Posts Tagged With: Fabrizio De Angelis

The Gates Of Delirium… Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD on 4k.

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Ol’ Purple Eyes is back…

BD. Arrow. Region B. 18.

City Of The Living Dead (1980), initiating Lucio Fulci’s celebrated “Gates Of Hell trilogy”, was only his second Horror film and clearly evidences the crash course in H.P. Lovecraft recommended to him by co-writer Dardanno Sachetti after their collaboration on that unexpected international box office champ, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979).

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Evil New England clergyman Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself in a Dunwich cemetery, thereby opening the very Gates of Hell (the initial manifestation of which is a bunch of grungey zombies clawing their way out of their graves). All of this is witnessed by psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) during a drug crazed seance in New York City, resulting in convulsions and her apparent death. Presiding medium The Great Theresa (Adelaide Asti), an authority on The Book Of Enoch, warns the investigating cops that “at this very precise moment, in some other distant place, horrendously awful things are happening… things that would shatter your imagination!” 

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After Mary’s been rescued from living internment by bibulous hack reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George), they set off for Dunwich, intent on closing those Gates Of Hell before All Saints Day, when Hell’s dominion over the Earth will be irreversibly completed. Hooking up with Dunwich psychiatrist Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and his patient Sandra (Janet Agren), they learn that Theresa wasn’t bullshitting about those “horrendously awful” things, principle among which are the gruesome demises of genre icons Daniela Doria (who vomits up her entire gastro-intestinal tract), Michele Soavi (skull ripped off) and (as misunderstood vagrant sex-case Bob) John Morghen, who gets treated to an impromptu spot of amateur brain surgery by a red neck vigilante. Penetrating the bowels of Dunwich cemetery (and indeed of Father Thomas himself), the surviving protagonists Mary and Gerry save the day… or do they? Your guess is as good as mine, on the strength of COTLD’s proverbially baffling conclusion.

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This film has already appeared in so many editions (several from Arrow alone) that the above synopsis is probably superfluous, though one entertains the hope that it might galvanise some new viewer, in some other distant place, into connecting with the imaginationshattering milieu of Lucio Fulci, much as Alan Jones’ accounts of these films in Starburst magazine galvanised Your Truly, oh so many years ago. What’s important these days, I guess, with each successive reissue, is the quality of both the film transfer and any supplementary materials. Subjecting the negative of a 1980 film to 4k scanning, while shedding further, er, light on the subtleties of DP Sergio Salavati’s handiwork, is arguably an upgrade too far in terms of ramping up screen grain... you pays your twenty quid and you takes your choice. Sound wise, we’re offered the usual language alternatives and a 5.1 option… Arrow’s previous steel box edition offered 7.1 but I’m not certain that my home set up (nor those of most people) extracted any discernible benefit from that anyway… suffice to say Fabio Frizzi’s celebrated score fair throbs from the speakers this time out.

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The pizza girl’s here…

It’s the sheer breadth and depth of its extras that ultimately promote this City Of The Living Dead from a debatable purchase to an indispensable one. You’ll already be familiar with some of those… audio commentaries from Catriona MacColl and John Morghen (the latter moderated by Calum Waddell) and Waddell’s video interview with Carlo De Mejo… from previous editions. The disc is creaking with a veritable cemetery load of cracking new stuff, though… Stephen Thrower’s take on these films is always worth listening to and here he challenges the received wisdom that Fulci couldn’t get a gig after the success of Zombie Flesh Eaters (what’s indisputable is that producer Fabrizio De Angelis was slow to see the possibilities and continued to think small even after he did reconvene with Fulci). For once Thrower’s presentation, as diligently researched and passionately felt as ever, takes a back seat, given the wealth of primary sources testifying on this set. Among the most compelling is a lengthy new interview with Dardano Sacchetti, in which the irascible writer pursues his familiar theme of De Angelis’ short-sightedness while throwing out all manner of interesting insights re what was going on behind the scenes. Never one to hold back on his opinions, it would seem that Signor Sacchetti is not the biggest fan of Catriona MacColl. 

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“Oui, whatever…”

MacColl herself is duly interviewed, sounding a lot more French than I remember from my own encounter with her (then again that was nearly 25 years ago and she’s spent the intervening quarter Century living in Paris)… interesting  to hear that when she wasn’t being buried alive and showered with maggots, Catriona was required to dub and scream over multiple takes of the same shots, prior to the definitive editorial decisions being taken. 

Camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati talks, among other things, about the difficulties of making sunny Savannah, Georgia look like an autumnal New England location, neatly illustrated by his private “behind the scenes” 8mm footage, for which he also supplies an audio commentary. Production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng also talks about “the Savannah problem” and his own difficulties breaking the ice with Fulci, after having been parachuted in by producers Medusa over the director’s original pick, Massimo Lentini. Fulci’s misgivings were predictably assuaged by Geleng’s amazing work on this picture.

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Cinematographer Sergio Salvati clearly loved Fulci but acknowledges and regrets the director’s sadistic treatment of some of his actresses… also his overuse of the zoom lens. As an unexpected bonus, Salvati supplies some fascinating incidental revelations about how The Beyond’s stunning denouement was contrived, against all the odds, in the face of producer De Angelis’s constant budget cutting.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice / John Morghen (these days sporting a beard of Biblical proportions) reiterates that he never had any problems with Fulci but confesses that he’s never been able to watch Daniela Doria’death scene all the way throughGino “Bombardon” De Rossi talks us through that and several other of his gory FX tours de force for City Of The Living Dead et al. He also mentions the prank played on Fulci, referenced by several of the participants in these featurettes, by which maggots were placed in the ol’ goremeister’s pipe. De Rossi initially got the blame for this, but turns out the culprit was actually Christopher George, who obviously figured that one good maggotty turn deserved another.

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Father and son acting team Venantino and Luca (“Jon Jon”) Venantini recall their experiences on the picture, which have become somewhat sanitised in the telling, compared to the version they offered in Mike Baronas’ documentary Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered. Venantino, clearly still very much a character in his late ’80s, now resembles an over-baked spud. Luca’s obvious love and concern for his dad make for touching viewing. There’s also a previously unseen interview with Fulci’s go-to OST man Fabio Frizzi, who suggests that Fulci’s personal sufferings made him a person of substance.

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Fulci fan boy Andy (Ghost Stories) Nyman, though obviously not a member of the inner circle, recounts his encounters with Giannetto De Rossi and Richard Johnson in appropriately enthusiastic style and the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger contributes another of these here video essays, concerning Fulci and his seminal role in the busy Italian zombie cycle.

Among the more predictable extras are the alternative US “Gates of Hell” credits sequence and assorted trailers and radio spots. The extensive image gallery features over 150 stills, posters and other ephemera from the FAB Press and Mike Siegel archives. You also get reversible sleeve options (choose between Charles Hamm and pals in all their original glory and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter), a double-sided fold-out poster and 6 lobby card reproductions. As usual we HOF drones haven’t set eyes on that stuff yet, nor the limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford and Roberto Curti, an archival interview with Fulci and contemporary reviews.

Just make sure you grab your copy before All Saints Day, or there’ll be Hell to pay…

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Murder, He Wrote… An Exclusive Interview With DARDANO SACCHETTI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I have…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, it wasn’t me.

Another myth debunked…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tulpa (top)… Zampaglione and Sacchetti (above)

– Fine –

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

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

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

How do you remember that remarkable director, Lucio Fulci?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that’s right! (Laughs)

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

No, not true.

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

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

Zombi 2 was a huge international success…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You had censorship problems with The New York Ripper…

Where?

It was banned in the United Kingdom…

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, they did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve also worked with Aristide Massaccesi…

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

He only makes “hard” pictures now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What, more co-productions?

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

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

Yeah (laughs)

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

Yeah…

Was he not up to the job?

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

Unlike Fulci, who was so versatile…

Yeah.

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

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

Overthrow?

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

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

Yeah, Janet Agren.

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

No, there was no sequel.

You worked with Luigi Cozzi on Paganini Horror…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bad career decision…

Yeah, he disappeared after that.

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

Oh yes, he was a nice boy…

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“Who, me? Aw, shucks!”

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

Yeah?

Was he complaining too much, or was that true?

It’s true, yeah (laughs).

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

Yeah…

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

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

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

Yes, to cover the gaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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