and wipe some of the names off to make more room for us…

“Mister Grimsdale!?!”

No it was great, a good craic.

Did you catch anything you liked at Mayhem, or indeed at any of the other festivals?

Not a huge amount and some of the ones that I did catch were the oddities, you know. One was… and you might know this better than I do… the documentary by Paul Schrader’s brother…

… The Killing Of America?

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Yeah, I saw that in Vienna and it was incredible. The ones I kept missing were the ones I wanted to see. The Love Witch… Raw… there was another one as well… and they kept popping up but the schedules just kept clashing. Several of them, but you never get to see everything you want at a festival.

There’s too much other stuff going on in terms of networking, hanging out…

Yeah, I did meet some great directors. In Korea it was really hot outside so everybody hangs out in the bar till 2 o’clock in the morning and you keep meeting these guys at all the various festivals but everyone is on a different schedule. I met the guy who did that Turkish film, Baskin… Can Evrenol… he was just finishing his rounds of the festivals… you meet people at that end of it, others who are just starting up, so it was really good.

How is I Am Not A Serial Killer going down with the viewers? It’s not exactly your formulaic movie. I saw one comment to the effect that it was “a mash-up of Donnie Darko and Phantasm”… which I think is part of the story if certainly not the whole story.

It’s been very interesting. It’s about perceptions before you go in, because the title of the film seems to make people think of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, a grim horror film and we’ve been very worried about that. Because it’s based on a book, we didn’t change the name or anything but after the fact, when the film was out there, we thought maybe we should have changed it, for that very reason. We’ll never know, I mean, in five or ten years we might have a better idea about that. What we did know was that we’d lose most of our audience if we tried to sell it as A Horror Film… half of the audience wouldn’t like it because they’d discover early on that it isn’t that sort of film and the other half wouldn’t even go into the cinema. I think the Donnie Darko thing is quite a handy label for that and Bulldog Film, who are releasing us in the UK, referenced that in their campaign… also Under The Skin, another good one. We’re really happy that, having come and gone in America like a blip, it’s getting a really good reaction here. I mean, yesterday we got four stars from The Sun and The Times so now everyone will be thinking this is some kind of right wing film! (Laughs) That’s funny but it seems to be, across the board, three and four stars and it’s coming out today…

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It’s really fortuitous that we’re talking now because I didn’t even realise it was coming out this weekend, if fact I was going to ask you WTF is happening with the distribution…

Yeah, it’s out this weekend. It’s got a bigger Irish release than in the UK, we hit a little bit of a bottleneck because there’s a slightly bigger film coming out on Wednesday, i.e. Rogue One. Every cinema in the country is showing that so this weekend, when Bulldog positioned it, was relatively empty, now there’s also Snowden, Birth Of A Nation and a couple of others there so suddenly we’ve lost lots of screens, unfortunately. We had planned to bring it out on ten but now we hope it’s going be about three or four in The UK and there are going to be a few more, hopefully, opening over Christmas. That has been a been a bit of a setback but in Ireland it’s been released on ten screens and it’s doing fantastic so I’m really pleased about that, coming as I do from Ireland. We’ll see what happens. It’s tough, you know, but we’re a small film…

The auguries are looking good…

Well, a few weeks ago we got all the magazines… Empire gave us four stars, even Radio Times gave us four stars, that made me laugh, you know? It was funny to see that. My first film, Isolation, went straight to DVD in the UK so we never got the reviews. It was interesting, I couldn’t have predicted four stars off The Sun! That was an unusual one and that’s the first time in my life I’ve actually bought The Sun! The three I got, and this is what I mean about the right wing thing, were The Times, The Financial Times and The Sun! Wow…

Maybe you’re just in tune with the zeitgeist of 2016 or something… so what is it that brings an Irishman over here to live, so I’m told, on the moors in Devon?

Yeah, I’ve lived here for about ten years, lived for ten years in London before that… I grew up on a farm in the countryside. My wife and I have friends down here that we’d visit then we came down here for six months just to get out of London, as you do and ended up staying. It’s still actually quite handy for London, you can hop on a train in Exeter and be there in two-and-a-half hours but we stayed and had kids, it’s a great little town for the kids, so yeah… we don’t tend to plan things too much, you know, they just happen.

Are you in Moretonhampstead?

No! No, you must never mention them, they’re the rival town! It’s Chagford, down the road…

“The Jewel of Dartmoor”…

…yeah. There’s been this rivalry since The Civil War when Moretonhampstead went Parliamentarian and Chagford was Royalist. The kids make jokes about Moretonhampstead but really it’s all lovely towns around here on Dartmoor.

I really love Widdecombe, with that little churchyard and the Tors and everything…

The problem living there is that it’s a complete tourist spot…

I’m part of the problem then, because I like to get down there at least every couple of years.

There’s a great writers’ and artists’ community down here. It’s really good, you know, got a really good buzz about it.

Excellent… we talked earlier about selling such an oddball film to audiences, but how did you sell it to the money men?

It wasn’t easy. The fact that it was a book probably made it easier. It wasn’t a best seller… in fact it was a best seller in Germany… but it had already been translated into 15 languages although it wasn’t Twilight, so that didn’t automatically mean that we would get funded. The problem was that it’s a 16 year old kid and a 75 year old man so there’s no Michael Fassbender role in it, also that it doesn’t sit in a neat little “horror” box… it’s a bit horror, a bit black comedy. It’s been six years now but we started off loving the book and the script seemed to work for people so we thought it should be fairly straightforward. In fact it was a nightmare, absolute nightmare… people were very, very dubious about it, it was perceived as being “high risk.” Then the seasonal thing kicked in, re financing, you know? I suppose rich people have money to invest and if you’re not ready to go, they’ll put it into another film and with us, we got to the point where they were putting it in but we were losing the snow and so we thought: “We’ll have to wait till next year” and then the money went and we had to start it all over again. Standard stuff. “Never film in snow”, they say and we got asked if we could do without it. Of course you can do anything without it, but you lose so much from the visual side of the film and the atmosphere in that unique town. The Irish Film Board came in very early on and stood by us all the way through, which was fantastic, because this is not an Irish story shot in Ireland. There’s been a broadening of Irish film over the last ten or twenty years or so, there are Irish people all over the world, that is our history… so this year at the Oscars you have Room which is from an Irish book and an Irish / Canadian company made it and shot it in Canada with Brie Larson, an American actress. And they you’ve got Brooklyn which is half-Irish and half-American, so it’s opening up there and I think it’s a very healthy thing. We shot in America but we did kind of the reverse of the big studio films that come and shoot on location. We went on location then came back for 9-10 months to finish the film in Dublin. It was quite an interesting experience to do that and quite fun, actually.

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It looks so much like an American indie movie, it made me wonder if you had lived in The States for any significant period of time or whether you’ve just watched an awful lot of American indie movies…

I think it’s just the material… among the reasons I loved the book is that the characters ring true, the dialogue is brilliant, they are interesting, damaged real characters as opposed to bland teenagers in a Hollywood film…

The certainly are, yeah…

… and then there are the locations, the towns are just like that. We had no money for art direction really so we went to these towns haven’t changed in years … Virginia and Hibbing, the two Minnesota towns we shot in are old mining towns…

… Hibbing’s the birthplace of Bob Dylan, isn’t it?

It is and those towns haven’t really changed since the ’50s, you know? There’s a ‘70s feel as well because the miners like a drink and so they fill the bars with the old neon signs in the windows. That was very evocative and yet all the Irish and English in the crew grew up on films like that, as I’m sure you did, so every corner you turn it’s like: “Oh my god, this looks like a film!” We just loved it.

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Did you get some sense of this “rust belt” thing, the decline of the towns based on old industries and maybe get a premonition of the advent of Trump?

It’s funny looking back, but not so much at the time… Minnesota itself is an odd one, it’s a very rich state. And they’re very fiscally conservative, in kind of a good way. I remember reading in a local paper that the state was in profit to the tune of a billion dollars or something and they had a referendum on what to do with the money and there were three options… one was to dole out a certain amount to every person and the other two were about investing it and the most rational one of investing it in the State’s future was the one that 70% of the people actually voted for. So what I take from this is that America is a huge, complex country which the headlines are always trying to simplify into black and white.

I’m amazed to hear that they’d even entertain the idea of whacking it out to everybody… I mean, can you imagine our politicians agreeing to hand money out to everybody over here? They’d make sure it went straight into the back pockets of their supporters…

That was just one headline. Minnesota actually voted for Clinton, by a narrow margin… you see they’re all Scandinavians, Swedes and Finns and whatever, second and third generation but they still have that attitude towards money and looking after education and all the rest of it …

… the ideals that haven’t quite died out everywhere in the world…

Now where we were shooting was up near the Canadian border and it was in hard times but definitely, the conversations at the bar were Trump-like, there were quite a few of them like that so there was just a hint at that stage but certainly in retrospect and also before that… me, Robbie Ryan the DP and Nick Ryan the producer (who I know from film school, 20 years ago in Dublin) were driving around endlessly in Mid-West States like Michigan … we were in Ohio about four months before we settled on Minnesota and when we in Ohio we were on the borders with Pennsylvania and West Virginia and there was an awful to of poverty there, like in Northern England, the hopes of the industrial past which were now in tatters… we went to the famous town that all the TV stations went to during the election and Springsteen wrote the song about, Youngstown, the famous industrial town and that was a desert! It’s so sad to see it, it’s just like there’s nothing going on there and it’s a city! Detroit is boarded up, you know it’s a city that doesn’t work… we have areas of cities that don’t work but Detroit just looks like it’s been abandoned, you know… abandoned skyscrapers… it’s gutted. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise when you saw the election result because those people were being overlooked, you know.

Detroit sounds like something out of a J.G. Ballard novel…

Exactly… there were pictures on the wall in my Detroit hotel room from the 1920s… it had more cars than London had, it was one of the boom-time cities of the world and to go from there to just complete collapse…

I know it took a long time to line up all your ducks to make this film and that it was a pretty torturous process but in fact it all worked out very fortuitously for you because you got your male lead, who I know you’d been intent on for some time, when he was at exactly the right age to play that character…

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Nick Ryan who I mentioned earlier, did a short film with an Irish director named Ruairi Robinson called The Last Days On Mars and after that they did another called BlinkyTM, which Max starred in when he was 10. So when Nick read my script he said: “What about Max?” and of course I said: “He’s just a kid”, at which Nick laughed and replied: “Yeah, they do grow up, Billy!” So we met him when he was thirteen and we were in Michigan that year, I think it was 2011 and we did this little test film on 35mm, just me and Nick, to show the finance people that we could do it. So that was in 2011, we all got on and Max was a great kid. At that stage we were being canny, thinking that by the time we got the finance it would take about a year-and-a-half and he’d be 15 as the kid is in the book… and of course he was 17 but the time we made it so he was that bit more grown up and also… it was a tough shoot, you know, it was minus-20 and you were running fast, as you do in a low budget film and Max is in every scene, there wasn’t much down tine for him. It’s a stamina thing, as much as anything else, for a 14 year old to trying do that… it is an intense film, you know, he has to live it, really… and he did an amazing job.

He certainly did. I already mentioned the “mash-up of Donnie Darko and Phantasm” thing but another reference point that was going on in my head while I was watching the unfolding relationship between Max and Christopher Lloyd’s character was Hal Ashby’s Harold And Maude… was that on your mind when you were making it?

No, because to my shame, I haven’t seen it… another one that people have mentioned is George Romero’s Martin, which I haven’t seen either.

Yeah, I get that…

We had a bizarre range of films we talked about… we’re Irish, so we argue all the time, but River’s Edge was one we kept coming back to, the first non-Hollywood teenage film we’d seen, we kept coming back to that because of the sheer grimness of it. The other day I realised that a couple of my story boarded sequences weren’t consciously lifted from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but, you know… every time we talk about this we talk about a different film, primarily ‘70s and ‘80s stuff because they were our formative years. The book is a strange mix… it’s a high school movie, it’s a monster movie, it’s a psychological drama, there are so many genres in there and that has an effect on the films we thought about when we were conceiving it. I don’t think Donnie Darko came up much at that point, it was only after the fact that we thought more about that one.

How did you set about getting the rights to the book?

We got the rights in 2009…  a producer I know had hired a reader, Irene Ilias, whose job was to find projects for producers and directors… I only met her the once because she knew my agent, Michelle. I met her in the old Foyles Bookshop in Charring Cross Road for coffee for an hour or so and we talked about my favourite films… you know, growing up on a farm in Ireland you didn’t get to see many films so Brazil, Blade Runner and Mad Max were like my holy trinity. Then I went home, she went around the corner and found the book on a shelf as a paperback, which normally means forget it, because somebody else has the option by now, but in this case Dan Wells hadn’t sold the option yet. So I just wrote him a long letter and kind of poured my heart out, telling him what I fucking loved about this story. And he responded and we got the rights so that was straightforward… it was just the 6 years after that, trying to get it to the screen that was the difficult bit!

Have you met Wells?

Oh yeah, several times. He came to London shortly after that and I took him out. What do you for a writer from Utah, who’s obsessed with serial killers, when you first meet him? It was like a blind date kind of thing so we took him on the Jack The Ripper Walk in London and bingo, it was perfect, you know, he absolutely loved it, so that was great. He’s a great guy, Dan and he’s written six books now in the John Wayne Cleaver series which is remarkable. I sent him every script I did and he appreciated that, even if he didn’t agree with everything, because it’s so much different from the book but he appreciated that I sent them to him. He came out on location on the shoot for ten days and met everybody then we brought him to Austin for the premiere at the South By South West Festival and he did that thing of asking for a screener a week before he went. I know what he meant, he didn’t want to have to sit in a cinema with about 400 people or whatever and have his book destroyed, but I had to say to him: “You’re just gonna have to sweat it like everybody else, because there isn’t a screener, it won’t be finished in time.” He did come over and he loved it, you know and he after he came out we were all waiting in the lobby and he said: “Listen, I just want to say something to everybody here, that we had disagreements over the script but Billy was right, because the way he does it works in the film.”

Ah, that’s exactly what you want to hear, isn’t it?

Exactly… one of the things that he questioned from the word go was that we dropped the voice over, because the whole book is first person but when we took that out of it, you couldn’t predict what he was going to do in any scene…. and then Max’s amazing performance made it doubly that way, which was really cool. Dan actually said that when he read the voice over in the book he could see Max’s face, which is a lovely compliment. Also, the ending’s slightly different because in the book there is no funeral but what Chris Hyde and I realised was that there were no moments where Christopher Lloyd’s character, Crowley, realises that it’s Max who’d leaving the notes for him and has been tormenting him. It happens much later in the book, when he’s already transformed, we put in that scene so you’d have the two of them with their secret sitting beside each other and everybody around them not knowing anything. I thought there was a lovely symmetry around that, one of the my favourite bits is the exchange that Chris and I came up with, where Crowley says: “John, you attacked my wife!” and John replies: “You killed my therapist!” It’s almost like a showdown in a Sergio Leone Western!

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Fantastic… has Dan got any of this oddness about him personally, or is it the other cliche of a very straight, bourgeois writer who just has this warped imagination?

Well Dan is a Mormon, lives in Utah which is a real hotbed of Fantasy and Horror… his best mate’s Brandon Sanderson who’s one of the new York Times’ Top 10 Fantasy Writers, he writes all those really fat fantasy books, you know, Lord Of The Rings-type stuff and of course the really famous one is the Twilight author, whatever her name is…

Stephenie Meyer…

… Stephenie Meyer, right. No, Dan’s a lovely guy, wears an Indiana Jones hat that everybody jokes about but he’s a very sharp writer. He told me that he was talking to Sanderson about serial killing and his fascination with it and Sanderson said: “Well why don’t you write something about that, then?” He likes all of that and for me, I don’t have the same passion or interest in serial killers that he has. Chris Hyde and I did some Wiki research when we started writing this and it’s obviously real people who are affected by it, you know and we thought we won’t be able to bring any humour to it if we keep reading this stuff so we decided to leave all that to Dan, after all Dan wrote the book. There’s stuff in the book that is written so well but I didn’t go any further into it.

There’s an allusion in the script to John mistreating animals but you have to pretty much throw away that line because if you depicted it explicitly, there’d no way the audience could retain any kind of sympathy for him…

You’re addressing one of the biggest things about the film, which is getting that balance right. Early on in the process, when we weren’t fully settled on how we were going to adapt it, we met some other writers in London, quite a few of them very prestigious crime writers, of the top BBC / ITV crime things and they all got completely hung up on the serial killer side of things. One of them outlined a scene he wanted to do, kind of a garden shed scene where Max had made a torture contraption with a small animal on it and I told him nobody would ever have any sympathy for the main character if we did that, y’know? It’s just the tone and I had to remind people that John is 15 and it’s not a grown up serial killer’s story. One of the reviews the other day described it as: “The story of a serial killer hunting other serial killers” and I thought: “No, that’s not right because he’s not a serial killer, he’s a kid desperately trying not to be a killer.”

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They’re just getting carried away with the Dexter parallels, aren’t they?

Yeah, exactly… that’s been really boring, actually. I talked to Dan Wells about that the first time I met him, he was aware of it but he’d started writing his book a few years before the first Dexter book came out. Something he mentioned, which I didn’t know, was that halfway through the Dexter books… and I haven’t read any of them … Dexter hears voices and this is something that completely alienated the Dexter audience. Halfway through it be gets possessed by some sort of demon. That didn’t make its way into the TV series obviously but if you look at it, it’s amazing, the consequences of it are hilarious. This is one of the problems we had that Dan warned us about , that crime “fans”, if you like, are very pragmatic, they’re very logical and they want to know what solves the mystery and if you throw in the supernatural, you’re going into an area with no rules… and they absolutely hate this. So from the word go, when (and I’m trying to be careful and not give too much away, here)  the change happens in the book and the film it turns the world upside down, that was what I loved in the book, made me think we’re going into exciting areas here and yet for lot of people that was where it went off the rails, so… you just have to live with that, really.

You pays your money and you takes your choice…

Yeah, exactly.

I read somewhere that his collaboration with you actually inspired Dan Wells to revive the series…

Well, being pragmatic about it, he’d written a trilogy and now he’s gone back and written three more books… he probably already had the ideas to do that but I’m sure his publisher was encouraging him, saying: “Look this film is coming out, so …” I’m not saying he’s written them just for that reason, his ideas are too good for that but clearly it would have made sense to do that. Between the two trilogies, Harper signed him to do books in a dystopian Hunger Games type of series called Partials, so they didn’t come from Dan’s Mind but he wrote them and they’re massive books, became huge best sellers. Once he’d done those, I guess, he had kind of unfinished business with John Wayne Cleaver. When we met him, Chris Hyde and myself, that time in London, he hadn’t got a fully formed mythology about where the Crowley character came from and (again, being careful) by the time the film was made he had the whole mythology, where he’d come from, which would have been too expositional for us and way too deft for us, anyway.  I think audiences kind of lean forward and pay a bit more attention if they’re figuring something out, nobody wants the Lost situation where you realise by the end that nobody actually knew where they were going, that’s never the case here, but also you don’t want a character standing in the street saying to somebody: “Well, clearly the criminal here is…”, you know, those long explanations are so boring and alienate the audience really quickly. It’s about getting the balance right and we used to to talk about it a lot in editing, the editor Nick Emerson and me, about where is the audience in this very scene or this very frame… are they behind us, are they exactly with us or ahead of us? We constantly double checked, all the way through, to make sure they were slightly behind us or with us but never ahead of us, because if they’re ahead of you they get bored and then you’ve lost them.

Even Hitchcock got flack for that, didn’t he? There are people who think that the psychiatrist’s wrap-up at the end of Psycho is surplus to requirement…

Yeah, again he’d done so many great things that you can forgive him.

It works fine for me, I think it sets up Norman’s final nutty soliloquy but it does have its critics… are you gonna do any more John Wayne Cleaver films?

Never say never. There aren’t any plans afoot right now because obviously it isn’t automatically the kind of block buster that dictates further films but it wouldn’t be a great chore to do because the second book picks up a month after the close of the first one so you could certainly delve into it and it would be a genuine reason for doing a film, unlike the situation where you’ve killed off all your characters but everybody wants to to do it for the money. So there’s that and there’s the possibility to adapt it for television at some point because there’s a real wealth of material there. That remains a possibility but as I say, nothing right now.

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I don’t know where the character goes because I haven’t got round to reading the Wells books yet but I imagine part of the draw is that Friends kind of thing: “Ross and Rachel, will they get it together?” only it’s “John Wayne Cleaver… will he kill someone?”

That’s it! The second one definitely gets a lot darker, it’s a lot more straight horror than the first one but I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that the first one is about love… because that’s what Crowley is killing for, he needs to keep that body going because if he moves on to another one then he’ll be a different person and she won’t love him… in the second one the key isn’t about love but pain, so naturally that’s a lot darker and he’s hunting John so that’s a different and interesting thing… quite brilliantly written, I have to say and when you’ve gone all the way through the book… there’s so much in these kind of books that’s all about plot but with Dan it’s all about characters, he has such a knack of writing teenage dialogue and the relationships are fascinating… and quite funny, you know, that’s what I love about it.

The other angle in this creative constellation is your co-writer Christopher Hyde… from what I know about him, he sounds like a real Renaissance man.

He’s younger than me… we shared an agent and I didn’t want to take on adapting Dan’s book on my own. I write on my own all the time but this one, I just felt it would be really good to discuss it with somebody. It was a pain in the arse because Chris is from Barrow In Furness and I’m on Dartmoor so we chose to do, geographically, a really difficult thing. (laughs) So I pulled the old… “You’re a younger man than me, Chris and I’ve got a family so just hop on the bus and come down, it’ll only take you eight hours!” We just brain stormed… because I come from Irish culture I like to do things visually, get an A1 sheet of paper, put all the characters on it and draw lines between them and figure it all out.

Diagramatically…

Yeah, it was really good. Most of the work Chris did was the first couple of drafts and then I think I did a couple of my own, coming up to the shoot, but the back was really broken in those first couple of drafts. We had fun, a lot of fun and after that we adapted  three books and turned them into one film for Random House. I don’t know what’s happening with that, whether it will ever come to the screen, but it was another adaptation and the material wasn’t as good as Dan Wells’, so that’s problematic but in a way it gives you more freedom. With Dan we were always really careful, being aware that we didn’t want to kill off a character that could come back in a subsequent episode, you never know… but with the Random House thing that wouldn’t have been a problem, shall we say, so we had a lot more freedom with that. Anyway, we worked together just great…

I imagine you’ve got a lot of projects on the go, what are we most likely to see next?

There’s something I’ve been trying to get going for a little while… oh God, the pitch is “a folk musical with horror, black humour and cannibals, set on Dartmoor and based on a 19th Century book called Lorna Doone”… it’s kinda partly a Western as well, so I imagine financers will just banging my door down to get that one done! (laughs) It’s great fun and I never, ever intended to do a Musical but I’ve been listening to loads of contemporary film music while writing this and I’ve made it really darkly funny, more Delicatessen than Cannibal Holocaust, you know? it’s Delicatessen mixed with the Wicker Man and there’s a lot of folk music in it so it’s gonna be a balls to the wind Musical and let’s have a bit of craic with it. So I’m in the middle of that, let’s see what happens. I’ve got a couple of other projects because I can’t afford to spend all my time on one project so I‘ve got other things on the go as well. I’m always keeping my eye out for another good book or another good project out there.

I’d pay good money to see Lorna Doone with cannibals…

Good stuff, just you and me in the cinema, then! (Laughs)

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Christopher Lloyd… did you think you’d actually get him? And how was he?

He was kind of the opposite to Max in that it came quite late in the day. We were trying various actors and each financer had their favourites but once you get into the A List they’re all business and a lot of them aren’t interested in doing an independent film. So we hadn’t approached Christopher Lloyd directly but we’d been getting a bit jaded from getting rejections in general and then it turned out that Robbie Ryan, the cameraman, had been pouring his heart out to somebody and they said: “Give us the script, we’ll have a look and see if we can help” then they came back and said they’d given it to Christopher Lloyd. Less than a fortnight after that I got a call here in Devon from Christopher Lloyd in Santa Barbara. It was great, I was kind of tongue-tied to be honest and he’s also quite shy actually but when he was talking about the script you could almost sense that he had made pencil notes all the way through and it became an actor / director discussion, began to dawn on me that he wasn’t just thinking about it but was talking in a practical way about when we would do it. So he never actually said that but he was just a very practical professional, it was great. We discussed it for an hour and then yeah, he came on board and it was the character, Crowley… he said he hadn’t come across a character like that for a while and he liked it and that got his interest up. When we met him on location I got the sense that he wasn’t being offered such interesting stuff anymore and in a way this is a problem with the gatekeepers, l because if it’s a low budget film they’re naturally shying away from it because there’s not as much money involved. If any film makers are reading read this, the moral is never give up, try and get your stuff to them if you think it’s good enough.

This film is an object lesson in “never give up”, isn’t it?

Yeah but you have to have interesting stuff for them to do, you know… I think that on some of the independent films Christopher Lloyd did over the last couple of years, some of the directors were saying to him: “Just play Doc Brown” and that’s such a shame! So if you have interesting material for an actor that you think would get them excited, do whatever you can to get it to them because if you do, there’s a good chance they’ll say: “Wow, we haven’t been seeing stuff like this!” At that age, from getting into their ’60s on, they’re not going to be offered much of the good stuff and yet they’re still great actors, you know? We did approach Sam Shepherd, I remember, who I love, think he’s amazing, and he just said: “I’ve never done a monster film and I never will” and that was perfectly reasonable… and another one was John Hurt, who wrote us a lovely letter, which shows the class of these guys because some actors, of any age, you just never hear back from them. I can’t remember exactly what John Hurt said but the gist of it was: “My dear boy, at my age and in my state of health I’ve got no intention of being out on a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere!” (laughs) and it’s a joy to get a letter like that, we just roared laughing… you like him even more because its completely reasonable, you know?

I can see how IANASK would pique Lloyd’s attention because it’s so off the wall…

I can’t do straightforward horror films, I get bored when it’s like we’ve been here before, you know? I’ve said before that watching Brazil was like a formative experience in my film making life because… how do you categories what genre that is? I remember that my first film Isolation was described “a horror film”… I don’t remember the term “genre” being bandied about, as much as it is now, as a way of denigrating something. Everything’s become a lot more boxed and where  do you fit in the kind of wild, maverick directors that I like? I’ll watch Terrence Malick one night and then I’ll watch a great comedy the next, anything so long as it’s got a great story and is brilliantly acted. I hate the fact that things have got so compartmentalised. I did an interview for, I think it was a German student radio station, they asked me what my favourite film was and I told them Billy Wilder’s The Apartment…

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I’ve lost count of how many “horror directors” have cited that one to me…

Well, they literally stopped the tape and said: “Could we make it your favourite horror film?” For me it’s just gotta be great films, you know and The Apartment is one of the best direction jobs ever.

Steve Barker just enthused to me about that one… his film The Rezort is in a similar position to yours, in that it was held up but now it’s coming through strongly at festivals…

I’ve heard about that film but I don’t know a lot about it… is it a zombie film?

Yeah, it’s a very clever one that’s got a lot to say about the mess we’re in at the moment, it’s a satire and it’s interesting that these thoughtful films are coming through.

This is another thing about the ten years since I made Isolation… I made other films in the meantime but probably the two big festival films would be Isolation and this one… it’s so much harder now and you’d think it should be easier with social media and so on but the problem is that there’s so much more of everything so getting people’s attention isn’t easy. We’ve had great reviews and there seems to be a healthy buzz right now but none of us are expecting to have people queuing around the block to see the film, there’ll be half filled and empty cinemas this weekend because Rogue 1 and the others are spending a hundred million on advertising, it takes that to get people into the cinemas now because they’ve got so many other things on our minds than film, so many other ways to spend their time…

… and so many other ways to watch film…

… you get a flurry of comment on Facebook and Twitter and people say: “Oh good, finally I’ll be able to see this film” but it’s been on VOD for ages and people only wake up to it when it’s on Netflix… then, they think they can see it… I don’t get this, myself.

Nor me… I’m still a bit too attached to physical media but that’s my problem, I guess…

Well I’ve got a shelf about 8 foot long and 6 foot hight stuffed with DVDs and we were just going through them last night trying to pick a few to watch. I’ve got a projector, you know, I love watching things really big.

You can’t do that on a smart phone.

Exactly… that’s why I would prefer it… if I was Donald Trump, my first rule would be to make everybody watch everything in a cinema!

Yeah, forget about the fucking wall, Donald and get people back in the cinemas! Finally I just wonder if you could tell me something about your effects guy Toby Froud… he was the baby in Labyrinth, wasn’t he?

He was the baby in Labyrinth. His father Brian Froud, who lives two miles from where I’m sitting right now, designed all the amazing creatures in the worlds of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and his mum Wendy was one of the designers of Yoda from Star Wars so he comes from a high pedigree of puppetry… Toby now lives and works where Max comes from, that’s Portland in Oregon, sculpting on all these films like King Kong and The Boxtrolls. I’ve known Toby since I met his dad about ten years ago. He was still at school, I think. He’s a lovely kid and really talented. Another person on our crew, William Todd-Jones who has been an amazing puppeteer for years now on all the Henson stuff, introduced me to the Frouds and Todd worked very closely with Christopher Lloyd and Max on the film on location. I guess it was a couple of years ago that Toby designed the monster and Toby was up for it, he did it in his garage in Portland with three or four friends. It’s a puppet so he packed it in a suitcase and brought it over here to Devon. I had decided that it would be chaotic to try and do this in minus-20 in Minnesota in an actually morgue, so let’s do it my garage. During editing, I think it was in October, we brought Toby over and we flew Max over as well because Max really wanted to come and see the monster. So we had great fun in my garage for four days with a puppet monster and a green screen and Robby shot it as usual and it was great. Nick Ryan was very good at the compositing of that, obviously as a great director and producer he put it all together for us. So yeah, it was great and it’s got kind of a “home made” quality this film, from the 16mm we shot on to Adrian Johnstone doing all the music in his chapel, he did everything live while we projected it on a sheet on the altar in his chapel. We just kept the analogue feel because it’s a folk tale really and that kind of all fitted into it, not being a snazzy CGI kind of thing but home made and fairly clunky, I’ll be honest, because of our budget, but it’s a beautiful puppet and the whole film has a very interesting feel to it, you know?

It certainly does, I didn’t know anything about your film when I rolled up at Mayhem and I came out of it very impressed…

Thank you very much, it does seem to be emerging very much as one that people want to go back and watch a second time. When Delicatessen came out I was in film school in Dublin and I used to cycle there on my bike and I can remember cycling to the cinema to see that eight times because it absolutely blew me away. And I must admit… perhaps it’s age as well… that there are not to many films these days that I’d even go back to see a second time let alone eight times…

… there are plenty that I regret seeing even the once…

Yeah, me too but what I’m glad about is that quite a few people come up to me at festivals and say that they’re seeing our film for the second time and that they get so much more because… it’s a very rich film, there’s a lot going on and it is quite hard to take all of it in the first time so that’s very rewarding to hear.

That pleasure awaits me because I’ll certainly be seeing it a second time…

It’s all in the laps of the gods, now.

Well, the gods had better do their stuff because you guys certainly did…

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This was originally written for a long established mass circulation genre magazine which subsequently passed on it. The four star Sun review, Billy tells me, was also pulled. So much for the gods doing their stuff. Chris Cooke did his, though and I’d like to thank him for setting up the interview you just read.

Categories: Interviews | Leave a comment

“Let’s Have A Drink… It’s Margheriti Time!” The ANTONIO MARGHERITI Interview

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Almost as much as he enjoyed his participation in the wild and wonderful world of Italian exploitation cinema, David Warbeck enjoyed hooking up its exponents with those in the fan press who revered them more than all the Speilbergs, Scorseses and Coppolas of this world put together. It’s a bittersweet experience for me to remember the days when I’d answer the phone to find David urging me to hot foot it down to his Hampstead pile because some pasta paura luminary (e.g. Fabrizio De Angelis) was visiting him. Over the years I’ve become vague about the exact dates of some of these delightful days but one in particular is difficult to forget… there were lots of jittery-looking commuters on The Northern Line on 20/03/95, in the aftermath of media speculation over that morning’s nerve gas attack on the Tokyo Metro system and whether it foreshadowed wider chemical assaults on the world’s major transport hubs. Nevertheless…

It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Signor Margheriti… what have you been up to?

I’m talking to Terence Hill about doing a movie, which would be fantastic. I like Terence very much, and perhaps this will be the right vehicle for him to make a change. Terence and Bud Spencer made money In Germany with every movie they made, sometimes they were making movies just for the German market, because they were seen to be too old in the rest of the world. Now they are tired of what Terence did in the western, and this is my way of proposing something different for him, you know? He plays an expert in electronics… very smart, does crazy stuff, but mostly a genius in electronics, and apparently he dies in the middle of the picture… but his ghost, an electronic ghost, carries on through the rest of the picture. Only at the end do you realise he’s spent the last three days covered in rubble but still alive, so they put an electric plug in his body and give him a shock. The electronic ghost disappears and everybody starts to cry because they miss him, but it turns out he’s escaped from the hospital. It is a very funny story, maybe it is good for the new generation…

How is the Italian film production scene now… still very flat?

Yes, everything’s still very flat, and because Berlusconi became a political guy, he doesn’t have anything to do with film production anymore. TV Rai aren’t doing anything… they have a new woman president now, who is very good, but they aren’t doing anything in film production these days… and the Lire’s going down every day.

Even the Japanese economy is stalling these days…

… and the Americans. Everybody but the Germans. What we need is another war, then the world can start all over again… we have to kill people because there are too many of us! Maybe we will fight on the same side in the next war… I didn’t learn English until it was too late, because when I was younger we were enemies… Mussolini called you English “Perfidious Albion” (Laughs). I had to wait until after the war to learn, which was a pity, because now I have terrible English.

Oh, far from it… way better than my Italian, anyway. You’re still making movies, and I think you’re the only still-active director from what people now talk of as a “Golden Age” of Italian horror cinema. I mean, Riccardo Freda is still alive…

Yes, but he doesn’t work now. He’s in his 90’s, lives in Paris…

Were you aware at the time that you were working in this “Golden Age” of Italian popular cinema, or did this only become apparent to you in retrospect?

It’s a great memory, we had a lot of fun… but we didn’t have very big budgets! We had to improvise a lot for the special effects, and so on. I’m lucky, because I forget these things easily at my age – the arteriosclerosis wipes so much from your mind!

How do you remember working with Barbara Steele, Signor Margheriti?

What’s with this “Signor Margheriti”?

(David Warbeck interjects) John is a great admirer of yours, so he’s addressing you respectfully.

Well that’s very nice, but you must call me Tony… Barbara Steele? She was perhaps not a great actress, but she was a great presence. You sensed her presence. She was very good, and she was a real star… in my opinion, she was perfect for that kind of a picture. When she was on the screen she was the star of the picture, and she was a very nice lady, too. She did possibly the best picture of Mario Bava…

… Black Sunday?

Yes, La Maschera Del Demonio, a very beautiful picture I think. That is the best picture of that era…

Your picture The Long Hair Of Death has a similar storyline, and also stars Barbara Steele…

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Yes, Barbara Steele and a Polish girl who’s killed at the beginning of the film but comes back. That was a different kind of picture, they wanted to do more of a historical picture with horror elements … I don’t know if that was the right idea. It’s not a bad picture, but it’s not Danza Macabre – that’s a ten times better picture!

Did Sergio Corbucci work with you on Danza Macabre, as is mentioned in some reference works?

Sergio Corbucci prepared  Danza Macabre. He wanted to do that picture but later he gave it to me, and I gave him another picture on another occasion. We were very close friends, Sergio and I. We’d do one picture with me directing one part, him directing another, and he’d sign it, then another the other way round. The whole period was fun. Sergio did all the Toto pictures, maybe 30 or 35. Sergio is dead, 5 years ago he died, and he’s still made more pictures than me, because with Toto he did one picture every 15 days, editing too because it was direct sound, maybe ten pictures in one year.

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You later remade Danza Macabre (as Web Of The Spider)…

Eleven years later, we were given the opportunity to redo it in colour, with better actors – Klaus Kinski, Tony Franciosa, Michelle Mercier instead of Barbara – which turned out to be a mistake. It was an interesting experience, but didn’t bear much comparison to the first one, in my opinion. Danza Macabre was the first picture at that time, to my knowledge, to talk about lesbianism, and it was so well done, so sensitively handled, that even the terrible censors we had at that time in Italy – guys who used to put on mask and then take an axe to your film (laughs) – didn’t cut a single frame. That element was so important to the story that it was impossible to take it out. They cut just one little bit in the beginning where she made love with the gardener. And the rest of the picture in my opinion was very well done … sometimes you do good pictures, you know, the whole combination of actors, the crew, the script, the right moment and it all comes together – we made that picture in just two weeks, with one day’s special effects with the dead people who become alive in their tombs… a nice picture but not too much work. Everybody did what they had to do and the picture was finished before schedule – why shoot more?

So why remake it?

Well, the producer was so pleased with that picture that after 11 years he wanted to do it again, imagine, with Cinemascope, colour, stereophonic sound, with American, German and French actors, you know … put it all together. It was different you know, completely different, though the script was exactly the same. George Riviere was very good in the first one, Tony Franciosa did a little too much in the second one. Michelle Mercier was very beautiful, she played “Angelica” for years, you remember, but she was no Barbara Steele. She was a beautiful woman from this planet, whereas I always got the idea that Barbara was from some other planet! She had the… I’ve done so many pictures, and I think I can say that when she understood a scene, when she was into a scene 100%, she was perfect. Maybe she was not as great an actress, but she was definitely a star, and absolutely perfect for that kind of picture. In Bava’s film she was great, that was more of a fantasy picture… you remember the scene with the coach at the beginning? Mario’s best picture, together with one science fiction picture he did in this period…

Planet Of The Vampires?

Terrore Nello Spazio – I think that’s the one I meant, yes …

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Didn’t you take over the picture Nude… Si Muore aka The Young, The Evil And The Savage, from Bava?

Nude… Si Muore is an English script from a group called Woolner Bros, and they wanted to do the picture with Mario… it wasn’t a horror picture, just a suspense picture set in a college. It would have been a good subject for a Dario Argento picture, in fact it’s like a Dario Argento picture ten years before Argento started to make movies! Mario didn’t do the picture, I don’t remember why, he was probably working on something else, but because I had done these pictures with the Woolners, we had a company in America together under my name and theirs, and we made the decision to do that picture. I cast Mark Damon and many English actors and actresses, because I came over here to do it. We had a 30 year-old lady to play the part of a 16 year-old schoolgirl… she was so beautiful when I saw her in a stage show in London. They said it is not possible to make her up as a schoolgirl but we got away with it. Very funny actress, I saw her in something like vaudeville, unbelievable stuff. But that was a suspense rather than a horror picture… (looks up her name) Sally Smith… Leonora Brown was the girl who played with Sophia Loren in Two Women, she was the young girl who was raped, you remember? Alan Collins… you know I counted up, and I’ve made 18 pictures with Alan Collins, “the Italian Peter Lorre” as they call him. “Alan Collins”, who is really Luciano Pigozzi, is the actor I’ve used more than any other, he is like my invention, you know?

You also had Michael Rennie in that picture…

Michael Rennie was … Michael Rennie! (Laughs) He had suffered a heart attack about a year before we shot that picture. Every time we had to shoot a scene with some action, he would come to me and say: “Tony, what do you think? Maybe we could have Franco come in with all the policemen running and I arrive later and have a look…” What he meant was: “Don’t make me run, I don’t want to die!” (Laughs) A terrible story. He would open the door and step out before you could tell him to jump out, because he was really  sick, you know?

Your other giallo was 7 Deaths In The Cat’s Eye

…with Jane Birkin…

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… and Serge Gainsbourg.

It was a suspense picture, a story in a castle, good story. Venantino Venantini was dressed as a priest, it was only revealed at the end that he was the killer. That was quite a nice picture, with Hiram Keller (the American actor who was in Fellini Satyricon)… Anton Diffring… they were all very good, I have a very good memory of that picture.

Was it because it was a French co-production that you had Gainsbourg and Birkin?

Well, it was a French co-production, but Jane was very hot at that moment in America too. Alan Collins was in there again, of course. In my opinion it was a good picture… not so successful in Italy, but it did very well in France and not bad in America. When we started with that picture the producer wanted a suspense film but also he wanted horror, and he wanted me to do something elegant, not crude. There is a violent murder at the start, but the rest of it was really quite stylish, with the set, the scenes at the dinner, etc… not Visconti, but it was very well done, elegant, and it turned out very well for that producer because he made a lot of money from it in France, but under a very strange title: Les Diabeleusses (“Two Devil Women”), which is nothing to do with what was in the picture!

What was Klaus Kinski like to work with?

Together with Werner Herzog, I think I’m the director who made more pictures with Kinski than anyone.  I did six pictures with him and in the first one I shot him with a Winchester, in the second one I tried to poison him, in the third I tried to kill him another way, because he was so infuriating, but I must respect the memory of him, he was wonderful, the  most talented actor I ever used in my life… completely crazy, of course, but a fine actor. Nobody believes me when I tell them how beautiful the crazy Klaus Kinski looked when he was young, but look at this photo I’ve got of him… it’s from my first picture with him (And God Said To Cain…), a suspense picture with a mysterious American arriving in a western town one night and killing six people during the course of that night, but each time in an intriguing way. He shot down a bell to kill Alan Collins, for example…

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… another good picture I made with Alan Collins was The Unnaturals in London, with terrible weather and the characters have to stop at a castle. Inside is Alan Collins with his terribly old mother, a German actress and during that night, obviously full of lightning (acts out the sound effect), they start to do a seance – is that the right word? During this seance there are murders and we start to realise that everything we are seeing has happened before and will happen again, these people are already dead… a very strange picture, very nice and very well done, with a very good German actress, Marianna Koch… Joachim Fuchsberger was very good in it too… Claudio Camaso, who was the brother of Gian Maria Volonte, one of the very best actors, who died a few months ago..

Gian Maria Volonte died ?!? Good grief, it didn’t even get a mention in the press over here!

Yes, they had nearly finished a picture when he died. It’s has just opened, a crazy picture about a dictator…

Like yourself, Volonte worked with Sergio Leone …

In the first Dollars movie, yes …

What are your memories of Leone?

Very good! To me there is no question, he was a genius. He did really fantastic films. I particularly like the last picture he did, Once Upon A Time In America, unfortunately they sold the film to the Alan Ladd company in America… I can’t understand their decision to cut out so much of it. They said the picture was too long. Remember when Bertolucci did 1900, he made it in two parts because the audience would not sit down for five hours to watch a picture? That was a big mistake, because if they’d shown it with two big intermissions, with music, it would have been a great spectacle, like Napoleon by Abel Gance.

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The Americans also cut down Leone’s Duck, You Sucker!, on which you worked…

Yes, it’s very difficult to please everybody. If you try to do that, you please nobody, so really you must have your audience in mind when making a picture, then everything is possible, it might catch on in other markets. But if you do the picture and you have an adventure story with a revolution, and great special effects also, it’s maybe too much, that was perhaps Sergio’s mistake.

You were responsible for all the miniature work on that film…

Yes, all the stuff with the train. Only when the actors go into the train is it full size, all the rest is miniatures, and I insisted to Sergio that it be like that… he didn’t want it, but I made him understand. When you see the train for the first time, almost in the middle of the picture (makes train sound effects), the light coming towards you in a long shot, then you see the miniature. From this moment, every time you see the train, that’s what your frame of reference is, and then when at the last moment the locomotive goes against the other train, everybody’s expecting to see the join, because normally you would change photography, everything, but here nothing’s happened, because it was the same. For more than one hour in the picture, you’ve been seeing this miniature. In my opinion that’s the only sensible way to do this, because you don’t have the big change, you don’t see the join, and this increases the impact.

Your colleague Alberto De Martino also did some work on Duck, You Sucker!!

He was shooting second unit in the last battle, because they were over schedule and Sergio was also the producer, with many other things to do, so Alberto had to finish it: all the adventure after the explosion of the train, the train on fire, when he takes the machine gun and starts shooting, all the fight… that sequence was all Alberto, but Sergio’s personality was so strong that Alberto shot exactly what he wanted anyway, and even if they hadn’t, Sergio would just have cut it out. I shot more footage on that picture, just to do the train, than I would have shot for the whole of one of my own pictures. There was so much material to edit, and unfortunately when I saw the finished film later that year, I realised that some very good special effects stuff I shot had not made it into the picture, like big close-ups of the train wheels, etc.

You say Leone was a perfectionist who shot a lot of footage… is it true that you also worked with another perfectionist – Stanley Kubrick – on 2001?

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No, I was over there at this time to see the president of International Metro… previously I had made a package of four science fiction pictures for Metro one of which – Wild, Wild Planet (above) – was very successful. Everyone was so happy about my little picture that they wanted me to work on 2001. But it was two completely different film worlds, you know? One was all about perfection, professionalism, whereas mine is about coming up with something at the last moment, because otherwise I’m going to kill myself, you know (laughs and mimes pointing gun to head)… So for one reason that was a good idea, otherwise no. I was talking to them in London, in Los Angeles… it was very good for me anyway because I got to know the English effects guy who also directed Silent Running … what was his name?

Doug Trumbull…

Doug, yes, he had the idea to use just one light in space, which was the key to the success of that kind of special effect… anyway, I was in America waiting to hear abut 2001, until somebody offered me work on another picture and I said to the 2001 people: “Sorry, I’ve got to work”. I like to keep working, you know?

Is it true that in 1966 you actually directed the film Spara Forte, Piu Forte… Non Capisco (Shoot Loud, Louder… I Don’t Understand), which is usually credited to Eduardo De Filippo?

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I directed much of that picture, yes, with Marcello Mastroianni  and Raquel Welch. Raquel was very young then, and so beautiful… I had to shoot a dream sequence with her naked beneath some netting, but it didn’t end up in the picture because I just couldn’t shoot it. Everyone said: “Oh never mind Antonio, the back projection was wrong”, “this was wrong”, “that was wrong” or whatever, but I think the truth was just that, for some reason, I couldn’t keep my mind on my work that day! (Laughs)

Another couple of films you worked on with another director were the Andy Warhol pictures Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula: there’s a lot of confusion about who actually directed what on those pictures…

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The thing is, they were ready to do the picture… Carlo was very scared because originally they wanted to do both in 3D, and… Andy Warhol was a genius, yes, and Paul Morrissey was a very intelligent man, but he had previously directed movies like Flesh, pictures like that with no technique at all, no chance to get something coming from out of the screen at the audience. Carlo was very scared that things wouldn’t work out, so he worked a kind of blackmail on me, he said: “Tony, you want to make that picture in Australia? If so, you have to make this picture for me. You have to be with them before you can shoot the other picture”. But it was a great human experience for me on that shoot… in the beginning I was kind of a supervisor, but as it went on I was doing more and more because we had to shoot a lot of sequences with special effects and I took care of all that. When the first edit of the first picture, Flesh For Frankenstein, was finished, Carl said: “But What’s happening with the kids? You have to take care of that”. So I wrote a new story about the kids, and later I shot all the stuff at the beginning of the picture with the spider and them playing with the hand, and so on. We put more story in and with the two kids I had a chance to bring it all together and do more special effects and stuff. It was just friendly – I got my money for sure – but it was an informal thing, not to be creative. Carlo needed the picture to have an Italian nationality, which was impossible with that picture – there was Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey from America, Udo Kier from Yugoslavia (Germany actually – BF)… not one Italian, with the exception of “Anthony Dawson” (Laughs). But Carlo says: “No, I want it to be an Italian picture”, so I signed it for Italy and some parts of the world, and Morrissey said to me: “Do you want the credit as director everywhere else?” I said: “No, open with your name in America”… in the rest of the world they think it was mine, but in America it was Paul Morrissey’s and I have another credit. But it was a very funny adventure because they didn’t have a script, just 14 pages of what was to happen, and they made decisions with the actors what the dialogue would be, re-writing the script all night for the next day. That was another bad idea, because they left out so much good stuff…. hey, what do you call that thing in David’s garden?

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It’s a squirrel, Tony…

Squirrel? Squirrels are beautiful – when they are fried, ha ha! But those films were a great experience for me, lots of fun, and Carlo kept his word – as soon as we finished that I got to make the other picture.

Which was Hercules Vs Kung Fu… with that one and pictures like The Stranger And The Gunfighter, you were one of the first to mix western and oriental cinema in a manner that is now very much in vogue…

Well, that was more down to Carlo Ponti than me, that was how he wanted to go, and I was just doing it for the money, you know? The Stranger And The Gunfighter was originally entitled Blood Money, it was a fun film to make, a nice script and beautifully shot, with a lot of Chinese locations in the second half. Columbia did OK with it in the US, so I made another picture with them.

You’ve made so many movies with our host, David Warbeck

I first saw him in Duck, You Sucker!, you remember he is the IRA man who betrays James Coburn, and I said: “What a fantastic face! I must have that face in my movies”… so we talked and then we made our first film together, The Last Hunter, also known as The Deer Hunter Part 2…

With John Steiner…

John, yes… he’s in real estate in LA now. I was there last week and I wanted to see him, but it was not possible because I had to go off to St Louis. I was trying to find his number, but all those people had to change numbers when the big fire destroyed much of LA last year… some of them became millionaires because they had a very good insurance arrangement! Richard Harrison owned three villas in Malibu, completely destroyed, and many people I knew lost their house because it was such a terrible fire.

Harrison’s the guy who turned down the Clint Eastwood role in A Fistful Of Dollars…

I don’t know if that’s true or just a story, but he was always saying: “Sergio offered me A Fistful Of Dollars but I said no, I’ll do Giant Of Rome with Tony because it’s more secure.” He was always telling me that story but in my opinion when we were making Giant Of Rome, Fistful Of Dollars was already done. I think I did Danza Macabra just before Giant Of Rome, and Danza Macabre had its opening at SuperCinema, I think, a few months after the opening of Fistful Of Dollars. Maybe I’m wrong… but no, I’m quite sure. Anyway, you know, all actors and directors have some sad tale to tell. It’s a part of the fantasy of our work – if you take out all the fantasy then you’re just left with the truth… with shit, you know!

Is it true that you gave Ruggero Deodato his chance to direct?

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I was working on so many movies simultaneously at that time, and Ruggero was my assistant director. I wanted to concentrate on shooting Giant Of Rome with Richard Harrison, so I let Ruggero take over Ursis, Il Terrore Dei Kirghisi, but he experienced a kind of crisis and I had to return and help him out. So I was shooting Giant Of Rome during the day, then I would take a shower, go to Cinecitta to shoot the other one, work till 2 AM, then a few hours later it was time to start on the other one. And I did that for two weeks… I understood, because Ruggero had really been thrown in at the deep end, and you know he was the only assistant I had in my career – and I’ve had many – who was very good. He understood things, picked up what you told him immediately, and in my opinion as well as being a very nice, charming person, he’s a good director, technically one of the best, though he hasn’t been lucky in his career.

As a boxing buff, I’m really interested to hear how you found working with Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the Indio films…

Very good – the first picture wasn’t too good though, because he had only a small part and also he was working with Brian Dennehey, who is a great actor, and he hit him!  Dennehey’s a great actor, also on the stage, but poor Marvin the boxer, who arrived for the first time on a film set after doing just a coca-cola commercial…  but he resisted, he didn’t fall over. Marvin says his secret is that, although he isn’t very tall, he had very big feet, so when you hit him, he doesn’t fall over! (Laughs) But Brian hit him, and he didn’t have much to do in the first picture, but the producer gave him the chance to do the sequel, and when he got the chance to act he was very good, so he will be the partner of Terence Hill in this new picture I’m going to do, a black / white, salt’n’pepper teaming. I think it will work because he’s such a strange guy, Marvin, so weird, and he’s not bad… did you see the tape of Indio 2? He did quite well. Sure, he’s not an actor but he’s not a boxer who has problems after the boxing… his mind is straight, perfect, you don’t get many like that. He destroyed a lot of people. I remember when I saw him the first time he had this little beard, you know, to look tough. I go to meet him in the Manila hotel because I didn’t have time to meet him in America. The first thing I said to him was, I think you should shave the beard and he was so angry he became white, if that is possible (laughs). I don’t know what is wrong with this man, he looked at me like I was crazy, like he wanted to kill me, and later he started thinking about it, and he said: “Maybe”.. I said: “What do you mean, maybe? You  have to do it!” (Laughs) I risked my life! The production manager, an Italian guy, was very tall, and all the way through this exchange with me and Marvin, he was getting shorter and shorter! (Laughs) So funny… that was our introduction. The same thing happened when I met the other black guy who killed loads of people …

Tony King?

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That Raquel Welch gets everywhere these days…

No, Tony King was an angel, he never killed anybody…. it was Jim Brown (above), who I had acting in a Western. One day I was in a canyon with him and the other guy, Big Fred Williamson (a very nice guy), and I said to Jim that he was to say to Fred: “Cover me” or something, while he ran to his place… so Jim comes to me, with all the production people and crew behind me, and he says: “Tony – I don’t like that.” I said to him: “You have to do that, because the story is that you run over there and get a machine gun and kill your opponents – that’s all in the script”, and he said: “OK, we’ll shoot it, but tonight we must discuss it.” And I said: “Let’s discuss it now – what’s the point of shooting it, if we’re not going to use it?” Anyway, he started making these noises like he was really angry, came over to talk to me and I turned round to get a chair for him… and everybody was gone, including the producer –  they had all run away! Why? Because in the picture before, 100 Rifles, somebody said he had thrown his girlfriend through a window, so everybody was very scared of him, and if you see him, so big… but he’s also very clever and one of the best chess players ever, unbelievable! When I turned I started to laugh because nobody was there and that was the moment, it eased the tension, so we discussed it there and I convinced him, he said OK, OK. Only then would they all came back. From that night on, every night we would sit in the hotel discussing everything, but very nice to be with him.  Afterwards, after the picture opened and everything, a friend of mine was in a party and somebody introduced Jim to him and he said: “I am a friend of Antonio”, and there was a long moment’s silence – suspense (laughs) – and Jim said: “He’s really a man”… from him that was the greatest compliment ever. I liked Jim very much, but unfortunately he was not lucky, had some problems to do with the Black Panthers, he kind of disappeared… I saw him recently on television in the States, it was about the player who killed his wife…

O.J. …

O.J., yes, and they went to Jim’s house and interviewed him about the case –  he was fat with white hair, very sad to see him.

I recently discussed a lot of these movies with Quentin Tarantino… I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but he’s a big fan of yours, collects everything you’ve ever done on video…

Why would he want to collect all these terrible movies? (Laughs) I’m lucky, because at my age, the arteriosclerosis has wiped most of them from your memory… hey, maybe he could get me a copy of Danza Macabre… that one’s very hard to find, you know. But I’ve made some terrible pictures, like Yor in Turkey with prehistorical animals, a very stupid picture though it did very well, in fact it’s probably my most successful…

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… and this one (he’s signing my Japanese programme for Cannibal Apocalypse – BF)… not a great picture, but that boy Lombardo Radice was a good actor… I sometimes do pictures, when I need the money, where I just read the agreement and not the script, I say: “OK, that will be a very beautiful picture” and afterwards maybe I am ashamed, but I keep working. You do it because you want the house in town, you want the house in the country, you want this, that, maybe a beautiful girl… whatever you want, everything costs a lot of money, and that’s the reason why I’ve made 70 pictures! People ask me: “Why so many pictures?”, I say: “Because I want money… and I’m not about to rob a bank or anything!”

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A Duodenum In Your Lap… Who really Directed FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA?

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It really should be a question in trivial pursuit: “Who directed the notorious ‘video nasty’ Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and its companion piece Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1973)?” It sure as hell wasn’t Andy Warhol… after being shot by Valerie Solanas, one of his own more deranged acolytes in the ’60s, the late socialite and soup tin painter turned over filmmaking duties at his Factory to Paul Morrissey, whose subsequent lowlife epics Trash (1970) Bad (1971) and (Heat) 1973 prove that there’s nothing new under the sun (or in Trainspotting…)

Actually Morrissey takes great exception when Warhol’s name is appended to the titles of this splattery, blackly comic brace shot in the same year as Hammer’s gory Frankenstein swan song Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, a year before Mel Brooks’ riotous Young Frankenstein and pitched somewhere in tone between those two. In Italy, where the films were produced back-to-back by Carlo Ponti, they were dubbed Il Mostro E In Tavola… Barone Frankenstein (“The Monster Is On The Table… Baron Frankenstein”) and – nicely encapsulating the second film’s rudimentary plot – Dracula Cerca Sangue Di Vergine E Mori Di Sete (“Dracula, In Need Of Virgins’ Blood, Dies Of Thirst.”)

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Morrissey prefers the titles Fresh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula, with the former’s obvious echo of his earlier underground efforts

Warhol’s “executive producer” credit was merely designed to gain the films some additional attention and notoriety, as if they needed any, bearing in mind their outrageous content. “Bryanston thought it would help bringing in an audience, which is ludicrous since his name was on plenty of movies that nobody went to see.” Morrissey later bitched to Tom Rainone in the pages of Fangoria: “He had no connection with the films until he saw them at the premiere” (Warhol has admitted elsewhere that the extent of his participation in these films was “to go to the parties.”)

“Not only did Andy Warhol not make (them), he couldn’t have made (them)” continued Morrissey: “he had trouble finding his way home without somebody helping him!” The incensed director cited “moron journalists who don’t bother to read the credits” to Rainone as the culprits for perpetuating the myth of Warhol’s “hands-on” role in these films but what really pisses him off is the way that he believes these “moron journalists” have misattributed “his” films to veteran Italian exploitation nabob Antonio Margheriti.

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The prints of both films that were originally released in English-speaking territories (and later emerged on video in them) credited Morrissey as director. On Italian prints, though, Margheriti received the credit. Nobody actually seemed to notice this disparity until Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Film Encyclopaedia came out in 1986. Hardy’s reflection on this rum turn-up suggested that the presence of a native director at the helm was more likely to put bums on seats in each market (though in Italy it hasn’t worked this way since Ricardo Freda initiated the practice of spaghetti directors awarding themselves evermore outlandish “American sounding” names)… which still begs the question, who actually directed these movies?

Credence is lent to the Margheriti theory by the simplistic brand of Marxism peddled in Blood For Dracula, which makes a meal of the obvious parallels that can be drawn between vampirism and capitalism and sits uncomfortably with the bellicose right-wing utterances we are more used to hearing from Morrissey. There’s also a pre-echo of Margheriti’s subsequence participation (with the likes of Cannibal Apocalypse and The Last Hunter) in the explosion of graphically gory efforts in Italy during the late ’70s and early ’80s, which suggests that he would have been quiet at home among the severed limbs and unfurling intestines of the “Warhol” films…

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Admittedly Morrissey could’ve been merely lampooning gore films (as in the spoof “Exorcist” sequence in his next picture, the uproarious Pete’n’Dud vehicle Hound Of The Baskervilles, 1978) and using Marxist rhetoric ironically, although irony isn’t a trait you immediately attribute to the man who allegedly once ranted: “Trash is called Trash because the people in it are trash!” Then again, anyone who could leave so crude an actor as Joe D’Alessandro to improvise his own dialogue must have some sense of humour!

Hardy answers the big question by coming right out and identifying Margheriti as the director of these films, crediting Morrissey with “a vague ‘supervisory’ function” and adding, somewhat condescendingly, that “there is little to choose between a declining Margheriti and a Morrissey graduating into crass commercialism.”

The view that has more generally prevailed, which stands that account on its head, is summed up during Luca Palmerini’s interview with Margheriti in his excellent Spaghetti Nightmares tome: “I supervised both and on Flesh For Frankenstein I had to shoot various supplementary scenes in order to bring the film up to the standard length.”

Morrissey however has always vigorously refused to acknowledge anything but the most menial contribution by Margheriti to “his” films. He told Canadian journalist Eric Sulev that: “Producer Carlo Ponti required an entire Italian crew to be eligible for tax write-offs. Margheriti, whose sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper in Flesh For Frankenstein, was given the director’s credit by Ponti.  The Italian tax-men were not so easily fooled and these modifications led to Ponti and his wife Sophia Loren being charged with tax evasion. Ponti has not been able to live in Italy since” (and Loren served a brief stretch at The Big House in 1982- BF.)

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“Morrissey himself doesn’t hold a grudge against Margheriti…” stated Sulev “… since he was only a pawn in the matter.” Why, indeed should Morrissey hold a grudge against Margheriti when presumably he had been equally happy to go along with the whole scam?

Margheriti himself, talking to me in March 1995, recalled the arrangements for FFF in equally affable term: “It was all done on a friendly basis – I got my money, for sure, but it was an informal thing, not to be creative. Carlo needed the picture to have an Italian nationality, which was impossible with that picture… there was Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey from America, Udio Kier are from Yugoslavia (Germany, actually – BF) “… not one Italian, with the exception of me… ‘Anthony Dawson!’… but Carlo says: ‘No, I want it to be an Italian picture so I signed it for Italy and some parts of the world and Morrissey asked me if I wanted the credit as a director everywhere else too, but and I said no, that they should open the film with his name in America.”

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Unfortunately the mercurial Morrissey’s once equally benign attitude towards Margheriti didn’t last. As he told Rainone in Fangoria: “I was good-natured about it then but now all these dopey magazines are coming out and saying he directed it, after he worked one or two days on the picture. It’s criminal that this man is receiving credit for this. This loser directed hundreds of films in Italy, none of which are of any merit…” (untrue… even Margheriti’s lamest flicks are infinitely more entertaining than a dozen Trash, Bad or Heats…)

In the second Video Watchdog special, Udo Kier, who took the title roles in both movies, told David Del Valle that “the director was Paul Morrissey. Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end. Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors. Never!” In Fango he reaffirmed to Rainone that “Morrissey directed the pictures… certainly all the scenes with myself and that’s all I know.”

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There, in the last four words, lies the rub. Kier only knew that he had been directed by Morrissey but another of the Flesh For Frankenstein thesps, Nicoletta Elmi, told ace Italian genre journo Loris Curci in Fangoria # 150 that: “Antonio Margheriti was the director, although he really stepped in when the film was in the middle of production. He was the one appointed to instruct the actors and the one responsible for all of the special effects. I don’t recall ever meeting Paul Morrissey and if I did, then I just don’t remember anything about him.” Elmi has been awarded the epithets “ruby maned brat” by Travis Crawford in Giallo Pages and “Italian horror cinema’s original enigmatic kill baby” (by me, just now) but surely, Mr Morrissey, she can’t be dismissed as just another “moron journalist” from “a dopey magazine”?

Morrissey might think it “criminal” that “this man” should receive credit for directing “his” films, but in fact the rather more gentlemanly Margheriti (who invariably speaks respectfully of his American counterpart) has never claimed a sole directing credit for either of them, merely insisting – as seems eminently reasonable – that he and Morrissey each handled parts of them (as seems to be borne out by the recollections of Kier and Elmi, concerning their respective participations in these pictures.)

There’s hard, all too palpable physical evidence of Margheriti’s collaboration on Flesh For Frankenstein in the shape of Carlo Rambaldi’s pulsating heart-and-lungs prop, previously seen in Margheriti’s I Criminale Delle Galassia / The Wild, Wild Planet (1964.)

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As he told Peter Blumenstock in Video Watchdog # 28: “Those weird images, which gave the film its bizarre flavour, such as the breathing, disembodied lungs, came from me. I shot a lot of the special effects scenes with the blood and intestines bursting in the direction of the audience”, before revealing literal evidence of his, er, hand in the proceedings: “You can actually see me in Frankenstein, when the male zombie destroys himself at the end and rips his intestines out… those are my hands! I have a stiff finger which I broke when I was young, which is kind of like a signature. I prepared and staged that effect.”

Morrissey’s explanation of this (“The animal guts smelled so bad, I didn’t want to shoot them… so I left that to him”) smacks of an ill-tempered attempt to put a self-serving twist on the plain fact of Morrissey’s superiority as a technical director and FX expert.

Indeed, as Morrissey admitted to Paul Talbot in Video Watchdog # 28, presumably in an unguarded moment: “Roman Polanski told Carlo Ponti that I, for some reason, would be a natural person to make a 3-D film about Frankenstein… I thought it was the most absurd offer I could ever imagine!”

Elsewhere in that issue Margheriti explained to Peter Blumenstock that “when Paul Morrissey came to Rome to start with Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein they arrived with four pages of script and they wanted to shoot 3-D picture the way they had done with movies like Flesh with the camera standing in one corner, running for 10 minutes without a cut and that’s it… not the best idea when using a technique such as 3-D.”

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At yet another point in this issue of VW, Margheriti revealed that the 3-D process Spacevision, used in Frankenstein “caused some problems with the Technicolor” that he was required to fix. “Carlo Ponti is a real producer and he wasn’t interested in backing an underground film.” Margheriti also suggested that, bearing in mind Morrissey’s avant-garde background, “Carlo was afraid the films would be far too short to be commercial.”

All of this squares with what Margheriti told me personally, i.e. “Carlo was worried about all of these considerations so he worked a kind of blackmail me, he said: ‘Tony you make that picture in Australia we talked about? If so, you have to be with the Morrissey shoot first’.”

“The picture in Australia” to which Margheriti refers was the insufferable Hercules Against Kung Fu which Margheriti made later in 1973, rounding out a typically busy year which also saw, in his in addition to his work on the Warhol brace, the entertaining gothique giallo Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eye.

“At the beginning I was kind of a supervisor but as it went on I was doing more and more because we had to shoot a lot of sequences with special effects and I handled all those then, when he was watching the first cut of Flesh for Frankenstein, Carlo said: “… but what’s happening with the kids? You have to take care of that, Tony.”

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So I wrote a new story about the kids and later I shot all the stuff at the beginning of the picture with the spider and them playing with the hand and so on (thus Kier remembers Morrissey as director while the Elmi kid recalls Margheriti) “… we put more story in and with the two kids I had a chance to bring everything together and do more special effects.”

Contrast Margheriti’s consistent, coherent accounts of what he did with Morrissey’s varying accounts. He told Video Watchdog that “Margheriti did two second units, one day for each film”, Killbaby magazine that “his sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper” and Fango that “Margheriti worked a second unit director on Frankenstein, shooting the title sequence, the bat attack and close-ups of animal guts.”

Margheriti freely concedes that he played a minimal part in the shooting of Blood For Dracula because the measurements of its sets ruled out use of the technically difficult 3-D process and in his words to Peter Blumenstock: “That was much more organised because after Frankenstein Carlo Ponti convinced Morrissey to write a real screenplay and not just treatment. That was fun. I did some scenes with Vittorio De Sica and the ex-wife of Ruggero Deodato, Silvia Dionisio…”

I’m also loath to believe that the genial, self-deprecating moderating Margheriti (when I told him that Quentin Tarantino collected his work on video, Margheriti expressed himself mystified that anybody would want to collect “all those rubbishy movies!”) would refute the widespread notion that he had worked on a prestige production like 2001: A Space Odyssey, only to claim credits he didn’t deserve on these relatively obscure movies… in fact they are so obscure that Roman Polanski felt confident enough to recreate a parlour trick he pulls during his Blood For Dracula cameo in his own Bitter Moon.

In conclusion it would seem that Antonio Margheriti deserves a significant amount of credit for the direction of portions of Flesh For Frankenstein and somewhat less for Blood For Dracula. Stick that in your gallbladder and.. well, you know what to do with it, Mr Morrissey!

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Je Te Tue … Moi Non Plus! 7 DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE Reviewed

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BD. Region B.  88 Films. 15.

1973  was an especially busy year for prolific journeyman Antonio Margheriti, during which he contributed to the direction of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dracula brace (officially credited to Paul Morrissey) and still found time to knock out the risible Hercules Vs Kung Fu… also the item under consideration here. Prolific as he was, this is just Margheriti’s second and, it turned out, final giallo, one which owes more to Mario Bava’s (and indeed Margheriti’s own) gothique efforts than it does to, e.g. Blood and Black Lace (1964.) If anything, it’s a less florid variation on Bava’s Lisa And The Devil (which was made and promptly buried in the same year.) 7DITCE opens with the same “body in the box in the cellar” McGuffin as Margheriti’s only other Italian slasher, Nude… Si Muore / School Girl Killer / The Young The Evil And The Savage (1968.) Once that body has been secreted in the cellar of Drakenstein Castle, no less, young heiress Corringa MacGrieff (Jane Birkin, looking particularly succulent but conspicuously dubbed) turns up at the very familiar looking (to Italian exploitation buffs) “Scottish” castle. Corringa’s aunt, the family matriarch, announces that she’d rather die than sell her niece’s inheritance, an ironic prelude to the imminent kill-fest. In swim the expected shoal of red herrings… James the Byronicaly cool but totally insane cousin who allegedly killed his sister when they were both children (Hiram “Satyricon” Keller, in a role analogous to the one taken by Alessio Orano in Lisa And The Devil)… Doris Kuntsmann as Suzanne, the intriguing, bisexual French teacher (who takes little care to conceal her amorous designs on Corringa)

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… Dr Franz (Anton Diffring… just being Anton Diffring!)… not to mention James’ pet gorilla (despise Margheriti’s rep as an FX ace, the ape is rendered via poverty row suitmation)… Serge Gainsbourg as “the police inspector” doesn’t get much screen-time (perhaps he came as a package deal with Birkin) and spends most of it struggling with his dubbed Scottish accent  (“There’s bin a Muuuurder!”) and visibly failing to get interested in a role which the screen writers couldn’t even be arsed to attach to a name. The talismanic Allan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi) is also pretty much wasted as “Angus.” Venantino Venantini is “the Reverend Robertson”… or is he? Matters are further muddled  by a pointless family legend about vampires, which manages to find its way into Corringa’s dreams and bump up the running time a bit.

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Meanwhile the culling of the clan MacGrieff cracks on apace. Only that darn cat witnesses all the killings… and pussy ain’t saying nothin’! Lady Alicia, Corringa’s Mum, is smothered with a pillow. Then Corringa, during her nocturnal wandering through the castle’s many secret passageways, discovers the rat-nibbled corpse in the cellar. While that’s giving her the heebie-jeebies she is attacked by a bat… I bet she wishes she’d never thrown that bible on the fire! Angus rescues the eponymous feline from the family crypt, only to have his throat slashed. Just before his wife Maria (the matriarch who won’t sell the castle) discovers him making out with Suzanne, the bilingual, bisexual teacher, Diffring asks her “are you excited by all the blood that’s flowing around here?” Sure thing. Aided by an overwrought Riz Ortolani score, Margheriti builds nicely to a frantic climax, as Diffring gets his throat slashed, closely followed by the guy in the gorilla suit (what, precisely was the point of having him in the movie, anyway?) Then Suzanne cops it. That body in the box turns out to be the real Reverend Robertson and the killer (guess who?) is explaining his ludicrous motivation to Corringa, prior to killing her, when Inspector Gainsbourg pops up and guns him down. Entertainingly  corny stuff. Somebody really ought to make a board game out of this one!

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Troy Howarth (you might remember him from such voice overs as…) provides the commentary track here and told me he’s interested in knowing what I thought of it. Well, he’s clearly studied hard at the school of Tim Lucas and that’s no bad thing, especially when you contrast it with e.g the commentary on 88’s Burial Ground disc, which seems to catch the “film expert” who delivers it in the first throes of early onset Alzheimer’s. Howarth is avuncular, authoritative and strikes a nice balance between fact and opinion. On the odd occasion when I don’t agree with his opinion, he expresses it so cogently that I’m obliged to re-examine and clarify my own, which is always a useful exercise. Sometimes, as Troy himself concedes here, he does rather overdo details from the CVs of actors who play only a marginal role in the proceedings but genre fans can be a pretty anal bunch and I’m sure there are many of them who’ll appreciate this stuff more than I do. Howarth yacks entertainingly and amusingly throughout and with just one brief outbreak of dead air, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he came prepared, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a run through before the tapes started rolling. I’ve taken all of this on board and will put it to good use in the unlikely event that I’m ever offered another commentary gig.

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One aspect of this film that TH deservedly flags up is the superb job done by cinematographer Carlo Carlini and indeed, there are shots here that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Mario Bava film. I’ve never had much to say about this in my previous scribblings on the subject of 7DITCE, then again, the film has never looked this good. My comments about one or two of 88s previous BD transfers have been a bit sniffy (and rightly so) but they’ve done a cracking job with this one… ravishing stuff!

Bonus materials (aside from that commentary track and the expected reversible sleeve) comprise English and Italian trailers and an interview with Margheriti’s so Edo. He’s quick to scotch any rumours of bad blood between Mario Bava and his father and, talks of a childhood visit to the set of Seven Deaths and his father’s efficient way of getting the best out of his low budgets. He even attempts to name the guilty man inside the gorilla suit, only for memory to fail him… maybe next time, eh?

JANE BIRKIN

Yum…

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… yum!

 

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Slashing Budgets Was His Pleasure… House Of Freudstein Is Proud To Present The FABRIZIO DE ANGELIS Interview

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(This interview was conducted at David Warbeck’s Hampstead pile, The Convent, in 1996.)

How do you remember that remarkable director, Lucio Fulci?

I used him as director for four or five pictures by my production company, Fulvia. I went around the world with Lucio, a fantastic man and a fantastic director. He has become an increasingly popular director, but I think many people still don’t realise how good he was. Although Lucio only made “B” pictures, he was one of the ten best directors in Italy.

The timing of his death was so sad, because he was about to undergo this major critical re-appraisal… books are being written about him, he was about to collaborate on a film with Dario Argento…

Fulci was the best director, not only for horror, but also for adventure, comedy… whatever: a complete director, better even than Argento. The master is Fulci. Argento comes after him, and so do all the other Italian directors. Fulci is the teacher for all.

Did you have any problems with Argento, the producer of Dawn Of The Dead aka Zombi, when you brought out Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters?

Yes, we had problems, we had to go into court with our lawyers against the lawyers of Dario Argento, over the title. We won because we were able to prove that the legend of zombies has existed for years, it cannot be copyrighted.

You first met Fulci when you were both working for the producer Edmondo Amati?

Yes, Amati was my master, I worked as his production manager for three or four years. I think I made ten or twelve pictures with him as executive producer. Later I started to produce myself, after I left Fida, but I still have a very good relationship with Amati. Anyway, in this time I met Fulci, who was making pictures like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin for Fida, and when I was about to make Zombi 2, I decided to call Fulci to direct it, because at that time he was very down: after Zombi 2 he was up again, he was doing very well.

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At one point I gather you were considering Enzo Castellari to direct Zombi 2…

This is true, Originally we called Castellari, later we decided on Fulci. This is the real  story.

How would you compare and contrast Fulci and Castellari as directors?

Castellari is a good director, very good for action pictures…

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… a real pro, though as I keep saying, Fulci was a cut above all of them.

When you started working together, did you see any evidence of Fulci’s famous eccentricity?

(Laughing) I already knew that Fulci was a strange man… the first morning when we were shooting Zombi 2 in Manhattan, with the boat in the harbour, we had many problems… which is pretty normal for me. Fulci seemed to be very angry as we were trying to get the first shot, and suddenly he announced that he wasn’t going to do it. I called Lucio over with the rest of the crew, and I said: “Bye bye, if you won’t do it, then the picture is finished” Suddenly he was no longer furious, he said: “I’m only joking, I’ll get to work”… a fantastic character!

I heard that the original guy who was made up as a zombie to fight the shark underwater had a panic attack and ran away…

Yeah, that’s right! (Laughs)

Is it true that some footage which Fulci shot for Zombi 2 ended up in Zombi Holocaust?

No, not true.

What did you think of the way the American distributors re-cut Zombi Holocaust before releasing it as Doctor Butcher M.D.?

Really? I don’t know anything about that… very strange!

Zombi 2 was a huge international success…

Yes, in the United States, all over the world… but I think The Beyond is a better picture.

That one is widely recognised as a cult classic, now…

But originally you know, it was not a great success. After two years or so, people started picking it up. If we had made that picture two years later, it would have been a big hit. It never became a big hit in terms of money, but eventually it did become a big critical success. I think it’s definitely the best picture of Fulci.

Fulci told me he was very upset about the fact that the Italian video release of The Beyond leaves out the famous pre-titles sequence…

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Maybe. I never saw the video but if Fulci said that, it must be true…

What did Fulci and Sacchetti contribute, respectively, to the conception of The Beyond?

On every picture that I made with Fulci, the idea to make the picture was mine, then I would call Sacchetti and Fulci. I gave them the idea, and then together we wrote a treatment, then the script. On The Beyond for instance, I called them and said: “Let’s make a picture about people in a house where they discover The Beyond”… this is the idea that we set out with. Sacchetti is very good for this type of picture, Fulci too of course, so it was really a collaboration between those two, to develop this idea, so when we set out to make the picture we knew what we were doing.

I know Fulci attributed much of The Beyond’s success to the fact that you were a “hands-off” kind of producer, who didn’t interfere on the creative side…

Yes, but I always stayed very close to Fulci – and also my other directors, Castellari or whoever – observing what they were doing, so when I myself started directing I knew what it was all about.

After the success you and Fulci had with Zombi 2, how come he made City Of The Living Dead for Dania / Medusa?

In this time I made many films with Fulci. I had like an exclusive contract with him, but I gave him a permit for two or three months to go and make that film with somebody else… mostly in that three or four years, however, he worked only with me, and we made five pictures together.

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You had censorship problems with The New York Ripper…

Where?

It was banned in the United Kingdom…

I don’t remember this. We didn’t have any problems with this picture in other markets… I remember I was producing New York Ripper at the same time as one of Castellari’s Bronx Warriors films, and I had the Fulci troupe and the Castellari  troupe together in the same hotel…

I don’t think Fulci was very fond of Castellari…

They were OK. I think he was jealous because some evenings I went to dinner with Castellari… other evenings I would go with Fulci. Maybe there was friction because they were both very strong characters and I had both of them in the hotel, during the last week of Fulci’s shoot for New York Ripper… Castellari was looking at locations for the Bronx Warriors film, which we were going to start the next week.

I believe you and Fulci argued over the Egyptian prologue to Manhattan Baby, which he didn’t want to shoot…

Yeah.

I actually love that movie, though it’s generally regarded as your weakest collaboration with Fulci…

I like the movie too, but it wasn’t very well understood. It wasn’t a particularly strong movie, but a good atmospheric one. I like it a lot, and I think it will be rediscovered one day.

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Why was your working relationship with Fulci not continued after Manhattan Baby?

We didn’t collaborate again because many producers called Fulci, he went on to make Conquest for another producer… Giovanni Di Clemente gave him a contract for two years.

It didn’t work out very well for him, though… I gather they ended up fighting each other in court!

Yeah, they did.

Are you surprised that all these movies you made such a long time ago have this growing cult following, all these magazines dedicated to them, and so on?

No, I’m not surprised that people are still interested in these Fulci movies, in fact I am convinced that with the passing of time, more and more people will discover Fulci, realise how good he really was and learn from his work.

In retrospect, was Fulci as “difficult” a man as he’s been painted?

Sure, Fulci could be difficult to work with, but a lot of this was down to the fact that his first love was the movie, and people came a very definite second with him. To me he was a nice man, a nice collaborator, but he was certainly a perfectionist, he always wanted to get the best out of the people he worked with…

He had this fantastic team around him for the pictures that he made with you…

Fulci knew very well the right people to make a picture with. Sometimes he would tell me that there was a particular person that he didn’t like, but he knew that the person was good for the picture, so he would call him. He always called the best people… everybody says that Lucio Fulci was difficult, but the really difficult person is Umberto Lenzi… a very, very difficult person.

In the early days of your career you were production manager on Lenzi’s crime flick Violent Naples (1976) …

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Later I produced his film Cop Target, with Robert Ginty… Umberto is a good director, but not a very nice person.

You’ve also worked with Aristide Massaccesi…

I worked with him about twenty years ago, we produced two pictures together (Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade and Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals – BF). He’s a good man, a good technical director, though not on the same level as Lucio Fulci. Now, many years on, Massaccesi works in only one line, the “sexy” line, and I think he is the star of that line, as “Joe D’Amato”…

He only makes “hard” pictures now…

Yes, he changed directions, and he is a big name in sexy movies.

That’s the only way he can make money now… it’s a bad time for film-making in Italy, isn’t it?

Sure, it’s not a good moment for our type of picture.

What went wrong? Even ten years ago, there were so many pictures being made, now virtually nothing…

The problem is the dominance of American films… the Italians only do comedy films with no international appeal, the American pictures come along with their 100 million dollar budgets… it’s impossible for us to make the same picture. We can compete with the United States for ideas, but not with the money, it’s impossible. Our type of picture is finished, mostly because the Germans are not buying them anymore. They’d rather buy one American picture that makes lots of money than ten of our little pictures. The same in Japan, they know it will make a lot of money theatrically and on TV. Now we make just comedies and some pictures for television.

Do you have any hopes for an improvement in the situation?

I hope that in two or three years we will make the money with Europe, it will go well. We need two or three years…

What, more co-productions?

Yeah… another two years, also because the new generation of film-makers is not ready yet. Right now they’re young, they don’t speak German, Spanish or whatever. Another two years and we will be making big productions with Europe…

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Looking back again, you produced Alberto Martino’s picture 7 Hyden Park… I gather that he and the star of the picture, David Warbeck, didn’t get on very well…

Yeah (laughs)

You produced another of David’s pictures, Quella Villa In Fondo Al Parco aka Ratman, supposedly with Giuliano Carnimeo directing, though I’ve heard that you actually directed most of the picture…

Yeah…

Was he not up to the job?

Carnimeo was a director of Italian comedies, and he could not adapt to this different type of picture…

Unlike Fulci, who was so versatile…

Yeah.

How did you find this tiny Guy, Nelson De La Rosa, who plays Ratman?

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This was strange – I was in Santa Domingo to produce a picture called, er…

Overthrow?

Overthrow, yeah…  and one time I was in this bar with two actors, setting up a shot. They were sitting at a table, and suddenly I noticed that the table-cloth was moving. I was wondering what was under there, and suddenly a very little man ran out from under the table. Immediately I said to one of my crew: “Get the number of this man, I’m going to make a picture with him… I’ll call it Ratman!” So I got on with the job, and at the end of the day I was given the number. I called him, and we made the picture three months later…

David Warbeck had already made a movie called Panic with Tonino Ricci, a few years earlier. In that one he also fights a rat monster, and he even has the same co-star…

Yeah, Janet Agren.

Some sources claim that a sequel was made to Quella Villa, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about it…

No, there was no sequel.

You worked with Luigi Cozzi on Paganini Horror…

Cozzi is really a writer… he has a lot of good ideas about effects and so on, but I don’t really consider him to be a director. He doesn’t understand anything about timing…

What was the exact extent of Daria Nicolodi’s participation in that picture?

Nothing much… Cozzi knows her, and because she was the partner of Dario Argento, we thought it would help to sell the picture to have her name associated with it.

Why did you start to direct your own pictures, from Thunder onwards?

I was in America and I had just completed the last of the Fulci films and the last Bronx Warriors film, and my plan was to make another film, three months later, in Arizona. That was Thunder.

You had the same actor, Mark Gregory a.k.a. Marco De Gregorio…

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Yes, and I wanted Castellari to direct it again, but by this time Castellari had signed contracts with other companies… you know, when I took Fulci, Fulci was down; when I took Castellari, Castellari was down… after they made pictures with me, they were doing well again. Fulci and Castellari are the best directors for my type of picture, but  they were both committed to other projects. There were no other available directors that I liked, so I decided to direct Thunder myself, that’s all there was to it.

Did you find it easy or difficult to step into directing?

Not difficult, because I always watched my directors closely and was able to pick up what they had been doing. Thunder was an adventure film and it went very well, having great success in the United States and all over the world.

When you are producing and directing the same picture, does De Angelis the director fight with De Angelis the producer over budgets…

Yeah, there is a conflict… I tend to give other directors bigger budgets than I give myself.

Whatever happened to Mark Gregory? He was a crazy, mixed-up kid, by all accounts…

He was stupid because I wanted to send him to the United States to study English and sign him to a 2-3 years contract, but another producer called and offered him a lot of money to do one picture, after which he was finished.

A bad career decision…

Yeah, he disappeared after that.

I interviewed another actor that you worked with, Giovanni Lombardo Radice…

Oh yes, he was a nice boy…

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“Who, me? Aw, shucks!”

He said that you gave him a really hard time on the film Deadly Impact…

Yeah?

Was he complaining too much, or was that true?

It’s true, yeah (laughs).

You directed Killer Crocodile, then you produced the sequel with make-up effects ace Giannetto De Rossi directing…

Yeah…

Has he got it in him to succeed as a director?

I don’t think so. It was my fault, I needed to have a big crocodile, and the only man in Italy who could make it was Giannetto de Rossi. He really is the top man for special effects, and he should stick to what he is best at, but I knew that he wanted to direct, so I called him and told him that if he made me a big crocodile for the first picture, I would let him direct the second… my fault.

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You were dissatisfied with the job he did on Killer Crocodile 2… is that why the film is padded with a lot of footage from its predecessor?

Yes, to cover the gaps.

You recently made Favola, a kind of fairy-story, again with David Warbeck…

Yeah… Favola is a TV Movie. We used the girl  Ambra Angiolini, because she is a real phenomenon with the young people in Italy right now.

What about our host today, David Warbeck… what are the qualities that have led to you using him in your films again and again?

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David is the best actor I know, there is no type of role that he cannot cover. He is such a friend, I can call him from anywhere in the world and he will arrive, even if he has not seen a script, because there is such trust between us, you know? This is very important…

Do you have any projects that you are keeping up your sleeve until the market is ready for them?

For some time now, maybe five years. I have been making pictures for young people, 10-15 years old, and now I feel that I want to make something stronger, like the films I did with Lucio Fulci.

Some of your former collaborators, when I interviewed them, complained that you made a lot of money from these films, and they didn’t. I think it’s only fair that I give you a chance to reply here…

Well, I pay as much as anybody else pays and you know, many of the people who complain are still working for me, so I can’t be that bad. Another thing – they only remember the pictures that went well, but they shouldn’t forget that for every Zombi 2, there are several Manhattan Babys!

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On The Horns Of House And Hip Hop… PROFONDO ROSSO By The SIMONETTI HORROR PROJECT Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Exempt from classification.

Claudio Simonetti (along with his avatar, the late, great Keith Emerson) represents a point on the graph where two of my main obsessions (’70s Prog Rock and ’70s/80s Italian genre cinema) coincide. It’s the Proggier stuff that Simonetti essayed with Goblin which holds a special place in my heart (their debut album – released when the band were still known as Cherry Five – sounds more like Yes in their pomp than Yes themselves have sounded at any time in the last forty years) but, like the Italian exploitation film makers with whom he collaborated so memorably, Simonetti’s output and his presentation of the jewels in his musical crown have changed to reflect perceived shifts in public taste. In recent years, for example, his band (whether branded Daemonia or Goblin) has affected a quasi-Goth image with vague suggestions of Death Metal.

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In the early ’80s Simonetti took a disco direction (signalled as early as the four-to-the-floor main theme he contributed to Argento’s Tenebrae in ’82) and the tape under consideration here, issued by DiscoMagic to promote the LP Simonetti Horror Project in 1990, finds him on the cusp of Hair Rock, House and Hip Hop.

Crammed onto the stage of a small theatre in Siena, Simonetti and his core band of gurning, shape throwing, fright-coiffed, leather jacketed and ripped jeaned desperadoes (Giacomo Castellano, gtr; Maurizio Colori, bs; Giulio Sirci, dr) mime their way energetically through the album tracks, augmented at various points by rapper Dr. Felix and “Mad DJ” Luca “The Scratcher” Cucchetti, the back of whose leather jacket is adorned with one of those unfortunate “smiley” images… is he on one, matey? Further musical (but mainly visual) distraction is provided in the buxom shape of one Andrea Simonetti, shaking her Titian tresses and ample booty impressively in a lycra jump shoot… whoever she is, it’s probably a safe bet that Andrea is not Claudio’s granny! Also competing for your attention are a human skeleton and several silly plush toys. The proceedings are regularly punctuated by clips from Argento’s movies and a brief one of the director himself emerging from between a pair of thick red curtains. The directorial duties for this 45 minute promo were divided between Simonetti and Dr. Felix who between them have obviously enjoyed Led Zep’s Song Remains The Same and its overuse of split screen mosaics, which are deployed to alarming effect on, e.g. the murder of Ania Pieroni in Tenebrae .

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As for the music,  things kicks off with Craws (sic)… 1987’s Opera is, by general assent, the final film in Argento’s imperial period but I’ve never been too crazy about Simonetti’s music for it. Does he look like he cares, posing away with his keytar? Swimming against the tide of this general dance music tone, the Tenebrae theme unfolds in rockier style than on the film itself… a pretty exhilarating reading. The previously exhilirating Phenomena, on the other hand, has mutated into sub-Cerrone mush, appropriately enough, I guess, given the film’s notoriously odd “Supernature” storyline. Demons provides one of the tape’s standout moment. Now underpinned by the ubiquitous “Funky Drummer” James Brown sample, Simonetti embellishes the original with satisfying flights of synthesiser fancy while Sergio Stivaletti’s screen creations do The Lambeth Walk and CS himself, decked out in his finest Byronic frills, discovers a dusty manuscript whose music converts him into a demon when he play it. Riotous stuff! Andrea, The Scratcher and Dr. Felix take centre stage (with the band doing hand jive behind them!) as the doc raps sacreligiously over the canonical Profondo Rosso theme. While you’re getting over the shock of that, Simonetti slips in a less radical albeit thoroughly underwhelming Suspiria make-over which neither incongruous guitar histrionics nor the return of Andrea, mincing around in a tutu, can redeem. She’s back again, ineptly miming the aria from Opera, for a romantic scene with Claudio. Two unfamiliar tracks, Elucubration and Ozone Free, feature original Goblin drummer Walter Martino on drums (though he doesn’t appear on screen.) As if to mollify disgruntled conservatives, Simonetti (in Jack The Ripper hat and cape) closes the proceedings with Profondo Rosso – Rock Version, which unfortunately equates to tacking on further sub-Van Halen guitar tedium. Simonetti leaps into the air, flicking his mullet, the frame freezes and we’re done… undoubtedly not soon enough for some, but you’d have to be a terminally po-faced purist not to find something entertaining and / or amusing in this uneven collection, much of which is available on Youtube.

Click here for Claudio Simonetti interview, elsewhere on this blog.

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