Interviews

Avanti Avati! The PUPI AVATI Interview

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Feted and decorated at Cannes, Berlin and Venice for such Arthouse efforts as Bix, Il Cuore Altrove and Il Papà Di Giovanni, Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati has pursued a parallel career in Freudsteinian film. In this archive interview from 1996 he reveals the full extent of his hidden Horror history, over and above such self-directed classics as The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and Zeder (1983), taking in collaborations with Mario and Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Signor Avati, many horror fans are frustrated that you have chosen to limit your participation in that genre…

I am not aware of being able to count on fans in the gothic genre. I know that The House With Laughing Windows is quite well known in some countries, and also certain other of my works. I don’t know if I could work exclusively in this genre without paying a price in originality and the kind of stimuli which are necessary for me to return to film-making with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

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I believe your horror spoof Tutti Defunti… Tranne I Morti was made with the specific intention of frustrating attempts to type-cast you as “a horror director”…

Yes it’s true, I made Tutti Defunti specifically to avoid having that label stuck on me.

Please tell us something about your early experience working as assistant director on films like Piero Vivarelli’s Satanik…

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It was a modest experience, in fact my role was actually that of second assistant… Piero Vivarelli was not a great director, but he was an able technician, from whom I learned the importance of organising a shoot properly, how to put together a troupe, the relationship between a script and a shoot, between the directors and his actors… a little of everything which I then developed on my own account.

What are your memories of working with Lamberto Bava on Macabro?

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Good memories! Lamberto has no ambitions to become a great auteur, but he is a tremendous professional. He loves the whole business of making a film, of using effects, music, actors, the script… the whole machinery. He had already worked as my assistant director, which was when I discovered that he is very gifted.

That film proceeds with the restrained menace that is characteristic of your own pictures… until that abrupt final twist with the head attacking the blind man!

My recollection of Macabro is rather hazy. Frankly, it’s a film that I haven’t watched again. I like the idea of the head being kept in the fridge, then taken to bed. It both amuses and terrifies me… the right mix, wouldn’t you agree?

Please tell us about working with Mario Bava on Bordella…

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He only worked on the realisation of the “invisible man” sequence towards the end of the film. After many false starts with other so-called effects men, Bava resolved the technical difficulties with ease. Looking back, the effect seems pretty infantile now.

What would you say are the respective talents of Bava Sr and Bava Jr?

Mario belonged represents a cinema with more convictions, with less irony… to a dark cinema which believed in itself. These films were directed at a more naive public, who would willingly go along with a story. Lamberto has had great success with fairy-tales, in a milieu of absolute unreality. What links them is their desire to astonish their audience.

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Tell us about collaborating with Pasolini and Sergio Citti on the script of Salò… what was your input?

Pasolini had never even read De Sade. We wrote the film with Citti, who was going to direct it. Then the company that was supposed to produce the film went bankrupt. One evening I met with Pasolini and proposed to him that he should direct the picture himself. He accepted my suggestion, and that’s what happened. Screen-writing with Pasolini was conducted on a basis of mutual respect and close collaboration, I have never been keen on collaborating with others, but I did enjoy my collaboration with Pier Paolo.

How do you remember Pasolini the man?

He was the mildest and perhaps the most sensitive man I have ever known. To work with him was simplicity itself, because he knew exactly what he wanted from you.

Although it is not generally known, I believe you collaborated on an early draft of Profondo Rosso… how do you remember your collaboration with Dario Argento?

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I only worked on the film for a few days. Dario had been sick, and was recovering in hospital. We came up with the film’s opening, without even writing a line. I believe something of that remains in the film, a seance I seem to recall. But Dario Argento, who I know very well, was already an established film-maker. He’s a centraliser, who doesn’t like to concede any control to anyone else. I’m the same… and two cocks in the same hen-house isn’t a good recipe for artistic collaboration.

What about Lucio Fulci, with whom you collaborated on the satire Dracula In Brianza? Did you find him as “difficult” a man as he has been painted?

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Fulci always comported himself very well with me. I wrote a script that he thought was perfect, then he made a complete about turn and rewrote everything. I completely lost track. It was not easy to capture exactly what he wanted. I think that ultimately, little of what I contributed ended up on the screen. Anyway the film’s star, Lando Buzzanca, had a big say on what went into the script.

You have always operated as an independent and stayed loyal to your regional base of Emilia Romagna… what has the region contributed to your artistic vision – particularly to your macabre sensibility?

The peasant culture in which I grew up is still very strong in Emilia Romagna… I was brought up on terrifying fairy tales and a religiosity which always emphasised the terrible penalties for sin. I was brought up in a state of fear, and these fears are acknowledged in my work. They have shaped my imagination.

You’ve made several movies in the U.S. but – true to your independent philosophy – in Iowa rather than Hollywood. Tell us about the affinities you see between this state and the Emilia Romagna…

They are two very similar regions with wide plains, farming land and the kind of people who are bred by that culture: a little restricted, a little conservative, deeply versed in tradition but also open to the future… a singular mix in each instance.

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Although you love the Emilia Romagna, your film The House With Laughing Windows (above) portrays it as place of degeneracy and decay…

I have tried to portray the dark side of my homeland. The secret side, which doesn’t appear in the tourist brochures. It was in Zeder that I best captured this unofficial side of “the Riviera Romagnola”.

You based the character of Paolo Zeder on Fulcanelli… are you aware of the way this character has also been used in Guillermo Del Torro’s Cronos and Michele Soavi’s La Chiesa?

Many people have been fascinated by Fulcanelli. I certainly was. Recently however, a document has come to light in France that proves he never existed, except as a literary invention.

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An unsettling moment from Avati’s Zeder (1983)

Is it true that L’Arcano Incantatore is based on another allegedly “real-life” alchemist…

Another real-life figure, yes, but not an alchemist… he was a student of necromantic texts, named Achille Ropa Sanuti and he was another Bolognese. He stayed in my city halfway through the eighth Century. Excommunicated for his studies, he took the esoteric name “Arcane Enchanter”.

Would you agree that Zeder has influenced Soavi’s more recent effort Dellamorte Dellamore (not to mention Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary)?

I couldn’t comment, because I haven’t seen either of those films.

Your female lead in Zeder was the gorgeous Anne Canovas, an actress who I haven’t seen much of anywhere else…

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I don’t know how Anne Canovas was chosen. She was very good in a TV film by my friend Giacomo Battiato, perhaps I saw her there.

Isn’t it true that you like to work more closely with your actors than is generally the case in Italian horror cinema?

Yes. In Italian horror cinema (which is considered unworthy by everybody, particularly by actors) the director’s rapport with the cast tends to be non-existent. This isn’t exactly the best way to get good performances! I always approach a dark film in exactly the same way as I would approach a realistic one.

I believe though that Zeder, the only one of your horror films to get a proper release in the US was shot in the English language… Gabriele Lavia has said that this made it a difficult film for him to work on… what are your recollections of this?

I didn’t manage to achieve much of a rapport with Lavia. Because the film was shot in English, it was difficult to devote as much attention to the nuances of his performance as he would have liked.

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I was told that The House With Laughing Windows was originally shot in the dialect of Emilia Romagna… is this why it has never received the distribution that it deserves?

It wasn’t shot in any dialect and it received excellent distribution in Italy, where the film was a great success. It didn’t get much overseas distribution because of the inadequacy of our organisation then… our fault, entirely.

Rumours persist that you are planning an English-language remake of House With Laughing Windows… aren’t you discouraged by the poor results when other classic European films have been remade in America?

It’s true, we’re studying the feasibility of doing an American remake. There are many small towns over there that remind me very much of Comacchio… with rivers, uninhabited houses, old churches… I think it would be a fantastic film.

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Is it true that you wanted Alec Guiness to star in the original?

Yes, we made a rather naive attempt to sign him up.

Do you see any affinity between the paranoid sensibility of a film like The House With Laughing Windows and films like Francesco Barilli’s Perfume Of The Lady In Black, Aldo Lado’s Short Night Of The Glass Dolls and Gianfranco Giagni’s Il Nido Del Ragno?

Of these films, I’ve only actually seen Perfume Of The Lady (below). There are affinities, probably because Barilli originates from the same region as myself. Also, we shot these films during the same period.

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In connection with this paranoid ambiance, I’m told that you once worked as an investigative reporter…

I’ve never been an investigative reporter, though I have worked as a researcher of historical documents, which is a rather different field.

Bologna is noted as a centre of left-wing intellectualism, and I believe that you took a degree in political science… do you consider yourself in any way a political film-maker?

I’ve tried to avoid any possibility of being defined as a political film-maker. I’m not happy to be tied to any one party. I have never felt that anyone could represent me, apart from myself. I can’t delegate anything, and for that reason I’m a loner. Perhaps an outsider. In this aspect, I’m an atypical Bolognese.

Looking back, how satisfied are you with an early effort like Balsamus?

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Balsamus was my first film. It was the culmination of 30 years of life, of waiting. It was 1968 and I wanted to put everything into it. Too much. It has too much energy, too much invention, not enough communication… very little heart.

Do you agree that your film Thomes… The Possessed in many ways foreshadows Peter Greenaway’s subsequent, more famous film, The Baby Of Macon?

I don’t know, I haven’t seen Greenaway’s film.

How do you remember working with actor / writer / director Luigi Montefiori (“George Eastman”) in films like Regalo Di Natale and (below, right) Bordella?

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He’s an actor with a very wide background in films of every genre: westerns, Italian thrillers, and so on… he’s written many scripts. It was a pleasure to work with him, because he was so familiar with every aspect of film-making.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a producer who is also your brother?

With my brother Antonio there have been only advantages. He protects me from everything, from all the difficulties that can plague a director. And he counsels me… he’s the only person I’ll take advice from.

Do you enjoy your role of producing for other directors?

It’s my brother who is mostly occupied with these new young directors. I’m rarely involved in the choice. At times I’ll collaborate in the writing or editing, but I never set foot on their sets.

Why do you feel that the Italian industry in general is in such a poor state? Are you optimistic about the prospects of a revival?

Italian cinema has been suffocated. It is afraid of telling impossible stories. It has made a fatal pact with reality, with time, with politics, that has stifled it and restricted its growth.

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Please tell us a little about the films you’ve produced in the USA, such as Maurizio Zaccaro’s Dove Comincia La Notte and Fabrizio Laurenti’s La Stanza Accanto…

Dove Comincia La Notte is based on one of my stories, a story I really like. La Stanza Accanto is based on other stories and perhaps is less direct. But they are both honourable efforts. The first met with some success, though the second didn’t.

Can you tell us how your love of jazz structures in music translates into the way you structure a film?

Improvisation is at the heart of jazz. Certain sequences in my films have been saved by improvisation. Sometimes you have to go with the flow of your imagination, to rely on it, to trust it to provide you with what you need. Often you wait in silence, as though pregnant, then something just happens.

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Does the success of L’Arcano Incantatore (above) mean that we can look forward to more fantasy / horror films from Pupi Avati in the future?

Of all my fantastic films L’Arcano Incantatore is dearest to me, because of what it doesn’t contain, because of what it leaves unexplained. Stories that connect you with extraordinary, disturbing co-incidences… this is what I like. I myself do not thoroughly understand the stories I tell. The mystery remains.

Signor Avati… thanks for your time and your kind attention.

You’re welcome. I’m delighted by your profound knowledge of my work.

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Murder, He Wrote… An Exclusive Interview With DARDANO SACCHETTI

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The interviews that appear on this Blog have been drawn from our extensive archives here at The House Of Freudstein, comprising conversations with film makers that have taken place at various times over the last thirty-odd (some of them very odd) years, many of which have already appeared in miscellaneous film publications. It’s a real pleasure to debut here the transcript of our audience with the most prolific screenwriter on the Italian genre scene, which took place in November 2017. How very fresh of us…

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Signor Sacchetti, could you kindly tell us a little about your life these days… are you currently working on any projects?

I’m still writing. There is little work in Italy at this time, but I’ve just finished a screenplay.

I know that your preference is to write in seclusion, then hand your script over to the producer, rather than to have endless collaborative sessions with other writers… but how do you divide up the work when collaborating with your wife Elisa Briganti?

With my wife the job is simple: I usually write, she reads, offers her opinion… we discuss everything, we make amendments. During my most creative moments I’m almost always alone because my best ideas often come to me during the night.

Your screen writing career began at the very top, with Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails (1971)… is it fair to say that the climactic revelation of the killer’s identity in that one is a bit of a “cheat”,  given that the guilty character had only played a very minor role up to that point?

That’s right but then in those days, especially in Italy, we were always doing that.

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Your work on that Argento film got you the job of writing a highly influential Mario Bava picture known under a multitude of titles… Bloodbath, Bay Of Blood, Twitch Of The Death Nerve…

I wrote it as Reazione A Catena (“Chain Reaction”). Although only my second film, written when I was very young and knew nothing about cinema, that’s the movie I’m most fond of… my masterpiece.

There’s that big twist at the end involving the children… much has been said about the use of children in Fulci’s films but they’ve featured in so many that you’ve written for other directors, it’s tempting to conclude that these characters are down to you…

I’ve always had child characters in my movies, the use of such characters is part of my imaginary world. Lucio wasn’t bothered about investigating child psychology, in fact he didn’t like having children around on his sets.

It’s a pity you couldn’t put your “trademark” on the plot of Reazione A Catena, considering how many highly successful American films subsequently took so much from it…

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Yes, it would have made me a very rich man!

Speaking of American film makers, Quentin Tarantino has talked at various times about remaking Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero… has he ever talked to you about this? Are we likely to see such a remake on the screen?

Absolutely not! The most recent major to take an interest in this remake was SONY. They contacted us through an Italian law firm, acting on their behalf, with an outrageous offer, for which I personally told them to go to hell. Americans want to take Italians for fools. They often copy our ideas, sometimes whole movies, but they do not want to pay us for it. They treat us like a colony, full of illiterate, indigenous people. Tarantino was mentioned but also Steven Soderbergh and Bryan Singer. They wanted to make the movie with one of these three directors and they were suggesting a free option for two years then to pay $15,000 for the total rights… ridiculous!

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You’ve been quoted as saying that you rarely watch the films you’ve written, but you did watch Sette Note In Nero… should we conclude from this that you are more comfortable with the idea of giallo than with horror?

I’ve been misquoted there, in fact I always watch the films that are made from my scripts. Sette Note in Nero is a film born out of an abortive project that Fulci and his writer Gianviti had been working on for six months. De Laurentiis then called me to help out. Fulci and I immediately argued. I proposed that we ditch the original project, which was called Deadly Therapy and suggested the basic idea that became Sette Note In Nero. I’m comfortable with giallo, with horror, also police or dramatic stories… I’ve written 177 scripts of all kinds. Basically, I’m a writer.

Fulci himself was very ambivalent about his status as a cult Horror director, wasn’t he?

When I first met Fulci he loved Agatha Christie-type mysteries but he didn’t like the thriller genre and had never seen a horror movie nor even read a horror novel. Fulci’s background was in comedy and musical films. He was, in every respect, a “classic” Italian director of those times. After the extraordinary commercial success of Zombi 2 he read Lovecraft for the first time and this is very apparent in his second horror film, City Of The Living Dead…

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I know that foreign distributors and therefore Italian producers demanded more zombies, whereas Fulci had originally not wanted them to be in either City Of The Living Dead or The Beyond…

Yes, the Germans asked for more zombies and Fulci took this on board. In fact it was me who really didn’t want to use more zombies. My screenplay for The Beyond provided for a different finale, set in an amusement park…

That’s fantastic… I’ve got a UK press kit for The Beyond which contains a synopsis that varies wildly from what actually happens in the film. I’ve always suspected that it was drawn from an abandoned early version of your script and what you’ve just said would seem to confirm this.

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The scene was too expensive and producer Fabrizio De Angelis – who always had an eye on the money – decided to cut it and asked me for a zombie finale like the one you see now. His big priority was always cutting the budget.

Can you tell us about the changes that he imposed on Manhattan Baby?

He made just one change, he introduced the bullshit about the medallion, shot in Egypt. The only reason of this was again the economic one because back then there wasn’t much tax control over money going abroad from Italy.

What opinion did you form of Fulci’s relationship with De Angelis?

Fulci always had to put up with the fact that De Angelis was an amiable man but a terrible producer, always ready to sacrifice even the best things about a movie just to save a few bucks. There was a period of a few years there where De Angelis was the only guy producing Italian horror films and Fulci was the only guy directing them. When things were going well, De Angelis should have been investing more money on projects, instead he kept on cutting the budgets, not realising that after American films like The Exorcist, with those great special effects, it was no longer feasible to do horror on the cheap.

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Going back to you and Fulci’s first collaboration for De Angelis, why did Elisa get all the credit for Zombi 2, when you had co-written it? Was Argento’s antipathy towards the project a factor in this?

I didn’t sign Zombi 2 because while I was writing it my father died and partly out of superstition, partly out of respect for him, I decided not to sign the script. Dario Argento had nothing to do with it. Zombi 2 was written a year before it was released and under another title. Dario knew nothing about Zombi 2 until it was released in Italy, shortly before the film he made with Romero. He felt then that the new title, which was the idea of producer Ugo Tucci, would damage their business.

Apart from Zombi 2, there are various other films you didn’t sign… Amityville II, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley, Hands Of Steel, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?… are there any notable ones that you’d now like the world to know about?

I signed all the films that I wanted to sign, as for the ones I didn’t… I’ll mention just one so you’ll understand the kind of thing that happens. Deliria (Stagefright), as Michele Soavi well knows, is a film that I worked on but it was as a favour to a great friend who needed to compare his ideas with mine. It was a friendship thing that I do not regret and for which I do not claim any credit. On the other hand, I have also signed films that are not mine: two examples are the Umberto Lenzi comedy Pierino La Peste Alla Riscossa (for which De Angelis paid me to take a credit, on administrative grounds) and Aldo Grimaldi’s La Cameriera Seduce I Villeggianti, a film which I quickly abandoned because they did not pay me, after which it was changed from a giallo into an erotic film. Unfortunately my signature remained attached to it.

As somebody who’s worked with “The Big Three“ of Italian Horror and Thriller… Bava, Argento and Fulci…

Yes, I have…

… what  professional and personal impressions did you take from working with each of them?

Mario Bava was simply a genius… a legendary figure, respected by everyone.

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I know from my own conversations with Fulci how much he revered Bava…

Working with Bava was a real pleasure and I learned so many things. He didn’t have any hand in the screenplay, that was not his job, but once he had read it he erupted with ideas for special effects and how to realise them. Dario, on the other hand, loves to work on the screenplay, so collaborating with him is a real torment. You know when it’s started but you never know when it will end. Dario often changes his mind within the course of a day and throws away great things to start all over again. Writing with him is always very tense and clashes are inevitable. Every project ended with a fight and sometimes we would have no contact for years, then there was peace and everything started again, but always ending with another fight. Dario is tormented by the idea of perfection, so he’s never satisfied. Fulci never originated a script, he was at home waiting for me to deliver the job. He was very into the “strong” scenes but always waited for the opinion of the producers before expressing his. He always went along with the requirements of the production.

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The disappointment I’ve often felt on seeing the movies made from my scripts is usually down to production shortcomings rather than the way they’ve been shot. I prefer to see them alone and when they’ve been out for a while. I have a very bad character, as everyone knows and I’ve often clashed with producers. There’s often been disharmony with directors, too… actually my relationship with Fulci was exemplary in this respect. I recognise that Lucio was an excellent professional with good technique, more so than Argento but Argento took things to a level that Lucio never attained. Dario was a visionary who could really bring nightmares to the screen. Fulci was a hard working professional but he never managed to transcend that status.

Any memories of any of the other celebrated Italian genre directors you wrote for? Say, Sergio Martino or Antonio Margheriti?

I don’t remember much about writing for Martino. We didn’t get on and never really connected. I helped out the production company Dania (which was by run by Sergio’s brother Luciano) a couple of times, but that was about it.

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I have good memories of Margheriti, even if he did not always “get” what I was doing. We collaborated on a good movie called Apocalypse Tomorrow, a bad title imposed by the producer to suggest a link with the Coppola movie (and released in anglophone markets as Cannibal Apocalypse, of course – BF) then a Vietnam War movie, The Last Hunter… another exploitive title. We worked well together, though I recall that Antonio paid little attention to the screenplays and was always in a hurry to get on set, where he would be able to fix any problems… he was a typical “on set” kind of guy.

Please tell us about writing Il Diabolo Sulle Colline, the last film of the great Cottofavi…

It originated from a casual meeting, arranged by the producer Pescarolo. We worked together for about three months on the adaptation of a difficult novel by Cesare Pavese. The work was edgy. Vittorio Cottafavi was a great director but very bourgeois, without great ambitions, a gentleman who was already satisfied with his life. He didn’t want to take any risks, he felt safe within a certain classic tradition. He was very good technically but had a very old-fashioned mentality. The film’s theme was the sexual restlessness of a young married woman and the developing sexuality of three students… a “rites of passage” kind of thing. Cottafavi was very “cerebral” in way he handled this theme but it turned into one of the best films I’ve worked one, one of my personal favourites.

Was it a different thing, for instance, to write a cop film for Lenzi than it was to write one for, say, Stelvio Massi?

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Yes, with Lenzi there was more of chance than there was when working with some of the others to achieve something worth while, he was more professional and had more of a “movie culture”. Massi was a really good man but he did not have too much ambition, he was content to work without stretching himself.

From my meetings with Fulci and Lenzi it seemed to me that the former was acting up to his reputation as “difficult” and “eccentric” but that Lenzi really was a very difficult man…

Lenzi was always a very good collaborator (at least, with me) but on the set he acted up a lot. He had an abrasive character and very abrupt ways. I had a much harder time with Fulci, actually, because he was so suspicious. He was regarded as an intimidating man but he was essentially a shy one, hiding behind this mask of aggression. He delivered these ugly outbursts at the cast and crew but it was all part of an act, he was well known for it. That was a bad habit that occurred throughout the Italian cinemas of the ‘50s and ‘60s onwards, it was a period of great cynicism.

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Lucio was a good man, brought down by fate. He had problems with his health, with his family, with work but he was a professional, a great professional. His big flaw was suspiciousness. He didn’t trust anyone, always feared betrayal and being ambushed. This tendency complicated all of his relationships. When I was called by De Laurentiis to work on Sette Note In Nero, Fulci started calling me “the producers’ spy”, as if my role was to take control. I didn’t like this and here is where our mutual antipathy originated.

As well as the many personal problems Fulci suffered, it has  been suggested that he was blacklisted after some of his films (e.g. … All’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne) offended the Christian Democrat establishment… do you know if there was any truth to this?

Fulci’s career took a dip but I cannot tell you whether the thing you describe was a factor in this. The truth is that in those years there was terrorism in Italy… these were the infamous “years of lead”. Nobody went out to the movies anymore, movie production collapsed and revenue declined. It was a black era, people didn’t want to watch comedies while there was gunfire on the streets. That’s why the horror films did so well. Zombi 2 was released at the end of 1979 when the worst had passed, but those events had left this trail of blood…

Different fllms that you wrote for three different directors… Bava, Fulci and Margheriti… were banned in the UK as “video nasties”. Do you have any thoughts on this?

No, I don’t know anything about what happened.

A moral panic is what happened… Fulci’s most notorious film in the UK and other territories was The New York Ripper. Early drafts of the screenplay allegedly featured a killer suffering from progeria, an idea later recycled in Deodato’s Un Delitto Poco Comune…

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I wasn’t too involved in this movie. Fulci wanted to work with some other scriptwriters, Clerici and Mannino, who delivered a screenplay based on progeria. The killer suffered from accelerating ageing so he could escape the police, who were  looking for a young man. Ten days before shooting began, De Angelis and (especially) Fulci looked at the screenplay they had and were worried that it was going to make for a weak film. They called me and in four or five days I came up with a more traditional kind of plot about this killer of prostitutes. Fulci very much liked the idea of prostitutes being killed in the style of the historical Jack The Ripper but it’s not a movie of which I’m very fond, nor do I consider it as my own.

It’s been claimed, though I’ve never managed to spot you, that you play a member of the lynch mob in the prologue to The Beyond…

No, it wasn’t me.

Another myth debunked…

Yeah (laughs), the time comes when you have to stop believing in Santa Claus…

I’ve also been told… and hopefully this is actually correct… that you rarely visited the shoots of films you had written.

I didn’t go on film sets because the shoots tended to be short and badly organised. There was always a climate of tension and my presence would have been more of a nuisance than anything else.

Knowing what you knew about both of them, what did you think when you heard that Argento was going to produce a Fulci film?

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Do you want to know what really happened? That was a very crafty move on Dario’s part. All three of us were together for the final evening of Fantafestival at the Barberini cinema in Rome. This was the first time that Argento and Fulci were together on the same stage. There was applause for Argento, obviously, but when they presented Lucio there was a real ovation because the fans had begun to seriously love him. Dario, who is very attentive to these things, immediately turned the situation in his favour. He got up and announced, to general surprise, that he would produce Fulci’s next movie, with me writing it. As if they were hearing about the coming together of a “holy trinity”, the audience burst into frantic applause. From that moment on, Dario totally lost interest in the matter, leaving me and Fulci a free hand. Fulci wanted to make a new Mummy movie. I wrote a beautiful treatment that we sent to Los Angeles, where Dario was preparing his next movie. He hated it, flew into a rage and fired me over the phone. Lucio then began working with another writer on a House Of Wax remake but died shortly afterwards and the film was ultimately directed by Sergio Stivaletti. The irony was that two years later the Americans remade The Mummy and coincidentally, the first part of that movie was identical to my story.

When Dario was producing other directors like Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi, do you think he dominated their work in the same way that Spielberg did with Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist?

That was certainly the case with Lamberto and he tried it with Soavi too, though with less success… Soavi had his own ideas about what he wanted to do.

How much of your original work remains onscreen in La Chiesa?

This is another of those films which I did not sign. I don’t know… I just wrote a first draft of the script, then I had the usual fight with Dario. I did not see the movie so I can’t tell you what the differences are and how much of my script remains.

After several years of successful collaboration, you and Fulci fell out over the project Per Sempre…

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Per Sempre was a real bone of contention between us. We hadn’t seen each other for some time when he called me because with he was working, with Gianviti, on an incoherent project involving sex and Nazi zombies, which he eventually shot years later (This would be1988’s The Ghosts Of Sodom – BF). I wrote Per Sempre, he found a producer who never made the film and I wasn’t paid. The script remained my property and later I sold it as part a TV series, directed by Lamberto Bava. Fulci, who was going through the darkest period of his life and hadn’t worked for some time, made a big scene with the producers claiming that the property was in some way his. He loved Per Sempre and would certainly have made a better job of it than Lamberto Bava, whose direction was too “cold”. The producers offered a tiny settlement, which Fulci accepted. We made our peace a few years later but never talked again about Per Sempre.

Any final memories of Lucio Fulci and the part he played in your life and career?

Lucio and I never had a great personal relationship. We didn’t go to parties together… outside of work we saw very little of each other. We had our ups and downs, but that’s quite normal. We never really got to know each other properly but he did give me a dog – Apollo – and that’s a gesture which I remember with great fondness. In conclusion, I regarded Fulci as an excellent professional, if not exactly the greatest teacher.

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You worked with Mario Bava again, towards the end of his career, on Shock… was this kind of subtle, suggestive Horror more to his taste than the gory stuff?

Shock was conceived under another title: Al 33  Di Via Orologio Fa Sempre Freddo (“It’s Always Cold At 33 Clock Street”). Mario told me that he hated dealing with actors and joked that he would be happier working as a furniture maker so I wrote him a story about furniture possessed by the spirit of a child (my eternal theme, which I reused yet again in Per Sempre). Shock had a troubled history, the producer went out of business and it was only made five or six years later.

Is it true that Lamberto Bava collaborated on the direction of Shock?

Mario wanted to launch Lamberto as a director and so gave him credit for directing some of that film.

Can you please tell us something about the project that you and Mario Bava were working on when he died?

It was called Anomaly and was going to be produced by Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff from the American side and Lucisano in Italy. My idea was that at the edge of the Universe there was a long, tall wall dividing light from darkness, good from evil, etc… like a Gothic cathedral, the wall was covered with demonic figures, all the evils in the world were carved and animated on it. A ship arrives at the wall to look for the survivors of an accident. They walk through the only opening in the wall, an immense door and find themselves in the dark. Before them is a black river on which an “Egyptian” boat sails… essentially, this was Stargate before Stargate.

Every several years the Italian film industry manages something which reminds us of the challenging material that it regularly presented in the ’70s and early ’80s, e.g. Lamberto Bava’s The Torturer or Federico Zampaglione’s Tulpa (both of which you wrote)… is it conceivable that these films could ever start to be produced in Italy again in significant numbers?

I had problems with both of those directors. Lamberto didn’t understand my screenplay, which was a kind of satire about the risks that these girls will take in search of fame and celebrity. He handed it over to two young writers who simplified it to an extent with which he was comfortable. As for Tulpa, Zampaglione emphasised its erotic aspects to the detriment of its thriller elements. Neither of these films lived up to their potential and they didn’t register with their target audiences. On the evidence of those experiences, the answer to your question is… no, I don’t think so.

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Tulpa (top)… Zampaglione and Sacchetti (above)

– Fine –

The suggestion, from somebody who worked so closely with him, that Lucio Fulci had no interest or involvement in Horror before getting the Zombi 2 gig (for which he was, let it be remembered, third choice) might disappoint some Fulci fanatics but it does support what has so often been said about his ability to adapt with ease to any genre in which he was required to work. When you consider that this Horror novice made his Pasta Paura debut with that eye-popping classic and within the space of three years had clocked up another masterpiece (The Beyond) alongside such strong contenders as City Of The Living Dead, House By The Cemetery and The New York Ripper (a giallo, for sure, but one with strong Horror overtones) as well as such underrated oddities as The Black Cat and Manhattan Baby… the mind fair boggles!

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80 Glorious Years: “BARBARA STEELE in L’Aldila”… and in conversation with The House Of Freudstein.

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Friday the 13th of December, 2013 was a lucky day for your humble correspondent Bobby Freudstein, being the day that my longest, most soul-destroying and hopefully final stint of conventional employment mercifully terminated. Invited to what was, doubtless, going to be an unseemly office-closing knees-up, I was prepared with the perfect pretext for non-attendance. “Can’t do it, mate… I’m interviewing Barbara Steele tonight” (talk about a reaffirmation of intent!) “Who’s Barbara Steele?”, came the philistine reply. Another compelling reason not to go… I mean, would you want to socialise, if you could possibly avoid it, with the kind of person who doesn’t know who Barbara Steele is?

To mark La Steele’s 80th birthday, the following is a potted, Italian-biased version of a career-embracing interview that originally appeared, in its entirety, over issues 158 and 159 of Dark Side magazine. The original data file having gone AWOL and my scanner being on the blink, I’m grateful to the lovely Mrs Freudstein for retyping the relevant passages… also to Calum Waddell for hooking me up… and of course to the Queen Of Horror herself, for her participation.

We pick up the interview at the point where Barbara has just stood up Elvis Presley on Flaming Star, occasioning a blazing row with its director, Don Siegel. Having burned her Hollywood bridges, she started over in The Land Of The Big Boot…


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One of the memorable quotes that’s been attributed to you, so many of which seem to be apocryphal, is: “I went to Hollywood with very little and came back with nothing”.

I can’t remember what’s real or not myself, but that sounds about right.

And so, off to Italy… it’s said that Italian directors are more concerned with lighting the iconic face in the beautiful scene than they are with actually directing actors. Did you find yourself having to fall back on your Rank Charm School training?

Italian directors were, for the most part, so generous and enthusiastic and abundant and loving and you just felt it, felt you could do no wrong. When you are in this very safe place and you don’t have this sort of awkward, silent, critical eye around you, you can do something that you really wouldn’t otherwise think of doing. Now Mario Bava was a very conservative, shy and private man, didn’t get too involved with his actors because he was preoccupied as we all know with his camerawork and his lighting and the beauty of his films. He was very removed from his actors.

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Did your own background in the visual arts make you more simpatico with Bava’s vision and better equipped to participate in it?

Well, we didn’t see dailies and you’re not aware of what anything is until you’ve seen dailies. It was only ages afterwards that you got an idea of what was going on. You didn’t see the slow motion, you didn’t see the high contrast, you didn’t see the whole German Expressionist look… you didn’t see it, you just felt it, you just felt the huge intelligence and focus and that he really cared about his framing and so on, that absolutely nothing was random.

Was it disconcerting to find yourself acting on a noisy set with an international cast, some of whom where spouting stuff like “rhubarb, rhubarb” and with all the dialogue being re-dubbed in post production?

Well I never actually heard anybody saying the rhubarb, rhubarb thing! (Laughs) Obviously direct sound is so much better. Italy was extremely noisy in those years, there was always somebody singing songs, repairing a church bell, people having all sorts of crazy arguments… I guess all the walls must have been very thin so they couldn’t possibly do direct sound. Not exactly a disaster, but sad for me because I never heard my voice on these films. By the time they got round to looping the film, I was usually making another one in another country and couldn’t do it and the voice to me is, you know, two thirds of the way or at least half the way there. It’s strange how patterns follow you, or it seems, in such a random way, all your life because my voice has barely been used and you know that’s extraordinarily frustrating.

It’s such a shocking waste of such a distinctive voice… your performance in the pre-titles sequence of Black Sunday is one of the most iconic cinematic moments of all time, but we heard that you remain displeased with it, find it too mannered and would have welcomed the opportunity to do it again and differently.

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I’ve been thinking about that recently, you could really go one or two ways with it, when you’re paralysed with terror because someone is approaching you with death and agony, like the iron mask… your eyes are transfixed, you’re out-of-body and frozen in some kind of other worldly terror, or you can choose to do it the other way, which is to really go berserk! It would be interesting to see it both ways. Actually I think Mario Bava had a very firm idea of how he wanted it and he was right, I think it worked that way.

Well, Asa could afford to be sanguine about it because she was confident she’d return to do more evil deeds… I imagine that somewhat takes the edge off her ordeal (Barbara laughs). As an actress is it more satisfying to see yourself on the screen in moody chiaroscuro or the kind of lurid colour schemes favoured by Roger Corman, for whom you starred in the Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and indeed later by Bava himself?

I think black and white is more satisfying for horror, it reaches much deeper into the subconscious, just as black and white photographs have an appeal truer and more profound than a colour photograph. I don’t know if it’s just because the eye receives colour differently in a darkened movie theatre, I don’t know what happens to your peripheral vision but it always takes one time to accept the colour, however gorgeous it is, you know, however beautiful and well done it is…

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We’re getting more used to it now thanks to colour television, which is really very good now in America, a lot of it so beautifully shot that it looks like Storaro on some of these series, but having grown up on black and white cinema and all the great imagery of the ’40s and ’50s and German Expressionism, etc, there’s nothing for me quite as spectacular as great black and white. I do think that Italian cameramen have a third eye and I can actually identify if a film is Italian, even if I don’t know, just by the way it is lit. The light of Rome, the light of Italy, this transcendental light with these glowing threads that kind of go through it, it seems to be absorbed by film and the Italian cameramen are so sensitive to light, fabulous, as they grew up in this. I think this is why they are so very conscious of light and they talk about it… I mean, even the guy who’s selling you peaches on the market will talk about light, he won’t just say it’s a beautiful day, he’ll say: “Oh it’s a beautiful morning, isn’t the light incredible?” and it is this kind of thing and yeah…voilà!

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Another of your “gothic” directors was Antonio Margheriti… were you aware of the animosity that allegedly existed between him and Bava?

No I was not, though it may have well been the case between them in private.

Another of those myths that’s become associated with you is that you wouldn’t go on to the Black Sunday set one day because you feared that Bava had developed a “see through” film technique that would render you naked on the screen.

Bullshit! Yeah, this was published in that guy’s book about Bava, I couldn’t believe it! How could someone say something so profoundly idiotic?  I mean I was just amazed, it’s the most whimsical and demented thing imaginable… “I’m not coming to the set today in case you’ve got X Ray film”? Just hilarious!

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Bava’s secret “see through” film stock was working only too well…

Supposedly Bava tried several times to get a colour remake of Black Sunday off the ground and apparently he wanted you for The Whip and The Body (1963) in the role that eventually went to Daliah Lavi.

These are things that were never communicated to me, because I was really a gypsy and all over the place. But yes, that’s what I heard and they were films that the French director Yves Boisset really wanted me for and I never heard about. Sometimes you wouldn’t find out until two years after the event…

It would’ve been wonderful to watch the sado-masochistic sparks fly between you and Christopher Lee, though you did later work with him on Vernon Sewell’s Curse Of The Crimson Altar. Another male horror icon you appeared alongside, in Corman’s aforementioned the Pit and the Pendulum, was Vincent Price. How did that go professionally and personally?

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Everyone who ever worked with Vincent Price will tell you that they just adored him. He was such an intelligent, civilised guy, he was just as beautiful a man as he appears to be on film, with his sort of edgy irony rather than cruelty. Very supportive, and of course he loved Art, was a great Art collector, we had a really good communication about Art and yes, I really liked Vincent Price very much. I always said that if he had been an Englishman, or if he had moved to England, he could and would have been one of those titled actors, the Gielguds and so on, he would’ve been one of the great classic actors. I think he had something of an ambivalence about not using more of his powers as an actor in great roles. I know your readers all love Horror and you’re thinking about great roles in that genre but I’m talking about really great roles.

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When you had lunch with people like Price, Lee and Karloff (your other Crimson Altar co-star), would you compare notes on your experiences with people like Mario Bava?

I’ve had lunch with Christopher Lee on several occasions and I’ve taken tea at his house, I mean I’ve met him many many times and I can’t remember our conversations in that much detail frankly, but I just expounded over everything, I mean I don’t remember anything that he said particularly about Mario Bava but he’s very grand and very courteous and it’s marvellous, just too fabulous that he’s still working.

8 1/2 is just the most audacious, ostentatious display of creativity…. it’s about Fellini’s creative block but it’s like he’s saying that even blocked, his work is more engaging than that of others working at full throttle.

Well, what he actually said about this in the movie is in the scene at the press conference when Mastroianni is under the table and this is really true of so many artists, writers and so on. He says “I have nothing to say but I have to say it anyway”.

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Didn’t you have a lot off scene cut from the film?

I did, it is still a very long movie about 3 hours but the first cut was something like 5 and a half hours long! Oh god I did, yes and I’m so upset about it, I think I had about the scenes cut, most of which are very sarcastic about the Vatican. Oh and there’s a little dig at Antonioni where I have a tiny dog called Michelangelo and I’m saying: “Michelangelo, you’re so slow! Faster please, please, come on! Come on!”

He was so slow with the horror film in which he intended to star you alongside Monica Vitti that it never got made!

Ah, that would have been great, would’ve been just marvellous, but fate for actors is like walking on a high wire of luck, you could have one thing that could turn you around completely. The thing about the horror films I did in Italy in those days, of course, they are always set in the past… and why? Because the past has a fairytale quality and they are always done, as we said, very elegantly, beautifully shot, but that feeling of the past, in a strange way…

It gives a film greater longevity, compared to e.g. the later films in the Hammer cycle which tried for a very “early ’70s” feel and look and just look incredibly dated now, whereas something like Black Sunday is completely outside of any temporal frame of reference.

Well yes, they are out of time, you’re absolutely right. They are timeless and it gave them a kind of elegance. It felt, in a strange way, as though it could be truer and more real, because then you step back a bit and you feel you can expect it more as opposed to something being contemporary. Those films are all deeply engrossed in the psyche and l’aldila, the other world… it’s not the horror of, you know, you suddenly see somebody approach you in the dark with a knife… it’s a different horror, it’s psychological. It’s anticipation of the horror that’s about to come, which is always worse than the actuality because in the actuality you can react and you’re caught up in your rage and your blood flowing and everything and you react, the anticipation of the act is always far worse than the act itself.

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Another colour shot from the set of a b/w film… Fellini 8 1/2

Absolutely. In this age of DVD and Blu-Ray collectors’ editions, with all the extras you get on those, it would be nice to think that one day we’re going to see, for instance, your missing scenes from Fellini 8 1/2 or the stuff that was shot for his Casanova…

Well, nothing was ever shot of me for Casanova, whic is a great pity/ My sequence was completely cut before shooting started and it was a phenomenal role. I mean, this was before they invented Viagra and I was this kind of Venetian alchemist wearing this amazing head dress, sat on a throne in Venice, who came up with these marvellous bottles of stuff that would cure anybody of impotence, which would have been just the most spectacular, campy thing on the planet!

Wow! Were you ever connected to any Pasolini projects? That would have been another marriage made in heaven / hell…

No! I loved Pasolini, he used to live just three or five doors down the street from me, I saw him all the time and I just loved his poetry, all of his work, but no, our paths never crossed professionally.

That’s a shame, to me out of all those guys, he was The Master…

I think you’re right.

For a long time there was this dichotomy, a false one in my belief, between worthy Italian Arthouse cinema and that country’s populist “B movie” tradition. Do you sense that we are moving beyond that now when people like Scorsese and Tim Burton are rhapsodising about Mario Bava (and of course Fellini himself was a big admirer of Bava) and a Hollywood heavyweight like Quentin Tarantino is citing Antonio Margheriti and Enzo Castellari as his masters?

I do and I think particularly in American that’s the case, to me what is amazing that so many people are so conscious of the films, I cannot believe the amount of fans they have and the amount of fan mail I get for these films, which are ancient. This is even before there were DVDs, people were collecting videos, it’s just extraordinary because a lot of these films didn’t get any kind of release… just incredible!

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What one hears about Ricardo Freda is that if he really cared about a project he was full on and involved in it, but if he wasn’t he would just phone it in and farm it out to his assistants to complete the picture… which indeed is how Mario Bava made the transition from DP to director.

I never knew that.

I guess Freda was “on it” for the two “Dr Hichcock” pictures he made with you…

He was very “on it”, he was a very theatrical, energised guy, always chomping on a cigar. He had his little tantrums, which actually I quite liked because I could have a tantrum back. It’s a form of communication, you didn’t have to take it as a disparaging thing and he’d have his little things with the crew and this and that but in the end everybody just loved him. To me he was like an Italian opera star, second lead! (Laughs) He was very operatic, in other words, I really liked his theatricality and energy, I really loved Ricardo Freda… he was great.

Another guy who developed a reputation for tantrums and became a horror icon in his own right, relatively late in his career, was Lucio Fulci. I gather you had a good time with Fulci, you must have caught him when he was young and relatively relaxed. He did subsequently develop this reputation for being crusty and difficult and increasingly eccentric…

Yes, I heard that and I was sorry to hear it.

I met him in the last year of his life and he was very charming but absolutely barking, thoough there was a suspicion that he was kind of playing up to that image.

You’re kidding! Dear, oh dear…

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You played two roles in his 1964 comedy I Maniaci and very well, too… it’s a pity you didn’t accumulate more credits in that genre and that those in which you did appear never got any distribution outside of Italy.

I know, I love comedy, very few people can write it these days. I feel, you know, that somebody else had my actress career. I was just like living on the ceiling or something and these sort of things just fell in and I did them and it’s so strange that I’ve ended up with this collection of horror in my past.

Many of the gothic films you made in Italy deal with such taboo subjects… were you aware how the versions of them that got released in English speaking territories were tweaking to eradicate any suggestion of lesbianism, incest, necrophilia and so on?

It’s interesting because there we were in a highly Catholic country and that is where we were doing all that stuff, you’d think it would be the other way round, no?

So Many acerbic and startling statements have been accredited to you and most of them you probably never even said. “I never want to climb out of another freaking coffin as long as I live…”

No I never said that, I really hate that and that’s another one which I REALLY hate which I think was in a French magazine Midi Minute Fantastic or something, the magazine which I gather is now being republished in a series of books, but the one that really infuriates me…

I think I know what’s coming…

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“WTF?!?”

You’ve got to put this straight! I’m quoted as saying in several articles that, I wanted to “fuck the world” and that’s just a word that I don’t use. I probably said something like” “I want to have a love affair with the whole world”…

… or to embrace the whole world…

Yeah, which is completely different but that is just grotesque.

It is grotesque, it’s kind of ironic though that while you would obviously have never said such a thing, that is pretty much the plot of the David Cronenberg picture you appeared in, Shivers… libidomania!

Yes, well, he loved his bodily fluids, did Cronenberg!

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“I Made A Film With George Peppard, you know!” The Extremely Grumpy UMBERTO LENZI Interview

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It was 20 years ago (and then some), in May 1997 that the boy Freudstein interviewed Umberto Lenzi. I’d been avidly anticipating our encounter and surely all those warnings about what a hard-ass he was were, for the most part, hyperbole? Read on and weep…

Signor Lenzi, I was speaking to Sage Stallone and his partner Bob Murawski recently, about their definitive laser disc release of Cannibal Ferox… are you surprised that these films still have a large international cult following, so many years after their release?

In the case of Cannibal Ferox, yes, because for me that one is a very minor movie. I don’t like it so much… in my opinion, I made other movies that were much better. I like Paranoia very much, with Carroll Baker, and also some of the action movies that I made were better movies, like Violent Naples and Roma A Mano Armata… my war movies too, like Contro Quattro Badiere, Il Grande Attaco and La Legione Dei Dannati. For me the cannibal movies are not so important, so I am very surprised, yes, that they have enjoyed international success for all these years.

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Were you surprised to learn that somebody like Tarantino is very familiar with your films?

No, I’m not surprised because I know that before he started directing, he worked in a video store and was a big fan of European movies. So it’s no surprise… in fact, nothing surprises me any more, because the motion picture audience is strange, really strange… but you know the thriller movies I made, yes?

The gialli? Sure I do… I’m very interested in the way that European films, particularly Italian films, have had this unacknowledged influence on American films…

Yes… in the 70’s we had a thriving industry producing thrillers, westerns, cop films and so on, but now the Italian industry is completely dead. Twenty years ago we had good directors like Sergio Leone, Corbucci, many horror directors, and Italian genre pictures were very successful. These days… in my opinion, it’s the emphasis on special effects that has killed the fantasy and the talent of the directors. Three days ago I saw the famous American success The Rock, starring Sean Connery, and I thought it was a very bad movie, because the story was a very stupid, Rambo-like story, with many effects, explosions, crashes… I’d seen it all before. For me there have been only two great American films in recent years, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I don’t like all these stupid special effects as in Independence Day and Waterworld… these films are just stupid. You remember Make Them Die Slowly?

Cannibal Ferox?

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Cannibal Ferox, yes, it was made with hardly any money, about $100,000 because we shot this movie with a crew of about 10-12 people in the jungle without any resources but with a very important idea in there. The motion picture industry in America right now is effects, effects, effects, and that means money, money, money…

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

Of course, it’s impossible for us to compete.

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

The Italian industry is now finished for action and spectacular movies, because the Italian producers and the directors make only intimate, small stories. Argento can do it, but even for him it’s very difficult. The others have all disappeared…. me, Castellari, Valerii… and Fulci is now dead, of course. Corbucci, too…

I was going to ask you for your memories of Lucio Fulci…

We were friends because we both started off in the 50’s and I was assistant director on a movie with him. He was a good director, made something like a hundred pictures in every genre, but he died a poor man…. very poor.

Another of your former collaborators, Massaccesi, only keeps working by churning out pornos now…

Massaccesi is a very strange person… I’d rather not talk about him, OK?

OK… is it true that early on in your career you worked on an Esther Williams movie?

Yes, Wind In Eden…

That’s something you’ve got in common with Fidel Castro, then!

I started as assistant director to Mr Richard Wilson, he was a very close friend of Orson Welles. He produced Welles’ Macbeth and he was in the cast of Citizen Kane. I was very happy to begin my working life with him. He died last year. All of this happened 40 years ago, of course, when I was in my twenties. Two days ago I watched the film on video with my wife, because it is the first experience of my cinematic life. The film was shot in my home-town…

In Tuscany?

On the Tuscan coast, yes, and I scouted the locations for Mr Wilson.

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You must have had a knack for scouting talent too, because I believe you discovered Ornella Muti…

Yes, when she was only 16 she made her first or maybe her second film appearance in my film…

A Quiet Place To Kill?

Yes, Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere. It wasn’t a good movie. I made a mistake, because I wanted to make a movie like Easy Rider, a post-1968 movie…

… for the youth market…

… for the youth market, yes, but the producer was saying to me: “Umberto, your film with Carroll Baker, Paranoia, has been a big success in The States, so you must try to repeat the formula”. So by adding the thriller aspect, the movie ended up as a strange mix between Easy Rider and Paranoia, which did not really work.

The movies with Carroll Baker, and other gialli made by your colleagues in Italy have been very influential on the international thriller scene…

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Maybe…

You can see the influence in US blockbusters like Basic Instinct.

Yes, other journalists have claimed that my movies like Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse have influenced American movies… maybe, but these three movies starring Carroll Baker – and Spasmo, which I made later – are intelligent exploitations of human craziness, because we have the situation of a protagonist who is not good but is not all bad… the innocent and guilty people are the same, because for me in those movies the important thing was to demonstrate that the human mind is capable of both good and evil, you understand?

Sure. How would you compare and contrast your giallo films with those of say, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino?

Look, these three movies I made with Carroll are crazy, and just a little sexy, with stories about protagonists who are morally ambiguous. They are completely different from the movies of Dario Argento, because Argento is more concerned with serial killers and blood. My movie Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso… I don’t know the English title…

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

Yes, that one is nearer to the Argento way of filming, but the sexy thrillers starring Carroll Baker are completely different. Sergio Martino’s films are more similar to my movies, because he worked as production manager on some of mine, and took many ideas from them. After Argento changed the rules of the genre, many producers and directors made movies in his style, with the blood and the serial killers and the strange murders by the figure in black… I made one too, Sette Orchidee , but this is completely different from my earlier films Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse…

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

There’s a power-tool killing in Brian De Palma’s Body Double that many viewers find suspiciously similar to Marisa Mell’s death scene in Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso…

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Maybe, I can’t say because I’m a director rather than a critic. I will say that for me, Brian De Palma is one of the best movie directors in the world. I love his work very much, but in the history of motion pictures, every director has learned something from others, directly or indirectly. I love Hitchcock very much and many times, maybe unintentionally, I show that influence. In many people’s movies we see again the shower scene from Psycho. Maybe indirectly I have taken things from other directors, for example I love very much some directors from the 40’s, like Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak. When I made my final movie with Carroll Baker, Il Coltello Di Ghiaccio / The Dagger Of Ice, I was unconsciously influenced by Siodmak’s film…

The Spiral Staircase…

…The Spiral Staircase, yes, but not intentionally, because the situation is different. Instead of being the victim, Carroll is the murderer.

Another giallo you made was Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro…

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

It’s quite a confused little film, and I heard that you never actually met the writer and producer, Felix Tussell…

Felix Tussell, yes, but that isn’t so unusual. It was an Italo-Spanish co-production, you know, and in these circumstances you don’t always meet all the people involved in making the picture. That’s another one which was more in the Argento style…

Argento co-wrote your 1969 film Legion Of The Damned, and I gather that he hung around the set and picked up quite a lot from you…

I think so… we worked together for two months, but after it came out I lost touch with him. 20 or 25 years later, I saw him in Rome at Lucio’s funeral. Dario is a big director, a very good director, but he doesn’t love me, I think, because he has never spoken of me in any of his interviews, and although he is a producer of other directors, he has never called me to direct a picture. I don’t know why, because when we met at the funeral he was saying: “Umberto, come here, how are you?” and all of this.

He’s reputedly a very difficult man to get close to.

Maybe… a strange man. But when we met in ‘69 we worked together for two months, he was very young and he loved me, but then we lost contact with each other.

You have this ongoing dispute with Ruggero Deodato over which of you is the originator of the Italian cannibal movie…

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(Animatedly) I don’t want to discuss this foolish dispute, because if you know my movies, it is perfectly clear that I started these films with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale, two years before he made his first cannibal film… and he only got to make that because I refused to do the sequel, Mondo Cannibale 2, so the producers hired Deodato instead. That’s the story… the first cannibal film in the Italian cinema was Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale or The Man From Deep River.

Are you aware of the censorship problems with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (as Deep River Savages) and Cannibal Ferox in the UK, where they were dubbed “video nasties”?

All I can say is to repeat that for me, these films are not very important, so I have not followed their censorship problems in other countries. Some people have told me of some strange situations abroad, where the films cannot be distributed, but in Italy I have never had any problems with them.

I thought you might be amused to hear that here in the UK, there are crazy politicians and journalists who believe that people were really eaten in these films!

(Tut-tutting) No… no… look, for me, I think the interest shown in these movies is not about love of motion pictures, rather about cynicism and sadism. I made many good movies… like Il Grand Attaco with Henry Fonda and John Huston, why has nobody ever interviewed me about this movie? Or From Hell To Victory, a very good movie starring George Peppard… but people just keep asking me about Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive, two small movies without actors… without anything! It’s very strange…

You consider these minor movies, yet a film like Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio has definitely exerted an influence, shall we say, over big-budgeted American productions like John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest…

Maybe… again I say that a lot of people see each other’s movies – Italian, American -and the influences go backwards and forwards. That’s only normal…

Early in your career you made many costume dramas like Catherine The Great and action / adventure movies like Il Trionfo Di Robin Hood and Zorro Vs Maciste…

Well I was very young, these were my first movies…

 … Sandokan…

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Sandokan is a good movie, it was made for MGM and it was the first Italian adventure movie shot completely in India.

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

My movie Sandokan influenced Italian directors so much that thirty years later, they have shot another Sandokan movie in India using the same locations…

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

I don’t know, I didn’t see it… why should I be interested when I already did it thirty years ago?

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

Yeah, recently on a German satellite channel. It’s like an “Indiana Jones” picture before its time…

Yes, many people have said that to me. For me that is one of my best movies, I love it very, very much. It’s more important than Cannibal Ferox, because we shot it in Indian locations in an ironic style, you understand, like they did twenty years later in Indiana Jones, but without any money for special effects. I remember that we had a crew of about 15 people and we were shooting with many, many difficulties. All the Indian actors were not really actors, but real-life people. It was not so easy in the 60’s to shoot such fantasy pictures in these kind of locations, so I’m very proud of films like La Montagna Di Luce and I Tre Sergenti Del Bengala, my last movie in India…

After that you specialised in spy films for a while, and adaptations of fumetti comic strips like Kriminal…

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Yes, for me Kriminal was an intelligent attempt to mix comic books with motion-pictures, in the same way that Montana Di Luce was action-adventure shot in an ironic context. I have made about 63 movies… I have no time to talk about all my movies… I am tired.

What about a movie you didn’t get to make… The Invisible Man?

I wrote the screenplay for that one but the producer refused to make it because it would have cost a lot. Round about this time another Italian director, Alberto De Martino, made a movie in London called Puma Man, which was a big box-office flop, so then the producer was afraid to finance my movie.

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When you made Black Demons in Brazil, you filmed an actual voodoo ceremony… did this lead to any brushes with the supernatural?

Well maybe, because from then till now only bad things have happened to me! I prefer not to speak about it. Like I say, I am tired… (Abruptly) I’m going now. Please send me a copy of your interview with Tarantino.

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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And that was it. My audience was abruptly terminated and my questions about Lenzi’s Crime Slime epics, among many other aspects of his career, had been prepared in vain. The next time I ran into him, at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 2013, we got along much better (as the above photo hopefully indicates). It probably helped that I wasn’t there to interview him, though in fact I very much doubt that he remembered our previous interaction. Anyway, he’d just dined with Barbara Bouchet so I suspect that he had rather more pleasant things on his mind.

P.S. As I was posting this interview I heard from friends that Umberto Lenzi, now aged 86, is currently in hospital. I’m sure that all readers and supporters of The House Of Freudstein will join me in wishing him a speedy return to full and feisty good health.

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A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake You… SEVERIN, THE EARLY YEARS.

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Daft, Gregory, Cregan and friends… another humdrum day at the Severin office.

A feature in the current issue (#185) of Dark Side magazine celebrates Severin’s first decade of digital debauchery by interviewing that label’s enterprising, taboo-busting, trash-obsessed honchos David Gregory and Carl Daft. The following archive interview (recently rediscovered wedged behind a toilet cistern during the demolition of a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema) catches them just a couple of years or so after the label’s launch. These interviews should be read in conjunction to get the whole picture… or (to paraphrase Mr Gregory) if you want to be tickled by the whole chicken…

To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Isaac Newton so sagely pointed out in his Third Law Of Motion (familiar to all of our readers, no doubt, from their GCSEs). Isaac’s axiom holds just as true in the realm of censorship as it does in the sphere of physics, so it was inevitable that the savage suppression of horror and exploitation video from the early ’80s onwards would provoke a commensurate outbreak of fan activity dedicated to keeping the flame alive until the dawning of less censorious times such as those that, give or take, we currently enjoy. Some of us hacks have managed to turn a modest living from our endless journalistic musings on the hysterical history of “video nasties” and similarly contentious titles but other, even more twisted individuals, have taken things several sinister steps further.

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Consider David Gregory and Carl Daft, two eminently agreeable, middle class boys growing up in the more respectable parts of Nottingham, whose quest for forbidden filmic fruit would, in time, blaze a legendary trail across the annals of DVD (and subsequently BD and download) distribution. “By the age of 10, Carl and I had seen many of the nasties before the police started snatching them up” avows Gregory, in a truly blood chilling confession. “But it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which I think made the biggest impression on me. Even at the early age I was able to tell there was something about the stench in the atmosphere of that film which made it quite special, despite the lack of gore. Anyway, after The Video Recordings Act devastated the industry we became avid collectors of pre-cert video tape, scouring the shops of Nottingham for hidden gems.”

“There was always that exciting possibility that you would find a video shop and he’d bring out this big box of nasties and be selling them for a few quid a piece” agrees Daft, smacking his lips like a true connoisseur of cinematic Evil. The boys’ delvings in the dark hinterland of video brought them into contact with a distributor for whom Gregory shot the local interest documentaries Nottingham At War and Nottingham At The Cinema… the latter is particularly nifty and both sold well in Robin Hood’s native city.

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Dave’s main focus, though, remained on cinematic sleaze (he had already made Scathed, as short starring Warhol “superstar” Holly Woodlawn in 1995) and, together with Carl, he put together the Exploited label to distribute their kind of movies on VHS. This soon had them butting heads with the BBFC. Deranged, Axe and the G.G. Allin doc Hated all got cut, Deadbeat At Dawn and Maniac were rejected outright… hassles that would become, as we shall see, a recurring motif in this narrative.

At the dawn of the digital age the boys collaborated on the seminal doc Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and would raise the bar for DVD bonus features with their contributions to exploitation releases on various labels… their two-part Ban The Sadist Videos! retrospective on “nasty”-bashing hysteria, spread over Anchor Bay UK’s Box Of The Banned sets, was a particularly commendable effort and clearly came straight from their heart.

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Carl and Dave were also very active in the heroically failed (in 2002) legal attempt to overturn the BBFC’s ban on an uncut ABUK edition of Last House On The Left and their affiliations with Anchor Bay in The States ultimately spawned a close working relationship with Maniac director turned DVD distributor Bill Lustig, with whom they absconded to form the legendary Blue Underground label.

Their milestone US releases would include unexpurgated versions of Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America, Night Train Murders (which at the time was still a taboo title here in Blighty), Mark Of The Devil et al, alongside epic box sets dedicated to Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead series and the collected works of Mondo godfathers Jacopetti and Prosperi. During this period Dave and Carl also took on the completion of Jim Van Bebber’s Charlie’s Family, which turned into a hair raising experience for all concerned.

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Meet The Team.

In Summer 2006 Dave, Carl and partner John Cregan split to start releasing films under the Severin banner. Initially concentrating on sexploitation efforts, their release slate subsequently widened to take on every aspect of exploitation cinema. When we spoke, Daft and Gregory were bringing the sleaze home with the inauguration of Severin UK…

You must have been proud of what you achieved at Blue Underground… can you tell us something about your  reasons for splitting?

DG) I think BU had reached a stage where we could no longer carry on as we had for the previous few years. Not only were titles that Bill was interested in pursuing getting scarcer and more costly to produce, but also the market had steadily been getting smaller and more packed with competition. Having said that John, Carl and I wanted to broaden our horizons a bit, gain some independence and pursue production and saw potential for a variety of films that were not being exploited by the other boutique cult labels. Initially this was soft core erotic films from France, Italy, Germany, Australia, etc. We figured these films could still find an audience and they did. We committed to do some featurette work for Bill after we split, most notably on The Stendhal Syndrome and Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, but that definitively dried up some time ago.

Tell us about Severin’s UK launch. Why now? does the (yawn) “credit crunch” make this a particularly difficult time to undertake such a venture?

CD) We are launching in the UK with Polanski’s What? An amazing new transfer of The Master’s rarest film, complete with a slew of extras. It’ll be a terrific special edition. We’ll follow up with Felicity, Vanessa, Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter. Although erotica and horror will always be on our radar we are broadening our output and will be releasing everything from war epics like Enzo Castellari’s Eagles Over London to Ozploitation biker classic Stone.

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There is a school of thought that the  distribution business is recession-proof, that in tough times people would rather stay in and watch a DVD than go out to a restaurant or the pub. I think there’s some truth in that but it seems that cash is tight everywhere at the moment and consumers are being extremely cautious as, indeed, are the retailers, so it is bound to have a knock-on effect on sales. We have been toying with the idea of launching in the UK for a while but given our previous headaches with the BBFC and the Video Appeals Committee , had never quite mustered the enthusiasm to do so. When we found out that What? was available for UK distribution, we thought this was a strong enough title with which to launch in the UK and as the BBFC had lightened up considerably in the last couple of years we felt that we wouldn’t be spending half our time arguing with them like before so decided the time was right.

Do you think / fear, given your track record, that your stuff will be marked out for special scrutiny at the BBFC? And do you retain the same appetite as of yore for litigation in these matters?

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CD) The BBFC views every title on its own merit, surely? No, I don’t think we will be singled out for attention in that respect. Where our name will be noted, as this also answers the second part of your question, is that The Board will consider its position very carefully before issuing us a cuts list, as I have made it clear that I won’t tolerate any cuts whatsoever and I will tak any such decision to appeal. Just after the Last House appeal, , Robin Duval issued a cuts list for the Jim Van Bebber short My Sweet Satan. I wrote him back saying I didn’t agree with his decision and that unless he waived these unnecessary cuts there would be no option but to reconvene the Video Appeals Committee. Knowing that I was deadly serious and probably still scarred by the experience of Last House On The Left he backed down and passed the film uncut. As it happened I never even released the title, but I had made my point.

Presumably it will be a badge of honour for you to get former “nasties” like Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter released uncut in the UK…

CD) Most of those titles are now passing uncut due to the abolition of the 10 year rule after the Last House hearing. Bloody Moon is a nice one for us to do as it was one of our favourite “nasties” back when we were kids. It’s funny to think that here we are, 25 years later, mastering it in  Hi-Def and putting it out on DVD for the first time ever with the enthusiastic involvement of its legendary director Jess Franco.

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Any amusing anecdotes about your encounters with the legendary Jess?

DG) I can safely say that I am a big admirer of Jess Franco these days and that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a man who has always done things his way no matter what the criticism levelled at him. Not too many film makers can say that. The more you see of his work, the more you realise that this guy is an auteur. Of course some of his works are more palatable than others but that’s the joy of being a Jess fan, you have to see as much as possible to discover and admire the true gems… plus he’s funny as shit and great company, as long as you don’t mind passively inhaling about twenty cigarettes in the course of a few hours!

I believe you’re going to be releasing stuff over here in NTSC rather than Pal. Kindly talk us through some of the technical and commercial issues involved in this decision.

CD) Yes, unless we are contractually obliged to release in Pal we will be releasing everything in NTSC here in the UK in the exact same versions as we do in the U.S. Most of our titles are appearing on legitimate DVD for the first time in the world and it’s a very expensive process to go back to the original film and audio elements to create a new master, more so now that we are mastering in hi-def, so if we can split that cost across two territories instead of one then that makes sound commercial sense. Virtually all UK DVD players can play NTSC and as most of our releases are Region O then it shouldn’t create any problems for the consumer.

As Severin, has sexual material caused you more or less censorship hassles than horror / violence previously did in your principal markets?

DG) The censorship in the US is different from the bollocks that we had to put up with in the UK. It still exists though, even if not in the form of a state censorship board. Certain bigger stores and online retailers won’t touch certain products for fear of upsetting any puritan customers they might have and as a result some of our products can only be stocked in the more liberal outlets.

Tell us about the problems you had with the Immoral Women sleeve in some US outlets and the people who refused to subtitle Emanuelle Around The World…

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CD) One of the bigger retail stores ordered Immoral Women but it seems that the box copy on the back and its suggestion of bunny love were too much for one employee somewhere in the Mid-west and an official complaint was filed by this poor soul. It then became an HR issue for the company which, under American law, can become very onerous. To them it was far easier to send all copies of the film back rather than risk a law suit. With Emanuelle Around The World there is a uniquely D’Amato-esque scene in the XXX version which involves some dubious sexual activity. When the subtitle house got to this point in the movie they immediately had the tapes couriered back to our office for fear that the Republican decency police would have then sent to Death Row for the good of the community.

As veterans of all those scrapes with the BBFC, it must be a bittersweet experience for you to see Last House On The Left finally released uncut in the UK on another label… were you also as amazed as I was to see some of your Franco titles… I’m thinking particularly of The Sexual Story Of O… released unexpurgated over here?

CD) The BBFC has certainly lightened up compared to what it was even five years ago. There are still problems but if you compare it to how things were under Ferman’s reign, it’s nothing. It’s also annoying when you consider that we went to all that effort and expense to challenge the BBFC over Last House On The Left, only for the Video Appeals Committee to over-rule us and demand further cuts, then five years later the offending footage is no longer considered dangerous to the UK public… but another company gets to benefit! I mean, what could possibly have changed so much in British society that footage which was unacceptable five years ago is now OK?

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The sexualised violence in Sexual Story Of O would also have caused problems even under Duval but now we are seeing the likes of the hardcore version of Caligula being passed at ’18’ so that is definitely a good sign. Next stop has to be hard core at 18 that one might struggle to be “exceptionally justified by context” (the Board’s guideline) I’m thinking Malabimba and Beast In Space XXX at 18!

Well, if Caligula is now OK uncut at 18, what about some of the more out-there Black Emanuelle titles? I mean, what’s the difference?

CD) The two titles that would cause most controversy, Emanuelle In America and Emanuelle Around The world are both owned by Studio Canal / Optimum in the UK so unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to chance our arm with The Board even if we wanted to. I heard that Optimum submitted the full version of World without realising everything that it contained. The BBFC politely informed them that some of the contents were unacceptable in the UK and they promptly withdrew it. I would like to challenge the Board’s acceptance of hard core at 18 with some of our other titles though, under the test of “exceptionally justified by context.”I think the hard core elements of Beast In Space and Malabimba are most certainly exceptionally justified by their context. I am not sure that the BBFC would agree, maybe we’ll see what the Video Appeals Committee thinks.

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Joe D’Amato once told me that he much preferred soft core to hard core, personally… where do your own inclinations lie?

DG) John is our connoisseur of the world of soft core whereas Carl and I are more horror guys… John certainly agrees with maestro D’Amato. Polanski said to Peter Coyote when they were prepping Bitter Moon that the difference between erotica and pornography is that erotica is teasing with a feather whereas in pornography you use the whole chicken.  I think that’s a fair assessment.

After years of watching bootleg videos that turned out to be cut, where you as surprised as the rest of us were to see just how explicit some of the sex stuff was in Malabimba? And are you satisfied that the mythical “hard core out takes” from its remake / sequel Satan’s Baby Doll are indeed a myth?

DG) Actually, after we completed our Satan’s Baby Doll disc we discovered that the hard core version had been unearthed in Germany so it does exist, despite the director’s claims to the contrary. We procured a copy of the footage and it was it was in such bad condition we’re not sure that it’s even releasable. Malabimba, well that’s got to be the sleaziest film in our catalogue… until The Sinful Dwarf comes out next year, that is! I’d never seen it before we started Severin. Wow… we had to have this movie!

Is there any juicy stuff you could tell us about spaghetti sleaze Hall-Of-Famer Mariangela Giordano?

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DG) It would have to be off the record!

Kudos to you for the two Black Emanuelle boxes… was Laura Gemser approached to contribute to those?

CD) She certainly was but she’s retired from public life. She’s not embarrassed about it at all, in fact she requested copies of the box but she’d just rather not spend the rest f her days reminiscing about those years and she now lives happily just outside of Rome, where she breeds Llama apparently!

None of them named Pedro, hopefully… it’s clear that you boys conceived youthful affections for such actresses as Olivia Pascal (below), Glory Annen and the scandalously underused Joni Flynn, Is there any sign that these DVD releases are gaining any of them an unexpected cult afterlife on the convention circuit? No such option for Sirpa Lane, unfortunately…

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DG) I don’t think any of them are aware of it but it’s nice their work is being introduced to a whole new generation of admirers.

CD) Glory was happy to participate in the release of Felicity. We approached Olivia Pascal for Vanessa but she took the Laura Gemser route, preferring not to talk about the past (she’s a big name on German TV now). We tried to locate Joni Flynn but alas without success.

Are there any particularly underrated / directors stars whose work you’re planning to push?

DG) Looking forward to reintroducing some great Patrice Leconte movies into the US market. Not very Severin, you might think, but then we never wanted to limit ourselves to one genre. Leconte makes great films and we’re proud to represent them over here. We’ll also be doing more Castellari because there are still some masterpieces that remain unreleased on video… and there’s always more Franco.

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CD) Rino Di Silvestro!

What were the problems with the Lucio Fulci bonus interviews that were withdrawn?

CD) Antonella Fulci didn’t think they portrayed her father in the right light. Although she really had no legal basis to demand that we pulled the interviews, we decided that it just wouldn’t be right to have Fulci’s family upset with any of the releases of his films. We intend to do more Fulci titles in the future so we figured it would be best to keep her on side.

Well done for releasing Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero. Was it always the plan to extend your remit beyond sex films to the likes of that, The Inglorious Bastards, Stone et al or was it just that you couldn’t restrain yourselves when these great exploitation titles came up?

DG) I think if we’d continued with our main concentration as soft core that our output would become stale and diminishing returns would set in. When films like Inglorious Bastards and The Hairdresser’s Husband et al came along we saw it as the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons. There’ll be plenty of horror, action, in Severin’s future and plenty of sleaze too so we certainly won’t be abandoning our roots. More D’Amato, Borowczyk, etc… all great film makers in their own right and as a fan of Film I see no reason why they shouldn’t be represented alongside Leconte or Fulci. Ironically, our release of Sette Note In Nero (as The Psychic) was one of our biggest failures, commercially… very few people bought it.

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That’s scandalous! It’s a fabulous picture… from your various hob-nobbings with Quentin Tarantino, did you manage to glean whether his long mooted remake of Fulci’s film is still a goer?

CD) Much was discussed during the interview but no mention fo The Psychic. We flew Enzo Castellari out to meet with Castellari for our recent release of Inglorious Bastards. Quentin had organised “Enzo Castellari Night” at The Silent Movie Theatre where Joe Dante and Eli Roth were among the guests as two of Enzo’s films had rare theatrical screenings in LA. The following day we were treated to a three hour sit-down conversation between the two great directors covering everything from their respective cinematic influences to Quentin’s ideas for his remake of Bastards, which is now in production. The first part of this interview appeared on our release of the original IB and we will be splitting the remainder across future Castellari releases.

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Miles of smiles as Ingloriuos Bastards director Enzo Castellari and stars Fred Williamson, Bo Svenson hang out with the Severin boys.

You’ve revealed the true identity of Emmanuelle’s author, exposed what Hanna Barbera animators get up to in their spare time and demonstrated conclusively that unsolicited Borowczyk sequels and zero-budgeted Star Wars knock-offs are not comfortable bed-mates… are there any more scoops that you’re waiting to slap us around the face with?

DG)… that even a sleazy film like Christianne F can be made sleazier in the hands of an Italian exploitation master like Rino Di Silvestro (Hanna D is a jaw-droppingly tasteless exercise in “don’t do drugs, kids!” propaganda)… that you will at the very least need to take a shower after watching The Sinful Dwarf, but more likely need psychiatric help to banish some of the imagery from your mind… that Polanski was a bit loopy when he made What?

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Last time we spoke, Dave, you announced that you were “on the verge of grabbing a camera and running out to shot a feature.” Now you’ve done that, with Plague Town… what’s the lowdown?

DG) Plague Town was an exhilarating experience and I’m very happy with it. I set out to make a horror film initially following a generic formula but them pushing it into a stylistic direction that is not so formulaic. So essentially we start on a note of familiarity before moving into territory which is unexpected. For example I think the main victim, Rosemary, is genuinely unique. She came out exactly as I had imagined her, a beautifully elegant but exceedingly creepy and extremely violent young lady. And we tried hard to create some memorable death scenes, the kind of thing you really haven’t seen before and in this I think we succeeded. We’ve just had a couple of  private preview screenings and the response has been very positive. We’re working with Dark Sky Films (the producers) on a release schedule for the film in the U.S. It will be on DVD in the first half of 2009.

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Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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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.

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“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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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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