Posts Tagged With: Lucio Fulci

Home Alone With Two Fat Ladies… Fulci, Martino, Di Leo, Lenzi & Bava Jr On 88 Films Blu-Ray.

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Picture yourself at the fag-end of 2017 / phony dawn of 2018. Christmas Day petered out shortly after Christmas dinner had been consumed, you’re too old and world-weary to give a rat’s ass about New Year’s Eve… your nearest and dearest have peeled off to do whatever it is they do, leaving you home alone with a greasy turkey leg, a tub of Quality Street now containing more cellophane than chocolate and hundreds of satellite TV channels… all screening shit, 24/7. Just to make things more interesting, the Aussie Flu is already beginning to gnaw at yer vitals. What’s a boy to do? Luckily, I’ve been salting away some 88 Films Blu-ray releases, as and when I’ve spotted them on the bargain shelves (it’s a long time since any review copies from this company troubled the mat under the letter box here at THOF) and now, almost exactly a year since our first round-up of elusive (to me, anyway) 88 releases and under very similar circumstances… here’s another one!

Cold Blooded Killer (18)

Body Puzzle (18 )

2019: After The Fall Of New York (18)

Hands Of Steel (15)

The Iron Master (15)… BD / DVD combi edition

Aenigma (15)

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Our current trip down route 88 commences in bracing style with Fernando Di Leo’s brilliantly barking 1971 giallo La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (“The Beast Kills In Cold Blood”), abbreviated here to Cold Blooded Beast (and also released as Slaughter Hotel or Asylum Erotica). Talk about a promising set up… take a bunch of affluent, luridly  outfitted female basket cases with a range of exotic personal problems (Rosalba Neri’s a nymphomaniac obliged to take regular cold showers to ward off incestuous desires for her brother) and confine them to a “rest home” established within a medieval castle that comes complete with medieval weaponry and torture implements (what’s that you were saying about “set and setting”, Dr Leary?) When not lounging around, smoking like chimneys and reading those yellow-jacketed Mondadori novels, the inmates are dodging (or in some cases indulging) the sapphic attentions of nurse Monica Strebel, a mental health professional so well-trained that she has to have the word “agoraphobia” explained to her. Just to put the cherry on this crazy cake, the sanatorium’s deputy director is played by Klaus Kinski… I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Hang on… did anybody just hear a squishing noise from inside the iron maiden?

Cold Blooded Killer flirts with the sleazier strand of giallo (Play Motel, The Sister Of Ursula, Giallo A Venezia…) but ultimately has more in common with such gothic gialli as Emilio Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave from the same year or Antonio Margheriti’s 7 Deaths In The Cat’s Eye (1973). Di Leo’s more accustomed generic stomping ground was Crime Slime, where he proved himself no wilting violet when it came to the depiction of brutal violence. Here he bides his time as the kitschy kill-by-numbers plot shifts through its florid gear changes, only for everything to explode in spectacularly ugly style during the final few minutes, the frenzied ferocity of which suggests Ted Bundy’s sorority raid (in fact this film was shamelessly marketed on the US grindhouse circuit to tie it in with Richard Speck’s kill spree!)

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The killer has been doing away with a series of apparently unrelated victims, posing as a blood thirsty lunatic to obscure his all-too coldly calculated motive for wanting to see the back of one of them. Once exposed, he runs amok through what remains of the sanatorium’s clientele, revealing that his “rational” dabbling in butchery has tipped him over the edge into hopeless psychosis. Dario Argento and Sergio Martino would expand on this plot conceit to more sophisticated and stylish effect in subsequent gialli, but Di Leo’s deployment of it here really packs a wallop.

88’s BD of Cold Blooded Beast renders previous DVD releases (e.g. Shriek Show’s Slaughter Hotel disc, with its sound-synching problems) obsolete, clocking in as the longest version yet available. Some of Neri’s sex scenes have been sourced from inferior elements and she complains in a bonus interview that much of this stuff features a body double and was inserted later without her knowledge. Indeed, it’s noticeable during one enthusiastic scene of, er, self-love that Neri’s appendicitis scar disappears during the close-up shots. So that’s not Rosalba’s hand handling her bits, there. Nor, unfortunately, is it mine.

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Neri also reflects engagingly on various of her collaborators (“Kinski was strange and devoted to alcohol, or even something stronger that gave him strange reactions”) and confesses her one regret, i.e. “That I never made a good film!” Further extras include an audio commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and an interview (again, courtesy of 441 Films) with Sylvia Petroni (daughter of Death Rides A Horse director Giulio Petroni) concerning the crucial but oft-neglected role of script supervisor / “continuity girl”, a role she also filled on Flesh For Frankenstein, among several other notable credits.

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If 1971 was (give or take) the high water mark of giallo production, Italian directors were still knocking out the occasional yellow slasher a couple of decades later. It seems entirely appropriate that one of the last entries in the cycle, 1992’s Body Puzzle, should be directed by a member of the Bava clan, though Lamberto’s invariably competent handling of his material inevitably disappoints the high expectations invested in that illustrious surname. Here he seems to be taking his cue from Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987 and arguably the last of the great gialli) by revealing the killer’s identity in a very early scene… or does he? Francois Montagut (vaguely resembling Rutger Hauer in his prime) enters William Müller’s upmarket pastry shop, draws the blinds and casually stabs Herr Müller before departing the scene of the crime with various bagged-up innards. The unfortunate pâtissier’s ear is left in Joanna Pacula’s fridge. “Could be you’ve got yourself a real psycho” the coroner helpfully advises investigating officer Tomas Arana.

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Arana’s a lot quicker seducing Pacula than he is in working out that all the victims of the unfolding kill spree received organ transplants from her dead husband. Apparently he’d been leading a secret gay life and the suggestion is that one of his former lovers entertains the deranged ambition of resurrecting him by reassembling his constituent parts (while listening to Mussorgsky’s Night On A Bare Mountain, for some reason)… so a teacher of blind children has her eye hacked out in front of her blissfully oblivious students (quite an effective sequence, this), a life guard is sliced up in his swimming pool and Susanna Javicoli (whose face was bisected by falling masonry during Suspiria’s most celebrated set-piece sequence) has her hand lopped off in glorious bog-seat-o-vision. Bava evokes further pasta paura splendours by casting Erika Blanc, Gianni Garko and John Morghen (who confounds all expectations by avoiding dismemberment) in small roles, though I could have done without the cemetery superintendent named “Mario Fulci”.

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“Camp”? Moi?

Things are proceeding engagingly enough towards what you think will be a predictable denouement when Bava drops his big plot twist. The killer isn’t who you think he is. He isn’t even who he thinks he is. This seems like clever stuff until, after a nanosecond’s reflection, you realise that it doesn’t make a lick of goddam sense. Now, Bava Jr’s handling of depth psychology has never been his strongest suit (witness A Blade In The Dark)… pay close attention to the throwaway conversation here between Arana and a sanatorium director. You still won’t buy it. The killer, however, once Pacula has explained to him the misconception under which he’s been labouring, gains immediate self-awareness, repents his misdeeds and speeds off into the night on his motorbike. Before you can say “Vertigo”, his motivating misapprehension has mutated into self-fulfilling prophecy. He could just as easily have ridden his bike through the holes in Bava, Teodoro Corrà and Bruce Martin’s screenplay (the scene where Montagut hides in a freezer on the off-chance that somebody will open it and he can jump out  at them is a particularly bemusing one), but when have we ever let such considerations hamper our enjoyment of a good giallo? And Body Puzzle is a pretty good giallo…

Extras include two print interviews, with Arana (conducted by Phillip Escott) and Lamberto Bava (Calum Waddell).

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The last big generic spasm undergone by the Italian B-movie scene was, appropriately enough, the early-80s post-Apocalyptic filone inspired by Escape From New York and Mad Max II, as crystallised in Enzo Castellari’s Bronx Warriors brace and The New Barbarians (1982-3). Able genre jumper Sergio Martino had no problems adapting to the formula and his 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) emerges as one of the better entries in a sometimes blockheaded cycle (Rats – Night Of Terror, anyone?), matching Castellari’s patented action scenes and peppering them with philosophical allusions and humorous asides.

Flavour-of-that-month action man Michael Sopkiw is Parsifal, your basic Snake Plissken wannabe, who scratches a living racing futuristic hot rods around the irradiated Arizona desert. Those who survived the nuclear war are sterile but rumour has it that there’s one fertile woman, in a coma, somewhere in NYC. Parsifal is hired by Edmund Purdom, President of The Pan-American Confederacy, to locate her and deliver her to the rocket base where she’ll be blasted off, in the company of the surviving global elite, to reboot the human race in some distant galaxy. “Somebody baked The Big Apple” (though they thoughtfully left the Peter Gabriel graffiti on the wall) and needless to say, when they gets there, Parsifal and sidekicks Ratchet (Romano Puppo) and Bronx (Paolo Maria Scalondro) find themselves thrown into the thick of incessant conflict between Confederacy stormtroopers and rival criminal and / or mutant gangs.

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Luigi Montefiori / George Eastman as “Big Ape” (Martino saved a few bob on make-up, there), manages a particularly impressive (even by his standards) entry, erupting on-screen to disembowel some bad dude with his cutlass. Futuristic glamour is supplied by Anna Kanakis (a former Miss Italy and erstwhile Mrs Claudio Simonetti) and Valentine Monnier. After just about everybody else has been bumped off, Parsifal makes it back to the rocket with his female cargo, the projected mother of a new, genetically pure human race… except of course, unbeknownst to everybody but Parsifal, Big George has parked a parcel in the prime real estate of her womb. Ooh, the cosmic irony… ooh, the echoes of the conclusion to Bob Fuests’s The Final Programme (1973), as Big George’s mutated monkey spunk departs (if I may paraphrase Neil Young) for its new home in the sun. This film’s director laughed off my reference to “Wagnerian overtones” in 2019 when I interviewed him but if you’re gonna send somebody named Parsifal on a mission to secure the genetic purity of his race… well, pull the other one, Sergio!

Phillip Escott interviews Martino and long serving production designer / art director Massimo Antonello Geleng (who provides fascinating insights into his miniature and effects shots for 2019) on the disc and the accompanying booklet includes another interview with Martino, courtesy of Callum Waddell.

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Sergio was back in Arizona three years later, still surfing whatever generic waves the international box office was throwing up, to ever decreasing returns. Hands Of Stone started as a First Blood copycat but when The Terminator hit, it rapidly mutated into Hands Of Steel (1986). Daniel Greene (who actually managed to parlay his beefcake persona into a respectable acting career outside of the Italian “B’ milieu) is Paco Queruak, a cyborg created by John Saxon’s sinister industrial corporation to assassinate their eco-conscious political critics. When Paco’s human conscience gets the better of him, he drops out of the assassination racket to pursue competitive arm-wrestling (sure, what else would he do?), not to mention feisty bar owner Janet Agren. Jilted local tough guy Raul (George Eastman) and Saxon’s hit-men (including, unfortunately, Claudio Cassinelli in his final screen appearance) ensure that Paco’s retirement is anything but quiet. In the best sequence in the picture, he fights off a brassy blonde Hot Gossip refugee decked out in a polythene mini-skirt who tells him: “I’m the perfect cyborg and have been sent to kill the traitor!” Fine words, but it’s a pity she can’t back them up. Paco pulls her head off, but neglects to shove it up her android arse… which must go down as a missed opportunity, in my book.

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Have you seen Polythene Pam? You could say that she’s attractively deconstructed… (with apologies to The Beatles)

In another bonus interview from the boys at 441, Martino identifies this film as one of the last in which (with the aid of Sergio Stivaletti’s make up FX and characteristic Italian resourcefulness) his countrymen could vaguely compete with their American models and sometimes make it onto American screens. While Hands Of Stone (he contends… and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) was a respectable Terminator copycat there was no way, he concedes, that by 1991 the Italians were going to be able to attempt the likes of Terminator 2. Inevitably, the director reflects ruefully on the death of Claudio Cassinelli in a helicopter stunt shot during the making of this movie. 

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One generic playing field on which the Italians probably figured they were well qualified to compete was that of the mythological Peplum, having invented it in Maciste epics going as far back as Giovanni Pastoni’s Cabiria (1914). When Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire (1981) and John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian (1982) hit paydirt, Italian exploiters weren’t slow to respond, none quicker (nor barmier) than Lucio Fulci with 1983’s Conquest (geddit?) which lived up to that opportunistic titling with a mind-boggling mix of mystical mumbo-jumbo, cocaine-snorting werewolves, jelly baby zombies and tribal tattoos straight out of The Book Of Eibon. Two other films made in ’83, Antonio Margheriti’s Yor – Hunter From The Future and Umberto Lenzi’s The Iron Master, were only marginally less mental.

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Lenzi’s stone age spagwest concerns the Oedipal sibling rivalry between Ela (Sam Pasco in his only non-gay porn outing) and Vood (George Eastman again) over the succession to Raa The Wise (Jacques Herlin). Vood is exiled after trying to advance his claim by bumping off poor old Raa but, while wandering around in an amateurishly executed volcanic eruption, he initiates the iron age (just like that) by discovering some of the stuff in a stream of lava. Forging weaponry from it (pretty bright caveman, this), he returns (now wearing the head of a lion he killed) to supplant Ela. The latter does his own wandering around in exile, during which he fights off monkey men and zombie-like lepers, picks up Stevie Nix lookalike Isa (Elvire Audray) and invents archery. Dismissing the pacifist arguments of hippy philosopher Mogo (William Berger), Ela returns to vanquish Vood and his henchmen for good… and human history has continued to unfold in peace and harmony up right to the present day, yeah?

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Everything about The Iron Master, from its model mammoths and mastodons to its hysterical mumbling cavemen / psychedelic sitar score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (who also scored 2019 under their trusty “Oliver Onions” alias) is a certified hoot. I’m reliably informed that this version has been cut by eight seconds (animal abuse?) but I’m not sure that my heaving ribs would have been able to take another second, anyway. Once seen, this film’s male lead can never forgotten and certainly wasn’t by Fred Andersson, who supplies the diverting booklet essay “Who Is Sam Pasco And Why Is Nobody Talking About Him?”, detailing his search for the facts concerning this body-building pin-up icon / gay porn star / hustler. The disc also contains 441’s joint interview with DP Giancarlo Ferrando and the aforementioned Massimo Antonello Geleng, which is a particularly jolly affair in which the two old troupers, clearly great pals, reminisce about the good old days. Ferrando remembers the irascible Lenzi “foaming at the mouth” during one shooting mishap on The Iron Master and jokingly blames him for the near-extinction of the American buffalo.

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88 seem to have got the hang of this Blu-ray mastering bit. All of the films under consideration here look fine, some of them probably better than they deserve to look. Even their crowd-funded restoration of Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma (1987) looks… as good as it’s ever going to look, given Luigi Ciccarese’s unrelentingly harsh blue-rinse cinematography.

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It’s a look clumsily copped from Argento’s Phenomena (1985), from which Fulci also cheerily pinches much of Aenigma’s setting and plot. Bereft of his prime-time dream team (Sacchetti, Salvati, Frizzi, Tomassi, Lentini, De Rossi), Fulci struggles desperately (with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, a script collaborator on The Beyond and House By The Cemetery) to figure out what makes a horror hit in 1987 and also ends up roping in significant elements of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) and Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978). It’s reasonable to surmise that the latter did decent box office in Italy, given the appearance of Mario Landi’s hysterical Patrick’s Still Alive in 1980. Unfortunately, that one’s a lot more entertaining than the item under consideration here…

In a snotty girl’s boarding school in Boston (actually Belgrade), a spiteful prank dreamed up by the bitchier pupils and their loathsome PE teacher Fred (Riccardo Acerbi) misfires, leaving its victim Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic) in a coma. New student Eva (Lara Lamberti) arrives to fill the Jennifer Connelly role, though unfortunately she has no telepathic connection with insects. There’s no chimp in this film either, unless you count Fred. What does happen is that comatose Kathy exerts psychic control over Eva, taking advantage of her slutty inclinations (“Let’s get one thing straight! A successful semester to me means making out with as many cute boys as possible. Let’s put it this way: anything in pants!”) to take violent, albeit far-fetched revenge on Fred and his co-conspirators. So people are strangled by statues or their own reflections, or eaten by snails (this ludicrous scene an obvious indicator of how far Fulci’s talents had slipped since The Beyond and its spider attack, just six years previously). None of this is as interesting as it sounds and re-reading what I just wrote, it didn’t sound particularly interesting in the first place. The “action” grinds to an arbitrary stop when Kathy’s mum, the school’s Mrs Mopp who had previously assisted in her vengeful kill-spree, decides enough is enough and pulls the plug on her daughter’s life support system.

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Fulci (who cameos as a cop, above) is credited for direction and also “special camera effects”, though it’s difficult to discern any particular “camera effects”, special or otherwise. Maybe that’s a reference to the glowing red eyes various characters develop when in the throes of a psychokinetic mong attack. Or maybe they’re reacting adversely to Douglas Meakin warbling Carlo Maria Cordio’s appalling theme song Head Over Meels (sic).

There’s a boring romantic subplot involving the romance between penitent prankster Jennifer (!), played by Ulli Reinthaler and Dr Robert Anderson (Jared Martin). The recently deceased Martin seemed to be Fulci’s go-to David Warbeck substitute, though he managed a pretty decent TV career (Dallas, L.A. Law) in America. Well versed in the ways of Fulci (he essayed the role of “Drake” in the director’s Fighter Centurions, 1984), Martin’s most resonant line of dialogue here is: “Don’t call me Bob!” He’s obviously aware of the unhappy precedents…

This disc’s significant bonus material constitutes Eugenio Ercolani and Giuliano Emanuele’s Aenigma: Fulci And The ’80s, a feature-length look at LF’s declining years featuring contributions from Claudio Fragasso, Antonio Bido, Michele de Angelis, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Antonio Tentori, among others. Good stuff.

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“It’s A Very Nice Book… Very, Very Interesting!” Stephen Thrower’s Fulci Tome BEYOND TERROR Recast In Truly Epic Proportions

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Blessed is he who approaches in search of knowledge…

Beyond Terror – The Films Of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower. FABPress. H/B. ISBN 9781903254844

Given the dispiriting circumstances of his personal encounter with Lucio Fulci (detailed  for the first time herein), Stephen Thrower’s magnificent Beyond Terror – The Films Of Lucio Fulci emerged as a veritable phoenix from the flames when first published by Fab Press in 2000. Two decades(ish) later, pains-takingly revamped and thoroughly revitalised (“120 new pages… 80,000 words of all new writing!”), it now soars to peaks only previously occupied by Tim Lucas’s Mario Bava meisterwerk All The Colors Of The Dark.

Thrower is a thoughtful and passionate writer (there can’t have been too many reviewers of The House By The Cemetery who concluded their appraisal with a line like: “In a subtle way, the end is just as terrible a trap for Bob as it was for John and Liza in The Beyond; he’s returning forever to a house that can never be home”) so I’m looking forward to acquainting myself over the coming weeks and months with the ways in which his takes on various aspects of Fulciana have evolved. Most obviously, though, the updated version comes with completely new sections and gives a thorough going-over to stuff that was only hinted at, first time out.

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The hugely expanded survey of Fulci’s comedies is very welcome (though for me, personally, there’s more than a trace of “he watched them so I don’t have to” wrapped up in this welcome). Similarly, the new section on Fulci’s sound track composers is impressive stuff, though I believe Keith Emerson’s contribution to Murder-Rock merits more than the dismissive brush off it gets here (these things ultimately boil down to personal taste, of course and I freely admit that my position on this subject has always been – very much – the minority one). While I’m quibbling, I wonder about the relevance of Julian Grainger’s filmographies of all the major players in Fulci’s films – an undeniable feat of scholarship and gluteal fortitude – in the age of IMDB, although no doubt there are those who’ll find use for it. It goes without saying that the revamped BT is stuffed to bursting with more colourful, rare and distressing stills, posters and behind-the-scenes shots than you could comfortably shake an eye-poking stick at.

There’s a mouth-watering round up of (thirty!) Fulci projects that were mooted but never made and Thrower’s access to the BBFC’s archives yields fascinating insights into the thought processes of those tasked with cutting or denying certification to Fulci’s films at a time when such matters were virtually equated with national security. Hm, I wonder which film occasioned them the most consternation…

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It says “Exit”, Alessandra… do not entry!

The addition (to the special edition) of an interview with LF is a nice touch though (to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies) I would say that, wouldn’t I? Said special edition also comes in a beautiful wraparound reproduction of The Beyond’s Book Of Eibon (which, regrettably, doesn’t burst into flame to the accompaniment of Fabio Frizzi music after you’ve read a couple of particularly portentous passages… no doubt Stephen and Harvey Fenton are working on that for a possible third edition) and with a DVD collection of trailers for 37 of Fulci’s 54 directorial credits. If that’s not enough for you (hard to please, huh?) there’s the option to run them with a commentary track by the author and an accompanying booklet throws up whole new and bewildering vistas of ultra-specialist film studies, detailing the use of alternative trailer takes from the ones that actually made it into the movies and offering glimpses of scenes that were abandoned altogether.

This is film scholarship run wild and we’re all better off for it. Do you wanna buy the book? If not, you’re probably reading the wrong Blog. If so, Save yourself twenty years or more of angstily anticipating some future edition. Get it while you can.

Woe be unto him who acts the tightwad over this…

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Mace liked it so much, he went out and got ink…

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Murder, He Wrote… An Exclusive Interview With DARDANO SACCHETTI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I have…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, it wasn’t me.

Another myth debunked…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tulpa (top)… Zampaglione and Sacchetti (above)

– Fine –

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

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80 Glorious Years: “BARBARA STEELE in L’Aldila”… and in conversation with The House Of Freudstein.

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Friday the 13th of December, 2013 was a lucky day for your humble correspondent Bobby Freudstein, being the day that my longest, most soul-destroying and hopefully final stint of conventional employment mercifully terminated. Invited to what was, doubtless, going to be an unseemly office-closing knees-up, I was prepared with the perfect pretext for non-attendance. “Can’t do it, mate… I’m interviewing Barbara Steele tonight” (talk about a reaffirmation of intent!) “Who’s Barbara Steele?”, came the philistine reply. Another compelling reason not to go… I mean, would you want to socialise, if you could possibly avoid it, with the kind of person who doesn’t know who Barbara Steele is?

To mark La Steele’s 80th birthday, the following is a potted, Italian-biased version of a career-embracing interview that originally appeared, in its entirety, over issues 158 and 159 of Dark Side magazine. The original data file having gone AWOL and my scanner being on the blink, I’m grateful to the lovely Mrs Freudstein for retyping the relevant passages… also to Calum Waddell for hooking me up… and of course to the Queen Of Horror herself, for her participation.

We pick up the interview at the point where Barbara has just stood up Elvis Presley on Flaming Star, occasioning a blazing row with its director, Don Siegel. Having burned her Hollywood bridges, she started over in The Land Of The Big Boot…


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One of the memorable quotes that’s been attributed to you, so many of which seem to be apocryphal, is: “I went to Hollywood with very little and came back with nothing”.

I can’t remember what’s real or not myself, but that sounds about right.

And so, off to Italy… it’s said that Italian directors are more concerned with lighting the iconic face in the beautiful scene than they are with actually directing actors. Did you find yourself having to fall back on your Rank Charm School training?

Italian directors were, for the most part, so generous and enthusiastic and abundant and loving and you just felt it, felt you could do no wrong. When you are in this very safe place and you don’t have this sort of awkward, silent, critical eye around you, you can do something that you really wouldn’t otherwise think of doing. Now Mario Bava was a very conservative, shy and private man, didn’t get too involved with his actors because he was preoccupied as we all know with his camerawork and his lighting and the beauty of his films. He was very removed from his actors.

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Did your own background in the visual arts make you more simpatico with Bava’s vision and better equipped to participate in it?

Well, we didn’t see dailies and you’re not aware of what anything is until you’ve seen dailies. It was only ages afterwards that you got an idea of what was going on. You didn’t see the slow motion, you didn’t see the high contrast, you didn’t see the whole German Expressionist look… you didn’t see it, you just felt it, you just felt the huge intelligence and focus and that he really cared about his framing and so on, that absolutely nothing was random.

Was it disconcerting to find yourself acting on a noisy set with an international cast, some of whom where spouting stuff like “rhubarb, rhubarb” and with all the dialogue being re-dubbed in post production?

Well I never actually heard anybody saying the rhubarb, rhubarb thing! (Laughs) Obviously direct sound is so much better. Italy was extremely noisy in those years, there was always somebody singing songs, repairing a church bell, people having all sorts of crazy arguments… I guess all the walls must have been very thin so they couldn’t possibly do direct sound. Not exactly a disaster, but sad for me because I never heard my voice on these films. By the time they got round to looping the film, I was usually making another one in another country and couldn’t do it and the voice to me is, you know, two thirds of the way or at least half the way there. It’s strange how patterns follow you, or it seems, in such a random way, all your life because my voice has barely been used and you know that’s extraordinarily frustrating.

It’s such a shocking waste of such a distinctive voice… your performance in the pre-titles sequence of Black Sunday is one of the most iconic cinematic moments of all time, but we heard that you remain displeased with it, find it too mannered and would have welcomed the opportunity to do it again and differently.

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I’ve been thinking about that recently, you could really go one or two ways with it, when you’re paralysed with terror because someone is approaching you with death and agony, like the iron mask… your eyes are transfixed, you’re out-of-body and frozen in some kind of other worldly terror, or you can choose to do it the other way, which is to really go berserk! It would be interesting to see it both ways. Actually I think Mario Bava had a very firm idea of how he wanted it and he was right, I think it worked that way.

Well, Asa could afford to be sanguine about it because she was confident she’d return to do more evil deeds… I imagine that somewhat takes the edge off her ordeal (Barbara laughs). As an actress is it more satisfying to see yourself on the screen in moody chiaroscuro or the kind of lurid colour schemes favoured by Roger Corman, for whom you starred in the Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and indeed later by Bava himself?

I think black and white is more satisfying for horror, it reaches much deeper into the subconscious, just as black and white photographs have an appeal truer and more profound than a colour photograph. I don’t know if it’s just because the eye receives colour differently in a darkened movie theatre, I don’t know what happens to your peripheral vision but it always takes one time to accept the colour, however gorgeous it is, you know, however beautiful and well done it is…

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We’re getting more used to it now thanks to colour television, which is really very good now in America, a lot of it so beautifully shot that it looks like Storaro on some of these series, but having grown up on black and white cinema and all the great imagery of the ’40s and ’50s and German Expressionism, etc, there’s nothing for me quite as spectacular as great black and white. I do think that Italian cameramen have a third eye and I can actually identify if a film is Italian, even if I don’t know, just by the way it is lit. The light of Rome, the light of Italy, this transcendental light with these glowing threads that kind of go through it, it seems to be absorbed by film and the Italian cameramen are so sensitive to light, fabulous, as they grew up in this. I think this is why they are so very conscious of light and they talk about it… I mean, even the guy who’s selling you peaches on the market will talk about light, he won’t just say it’s a beautiful day, he’ll say: “Oh it’s a beautiful morning, isn’t the light incredible?” and it is this kind of thing and yeah…voilà!

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Another of your “gothic” directors was Antonio Margheriti… were you aware of the animosity that allegedly existed between him and Bava?

No I was not, though it may have well been the case between them in private.

Another of those myths that’s become associated with you is that you wouldn’t go on to the Black Sunday set one day because you feared that Bava had developed a “see through” film technique that would render you naked on the screen.

Bullshit! Yeah, this was published in that guy’s book about Bava, I couldn’t believe it! How could someone say something so profoundly idiotic?  I mean I was just amazed, it’s the most whimsical and demented thing imaginable… “I’m not coming to the set today in case you’ve got X Ray film”? Just hilarious!

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Bava’s secret “see through” film stock was working only too well…

Supposedly Bava tried several times to get a colour remake of Black Sunday off the ground and apparently he wanted you for The Whip and The Body (1963) in the role that eventually went to Daliah Lavi.

These are things that were never communicated to me, because I was really a gypsy and all over the place. But yes, that’s what I heard and they were films that the French director Yves Boisset really wanted me for and I never heard about. Sometimes you wouldn’t find out until two years after the event…

It would’ve been wonderful to watch the sado-masochistic sparks fly between you and Christopher Lee, though you did later work with him on Vernon Sewell’s Curse Of The Crimson Altar. Another male horror icon you appeared alongside, in Corman’s aforementioned the Pit and the Pendulum, was Vincent Price. How did that go professionally and personally?

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Everyone who ever worked with Vincent Price will tell you that they just adored him. He was such an intelligent, civilised guy, he was just as beautiful a man as he appears to be on film, with his sort of edgy irony rather than cruelty. Very supportive, and of course he loved Art, was a great Art collector, we had a really good communication about Art and yes, I really liked Vincent Price very much. I always said that if he had been an Englishman, or if he had moved to England, he could and would have been one of those titled actors, the Gielguds and so on, he would’ve been one of the great classic actors. I think he had something of an ambivalence about not using more of his powers as an actor in great roles. I know your readers all love Horror and you’re thinking about great roles in that genre but I’m talking about really great roles.

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When you had lunch with people like Price, Lee and Karloff (your other Crimson Altar co-star), would you compare notes on your experiences with people like Mario Bava?

I’ve had lunch with Christopher Lee on several occasions and I’ve taken tea at his house, I mean I’ve met him many many times and I can’t remember our conversations in that much detail frankly, but I just expounded over everything, I mean I don’t remember anything that he said particularly about Mario Bava but he’s very grand and very courteous and it’s marvellous, just too fabulous that he’s still working.

8 1/2 is just the most audacious, ostentatious display of creativity…. it’s about Fellini’s creative block but it’s like he’s saying that even blocked, his work is more engaging than that of others working at full throttle.

Well, what he actually said about this in the movie is in the scene at the press conference when Mastroianni is under the table and this is really true of so many artists, writers and so on. He says “I have nothing to say but I have to say it anyway”.

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Didn’t you have a lot off scene cut from the film?

I did, it is still a very long movie about 3 hours but the first cut was something like 5 and a half hours long! Oh god I did, yes and I’m so upset about it, I think I had about the scenes cut, most of which are very sarcastic about the Vatican. Oh and there’s a little dig at Antonioni where I have a tiny dog called Michelangelo and I’m saying: “Michelangelo, you’re so slow! Faster please, please, come on! Come on!”

He was so slow with the horror film in which he intended to star you alongside Monica Vitti that it never got made!

Ah, that would have been great, would’ve been just marvellous, but fate for actors is like walking on a high wire of luck, you could have one thing that could turn you around completely. The thing about the horror films I did in Italy in those days, of course, they are always set in the past… and why? Because the past has a fairytale quality and they are always done, as we said, very elegantly, beautifully shot, but that feeling of the past, in a strange way…

It gives a film greater longevity, compared to e.g. the later films in the Hammer cycle which tried for a very “early ’70s” feel and look and just look incredibly dated now, whereas something like Black Sunday is completely outside of any temporal frame of reference.

Well yes, they are out of time, you’re absolutely right. They are timeless and it gave them a kind of elegance. It felt, in a strange way, as though it could be truer and more real, because then you step back a bit and you feel you can expect it more as opposed to something being contemporary. Those films are all deeply engrossed in the psyche and l’aldila, the other world… it’s not the horror of, you know, you suddenly see somebody approach you in the dark with a knife… it’s a different horror, it’s psychological. It’s anticipation of the horror that’s about to come, which is always worse than the actuality because in the actuality you can react and you’re caught up in your rage and your blood flowing and everything and you react, the anticipation of the act is always far worse than the act itself.

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Another colour shot from the set of a b/w film… Fellini 8 1/2

Absolutely. In this age of DVD and Blu-Ray collectors’ editions, with all the extras you get on those, it would be nice to think that one day we’re going to see, for instance, your missing scenes from Fellini 8 1/2 or the stuff that was shot for his Casanova…

Well, nothing was ever shot of me for Casanova, whic is a great pity/ My sequence was completely cut before shooting started and it was a phenomenal role. I mean, this was before they invented Viagra and I was this kind of Venetian alchemist wearing this amazing head dress, sat on a throne in Venice, who came up with these marvellous bottles of stuff that would cure anybody of impotence, which would have been just the most spectacular, campy thing on the planet!

Wow! Were you ever connected to any Pasolini projects? That would have been another marriage made in heaven / hell…

No! I loved Pasolini, he used to live just three or five doors down the street from me, I saw him all the time and I just loved his poetry, all of his work, but no, our paths never crossed professionally.

That’s a shame, to me out of all those guys, he was The Master…

I think you’re right.

For a long time there was this dichotomy, a false one in my belief, between worthy Italian Arthouse cinema and that country’s populist “B movie” tradition. Do you sense that we are moving beyond that now when people like Scorsese and Tim Burton are rhapsodising about Mario Bava (and of course Fellini himself was a big admirer of Bava) and a Hollywood heavyweight like Quentin Tarantino is citing Antonio Margheriti and Enzo Castellari as his masters?

I do and I think particularly in American that’s the case, to me what is amazing that so many people are so conscious of the films, I cannot believe the amount of fans they have and the amount of fan mail I get for these films, which are ancient. This is even before there were DVDs, people were collecting videos, it’s just extraordinary because a lot of these films didn’t get any kind of release… just incredible!

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What one hears about Ricardo Freda is that if he really cared about a project he was full on and involved in it, but if he wasn’t he would just phone it in and farm it out to his assistants to complete the picture… which indeed is how Mario Bava made the transition from DP to director.

I never knew that.

I guess Freda was “on it” for the two “Dr Hichcock” pictures he made with you…

He was very “on it”, he was a very theatrical, energised guy, always chomping on a cigar. He had his little tantrums, which actually I quite liked because I could have a tantrum back. It’s a form of communication, you didn’t have to take it as a disparaging thing and he’d have his little things with the crew and this and that but in the end everybody just loved him. To me he was like an Italian opera star, second lead! (Laughs) He was very operatic, in other words, I really liked his theatricality and energy, I really loved Ricardo Freda… he was great.

Another guy who developed a reputation for tantrums and became a horror icon in his own right, relatively late in his career, was Lucio Fulci. I gather you had a good time with Fulci, you must have caught him when he was young and relatively relaxed. He did subsequently develop this reputation for being crusty and difficult and increasingly eccentric…

Yes, I heard that and I was sorry to hear it.

I met him in the last year of his life and he was very charming but absolutely barking, thoough there was a suspicion that he was kind of playing up to that image.

You’re kidding! Dear, oh dear…

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You played two roles in his 1964 comedy I Maniaci and very well, too… it’s a pity you didn’t accumulate more credits in that genre and that those in which you did appear never got any distribution outside of Italy.

I know, I love comedy, very few people can write it these days. I feel, you know, that somebody else had my actress career. I was just like living on the ceiling or something and these sort of things just fell in and I did them and it’s so strange that I’ve ended up with this collection of horror in my past.

Many of the gothic films you made in Italy deal with such taboo subjects… were you aware how the versions of them that got released in English speaking territories were tweaking to eradicate any suggestion of lesbianism, incest, necrophilia and so on?

It’s interesting because there we were in a highly Catholic country and that is where we were doing all that stuff, you’d think it would be the other way round, no?

So Many acerbic and startling statements have been accredited to you and most of them you probably never even said. “I never want to climb out of another freaking coffin as long as I live…”

No I never said that, I really hate that and that’s another one which I REALLY hate which I think was in a French magazine Midi Minute Fantastic or something, the magazine which I gather is now being republished in a series of books, but the one that really infuriates me…

I think I know what’s coming…

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“WTF?!?”

You’ve got to put this straight! I’m quoted as saying in several articles that, I wanted to “fuck the world” and that’s just a word that I don’t use. I probably said something like” “I want to have a love affair with the whole world”…

… or to embrace the whole world…

Yeah, which is completely different but that is just grotesque.

It is grotesque, it’s kind of ironic though that while you would obviously have never said such a thing, that is pretty much the plot of the David Cronenberg picture you appeared in, Shivers… libidomania!

Yes, well, he loved his bodily fluids, did Cronenberg!

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That’s The Sound Of The Men Working On The Chain Gang… DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING on Arrow Blu-ray

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BD/DVD Combi. Region B/2. Arrow. 18.

As previously mentioned, review copies receive priority attention (reasonably enough) here at The House Of Freudstein. I’ve been enjoying Arrow’s BD edition of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) for a few months now, but the fact that I had to shell out for it put it to the back of the review queue. Having panned a few misfiring 11th hour Lucio Fulci duds on this Blog in 2017, it’s a relief to finally be able to devote some time to one of my favourite director’s unalloyed masterpieces. Fulci’s third giallo is undoubtedly his finest hour-and-a-halfish in that genre (bearing favourable comparison with anything Dario Argento chalked up in the thriller stakes) and arguably Fulci’s finest achievement, period (he often argued that it was, though he alternated between DTAD and the similarly under-distributed Beatrice Cenci, 1969).

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DTAD’s plot concerns a series of murders in a rural back water of southern Italy, in which all of the victims are pubertal boys. Suspicions fluctuate between (and varying degrees of retribution are meted out to) those whom the locals regard as “outsiders”… derelict peeping Tom / inept shake-down artist Giuseppe (Vito Passeri)… Florinda Bolkan’s disturbed, delusional would-be witch Martiara… and such city slicker intruders as the sexually provocative (as ever) Barbara Bouchet (whose character Patrizia has been banished to the boondocks by her rich dad in an attempt to get her off drugs) and Tomas Milian (a Milanese newspaper reporter covering the sensational murder spree).

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The true identity of the killer is ultimately revealed (to the total non-surprise of anyone who’s seen Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Fulci’s tour de force giallo from the previous year) not as some social pariah but a pillar of the local establishment, whose grisly misdeeds proceed from impeccable Catholic casuistry…

The gob smacking impact of Don’t Torture A Duckling is based upon firm foundations. Fulci’s obviously impressive cast (which also includes Mark Porel as the village priest Don Alberto, Irene Papas as his mother and Georges Wilson as a reclusive folk mystic) had a strong script (courtesy of Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Gianfranco Clerici) to work from and enjoyed, it would seem, cordial relations with the director… which wasn’t always exactly a given on a Fulci picture. Bouchet’s delineation of her character’s development, in particular, is another undoubted career peak and speaking of peaks, her nude indoor sunbathing turn herein reminds me why my heart was in my mouth when I found myself knocking on her hotel room door in Manchester in September 2013… I mean, was I going to find her topping up her tan?

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DP Sergio D’Offizi (whom, we gather, didn’t enjoy such cordial relations with Fulci and didn’t work with him again) renders the endless Italian countryside in suitably epic fashion and OST composer Riz Ortolani contributes an exceptional score, even by the standards of a career as exceptional as his was (not forgetting the angel-voiced input of Ornella Vavoni).

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Ornella Micheli (and brother Bruno) had been editing Fulci flicks for some time and would continue to do so until the relationship subsequently soured. Make up FX men Maurizio Trani (debuting for Fulci here) and Franco Di Girolamo (on board since Lizard In A Woman’s Skin) would stick with the director into his gory glory years of the late ’70s / early ’80s (sometimes working in tandem with the De Rossi clan), by which time Fulci had assembled a second dream team for his zombie-fuelled career Indian summer.

With all these talents aligned under his assured direction, Fulci was able to produce such marvels as the six and a half minutes between Bolkan’s arrival at the town cemetery and her death by the side of the autostrada, minutes which plumb the depths of human brutality (obviously) but also scale the cinematic heights of suspense, pathos and yes, tenderness.

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Fulci directs Florinda Bolkan in Don’t Torture A Duckling

DTAD also stands as a peak Fulci moment by dint of how closely it aligns the director with the central concerns of his mirror image Pier Paolo Pasolini. Both were troubled renegade Catholics. Both had tortured private lives. Pasolini was an Art house intellectual who yearned for the “authenticity” of the working classes. Fulci was a working class terza visione artisan with auteurist pretensions. As well as its obvious pessimism and anti-clericism, Don’t Torture A Duckling reiterates Pasolini’s uneasiness… and anger… about the degrading effects of globalisation and consumerism (specifically the Italian “economic miracle”) on “authentic” regional identity, the collapse of “popular culture” into “mass culture” and the widening gulf between those who benefit from alleged progress and those whom it leaves behind… issues whose relevance hardly abated in the four-and-a-half decades since Fulci shot Duckling and which have been thrust to the top of the news agenda during the current reaction against the neo-liberal experiment which had kicked off around the time he was shooting it.

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Pasolini eventually connected with his ideal authentic working youth on the beach at Ostia in November 1975, which is to say that (at least according to the official account of his death) this youth, one Pino Pelosi, connected the director’s head with a spiked plank. Fulci, in contrast, lived on through the depredations of personal decline and the precipitous collapse of the Italian film industry. As late as 1988’s The Ghosts Of Sodom, he was striving to maintain some affinity with Pasolini, though the mediocre resources at his disposal condemned that one to risible failure, economic circumstances determining all others (… now who was it that promulgated this formula?)

Back in 1972 though, Fulci’s righteous ire was a force to be reckoned with. It’s with almost palpable joy that he paints the killer’s washing powder commercial fantasy of clean-limbed, asexual soccer innocence, a vision so ludicrous that it ultimately has to be bashed out of the culprit’s head in slow-motion. What’s the last thing that goes through a fly’s mind before it’s squashed on a windshield? Or that of a killer cleric tumbling off a cliff? Or, for that matter, Pasolini’s during his final moments at the beach in Ostia?

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Don’t Torture A Duckling was shot, incidentally, in pretty much the same neck of the woods where Pasolini had filmed The Gospel According To Mathew, misidentified in Troy Howarth’s commentary track as “The Gospel According To Saint Michael”. Although I’ve picked the prolific Troy up on a few things recently, I bear him no grudge. We all drop clangers and the busier you are, the more likely you are to drop a few (not that anybody ever seems inclined to cut me any slack for mine…)

Fulci was often in variance – and in error – with producers regarding the ingredients that made some of his films so great. I’m a lot fonder of Manhattan Baby (1982) than many pundits, but it would have been seriously compromised by the omission of its Egyptian prologue, which producer Fabrizio De Angelis had to strong arm the reluctant director into undertaking. Nor did Fulci want to include any zombies in The Beyond (1981) and his original intention for Don’t Torture A Duckling (scuppered by producer Edmondo Amati) was to set it in Turin, among the Southern emigres whose labour fuelled that “economic miracle”.

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Arrow seem to have made considerably more fuss about their recent Argento boxes than about this crucial release but any doubts that they possibly didn’t “get” Don’t Torture A Duckling are soon dispelled when you see the restoration job that’s been undertaken here (fascinatingly detailed by Torsten Kaiser – who also helmed TLE’s epic conservation job on Suspiria – in the accompanying booklet). From the opening scene you’re struck as never before by the Earth tones with which D’Offizi renders both the Basilicata soil and the complexions of the wretches who scratch a living from it (ashes to ashes, dust to dust)… the inhospitably rough terrain which ultimately rips the killer’s hypocritical false face from his skull.

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The bonus materials with which Arrow have adorned this edition are equally impressive. Elsewhere in its accompanying booklet Barry Forshaw writes about the film, Howard Hughes about its soundtrack composer, Riz Ortolani. On the disc itself, Dr Mikel Koven expands engagingly on one of the main themes from his indispensable 2006 book La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, concerning how genre films would typically be consumed in Italian “terza visione” cinemas, whose socially interactive and often just plain rowdy patrons might completely  lose interest in a film if it didn’t serve up some violent set-piece spectacle every 15 minutes or so. It would be difficult to conceive of a director more equal to this task than Lucio Fulci and I’m reminded of a hysterical anecdote, related from the grooves of Graveside Records’ House By The Cemetery / Manhattan Baby soundtrack CD by the late Sage Stallone, concerning his and Fulci’s visit to precisely such a venue and the near riot that subsequently broke out. The authentic Italian cinema flavour of Arrow’s print is enhanced by the presence of the “fine primo tempo” caption, a device of which I’ve always been very fond although its appearance in the middle of e.g. Lamberto Bava’s Demons clearly winds up some viewers. In Hell Is Already In Us, Kat Ellinger argues cogently that to address misogyny (an issue without which no discussion of Fulci seems complete) is not to endorse it, deftly employing quotes from various interviews with the director to help make her point. Apparently some people have taken this impressive video essay as “an indictment of Fulci’s misogyny”… ah well Kat, we do what we can. Nice to see that Ms Ellinger’s obsession with The Monk shows no sign of abating, either.

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We’re also treated to a 1988 audio interview with Fulci and filmed ones with a batch of his collaborators on this film. Bruno Micheli talks about editing Fulci flicks with his sister and how they were both arbitrarily dismissed, a memory that’s clearly so emotional for him that he asks for the shooting to stop. Maurizio Trani (who assisted Franco Di Girolamo on the special effects of DTAD) chips in with a few of his own “barmy Lucio” anecdotes and confirms that the director was very active in conceptualising and realising FX shots, contrary to the depiction of him in the Aurum Horror Film Encyclopedia (anybody remember that?) as a passive figure faithfully capturing whatever his talented collaborators placed in front of the camera. Trani also gets to comment on Florinda Bolkan’s, er, mortifying death scene in a split screen presentation (“It’s not all bad, though we did make a lot of mistakes”).

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The star herself, during a compelling interview, gets to watch this celebrated sequence (apparently for the first time) as we experience her reactions in the same split screen format. Her memories of it seem very hazy, considering it allegedly took three weeks to shoot and the fact that she now lives just down the road from its location. Bolkan’s recollections of her director recall the ambivalence I’ve previously heard from Catriona MacColl. He was a sadist on set but she loved him anyway. On balance, “Fulci was something else”… wasn’t he just?

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What do you mean… “gratuitous”?

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Songs In The Key Of G-Spot… Lucio Fulci’s THE DEVIL’S HONEY Reviewed

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

I remember reading a great review of this film in an obscure Dutch fanzine. I was hooked as soon as I read the opening lines: “Dr Wendell Simpson (Brett Halsey) has a bad marriage. He goes often to the whores”. Indeed he often does and when he gets there, it’s in search of very niche erotic gratification, i.e. watching the working girls paint the crotch of their pantyhose with nail varnish. You might have thought they’d regard this as easy money but one complains that: “It’s worse than fucking a monster… you’re a freak!” Back home, Wendell’s wife (the luscious Corinne Clery) is writhing around in heat, seeking a good seeing-to but he can’t seem to raise any interest, or indeed anything else, in response to this spectacle. Fucking weirdo…

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The sexual arrangement between Johnny (Stefano Madia) and Jessica (Blanca Marsillach) seems scarcely more conventional. He’s a saxophone playing rock superstar (first time for everything, I guess) who only seems capable of playing one phrase (which is distinctly reminiscent of the Phil Lynott / Gary Moore chewn Parisienne Walkways) and when he can’t even get that right, takes time out from an unproductive recording session to blow his horn up Jessica’s tuppence (such a crowd pleasing moment that the original U.S. video release, as Dangerous Obsession, bumped it forward to the film’s opening minutes, as demonstrated on one of the many bonus materials here). “Don’t you ever think of anything else?” she chides him. “Is there anything else?” he responds. Later Johnny persuades Jessica to give him a hand-job while she rides pillion on his speeding motor-bike…. cor baby, that’s really free!

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It’s a pity The Jeremy Kyle show wasn’t airing in 1986… Graham The Genius would have had his work cut out with these guys! In the absence of that, what does bring all the sex cases together is the arrival of Johnny on Wendell’s operating table, in critical condition after a motorbike crash. Christ only knows what he’d been up to on that speeding bike this time… felching a chicken while inserting crack rocks up his own arse? Probably best not to think about it…

Anyway, Dr Simpson is so stressed out, flashing back to his wife’s demand for a divorce, that he totally screws up the operation and Johnny shuffles off his mortal coil… no more  speed limit-defying wanks for you, mate! Jessica, devastated, sits around at home cuddling Johnny’s pullover and watching videos of herself being shagged by him. Then she resolves to act. She harasses Dr. Simpson with phone calls, then kidnaps him at gunpoint and chains him up in her and Johnny’s beach-house.

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Now, call me old-fashioned, but I’d be rather more inclined to attribute the demise of  this clown to his own tiresome antics than to the surgeon who attempted to save him. Nevertheless, Jessica spends the next couple of days beating, kicking, nearly drowning and feeding dog food to the doc, not to mention spattering him with hot candle wax. My name is Jessica…”  she tells him: ” … but you can call me fear!” “You’re an amazing girl!” he gasps.

When not abusing poor old Wendell (who, one strongly suspects, is having the time of his life), Jessica flashes back to her affair with Johnny, including a memorable scene in which he sodomises her on a staircase. Just in case anyone in the audience isn’t sure what’s going on, Fulci intercuts the action with shots of Jessica’s dog (whom I’d love to believe is some kind of relative of Dicky from The Beyond) jumping against a back door… subtle symbolism or what? Gradually her flashbacks reveal that life with Johnny wasn’t so great after all – he smashed her favourite doll, he liked her vagina to double as a holster for his pistol, and – best of all – at one point we see Jessica necking with him in a cinema, only to recoil in horror as she realizes that bitchy sound engineer Nick (Bernard Seray) is simultaneously playing some hot licks on Johnny’s horn, mugging furiously while doing so.

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When Wendell repairs her doll, Jessica unties him and they consummate the mutual passion that has been building up between them. Incredibly, as a post-script to their love-making, the doc declaims the following lines…

“When you’ve spent your life like a fortune you believed would never end / a second chance will come to you, like a long-lost friend / A great joy will fill you and flush you hot / no more will you ever be cool / for she is the Devil’s honey-pot / and you will drown in her… you fool!”

If only room could have been found, among all the other mildly kinky goings-on here, for Halsey to undergo a golden shower… anyone who can deliver poetry like that with a straight face really deserves to have it pissed on!

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Fulci, visibly ravaged by his recent run in with hepatitis, makes his customary cameo as a street-trader who sells Jessica and Johnny two “mystical bracelets”, which will allegedly guarantee them happiness until discarded. Would you buy a charm bracelet from the man above… or a reheated, overheated script? The Devil’s Honey bears an uncanny resemblance to Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s The Trap, directed the previous year from a Fulci screenplay and starring (alongside Tony Musante and Laura Antonelli) Blanca Marsillach and her kid sister Cristina (shortly to star in Argento’s Opera).

Blanca seems to have wound up just about everybody on the set of The Devil’s Honey, as is amply testified to in the generous supplementary materials on this handsome Severin BD presentation. “I don’t want to talk badly about a fellow performer…” offers the admirable Halsey: “… my problem was that she had no discipline and no talent”. He loved being directed by Fulci, though (“If you dig him up, I’d work for him again!”) and also directing him, as he claims to have done during Fulci’s protracted cameo role in 1990’s Demonia, a film about which Halsey has some hair-raising anecdotes. He also regrets the misunderstanding about the same year’s Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain which curtailed their professional and personal relationship.

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Corinne Clery remembers Fulci as “kind”, then again by her account she’s always prided herself on not being “a prima donna”… it was to exactly that kind of actress that Fulci famously gave shortest shrift. Producer Vincenzo Salviani poo-poos any suggestion that Fulci was “difficult” to work with but admits: “He wasn’t the lion he once was”. In an audio essay Troy Howarth talks up Fulci’s “knack” for the erotic and Stephen Thrower, who’s always got something interesting to say about this director, speculates that Fulci’s career could have been salvaged at this point by jumping the glossy soft core bandwagon that was currently gaining momentum. Instead, he remained pigeon holed in an increasingly ghetto-ised Horror milieu, with geometrically diminishing returns. No more would he ever be cool…

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A Sliver Of SALÒ… Lucio Fulci’s THE GHOSTS OF SODOM Reviewed

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“Jinkies!”

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The Gosts Of Sodom (“I Fantasmi Di Sodoma”), 1988. Directed by Lucio FulciProduced by Antonio Lucidi & Luigi Nannerini. Story by Lucio FulciScreenplay by Lucio Fulci Carlo Alberto Alfieri. Cinematography by Vincenzo TessiciniEdited by Vincenz Tomassi. Musiby Carlo Maria Cordio. SFX by Gino Vagniluca. Starring: Claudio Aliott, Maria Concetta Salieri, Robert Egon, Jessica Moore, Teresa Razzaudi, Sebastian Harrison, Al Cliver (uncredited), Zora Kerova (uncredited), Joseph Alan Johnson (uncredited).

Lamberto Bava was the best of influences… Lamberto Bava was the worst of influences… although his 1985 effort Demons (arguably the Last Great Italian Horror Film) confirmed him as his father’s son, Bava Jr’s Graveyard Disturbance (made just three years later) set the template for a string of anaemic, TV friendly efforts (more Hanna Barbera than Mario Bava) in which gormless yuppie youths confronted lame-assed spooky adversaries in anodyne adventures whose video releases had audiences around the world reaching for the fast forward button while struggling to stay awake.

The Ghosts Of Sodom (which Fulci directed in 1988, virtually simultaneously with the marginally superior Touch Of Death) pinches Demons’ central conceit of cursed celluloid only to put it in the service of “Scooby Doo Vs Third Reich” silliness, resulting in a listless boreathon that makes the likes of Sergio Garrone’s SS Experiment Camp (1976) and Luigi Batzella’s Beast In Heat (1977) look like Marcel Ophüls’ The Sorrow And The Pity (1969).

Towards the end of WWII, a bunch of SS men hole up in a villa and (stop me if you’ve seen something like this before) stave off contemplation of the inevitable by acting out a series of depraved sexual tableaux. Unfortunately the paucity of Fulci’s imagination in this department means that the most depraved thing we witness is Al Cliver shouting at a girl to dance too fast… oh and some bozo trying to pot a snooker ball between a compliant Fraulein’s legs. Before everybody expires from ennui, a stock footage allied bombing raid puts them out of their misery. But the nasty Nazis had the presence of mind to film their tame orgy for posterity…

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… and four decades or so later, a campervanload of groovy guys and bitchin’ babes (including Jessica Moore / Lucian Ottaviani from Joe D’Amato’s Eleven Days, Eleven Nights brace) rocks up at the (distinctly unbombed looking) villa to deplete the wine cellar and make out, their libidos inflamed by the photo albums of vintage Nazi porn they discover (“Get a load of these knockers!”) Unwisely, they also crank up the film of that long (and justifiably) forgotten orgy, at which point the villa fills up with Nazi spectres. The flower of Aryan manhood (identified in the credits as “Willy The Nazi” and played by Robert Egon) engages in vanilla S&M shenanigans with the lucky girls.

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One of the boys is brow beaten by Nazis into playing Russian roulette for the favours of a sexy female ghost (the uncredited Zora Kerova), only for her breasts to turn to ashes in his hands… doncha just hate it when that happens? Another falls downstairs and dies, his body rapidly degenerating into a pool of pulsating pus…

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Mercifully, the Nazi bongo movie reaches the point at which the villa was bombed and the yups find themselves outside, unscathed and remarkably philosophical about the ordeal which they have just undergone…

“That was some adventure!”
“Let’s get the hell out of here!”
“I’m way ahead of you!”

The resurgent Nazi threat is over, for now… but they would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids! Just to confuse them further, their dismembered antics would be recycled in another film-within-a-film outing, Fulci’s hysterical A Cat In The Brain aka Nightmare Concert (1990).

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Plenty of quality Italian films have examined, in literal or allegorical style, the country’s war-time complicity with Nazism… Antonio Bido’s Watch Me When I kill (1977), Pupi Avati’s The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and any amount of Pier Paolo Pasolini pictures spring to mind. This is certainly not one of them. Fulci’s attempt to reframe Pasolini for the Panino crowd comes up several scooby snacks short of a satisfying picnic, although towards the end you really do start to feel like it’s been going on for 120 days. Looking back on LF’s career nadir hasn’t turned me into a pillar of salt, but I’m struggling to think of anything else I could possibly say in its favour.

Incidentally, Fulci made much of his anti-Nazi credentials (not least when I spoke to him) but anyone who’s watched his interview on the Grindhouse DVD of A Cat In The Brain will have heard him make a pretty reprehensible throwaway crack about The Holocaust… a sorrow and indeed, a pity.

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Kind Of Blue Beard… High Stakes And Thigh Steaks In Lucio Fulci’s TOUCH OF DEATH.

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BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

Lester Parsons (Brett Halsey) is so far into the hole betting on horses that he stars answering “lonely hearts” ads taken out by wealthy widows, divesting them of their dough then bumping them off (Jeez, those guys in The Pina Colada Song thought they had problems!) Lester should have remembered that line: “When the fun stops… stop!” Then again, it’s a line which could be as well applied to watching Lucio Fulci films as to gambling…

… unfortunately we here at The House Of Freudstein have sworn a sacred oath to shirk no shitshow when it comes to bringing you the straight poop about Italian exploitation cinema, so here it is – despite public demand – a review of Touch Of Death aka When Alice Broke The Looking Glass (1988), just one of the zero budget clinkers that Fulci cranked out in his declining years for producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini.

We’re introduced to Lester as he digests the news of yet another betting debacle, cheering himself up by cooking up and consuming a rare steak while he watches an introduction tape in which an anorexic, facially disfigured bimbo cavorts for his erotic delectation. You might well think that she didn’t make much of an effort, though she looks significantly better in the tape than she does now, lying dead in Lester’s basement, a raw excision from her thigh making it clear where that steak came from. Having consumed this prime cut and fed some of the remaining choicer morsels to his cat, Lester minces the balance of Miss Lonely Heart / lungs / spleen / liver / kidney / et al and feeds it to the pigs in his back yard.

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Nice disposal job, but the TV news subsequently informs Lester that said mortal remains have turned up in plastic bags on a local tip and the police are investigating. Somewhat perturbed by this turn of events, Lester talks them over with his only confidante, a pre-recorded voice on an audio cassette. Confused? Not as confused as Fulci was when he wrote this thing… come back Dardano Sacchetti, all is forgiven!

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He’s just a gigolo… form an orderly queue there, ladies!

Having offed his next victim – a lady with significant facial hair problems – by beating her hairy face in with a tree branch then microwaving her head (with the oven door open?), Lester elects to do away with the evidence in alternative fashion, burying her in cement on a building site which he conveniently seems to have the run of. This leaves him open to the threat of blackmail by a floridly overacting crusty witness (Marco Di Stefano), a threat he neatly heads off by chasing down this derelict in his car and running it over him…. several times….

… and still the TV newscaster reports that his latest victim’s hirsute remains have been discovered, also that the tramp is recovering in hospital and will provide a fotofit of the perpetrator when he’s sufficiently recovered. Lester continues to consult the voice on the tape which, it subsequently emerges, is that of his shadow. Is any of this making any sense? Like I said, Fulci wrote it so don’t blame me (though I guess it’s perfectly possible that, unbeknownst to me, my shadow had a spectral hand in the script).

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So far (and subsequently) Lester’s victims have been in some way disfigured. Fulci’s comment on superficial societal attitudes / body shaming? A mischievous retort to Argento’s notorious stated preference for beautiful female victims (and its obvious inspiration, Poe’s dictum that: “The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world”)? Whatever, Lester’s next date, Alice Shogun (?!?) suffers from no such disfigurement… not till she’s encountered Lester, anyhow. Is this why the film is named after her? Who can say? As embodied by Ria De Simone, she’s not a bad-looking woman at all (albeit a little over-voluptuous) though her penchant for performing operatic operas while participating in rough sex (a moral disfigurement?) make her an easy mark for Lester. He takes her corpse out for a drive, looking for an ideal place to stash it, leading to an allegedly comic bit of business with a traffic cop writing him a speeding ticket but overlooking the stiff in the passenger seat.

Every day, the newscasters bring worse news for Lester… that fotofit of “The Maniac” (as the police have imaginatively tagged him) is apparently coming along nicely and Lester’s DNA profile has been identified and announced (though it’s never made clear exactly how one would go about doing such a thing).

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Under pressure from his bookie Randy (an uncharacteristically fresh-faced Al Cliver), our “hero” tries for another big score from hare-lipped Virginia Field (billed as Zora Ulla Kesler but easily recognisable to any self-respecting spaghetti splatter fancier as Zora Kerova of Anthropophagous / Cannibal Ferox / New York Ripper infamy). It’s suggested that she’s a fellow con artist out to give Lester a dose of his own medicine but when she thwarts his attempt to kill her with nutcrackers (?!?) by shooting him, it’s revealed that she was tipped off re his murderous intent by seeing that much-anticipated fotofit on TV… and of course when we finally to see it, it bears no resemblance to Halsey whatsoever! Lester staggers off into a corridor and, before pegging it, exchanges a few rueful philosophical observations with his shadow… nothing like as rueful as the viewer, contemplating 80 wasted minutes of his life that he / she will never be able get back.

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Touch Of Death is unquestionably the work of a Pasta Paura maestro who’s gone more than a touch beyond his prime… it was conceived in conjunction with a season of movies under the “Lucio Fulci Presents” banner, attempting to evoke Dario Argento’s successful La Porta Sul Buio (“Door To Darkness”) series from the mid-70s (or even his rather less successful Turno Di Notte / “Night Shift” from the late ’80s) while simultaneously making a virtue of necessity in that the deregulation of Italian TV was closing most of the country’s cinemas. Were these films actually intended for sale to Italian TV? Their shared “shot on video” aesthetic suggests the possibility but could such violent fodder ever have stood a realistic chance of playing on the box? Perhaps Fulci intended Touch Of Death as a toast to the brave new world of commercial TV from a poisoned chalice (the cinematic equivalent of The Rolling Stones’ Cocksucker Blues?)… whatever, this and the film that Fulci shot virtually simultaneously with it (the woeful Ghosts Of Sodom), along with Hansel & Gretel (co-directed by Fulci and Giovanni Simonelli in 1990), Mario Bianchi’s Don’t Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta aka The Murder Secret (1988), Leandro Luchetti’s Bloody Psycho, Enzo Milioni’s Bloody Moon and Andrea Bianchi’s Massacre (all 1989), promptly disappeared, only to be filleted for footage by Lucidi and Nannerini to pad out the astonishing atrocity attributed to Fulci and entitled Nightmare Concert (aka A Cat In The Brain) that assaulted such Italian cinema screens as remained standing in 1990.

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The individual films have emerged, piecemeal, via obscure fly-by-night video releases (they’re also viewable on Youtube, for those of a hard-core masochistic bent)… a proposed Synapse release of Touch Of Death was abandoned when no original elements could be located and Don May’s outfit declined to source it from video. For the sake of unfussy Fulci completists, Shriek Show, Red Edition and others put out ropey looking DVD editions in the first half of the noughties. The BD release under consideration here looks pretty good (as well as this movie, in its original  4:3 aspect ratio, is ever going to look on your state-of-the-art widescreen telly, anyway) and 88 claim to have remastered it from an original negative. It would have been nice to see something in the bonus materials or liner notes about the film’s restoration, but no dice. The notes comprise Calum Waddell’s entertaining and informative interview with “Al Cliver” (Pierluigi Conti), whom he tracked down in Bali, while on the disc you get Phillip Escott’s documentary featurette Reflections in a Broken Mirror…

… in which (mostly) assistant director Michele De Angelis and Marco Di Stefano reminisce about the making of this movie. Cue the familiar anecdotes of Fulci singing happily to himself on set when not chewing out tardy collaborators. De Angelis confirms that the complicated co-production deal which made these movies possible ensured that very little money actually trickled down to the set. We also learn more about the up-and-down relationship between Fulci and Argento during pre-production of the Wax Mask that Fulci never lived to make and the claim that Fulci’s diabetes-related death was actually a suicide pops up again. Loose accusations are thrown around that “certain people” could have done more to prevent this from happening. We’ll never know the full story and it’s profoundly sad that Fulci’s amazing career should wind down amid such unedifying disputes.

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DP Silvano Tessicini makes a decent first of passing a Roman suburb off as Florida, though his indoor shots display all the finesse of a drunken camcorder record of Christmas Eve. Carlo Maria Cordio’s score is weedy, straight-out-of-the-library stuff. Only editor Vincenzo Tomassi remains from the glory days, though he has very little to work with here.

Touch Of Death is often described as being influenced by American Psycho, though it actually predates that film (2000) and also Bret Easton Ellis’s source novel (1991). For that matter it also anticipates, to a certain degree, Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs (1991), although of course with the meagre means at his disposal, Fulci was never going to come up with anything remotely as polished as those. Nor was he able to he do justice to those influences which he attempts to reference, several superior pictures including Robert Siodmak’s  The Spiral Staircase (1946), Jack Smight’s No Way To Treat A Lady (1968), Mario Bava’s Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970) and his own The New York Ripper (1982). The film’s pitiful stabs at black comedy fall flat on their arses (I admit I laughed when Lester kicked the cat) and Angelo Mattei’s clumsy splatter FX (the surname should have tipped us off), delivered without a fraction of the expertise and elegance which Giannetto De Rossi previously brought to such proceedings, are merely revolting. In the light of these failings Touch Of Death represents a wasted opportunity to definitively address the “misogyny” chestnut that plagued Fulci throughout his career.

Having thought long and hard about it, I’ve managed to find two things I could say in favour of Lucio Fulci’s Touch Of Death. Firstly, it’s not The Ghosts Of Sodom. Secondly, it’s required viewing for anybody intent on unpicking the splatwork quilt that is Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain… which Herculean task we’ll be attempting soon.

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“I Made A Film With George Peppard, you know!” The Extremely Grumpy UMBERTO LENZI Interview

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It was 20 years ago (and then some), in May 1997 that the boy Freudstein interviewed Umberto Lenzi. I’d been avidly anticipating our encounter and surely all those warnings about what a hard-ass he was were, for the most part, hyperbole? Read on and weep…

Signor Lenzi, I was speaking to Sage Stallone and his partner Bob Murawski recently, about their definitive laser disc release of Cannibal Ferox… are you surprised that these films still have a large international cult following, so many years after their release?

In the case of Cannibal Ferox, yes, because for me that one is a very minor movie. I don’t like it so much… in my opinion, I made other movies that were much better. I like Paranoia very much, with Carroll Baker, and also some of the action movies that I made were better movies, like Violent Naples and Roma A Mano Armata… my war movies too, like Contro Quattro Badiere, Il Grande Attaco and La Legione Dei Dannati. For me the cannibal movies are not so important, so I am very surprised, yes, that they have enjoyed international success for all these years.

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Were you surprised to learn that somebody like Tarantino is very familiar with your films?

No, I’m not surprised because I know that before he started directing, he worked in a video store and was a big fan of European movies. So it’s no surprise… in fact, nothing surprises me any more, because the motion picture audience is strange, really strange… but you know the thriller movies I made, yes?

The gialli? Sure I do… I’m very interested in the way that European films, particularly Italian films, have had this unacknowledged influence on American films…

Yes… in the 70’s we had a thriving industry producing thrillers, westerns, cop films and so on, but now the Italian industry is completely dead. Twenty years ago we had good directors like Sergio Leone, Corbucci, many horror directors, and Italian genre pictures were very successful. These days… in my opinion, it’s the emphasis on special effects that has killed the fantasy and the talent of the directors. Three days ago I saw the famous American success The Rock, starring Sean Connery, and I thought it was a very bad movie, because the story was a very stupid, Rambo-like story, with many effects, explosions, crashes… I’d seen it all before. For me there have been only two great American films in recent years, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I don’t like all these stupid special effects as in Independence Day and Waterworld… these films are just stupid. You remember Make Them Die Slowly?

Cannibal Ferox?

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Cannibal Ferox, yes, it was made with hardly any money, about $100,000 because we shot this movie with a crew of about 10-12 people in the jungle without any resources but with a very important idea in there. The motion picture industry in America right now is effects, effects, effects, and that means money, money, money…

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

Of course, it’s impossible for us to compete.

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

The Italian industry is now finished for action and spectacular movies, because the Italian producers and the directors make only intimate, small stories. Argento can do it, but even for him it’s very difficult. The others have all disappeared…. me, Castellari, Valerii… and Fulci is now dead, of course. Corbucci, too…

I was going to ask you for your memories of Lucio Fulci…

We were friends because we both started off in the 50’s and I was assistant director on a movie with him. He was a good director, made something like a hundred pictures in every genre, but he died a poor man…. very poor.

Another of your former collaborators, Massaccesi, only keeps working by churning out pornos now…

Massaccesi is a very strange person… I’d rather not talk about him, OK?

OK… is it true that early on in your career you worked on an Esther Williams movie?

Yes, Wind In Eden…

That’s something you’ve got in common with Fidel Castro, then!

I started as assistant director to Mr Richard Wilson, he was a very close friend of Orson Welles. He produced Welles’ Macbeth and he was in the cast of Citizen Kane. I was very happy to begin my working life with him. He died last year. All of this happened 40 years ago, of course, when I was in my twenties. Two days ago I watched the film on video with my wife, because it is the first experience of my cinematic life. The film was shot in my home-town…

In Tuscany?

On the Tuscan coast, yes, and I scouted the locations for Mr Wilson.

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You must have had a knack for scouting talent too, because I believe you discovered Ornella Muti…

Yes, when she was only 16 she made her first or maybe her second film appearance in my film…

A Quiet Place To Kill?

Yes, Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere. It wasn’t a good movie. I made a mistake, because I wanted to make a movie like Easy Rider, a post-1968 movie…

… for the youth market…

… for the youth market, yes, but the producer was saying to me: “Umberto, your film with Carroll Baker, Paranoia, has been a big success in The States, so you must try to repeat the formula”. So by adding the thriller aspect, the movie ended up as a strange mix between Easy Rider and Paranoia, which did not really work.

The movies with Carroll Baker, and other gialli made by your colleagues in Italy have been very influential on the international thriller scene…

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Maybe…

You can see the influence in US blockbusters like Basic Instinct.

Yes, other journalists have claimed that my movies like Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse have influenced American movies… maybe, but these three movies starring Carroll Baker – and Spasmo, which I made later – are intelligent exploitations of human craziness, because we have the situation of a protagonist who is not good but is not all bad… the innocent and guilty people are the same, because for me in those movies the important thing was to demonstrate that the human mind is capable of both good and evil, you understand?

Sure. How would you compare and contrast your giallo films with those of say, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino?

Look, these three movies I made with Carroll are crazy, and just a little sexy, with stories about protagonists who are morally ambiguous. They are completely different from the movies of Dario Argento, because Argento is more concerned with serial killers and blood. My movie Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso… I don’t know the English title…

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

Yes, that one is nearer to the Argento way of filming, but the sexy thrillers starring Carroll Baker are completely different. Sergio Martino’s films are more similar to my movies, because he worked as production manager on some of mine, and took many ideas from them. After Argento changed the rules of the genre, many producers and directors made movies in his style, with the blood and the serial killers and the strange murders by the figure in black… I made one too, Sette Orchidee , but this is completely different from my earlier films Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse…

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

There’s a power-tool killing in Brian De Palma’s Body Double that many viewers find suspiciously similar to Marisa Mell’s death scene in Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso…

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Maybe, I can’t say because I’m a director rather than a critic. I will say that for me, Brian De Palma is one of the best movie directors in the world. I love his work very much, but in the history of motion pictures, every director has learned something from others, directly or indirectly. I love Hitchcock very much and many times, maybe unintentionally, I show that influence. In many people’s movies we see again the shower scene from Psycho. Maybe indirectly I have taken things from other directors, for example I love very much some directors from the 40’s, like Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak. When I made my final movie with Carroll Baker, Il Coltello Di Ghiaccio / The Dagger Of Ice, I was unconsciously influenced by Siodmak’s film…

The Spiral Staircase…

…The Spiral Staircase, yes, but not intentionally, because the situation is different. Instead of being the victim, Carroll is the murderer.

Another giallo you made was Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro…

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

It’s quite a confused little film, and I heard that you never actually met the writer and producer, Felix Tussell…

Felix Tussell, yes, but that isn’t so unusual. It was an Italo-Spanish co-production, you know, and in these circumstances you don’t always meet all the people involved in making the picture. That’s another one which was more in the Argento style…

Argento co-wrote your 1969 film Legion Of The Damned, and I gather that he hung around the set and picked up quite a lot from you…

I think so… we worked together for two months, but after it came out I lost touch with him. 20 or 25 years later, I saw him in Rome at Lucio’s funeral. Dario is a big director, a very good director, but he doesn’t love me, I think, because he has never spoken of me in any of his interviews, and although he is a producer of other directors, he has never called me to direct a picture. I don’t know why, because when we met at the funeral he was saying: “Umberto, come here, how are you?” and all of this.

He’s reputedly a very difficult man to get close to.

Maybe… a strange man. But when we met in ‘69 we worked together for two months, he was very young and he loved me, but then we lost contact with each other.

You have this ongoing dispute with Ruggero Deodato over which of you is the originator of the Italian cannibal movie…

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(Animatedly) I don’t want to discuss this foolish dispute, because if you know my movies, it is perfectly clear that I started these films with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale, two years before he made his first cannibal film… and he only got to make that because I refused to do the sequel, Mondo Cannibale 2, so the producers hired Deodato instead. That’s the story… the first cannibal film in the Italian cinema was Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale or The Man From Deep River.

Are you aware of the censorship problems with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (as Deep River Savages) and Cannibal Ferox in the UK, where they were dubbed “video nasties”?

All I can say is to repeat that for me, these films are not very important, so I have not followed their censorship problems in other countries. Some people have told me of some strange situations abroad, where the films cannot be distributed, but in Italy I have never had any problems with them.

I thought you might be amused to hear that here in the UK, there are crazy politicians and journalists who believe that people were really eaten in these films!

(Tut-tutting) No… no… look, for me, I think the interest shown in these movies is not about love of motion pictures, rather about cynicism and sadism. I made many good movies… like Il Grand Attaco with Henry Fonda and John Huston, why has nobody ever interviewed me about this movie? Or From Hell To Victory, a very good movie starring George Peppard… but people just keep asking me about Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive, two small movies without actors… without anything! It’s very strange…

You consider these minor movies, yet a film like Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio has definitely exerted an influence, shall we say, over big-budgeted American productions like John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest…

Maybe… again I say that a lot of people see each other’s movies – Italian, American -and the influences go backwards and forwards. That’s only normal…

Early in your career you made many costume dramas like Catherine The Great and action / adventure movies like Il Trionfo Di Robin Hood and Zorro Vs Maciste…

Well I was very young, these were my first movies…

 … Sandokan…

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Sandokan is a good movie, it was made for MGM and it was the first Italian adventure movie shot completely in India.

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

My movie Sandokan influenced Italian directors so much that thirty years later, they have shot another Sandokan movie in India using the same locations…

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

I don’t know, I didn’t see it… why should I be interested when I already did it thirty years ago?

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

Yeah, recently on a German satellite channel. It’s like an “Indiana Jones” picture before its time…

Yes, many people have said that to me. For me that is one of my best movies, I love it very, very much. It’s more important than Cannibal Ferox, because we shot it in Indian locations in an ironic style, you understand, like they did twenty years later in Indiana Jones, but without any money for special effects. I remember that we had a crew of about 15 people and we were shooting with many, many difficulties. All the Indian actors were not really actors, but real-life people. It was not so easy in the 60’s to shoot such fantasy pictures in these kind of locations, so I’m very proud of films like La Montagna Di Luce and I Tre Sergenti Del Bengala, my last movie in India…

After that you specialised in spy films for a while, and adaptations of fumetti comic strips like Kriminal…

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Yes, for me Kriminal was an intelligent attempt to mix comic books with motion-pictures, in the same way that Montana Di Luce was action-adventure shot in an ironic context. I have made about 63 movies… I have no time to talk about all my movies… I am tired.

What about a movie you didn’t get to make… The Invisible Man?

I wrote the screenplay for that one but the producer refused to make it because it would have cost a lot. Round about this time another Italian director, Alberto De Martino, made a movie in London called Puma Man, which was a big box-office flop, so then the producer was afraid to finance my movie.

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When you made Black Demons in Brazil, you filmed an actual voodoo ceremony… did this lead to any brushes with the supernatural?

Well maybe, because from then till now only bad things have happened to me! I prefer not to speak about it. Like I say, I am tired… (Abruptly) I’m going now. Please send me a copy of your interview with Tarantino.

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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And that was it. My audience was abruptly terminated and my questions about Lenzi’s Crime Slime epics, among many other aspects of his career, had been prepared in vain. The next time I ran into him, at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 2013, we got along much better (as the above photo hopefully indicates). It probably helped that I wasn’t there to interview him, though in fact I very much doubt that he remembered our previous interaction. Anyway, he’d just dined with Barbara Bouchet so I suspect that he had rather more pleasant things on his mind.

P.S. As I was posting this interview I heard from friends that Umberto Lenzi, now aged 86, is currently in hospital. I’m sure that all readers and supporters of The House Of Freudstein will join me in wishing him a speedy return to full and feisty good health.

Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake You… SEVERIN, THE EARLY YEARS.

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Daft, Gregory, Cregan and friends… another humdrum day at the Severin office.

A feature in the current issue (#185) of Dark Side magazine celebrates Severin’s first decade of digital debauchery by interviewing that label’s enterprising, taboo-busting, trash-obsessed honchos David Gregory and Carl Daft. The following archive interview (recently rediscovered wedged behind a toilet cistern during the demolition of a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema) catches them just a couple of years or so after the label’s launch. These interviews should be read in conjunction to get the whole picture… or (to paraphrase Mr Gregory) if you want to be tickled by the whole chicken…

To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Isaac Newton so sagely pointed out in his Third Law Of Motion (familiar to all of our readers, no doubt, from their GCSEs). Isaac’s axiom holds just as true in the realm of censorship as it does in the sphere of physics, so it was inevitable that the savage suppression of horror and exploitation video from the early ’80s onwards would provoke a commensurate outbreak of fan activity dedicated to keeping the flame alive until the dawning of less censorious times such as those that, give or take, we currently enjoy. Some of us hacks have managed to turn a modest living from our endless journalistic musings on the hysterical history of “video nasties” and similarly contentious titles but other, even more twisted individuals, have taken things several sinister steps further.

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Consider David Gregory and Carl Daft, two eminently agreeable, middle class boys growing up in the more respectable parts of Nottingham, whose quest for forbidden filmic fruit would, in time, blaze a legendary trail across the annals of DVD (and subsequently BD and download) distribution. “By the age of 10, Carl and I had seen many of the nasties before the police started snatching them up” avows Gregory, in a truly blood chilling confession. “But it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which I think made the biggest impression on me. Even at the early age I was able to tell there was something about the stench in the atmosphere of that film which made it quite special, despite the lack of gore. Anyway, after The Video Recordings Act devastated the industry we became avid collectors of pre-cert video tape, scouring the shops of Nottingham for hidden gems.”

“There was always that exciting possibility that you would find a video shop and he’d bring out this big box of nasties and be selling them for a few quid a piece” agrees Daft, smacking his lips like a true connoisseur of cinematic Evil. The boys’ delvings in the dark hinterland of video brought them into contact with a distributor for whom Gregory shot the local interest documentaries Nottingham At War and Nottingham At The Cinema… the latter is particularly nifty and both sold well in Robin Hood’s native city.

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Dave’s main focus, though, remained on cinematic sleaze (he had already made Scathed, as short starring Warhol “superstar” Holly Woodlawn in 1995) and, together with Carl, he put together the Exploited label to distribute their kind of movies on VHS. This soon had them butting heads with the BBFC. Deranged, Axe and the G.G. Allin doc Hated all got cut, Deadbeat At Dawn and Maniac were rejected outright… hassles that would become, as we shall see, a recurring motif in this narrative.

At the dawn of the digital age the boys collaborated on the seminal doc Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and would raise the bar for DVD bonus features with their contributions to exploitation releases on various labels… their two-part Ban The Sadist Videos! retrospective on “nasty”-bashing hysteria, spread over Anchor Bay UK’s Box Of The Banned sets, was a particularly commendable effort and clearly came straight from their heart.

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Carl and Dave were also very active in the heroically failed (in 2002) legal attempt to overturn the BBFC’s ban on an uncut ABUK edition of Last House On The Left and their affiliations with Anchor Bay in The States ultimately spawned a close working relationship with Maniac director turned DVD distributor Bill Lustig, with whom they absconded to form the legendary Blue Underground label.

Their milestone US releases would include unexpurgated versions of Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America, Night Train Murders (which at the time was still a taboo title here in Blighty), Mark Of The Devil et al, alongside epic box sets dedicated to Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead series and the collected works of Mondo godfathers Jacopetti and Prosperi. During this period Dave and Carl also took on the completion of Jim Van Bebber’s Charlie’s Family, which turned into a hair raising experience for all concerned.

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Meet The Team.

In Summer 2006 Dave, Carl and partner John Cregan split to start releasing films under the Severin banner. Initially concentrating on sexploitation efforts, their release slate subsequently widened to take on every aspect of exploitation cinema. When we spoke, Daft and Gregory were bringing the sleaze home with the inauguration of Severin UK…

You must have been proud of what you achieved at Blue Underground… can you tell us something about your  reasons for splitting?

DG) I think BU had reached a stage where we could no longer carry on as we had for the previous few years. Not only were titles that Bill was interested in pursuing getting scarcer and more costly to produce, but also the market had steadily been getting smaller and more packed with competition. Having said that John, Carl and I wanted to broaden our horizons a bit, gain some independence and pursue production and saw potential for a variety of films that were not being exploited by the other boutique cult labels. Initially this was soft core erotic films from France, Italy, Germany, Australia, etc. We figured these films could still find an audience and they did. We committed to do some featurette work for Bill after we split, most notably on The Stendhal Syndrome and Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, but that definitively dried up some time ago.

Tell us about Severin’s UK launch. Why now? does the (yawn) “credit crunch” make this a particularly difficult time to undertake such a venture?

CD) We are launching in the UK with Polanski’s What? An amazing new transfer of The Master’s rarest film, complete with a slew of extras. It’ll be a terrific special edition. We’ll follow up with Felicity, Vanessa, Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter. Although erotica and horror will always be on our radar we are broadening our output and will be releasing everything from war epics like Enzo Castellari’s Eagles Over London to Ozploitation biker classic Stone.

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There is a school of thought that the  distribution business is recession-proof, that in tough times people would rather stay in and watch a DVD than go out to a restaurant or the pub. I think there’s some truth in that but it seems that cash is tight everywhere at the moment and consumers are being extremely cautious as, indeed, are the retailers, so it is bound to have a knock-on effect on sales. We have been toying with the idea of launching in the UK for a while but given our previous headaches with the BBFC and the Video Appeals Committee , had never quite mustered the enthusiasm to do so. When we found out that What? was available for UK distribution, we thought this was a strong enough title with which to launch in the UK and as the BBFC had lightened up considerably in the last couple of years we felt that we wouldn’t be spending half our time arguing with them like before so decided the time was right.

Do you think / fear, given your track record, that your stuff will be marked out for special scrutiny at the BBFC? And do you retain the same appetite as of yore for litigation in these matters?

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CD) The BBFC views every title on its own merit, surely? No, I don’t think we will be singled out for attention in that respect. Where our name will be noted, as this also answers the second part of your question, is that The Board will consider its position very carefully before issuing us a cuts list, as I have made it clear that I won’t tolerate any cuts whatsoever and I will tak any such decision to appeal. Just after the Last House appeal, , Robin Duval issued a cuts list for the Jim Van Bebber short My Sweet Satan. I wrote him back saying I didn’t agree with his decision and that unless he waived these unnecessary cuts there would be no option but to reconvene the Video Appeals Committee. Knowing that I was deadly serious and probably still scarred by the experience of Last House On The Left he backed down and passed the film uncut. As it happened I never even released the title, but I had made my point.

Presumably it will be a badge of honour for you to get former “nasties” like Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter released uncut in the UK…

CD) Most of those titles are now passing uncut due to the abolition of the 10 year rule after the Last House hearing. Bloody Moon is a nice one for us to do as it was one of our favourite “nasties” back when we were kids. It’s funny to think that here we are, 25 years later, mastering it in  Hi-Def and putting it out on DVD for the first time ever with the enthusiastic involvement of its legendary director Jess Franco.

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Any amusing anecdotes about your encounters with the legendary Jess?

DG) I can safely say that I am a big admirer of Jess Franco these days and that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a man who has always done things his way no matter what the criticism levelled at him. Not too many film makers can say that. The more you see of his work, the more you realise that this guy is an auteur. Of course some of his works are more palatable than others but that’s the joy of being a Jess fan, you have to see as much as possible to discover and admire the true gems… plus he’s funny as shit and great company, as long as you don’t mind passively inhaling about twenty cigarettes in the course of a few hours!

I believe you’re going to be releasing stuff over here in NTSC rather than Pal. Kindly talk us through some of the technical and commercial issues involved in this decision.

CD) Yes, unless we are contractually obliged to release in Pal we will be releasing everything in NTSC here in the UK in the exact same versions as we do in the U.S. Most of our titles are appearing on legitimate DVD for the first time in the world and it’s a very expensive process to go back to the original film and audio elements to create a new master, more so now that we are mastering in hi-def, so if we can split that cost across two territories instead of one then that makes sound commercial sense. Virtually all UK DVD players can play NTSC and as most of our releases are Region O then it shouldn’t create any problems for the consumer.

As Severin, has sexual material caused you more or less censorship hassles than horror / violence previously did in your principal markets?

DG) The censorship in the US is different from the bollocks that we had to put up with in the UK. It still exists though, even if not in the form of a state censorship board. Certain bigger stores and online retailers won’t touch certain products for fear of upsetting any puritan customers they might have and as a result some of our products can only be stocked in the more liberal outlets.

Tell us about the problems you had with the Immoral Women sleeve in some US outlets and the people who refused to subtitle Emanuelle Around The World…

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CD) One of the bigger retail stores ordered Immoral Women but it seems that the box copy on the back and its suggestion of bunny love were too much for one employee somewhere in the Mid-west and an official complaint was filed by this poor soul. It then became an HR issue for the company which, under American law, can become very onerous. To them it was far easier to send all copies of the film back rather than risk a law suit. With Emanuelle Around The World there is a uniquely D’Amato-esque scene in the XXX version which involves some dubious sexual activity. When the subtitle house got to this point in the movie they immediately had the tapes couriered back to our office for fear that the Republican decency police would have then sent to Death Row for the good of the community.

As veterans of all those scrapes with the BBFC, it must be a bittersweet experience for you to see Last House On The Left finally released uncut in the UK on another label… were you also as amazed as I was to see some of your Franco titles… I’m thinking particularly of The Sexual Story Of O… released unexpurgated over here?

CD) The BBFC has certainly lightened up compared to what it was even five years ago. There are still problems but if you compare it to how things were under Ferman’s reign, it’s nothing. It’s also annoying when you consider that we went to all that effort and expense to challenge the BBFC over Last House On The Left, only for the Video Appeals Committee to over-rule us and demand further cuts, then five years later the offending footage is no longer considered dangerous to the UK public… but another company gets to benefit! I mean, what could possibly have changed so much in British society that footage which was unacceptable five years ago is now OK?

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The sexualised violence in Sexual Story Of O would also have caused problems even under Duval but now we are seeing the likes of the hardcore version of Caligula being passed at ’18’ so that is definitely a good sign. Next stop has to be hard core at 18 that one might struggle to be “exceptionally justified by context” (the Board’s guideline) I’m thinking Malabimba and Beast In Space XXX at 18!

Well, if Caligula is now OK uncut at 18, what about some of the more out-there Black Emanuelle titles? I mean, what’s the difference?

CD) The two titles that would cause most controversy, Emanuelle In America and Emanuelle Around The world are both owned by Studio Canal / Optimum in the UK so unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to chance our arm with The Board even if we wanted to. I heard that Optimum submitted the full version of World without realising everything that it contained. The BBFC politely informed them that some of the contents were unacceptable in the UK and they promptly withdrew it. I would like to challenge the Board’s acceptance of hard core at 18 with some of our other titles though, under the test of “exceptionally justified by context.”I think the hard core elements of Beast In Space and Malabimba are most certainly exceptionally justified by their context. I am not sure that the BBFC would agree, maybe we’ll see what the Video Appeals Committee thinks.

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Joe D’Amato once told me that he much preferred soft core to hard core, personally… where do your own inclinations lie?

DG) John is our connoisseur of the world of soft core whereas Carl and I are more horror guys… John certainly agrees with maestro D’Amato. Polanski said to Peter Coyote when they were prepping Bitter Moon that the difference between erotica and pornography is that erotica is teasing with a feather whereas in pornography you use the whole chicken.  I think that’s a fair assessment.

After years of watching bootleg videos that turned out to be cut, where you as surprised as the rest of us were to see just how explicit some of the sex stuff was in Malabimba? And are you satisfied that the mythical “hard core out takes” from its remake / sequel Satan’s Baby Doll are indeed a myth?

DG) Actually, after we completed our Satan’s Baby Doll disc we discovered that the hard core version had been unearthed in Germany so it does exist, despite the director’s claims to the contrary. We procured a copy of the footage and it was it was in such bad condition we’re not sure that it’s even releasable. Malabimba, well that’s got to be the sleaziest film in our catalogue… until The Sinful Dwarf comes out next year, that is! I’d never seen it before we started Severin. Wow… we had to have this movie!

Is there any juicy stuff you could tell us about spaghetti sleaze Hall-Of-Famer Mariangela Giordano?

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DG) It would have to be off the record!

Kudos to you for the two Black Emanuelle boxes… was Laura Gemser approached to contribute to those?

CD) She certainly was but she’s retired from public life. She’s not embarrassed about it at all, in fact she requested copies of the box but she’d just rather not spend the rest f her days reminiscing about those years and she now lives happily just outside of Rome, where she breeds Llama apparently!

None of them named Pedro, hopefully… it’s clear that you boys conceived youthful affections for such actresses as Olivia Pascal (below), Glory Annen and the scandalously underused Joni Flynn, Is there any sign that these DVD releases are gaining any of them an unexpected cult afterlife on the convention circuit? No such option for Sirpa Lane, unfortunately…

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DG) I don’t think any of them are aware of it but it’s nice their work is being introduced to a whole new generation of admirers.

CD) Glory was happy to participate in the release of Felicity. We approached Olivia Pascal for Vanessa but she took the Laura Gemser route, preferring not to talk about the past (she’s a big name on German TV now). We tried to locate Joni Flynn but alas without success.

Are there any particularly underrated / directors stars whose work you’re planning to push?

DG) Looking forward to reintroducing some great Patrice Leconte movies into the US market. Not very Severin, you might think, but then we never wanted to limit ourselves to one genre. Leconte makes great films and we’re proud to represent them over here. We’ll also be doing more Castellari because there are still some masterpieces that remain unreleased on video… and there’s always more Franco.

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CD) Rino Di Silvestro!

What were the problems with the Lucio Fulci bonus interviews that were withdrawn?

CD) Antonella Fulci didn’t think they portrayed her father in the right light. Although she really had no legal basis to demand that we pulled the interviews, we decided that it just wouldn’t be right to have Fulci’s family upset with any of the releases of his films. We intend to do more Fulci titles in the future so we figured it would be best to keep her on side.

Well done for releasing Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero. Was it always the plan to extend your remit beyond sex films to the likes of that, The Inglorious Bastards, Stone et al or was it just that you couldn’t restrain yourselves when these great exploitation titles came up?

DG) I think if we’d continued with our main concentration as soft core that our output would become stale and diminishing returns would set in. When films like Inglorious Bastards and The Hairdresser’s Husband et al came along we saw it as the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons. There’ll be plenty of horror, action, in Severin’s future and plenty of sleaze too so we certainly won’t be abandoning our roots. More D’Amato, Borowczyk, etc… all great film makers in their own right and as a fan of Film I see no reason why they shouldn’t be represented alongside Leconte or Fulci. Ironically, our release of Sette Note In Nero (as The Psychic) was one of our biggest failures, commercially… very few people bought it.

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That’s scandalous! It’s a fabulous picture… from your various hob-nobbings with Quentin Tarantino, did you manage to glean whether his long mooted remake of Fulci’s film is still a goer?

CD) Much was discussed during the interview but no mention fo The Psychic. We flew Enzo Castellari out to meet with Castellari for our recent release of Inglorious Bastards. Quentin had organised “Enzo Castellari Night” at The Silent Movie Theatre where Joe Dante and Eli Roth were among the guests as two of Enzo’s films had rare theatrical screenings in LA. The following day we were treated to a three hour sit-down conversation between the two great directors covering everything from their respective cinematic influences to Quentin’s ideas for his remake of Bastards, which is now in production. The first part of this interview appeared on our release of the original IB and we will be splitting the remainder across future Castellari releases.

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Miles of smiles as Ingloriuos Bastards director Enzo Castellari and stars Fred Williamson, Bo Svenson hang out with the Severin boys.

You’ve revealed the true identity of Emmanuelle’s author, exposed what Hanna Barbera animators get up to in their spare time and demonstrated conclusively that unsolicited Borowczyk sequels and zero-budgeted Star Wars knock-offs are not comfortable bed-mates… are there any more scoops that you’re waiting to slap us around the face with?

DG)… that even a sleazy film like Christianne F can be made sleazier in the hands of an Italian exploitation master like Rino Di Silvestro (Hanna D is a jaw-droppingly tasteless exercise in “don’t do drugs, kids!” propaganda)… that you will at the very least need to take a shower after watching The Sinful Dwarf, but more likely need psychiatric help to banish some of the imagery from your mind… that Polanski was a bit loopy when he made What?

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Last time we spoke, Dave, you announced that you were “on the verge of grabbing a camera and running out to shot a feature.” Now you’ve done that, with Plague Town… what’s the lowdown?

DG) Plague Town was an exhilarating experience and I’m very happy with it. I set out to make a horror film initially following a generic formula but them pushing it into a stylistic direction that is not so formulaic. So essentially we start on a note of familiarity before moving into territory which is unexpected. For example I think the main victim, Rosemary, is genuinely unique. She came out exactly as I had imagined her, a beautifully elegant but exceedingly creepy and extremely violent young lady. And we tried hard to create some memorable death scenes, the kind of thing you really haven’t seen before and in this I think we succeeded. We’ve just had a couple of  private preview screenings and the response has been very positive. We’re working with Dark Sky Films (the producers) on a release schedule for the film in the U.S. It will be on DVD in the first half of 2009.

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