Posts Tagged With: Barbara Steele

“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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Happy Birthday, Sweet Freudstein (With Big Thanks To Irene…)… THE 1st HOUSE OF FREUDSTEIN ANNUAL REPORT

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It’s turned into the purtiest Blog you’ve ever seen… and just a year old, today!

In the latter part of 2015 I was already doing a music blog, the now defunct Boot Room Of Ozymandias. Only available to a small circle of fellow Prog Rock enthusiasts, it was, frankly, a bit crap. It did, however, afford me the opportunity to learn the tricks of the blogger’s trade while dropping most of my clangers away from the public gaze.

The yen to do a film blog was kindled in me by none other than Irene Miracle. The lovely and talented star of Inferno, Night Train Murders et al was well chuffed with the interview we’d done (which appeared in issue #167 of Dark Side magazine) and wondered if there was any chance of getting it on-line. Her admirers around the world (particularly her fanatical Japanese following) would just lap it up, she assured me. I asked DS editor Allan Bryce if he would consider running this piece on the web site of his august organ but at the time he was experiencing some problems in that department and about to change web master. When I mentioned this to Irene, she asked me why I didn’t consider setting up my own film blog. Why not indeed…

At the end of 2015 I closed The Boot Room (though that re-emerged, mutated and upgraded, as http://www.theozymandiasprogject.wordpress.com in May 2016… I wish I could devote enough time to making that as it good as it should be but hey, I’ve only got one pair of hands and 24 hours in a day) and on 01.01.16 officially launched http://www.houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com upon an unsuspecting world, leading off with the aforementioned Irene Miracle interview. She wasn’t bullshitting about how well it would go, either. A year on, she’s still fighting it out with David Warbeck for the laurel of most-visited posting and yes, many of the days on which she’s scored particularly strongly seem to coincide with days when we’ve had a lot of Japanese visitors. A woman of indisputable discernment, here’s wishing Irene every success with the various projects she has in development, notably Bangkok Hardtime.

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(http://www.dawnland-movie.com/ChangelingTheMovie/IreneMiracle)

Me Me Lay (or Lai, depending on what source you consult) grabs the bronze, unexpectedly (to me, anyway) relegating Lucio Fulci to fourth place and our look at Soledad Miranda on Severin BDs registered as the fifth biggest draw for most of our first year. Any Severin coverage tends to generate a strong response, actually and their Barbara Steele triple bill BD leap frogged Ms Miranda on the day of La Steele’s birthday, 29.12.16. Soledad certainly did her ratings no harm at all by the imperious manner in which she shrugged her kit off in the gif we used to advertise that posting on social media. Oh go on then, here it is again…

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Our Top 10 postings for 2016 are rounded out by Torso (anything Martino and / or Fenech related seems to be well received), our survey of Italian Exorcist knock-offs and two more Severin releases. Gregory and Daft’s brain-boggling Zombi Holocaust / Doctor Butcher set narrowly edged out their Burial Ground for both the number 9 spot and our pick as HOF Release Of The Year.

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This just in from our medical correspondent… Butcher stuffs Strange!

You’ll be seeing a lot more of that kind of stuff in 2017… I can take a hint, you know! In the meantime it would be nice if some of our less favoured postings started to pick up a few viewings in the New Year… I was particularly pleased with my breezy account of the Freudstein family cinema outing to check out Doctor Strange (this at the behest of my rabidly Cumberbitch daughter)… currently residing at the very bottom of our chart!

Despite the odd minor disappointment it’s been a good year,  in which we’ve made a lot of new cyber friends (and even met some of them) and had rather a jolly time e.g. celebrating the month of Scalarama, reporting from Nottingham’s spiffing Mayhem Film Festival and mounting well received Weekenders devoted to Paul Naschy, David Warbeck and Sergio Martino (with preparations for new ones in 2017 already underway.) We’ve scoured every corner of the globe for cinematic treats ranging from the Art House (The Quay Brothers) to the outhouse (Jesus Franco), from gothique Italian horrors of the ’60s to contemporary releases like Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies and leavened the mix with such occasional mainstream / big budget efforts as the aforementioned underperforming Doctor Strange. We try to cater for all tastes here at The House Of Freudstein…

… which means that in 2017, among more weekenders, major interviews, reports and reviews we’ll be hoping to cover a lot of stuff we haven’t really touched on in our first year… a few Spaghetti Westerns wouldn’t hurt… and  Poliziotteschi… yeah, you can expect a tidal wave of Crime Slime any time soon.

In the meantime, thanks for your support and Happy New Year from we Freudsteins…

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Thanks, Pal!

Categories: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back To The House Of Pain: A Second Look At David Gregory’s LOST SOUL Documentary…

… albeit a very short one.

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BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

No, the Severin release of Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr Moreau (2014) hasn’t given me cause to reconsider the enthusiastic endorsement I gave it elsewhere on this blog, it’s just that I’ve now had the opportunity to view the bonus features common to both this and the Nucleus releases and thought that, while possibly interested in hearing about them, you might be more likely to read this than go back to the original review in hope of an update.

Plenty of extras here to keep you out of mischief, kicking off with lengthy interview out takes from Richard Stanley and other contributors that give you the chance to second guess Gregory’s edit. Then Stanley talks us through a gallery of Graham Humphrey’s original conceptual art, providing plentiful further hints as to the film that might have been. In the audio featurette Barbara Steele Recalls Moreau, Barbara Steele er, recalls her brief stint on the still-Stanley directed Dr Moreau and sharing fags with a “Rangatang.” In Boar Man Diary manimal extra Neil Young goes all Jackanory on the patio, reading from his on set-diaries. Most interesting revelation? Rob Morrow was acting up “… because he’s a cunt!” (on a set where there was, by all accounts, no shortage of lady parts.) David hunts for Moreau’s compound in Cairns, Australia with the aid of eminent botanists in The hunt For The Compound and, of course, you get a trailer.

There’s an archive interview with John Frankenheimer, in which he claims that H G Wells would have liked his picture better than Erle Kenton’ celebrated 1932 version of Dr Moreau (hmmm…) and, while attempting to pour oil on the troubled waters of his working relationship with Brando and Kilmer, takes time out for a verbal swipe at Stanley. Stanley returns the compliment (and expresses himself freely on the subject of Val Kilmer, too) in the featurette The Beast Of Morbido (a 2014 festival in Puebla, Mexico 2014 where Stan Winston protegé Bruce Spaulding Fuller made the renegade director up as a beast man.) Stanley’s verdict on Marlon Brando is more nuanced… apparently Marlon had been in The Business and suffered its obnoxiousness so long that he developed a rosy-tinted view of the world outside it whereas Stanley insists (before leading the festival attendees in a spirited recitation of The Law) that the world is populated with hyenas and you’re better off living in seclusion on top of The Cathars’ mountain. Amen to that…

There are further Severin editions of this film available, the most covetable of all, I guess, being the Special 3-disc House Of Pain Edition, which also features Die Insel Der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost), a recently discovered 1921 German adaptation of Wells’ classic yarn…  the “H.G. Wells On Film” featurette, featuring expert Sylvia Hardy… Richard Stanley on Wells and a bonus audio CD in which Stanley Reads “The Island Of Dr. Moreau”… maybe I’ll be reviewing that one for you, one of these days.

Am I not a man?

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Barbara’s Castles… THREE BARBARA STEELE FILMS on one Severin BD

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Blu-ray. Severin. Regions A/B/C. Unrated.

Also known as Night Of The Doomed, Faceless Monster, Orgasmo and Lovers from Beyond The Tomb (translating the Italian release title, Amanti D’Olretomba) and made in 1965, just before the Italian Gothique cycle abruptly gave way to spaghetti westerns and gialli, this is Mario Caiano’s self declared attempt (albeit under the pseudonym Allen Grunewald) to pay hommage to the creepy monochrome classics of Freda, Bava, Margheriti, et al. Severin’s appropriately gaudy sleeve quotes Monsters At Play (who they?) to the effect that Caiano actually surpasses the achievements of Mario Bava in this endeavour and while that claim is palpably far fetched, Caiano has undoubtedly authored a strong entry in the genre here.

As is traditional, Barbara Steele (her surname misspelled in the film’s poverty row titles) essays a double role, appearing first as Muriel Arrowsmith, whose life at Hampton Castle (supposedly somewhere in England but easily recognisable from a million other Italian fright flicks… its very name suggestive of former Freda glories) is intolerably dreary due to scientist husband Stephen (Paul Muller) spending most of his time in the lab, experimenting on frogs. Muriel spices things up by meeting gardener / stud David (Rik Battaglia) for Lady Chatterley-type trysts in the greenhouse. Betrayed by leper-faced servant Solange (Helga Line), these lovers are chained up in the castle’s dungeon, tortured with pokers and acid and eventually electrocuted. Needless to say, before she pops her delectable clogs, Muriel vows vengeance from beyond the grave and also lets slip that she has willed the castle to her mentally infirm step-sister Jenny.

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Time passes and when we return to Castle Hampton, Stephen has restored Solange’s beauty with his experiments and a pint or eight of Muriel’s blood (further shades of Dr Hichcock) and is now hitched to Jenny (Steele again), whom of course he’s planning to bump off. For a mere step-sister, Jenny bears a remarkable resemblance to Muriel, excepting only her blonde locks (don’t you hate it when dark-haired beauties go blonde? Angelina Jolie, Beatrice Dalle, Penelope Cruz… just don’t do it, girls!) As Jenny’s obsession with a portrait of Muriel propels her to learn the truth about what happened to her sibling, Stephen and Solange’s plans to do do away with her are given added urgency. Jenny’s conundrum (Is she just mad? Are they really out to get her? And is there some kind of supernatural higher power operating?) drive her to the brink of (yet another) breakdown and hunky shrink Dereck Joyce (Lawrence Clift) is called in to restore her rationality, though his self-proclaimed belief in paranormal phenomena hardly qualify him as the ideal candidate for the job.  When Doctor Dereck gets a bit too close to the truth for comfort, Stephen arranges to electrocute him in his bath, though it’s butler Jonathan (Giuseppe Addobbati) who ends up taking the fatal shock. This is just about Jonathan’s only appearance in the picture and his character seems to have been conceived (by Caiano and co-writer Fabio De Agostini) purely to save Joyce’s bacon and supply sinister Stephen with the pretext for one of his best one-liners in the picture: “Ten minutes ago that man was a picture of health… now he’s ready for the worms!”

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Impatient with all this pussy footing around, the vengeful shades of Muriel and David finally put in an appearance… Jenny is rescued from the fatal transfusion that would have topped up the rejuvenation regime of Solange (who consequently crumbles into a skeletal state) and Stephen is trussed up in his burning castle, from which Jenny and Doctor D escape, no doubt to live happily ever after. Defying the meanest of resources, DP Enzo Barboni (who would shoot Sergio Corbucci’s Django the following year and went on to become a spagwest director in his own right) performs chiaroscuro wonders with the contours of Steele’s wonderful face throughout and he and Caiano’s efforts are well rendered in a crisp 1.66:1 / 16×9 HD restoration from the negative that keeps an inevitable degree of frame damage to the barest minimum. The film’s OST is provided by Ennio Morricone but his first horror outing is surprisingly forgettable, given that he had already scored A Fistful Of Dollars.

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In terms of Nightmare Castle-related extras, in addition to UK and UK trailers you get an interview with director Caiano (and assorted pets) which is reasonably engaging but only serves as the appetiser for an audience with Barbaric Steele herself, Baroness Barbara of Birkenhead (complete with snarling eyebrows)… exactly the kind of coup that we’ve come to expect from the Severin boys. Steele has reportedly been reluctant, in the past, to acknowledge her Italian horror credits but shows no such qualms here, reminiscing freely about her reign as the Queen of Italian Gothique, though predictably she has a lot more to say about her relatively brief working relationship with Fellini. Most tantalisingly, she mentions the unrealised horror project in which Antonioni planned to star La Steele alongside his muse, Monica Vitti. Currently clocking in (by my reckoning) at 71 years of age, she still looks beautiful and still comes across in this indispensable featurette as more than a little bonkers… Steele crazy after all these years…

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… and that’s really not the half of it as far as bonus materials go on this disc! As supporting attractions you get no less than two additional gothique Steele vehicles, Massimo Pupillo’s Terror Creatures From The Grave (1965) and Antonio Margheriti’s Danse Macabre (1963), each with their own associated supplementary stuff. Pupillo’s Ibsenesque saga of leprous undead vengeance is at least as good as Nightmare Castle. Margheriti’s effort is even better (generally regarded as the cream of the Bava wannabes… bogus Edgar Allan Poe attribution notwithstanding) and probably would have taken lead billing here if not for the damaged and compromised nature of the only print available, retitled Castle Of Blood for the U.S. market… a tantalising glimpse of the lost original.

You’re probably thinking that those two deserve reviews in their own right and you’d be correct… but I’ve stalled reviewing this essential BD release for too long already. Keep checking here, it’s my intention to revisit and expand this posting. But don’t hold your breath and in the meantime… buy this disc!

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Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

God Of Quad… The GRAHAM HUMPHREYS Interview, Part 2

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“So where’s Part 1?”, you might well be asking. Well, the short answer is that it’s in issue 170 of Dark Side magazine where it coincided with the Halloween 2015 launch of Drawing Blood, the coffee table tome of Graham’s collected works. This second instalment was supposed to follow in DS in short order but, for reasons too boring to go into, it didn’t. Read that in conjunction with this for the full effect and I hope you feel it’s been worth the wait…

Graham as we discussed last time, you’ve worked in so many fields but I think your forte, as amply demonstrated in your new book Drawing Blood (https://www.proudonline.co.uk.), has got to be the quad poster. Is that a fair
comment?

Certainly the earlier stuff and yeah, I do love that format. People sometimes ask me, on a private commission or for a very low budget film, what I think would be the best format to use and if you want to create a link with the classic British film poster, then it has to be a quad. People are really fond of them although they’ve now given way to the American One Sheet format… we’ve lost the quad!

That’s one of the things I was going to ask you about, because I never go to the cinema these days but thinking back to the last few times I did go, all I saw was these American One Sheets…

Quads still get designed but they’re becoming increasingly rare, you’re more likely to see them outside of an Arthouse cinema than anything else. It is largely the One Sheet you see now, which is really just a quad turned on its side.

Which is more to do with getting some Hollywood star across in portrait aspect… it’s not the same effect at all, though, is it?

Quads were always 30 by 40 inches. You can spot I’m a designer because I know that the bottom three inches were traditionally left blank… that’s where the
cinemas would paste over the venue information.

… “for one week only”…

… or the screening times or whatever, so you’d always have those bottom three inches left clear, which made it more like 40″ x 27″ which, if you turn it on its side, is the American One Sheet. The other thing that killed it off, of course, was home video; reformatting stuff from a quad for a video cover always presented problems… translating the imagery for The Evil Dead and A Nightmare On Elm Street, for example, into the dimensions of a video box. You’d have to bloody repaint everything, though what you’d do now of course is use photoshop and recomp the whole thing. I’ve done that a few times and it’s not the best way of working but sometimes in those circumstances, you know… what can you do? When you do that you lose whatever it is that made your original image work in the first place. Unusually, with Elm Street 2, I’d already wised up to this idea for the video cover so the image of Freddy over the bus was really the campaign as far as I was concerned, the quad couldn’t be used on the video cover and I didn’t have to rush out another piece of artwork I wasn’t happy with (though conversely I had to rush out the quad, to the detriment of quality!)

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The Evil Dead quad even contains a reference to the film’s video release, doesn’t it? That’s an even more explicit nod as to how things were going… that moment of transition, caught right there, on the poster…

Yeah, it was the first simultaneous theatrical and video release, I believe. It’s funny, I do remember painting that bit of information on the poster and I hadn’t even thought about a video cover, to be honest. I just thought, why not turn it on its side for the box? I don’t understand why people don’t do that more often. Arrow did it with a couple of releases, possibly a few other companies as well… I mean, we’ve produced some classic quads, so what’s the problem? I can explain… at the time, all these videos were displayed in stores and people would browse through them, they obviously had to have their titles at the top because that’s the you read them, if they were at the bottom people would just miss the wording. Putting together video sleeves was all about how they were going to be displayed on shelves.

Nik Powell and Steve Woolley were breaking rules left, right and centre at Palace… was this just your good fairy waving her wand at the right time, that they were the kind of people who would look at an unproven artist like you, whereas many others wouldn’t have?

Absolutely, it’s always about luck and being in the right place at the right time. Had I not wandered into Palace’s office at that particular moment in the ’80s, then I have no idea where things would be now. I would have continued to drag my folio around, I’m sure I would have found work eventually. I would have found my way into horror one way or the other because that was my goal.

That was the dream of the kid who spent all his time sketching skulls and Daleks in his school books…

Ha ha, my real dream was to do Hammer posters!

Some of those were beautiful…

They were and some of them were awful, when they started cheap-skating…

I remember the She double bill quad was really great… and She coupled with One Million Years B.C.

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Yeah, but they got to a point were they could get these visuals from the films and wouldn’t bother with art work. The later posters were often visuals, not finished illustrations, whereas the earlier ones were fantastic because the illustrators who put them together took such care…

But you’ve done work, e.g. Dust Devil or From Dusk Till Dawn, which mostly consists of photoshopped images from the film… I imagine that’s a lot less satisfying than coming up with an original artwork concept.

A defining chapter in the history of the film poster! The moment when photoshop changed everything and people became beholden to comping images together and how easily and cheaply it could be done. So much cheaper that the splicing of large format transparencies and painstaking retouching with dyes. I believe this is when the process of dumbing down posters truly began. It eliminated the artists and put creativity in the hands of keyboard operators. Illustration has become confusing to people. I remember submitting painted artwork for a low budget film and the sales company got back to me, saying they’d taken it to film markets and people were confused, not sure if it was an animation or not… this kind of visual illiteracy saddens me and I’ll shout about it any chance I get. I mean, you can go back to older posters… the example I always use is the Saul Bass design for Vertigo…  particularly distinctive, or The Man With The Golden Arm – it’s abstract, not at all literal, you can’t look at it and simply know the film… you see the star names on it but on the poster for Man With The Golden Arm, there’s no picture of Frank Sinatra…

… shooting up on the poster.

Exactly… exactly…

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And Vertigo… obviously it’s about a man who suffers this fear of heights but it’s about so much more than that, the whole story is so allegorical…

It is…

… how could you actually portray that literally on a poster?

I guess at that time if you had the name Hitchcock on a poster, it was going to get some recognition anyway, but if you could do that then, how come you can’t do it now? There is no mystery, no tease, just rows of plastic looking clones. Well, if it costs so much to make a film these days they want as many bums on seats as possible and everything is reduced to these lowest common denominators… so much poster art is just about pretty faces these days, nothing else.

Yeah, that was the end of my poster boy career, when they started insisting on pretty faces…

Ha ha, there’s always surgery!

Hm, my Dark Side earnings wouldn’t really stretch to that…

There’s a lot of it about at the moment… if it works for them, why not us?

Well, Kim Novak’s looking a bit odd these days…

I’m sure, yeah.

We’ve already talked about some of your influences. Somebody I used to love from back in the old “video nasties” days was the Italian poster artist Enzo Sciotti. Were you familiar with his stuff or at all influenced by it?

It’s a name I saw recently and it might be that it was mentioned in Tom Hodge’s Video cover art book, but no, I can’t say…

His artwork appeared on all those Fulci quads, he did the original artwork for Phenomena… the amazing quad for Demons and so on…

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Humphreys does Fulci, above and below.

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Then I know the work if not the name! And it is amazing stuff. I recall that Mike Lee at Vipco used to release all these Italian films and some of it used to have this beautiful artwork. I don’t know how they did it because I’m sure they had no money…

… pretty much like the films themselves…

… was it cheap to get work done in Italy?  Maybe that’s that’s just the way it was, maybe people didn’t need to earn as much to live well. At some point in the late ‘80s I was doing illustrations for a book and the art director for that was himself an illustrator. He was working on a major project and doing all this stuff in black and white that was being sent to Italy to be worked on by colourists. He said he couldn’t do it here because literally nobody could afford to do that quality of work. So there must be a pool of incredible talent over there. I’ve got a feeling that some of those guys went through special schools devoted to illustration and certainly way back in the day that was what happened here and in America. There’s a book called Film Freak by my friend Christopher Fowler and he talks about a couple of these guys, he’d been to these studios where they had apprenticeships in illustration… essentially a factory where somebody might just handle certain aspects of an illustration then it will get handed on to another guy, he would do maybe the portraiture, or the hands, or the background …

Just like the Italian masters used to do it in The Renaissance…

Yeah, exactly and that’s a practice which has long since finished over here. It’s kind of a shame, it would have been great to go through an apprenticeship with Vic Fair or Tom Chantrell or any of those other great names in British film poster art…. that’s all gone, unfortunately

Another thing I was wondering about was the influence on your work of funfair art…

Yeah? Where does that come from, do you think?

Well, going back to the famous Evil Dead quad, it’s got this kind of… boldness and luridness that you see on funfair rides.

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It’s interesting that you mention that. When I was at college I had this fascination with fair grounds. I was at college in Salisbury and there’s a large market square right in the middle of town, hemmed in by buildings as opposed to in a muddy field or open carpark, it was a very urban funfair. They had the kind of stuff you can now see at Victorian steam fares as well as the strange 1970s stuff with horrible disco
things going on and there’d always be a ghost train, still very much the old fashioned ones… in later years I began to see ghost trains with images from The Evil Dead and Elm Street, or of Jason or Michael Myers, contemporary attempts to update stuff and I found that quite disappointing because once you got inside you’d find it’s still the same old crap anyway, with heavily soiled skeletons dangling from the ceiling and knotted ropes… I remember going to a fair ground at the end of the pier in Weston Super Mare when I was 8 or 9 with my dad and granddad, that was the first time I ever went on a ghost train, I was petrified but they had the weirdest things in there, I’ve never seen anything quite like it ever again…  like Gunther von Hagens’ plastinated corpses. You know the work?

I have and that guy really gets on my nerves… but that’s beside the point, please go on…

…. it had lots of stuff like that, like shrivelled corpses in cages and they made good use of the UV lights as well, it was weird, not the traditional Dracula / Frankenstein stuff that you might expect. It was like going into hell, it was horrible, it’s really stayed with me. It wasn’t just the colours, it was the weirdness of the whole thing, I suppose… slightly psychedelic and yet somehow like a Victorian freak show. In those days, at the end of the pier they still had a lot of those old penny machines where you could watch somebody being hanged or electrocuted, various unpleasant things … all these execution tableaux in wax…. so that probably stayed with me. The fairground thing has had an influence there, a fascination I had when I was at college and it probably has played out a bit in the work, without me being particularly aware.

Graham, do you always watch the films you’re illustrating or do you ever get pushed for time and say: “Just give me a collection of stills and I’ll knock up a little
montage of the greatest hits…”?

Generally I watch the film – and I think traditionally that was always the way… certainly when I worked on The Evil Dead I was invited to watch it at The Scala in a specially arranged screening and I’d actually attended a Scala preview of Elm Street before I was asked to work on it. I know that some illustrators don’t necessarily watch the film but I feel that I have to because I want to know why certain things are in there. I must admit there were a couple of times when I did DVD covers for Tartan when a film would not be available to watch in any form, but I’d be given a whole bunch of stills and end up using the best images for the most dynamic poses… sometime later when I’d get a copy of the film with my cover, I’d watch it and think: “Hang on, that person’s not even in the film!” So I don’t like to do that, it’s quite dangerous…

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You’re in danger of having a Stuart Maconie moment…

Ha, ha… any image that you use has to have some narrative thread and if it doesn’t, it’s all a bit pointless. If you try to encapsulate a film in one single image then what you’re looking for are the most visually appealing elements, but you’re also trying to indicate what’s going on, there has to be some sort of meaning to it. Having a single portrait isn’t enough, there has to be some kind of element in there that conveys something more than a star portrait.

It was quite a change of pace from what you’re normally doing to the “Pervert’s Guide” movies… how do you “find a cinematic identity” for those? That’s a completely different kettle of cinematic fish, isn’t it? It’s not schlock, it’s real high-brow cinema, cinema analysing cinema…

I imagine somebody at Tartan recommended me to Sophie Fiennes because they had distributed her film Hoover Street Revival, which was about Grace Jones’ brother and his pastoral work in New York. Anyway, Sophie wanted somebody she could trust to put something together, something professional with hopefully a little bit extra as well. So we had a meeting, she talked about her project and watched the DVDs. She did have an idea of how it should look, constructivist, maybe using just text, but the Slavoj Zizek character was such an interesting one anyway, he needed to be in there. I was very keen on this image of him in the boat with the seagulls (a pastiche of The Birds, one of the films examined in the series), but I also thought we could create this little graphic, multiple silhouette of him gesticulating – there’s a lot of movement going on and I thought this image of him with his arms flailing around might add some dynamism.

You’ve done some great stuff for Jodorowsky films and I believe that The Jod himself was particularly delighted with what you did for the UK re-release of El Topo…

Yeah, yeah…

.. and you mentioned earlier that Sam Raimi wrote some nice stuff for your book. Is it the norm that you get this kind of positive feedback, or do you wish that this would happen more often?

It really depends on the circumstances, how accessible that person is and how “hands on” they are in the promotion of their film… the Jodorowsky comment I got directly from him, because he was at the BFI for a screening of El Topo, which Tartan had re-released, so I was introduced to him…”Aaah!… This is my favourite poster for this film!” He approved!

I was hoping you’d met him, I mean, what a larger-than-life character… is he as fascinating a guy as he seems?

He is. But there were other people around so it wasn’t an exclusive audience but I did get to sit next to him and get a tarot card reading! Because his English had some limitations he used an interpreter, which made conversation a little stilted. I really wanted to talk to him about our shared interest in Tibet. He’s produced these wonderful graphic novels in the White Lama series and obviously has a fascination with the region, as far back as El Topo in which you can hear Tibetan sacred chanting… El Topo had been described as “the world’s first Buddhist Western”.

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As for Sam Raimi, I got to meet him when he was over here promoting Evil Dead 2 and he told me how much he’d liked my artwork for the first film and he knew the Palace Pictures poster campaign was instrumental in the film being a UK success. We were like a couple of overexcited fan boys  talking about old horror movies! It was great making contact again recently and getting permission to proceed with reproducing the art in Drawing Blood. He remembered meeting me all those years ago and said that he owned all the rights to The Evil Dead so it would be no problem. You don’t always get feedback and there have been times, way back, when it’s not been so positive. People largely know what they are going to get, hopefully a bit more as well. So feedback tends to be positive because there are no surprises. The only times it’s ever been been fraught are perhaps when there’s been no money and you’ve been working with absolutely nothing at all… misunderstandings can happen. There are always jobs that are going to go wrong, it happens to everybody. You just brush yourself down, go on to the next one and try not to worry about it.

I remember doing an album cover years ago, in fact it was about the same time as I was doing The Evil Dead… it was for The Lords Of The New Church, their first album, a big thing for them (and for me!) I considered myself lucky to be working with them because I’d seen them live, loved their records and the imagery. It was great to meet Stiv Bators, a true genius, and he was very enthusiastic about collaborating on the visuals but he really wanted a homage to Salvador Dali – as great an artist as he might be I was disappointed, because in my head the album sleeve was going to be the greatest Hammer poster ever. There had been a photo shoot with The Lords sitting around a decadent, aristocratic banquet… lit with all these fantastic colours, lurid purples, greens and reds – it looked fantastic, but when Stiv said: “I really want THIS!” and showed me a Dali painting with all these muddy greys, browns and stuff… oh god, there goes my palette… so I did the best that I could under those circumstances and ended up relatively happy with the finished painting. When the NME reviewed the album I remember rushing out to buy it, excitedly, wondering if they’d mention the cover and they mentioned virtually nothing else, talking about how awful it was, “cack surrealism” and so on…

“Don’t blame me… Stiv made me do it!”

It’s funny, I met the guy who wrote that review about three months later, when the NME used some of my art work and he told me “I absolutely love it mate, I’ve always loved your work!”, to which I replied: “Strange, you didn’t always seem to like it that much” and reminded him of the LOTNC album cover. He said: ” Oh… was that you? Well it wasn’t THAT crap, I must have been having a bad day…”

… and taking it out on you. Probably the director you’ve worked closest with has been Richard Stanley.

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That all came about through Palace Pictures. I was always going to the office quite late to do bits and pieces for them and one night I was in this Soho pub with Steve and Nik and they said: “We’ve got this low budget horror film we might be doing with a young, first time director… would you be interested in doing the storyboards?” I said that I’d never done storyboards before but they said that’s fine, they couldn’t afford to pay a professional story board artist anyway! The implication being that if I did the job I’d learn soon enough and they’d save their money. So I met Richard at the office of a company called Wicked Films, who were acting as his agent. They produced ads and music videos, so I guess Richard has already been doing music videos for them as the script for Hardware was A Wicked Film Production (with the financing of Palace Pictures, via Miramax). Wicked had their ideas about what the film was going to be and obviously Richard had his own vision… anyway I met him and was immediately intriguing. He’d literally just come back from Afghanistan, where he’d been shooting a documentary.

He always reminds me of that old TV series, if you remember it, Kung Fu… with the David Carradine character wandering the globe with just this pack on his back…

Ha ha, yeah. I gather that some of the stuff in Hardware was drawn from his own experience and of course what we didn’t realise at the time was that he’d been holed up with the Mujahideen, in their fight against the invading Russians. Well those guys became the Taliban and of course things took a drastic turn after that. We hit it off once he realised that I’d painted the UK art work for Phenomena, or Creepers as it was known over here! That was his favourite poster…

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… it’s one of my favourites, too…

… thank you! Anyway he was very excited that I might get involved and the other favourable thing in his eyes was that I’d already read the script and produced some sketches of how I thought the robot should look. So that was signed and sealed, we started storyboarding probably a week later but the thing was, I was quite busy in the daytime working on other stuff and Richard was doing music videos in the day, working on a rewrite of the script as well and trying to cast people, so the only time we had to storyboard was in the evening. I’d go to the office at about 7 pm and we’d both need something to eat so we’d go to this pizzeria next door to Wicked Films, have dinner and beers then go to the office about 10 o’clock. Then Richard would talk at length, discussing the scenes and we’d get to storyboard for an hour. Then I’d get a night bus home, get up in the morning and do it all over again – for three weeks, so it was a slow process and I didn’t get much sleep. Richard was living in the office at the time – his laundry was all over the place, but also an extensive collection of soundtrack LPs and videos – plenty of fuel!

At what stage did it become apparent that there was going to be a problem with the script’s similarity to a story in 2000 AD comic?

I guess it must have been when the film was in the process of being released, I think somebody at Palace had mentioned it but I was oblivious to the whole thing. The film contained elements from Richard’s film student days in South Africa, he’s well read and he’s a big fan of Moebius, obsessed with Herzog’s films … there are many, many other influences in there and I guess he could have seen that comic at some point and it could all have become part of the mix. I’ve never seen the comic myself so can’t really pass comment…

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It looks pretty close, whether it’s plagiarism or something more subtle than that…

It almost goes back to something I said earlier in that you might find some of the same story even further back in some old science fiction magazines like Fantastic or Amazing Stories and it’s difficult to pinpoint when an idea is completely original or where, maybe, it’s a mixture of different influences… or a common source.

It’s all been settled, anyway…

Yeah, it was settled.

I was going to ask you how you took to storyboarding but I guess the answer is readily discernible from the fact that you storyboarded two more films for Richard…

We found our pace working together, certainly in terms of our mutual interest in horror and other films and I think he knew that I understood the kind of things he was trying to do. He obviously felt comfortable working with me so when Dust Devil was green lit, he wanted me to storyboard and of course that led on to The Island of Dr Moreau. He requested my appointment as story board artist rather than New Line’s regular guy who was obviously a better story board artist than I could ever be, but apparently it didn’t gel creatively with Richard at all. He’d obviously expressed his misgivings, that’s when the producer of Dr Moreau got in touch with me and said: “Look, Richard would like to work with you, are you available to fly out to America?” He said that New Line were happy with the original artist but this was very much about keeping Richard happy. It wasn’t to do with the ability of the other, guy it was to do with personalities and making sure that Richard was content with the process.

So you were actually on the Dr Moreau set?

I went to LA for 3 weeks and we were staying at a little hotel together, just off Sunset Strip, near the New Line office. He was involved in the casting process and getting all these people together, in meetings all day long, but also preparing this one scene with Barbara Steele in a hospital location… I ended up doing some minor pieces of work that were intended to appear in the sequence, cognitive recognition cards that she would hold up to the orang utan but of course, none of that ever made it into the final film. I did go along to meet Richard on location with these cards, freshly painted that morning and I saw Barbara disappearing into a trailer… and I met the orang utan, briefly!

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So that was the only time I was ever actually involved in any kind of filming.  We got to hang out with Fairuza Balk, she was filming The Craft at that time and heavily involved in playing a witch, she’d completely immersed herself in this character, both on and off set. That was quite extraordinary and – I’ve already mentioned the Tibetan thing – she had a Tibetan mantra tattooed on her back – which she showed me. I really liked her a lot, she was great, scary fun but she had a terrible time in Australia when they were shooting.

So you just missed Barbara and you met the orang utan… but were you granted an audience with Marlon?

Not at all, no. At a later point I went to Cairns in Australia and did three weeks there. Again, Richard and I were put up in this luxurious jungle house… it was interesting to just be part of… something that you knew was probably going to fall apart quickly. I’d met the art director and the costume designer Norma who, it turned out, was very good friends with Barbara Steele and I think had introduced Richard to her. Norma was someone I really got on well with, in fact she was the first person to contact me when things started going belly up. I got this letter saying that things were going very badly, they were having a terrible time…  all these concepts Richard had about how the dog men should look had been thrown out the window – the Hawaiian shirts, the loud ties and stuff… she actually sent me me one of the bad taste ties – which I’ve fallen in love with… it’s horrible! When the ties went I knew things were going really wrong!

And of course legend has it that when John Frankenheimer ousted Richard as director, he burned all your storyboards… is that true?

0IOLS.jpgWell, this is what I was told. Richard has since said that he’s got them. The thing is, we would do them and they’d be photocopied so I don’t know whether he destroyed the originals and Richard had photo copies, or what. Certainly Richard had a number of them in the documentary Lost Soul, I don’t know how many he’s got. We never actually finished storyboarding the whole film anyway because there wasn’t enough time. What we did storyboard were all the key scenes, anything involving effects and other key moments … including Brando’s death scene, which of course went out the window and became something else. Anyway, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to go to L.A. and to Cairns, a shame that all these things never came to pass. William Hootkins, whom I’d met when we were were shooting Hardware, also got in touch when he’d come back from Australia, talking about the horrors that went on there, how his character had been sidelined…

That film has become the horror equivalent of one of those unmade Orson Welles projects or something …

Ha ha, yeah.

… legendary stuff. What would the prospects be for somebody like you starting off today, doing art work and hoping to make a living out of it? Presumably the opportunities have been significantly reduced…

I don’t know how to approach this as a subject any more because I have absolutely no idea how this would work now. For me it was a whole different world and a whole different way of being. Obviously there was no internet, I had all my work in a little folio that I could drag around with me and the only way you could see people was to phone them up to arrange a meeting, it was the only way it would ever happen. So I spent a lot of time on the phone, just going through the directory, you know, trying to find out who people where. You could buy a magazine and look through the list of editors and contributors and find the art directors and that’s how you know who to ring and ask for, so it was a very lengthy process. Nowadays you can put art on a disc and send it, e-mail it, send people a link, it’s easy and you can be seen all over the world in a matter of seconds. For myself I’ve found Facebook to be absolutely brilliant and that has certainly been a huge factor in my work over the last couple of years, just getting stuff to the right audience.

Do you see any new talent coming through via these new forums?

Well there’s a lot of illustration work going on out there, all over the place! and I find it really hard to judge now because I don’t know whether it’s going to be used… a lot of it is stuff that people do for themselves and maybe they’ll get a commission out of it. It just doesn’t work like it did when I was setting out. It’s probably more organic now in a lot of ways but the difficulty is in actually making a living out of it. I have an agent who represents me and I used to get about half of my work through him… now it’s less, I get my work largely through contacts and knowing people, friends of friends, that kind of thing… but my agent will not take on an illustrator unless they have a guaranteed income already in place, he cannot guarantee anyone a living through illustration anymore. 10 years ago that would be different, 20 years ago you’d go to an agency and if they thought they could sell your work, they’d take you on and you’d earn a living through that agency. That doesn’t happen now. I think people are either working from home, or their parents’ home, or they have a partner who can support them… maybe they’re independently wealthy…

Or maybe they’re hacking it at the day job then coming home and getting the brushes out…

There is that but when you’re working to a tight brief, to a tight deadline, it’s difficult to do that and another job. For myself, I know that the pay for this work is basically the same as it was 20 years ago, so in real terms that’s gone right down…

… a situation that’s all too familiar to me…

It’s a shame because there is a lot of talent out there…. I say that people aren’t visually literate anymore and in terms of film campaigns, that seems to be the case. Certainly in terms of the executives and the people commissioning the work, that seems to be the case but there are other outlets now that weren’t around back in the day so everything’s changed. You have the internet if you know how to use it and there are people like Mondo. There are means and outlets now but DVD and Blu-ray covers… that work’s not going to be around for ever.

That’s really on the way out, isn’t it?

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It’s the same with book covers, I used to do a lot of those but not anymore. More prevalent are the private commissions, that’s ultimately where it’s going to be because there are people of my age who have grown up through the VHS period and like the same things, that have now the income to commission or simply buy prints. That’s the way it’s going but at the same time, you’ll always get young film makers who can look back and get the nuts and bolts of painted imagery, understand that there is so much more to a poster than just using photographs, so who knows?

It does mean that if anyone comes to me for advice I’ll always, always take the time to help out because I think it’s very important to pass stuff on. I don’t want people to make the mistakes I’ve made in the past and if at the same time I can help anybody in the way they approach their work, I’ll always do that. I’ve visited colleges and delivered talks on story boarding and illustration – anything like that
which I’m asked to do, I always will, because it’s very important that people get this information first hand.

This is partly the point of ‘Drawing Blood’, it’s not an ego trip, it’s all about examining a short history of illustration work from a certain point in time that has actually survived. I want it to inspire other people to paint, to think: “I could do that!” … because that’s where I began, looking at poster art and thinking: “I want to do that… Yeah, I COULD do that.”

Thanks a lot for your time, Graham and I’m sure the book will do very well for you.

Thanks… you’re very welcome.

https://www.proudonline.co.uk
http://www.grahamhumphreys.com

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