Posts Tagged With: Lucio Fulci

Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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The 104 Minute Technicolor Nightmare… LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN on Blu-Ray

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Blu-ray. Region Free. Mondo Macabro. Unrated.

I’ve already commented elsewhere on this blog about how the reputation of various Lucio Fulci pictures have been salvaged by successively better proportioned and more complete releases in increasingly high definition. Take his 1971 giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971)… for a long time all we had to go on was VIP’s pre-cert VHS release, a washed out, panned-and scanned transfer of a print that had been significantly cut. Compared to the full throttle zombie stompers that were exercising the attention of the DPP at this time, it was easy to dismiss the film as of only marginal interest to the rapidly growing legion of Fulci devotes. Shriek Show began the film’s rehabilitation in the mid noughties with their much-anticipated, much delayed Region 1 double discer, which came with a useful selection of bonus interviews and a nifty repro of the U.S “Schizo” press book. Concern was expressed though that with its dual presentation of widescreen / cut and full screen / (allegedly) uncut versions, this edition rather fell between two stools. The label responded shortly afterwards with an “uncut” anamorphic 1.85:1 jobby (with 5.1 soundtrack option to boot) that contained inserts of varying picture quality (inevitably, in view of the tangled censorship history outlined in one of its bonus features) and was still, according to avid internet posters, missing a few minor bits of business here and there. The UK edition released by  Optimum Home Entertainment (Studiocanal) in 2010, looked and sounded rather lovely, was billed as “the longest version ever available” though (according to the internet diehards) it came in shorter still. Finally (well, about a year ago but – as previously mentioned – the wheels grind slowly here at The House Of Freudstein), LIAWS has made it, courtesy of Mondo Macabro, to region free Blu-ray where it looks absolutely stunning but (stop me if you’ve heard this before…)

It won’t have escaped your attention, you perceptive buggers, that much of what I’ve written so far has been heavily hedged around with qualifications… “alleged”, “people claim” and such weasel worded shit… truth is, I have neither the time, the attention span nor the sheer gluteal fortitude to sit, stopwatch in hand, glued to a succession of versions of the same film. There are plenty of people who pack all of those qualities in abundance and  as I say, their findings are on the internet, where you shouldn’t have too much trouble locating them. If you are the kind of consumer who wakes up in a cold sweat, suspecting that you might have missed a few frames of a minor character walking across a room, then you’ll find much there to divert you. Otherwise, the Mondo Macabro BD is LIAWS in excelcis… let’s wallow in it, people!

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Florinda Bolkan stars as Carole Hammond, pampered daughter of a high-flying barrister (Leo Genn). Her marriage to rising legal eagle Frank (Jean Sorel) isn’t in particularly good shape though, and the dullness of her family’s bourgeois existence is thrown into sharp relief by the loud, drug-crazed sex parties regularly thrown by their next door neighbour Julia Durer (silicon-stuffed Swedish giallo stalwart Anita Strindberg). Fulci makes great use of split screen to emphasise the gulf between the dreary life Carole leads and the edgy alternative that seems to repel and fascinate her in equal measures. She confides in her psychoanalyst that she is having erotic dreams about Durer which end in her stabbing the swinger to death (all rendered in gratifyingly sexy and psychedelic style by Fulci.) The doc interprets these apparent flights of fantasy in comfortingly cod Freudian terms but when Durer’s corpse is actually discovered in her flat, along with a shedload of clues that point to Carole as the perpetrator (including her own paper knife), things start getting really interesting… has Carole gone nuts? Did she really do it… or is she being set up?

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Enter Stanley Baker as Inspector Corvin, an irascible cop with barely suppressed fascistic tendencies (“Scour the city, Brandon… find anyone who has red hair and put the screws to him”) and an irritating habit of whistling Ennio Morricone’s (rather wonderful) theme music out of tune while pondering various suspects, their motives and opportunities. Fulci keeps us guessing through the convolutions of a plot which is considerably tighter than, e.g. that of its predecessor, 1969’s One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story, but not to the detriment of the director’s increasingly flamboyant visual style and way with a suspenseful sequence, as various family members are messily dispatched and Carole herself comes under threat from the more sinister elements among Julia Durer’s boho circle. There are tremendous cat and mouse scenes, amid the shabby gentility of the Alexandra Palace (which sequence features a bat attack that is much more convincing than the one in Fulci’s later The House By The Cemetery and, as Howard Berger has pointed out, seems to have exerted an influence over a very similar one in Argento’s Suspiria) and in the grounds of a sanatorium, where Carole’s attempts to escape the murderous attentions of improbably named killer hippy Hubert aka “Red” (Mike Kennedy, best known as the singer in “Black Is Black” combo Los Bravos) lead her to the notorious lab of vivisected dogs, a much cut scene which nearly landed Fulci in jail before Oscar-winning FX ace Carlo Rambaldi proved to the satisfaction of a judge that the unfortunate canines were actually animatronic constructions devised by himself (it has even been claimed that they were knocked up under the uncredited supervision of Mario Bava).

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Fulci has a ball packing the film with visual quotations from the likes of Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Francis Bacon’s screaming Popes, and although he always waxed cynical about the value of psychoanalysis (“Freud was a fraud who stole psychoanalysis from the Catholic confessional to finance his cocaine habit!” the director once told me) LIAWS employs fur coats, geese, and plenty of other symbolically charged objects in a style that Freud would have recognised only too well.

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When Hubert and his studio tanned girlfriend Jenny (Penny Brown) testify to the shocking truth (or at least, every cliché ever dreamed up in a tabloid) about LSD use, supplying this film with its enigmatic title in the process, it becomes apparent that the real culprit for Julia Durer’s murder has given themself away in an attempt to refute evidence that would never have stood up in court anyway. D’oh…

During my interview with Fulci, he rejected a comment I made along the lines of Lizard In A Woman Skin’s being “in the post-Blow Up tradition of swinging London gialli” (or some such flip formulation.) He didn’t perceive any such influence and, while acknowledging Antonioni’s stature, described Blow Up as “nothing special.” Well, I beg to differ on both counts. If Blow Up pokes beneath the surface and finds swinging London dead on arrival (which is precisely why its Metropolitan hipster detractors have always hated it so much), LIAWS returns to that scene a few years later to see what acid had added to (or subtracted from) what was already a cultural and spiritual void.

It has been suggested (notably and repeatedly in Phil Hardy’s Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia) that Fulci was a reactionary stuffed shirt who bridled at any hint of social liberalism / permissiveness and punished it relentlessly in his films… and of course this is a narrative that ties in conveniently with the whole tired “misogyny” chestnut. But it’s clear in LIAWS that Carole Hammond’s simultaneous repulsion towards / fascination with the groovy goings on next door are actually projections of Fulci’s own mixed feelings towards such shenanigans. Nor does he present a particularly sympathetic portrait of the straight life, to the extent of depicting those involved in it as rotting corpses!

Some commentators have had a chuckle at the expense of Barbara Bouchet’s “marijuana dependent” character in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling…

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… and indeed, how we used to laugh at The Man’s attempts to harsh our mellow with dire warnings about addiction and reefer madness. Decades later, some of us look at the state of some of our mates and wonder if maybe The Man had a point. As for the advent of skunk… have you caught an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show recently? Suffice to say, Fulci was no babe in the wood on this score… indeed, it’s an open secret that he proved adept (albeit reluctantly so) at scoring for doomed junkie jazz trumpeter Chet Baker when nothing else would get his poorly chosen celebrity guest star back on the set of 1960’s Howlers In The Dock. There’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy, Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia…

Stephen Thrower traces Fulci’s indulgence (which was not entirely unmotivated, of course, by commercial considerations) at least as far back as his second directorial outing, Juke Box Boys (1959) and expands engagingly on the establishment’s ambivalent attitude towards the encroachment of an energetic ’60s counter culture in the appropriately named featurette When Worlds Collide… pop festivals at Woburn Abbey, beatnik poetry at the Royal Albert Hall (he might also have mentioned Keith Emerson burning The Stars And Stripes there) and The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at that bastion of establishment broadcasting, The Alexandra Palace…

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The Pink Floyd on stage at Ally Pally, 29.04.67

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Florinda Bolkan on the roof of Ally Pally, three years later.

In an interesting sidebar on the film’s title, Mr T mentions that for much of the project’s production schedule LIAWS was a mere subtitle, which supplanted original choice “The Cage” late in the day and, pointedly, in the wake of Dario Argento’s game changing giallo hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Apparently Argento was a bit peeved by the perceived opportunism of this retitling but it has to be said that, while The Cage is a perfectly fitting title for a tale of the torrid passions seething behind the facade of bourgeoise respectability (how apt that the film’s cast includes Anita Strindberg), Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is an even more appropriate handle on the notion of an eminently civilised character who’s ultimately undone by the eruption of basal, basilisk passions from their reptilian back brain… from this perspective, the title by which Fulci’s second giallo has become known couldn’t be further removed from such throwaway titlings as Riccardo Freda’s Iguana with a Tongue Of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Red Cats In A Glass Labyrinth or, dare I say it, Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails…

Thrower, who’s update of his already herculean Beyond Terror tome is almost upon us courtesy of FAB Press, also offers some interesting observations on why it has proved so difficult to assemble a “definitive” cut of LIAWS or even to decide on what such a thing might possibly look like.

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The audio commentary, by the redoubtable Pete Tombs and Kris Gavin, is well worth a listen… Gavin does go on rather a lot about his friendship with Florinda Bolkan and co but it would be rash of me to start slinging bricks around in this connection, the House Of Freudstein being so palpably constructed on foundations of glass. He and Tombs offer plenty of interesting insights into dialogue differences between the Italian and English soundtracks  and the attendant nuances of meaning. They also point out the few lines of a minor character that were dubbed by giallo icon Suzy Kendall and helpfully identify Fulci’s second wife amid the minor players.

“Shedding the Skin” is a documentary pinched from the first Shriek Show release, hosted by Penny Brown (who looks just great) and including additional interviews with Bolkan, “Mike Kennedy” (the stereotypical Irishman turns out to be a German), Carlo Rambaldi and the (also rather well-preserved) Jean Sorel. Curiously, you get the option to watch this while listening to more of Gavin’s reminiscences.

There’s also an interview with Tony Adams… yes, Crossroads fans, it’s “Adam Chance”… here playing a rookie cop whose rough treatment at the hands of Baker’s character is apparently pretty faithful to their actual on set relationship.

You get the expected original trailers and radio spots but the real jewel in the crown, bonus wise, is Dr Lucio Fulci’s Day For Night, an interview by Antonietta De Lillo in which the director, no doubt with an eye to posterity, offers the closest glimpse we’ll probably ever get of that elusive essence, “the real Lucio Fulci” (I was aware, when interviewing him, that I was barely scratching the surface.) This is an extra that really warrants a review of its own and I intend to post one on this blog at some point in the near future (but please bear in mind that constant caveat about wheels grinding slowly here at THOF.)

A sublime release… now, when are we going to see Don’t Torture A Duckling on Blu-ray? At an affordable price? The bank manager refused my application for a second mortgage so that German mediabook is out of the question…

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“Hey, how d’you like our new dado rail?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter Bark, yesterday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks, Pal!

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

Lucio Fulci Grabs You By The Pussy… THE BLACK CAT Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 15.

Even while Lucio Fulci’s zombie quartet was wowing the splatterati in the early ’80s, any attempt to do critical justice to his underrated non-Z offerings was thwarted, if not by sheer unavailability then by the poorly panned, scanned, expurgated and washed-out looking video releases that some of them did manage… One On Top Of The Other, Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, The Naples Connection, Manhattan Baby and “The Eroticist” all suffered in this way, as did the film under consideration here. All have subsequently been resurrected and reappraised in all their diverse digital glory and now it’s the turn of Fulci’s 1981 effort, The Black Cat…

Fulci only got the gig directing Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) for Fabrizio De Angelis after both Enzo Castellari and Joe D’Amato had turned it down. When that one scored big time at international box offices, De Angelis overlooked the obvious claims of Fulci to direct his quickie cash-in on his own quickie Dawn Of The Dead cash-in, 1980’s Zombi Holocaust (possibly in an attempt to boost profits by cutting costs, possibly because he just couldn’t get on with the notoriously irascible Fulci), ultimately signing up Castellari’s dad (!?!) Only when City Of The Living Dead aka Gates Of Hell (1980), wrought by Fulci and his crack team of collaborators (Salvati, De  Rossi, Frizzi) for rival producer Giovanni Masini, brought home the Grindhouse bacon, did De Angelis see fit to liaise once more with Lucio for that crucial 1981 brace of low-budget living dead miracles The Beyond and House By The Cemetery. In the meantime Fulci had undertaken this predictably looser-than-diarrhoea Pasta Paura variation (“freely adapted”, as the credits readily admit, by Biagio Proietti) on Poe’s portentous pussy parable for producer Giulio Sbarigia.

Much loved by UK horror hounds, Fulci obviously found these British Isles a convivial environment, as witnessed by his swinging London giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971) and the Beachy Head opening to The Psychic / Sette Note In Nero (1977.) Here he appears to have gone native, turning in a rendering of The Black Cat that you might swear, if you didn’t know differently, had been produced by Amicus in the early ‘70s. This impression is underscored by the iconic presence of Asylum star Patrick Magee (on top scenery-chewing form) in the role of Professor Robert Miles, whose attempts at communicating with both the eponymous evil moggy and recently deceased inhabitants of his village recall nobody as much as doomed maverick record producer Joe Meek. Rumour has it that this role was originally offered to Peter Cushing.

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The rolling pea-soupers that frequently fill the screen are another nod to the iconography of Brithorror but also reminiscent of the prevailing weather conditions in City Of The Living Dead’s Dunwich. Needless to say, the man who directed that priest-hanging, brain drilling, gut-puking atrocity doesn’t let all this eldritch atmosphere obstruct the unfolding of the expected cavalcade of ultra-violence… I mean, Daniela Doria’s in this film (misspelled as “Dorio” in its titles, though a victim by any other name…) for Chrissake! Surreptitious hanky panky is often the cause of DD’s demises in Fulci’s films and here, as “Maureen Grayson”, she sneaks off with the amorous Stan to make out in a boat house, only for that darned cat to make off with the key and sabotage the air conditioning, so both of them  suffocate (which apparently involves foaming rabidly at the mouth), their putrefying corpses (in a typically gratuitous Fulci touch) subsequently being gnawed on by rats.

Because their disappearance follows hot on the heels of a guy going head first through his windscreen then burning to death in the wreckage of his car (after another run in with that malevolent moggy), Scotland Yard bike over one of their finest, Police Inspector Gorley (!) to this rural backwater. As played by David Warbeck, his double act with local beat bobby Wilson (“Al Cliver” / Pier Luigi Conti) makes for a characteristically skewed and perversely enjoyable Italian take on British police procedure (and approved hair styles!)

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Not that this dynamic duo can do much to quell the ever-accelerating accumulation of bodies… the local drunk is stalked through a derelict building by you-know-what until he falls from a beam and is impaled on some handy-dandy spikes. Then the feline fiend starts a fire in the house of Maureen’s mom (Dagmar Lassander), who ends up crashing through the bedroom window in her flaming flannelette nighty (wasn’t that a George Formby song?) Warbeck ends up in hospital too after his own run-in with the eponymous flea-bag, though Fulci’s decision to cut the sequence of his convalescence and spring DW as a surprise survivor at the picture’s climax meant that his customary directorial cameo, this time as a doctor, also had to go.

Did I nearly forget to mention Mimsy Farmer as “Jill Travers”? If so it’s because her turn as an ex-pat American photographer (who spends her time strolling around local cemeteries and climbing down into the catacombs and ossuaries with which Fulci apparently believed our English countryside to be littered) is one of her least effective forays into the field of Pasta Paura. As for her misfiring love scenes with Warbeck… put it this way, David – normally gentlemanly to a fault –  remembered her to me as “that odd bitch”! He also told me that Fulci advised him not to worry too much about acting in The Black Cat because the script wasn’t up to it! The film is indeed an entertaining albeit insubstantial souffle, which only serves to underscore the intensity of Magee’s mesmerising central performance, a performance that is doubly (trebly?) impressive given that he was simultaneously battling the poor script, alcoholism (not very effectively) and Fulci (the director intimated to me that their troubled working relationship culminated in an actual fist fight!)

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“C’mon, own up… who farted?”

Of course the other factor holding everything together is that Fulci (when he could take time out from beating up his lead actors!) was a considerable visual stylist. With the aid of favoured DP Sergio Salvati he mounts painterly compisitions and delivers familiar low slung steadicam shots (here rendering feline POV), signature tracking zooms and ultra close-ups on characters’ eyes (while uncharacteristically resisting the temptation to force sharp objects into them.) Editor Vincenzo Tomassi, art director Massimo Antonello Geleng and production designer Massimo Lentini all make sterling contributions to that Fulci look. Makeup FX technicians Franco Di Girolamo and Rosario Prestopino substitute satisfactorily for the De Rossis and music wise, the absence of Fabio Frizzi barely registers, given a splendidly quirky Pino Donaggio score that perfectly compliments Fulci’s visuals by alternating the beautiful (wistful woodwind motifs) with the bizarre (droning bag-pipes!)

Arrow’s 2K restoration of The Back Cat presents all this sound, vision and feline fury with admirable clarity, restoring this previously marginalised title to the pantheon of late ’70s / early ’80s Fulci classics where it belongs. This edition boasts, furthermore, some truly nifty bonus materials. In “Frightened Dagmar”, Frau Lassander reflects on her lengthy exploitation career and how the roles dried up when she attained “a certain age.” Interesting that the supposedly misogynistic Fulci found roles for her when her bloom had faded though, as she laughingly recalls, he nearly did set fire to her for real. I’m yet to check out the audio commentary by erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander but can’t help wondering if Stephen Thrower might have been a better choice to deliver it. Thrower fans fret ye not, though, as he’s all over the rest of this disc. The featurette From Poe Into Fulci: The Spirit Of Perverseness hints at the painstaking approach to Fulci studies which make the upcoming, updated edition of his Beyond Terror tome from FAB Press such a tantalising prospect. At Home With David Warbeck is a lengthy interview with the much-missed actor at his Hampstead pile, The Convent. Looks like it was recorded on super-VHS at best but Jeez, did it bring back some wonderful memories. Shortest and sweetest though is In The Paw Prints Of The Black Cat where ST, in suitable rambling attire, takes us on a walking tour of the film’s Hambledon and West Wickham locations, including the caves where Mimsy Farmer had a rummage among them bones and Francis Dashwood before her had hosted his Hellfire Club bunga-bungas. By its very nature the shortest of shorts, this one had me wishing that it could have gone on ten times as long. You get a trailer and a reversible sleeve of course but no booklet… apparently that was reserved for the pricey box set in which Arrow previously  paired The Black Cat with Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key, a title which I’ll be reviewing in these very blog pages shortly.

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He thought he saw a puddy tat…

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A Penny For Guy’s Thoughts… The GUY PHELPS (BBFC) Interview

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Alongside the splat pack luminaries on the star-studded guest list for The Scala’s Splatter Fest (24.02.90) and among its rabidly anti-censorship attendees, BBFC examiner Guy Phelps might understandably have felt like Daniel entering The Lion’s Den. But he was cool in every sense of the word and happy to discuss the censors’ doings with us. There was a sense even then (still under the purview of James Ferman) that the Board and social mores were gradually loosening up… though we could scarcely have foreseen then that the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Straw Dogs, Death Wish, Salo, Last House On The Left, et al (not to mention such Johnny-come-latelies as Baise Moi, Hostel and the Saw series) would be freely available in the UK in the 21st Century.

Guy, you’re aware of the strong passions aroused on each side of the censorship debate. How do you feel for example, when the BBFC certificate comes up at an event like this and the audience starts booing?

Well, you’re talking about very different situations with film and video. Most of the kind of stuff you’re interested in comes to us on video because so few horror and low-budget films get a cinema release these days. I think at the cinema a very specialised audience come to see this particular sort of film in a very particular way, whereas the same images released on video are going to have a different life in front of a different sort of audience. The whole way they are going to be seen will be totally different.

When an ‘18’ tape is taken home, anyone can see it, because the Video Recordings Act only operates at the point of supply. They also see it within their own home and the interpretation seems to be that seeing it at home gives a very different meaning to something. It’s one thing to go to the cinema – partly it’s a matter that you’ve gone out and chosen, made a very deliberate choice to see a film – whereas getting a video is nearer to broadcast TV, where it just comes straight into the home and there is less deliberate choice. Also, you’re seeing it in a situation at home where things look different to how they do in the cinema, or even in the office, in our case. We often find that if we take a tape home and watch it, it looks different than when watching it in the clinical surroundings of an office. So it’s very difficult to go from the position of a film screened at the cinema to a video released widely through the rest of the country, I don’t think one can draw any conclusions from one event to the other.

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Weren’t there particular problems with one of the films being screened here today… Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?

A few. But I felt it was a very good film, and it would have been even better had it continued to investigate the more interesting psychology it discusses earlier on. On the whole, I think it’s an interesting account of a bizarre case. I didn’t find it exploitative, I think it was interested in the psychology of the character and the extremely depressing life-style he was leading. Some of the scenes were problematical but I don’t think the film as a whole was exploiting its material in a way that one could find unacceptable, in the same way as we didn’t think Cold Light of Day was doing that. (*)

This ‘tone’ thing is reminiscent of the BBFC’s feelings about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

I would have thought that Henry and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were very different cases, personally. Henry has more of a documentary style, though it isn’t an actual documentary, as the film-maker very clearly says in person and on film, whereas Chainsaw Massacre is very much a “chasing around and screaming” film, though with Chainsaw Massacre you never get quite what you think you’re going to get, curiously. But Henry is a kind of cold, beady stare at a curious individual, it doesn’t have any of the chasing around, menacing scenes. The scenes of violence, on the whole, are fairly brief and they vary in a way that they are presented, but a lot of them are not particularly visual at all.

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Still on the subject of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, can you give us a definitive answer as to what happened to the sequels? Because everyone’s got a different version of the story…

The second one came to us on film from the distribution company and as far as we were concerned, we were looking for a “soft” version that we could consider passing. Then the whole distribution network collapsed, for various reasons, the departments fell out. The company appeared to lose interest in it at that point. It was a film that didn’t do very well in America, and the third one didn’t do well either. Most of the films that don’t do well in America never reach this country.

Are you under instruction not to talk about specific cases you’ve worked on? An ex-member of the Board gave me that impression.

It’s difficult to talk about specific cases because we’re a monopoly. The companies have to come to us and we deal with their material… it’s not necessarily anyone else’s business what goes on between us. It doesn’t mean I can’t talk about individual cases at all, but there is a slight constraint, especially with something that one has worked on very recently. I can’t really go into too much detail about business relations between us and a company.

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The same ex-member told me an interesting anecdote about Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper being kicked out by the Board because its distributors submitted it without any cuts at all, hinting that if they had taken the trouble to approach you with, as you say, a ‘soft’ version, the Board would have considered passing it, possibly subject to further cuts.

I’m not sure. There were a lot of problems running through that film. (GP had opined in a previous interview that “…with people like Fulci, certainly, when the movie comes up one gulps slightly and reaches for the sick bag” – Bob.) Violence towards women is something that we’re increasingly worried about. It’s an area where there’s a great deal of research which suggests that the media really do have an input on the way that men think and behave towards women.

But isn’t there also the experience of Japan which has little regulation of horror movies, nor indeed of ultra-violent pornography, and yet has a negligible incidence of sex offences.

I think it’s very difficult to make comparisons across different cultures. Japan is a shame culture whereas ours is a guilt culture. Their whole attitude towards things like that is quite different, so I think one’s got to get into quite profound cultural studies before one can start wondering why certain things are more worrying to us than to the Japanese. We were very worried about violence against women in a way that the Board wasn’t twenty years ago So we continually find that when we’re were watching material on video, certain stuff that was cut back in the ’60s for instance doesn’t worry us at all now, whereas scenes of violence towards women which worried nobody back in the ’60s, apparently, we are now concerned about. That’s something about censorship generally, that it changes all the time, and I think one’s always going to look foolish in twenty years time, whatever one’s stance.

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Yeah … Mondo Cane was considered absolutely mortifying in its day, but now it looks ridiculously tame.

I can’t say I’ve seen it.

It contains stuff like Rossanno Brazzi having his shirt ripped off by frenzied female fans…

(Laughs) Well, that sounds absolutely disgusting to me!

No cheap thrills at all , there…

I’m sorry to hear it. But going back to The New York Ripper, it contained a scene where a broken bottle was used as a weapon, and there is a tendency to find something like that a bit more worrying in that in a moment of anger one’s unlikely to lay one’s hands on an axe, but one could pick up something like a bottle.

Does the Board have a list of unallowable “trigger images”, or is that just a myth?

Nothing’s ever as simple as that, no. It’s always context, treatment, why it’s being done… Film cutting is a delicate job!

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Jose Mojica Marins cocks the trigger in Embodiment Of Evil (2008)

Blood on breasts has often been cited as precisely such  a ‘trigger image’.

That’s certainly something that we would tend to worry about, but once again it would depend on whose blood and why it’s there. We would have to look at it from the point of view of what the director was trying to say with that image, which is as important as the image itself. One of the reasons that we have no book of rules is because there’s no reason why one particular shot shouldn’t be used. It’s how and why it’s used, the purpose to which that shot is put, that’s so important. For example, a shot in a horror film will have a quite different function and appearance to the same shot used in a documentary about a horror film, so it’s really the how and why that counts as much as the content.

How can you possibly justify passing some of the extreme stuff that was in Peter Greenaway’s Art-house movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, including cannibalism and the protracted torture of a child? Scenes like that just wouldn’t be allowed in a horror film. Doesn’t this reflect the elitist, class-bound attitude that is at the heart of the British censorship system?

Well again, I think that was more to do with the power of the film-making. Good, clever film-makers can get away with more because they know how to do it. In the Greenaway film you didn’t actually see very much and I gather he shot more – which is always the case – but what was actually shown on the screen was a lot less than the impact it had. That’s the way that a clever director can create an enormous impact without showing very much, that’s the important thing. Inferior film-makers, in my view, have to show the blood and guts because that’s all they can do. They don’t know about structuring a scene and creating an impact without all the splatter. I think that is one of the problems with the modern horror film, there are too many directors reduced to that kind of level because their imaginations don’t allow them to get any further. This is very much my personal view.

To paraphrase a notorious observation by one of your predecessors at the Board, there is a class judgment, isn’t there, in saying that a factory worker in Manchester, for instance, would be depraved and corrupted by seeing Andy Warhol’s Trash but a sophisticated, middle-class Londoner like yourself could handle it with ease?

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Not necessarily, no. We watch the films in a certain way. We distance ourselves from them through the way we watch them, to some extent. One watches them in a sort of academic manner, looking to see what the film is doing, how people are going to see it and deal with it. So one is, all the time, debriefing oneself from the experience. At the same time one is trying to see it in the way that other people will see it when they watch it – it’s a hopeless exercise if, through the debriefing, you don’t get the experience at all. So it’s actually a very difficult matter of trying to do two totally different things at the same time. But I think the fact that one is sitting at a desk, writing away, makes quite a difference, obviously, to the way you see it and one sees a lot of films. We will have a particular expertise brought from other experiences which gives us different ways of looking at the films. So we would hope that there is enough between us and the material we see, which is occasionally very unpleasant, to make sure that we’re not depraved and corrupted too quickly (Laughs).

What do you think about the whole “video nasties” hysteria in retrospect? Wasn’t the whole thing blown out of all proportion?

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1984-5 was obviously a very difficult period. There were a small number of video nasties, not many, and in the years before there was any regulation at all there was genuine concern that young people in particular were seeing material that they were probably not able to cope with. Whatever one might think of “video nasties”, so called, or other horror films, the thought of young children watching them in particular is, I think, fairly horrifying. It’s easy enough to make the case that there was a certain media and public panic that got slightly out of proportion to what was actually happening, but since regulation, to which there was so little public opposition – perhaps surprisingly – at the time, I think that the situation has sorted itself out, on the whole, to the satisfaction of most people. I think the government is more concerned with the look and presentation in video stores now than with what is being released and certainly the video industry is much happier – in this country it’s grown very much faster since regulation, whereas in many other countries where there is no regulation, there has been much less growth. This may or may not be a good thing, whether the industry grows or not may not be relevant, but certainly the industry is happy with regulation and I think there are plenty of sound reasons for supporting some form of it.

There was a perception at one point, not so long back, that perhaps the Board was loosening up a bit, with the likes of Society and Bad Taste being passed un-cut…

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We try and draw a line between horror that is fantastical and horror that’s inciting the audience to take pleasure in the spectacle of pain and enjoy the pain of the person who is suffering on screen. Films like the ones you mentioned, those are good examples of films that are pure fantasy. I don’t think anyone could extrapolate from them to real situations. That’s the main plank of our policy really. But there are particular problems with horror due to its history during the period of un-regulated video and the fact that the Video Recordings Act was brought in specifically to control horror films. As you know, before the VRA a lot of horror films were convicted under the obscenity legislation. This is something we can’t ignore – were not above the law and if the courts have judged that certain material is legally obscene, we can’t say: “We’re going to disregard this, we know better than the law”. We’re not allowed to know better than the law. We have to take account of these decisions.

In fact, we don’t see that many horror films at the moment. The genre seems to be in a bit of a trough, I would say. Not so many horror film are being made. We don’t actually see that much obscene material, most countries have some kind of idea of the standards we apply – presumably if there is that much material we don’t get to see it, or too much of it anyway.

There’s been a feeling for a while in America, which has been going through its own censorship travails, that the BBFC is now in some ways more liberal than its own MPAA.

I hope that’s right – the MPAA has a problem in that their cinema categories are entirely voluntary. Over there, apart from the ‘X’ and ‘NC-17’, their normal cinema categories exclude nobody. One of the advantages of our system of legal regulation by age is that we have a pretty firm idea of what the audience is, whereas they don’t – they can pass something ‘R’ and anyone can go in, as long as they’re accompanied by an adult, so that gives us a lot more flexibility – although ours seems a more rigid system, the end result is in fact greater flexibility, in that respect.

We sometimes hear about left-wing journalists who are supposedly working at such right-wing rags as “The Daily Mail”… is there any sort of contingent acting as anti-censorship “moles” within the BBFC?

Well, there’s no one consensus of opinion within any body, or even between any two people. Virtually everyone has a bottom line of what they would allow or not allow, so to that extent everyone is pro-censorship. Everyone would draw the line somewhere, and above that there’s a great level of disagreement over where the line should be drawn. The strength of our organisation has been employing a number of very different people who have different ideas and one argues constantly as a result, but I think that’s a positive rather than a negative thing.

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(*) When Henry was finally released in the UK shortly after this interview, it was only because its distributors had agreed to a version that had been personally re-edited by James Ferman, himself a failed film maker, to get certification…. out-fucking-rageous!

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

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DVD. Region 1. Paura Productions. Unrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rest In Peace.

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“Build Me A Woman”… THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED Reviewed

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“Schooldays… the happiest days of your life”?

DVD. Region Free. Shoarma Digital. Unrated.

If Enrique López Eguiluz’ La Marca del Hombre Lobo (the inaugural outing for Paul Naschy’s ongoing “tragic wolfman character, Count Waldemar Daninsky) represents the first significant flowering of an Iberian horror sensibility in 1968, the first truly great Spanish horror opus has to be Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia (aka The House That Screamed / House Of Evil / The Finishing School / The Boarding School, 1970.) Whereas Eguiluz (and subsequently Naschy and other directors) gleefully mined the Universal and Hammer Horror cycles, maniacally mix-and-matching their conventions  in an orgy of schlock surrealism, Nacho dips into the Hammer legacy with taste and restraint (an impression ably enhanced by the lush orchestral score of Waldo De Los Rios) to come up with a  well constructed, riveting and suspensful narrative en route to a genuinely surprising twist ending, mounting in the process an allegorical critique (i.e. the only kind he could get away with) of the ossification and morbidity of Spanish society under General Franco.

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The film opens with Theresa (Cristina Galbo from Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, What Have you Done To Solange, et al) arriving at a fin-de-siecle French finishing school for, er, challenging pupils. Madam Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs this Dothegirls Hall along the lines of harsh discipline and stifling routine in an attempt to turn her charges into compliant prospective wives. Ballet lessons are designed to distract them from “morbid” (as in “sexual”) thoughts and Fourneau tries to divert her voyeuristically inclined son Luis (John Moulder Brown) from similarly impure musings by banging on about the unworthiness of her pupils, to wit: “None of these girls are any good… in time you’ll find the right girl… you need a woman like me!” (If you ask me, these Oedipal relationships can get a bit incestuous…)

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Needless to say, it’s not too difficult to detect desire seething away not far beneath this hypocritical veneer of propriety. Helping Madam enforce order are an inner circle of collaborators led by the scary Irene (Mary Maude), who takes all-too-obvious sexual pleasure in dishing out the beatings and humiliation. She even controls the rota for conjugal visits to Henry the randy wood chopper, cue hysterical scenes in sewing class as the girls bite their lips and frantically thread their needles in the most overt display of Freudian symbolism since Tom Jones. “Most of the girls here are on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, Theresa is told and no wonder so many of them are running away… or are they? Serrador skillfully steers our attention away from the real story that’s going on and our sympathies in altogether the wrong direction. Just before (and I’m doing my best here to minimise the “spoiler” effect, here) unexpected early death of a sympathetic character (shades of that ultimate Oedipal horror, Hitchcock’s Psycho) the director abruptly freeze frames the action, giving you an opportunity to shout your objection at the screen, suffer the disappointment of being ignored as the grisly action resumes and register just how far you’ve been drawn into this dark fairy tale.

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Lucio Fulci, who seems to have been a bit of a Spanish Horror buff, was generally very guarded (to the point of testiness) about admitting his influences, but amazed me when I interviewed him by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery from La Residencia. Perhaps Argento was similarly influenced by its female environment, oppressive school atmosphere and brutal ballet lessons for Suspiria?

The edition under review here, courtesy of the Australian Shoarma label (which released a bunch of interesting stuff on the early crest of the DVD wave and promptly disappeared), seems to be somewhat expurgated. There are references to surreptitious trysts between Theresa and Luis that we don’t get to see and while it’s possible that such scenes were never included in the film, there’s a blatant jump cut that was obviously made to obfuscate the lesbian  overtones of Fourneau tending to the wounds of a girl she’s just had beaten. There are no extras and the the feautre is presented in a none too sharp, distinctly none-anamorphic  transfer wherein vertical lines visibly warp at either side of the screen, all of which lends credence to rumours that Shoarma’s releases were “grey market” at best… strewth, Bruce!

Stop Press: Scream Factory have just announced an upcoming kosher BD release of this one… something to scream about!

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

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

CM & (more) FANS

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

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

I believe you started off in showbiz as a hoofer?

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

And how are your feet, these days?

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

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

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

A certain “je ne sais quois” …

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

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

Yes! (Laughs)

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

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

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

She’s certainly got quite a saucy past…

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

Period C MacColl

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

… a nation of Fulci fanatics!

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

They still are, I think …

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

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

That’s nice …

… and indeed you still do.

Well thank you, John! (Laughs)

Now: Lucio Fulci …

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(Rolls eyes) What do you wanna know?

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

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

Count Perroni?

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

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

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

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This would be the City Of The Living Dead script?

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

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

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

CM ON BEYOND SET 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Fulci’s a very cultured guy …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy for him to say …

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

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

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

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

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

Were your Italian movies really quite that chaotic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… being covered in maggots …

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

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

OK, I’m back.

Who was it?

A man came to read the gas meter.

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

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

Sounds like The New York Ripper…

That’s it.

Well, it’s a pretty notorious movie …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Agostini?

CM ON BEYOND SET 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catriona with Beyond stunt man Larry Ray…

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

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

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

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

That would be Sergio Salvati. ..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yeah …

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

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

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

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

“That Freudstein house … that Freudstein house!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CM & FANS 2

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

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