Posts Tagged With: Antonio Margheriti

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the Japanese economy is stalling these days…

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s with this “Signor Margheriti”?

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

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

… Black Sunday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why remake it?

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

Planet Of The Vampires?

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

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

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

You also had Michael Rennie in that picture…

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

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

…with Jane Birkin…

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… and Serge Gainsbourg.

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

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

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

What was Klaus Kinski like to work with?

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

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

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

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

Like yourself, Volonte worked with Sergio Leone …

In the first Dollars movie, yes …

What are your memories of Leone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Trumbull…

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s a squirrel, Tony…

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

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

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

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

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

With John Steiner…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony King?

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That Raquel Welch gets everywhere these days…

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

O.J. …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BD. Region B.  88 Films. 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

JANE BIRKIN

Yum…

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… yum!

 

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The Warbeck Weekender, Part 3… A Classic DAVID WARBECK INTERVIEW Revisited

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Easter Monday, 20.04.92… much of the world’s attention was focussed on Wembley Stadium, where the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was unfolding but I had other things on my mind, i.e. an interview with somebody who had starred in two of my all-time favourite movies (The Beyond and A Fistful Of Dynamite) as well as appearing in any number of highly entertaining ones. This handsome dog – who doubled as a male model and trebled as the best James Bond we never had – braved Lucio Fulci’s zombies, was  kidnapped by Sergio Leone and helped Antonio Margheriti through his real-life battle with a cannibal pancreas! But it was while tackling troglodytes with Joan Crawford that he learned the secret of turning shit into gold. Ladies and gentlemen… The David Warbeck Interview!

So, I’m a bit of a cult, am I? (laughs)

I think the fans appreciate the fact that you’re not sniffy about the exploitation movies they love… you don’t look as if you consider it all beneath you.

Oh God, no! I think they’re wonderful! It’s an incredible pleasure, really. I was brought up in New Zealand, and out there you did amateur theatre and all that sort of thing, just for the socialising and the fun of it, and it was all amateur and unpaid, so to come to Europe and have money thrown at you for having a good time… I could never quite believe my good luck! It’s been going on for almost thirty years now and I still love the hokum of it all … I think it’s an incredible privilege to be dashing off around the world at somebody else’s expense, staying in hotels, enjoying all the daily dramas of the film world… you know, the ship hasn’t turned up, or they lost ten extras or something…  it’s a great, great privilege. There are so many wannabes and would-bes and half-way house people and whatever, who bitch because The North Pole’s too cold or the Caribbean’s too sunny, or something, but all the great people I’ve worked with… I mean the real greats, the Anthony Quinn’s and the Joan Crawford’s and all that lot, we’ve all had this conversation and I’ve come to realise what they feel anyway … the whole business is such a great pleasure.

Tell as something about your start in the business.

Well, after acting in New Zealand for a while, I won an award to come to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and promptly got expelled from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, for reasons I’m not allowed to go into … reasons involving Geraldine McEwan, the principal’s wife. So I took off, and because the expulsion note from the principal was so weird, he was such an arse-hole, I got an awful lot of offers for TV work and bits and pieces. That’s when I did all the Hayley Mills stuff, and Amilia Quint with Beryl Reid … do you remember that one?

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Vaguely, but I was very young when they first broadcast it.

It must have been about 25 years ago, but it’s still one of my favourites, a television film with Norman Rossington, and we were making home porno movies… Beryl was a Roman slave and we’d be gladiators, or French sailors on the dock and she was just having a very eccentric time, until her British publishers decide to bring her back to relaunch her book and she has to get rid of this undesirable element … it was a very scatty thing. So we did all that and then the modelling came up. It just wasn’t done in those days, the attitude was that if you’re an actor you don’t model, and if you’re a model, you can’t act … all that snobbery, which still exists today, and which I find totally perverse. Anyway, I realised that there was a fortune to be made – very boring stuff – modelling, so we set about that methodically, and I must say did very well, internationally. Meanwhile the film work was kind of popping in and out, so we just carried on with the movies, though I still do commercials, advertising and stuff.

How did your introduction to the Italian scene come about?

That was during one of my very rare plays, in Birmingham Rep. I was doing The Barretts Of Wimpole Street, and my English agent said: “We’ve got this barmy Italian who wants to see you about something”. So we went down to the Dorchester, the door opened, and there was this huge guy giving me a bear-hug, saying: “You’re the one, you’re the one, come with us now, come to the airport” and I said: “What?!?” So then I rang my agent to ask who these people were and what it was all about, and he said: “Have they offered you a drink?” and I said: “Yeah, the lot” He said: “Get out of there, they’re trying to kidnap you!” I said: “You’re kidding!” That was Sergio Leone, and the film was …

A Fistful Of Dynamite!

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… Fistful Of Dynamite, yeah. So off we went, filming with James Coburn. I wasn’t sure so what the hell was going on … it wasn’t quite my first italian movie …

What was that, then?

Oh shit, I should have all these names for you … it was a very impressive movie. My associate agent in Rome rang London, I went out there to meet them, and they were setting up a film to be directed by Alberto Sordi, who’s like God out there … it was an Italian version of Day For Night, and the Italian title translated as The Problems Of Producers With Headaches, something like that. It starred Dagmar Lassander, whom I’ve worked with on many films, and we did an Italian version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover … guess who the lover was … and that was just so mad … totally barmy … it was just a hiccup film, later I went back and the Leone film happened. That was a mega success in Europe, ran for two years in Rome, France too. To this day … I was with my lady wife in Venice, about a year ago, walking around, and you know all these little bands they have, playing outdoors? Well, when I came into sight, this little band struck up my theme from Fistful Of Dynamite! You know how these guys are. I turned around and mouthed: “You’re kidding!”, caught the guy’s eye, and he just gave me a big wink. I always go around in slight stunned disbelief that people like your lovely self are still interested … it’s an unbelievable run I’ve had.

You’re effectively only in two scenes in Fistful Of Dynamite, but your presence haunts the whole movie, because of the ongoing, unfolding flash-backs …

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Well, the original film was over four hours long. Bogdanovich started directing it …

Wasn’t there a rebellion by James Coburn and Rod Steiger to convince Leone to direct it?

I never managed to get the complete, true story behind that… Bogdanovlch was the flavour of that year, having just made The Last Picture Show, and the Italians have always been trying get into the American distribution market, it’s the big thing for them… they’ve got another big push underway at the moment. Anyway, Sergio’s films, the “Dollar” films and so on, were massive hits in Europe, but the American buyers were snobbish about Italians doing “their” thing, i.e. Westerns and wanted Bogdanovich’s name on it to get distribution. That was what it was all about, pretty straightforward, so they got him on board and I think he directed for three, maybe four weeks – not much – and it was worked in such a way that it was impossible for him to go on, at which point Sergio took over. It was a political thing that Sergio worked, it’s no big secret, so that if the film was a failure, he could blame it on Bogdanovich (“How could I overcome such a crippling start?”) but if it succeeded, that was down to il maestro, Sergio Leone!

How much of Peter Bogdanovich’s footage remains in the version that we see today?

This I honestly don’t know for a fact. Anthony Dawson… that’s Antonio Marghereti, with whom I’ve made about eight films now, was directing second unit on Fistful. That was how I got into the main run of Italian movies, through Antonio … anyway, he told me part of the story, while reminiscing about “dear old Sergio”, and all that lot, but Sergio only died a few years ago, so one keeps ones politics a little bit polite. But I honestly don’t know … I suppose their must be snippets of Bogdanovich’s stuff in there, they wouldn’t re-shoot everything.

How do you remember Sergio Leone?

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He was mad about things, like cars and gadgets. This is why his films are full of guns, old cars, wonderful machines and so on. For example in the Irish sequences we did for A Fistful Of Dynamite, while looking through a museum for the cars and stuff, he found a wonderful 1930s bus and said: “We must work this into the film” while we were blowing up Mexico, and I said: “How the hell are we going to do that?” and he said: “I know! It is a country bus going through the country and … (excited) yes! Yes! It is full of virginal Irish schoolgirls going to school!” So the hotel we were staying in was absolutely packed with virginal, miffed-looking schoolgirls and Sergio spent a lot of time shooting this bus going up and down … of course this shot was never used, except I think that a very distant shot of it crops up at one point in the picture.

But the guns, whenever there was a gun scene he would say: “No no, like this! ” and take the gun from the actor and demonstrate … he would always act out the machismo of the draw, firing the gun, then he’d swagger off …

He was a very macho guy, wasn’t he?

Oh, Sergio was a peasant! An absolute … not quite a thug but he was a peasant, a real rough Roman. This was all very fine and macho with the films he was making, but then they got him on the Cannes Film board – he was on it for years – and when he was interviewed they always put shelves of books behind him, trying to portray him as an intellectual, which was something he definitely didn’t like and used to react against. Later on he was very ill with his heart, but I was always meeting him at festivals and he was always saying: “David, you must do Once Upon A Time In America, you must do this, you must do that” and I’d say: “Fine, you’ve got my number.”. Finally the call came through and my agent said: “David, David, Sergio Leone wants you in Paris now, get on the next plane – he’s got a very good deal, he’s got all the money and everything. he wants you to work for a few days – it’s a great offer”. So I whizzed off to Paris and we shot – wait for it – a furniture polish commercial for French TV! Imagine

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That was about 18 months before he died. While we were doing this we went for dinner in Paris with a very rich French lady, and for a whole evening he expounded, in great detail – we had a whole evening of it, he just took off – this epic film he was going to do in Russia, the siege of Leningrad thing and how it was all being sorted out with Gorbachev and so on. So that sounded massively exciting, with his visual scale it would have been colossal… out-Leaned David Lean! There was no question about the man’s ability and his visual flair … the machismo thing was always a bit heavy going but, y’know, we hardly ever spoke to each other much, it was always “yes-no”, “stop-go”, grinning-to-each-other sort of stuff … this is one of the strange things about acting. in terms of both theatre and film, a great deal of work is done telepathically. It’s something that I was forced to come to terms with years ago, because I did a lot of these Italian fotoromanzi … do you know what they are?

Yeah, like comic strips but with photos instead of drawings … they have them in teenage girls’ magazines over here … and in VIZ!

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… as demonstrated by Marisa Mell and friend.

Italian fotoromanzi range from being just “he said / she said”, “girlfriend / boyfriend” things to … we shot “Mayerling”, which involved 200 extras running around a mountain, castles, kings and queens, a lighting crew, incredibly elaborate and nobody actually moved, you know, we were all frozen there with bubbles coming out of our mouths. It was big scale stuff, grand. I didn’t know a word of Italian in those days, though I had a three year contract with them.

So you were getting by on body language and stuff …

Yeah, and you had to understand everything they wanted on the spot, you had to get a lot of story-line packed into one page After a while it was a matter of a gesture with the hand, twiddling it to the left or the right to indicate which way your body should be leaning, and “smile just a little bit more” would be a finger-pinch up in the air or something, so after a while it would be easy to just turn and look at the person and know exactly what they wanted. I find that quite fascinating. Johnny Hough, who I did Robin Hood (below) with here, also Twins Of Evil, he was like that with us, he was great. That was one from the early days. He’d just say: “C’mon Dave, you know what I want”, and it’d be: “Right-o”, you know, no discussion necessary… Margheriti, of course, was the classic example of that.

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I adore and admire Margheriti more than any man I’ve ever met in the business, I put him on top of my list. This is partly because he has such visual flair … I’m always terribly stimulated turned on, energised, whatever, by visuals, so to meet somebody with a real visual mind… all Italians are very visual and Margheriti certainly is. I can see how he visualises things and that’s how he can make films work even when the resources aren’t really there. I go along with Leone on this – words are very sexy, and so on, but film is a visual medium, and there are some wonderful lines of dialogue in some wonderful films, but the kind of thing I like doing is stuff in which you’re not talking too much.

What about dubbing? Do you usually get to use your own voice?

I try to … It depends. If it is just a lot of action stuff, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, but I remember one I did where the producer said: “We’re going to put a real American voice on this” so fine, I agreed to have it dubbed by somebody else and when the film opened, they’d put this great American faggot voice on it! So here was this great American jungle hero saying [adopts appropriate Julian Claryesque tones]: “OK men, I want you to follow me down the mountain”, and I thought: “Oh gawd, never again!” That was a Margheriti film…

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The visual side is brilliant with Margheriti, as I said, but the other thing that I admire about him is how he coped making Treasure Island In Outer Space, when he nearly died! It was a massive, massive contract, a huge project for TV Rai, but what happened was that during all the films he’d made in jungles in previous years, in the Phillipines and so on, he had been suffering with a gall-stone problem and was in constant pain. We were all saying to him: “Go on, Antonio, get yourself off to the hospital” and he, was saying: “Oh no, I’m OK”, being macho about it. Finally the whole thing blew up, so he went to have his stones done, and then he had to have another operation – this is something I never heard of… they had injured his pancreas, and what happens then is that the pancreas starts cannibalising itself, and when it’s through doing that… you’re dead! And the poor guy did almost die … I think it’s the best acting I’ve ever done in my life, because that affected me quite a lot.

I had flown out to Rome to met all the TV Rai crowd, because I was right up there with second billing under Anthony Quinn, originally, which was pretty good considering that Ernest Borgnine was in there too. Anyway, I went off to meet them, and most of them had never even met Margheriti, so they asked: “What’s he like?”, and I’d rave, tell them that I’d done so many films with him, that he’s a man I admire, technically brilliant… if he he has got a fault it’s his scripts, because he doesn’t have a very good ear for English, doesn’t speak it very well … anyway, I kept raving on about him and they said: “Oh well, he’s coming over this afternoon” and I said: “Wonderful, fantastic” because he wasn’t supposed to be coming for another week.

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We went out to the bar, because all the studios have coffee bars out there and they had driven him from the hospital to the studio with his son Edo, who’s now directing himself… he’s another sweetheart, I’ve done a lot of work with him… in the ambulance. So there I am sitting at the bar and somebody says: “Here comes Antonio” and I turned around and was just riveted with shock: He bore no physical resemblance to the guy I remembered… Margheriti had been a well-built – probably overbuilt – robust, absolutely charming guy with magnificent, penetrating blue-grey eyes, jet-black curly hair, like a very handsome version of Fellini… you know that sort of guy with that Italian look, oh, you could trust this and go a hundred miles with it, but here before me was this cripple; like a Belsen victim or something! His hair had gone white! He came to me and I was shocked, I had to put the face on pretty quickly, and he pottered up to me, with Edo supporting him, taking impossibly short steps… there were tubes hanging out of him, bandages all over him, there’s no way he should have been out of hospital – and the biggest shock was that he spoke in this thin little piping voice, when he had been such a macho guy. I just thought “No, No, No!”, my head was spinning from the shock of seeing him in this state. Imagine the shock of having to help this guy stand up when he’s embarking on this massive epic, and all the politics that came into it, his film crew versus the TV crew, and so on …

I imagine he leaned on his son a lot at this point… it’s a real Italian film tradition, isn’t it … as in the case of Mario and Lamberto Bava.

Oh, Lamberto Bava (laughs) … they’re called “the foetus and the fart” in Italy, for some reason… “Farto e Feto”, or whatever … yes he did, Edo helped a lot because he was directing second unit, setting up all the model stuff, which his father would come along and check, being the master. It took a long time … Antonio’s tubes kept coming out, and he bled a great deal. I was stunned by the behaviour of TV Rai, who didn’t offer any assistance at all … so I became his assistant, rushing around after him trying to help, always standing behind him like his shadow – you’ve gotta be careful, because it looks obnoxious to a lot of people, like you’re toadying or something. I was appalled that nobody was offering him any help … and he fought his way back. I watched this man fight his way out of the grave over a period of about two or three months …

… and now he’s back churning them out, e.g. these Indio movies with Marvin Hagler …

That’s right yeah, a mutual friend was telling me the other day about all these films he’s doing. It’s terrible how time seems to go by so fast: You think: “Oh my God, that was 4 years ago”, and in this business we all seem to be rushing off up mountains … but I remember the first day I knew he’d recovered, that was when he finally had a row in the studio… he was screaming, his voice was back, he was yelling at somebody about something or other, a real tirade against the whole studio … I just got behind the nearest pillar and cried my eyes out… it meant he was back! It was a wonderful moment for us, because as I keep saying, I love and admire the man, we’ve been through so much together.

Including that plane crash on Tiger Joe …

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Should I talk about this? I’m a bit reluctant, out of respect for the people who died …

(What follows is an expurgated version of what David told me about the incident in question, in keeping with his wishes to respect the memories of those who lost their lives-Bob Freudstein) 

It was such a bizarre accident; I was on location with Margheriti, shooting Tiger Joe in the Phillipine jungle … the film was finished, it was Friday the 13th, and we were filming over a jungle grave-yard, so we were all cracking macabre jokes about it … it was a small plane, brand new, no-one knows quite what went wrong … I remember seeing it going down right in front of my eyes … when you’re in films, doing fantasy stuff, things can get a bit mixed up in your mind, sort of: “Was that a take, or is that real?” So when it hit me, what had happened, something Fulci told me came to mind, his line when I asked him how he came up with all this horror, y’know, electric drills through people’s eyeballs and so on, such extremes, so horrendous – and he said: “David, life is so much more horrible than anything I could ever write”, and I realised that he was absolutely right. Margheriti lost his best friend (DP Riccardo Pallottini), it was all very heavy-going for a time, and it made me respect what Fulci had said, because he’s another one who’s suffered through his own private hell… his wife died, he went through a bad separation, bad health, and all of that, this is all common knowledge, so I can talk about it.

Fulci’s just one of the real characters you seem to have a habit of working with … there must be so much you could tell us about him …

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I adored Fulci, liked him immensely, though everyone regards him as completely, barking MAD. He was a raving madman on set, but always to the correct purpose, and he was always very good with me. Yeah, I did like Fulci … his health was a bit up-and-down after we worked together, and everyone regards him as totally barmy.

I know he likes to take cameo rale in his own movies, Is that something he takes very seriously or does he treat it as a bit of a lark?

Oh, seriously, definitely. Sergio used to do that too, and a lot of directors do it… producers too, Herman Cohen (who produced Trog) did it. They all like to have their little walk-on in a scene, have their pictures taken. There’s nothing perverse about that, it’s just part of the fun, I think. Hitchcock made it a kind of a signature, so I guess that’s the way they put their own stamp on it. I don’t think it’s anything to do with being a frustrated actor or anything.

Fulci’s cameo was actually cut from the final print of your first movie with him, The Black Cat. In that film, he does show a ‘totally barmy’, or at least very eccentric idea of, for instance, how British policemen operate. Did you ever point these kind of inaccuracies out to him? If so, what sort of response did you get?

(Laughing) You’d just get a baffled look, “What do you mean?” kind of thing. The reason I laughed was because you’ve reminded me of something very funny … there’s a scene in The Black Cat where a little motor-boat was going down the river to collect a dead body which the police had to retrieve. Well first of all, everything’s done on the day, more or less, and some of us went off to try and find a boat. We got one, quite a handsome boat, of sufficient size to fit everybody in, and then the production assistant came along and said: “No, no, no… too much money, we’ll get a better deal somewhere else!” So they got, and rigged up, boat #2, which was much smaller – it couldn’t quite take us all, so if you watch that shot, you’ll see that the boat is very low in the water because of having too many people in it. Lovely Dagmar Lassander and I are on the prow and the topper was that instead of hiring extras, they dressed all the Italian crew up as English policemen … of course they didn’t stand, walk or do anything like English policemen. Anyway, as we chugged up river a little, it became apparent that the owner of boat #1 had sabotaged boat #2 – It blew up! Smoke was billowing everywhere, Dagmar was screaming – she didn’t want to end up in the water – the boat drifted, out of control, and crashed into one of these incredibly manicured landing stages on the side of the Thames. I think we dented a board, or something, nothing dramatic, but the owner had been watching all this at the window, twitching. thinking: “How can we get money out of this lot? They’re making a film, they must be rich!” So as soon as we hit this bank, she runs out yelling: ‘Officer officer, they’ve damaged my property”, and the road was full, everywhere you looked, of scarpering Italians dressed up as English policemen, who didn’t have a clue what this woman was screaming at them… it was wonderful, a film in itself…  cracks me up, I just roll around every time I think about it.

Was Patrick Magee, your co-star in that movie, as “difficult” as he’s been painted?

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No, no … he was another really good guy… it’s not really fair to go on about this problem he had, you know? He was one of the megas! Trying to work opposite that guy, with those eyes and everything. you had to come up with a whole bag of tricks … and of course playing the hero in these things is very limiting anyway, you just have to stand there looking all jutty-jawed. No, Patrick had a problem but he was lovely … his daughter was there, trying to help him though his last days. His was such a very sad story, an extraordinary talent… brought down by the bottle.

What about Mimsy Farmer?

Mimsy … frankly, I thought she was a bit odd … but she was alright, I suppose … no dammit, she was an odd bitch, for God’s sake and you can print that. I remember we were doing one scene, our one scene of “potential intimacy”, sitting on a couch and I was delivering my lines for all of I was worth and when it came time to take a break she turned to me and said: “You call that acting?” I thought she was joking at first but she hadn’t shown much of a sense of humour up to this point, she never said very much at all and I realised that she meant it. So when I saw her later on this bed, bouncing up and down with the special effects and everything, I thought: “Do you call that acting?” (laughs) 

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Did Fulci really tell you not to bother acting, because the script wasn’t up to it?

I think that was Margheriti … though I guess they’ve all said that at some stage … oh yes, it was Fulci, on The Black Cat, saying: “The script’s not up to it” and I was arguing that we had to “turn shit to gold”, which is my expression for what I learned from working with Joan Crawford on Trog. She taught me, not directly but through watching her and being with her, that in this business you take it as it comes. I’ve never turned anything down … well, just about nothing. As a rule I think: “the sillier the better”, and that’s what I was trying to get across to Fulci: “If the script’s not up to scratch, you’ve gotta tum shit to gold”, but he just shrugged his shoulders, as though to say: “If it’s not up to scratch, forget it”, you know?

It sounds as though he really managed that transformation of shit to gold with The Beyond though, which reportedly had very little script when shooting started …

The thing with many of these directors… Fulci certainly, and Marghereti… is that they have their own concept, they’ve got their own story-boards in their heads and they can play around with how they want to shoot it. Fulci had a very determined script-writer throughout shooting The Beyond and we actually had quite a good script.

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Are you aware, more than ten years on, of the cult reputation that film still enjoys with horror buffs all around the world?

I really hadn’t realised that… the journalist Alan Jones, who I see about once a year, always tells me that I should go to The Scala to  introduce a screening of The Beyond to the audience and I’m baffled as to why anyone would be interested…

No really, they’d go nuts!

I’d be glad to help out but I’m always a little baffled by that reaction because I don’t take it all that seriously in terms of living, eating and breathing the business every day, getting very concerned about where your name is on the titles… I’m not remotely serious in that way, but I am serious in terms of feeling privileged to be living this life and in terms of really trying to make the best of what material we’ve got. When I’m approached by all these fans who can quote all the details at me, know more about the films than I do, I’m always quite amazed that they attend these kind of things… I guess I’m lucky to have done so many that I can forget a few.

What are your feelings about that movie’s other lasting legacy – continuing censorship problems due to its ultra-violent imagery?

Last night I went to see Scorsese’s Cape Fear and I was incensed by that film, I think it was one of the most gratuitous, appalling films… they way they used the violence, I was appalled by the gratuitousness of what they implied… have you seen it?

Yeah.

I just thought it was an appalling movie, overall… even technically, it was appalling.

It was very disappointing by Scorsese’s standards, especially coming after Good Fellas…

Right. My wife was having a hell of an argument with me, saying: “You’ve done these Fulci movies, these horror movies, all this violence and stuff”, but this is my stance… to me there’s a massive difference between what I’ve just described and what I would call fantasy violence. Now, fantasy violence isn’t realistic … you could say that Fulci’s films are realistic, with power-drills going through people’s eyeballs and so on, but it’s done in the context of such barmy people and such barmy set-ups that nobody could take it seriously, in that sense … unlike Cape Fear, which to me was like a text-book for some loony to go out and copy. The stuff I’ve done is all about having fun.

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When I do films… please believe that this is not out of boredom, it’s just out of … sheer devilment, I guess… I always like to see if I can get a gag past the cameramen and the editing room and everybody else, and get it up there on the screen and one of the best gags I ever did was in The Last Hunter, with John Steiner. We were shooting in the depths of this jungle, and he’s an American colonel going mad, he’s saying: “Listen to those bombs, that’s my kind of music!”, and I’m doing my American: “Oh my God, the colonel’s going mad” look… all good stuff. Anyway, he was lighting up a cigarette and I said: “John, come here” and he said: “What is it, darling” and I said: “Don’t let Marghereti see, but break the butt off the cigarette, and shove it up your nose.” He asked me why, and I told him it was a gag I wanted to try … so what happened was, he’s there ranting about “the music, the music”, takes a drag on this fag and exhales smoke through one nostril… in cinemascope! It cracks me up, that we got it onto the screen.

In The Beyond there’s a sequence where Catriona MacColl and I are being chased down hospital corridors by zombies, I’m shooting their heads off, and we run out of bullets. She’s screaming that there’s another one coming and I’m looking around with this expression of angst and horror and all that, y’know – “What are we going to do?”, kind of thing. Realising the gun’s empty, I find extra bullets in my pockets, whip them out to show the audience I’ve got more… and go to reload by putting the bullets down the snout of the pistol! I had my hand low enough so it wasn’t centre-shot, and the very last frame, before they cut away – I’ve checked my copy of the video and it’s still in there – is Catriona looking at what I’m doing with total disbelief written on her face. It’s hilarious!

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Fulci used Catriona MacColl in most of his great movies from that period… what was she like to work with?

Dear old Catriona! She was a wonderful girl, a pleasure to work with… an English girl, and like myself, she was a bit mystified as to why we were being whisked off all over the world to do these films. Also like myself, quite delighted about it all. She was great, we were always sending each other up on set. It sounds a bit boring to keep saying this about everyone, how nice everybody was … though there are a couple I’d never work with again, and I’m happy to name names.

Please do!

Klaus Lowitsch … what a neurotic number he was … the guy in Treasure Island. Also Philippe Leroy… he had been quite successful in France and wound up sort of trucking around. We won’t go into the problems he had with (OK, s0 we won’t go into them! Bob) On Treasure Island we had to work together intensively for about a year and after a short time we weren’t talking at all, not even in rehearsal, and Margheriti was totally baffled by this – so we just shot through at rehearsals, but we got there in the end.

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Going back to the ladies, you’ve made a couple of movies with Janet Agren …

Janet Agren I adore, she was one of the magic ladies. I’ve worked with a few of them. Most of my leading ladies have been twits, but she’s brilliant, great fun to be with.

Nevertheless, most people would have considered one movie in which thy battled mutant rat-men with her to be quite enough… but you’ve actually made two!

Oh yes! (Laughs)

How did that come about? Was the first one a smash hit in Italy or something?

Well one of the films was was made in Dominica, which I’ve just come back from, and it featured an incredibly short person, the smallest human being in the world, in fact …

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Nelson de la Rosa…

Nelson, right! They thought: “How can we use him? We won’t have to go to all sorts of technical lengths, trick shots and so on, we’ve got the real thing!” (laughs) So they dressed him up as a rat and called it Ratman. Janet and I were running about, freaked out by Ratman, until I – as the hero – killed him.

Is it true that Nelson actually died for real during the shoot, or shortly afterwards?

N0, he’s still alive! I had an ear infection a few weeks ago in my hotel so a doctor turned up and we got talking about films and so on, it turned out that he doctors for Nelson … I should have got together with Nelson actually, I’m sorry I didn’t. He’s such a sweet man. He is alive… has to be carefully supervised, but as long as he does what the doctor says, he’s fine.

That film was officially directed by Giuliano Carmineo, but there seems to be a suspicion that its producer, Fabrizio De Angelis, was really the guilty man …

No, he was the producer, and he set everything going but the other guy … I thought he was OK, we didn’t fight or anything, he was just a bit of a lost cause, and this is where Fabrizio had to step in and whip the thing into shape. The other guy didn’t know what he was doing or maybe he didn’t really want to do it, I just couldn’t work him out. What can I say? The whole thing was complete madness, but yes, it did do very well.

The other “mutant ratman” film you did with Janet, which was directed by Tonino Ricci, actually came first. It was released on video in Britain as Panic, though I gather its original title was Bacterium…

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I knew that one as Panico… it was about a virus on the loose in the sewers of Madrid, right?

I seem to recall that they tried to tried to pass it off as a British town, certainly in the version released over here.

Yeah? The monster that was chasing us, and that we were chasing around these sewers, was Tonino’s son in a rubber suit … actually he’s the special FX man on an Umberto Lenzi movie I just appeared in …

Which is?

It was called Miguel And Roderiguez when we were making it, but don’t ask me what it’ll go out as. It’s kind of like Bonnie And Clyde or something. Lenzi’s wonderfully mad. We were taking a break in shooting and he said to me: “Wonderful, you were wonderful! I’ve got another six movies for you” and I said: “Fine, talk to my agent” and he said: ”’Don’t you realise, the last four movies you’ve done have been a series?” and I just looked baffled, so he said: “I wrote them all!” And this was the first time I’d ever met him. I really like him. He’s up there with the best of them … got a bit of a boozy past, but’s over that now, and he was a delight. They’re all fast, but he just rips through stuff, we did two day’s stuff in less than a day. It’s the same with Fabrizio De Angelis

What kind of an operator is De Angelis? Somebody you need to keep an eye on? He has a reputation as a bit of a shark …

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Well, they call him “snake eyes” … but I’ve never seen any evidence of that, and I’ve done a lot of films with Fabrizio, upward of eight. He’s a Rossano Brazzi kind of guy… God, what a handsome charmer he was… and dear old Fabrizio has the same sort of charm. I’ve seen him lose his temper hundreds of times, screaming and throwing things, but he’s one of these people – I was going to say one of the few, but there are actually a lot of them in Italy – who loves movies so passionately. You’ve really gotta meet these people and see them in action to realise that they genuinely love the business. I mean I’m thrilled, you know, I’m privileged to be doing what I do and I love it too, but I don’t quite go into it with the absolute, extraordinary passion that they have. The working hours , the sheer physical energy of it all is phenomenal. They don’t sleep for two months… don’t have time for it! It’s extraordinary and he’s one of those guys who, when he gets into it, is really fast. I love fast film making, can’t stand this hanging around for hours. He’s dead fast… always pushing this pram around with a camera in it… that’s his dolly. Or he’s dragging the camera around on a mat, because it’s quicker to set up the shot that way… can’t be bothered with all this technical stuff, it’s too time-consuming. So I like the speed of it all and off the set, if we get a moment, we can grab a bite to eat… it’s all relaxed, with all the Italian charm coming out… if anything goes wrong, he’s just standing there, cleaning his fingernails! I’ve never had any bad experiences with him. Working in Italy is just great… in Hollywood, you know, everything is so psychotic, everyone’s angst-ridden, everyone’s visiting a shrink, but in Italy it’s just like a circus full of monkeys… so much fun!

I gather that Lenzi and and Fulci eventually had quite a falling out…

Listen, you just have to take it for granted that all Italians fight to the death… it would be unthinkable for them not to and of course they have their rows – everyone does – but these are Italian rows, which means lots of screaming and carrying on. I’ve been working in Italy for about twenty years, and when I first went over there I couldn’t understand this, that they’d be slaughtering each other at lunchtime, then, in the evening, it would be “darling” this, and “lovey” that. So yes, they scream the place down, but you’ve got to bear all this in mind. There were amazing fights between Fulci and Fabrizio and one time, making The Beyond … I don’t think Fulci exactly pushed him, but I know Fabrizio fell into the cess-pool in the cellar, the one the warlock comes out of. I remember everyone being pretty gleeful, because Fabrizio is always very dapperly turned out.

You yourself had some problems with Alberto de Martino, for whom you made a couple of quickies…

Oh Gawd!

… Miami Golem (below) and 7 Hyden Park…

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What a drama! God, I could go on about those for hours…

I hear Martino was fighting the producers to get his name taken off them!

I can well believe it! (Laughs) Martino’s known as “the Mickey Rooney of the Italian film industry”, because he’s short with a turned-up nose … he and I had a lot of fights … aargh!

Is i1 true that he asked you to take off Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining for 7 Hyden Park?

That was my idea actually, with the shears and everything, I was basically trying to dress up an awful script with nothing going for it. It was a terrible experience. I did the film for something like £1,000 because it was a bad time in the industry and everybody was just doing whatever they could to put bread in their mouths. It was a hysterical film, with this awful English actress, Christine Nagy … well, to be fair, she was a nice girl, she’s done good stuff, but these people come over for their first film and they think they’ve “made the big time” … and she’s a “method actress“… I’m not terribly keen, shall we say, on method acting … there’s a famous story about Edith Evans on Broadway, with a bunch of method actors who are running around contorting themselves on stage before the curtain goes up, to get into character, and one of them says to her: “Don’t you prepare?” and she said: “No, I just pretend, my dear”.

There’s a very similar story about Dustin Hoffman Marathon Man, depriving himself of sleep so he’ll look really rough during the torture scenes, and Olivier supposedly told him that he wouldn’t have to go through all this if he just learned how to act!

(Laughs) I must talk to John Schlesinger about that, next time I see him. Hoffman isn’t one of his favourite people … then again, he isn’t many people’s favourite person!

Which brings me back to your troubled relationship with mister Martino. Miami Golem aka Cosmic Killer was another pretty bad movie …

Miami Golem was very funny, the familiar story of the leading lady being with some guy in Italy for two years, him telling her all the time that he was going to make her A Movie Star. This happens all the time, and when these girls finally get fed up with it and ask: “Where’s this movie, then?”, they’re told: “We’ll put you in a film with Warbeck (it’s him again!)” I’ve been in a lot of those sort of movies. So on she came, Laura Trotter. Now Laura’s speciality was walking around on her hands while not wearing any knickers …

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Bottoms up…

That’s quite a party piece!

Yeah. She came over to Rome with her tits hanging out … and she was nice actually, nice girl … her only problem was that she had a glottal stop, which meant she couldn’t speak so Martino was just transfixed with horror when this girl turns up on the set and he asks: How are you?” and she’s trying to say: “I’m fine, thank you”, but what’s coming out is: “I’m k-k-k”… so we’d shoot her from behind her back and when she’d open her mouth, we’d cut away. I remember one day Martino was attacking her, very unfairly, because of this problem, and Laura was pretty upset. We both had throat rnics on and we were walking across the street out of shot, about a hundred yards away, I was telling her: “Don’t get upset, it’s all part of the fun” and all that and: “I can’t agree with what he’s just said, it’s despicable to bully somebody like that, totally unfair” … at which point I heard this scream, turned around, and saw Martino taking the headphones off the sound-man and shouting: “I can hear everything you’re saying about me!” So I just picked up my mic and yelled: “Well it’s all true, you shithead!” The thing is that I’ve done too many films to take any real shit off anyone…

You’ve been a part of the Italian film scene for so long, you must have seen a lot of changes … is it true that the deregulation of TV there, with all it consequences for film production, has driven the industry into a bit of a low patch?

No, I’d really disagree with that, entirely. I’m not an authority on this, but my own impression is that the Italian film world is gearing up to become the film centre of Europe, the Common Market. The Italians have, for starters, the advantage of their national attitude towards film… they adore it! Everyone’s an actor in the street, everyone’s posing and wearing something … they’re a great bunch of posers … “La Belle Figura” is the common expression, “the beautiful figure” … they all do it, they all dress well .. they’re film-mad in that country, there isn’t the same thing in England at all. So the Italians are very keen and well placed to take the lead, all the studios are working to capacity … do you know Zingarelli?

ltalo Zingarelli? The guy who produced the Trinity movies?

Yeah … as a matter of fact, they’re thinking of doing the Trinity series all over again, in America this time, in Phoenix. It’s being talked about, I don’t know if it’s going to be a TV series or a series of films, we’re going to chat about that, but Zingarelli’s got some kind of contract with the Italian and American governments to come up with 2 or 3 Italo-American films a year. He’s another real character, weighs about 100 stones! He has his own film-making “family”, there are several of them over there and I’ve worked with three of them.

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My main agent in Rome is one of the most powerful in Europe – Count Giuseppe Perroni (above) Perroni’s had an incredible influence on Italian movies, much more than he’s ever been given credit for … he was, and still is, the agent for Rossano Brazzi, throughout his career, he substantially helped to set Sergio Leone up on his first Western, finding the money … Terence Hill was his client too, in fact it was he who suggested that Terence change his name from, er. ..

… Mario Girotti …

Right. Fulci’s been one of Perroni’s clients too, he has an incredible list of clients. He’s very erudite and charming, I mean apart from the fact that he’s one of my very best friends now, which is difficult … difficult mixing business with friendship, but I rate him extremely highly. It took us about two or three years to get to know each other, because I was wary of him ripping me off! (Laughs) The thing about him is that he has such an amazing web of contacts, he’s got me about 3/4 of my films. Anyway, he came to London a while ago with Berlusconi… you know who Berlusconi is?

Yeah, he’s like Italy’s answer to Rupert Murdoch …

Well, my God – Perroni, Berlusconi.and Zingarelli, put that bunch together and they virtually run Italy! 18 months ago, Perroni and Berlusconi came to London with five films and two TV series, they were looking for about two hundred actors, top money down to bottom, Berlusconi pouring money out everywhere …

Because their English is good but not quite up to the finer points of these negotiations, Perroni arranged that I accompany them as a kind of secretary, and we went to all the top agencies – my own, William Morris, going around to see who we could get … nobody! Not one job! I was appalled, shocked, horrified, because when I went to Italy about twenty years ago there was this English attitude of condescension, and it’s still here today, the arrogance, the sniffiness … “We have to have final say on the script” and all this … they are so out of touch! Final say on script went out of the window, God knows how long ago … all these stupid things, this contempt for “Italian movies”, for God’s sake … everything is international these days! So I was absolutely furious. Some of the things that were said to Perroni in my presence … well, one woman – I’d like to name her, I’ve named just about everyone else in the business – what a cow! She looks after Kenneth Branagh, and Berlusconi and Zingarelli wanted to find out when Branagh would be free to star in a certain production – we were talking about a few years hence. She said: “Oh no, he’s busy for two years”, and we were saying that there might be a gap, he might change his mind, or whatever, to which she replied (adopting supercilious voice): “No, I don’t think so”. So Perroni explained the kind of people he was looking for, and she asked if he’d be interested in Geraldine McEwan. Perroni looked at me with this quick quizzical look, signifying: “Who’s Geraldine McEwan?”, because how are the Italians going to know? Then this snooty cow turns to me and says: “I suppose you don’t know who she is either?” I felt like saying “Yes, she was the reason I was expelled from the Royal Academy!”, but instead I said: “Yes, of course I know her, I rate her as one of our most gifted actresses and a superb comedienne” and I turned to Perroni and told him how good she would be.

It’s just that you asked about the state of the Italian film business, whether it was in a trough and all that … well, compared to what is going on over here, they are light years ahead, in terms of attitude and enthusiasm. Their biggest problem is trying to get that wedge into the American distribution scene. I mean, the British film industry hasn’t made pictures for years, these days it’s reduced to special effects and Derek Jarman … I helped him set up Sebastiane, actually (chuckles) … a friend of mine wrote it, wrote it in Latin, which I thought was a great gag … and all those gay boys splashing around in a fountain (laughs): Derek Jarman – good on him!

So the Italian industry’s thriving – presumably you’ve got a lot of things cooking?

Yeah I’ve got another Zingarelli film next month, another in the Umberto Lenzi series that I hadn’t realised what I was doing… last time out I was a Gulf war hero who got decorated by President Bush! (Laughs) They’re coming out as Karate Kid 4 and 5 … needless to say, they’ve got absolutely nothing to do with The Karate Kid … they were already shown on Italian TV last month, only they were called The Golden Boy… the titles change all the time. Tobacco Road was another one. We shot it in Georgia and I was a Southern cop … we referred to it as “In The Heat Of The Nightie” (Laughs). I can’t really take that one seriously at all, me as this Southern cop, with a paunch, drawling: “Good mornin’ Maaarm !” and all this, hoping none of my friends ever see the thing. Someone took a pot-shot at me while I was dressed as a policeman for that one … that was pretty impressive, there I was “patrolling the highway” and this car just hurtles past and somebody in it has a pop at me …

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What – with a gun?

Yeah!

Good grief!

Yeah, because there are guns all over the place in the States … I hate all that!

I know you like to – and frequently get to – take part in setting up the action sequences in your movies …

That’s the great joy of working with Antonio and Fulci … Lenzi too. I’ve made something like 52 films now. I always try to get hold of a copy if I can, and watching myself in some of them, I’m absolutely amazed at how good I am (laughs) … which is not as cheeky as it sounds, because when you’re doing it there are such good people around, in the Italian ones, you have such a good team and because we all know each other so well … Rome is a small town, and you keep finding the same faces coming up again and again, the technical crew and performer and so on, and we can all swap stuff about … it’s not like the American or English way, were everyone sticks to his department and you don’t cross lines – the light man will tell me how to act and I’ll tell him where to put his lights, that sort of thing. The bottom line is that with a very fast team, you can make a million dollars look like $lO million – you light it fast, and so on, whizz through it and we usually get it down in one take, very rarely does it go to much more than three …

You get plenty of opportunities to show off your resourcefulness as an actor, don’t you, with scripts that are often very loose?

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Yes, that really is the most enormous pleasure, because I don’t care how good a writer, director or anybody is, there has to come a point where some tinkering has to be done for the betterment … not necessarily of yourself, though of course you always have an eye towards that, because yours is the face that’s up there on the screen and you’re the obvious person to blame for things that go wrong … so you’ve gotta make sure that you come out of it OK, but also, y’know, experience does count and you can contribute, if you’ve got a good director who’s at ease with that … sometimes when it’s very stylised you stick with it and you just run through, but those are very rare. Domino, which I made a couple of years ago, with Brigitte Nielson, was like that … actually I haven’t seen that one yet …

Remind me who was responsible for that one?

Oh, Ivana … what was her name? It’s her only film … she had done a bit of video, then the producer boyfriend said: “OK, here’s the film you’ve been bugging me for years for your chance to make” (Laughs). It was backed by the Vatican Bank, which I find absolutely perverse – my first Pope movie! It was totally perverse because when I met this lady, Ivana – a glamorous, gorgeous creature – in Rome, she asked me to read the script and as I was reading it, tears started rolling down my face, and she said: “Oh my god, what’s wrong?” and I said “It’s OK, I’m just going through this difficult thing at the moment”, at which point she burst into tears and said: “It’s the story of my life”, so suddenly we were hugging each other and both crying our eyes out, and I got the part (laughs) and so you know, we loved each other.

A couple of months later we started shooting and I turned up at the studio, and I went to embrace her again and she almost spat at me! She was very distant. What had happened was that she’d flipped out for Brigitte and didn’t want anybody touching her protege. The next thing is she’s telling me: “You – your role has been changed!” Originally I was Brigitte’s ex-lover who’d been out hunting in Africa and had come back to get her problems with drugs and her mind straightened out, but now I’m told that, firstly, I’m Japanese, the other thing was that I was blind! So they stuck me up on these wooden shoes and covered me with kimonos and stuff – I caught Brigitte’s eye while all this was going on … she’s a very good girl, an absolute honey, I can’t give her enough rave marks – not at all like her reputation. Again, like Joan Crawford, when I worked with her in Trog, she had this terrible reputation, but you find that all the top people are so good, generous, charming and together … good fun!

… it’s the wannabes who are the bastards …

Right … but the reason the people at the top get this reputation is that they’re experienced, knowledgeable, blah, blah, and when they say: “I think we need black here” … make-up, dress or whatever … and everyone else says: “No, you mean white!” and the person knows it’s black, then you start getting a reputation for being stroppy and so on …

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What about Anthony Quinn, then … how was he to work with?

A joy – magical! He just couldn’t be better. As I said earlier, it’s just such a pleasure working with these people. Going into it, you’re terrified, because it’s like being up against King Kong: they know so very well how to use themselves on screen – but nearly all these people, these megas, are extraordinarily generous – he certainly is. So when they swing around on shot and they give it those eyes, turn on that power, you feel like flattening yourself against the wall, but in their generosity they give you things you can bounce off or give back or whatever, and he was very much that way. Very private, very quiet … we fenced around each other for a few weeks, because him being such a big star, it is appalling how the toadying goes on, people trying to ingratiate themselves. Eventually Quinn and I, his wife, Margheriti and Edo would go off to a little hotel together, sit and gossip … and bitch (laughs) … do all the good stuff … oh my goodness! Anthony Quinn was a marvellous man, magnificent, and we got pretty close … so much so that I wrote a King Lear for him.

Yeah?

Yeah, we had joked about it, you always talk about all sorts of different ideas and I said:“Have you ever done Lear?” and he said (adopts Quinnine dulcet tones): “David, that role is one of my life dreams.” He’d make a perfect Lear, as I see Lear and I’ve directed Shakespeare before at RADA, and all that lot. My Lear would be very Spielbergian, I guess you’d say … instead of being set in damp, wet old England, it would take place in the Byzantine desert. We’d shoot it in the Sahara and the Turkish desert. We’ve set the thing up, more or less, it just remains to be seen whether it’ll go.

With yourself directing?

Well, I’d dearly love to, but I really want Margheriti as the overall director, because he’s a master of special effects, and it would be full of effects, for instance … do you know the play?

Naturally.

Well, you know when he goes off in the storm – which in England is a rain-storm, of course – well, the mystery of the play, I’ve always thought, is: “What happens to his army?” You know, he’s just traipsing around from daughter to daughter, with all his retainers, and then suddenly they’re all gone! Well, how… how did they go? There’s no logical explanation in the text. So I thought-and here’s a piece of Warbeck invention for you – on his last confrontation with his daughters, when he curses them and then goes off in the storm in a furious maniacal rage, screaming at everyone as he disappears into the storm … well, we’ve set it out in the desert and ours is a giant Spielbergian sand storm. The army, of course, don’t want to go into this, because it’s certain death, but he’s out there lashing them with whips, and we’ve got camels and god knows what (all this has been storyboarded) and so he forces the soldiers to go out into this massive storm. They get a few miles then most of them try to get back, so we end up with a heap of bodies strangled outside the castle gate. All this not only gets rid of the army, it would also be a spectacular sequence and it seems to have wiped out Lear. .. that’s always the pinnacle of the play and, I suppose, the pinnacle of our movie, but from there he descends into full madness and we have some wonderful caves that we discovered while filming Ark Of The Sun God in the Turkish desert, where the whole landscape is lunar, tilted, twisted …. like a Salvador Dali painting, madman stuff. Anyway that’s the theory, and Quinn’s been fantastic, sending me Christmas cards saying: “Don’t let Lear die!”, and all that sort of thing …

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And you say it’s pretty well set up?

Well yeah,  Quinn reckons he can get ten million just on the strength of his name and he wants to go as an independent … I’m saying all this because it’s true, but at the same time I’m pessimistic that it’ll go because we’re all running about doing other things. We all got terribly excited about a year or so ago and just so many things happened in the in-between time …

(The ensuing discussion of projects that never quite  came off went quite deeply into the saga of how David very nearly landed the role of James Bond, but unfortunately he doesn’t feel at liberty to allow much of this material into print – Bob.) 

There is one which I very much regret not happening… Russ Meyer’s The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle… it was then known as “Bang Bang Bambi!” or something …

“Who Killed Bambi?”?

Something like that. Malcolm Maclaren, of course, was behind it, I had meetings with him. That would have been very funny. It appealed very much to my sense of humour, the circus of it, the whole thing.

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You had already worked for Meyer before, 0n Blacksnake aka Slaves … there’s another guy you must have plenty of colourful anecdotes about!

Oh God … I dunno what’s printable! (Laughs) But there’s a story I like to tell that really sums him up … apart from the time he nearly strangled me at The National Film Theatre!

Oh, that time…

Derek Malcolm was doing one of his Guardian Lectures, on Russ, so I wrote suggesting that he invites me, as one of the stars of the films and of course he promptly didn’t! (Laughs.) So I gatecrashed it anyway and was waiting in line to meet Russ, this big bear of a guy… my previous memory of him was bear-hugging me on the Bambi thing but when he turns round and sees me, there’s a moment of recognition, a sharp intake of breath,  his face tums purple and he starts screaming: “Motherfucker! Fucking cunt! I’ll kill you!” and I thought: “OK, these are interesting new forms of endearment.” My arms are still out to embrace him, and he’s shouting: “I’ll sue you, you shit” and the whole tiny box room up at the NFT froze. He was waving this magazine at them and apparently somebody had shown him an interview I’d done with Alan Jones – there was clearly a mistake that had occurred in the transcription – claiming that he tried to kill his wife, Edy Williams, by dynamiting the ignition on her car! Well, the whole room was frozen rigid by then, including me, with my jaw hanging down, saying: “Russ, what are you talking about?” He’d had this very difficult divorce from Edy and apparently she’d be able to get more alimony out of him because of all this, so anyway, I said I was sorry and brazened it out, you know: “Our friends in the press get it wrong from time to time, eh Russ?” But he wasn’t buying it.

Anyway, that wasn’t the story I started off telling – that was also at the NFT and a British journo asked him, in a very condescending tone: “What do you think of having your films shown here?” and his answer, this very rehearsed routine which remains one of my favourite quotes from him, was: “This is the fifth greatest experience of my life … ” (Then he started ticking off the greatest experiences of his life in numerical order) “The first greatest experience of my life was when I had my first whore in a brothel in France during the cleanup campaign … ” Now, the audience was a mixture of cineastes and … wankers, basically, and they didn’t quite know which way to go, and Meyer continues: ” … as I was a junior in the army in those days, I didn’t have first choice, my sargeant had the first choice, but luckily when it came to my turn l got the kind of woman I like – namely, with large cantilevers and her only other distinguishing feature was a beaver the size of a blacksmith’s apron.” By now the audience is absolutely stunned, like: “What is he saying?!?” and Russ carries on ” … when I hit it, two quails flew out!” and so on. That, to me, is Russ… so off the wall!

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You’ve patched it up now?

No! I’ve just done this Lenzi film Migual And Rodriguez, with Charles Napier … you know Charles Napier?

Sure.

He’s probably more famous as the red-neck in Rambo and he got himself chopped up in The Silence Of The Lambs, too, he’s a great mate of Demme, who directed that, but he’s done just about all of Russ’s films … Napier’s was such a great face to see… you get off the plane in the middle of nowhere – Dominica, for god’s sake – and you’re just confronted by this sea of familiar faces, film faces. What a pleasure he was, God, after a 24 hr flight and you arrive at 4 0’clock in the morning and they tell you you’re on set for three hours, with no real script… “Action!” (Laughs). Thankfully I’ve got this gift of speed-reading which I’m very proud of, and which has stood me in very good stead … anyway, I told him all my experiences with Russ, and believe me, he has some wonderful stories about the guy … so scurrilous that I really can’t tell you … wonderfully barmy … give it another ten years, if he’s dead by then, I’ll be able to tell all.

Is there anything else here, apart from the stuff you introduced by saying it was off the record, that you’d like me to take out?

Oh no, I’m really not bothered anymore … I’m getting too old to worry. I’m a big boy now!

I just wouldn’t want to hear that somebody had tried to strangle you on account of something I’d written.

I don’t care, to be quite honest … poor old Laura Trotter… that’s pretty much par for the course, though.

And you’re flying out to another exotic location tomorrow?

Yep. I’m doing another one with Fabrizio De Angelis, and I’m talking about doing one in New Guinea …

I was going to wish you a happy holiday, but it sounds like you never take ’em!

John – my whole life has been a holiday! 

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David’s extended holiday ended on 23.07.97 but what memories he left to those of us who were privileged enough to know him, or who just enjoyed his appearances in so many wild films. What a life… What a guy! Gone, but never forgotten…

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The Warbeck Weekender, Part 1… THE LAST HUNTER Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Dark Sky. Unrated.

David Warbeck had already starred on several occasions in the land of the big boot (most notably in  Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker! aka A Fistful Of Dynamite, 1971) but his reign as transplanted king of Italian action trash commenced in earnest with this characteristically violent, action packed Vietnam War epic courtesy of indefatigable spaghetti exploiter Antonio Margheriti. Margheriti had spotted Warbeck while directing second unit on Leone’s elegiac epic and later recalled thinking: “What a fabulous face – I have to have it in my own films.” Almost a decade later, he got his wish.

Just as Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse, lensed the same year, is so much more than the Deodato-wannabe it was hyped as (comprising instead an allegorical examination of the alienated war veteran’s plight, matched only for aching poignancy by Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock, 1986), so this supposed Cimino / Coppola copycat, which was actually announced as “The Deer Hunter 2” (“starring Jack Nicholson”!) works on more levels that the one played up the by the poster artist. Indeed, this 1980 Margheriti brace could serve as a paradigm of Kim Newman’s indispensable aphorism that the better Italian bandwagon jumpers are “… surprisingly sophisticated mixes of imitation, pastiche, parody deconstruction, reinterpretation and operatic inflation.”

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So sure, Margheriti trots out the required elements from Apocalypse Now (Warbeck is on a mission to terminate, with extreme prejudice, those responsible for “Tokyo Rose” type broadcasts that are sapping GI morale; he encounters a crazy colonel – John Steiner – who sends his men on coconut runs down sniper’s alley, in lieu of any waves to catch… incidental nicks centre on soul brothers Tony King and Bobby Rhodes, who wile away the war with dope and Hendrix) and The Deer Hunter (Russian roulette and rat cages, disillusioned idealism and sexual betrayal, a protagonist who opts to stay in the inferno that is war because he has become so alienated by its rawness from the superficialities and uncertainties of the life he previously knew… shades of  All Quiet On The Western Front… etc…

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But these are essentially pegs for the publicity department to hang a campaign upon. In The Last Hunter, Margheriti goes native, essentially remixing themes from a peculiarly Italian genre… this, so much more than Cannibal Apocalypse, is Margheriti’s true, albeit disguised, contribution to Cinecitta’s man-eating cycle, unfolding in a booby trap laden jungle strewn with ravaged human remains… a setting indistinguishable from that of any Lenzi, D’Amato, Martino or Deodato gut crunching saga. Meanwhile Margheriti muses obsessively on the iconic screen presence of Warbeck (looking much better here in a greasy vest than Bruce Willis has ever managed) and scours the emotional labyrinth of a menage-a-trois that unfolds through the same flashback structure by dint of which Warbeck’s character comes to haunt Duck, You Sucker!!

“Tokyo Rose” turns out to be Margit Evelyn Newton, who was was Warbeck’s youthful collaborator in anti-war activism and the girlfriend he shared, in an ambiguous “open relationship” (again, the spectre of Duck, You Sucker!) with the doughboy whom we saw blowing his brains out in the film’s pre-titles sequence. Warbeck’s agonising about whether or not he’s sold out doesn’t stop him from giving Margit an all-American sock-on-the-jaw , but at least she’s spared the astonishing dismemberment she undergoes at the conclusion of Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981). His patriotic duty now done, we expect Warbeck to fly off into the sunset with Tisa Farrow’s pert, freckle-faced photo journalist (a sort of distaff Tim Flynn.) Instead he elects to stay in the vicious jungle that now mirrors his devastated mental terrain. The film’s closing helicopter zoom, with our hero receding into the distance amid encroaching napalm blooms, looked kinda cheesy when I first saw The Last Hunter, but would be given the kind of poignancy that Margheriti was aiming for (indeed, it’s now almost unbearably poignant) by the revelation that cinematographer Riccardo Pallotini died in a ‘copter crash while supervising precisely such a shot for Margheriti and Warbeck’s next collavboration , Tiger Joe (1982) and by the subsequent, scandalously premature loss of Warbeck (who never quite hit the heights in his film career, but was indisputably a top-drawer human being.

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During the initial “video nasty” witch hunt in the UK this film was released by Inter-light and later by Intervision in a very similar sleeve that omitted previously featured shots of Warbeck undergoing fiendish tortures at the hands of the Vietcong. Why bother? The Last Hunter still ended up on Section 3 of the DPP’s nasty list and anyway, as the star himself once told me (he was paraphrasing Lucio Fulci): “Real life is more horrible than anything anybody could ever dream up for a film”… an observation vindicated by the tragic events surrounding participants in Antonio Margheriti’s The Last Hunter.

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Dark Sky’s 2.35:1 anamorphic wide screen transfer looks pretty good though of course the grainy nature of some of the combat stock footage herin is accentuated in the digital format. Extras include a theatrical trailer and and a winning, 20-odd minutes featurette by David Gregory in which Margheriti’s son and assistant, the agreeable Eduardo, acts as our guid on a sentimental trip around Rome’s De Palis studios, where Margheriti (and many of his exploitation peers) shot most of the “jungle exteriors” for their films in the ’70s and ‘80s. He indicates the sound stage where the climactic sewer scenes of Cannibal Apocalypse were acted out, and relates how the ‘Nam flashbacks in that one clinched for his father the job of directing Last Hunter in the Philippines on sets left over from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Edo expounds on the beauty of that country (to which he, his father and star Warbeck would return on several subsequent occasions) and also the difficulties of working in its oppressive heat. His thoughts returning to De Paolis, he indicates the clumps of trees that were often pressed into service to provide linking shots  from the Philippine jungle and the water tank in which Warbeck fought off various rats and snakes.

Edo reminisces about working with Warbeck and John Steiner, his own small role in The Last Hunter (as “Stinker Smith”) and the pleasure his father apparently took in devising grisly demises for him… also Margheriti’s love of the special FX work for which he was world renowned; the cheap and cheerful, make-and-match spirit under which these films were crafted (Edo remembers how Margheriti and Luigi Cozzi raided each other’s props when shooting Yor and Hercules respectively on adjacent sound stages); and their shameless opportunism (“We put a “2” behind the title of a lot of successful American films”)… a joyful memoir of the golden age of Italian exploitation (from somebody who actually lived it) in which David Warbeck participated so conspicuously.

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The Warbeck Weekender continues here at houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com tomorrow night with a look at David’s leading role in Russ Meyer’s er, idiosyncratic Black Snake aka Slaves (1973.) But first, some important messages from our sponsors…

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East Meets Worst… HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU reviewed

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HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU aka MR HERCULES AGAINST KARATE (“MING, RAGAZZI!”, 1973) 

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti). Produced by Carlo Ponti. Story by Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergi0 Donati. Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Gianni Simonelli. Cinematography by Ettore Papaleo. Edited by Mario Morra. Music by Carlo Savina. Starring: Tom Scott” (Roberto Terracina), “Fred Harris” (Fernando A rri en), Jolina  Mitcbell, Chai Lee, George Wang.

Despite its title, this flick is not a late entry in the peplum stakes, rather a transparent and tragically inept attempt to take off the successful Terence Hill / Bud Spencer comedy team, with Arrien as the hulking Bambino figure Percival and Terracina’s Danny standing in for the wily Trinity. The former is the accident-prone giant of the title, whose ignorance of his own strength comes in handy during those Enzo Barboni-patented slapstick punch-ups as our, er, heroes search for a missing kid, spirited away by a gang of kung fu kidnappers. There’s even a whitesuited baddy in the early part of the picture who recalls Donald Pleasence’s character in Watch Out, We’re Mad.

Unfortunately these guys’ wannabe act is sabotaged by fact that whereas Hill (aka Mari0 Girotti) is handsome and appealing, Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) huge and charismatic, these guys are merely oafish and insufferable. Nor are they even slightly funny, which always tends to be a drawback in comedies, I find. The script does them no favours at all in this department, its feeble attempts at humour as broad as the checks on its protagonists’ loud sports jackets. The gag in which a hotel basement fight leads to repeated changes in the building’s thermostat setting neatly guages the film’s tepid level of wit, and there’s an abundance of regrettable “Chinese takeaway on a saturday night type” racist cracks (somebody please take ’em away!), witness the characters named Big Pong, Sonov Gun, Har Lot … there’s even a Fuk Yoo (only “Hoo Flung Dung” is, mercifully, conspicuous by his absence). Calling the villain-in-chief Hung Lo only reminds us how much better this kind of skit was done (if it has to be done at all) in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). The tackiest gag of them all comes right at the oh so-welcome end, where “Hercules” is seen straining to pass pearls that he’s inadvertantly swallowed, but as Margheriti proves with this fiasco, it’s sometimes impossible even for a director of his legendary resourcefulness to salvage anything valuable from a pile of shit!

On the plus side, pictures like this and the director’s Stranger And The Gunfighter, from the following year, serve as a reminder of the pioneering part he played in bringing currently cultish oriental cinema to the attention of us white devils, and the extraordinary scenes (for an alleged comedy actioner) in which Hung Lo punishes incompetent henchmen by plucking out their teeth and eyeballs, to mount them on trophy boards, foreshadows Margheriti’s part in the subsequent Italian explosion of graphically gory horror, directing Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and (just maybe) Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (both 1973… a busy year even by Margheriti’s routinely prolific standards.)

Mr Dung

“Ah, Mr Dung… we’ve been expecting you!”

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ARRIVEDERCI, ROMA… Italians After The Bomb

A Fighter Centurion

A Fighter Centurion in Rome, pictured tomorrow.

“Films such as The Bronx Warriors were the last gasp of our industry trying to survive.”

(Venerable Italian exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti… quoted above in a recent interview with Calum Waddell).

Bertrand Russell once made the ominous observation that “if the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the Fourth will be fought with bows and arrows”. If he’d lived long enough to witness the early ‘80s cycle of Italian post-apocalypse movies, he would no doubt have extended his estimate of WWIV’s armoury to include dune buggies with drill attachments (as in The New Barbarians), talking motorbikes (Warrior Of The Lost World), and pterodactyl hang-gliders (Yor). Yep, those ever-resourceful spaghetti exploitation mavens figured that once they’d adopted the patently nonsensical basic premise of anyone actually surviving global thermo-nuclear war (admittedly, their movies would be somewhat lacking in “human interest” if nobody had!), they might as well be nuked for sheep as lambs and throw logic completely out of the window. Thus their post-apocalyptic landscapes are peopled by roving bands of gay, book-burning nihilists (The New Barbarians)… Hari-Krishna survivalists battling hordes of rampaging rodents (Rats – Night Of Terror)… self-propagating Popeye clones (She)… and any amount of other, equally wacky nonsense that not even Nostradamus could have predicted!

Prior to the 80’s, Hollywood had produced plenty of atom-angst movies: firstly, scores of cash-in SF monster-mash quickies such as Them! (1954), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and in the same year, at the other end of the mutation scale, Jack Arnold’s superior The Incredible Shrinking Man; later, more sophisticated dramas like On The Beach (1959), Fail Safe (1964) and of course Kubrick’s scorchingly satirical Dr Strangelove (also 1964). Unusually for an Italian film-cycle though, the Italian post-nukes series was not rooted directly in any American cinematic antecedents, rather in real geopolitical events that were taking place on the ground in Europe. Viewed from the perspective of today’s post-Cold War “New World Order” it all seems like a bad dream now, but back then NATO’s doctrine of “flexible response” against the supposed Warsaw Pact threat allowed for the fighting of “a limited nuclear war” in our continent and when the cruise missiles were installed at Greenham Common and elsewhere, many Europeans genuinely feared that Armageddon was just around the corner.

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Under such pressures, a recently launched Italian sub-genre of societal breakdown mutated into the post-apocalypse genre proper. That fledgling subgenre, best represented by Enzo G. Castellari (aka Enzo Girolami)’s Bronx Warriors (1982), did have definite, easily discernible roots in Hollywood antecedents. Written by Castellari with prolific husband and wife scripting duo Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Livia Briganti, Bronx Warriors is an inventive, hyperactive fusion of elements from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), with a dash of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971) and a touch of Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975) thrown in for good measure. Castellari’s film also adopts Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters, with Trash (“Mark Gregory” / Marco De Gregorio), The Ogre (Fred Williamson), Golem (“George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori) and Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly) and their respective gangs battling for turf in a Bronx that has previously been abandoned by civil society, whose representatives (in the person of Vic Morrow’s “Hammer”) have now chosen to claim it back via a programme of gentrificational genocide.

BW2

Bronx Warriors was such a hit in the U.S. market that a sequel (Escape From The Bronx aka Bronx Bronx Warriors 2: The Battle For Manhattan, 1983)  was duly made, running on similar lines but with Henry Silva understandably substituting for Vic Morrow (decapitated in the Twilight Zone debacle) as Trash’s megalomaniacal opponent. The intruiging cast for this one featured, as well as Castellari’s omnipresent brother Enio Girolami (“Thomas Moore”) and one of Castellari’s own cameos, an appearance by Italian hard-core queen Moana Pozzi, who died of cancer shortly afterwards.

If his Bronx Warriors films primed the detonator, then it was Castellari’s The New Barbarians (also 1982) which ignited the mushroom cloud and shaped the fall-out of subsequent “post-nukes” efforts. Ironically so, because as Castellari himself readily admits: “It’s a joke…  those silly futuristic cars… it’s a bad movie, very bad… a really poor effort!” His verdict is vindicated as early as the title sequence, where the impact of a nuclear explosion (once memorably – not to mention pants-shittingly – described as being like “a huge furnace door slamming shut in the bowels of Hell”) is rendered by what looks suspiciously like a child’s sparkler being waved over a leggo model of New York City. The balance of the picture comprises a succession of luke-warm retreads of moments from George Miller’s 1981 milestone Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (whose influence over subsequent films has continued, e.g. in Kevin Costner’s bloated Waterworld, 1995) and an increasingly spaghetti western-esque ambience. “Timothy Brent” (Giancarlo Prete, a stalwart of Castellari’s own spagwests) is the hero with no name (or probably wishes he was, his character having been dubbed “Scorpio”), sore-assed and out to settle a score with Luigi Montefiori’s Templars, an avowedly and aggressively homosexual cult who like to, er, widen the circle of their friends (and indeed enemies) when they’re not torturing holocaust survivors and burning books (on the grounds that: “It was damn books that caused the Apocalypse!”) Unless you’re in the right frame of mind to watch total crap (I must confess, I frequently am), the sole saving grace of this movie is Claudio Simonetti’s driving, percussive score.

Having successfully ripped off Escape From New York, Mad Max 2 and so on, Castellari proceeded to churn out countless other characteristically energetic, imitative (and generally lucrative) cash-ins on Hollywood hits, leaving the post-nukes wasteland open to his pasta exploitation peers. Sure enough, the likes of Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino and Antonio Margheriti would all now throw their hats into the radioactive ring.

yor

Margheriti’s entry, Yor (a 1984, Italo-Turkish co-production boiled down from a TV series) is an ultra-trashy reworking of the central premise to Roger Corman’s 1958 effort Teenage Caveman (in which adolescent Australopithecus Robert Vaughan ultimately discovers that the Flintstone-like world he inhabits is the result of an earlier generation’s nuclear war), as is rather given away by the sub-title sometimes appended to it: Hunter From The Future. But how did nukes revive the pterodactyl which muscle-brained Reb Brown (to the accompaniment of his truly brain-frying hard-rock theme song) uses as a hang-glider… Margheriti must have recently screened a Rodan movie! It’s little short of astonishing that this jumbled Jurassic lark is just about the most commercially successful item on Margheriti’s lengthy, variable but oft-prestigious CV, and I remember him having a hearty belly-laugh on this score when I raised the subject with him during the mid-90s.

Underlining the continuity between Italian apocalypsoes and the Peplum genre, Yor’s cast features an alumnus of the sword and sandal school, ever-scowling Gordon Mitchell, who’s also in Tonino Ricci’s Rush, Joe D’Amato’s Endgame and Avi Nesher’s She. The latter (begun in 1983 as a [relatively] straight H. Rider-Haggard adaptation, stalled and only appearing in 1985, having been rejigged to include radioactive mutants in the interim) is every bit as bizarre but nowhere near as entertaining as the Margheriti flick. The above-mentioned regenerating Popeye clones are the only thing that stick in my memory from this fiasco (whose soundtrack contributors include Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Motorhead, and a band rejoicing in the name of “Bastard”!), but if you think I’m in any hurry to watch it again, you’ve got another think coming, buster!

Warrior Of The Lost World, an 1983 Italian-American co-production written and directed by David Worth (=?) is a similarly gimmicky vehicle, which tosses a talking motor-bike into its derivative mix of plot-points. No David Hasselhoff, thank fuck, but the film’s surprisingly starry cast of exploitation mainstays does include Donald Pleasance, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Robert Ginty and Persis Khambatta.

2019

Sergio Martino (as “Martin Dolman) filled his 2019: After The Fall Of New York with knowing Wagnerian references (e.g. the mandatory silly character names include “Parsifal”) for those members of his audience who were culturally astute enough to pick them up. Those who weren’t could content themselves with enjoying the schlocky action, as hunky Michael Sopkiw searches for the world’s last fertile woman, whom the good guys want to whisk off to another, unspoiled planet, which they plan to populate with a new human race. Although Martino is inarguably an intelligent director, such arch touches can’t really disguise the basic formulaic nature of the proceedings here, though there is one amusing final gag (similar to the conclusion of Bob Fuest’s The Final Programme), as it’s revealed that Sleeping Beauty has been impregnated by “The Big Ape” a love-struck simian mutant played by “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori (just think of the make-up costs they saved by casting him in this role!)

Atlantis Interceptors

The new team of Top Gear presenters were considerably better behaved than Jeremy Cuntson.

Another veteran spaghetti exploiter, Ruggero Deodato (posing as “Roger Franklin”) made a tangential entry into the post-Apocalypse stakes with Atlantis Interceptors (1983), in which various unspecified eco-unfriendly activities by the human race predictably lead to the lost continent of Atlantis popping up on the Florida coast-line, and its rampaging inhabitants (led by Ivan Rassimov) driving around the state in a souped-up battle-truck, terrorising terrans. Christopher Connelly, spagwest veteran George Hilton, superspade Tony King, gorgeous Gioia Maria Scola (whose subsequent off screen antics proved most colourful) and one “Michael Soavi” become urban guerrillas to dispatch the invaders’ asses back to Davey Jones’s locker in this amusing effort.

Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2033: Fighter Centurions (1983, aka Ben Hur Vs Spartacus in The States, as if to emphasise once again those Peplum connections) is another marginal effort, a portrayal of a dystopian future with no actual mention of there having been a nuclear holocaust. In this one the corrupt ruling classes keep the masses happy with bread and circuses, the latter comprising gladiatorial motorbike competitions in which Jared Martin (a poor man’s David Warbeck, who later starred in Dallas) excels. The film is an investigation of the ethics of presenting violence as mass entertainment, a theme Fulci would expand on, to quite astonishing effect, in his later Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain (1990). Admittedly Fighter Centurions owes a certain amount to Rollerball, but it was itself extensively ripped off by Paul Michael Glaser’s nominal Stephen King adaptation, The Running Man (1987), as was Joe D’Amato’s Endgame (1983).

EndgameJOED

It wouldn’t be a D’Amato film without a few tits somewhere…

Incredible as it may seem, given his track-record (and D’Amato had during the previous year turned in a mediocre “post-nukes” outing, 2020: Freedom Fighters aka  2020: Texas Gladiators, after his protégé Luigi Montefiori abdicated the reins on what was supposed to be his directorial debut), D’Amato’s Endgame is one of the best pictures to emerge from this cycle, adding surprisingly subtle touches (such as Laura Gemser – giving one of the best performances in her career – as one of a mutant race of telepaths who must refrain from violence because they would participate psychically in the pain of their victims) to the bare bones of its “Luigi Monefiori vs Al Cliver (aka Pier Luigi Conti) in televised grudge match” storyline.

Less impressive efforts include Exterminators Of The Year 3000 (1983), an Italo-Spanish production directed by “Jules Harrison” (Giuliano Carnimeo) and a brace by  “Anthony Richmond” (Tonino Ricci), Rush The Assassin (1983) and its semi-sequel Rage (1984, aka Rush 2). The first picture stars “Conrad Nichols” (Luigi Mezzabotte) as Rush, resistance leader of a bunch of post-nuke proles forced to labour in sterile plastic greenhouses because all the vegetation outside has supposedly been destroyed by radiation. Less astute critics complained that “the entire last third of the film takes place in an Italian forest”, but they’ve missed the whole goddamn point (one pinched from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth), namely that the whole dying eco-system story was a scam, perpetrated to keep the toiling masses – quite literally – in their place. Rage contains one of Allan Bryce’s all-time favourite lines of dialogue, i.e. “It won’t be easy, building up a new world… but there’s no harm in trying!”

Nice to close on an unintentionally hilarious one-liner, but if you want the end of your world served up with some giggles instead of a bang, you’ll find the motherlode in Bruno Mattei’s totally ludicrous Rats – Night Of Terror (1984). Mattei, who would give the world a pedantically eco-conscious undead D.J. in Zombi 3 (1988), and had already turned his Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981) into a doomsday scenario featuring the first (and hopefully last) zombie rat in screen history, here depicts mankind’s last stand against hordes of radioactively mutated (and totally unscary) rodents. Although you can see it coming a country mile away, this picture’s hilarious “twist” ending is (like the rest of the film) so ineptly rendered as to be worth its weight in fool’s gold.

alesFromTheRB

The 2016 Reboot of Tales From The Riverbank was a conspicuous failure…

The genre Enzo Castellari had inaugurated with The New Barbarians petered out in the likes of Urban Warriors (1987, directed by “Joseph Warren” / Giuseppe Vari and scripted by superannuated spaghetti hack Pietro Regnoli) and The Final Executioner (1984) and Bronx Executioners (1989), a brace directed (appropriately enough) by Enzo’s uncle Romolo Girolami, under the guises “Romolo Guerrieri” and “Bob Collins” respectively. The former is actually rather good, and certainly the clearest statement yet of the affinities between this sub-genre and the spaghetti western: William Mang restores order to a town where survivalist yuppies have been preying on the dregs of radiation-scarred humanity, with spagwest icon Woody Strode along for the ride. Strode also stars in Bronx Executioners (alongside Zombie Creeping Flesh victim Margit Evelyn Newton).

These efforts were nothing more than stragglers, a belated coda to a genre whose commercial half-life had long expired in the trend-conscious Italian industry. Indeed, internationally post-apocalypse offerings tailed off dramatically in the run up to the fall of Communism, Steve De Jarnatt’s splendid Miracle Mile (1988) effectively burying the sub-genre. You can’t keep a good bomb down though, and a slew of subsequent offerings such as True Lies (1994),  the Under Siege movies (1992-95) and The Sum Of All Fears (2002) have had audiences reaching for their brown trousers again as they contemplate the dreadful prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue regimes, terrorists or millennial religious loonies… which wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but could still mean several hundred thousand people suffering a real crimp in their day!

That's your lot...

“They think it’s all over… it is now!”

Categories: Features | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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