The first time she set foot in the House Of Freudstein (during the prelude to that gothic meisterwerk The House By The Cemetery, 1981) Daniela Doria had a knife rammed through the back of her skull by the demented zombie doctor residing in the cellar… way to spoil a furtive bit of hanky panky there, Doc! If you’re reading this blog, you probably won’t need me to enumerate the unspeakably grisly demises that this beautiful and charming actress has suffered at the hideous hands of lucio fulci. To mark her birthday, we’re posting these selected highlights from an interview conducted in 2018. Thanks for the murderous memories, Daniela!
Daniela, when did you realise the extent of the ongoing cult following for these films that you made all those years ago? Did it come as a surprise to you?
Yes, it was a great and wonderful surprise for me to find out how many admirers and followers they have, especially Fulci’s films. When I was appearing in them I knew I was working with a great teacher and a great professional but I didn’t realise that this genre had so many fans. I’m really happy that his films have been seen by so many people, people all over the world.
How did your working relationship with Fulci begin?
My first film for Lucio Fulci was City Of The Living Dead (1980). When I attended the audition I was very tense and nervous because I’d been told that although Fulci was a top director, he did not have a good character. The moment I met him he put my mind at ease and after a few days he let me know that he had chosen me. After our first collaboration, he would call me for every film he was starting and ask: “Are you ready to die again? I’ve got a new way of killing you that you’ll like…” He was a very witty and intelligent person with a great sense of irony.
Fulci arouses strong reactions in people. It’s said that he would get very mean and angry on set. He is often accused of misogyny. What was your experience of working with him over four films?
If a person made a bad impression on him, that was it, he would always be unpleasant with them. He never hid his dislike of people. If he did have a misogynistic streak, it would have been because of love affairs that had ended badly, but he never showed this side to me. I admired him very much, we got on very well and I looked forward to breaks in the shooting when we would talk and he’d relate many anecdotes to me. With me he was always very sweet and gentle, but he was a perfectionist and when things were going wrong on the set, he would get angry and start screaming.
Were you aware of the tension on The Black Cat between Fulci and Patrick Magee?
There was no good relationship between Patrick Magee and Fulci. Right from the start, Magee wanted to do his own thing and struggled to follow Fulci’s instructions. So Lucio treated him very badly, especially since all the hours we spent in make up meant that we could not afford too many retakes.
You’ve spent a lot of time being made up by Fulci’s FX men, notably the De Rossis…
Giannetto De Rossi was an artist and a fantastic person! He was a reassuring presence during the strongest scenes and when I had anxieties about the effects. Wearing all that plaster on your face to make a mask is not the most comfortable experience.
As with his make-up men, Fulci kept calling on such key, behind-the-camera collaborators as Sergio Salvati, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Massimo Lentini…
Fulci had an incredible love and esteem for all of these people. Between them there was a very strong harmony and mutual trust. They would communicate things to each other with a glance and Fulci was always very satisfied with their contributions. I don’t recall him criticising anything they did, they were present in all of his films and like a second family for him…. collaborators and great friends. I remember the cinematographer Sergio Salvati with great affection, he was very sweet and kind to me, during breaks in shooting he would always give me advice on how to look my best for the camera.
Let’s discuss some of these famous death scenes… in City Of The Living Dead you’ve got this fake blood getting in your eyes and notoriously, you had to stuff your mouth with animal offal and spit it out…
The special effects in Fulci’s films were great and became their strongest selling point. For the blood that comes out of my eyes in City Of The Living Dead, I had two little tubes at the corners of my eyes, connected to a pump. Somebody on the back seat of the jeep operated a pump to blow the blood out. Those pipes were merely irritating but having all that raw offal in my mouth was absolutely disgusting. If I think too hard about it, I feel like vomiting!
Just before that you were making out with Michele Soavi, who also came to a sticky end. Where you surprised when he went on to become a respected director in his own right?
It was a very pleasant surprise to find out that this shy blond boy had become a famous director. I must say that, apart from our passionate kiss, I did not share much with Michele because on Fulci’s set you were not allowed to chat… absolute silence reigned.
Did you become friends with or register any lasting impression of any of your co-stars in the Fulci films?
The one who struck me most was Giovanni Lombardo Radice… for his acting, for the strong scenes he had to make, for his strong personality… I’ve always remembered this and held him in high esteem. Unfortunately, when I returned to Milan I lost contact with everybody, I did not maintain any friendships in the film world.
Giovanni was your male equivalent in these films, always suffering some horrible death. In The Black Cat you suffocate and are eaten by rats. It looks as though a lot of effects were applied to your “corpse”… or was that a mannequin?
No, there was no dummy to replace me. After my “death” I was subjected to hours and hours of make up to get that result. It was the same when we were turned into zombies for City Of The Living Dead… hours and hours to create face moulds, in plaster, which we had to wear.
It’s obvious from watching The Black Cat that you actually went on location to the UK rather than shooting everything on some Roman sound stage…
We did go to England and we were there for a long time. On a day when there was a break in my shooting schedule, I went to a breeding farm in London to buy an Airedale Terrier puppy. When Lucio saw it he fell in love with him and sent me out to buy one for him too, so I took my puppy’s sister. I called mine Trevor and Fulci called his Violetta. I kept the two of them together in my room, in breach of the hotel’s rules. They were pests and within a very short time, had destroyed the room. Then I returned to Italy with them and when Fulci had finished filming, he came to my house to take Violetta. It was very painful for me, difficult to give her up because I had grown so fond of her.
Your scenes in the other Fulci films were a mixture of location and sound stage work…
Yes, we shot some scenes in Roman studios but there were also location visits to get the exteriors. When we went to Savannah, Georgia to do City Of The Living Dead we shot for several days in a cemetery. At first it was quite unsettling to be there in the middle of all these graves but after a few days we hardly noticed and would sit among them during the break, eating our lunches.
You’re disposed of quite quickly at the beginning of The House By The Cemetery… any memories of that one?
The house where we shot that scene was really eerie and I remember being nervous in there, also that it was very difficult to set up that knife going into the back of my head.
Fulci reserved your most horrible, drawn out death for The New York Ripper… obviously the mutilation is all done via prosthetics but again it looks like you’re getting stage blood in your eye…
My death in that one was very strong and had a big impact. When my mother went to the cinema to see the film, she kept her eyes closed throughout that bit. For me there was just the discomfort of laying still while all these effects were applied to me.
I know that Jack Hedley subsequently disowned the picture… how did you get on with him?
It was a little embarrassing to find myself in bed, half naked with a stranger. I didn’t speak English so it was impossible to make much of a connection with Jack.
Were you aware of the censorship problems that Fulci’s films suffered, especially in the UK?
Fulci was one of the most controversial and most censored filmmakers, but he didn’t worry about things like that… on the contrary, he was always trying to come up with new and more gruesome things.
How do you feel now about violent movies? I don’t know if you have kids but if you do, would you let them watch such films?
If I had children and they liked watching horror films, I would let them do it, absolutely. I have two beautiful sisters whom I love dearly and they will only watch horror and the more bloody and shocking it is, the happier they are. Such films have too much of an effect on me, though. I close my eyes through the bits I don’t like so it seems pointless to be watching the film at all…
Have your sisters watched your performances in this genre? What did they think?
They adore Fulci. They don’t like to see my characters beings badly tortured, but they are very proud that I worked for such an extraordinary master. When Fulci started making Manhattan Baby he called me, as always, but on that occasion I had to say no, unfortunately. I had finished with the film world for personal reasons. It was a short adventure but a great one!
Daniela, please tell us something about how you are living now and what you get up to these days…
I’ve been working in a dental practice for a few years now, I enjoy it and get on well with my colleagues. The office is located in the most fashionable street of Milan so I’m always looking in the gorgeous windows of the top designers and I often run into actors and people from the entertainment world.
Do people ever stop you in the street and ask: “Hey, aren’t you the girl from…?”
Sometimes they ask me if I’m an actress because they saw me in some movies, but they can never remember which ones! These days I am known as Daniela Cormio. My husband and I share a passion for motorcycles which we indulge as often as we can. Every year we travel around Europe for the whole month of August it’s fantastic! I love reading, especially thrillers and I love watching TV series, for example Gomorrah on Netflix but sorry, like I said before, I cannot watch horror films!