Posts Tagged With: Catriona MacColl

Two Fat Ladies… A Round Up Of Elusive 88 FILMS BD RELEASES

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… elusive to me, anyway, as I haven’t had much luck getting review copies out of 88 Films. That is, of course, their prerogative, but I did think they might have sent me the promised copy of their Burial Ground disc, for which Calum Waddell and I supplied the commentary track. As it is I had to wait to catch up with that and other of their releases until Fopp started unloading them dirt cheap, at which point I left said store clutching the following load (god, my right arm hasn’t ached so much since I got that Cindy Crawford workout video)…

Burial Ground (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Blastfighter (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Deep River Savages (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Spasmo (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 15.)

So, something approaching three years after actually recording it, I finally got to hear my commentary track on Burial Ground. I’d been worrying that it would make me sound like a total dickhead, so it was quite a relief to discover that I only came out of it sounding like a bit of a dickhead. Some of those who’ve enjoyed / endured this commentary question why I spent so much of it talking about myself and my involvement in the ’80s / ’90s fanzine scene rather than the film in question. The simple answer is that these were the subjects which Calum was asking me about. I’m not going to say much about the film here, either, having recently reviewed Severin’s BD edition of Burial Ground elsewhere on this blog. The Severin jobby looks sharper and boasts better extras (apart from the above mentioned boy genius commentary track) but there’s some good stuff here, too.

Mikel J. Koven, esteemed author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, an academic with an obvious penchant for sleaze, gives an overview of Andrea Bianchi’s career with special focus on the prevalence in it of less than subtley handled incest motifs which causes him to exclaim “What The Fuck?” so many times that this expression becomes the actual title of his featurette. Having pondered his C.V. long and hard, Koven concludes that Bianchi is either a genre satirist (when I watch that J&B placement shot, I could almost believe it), (possibly) a Marxist or maybe “just not a very good director.” It’s over to you, readers…

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Peter Bark, yesterday…

You also get the “35mm Grindhouse version”, should you want to watch such a knackered-looking thing and 10 minutes of “mute” deleted scenes (dialogueless but synched up to soundtrack music)… if only we could hear what they’re saying to each other in these resurrected sequences, maybe the added context would have established Burial Ground as some kind of avant garde masterpiece. Michael even gets an “alas, poor Yorick!” moment… alas, I’d love to have heard his soliloquy while contemplating that skull and learn if he found it to be worse smelling than that cloth which smelled of Death. Plus reversible sleeve, trailers for Burial Ground and Zombi Holocaust and so on…

Among several other aliases (a death cloth by any name would smell as bad), this monstrosity was known as Zombi 3… as were several other pictures, notably the Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei 1987 mess, er, collaboration now released by 88 as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, a title that could have been specifically coined to underline the degree to which Fulci’s fortunes and output had declined since he poked out Mrs Menard’s eyeball less than a decade earlier. Indeed, Fulci only directed a few scenes in this one before failing health, among other factors, obliged him to bail and leave the film for producer Mattei to “finish off”… in every sense of that phrase.

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Bacteriological weaponry and international espionage here supplant perverse medical science as the root of the zombie scourge, when a bungled attempt to burgle a canister of “Death 1” leads to bubonic infestation for the thief and everybody else in the hotel where he was staying. The inevitable ABC-suited SWAT Team arrives to shut down the hotel and liquidate all its residents. The film’s debt to George Romero’s Day Of The Dead (1985) immediately becomes evident in the ongoing squabble between scientists and the military over how to contain this outbreak. Ignoring scientific advice, the soldiers cremate the first batch of victims and – before you can say Return Of The Living Dead – a busload of sex-crazed girls is being buzzed by a flock of zombie seagulls (makes a change from Mattei’s usual rat fixation, I suppose.)

The increasingly ridiculous narrative unfolds to the Greek chorus accompaniment of “Blueheart”, a right-on radio DJ whose infuriating, interminable eco-babble provokes one imminent zombie victim to complain” “I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint sometimes and every so often I like to piss on a bush, OK?” As the crisis escalates, Blueheart’s bulletins are periodically punctuated by lists of emergency hospitals, read out by a guy glorifying in the name of Vince Raven… like, right on Vince baby! Pass on our regards to your brother Mike, celebrated elsewhere on this blog during our Crucible Of Terror review.

“Plot” is pretty soon reduced to an ever decreasing number of survivors running around in ever decreasing circles, a succession of run-ins with zombies and “decontamination squads” blowing away anything that moves. Of course the “unexpected” shooting of a heroic male lead is duly trotted out. Yep, he fell for the oldest trick in the book of the dead! Assorted other “highlights” include the moment when a character with the munchies opens a fridge, only to be attacked by an even hungrier zombie head that flies out at him, on obvious wires, from behind the McCain oven chips. Look out also for the Caesarian birth of an undead baby that immediately sets about gnoshing on the midwife who delivered it. The surviving human characters fly off in  a Romero-esque chopper, vowing: “We’re coming back… to win! Otherwise, humanity’s done for!”

Mattei’s crowning idiocy apes the unforgettable voice-over outro of Zombie Flesh Eaters, with Blue-heart revealed as a badly made up zombie, broadcasting immortal vibes: “New horizons have opened up… this is now the New World, Year Zero, so there’s lots of work to be done. I’ll dedicate the next record to all of the undead across the world…” Zombietastic, great mate!

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DJ Blueheart, before and after ingestion of Death 1… just say no, kids!zombie-dj.jpg

88’s BD transfer looks just fine (as fine as it’s ever going to look, given Riccardo Grassetti’s bog standard cinematography) and sounds OK (special mention for the awful, albeit infectious shrieky hair rock anthem that plays over the credits.) Bonus materials include interviews with Claudio Fragasso (sporting interesting ethnic headwear) and prolific zombie movie star Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, from each of whom you’ll get a few new pointers on exactly who directed what in this troubled production. The Catriona MacColl interview is of dubious relevance but it’s always great to see her and hear what she has to say about working with Fulci (she has plenty to say on that and many other subjects in our Catriona MacColl interview, elsewhere on this blog.) Female lead Beatrice Ring reads her answers to a bunch of questions over a series of stills of her gurning in the movie. She expresses bewilderment that any actor would have anything nice to say about working with Fulci and charts her progress from a vacuous bimbo who only got into movies because she had run up a big debt buying designer clothes, to a spiritually aware person who works for the end of racism and war. Bless her. She also provides some further clues as which bits were directed by whom.

All I could get out of Fulci on the direction of Zombi 3, when interviewing him on the occasion of Eurofest 1994, was: “That one was finished by Bruno Mattei because the producers were very strange people… I had to escape from there on an aeroplane!” Perennially prone to standing up producers, Fulci was signed to direct the original version of Blastfighter, an adventure yarn focussing on futuristic weaponry which mutated, after his secession from the project, into a fusion of First Blood (1982) and Deliverance (1972.) Hard to see why it needed four extra writers (including eventual director Lamberto Bava) to fashion Dardano Sacchetti’s original concept into this.

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Like his father before him, Lamberto Bava came up with a belting horror effort (Macabre, 1980) for his directorial debut, before turning his hand to whatever genre was currently packing them in at Italian cinemas. He didn’t execute his genre hopping anything like as skilfully as the great Mario managed, nevertheless cranking out some satisfying efforts en route to TV movie mediocrity. Blastfighter (signed off under Bava’s pseudonymous paraphrase of his dad’s former glories, “John Old Jr” in 1984) is undoubtedly one of them though to rate it (as Quentin Tarantino did to me) as Bava Jr’s best picture is surely hyperbolic.

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“Head for the canoe, quick… I hear banjos!”

Jake “Tiger” Sharp (Michael Sopkiw) is a former cop who went all Charles Bronson on the ass of the slimeball who killed both his wife and his partner. Coming out of chokey, he considers bumping off the killer’s lawyer with a high-powered assault rifle that one of his friends acquired for him (basically this thing will launch anything short of nukes) but opts instead to renounce any further violence and lose / find himself in the backwards back woods of Georgia where he grew up (though the irritatingly catchy theme song, which sounds like a Starland Vocal Band B-side but turns out to be a Bee Gees number, keeps name-checking Arizona.) Wherever the fuck he is, our boy Tiger is looking for a bit of contemplative peace and quite. Fat chance… slack jawed yeehawing yokels are soon taking the piss and though he laughs that off, his Zen-like mellow is irretrievably harshed when he discovers their cruel trade in wounded live animals for the Chinese medicine market. Like a before-his-time Steven Seagal, Tiger dispenses some serious ass kicking (admittedly without such signature Seagal moves as breaking people’s arms, throwing them through plate glass or kicking them in the testicles till they stagger around groaning “my balls… my balls!”)

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Things start looking up when his estranged daughter Connie (Valentina Forte) introduces herself but take another pronounced downward turn when the inbred hill-billies take it upon themselves to kill her, her boyfriend (Michele Soavi) and yet another cop who made the mistake of being one of Tiger’s old colleagues. Breaking out his big gun, Tiger zaps them all to yokel Hell before the climactic confrontation with his old nemesis, Tom (our old pal “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori.) Bava makes exemplary use of his beautiful rural locations and has a serious message for us, to wit: “There’ll never be an answer to violence!” As if to ram home this very point, his next cinematic outing was the eye-wateringly OTT splatterfest Demons (1985.)

American actor Michael Sopkiw parlayed a passing resemblance to Franco Nero into a mid-80s Italian acting career that took in all of four films – this and Bava Jr’s oddball Jaws variant from the same year, Devouring Waves, topped and tailed with Sergio Martino’s entertaining entry in the post-Apocalyptic stakes, 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s awful last gasp cannibal effort, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985.) All of this is small beer compared to Sopkiw’s real life adventures, which include a year’s imprisonment for smuggling Marijuana into the US… so his role in Blastfighter as an ex-jailbird wasn’t too much of a (sorry!) stretch, then. He now spends his time promoting the use of “natural healing remedies.” Hmm…

Apart from a nice looking transfer of Blastfighter, 88’s release includes an interview with DP Gianlorenzo Battaglia, various trailers and of course you get a reversible sleeve.

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“George Eastman”, who actually puts in a pretty good performance in Blastfighter, appeared in any amount of Joe D’Amato outrages, though he’s conspicuous by his massive absence from D’Amato’s Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals aka Trap Them And Kill Them (1976.) This represents Joe’s second, third or possibly fourth (who can say, he was churning out several titles a year by this point) “Black Emanuelle” effort after he’d hi-jacked the franchise from Adalberto Albertini and is a co-production with Fabrizio De Angelis for their company Fulvia Cinematografica, though the partnership survived only one more film (1978’s Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade.)

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E&TLC claims to be “a true story, reported by Jennifer O’Sullivan”… sure thing, you guys! Gemser’s Emanuelle is an investigative reporter, which apparently involves her in sneaking around mental hospitals with a camera concealed in a teddy bear (?) She comes over all tabloid moralistic when a nurse is bitten while molesting a disturbed female patient (“She’ll be OK but she lost her breast… she had it coming”) but has no qualms whatsoever about pursuing a scoop by masturbating the same patient, who boasts a distinctive tribal tattoo on her pubic area. When she mentions this to hunky anthropologist Mark Lester (!) he invites her back to his place but not with the intention of showing her his etchings… oh no, he shows her anthropological footage of castration and cannibalism, which somehow convinces her to sleep with him. The Prof is played by Gemser’s real-life husband and frequent screen partner Gabriele Tinti… I often wonder if that’s how he wooed her in real life!

They abscond to The Amazon (actually an Italian park) to hook up with Donald O’Brien and giallo stalwart “Susan Scott” (Nieves Navarro), who are encountering a few difficulties in their relationship (“You’re just a tramp!” he chides her. “… and you’re an IMPOTENT!” she spits back, cuttingly albeit ungrammatically.) Their soap operatic distractions are put firmly into perspective when the cannibals turn up to dismember and eat them and various camp followers, all recorded in excruciatingly dull detail by D’Amato amid a plethora of unconvincing, not-so-special FX and to the accompaniment of an original sound track that sounds like some demented, retarded ancestor of Groovejet. Of course, various people take time out from dodging cannibals to have sex and at one point a chimpanzee savours a fine cigar while watching them at it… only in a Joe D’Amato film!

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The climax is a real hoot, with Gemser and Tinti looking on from the bushes, calmly swapping anthropological observations as their friends are done away with (O’Brien torn limb from limb, inconvincingly, in a tug-o-war). Eventually she’s moved to discard her clothes and impersonate a water goddess, a spectacle that has to be seen to be disbelieved, likewise Gemser’s closing speech, delivered as though she’s in the throes of a major stroke. Last Cannibals enjoyed a theatrical release (minus all the gore) over here, playing to packed houses of old guys in dirty macs.

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88’s release does seem, as promised, to be uncut though one imagines there could well be versions floating around in some territories that have been recut with hard core inserts, standard operating procedure for D’Amato. Sometimes with these HD upgrades you wonder why they bothered, but E&TLC does look really good, significantly better than 88’s release of its companion piece Zombi Holocaust, even though the improved picture quality does make the stroboscopic alternation of day and night shots within certain scenes even more obvious (the amount of times they say “We’ll wait until dawn” with the sun beating down on them!) Although I’ve criticised the acting in this film on many occasions, on reflection those who dubbed it must take their share of the blame, though I still think Gemser’s got to carry the  can for that lumpen closing soliloquy (“Maggie and Donald with their…” what, now?) No significant extras beyond the obvious.

I’m told that Ruggero Deodato got really pissed off, when he watched Calum Waddell’s Eaten Alive documentary, at my suggestion that D’Amato pre-empted his Cannibal Holocaust here with his use of fim-within-a-film and by setting the action of E&TLC in South America (even though the crew never got anywhere near there)… no disrespect intended, Ruggero, but hey… facts is facts! There can’t be any dispute though, that all these Italian cannibal capers (and most of their terminally non-PC) tropes) kicked off with Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 effort Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (“In The Land Of Savage Sex”)… hang on, I seem to recall Deodato disputing that, too!

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Among its many other aliases this one is also known as Sacrifice! (in the US) and Mondo Cannibale (in Europe),  but made it to pre-cert  UK VHS as Deep River Savages, courtesy of Derann. The guy who wrote the liner notes for that release sure hit a purple patch of prose: “A story of raw savagery, tribal torture and one man’s courageous fight for survival, respect and the delicate and fragile love of a beautiful native girl… a compelling film in which character relationships are brilliantly developed and a richness of human emotions are played out against the bizarre and tortuous rituals of the primitive world.” The DPP wasn’t fooled and nor should you be, for signature Lenzi sleaze is lurking, not far beneath the surface of all this hearts and flowers stuff. No matter how compelling, courageous and brilliant its depiction of delicate, fragile love and rich human emotions, Deep River Savages was also heavy on those bizarre and tortuous rituals, not to mention cannibalism and the mistreatment of animals, which in March 1984 (the height of the home video witch hunt) meant that it found its way onto the official “nasties” list, where it stayed for about a year and a half. Now, shorn of a couple of minutes of man’s inhumanity to animals (a snake being flayed, a pig gutted, a mongoose forced into a life-or-death struggle with a cobra, et al), 88 have brought it to Blu-ray in the UK as Man From Deep River.

Ivan Rassimov, on the lam after killing a native at a Thai boxing match, surveys the steamy interior and pronounces: “I’m sick to death of this trip … I wish I was at home drinking a pint”. Though we’re only scant minutes into the film, viewers will find themselves in sympathy with this verdict, as all their least favourite pieces of stock footage are trotted out yet again (if I see those bloody storks in that tree one more time…) When the cannibals roll up, Ivan tries the diplomatic approach (“Leave me alone, you bloody savages!”) but they drag him back to their village, where the first thing he witnesses is a guy getting his tongue cut out … Blood Feast has a lot to answer for! Rassimov, on the other hand, after a tricky bedding-in period, is treated to the life of Riley after he has proven his worth in fighting against neighbouring tribes and saved the chief’s son from choking to death with an impromptu tracheotomy. Most memorably, he is allowed to take part in a ritual during which the men of the village file past a hut and put their hands through a hole in the wall. The aptly named Me Me Lai (Lay, by some accounts) sits blindfolded on the other side while the men take turns squeezing her breasts and feeling between her legs.

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The budget wouldn’t stretch to a Man Called Horse-type ritual for Rassimov’s formal initiation into the tribe, so instead he is lashed to a vertical rotisserie which turns slowly as the villagers aim their blow-pipes at him through cubby-holes reminiscent of the set up in a Soho peep-show.

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This formality dispensed with, Rassimov gets down to bringing up a family with Me Me, but those neighbouring tribesmen – their faces liberally daubed with boot polish – are soon viewing her as lunch. She escapes, but one of her friends is not so fortunate, and when Rassimov catches the intruders red handed / mouthed (to the accompaniment of jolly music, as is often the way in these things) he shows how thin the veneer of civilization is by doling out summary tongue removals. Thus it comes as no surprise that even when Me Me dies of some tropical disease or other, he elects to turn his back on civilization and stay with the tribe that adopted him.

The most notorious scene of excised animal baiting here is the brutal bit of monkey business by which some unfortunate simian has the top of its head lopped off, boiled-egg style, so the tribe can snack on its warm brains for supper. A similar scene was faked up in fellow “nasty” Faces Of Death (1978) but the notoriously stingy Lenzi no doubt figured it was much less bother and expense to just chop off the unfortunate creature’s bonce and be done with it. He clearly did have resort to prosthetics when restaging this scene on a human (well, John Morghen’s) cranium during his altogether more notorious foray into cannibal country, Cannibal Ferox (1981) though further animal outrages in that one proved the rock on which personal and professional relationship between the splatter star and his terminally irascible director foundered.

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“Whaddya mean, ‘What’s my fucking motivation?’?”

Bonus materials include the expected trailers and reversible sleeve options (including the Derann “nasty” artwork) plus the short Inferno Of Innards in which Eli Roth (director of Lenzi / Deodato hommage The Green Inferno) enthuses about all things Italian and anthropophagic.  More substantial extras include Me Me Lai Bites Back, the ace Naomi Holwill documentary portrait which I review elsewhere on this blog and Calum Wadell’s commentary track. The latter certainly constitutes VFM for both Calum’s admirers and his troll following, being charactersically incessant, informative and opinionated. Travellers seeking information on how to track down many of the film’s locations will find it particularly useful. My own interest in these films centres on the specifically Italian experience of Mussolini’s frustrated neo-colonialism but it’s interesting to hear Calum rehearse the Cold War context arguments that will apparently inform his upcoming book on Cannibal Holocaust.

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Ever a busy boy, Calum also contributes a Lenzi interview that was conducted at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester (which I attended myself after something like a twenty year absence!) Mischievous as ever, Lenzi says that he’s now buried the hatchet with Deodato but can’t resist taking a few crafty digs at him. He wriggles around all over the place when any attempt is made to pin him down on the vexed question of animal abuse, contending that the decapitated money had to be killed because of an illness that it could have communicated to humans (best way to reduce the risk was to spray its brains all over the set, I guess!) Obviously mellowing in his old age, the director reveals that he no longer slams the phone down on people who ask him about Nightmare City or Cannibal Ferox (this is no mere rhetorical flourish either, he once did exactly that to me!) Yep, he still despises the latter title but after realising how much money it’s made him over the years, he’s cynically prepared to concede that it’s “a masterpiece.”

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It’s difficult to imagine any circumstances under which that appellation could be levelled at Lenzi’s Spasmo (1974.) Since I last encountered this title as a Diplomat (Videoform) VHS release much water has passed under the bridge and many Freudstein brain cells have clearly crinkled up and died, for me to have been labouring under the misapprehension that this one was (just about) worth six quid of my money… on reflection, six pence would probably be pushing it!

Mario Bava effectively invented the giallo in 1962 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and set many of its conventions with “Six Women For The Murderer” aka Blood And Black Lace (1964) but things were still pretty fluid within the genre and by the turn of the decade Bava himself was still experimenting with its possibilities in the likes of the psycho case-study Hatchet For The Honeymoon, the stylised body count effort 5 Dolls For An August Moon  (both 1970) and the grand guignol of Bay Of Blood (1971.) In the meantime Lenzi was staking out a nice little giallo niche for himself with sexually charged soapy pot boilers like Paranoia, So Sweet… So Perverse (both 1969), A Quiet Place To Kill (1970) and Oasis Of Fear (1971.) When The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, directed by Dario Argento (whom Lenzi likes to portray as a protegé of his) became a surprise international hit in 1970, however, it changed the game viz-a-viz what was expected of a giallo. Lenzi’s producer Luciano Martino transferred his patronage to his own younger bother Sergio, who effortlessly managed (with the likes of  The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key) a more contemporary and feisty overhaul of the melodramatic bonkathons that had been Lenzi’s stock-in-trade.

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Lenzi’s subsequent gialli have the feeling of a man flailing around, attempting in vain to reassert a grip on a genre that has moved on without him, thank you very much. Knife Of Ice and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (both from the same year in which Lenzi churned out Deep River Savages) are, respectively, a thinly disguised remake of Robert Siodmak’s classic The Spiral Staircase (1946) and an Italian / German co-production falling back on the latter territory’s ongoing fondness for Edgar Wallace adaptations (both genuine and bogus) with a pinch of Cornell Woolrich and added gore thrown in. 1975’s Eyeball (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) was an amusingly deranged stab at the body count format whereas Spasmo (1974)? Hmm… Spasmo is  an ill-advised attempt to do some kind of metaphysical giallo… a bit of Blow Up here, a sprinkle of Lisa And The Devil there… a suggestion of Death Laid An Egg (“Hey, you remind me of a dying chicken!” to quote one scintillating line of dialogue.) More than anything else, Spasmo brings to mind one of those swinging ’60s pictures Jesus Franco made for Harry Allan Towers, but without any of Franco’s willingness to experiment, either in visually or narrative terms.

Louche characters slip in and out of bed with each other… star Robert Hoffman might or might not have killed somebody… his brother Ivan Rassimov might or might not share the gene that drove him bonkers… but who’s been draping the woods with hanged mannequins? And does anybody who actually stays awake until the end of this thing give a flying fuck? Lenzi even manages to make genre goddess Suzy Kendall look frumpy and unalluring… a cardinal sin!

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Good points? The whole thing is dignified with a Morricone soundtrack it doesn’t really deserve (ditto the nice transfer 88 have afforded it here) and there’s a truly hysterical  trailer which will probably cause any immature schoolboys who see it to go round the playground shouting “Spasmo!” at each other… which, from a PC standpoint, isn’t very good at all, so let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

Bonus materials include the expected postcard, reversible sleeve, trailer, Italian titles and credits… but it’s the Q&A session with Lenzi from the aforementioned Manchester bash, mediated by Calum Waddell that probably makes this disc just about worthy of your attention. Lenzi had just lunched with Barbara Bouchet, a contingency which would have left me in a very good mood indeed, nevertheless he goes out of his way to justify his rep as a grumpy old man. Translator Nick Frame suffers more than anyone on account of this long-winded answers. Nevertheless, among familiar gripes, we learn such interesting stuff as how filming of The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) was complicated by an ongoing feud between stars Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli. Lenzi refuses point-blank to talk about namby-pamby animal lover John Morghen.

If you haven’t seen Spasmo and still want to after reading this review, that’s fair enough, but don’t say you weren’t warned. As I often find myself telling Kid Freudstein: “I went through this shit so you wouldn’t have to.” Caveat emptor.

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So there you go… six 88 releases… I tracked ’em down, I trapped ’em and I only killed one of them. One general bugbear, though… why do 88 discs always default right back to the starting menu when you stop them, rather than to the point where you left off?

In honour of all you Irene Miracle devotees out there, of whom there are thousands if the stats of this site are anything to go by, I’ll shortly be taking a look at the 88 Blu-ray release of Aldo Lado’s notorious Night Train Murders.

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“Ungoregettable”… PAURA: LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED, VOLUME 1 Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Paura Productions. Unrated.

Apparently, while taping interviews for the bonus featurettes on many Eurotrash releases by the Shriek Show label, Mike Baronas moonlighted by filming pertinent interviewees’ recollections of Lucio Fulci in support of a book he was writing about Italy’s Godfather of Gore. With that project consigned to publishing purgatory (a very familiar location to me, Mike) he put out this compilation of those recollections to keep the kettle boiling.

I don’t know if Baronas wasted much time agonising over the best way to frame these clips but ultimately he’s opted for the simple expedient of letting his talking heads speak for themselves, merely splitting them into “victims” (actors and actresses), “accomplices” (Fulci’s technical collaborators) and “peers” (other Italian genre directors)… Michele Soavi appears in both the “Victims” and “Peers” categories and could, if Baronas had so chosen, have completed the hat-trick as he started working behind the camera on Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead / Gates Of Hell (1980). This unfussy arrangement suffices perfectly well, as it is the testimony of the participants that will really matter to the Fulci-lovin’ target audience of Paura.

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Baronas’ declared aim is that these off-the-cuff remembrances will go some way towards capturing the elusive essence of Fulci the man.  Naturally a wide variety of impressions are encompassed herein but themes that resurface again and again are his troubled private life (including the suicide of his wife and certain family members going off the rails) … his rejection  by the Italian film establishment and a posthumous fall into obscurity in his home country that stands in stark contrast to his ever growing cult status in other European countries, Japan and The States… his dedication to and mastery of the art and craft of film-making… and of course his fabled eccentricity. Interestingly, the popular notions of Fulci’s aggressiveness on set towards cast and crew and of the particularly sadistic treatment supposedly meted out by him to actresses take a bit of a knock, with many of his alleged victims clearly all too wise to the fact that Fulci needed to engineer these meaningless little bits of theatre to get himself into the proper working groove. Even Luca Venantini (“Jon Jon” in City Of The Living dead) seems quite chuffed about the slap he got from Fulci (of which his papa Venantino wholeheartedly approved, incidentally) and Catriona MacColl, who took Fulci’s misogynistic persona at face value, clearly has a grudging affection for him and provides an incisive interpretation of the oft-seen photo in which a grumpy looking Fulci sits on a chair in the middle of the road during the making of The Beyond…

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“It’s a very symbolic photo in more ways than one… it’s a rather isolated man and this bridge is a link between this world and another, between his world and ours… whatever you’d like to think of it as… somebody who’s on this road, his destiny, and he’s definitely defying it with the posture he’s taken and that’s very Lucio… a man who defied a lot of things!”

Many of the actresses interviewed here declare themselves pleasantly surprised at Fulci’s gentlemanly demeanour towards them, and frankly it’s not hard to see why the old fox (described as “an accomplished seducer of women” by scripting stalwart Dardanno Sacchetti) would go out of his way to be nice to them: one of the incidental pleasures to be had from viewing this documentary is assessing how many of these actresses still look hot after all this time…. take your bows Ms MacColl, Florinda Bolkan, Eleanora Brigliadori, Corinne Clery and Adrienne La Russ (Beatrice Cenci herself), among others. A special mention here for the totally scrumptious Barbara Cupisti, whose experience with Fulci was so positive it convinced her to carry on pursuing her thespian activities (that’s “thespian”, you lot… calm down, calm down). Adelaide Aste (Theresa the medium in COTLD) promises to meet Fulci beyond the grave, but is she ever going to die? She actually looks younger than she did 25 years ago… clearly their encounters with Fulci had invigorating effects for many of these girls. Barbara Bouchet only appears as a voice over (“Lucio led a big life and I’m happy to have been part of it”) accompanying some choice shots from her glamorous heyday but trust me, she’s also keeping it together nicely together.

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Not everybody is here to praise Fulci… George Hilton remembers him as “an odd man with a strange personality… quite unstable” and Beatrice Ring contends that “his unhappiness could not justify his cruelty on set… I have a hard time forgiving him.”  Jean Christophe Bretigniere from Sweet House Of Horrors concedes that Fulci was a “genius” but recalls with distaste his habit of “eating onions like other people  eat apples” and deplores his “disgusting” finger nails. I’d always understood that there was some personal animosity between Fulci and Enzo Castellari so was surprised to see the latter wheeled on to pay “hommage”, which descends (after Castellari has related once again the anecdote of how he got Fulci the gig directing Zombie Flesh Eaters) into compliments of a distinctly back-handed variety… Castellari seems determined to infer from Fulci’s slap-dash approach to his personal appearance that he “did not like much the bath” but I have to say that personal hygiene was not an  issue during the three days I spent with Fulci in London during 1994. Can’t remember if I actually managed a bath that weekend, but Fulci smelled just fine.

Other heavyweight Italian contemporaries offer kinder recollections…
Sergio Martino rates Fulci “one of the top or maybe the top giallo director” (high praise indeed from the man who made The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and Torso) and Ruggero Deodato offers “a big hug to Lucio, I know he’s doing well up there, too!” Another renowned cantankerous eccentric, Umberto Lenzi, praises Fulci as a “genius”, “maestro”, etc, before concluding, characteristically, with a casual “… and I was, too!” The reminiscences from Fulci’s magic inner circle are particularly poignant:  Dardanno Sacchetti confesses “I miss him more than Bava” and his script collaborator / spouse Elisa Briganti remembers Fulci as a lonely man searching for love. Another husband and wife team, make up FX aces Giannetto and Mirella Sforza de Rossi, come to a similar conclusion (“He hid in the fantasies of film making because the world was very bad to him”) while offering their own fondest Fulci memories. Scorer Fabio Frizzi remembers Fulci’s iconoclasm and casual blasphemy, even producer Fabrizio De Angelis (from whom Fulci became comprehensively estranged) speaks about him with great warmth and DP Sergio Salvati remembers “a film making great… a volcano who consumed us all!”

And the plaudits keep on coming… “a master, a great teacher, a bohemian, a real artist” (Gianni Garko)… “a director and human being of the highest standards” (Cosimo Cinieri)… “I miss the naughty boy more than I miss than I miss the great director” (Paolo Malco) and a moving testimonial from Fabrizio (Father Thomas) Jovine: “They are discovering now that he was a great director but to me, he was more than that, he was a life teacher… without him, I feel much more lonely.”

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We also learn what Fulci found in Giovanni Lombardo Radice’s toilet, witness Ivana Monti’s amusing impersonation of him and discover, during Tonino Valerii’s remembrance of Fulci things past, that this “extraordinary character” was a renowned expert on Marcel Proust! The contribution of  Dakar (“Lucas”) does not comply remotely with Baronas’ brief for his interviewees but confirms that Fulci wasn’t the only raving nut case on the set of Zombie Flesh Eaters… It’s left to Venantino Venantini (himself evidently no great conformist) to lay the final laurel “in memory of the unique, lonesome, absurd, schizophrenic and great Lucio Fulci… the wildest cat I ever met in the movie business.” Yeah, me too.

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The standard release of this disc came in a limited edition of 2,500 pieces. There was also a very limited double disc edition that included Dave Neabore’s soundtrack music (basically a rehashing of themes from various Fulci flicks) and the autographs of various participants… both no doubt sold out by the time you read this. Still, sadly, no sign of Volume 2. As Paura stands, you do find yourself wishing that certain people had gotten more of a say at the expense of some of the more marginal figures who acted in Fulci’s decreasingly impressive efforts from the mind ‘80s onwards. It’s a particular pity that the grim reaper denied Baronas the opportunity to have David Warbeck relate any of the wonderful and scandalous anecdotes about Fulci with which he regularly regaled me, and I personally witnessed many Fulcisms that I’ll always cherish. This release is a fitting testament to the fact that a lot of people want to remember Fulci and celebrate the life of this ol’ wild cat.

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Rest In Peace.

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

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

CM & (more) FANS

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

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

I believe you started off in showbiz as a hoofer?

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

And how are your feet, these days?

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

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

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

A certain “je ne sais quois” …

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

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

Yes! (Laughs)

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

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

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

She’s certainly got quite a saucy past…

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

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

… a nation of Fulci fanatics!

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

They still are, I think …

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

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

That’s nice …

… and indeed you still do.

Well thank you, John! (Laughs)

Now: Lucio Fulci …

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(Rolls eyes) What do you wanna know?

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

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

Count Perroni?

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

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

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

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This would be the City Of The Living Dead script?

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

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

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

CM ON BEYOND SET 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Fulci’s a very cultured guy …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy for him to say …

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

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

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

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

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

Were your Italian movies really quite that chaotic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… being covered in maggots …

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

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

OK, I’m back.

Who was it?

A man came to read the gas meter.

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

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

Sounds like The New York Ripper…

That’s it.

Well, it’s a pretty notorious movie …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Agostini?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catriona with Beyond stunt man Larry Ray…

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

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

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

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

That would be Sergio Salvati. ..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yeah …

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

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

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

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

“That Freudstein house … that Freudstein house!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CM & FANS 2

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

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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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