Posts Tagged With: Mario Bava

Who’s That Ghoul? Ghostly Goings On At The Villa Graps In Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY… KILL!

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

This review is respectfully dedicated to the memory of John Austin Frazier…

Any remote chance that noted Arctic Monkeys fan Gordon Brown ever had of winning the 2010 General Election and carrying on Tony Blair’s bullshit brand of pale blue Toryism evaporated, you may remember, after his unfortunate and inadvertently broadcast encounter with “that bigoted woman” Gillian Duffy. The balance of Gord’s political ambitions foundered on his inability to answer one of her questions… probably one of the most profound philosophical posers that has ever troubled the acutest minds in the entire history of human ideas… namely, “Where are all these Eastern Europeans coming from?”

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… somewhere in Eastern Europe… in what might be the late 19th Century… or possibly the early 20th… there’s a village in which the death rate is starting to approximate that in Midsomer Murders. People who recently reported sightings of a bratty little girl with a ball following them around have been stabbing themselves in the neck, throwing themselves onto spiky railings and so on…

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The latter demise prompts Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) to call in Dr Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) in an attempt to find out what the hell is going on. A rugged rationalist in the mould of Dana Andrews’ character in Night Of The Demon (1957) or Peter Wyngarde’s in Burn Witch Burn (1962), Eswai dismisses all the local yokels’ mumblings about a curse while romancing comely nurse Monica (Erika Blanc), but the accumulating weight of  eldritch evidence forces him to face up to the unpalatable truth and, in a technically brilliant climactic chase scene, to the repressed streak of irrationality lurking deep within himself…

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In the rare interviews he granted, Mario Bava – a man for all horror seasons – would state his preference for subtle, suggestive scares over explicit gore, gristle and grue. Both traditions were represented in his (official) directorial debut, 1960’s La Maschera Del Demonio (“The Mask Of Satan” aka Black Sunday)… his 1963 brace I Tre Volti Della Paura (“The Three Faces Of Fear” aka Black Sabbath) and The Whip And The Body developed the understated gothique strand of his cinematic sensibility but it’s in 1966’s Kill, Baby… Kill! that he arguably brings to perfection his formula for creating an otherworldly phantasmagoria by the application of a gel or two here, a tricky camera angle there and a few puffs of smoke.

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Cited by Bava as his personal favourite among his own movies, Operazione Paura (“Operation Fear”), to give it its original title, has suffered at the hands of theatrical distributors who’ve lumbered it with even sillier titles than that (Curse of The Dead, Curse Of The Living Dead and – in Germany- Die Toten Augen Des Dr. Dracula / “The Dead Eyes Of Dr. Dracula”!) and cut significant chunks out of it (a whole reel for one US grindhouse release). On VHS and disc it’s suffered similar cuts in obscure public domain editions that play havoc with Bava’s artfully wrought colour palette.

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Yep, Arrow’s BD release has been well worth the wait, doing justice to the subtleties of Bava and Antonio Rinaldi’s cinematography while keeping grain gain within acceptable levels. Let’s get my major quibble out of the way right here… the titles play out over a clumsy freeze frame of the first victim’s impalement. The alternative rendering, included (as an out take from a German print) among the extras here, continues the action to suggest the presence of the ghostly girl responsible for all these deaths. This superior version has generally kicked off the DVD editions I’ve previously seen (most recently the one in Anchor Bay UK / Starz’s 2007 Bava box) and I wonder why it couldn’t have been integrated into the main feature here. Of course my wonderings proceed from a position of virtually total technical ignorance about what it takes to remaster a film in Blu-ray and presumably Arrow did their best with the elements that were available to them. There are probably notes on KBK’s restoration in this set’s liner notes and booklet, which were unfortunately unavailable to me at the time of penning this review.

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The supplementary materials I did get to check out were “Kill, Bava, Kill!”, an interview with Mario’s son (and assistant director on this film and several others) Lamberto Bava… “The Devil’s Daughter: Mario Bava and the Gothic Child”, a new “video essay” in which Kat Ellinger showcases her encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Gothic in a far-reaching discussion of the influence that KBK has exerted over subsequent film makers and those sources from which Bava might have drawn influence for it. Yellow, a short film by one Semih Tareen, seems to celebrate the visual influence that Bava had on Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) more than anything. Tim Lucas handles the commentary track, relegating the recently ubiquitous Travis Crawford to an essay in that booklet I haven’t seen. Tim has barely drawn breath before he’s hitting us with a myriad of biographical details about the actress whose character perishes about thirty seconds in, so you know you’re in for a vintage Lucas performance, i.e. his patented mix of factoids and thought-provoking interpretations. We learn from him how the film was completed despite its already minuscule budget being cut to effectively nil (testifying, I guess, to the love and dedication Bava inspired in his collaborators), that you could actually (should the fancy take you) holiday in the Villa Graps and that yes, ghost girl Melissa was played (in a foreshadowing of our gender fluid times) by a boy named Valerio Valeri.

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This sublimely eerie achievement represents the peak of Bava’s ghostly dabblings (though spectral echoes would continue to be felt in the likes of Baron Blood, Lisa And The Devil, Shock and La Venere D’Ille) and brings the Golden Age of Italian Gothique to a suitably impressive close. Ironically, while Operazione Paura impressed the socks off of such Arthouse big hitters as Fellini and Visconti, it was his less personally felt forays into gore that had the biggest subsequent cinematic influence, over the interminable and lucrative stalk’n’slash cycle… ooh, the irony!

On account of some or other brainstorm I was suffering at the time, the initial posting of this review omitted any reference to the highly entertaining Erika Blanc interview and her introduction to KBK, which can be found among this set’s supplementary features… and how very pleasantly nuts she seems, talking us through her collection of stills from the movie. Great stuff.

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Premier League film, Sunday kickaround in the park poster…

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That’s better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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World Gone West… THE REzORT director STEVE BARKER interviewed

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Nothing, to paraphrase Victor Hugo, is as powerful as a film whose time has come. By the time I caught Steve Barker’s The ReZort at Nottingham’s Mayhem festival in October 2016, it had spent some months marooned in distribution purgatory, a period during which reality seemed to be catching up with its dystopian vision of mindless leisure for the few, victims as villains and an unreconstructed economic / political system spiralling ever deeper into disaster. Having already directed Outpost (2008) and Outpost: Black Sun (2012), Barker was apparently reluctant to be drawn back into another zombie epic but it’s our great good fortune that he was persuaded. Thanks to everyone at Mayhem, particularly Chris Cooke for setting up the following interview which, like our recent conversation with Billy O’Brien, was originally intended for a certain long running genre mag …

Steve, I know you’re busy writing now, are you able to tell us something about what you’re working on?

I’m actually working on three projects, about which I can’t say too much just yet, but everyone seems to be very upbeat about all three of then so fingers crossed.

Hopefully The ReZort will put some wind in your sails in that respect because although the vagaries of distribution have held it up, it seems to be very much a movie with its finger on the pulse of 2016 and presumably 2017…

The distribution thing seems to have resolved itself. The fact that it was a co-production between three countries led to some complicated biz… I finished it at the end of July 2015, everybody seemed happy and the vibe about it was very good, then it sat on the shelf for quite a while, while I got very nervous. Your instant thought is: “Maybe I just got this wrong” but the disappearance of the film had nothing to do with the quality of it and everything to do with the vagaries of how such international co-productions are distributed. Various investors want at least to get their money back and there are different ideas about how best to do that.  Multiple countries and companies talking to each other just stalled the process for a while, meanwhile the reviews were really good and  festival audiences seemed to be enjoying it and being very vocal about it. A lot of credit goes to Charlotte Walls, the producer, who really worked hard on getting it out there. It did help a lot that the Edinburgh Film Festival saw it… even though I’m from the North West of England, I’ve lived in Scotland for a decade now so I kind of count as a local film maker and they were incredibly keen to show it, after which a lot of festivals started showing interest and Charlotte kept working away in the background… I don’t know if it’s been fully confirmed and announced yet, but The ReZort has been picked up by Netflix and comes out on January 17th in The US, Canada and The UK, which is fantastic. I know it’s doing its VOD window now but I never really quite understand VOD, to be honest…

… me neither…

… it’s just beyond me. I know that every major movie comes out on VOD in a certain window before it gets released anywhere else but I’m just a bit too Old School to get it! It’s out and about in certain countries already. I’ll be very interested to see how it goes because I was nervous, when I finished, that there’s this political aspect to it…

Very much so…

When we were making the film, that was much more speculative. This was the first project I’d done that I hadn’t instigated, they already had a script for about a year and the thing they initially sent to me was a pitch rather than a script… I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to do zombies again…

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… but they keep dragging you back in!

I ended up calling two really close friends, one a producer and another who’s actually the production designer on the film, to say: “Try and talk me out of it, ‘coz I think I’m going to do it!” The clear attraction was that the concept was disenfranchisement… in the very first conversation I had, in November of 2013, we were talking about Syria but it hadn’t yet escalated to the level it subsequently did. It was essentially a civil war and an awful humanitarian crisis, the thing that drove me nuts was how quickly that became a political football. The people suffering it were completely forgotten. We were talking about that and the post-economic meltdown situation. I hadn’t seen a zombie picture that dealt with that in the great Romero tradition, where the themes are inherent within the story and not bolted on the side. During a shoot you’re doing 19 hour days, 7 days a week and the outside world just disappears. Then I spent 8 months in post production in Belgium with very little access to the outside world and within a month of coming back to the UK, the real imagery of what was going on in the Mediterranean was all over the news and I was nervous that people would think we were exploiting that situation, though the film had already been finished. We’d come up with the final image, of zombies coming out of the sea, at the beginning of 2014! Timing is important in every walk of life and I wonder if the film sitting on the shelf for that extra couple of months has given people enough distance from it to see it as social comment and satire rather than exploitation.

The world’s awash with zombie movies at the moment and a lot of them are getting spoofy to the point of silliness, so it’s refreshing that you’re taking the genre back to satire and those dark metaphors…

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That was the appeal, very much… the world is indeed awash with zombie pictures and they all seem, to me, to come from a certain point of view, i.e. Lord Of The Flies They’re all about what the world will look like when you take the rules away and what I found fascinating was the idea of how much more terrifying we are as a species when we win! This was the first time I was coming to a picture as a hired gun and I didn’t know how I was going to approach that. They let me run with it but I think the politics were more subtle early on because I had the responsibility to make a genre picture that was still a ride. The only stipulation they gave me was that they didn’t really want a horror picture, they wanted an action-adventure film that had scary bits in it. This was the Michael Crichton thing… the first thing they told me was: “It’s Westworld with zombies” but obviously Jurassic Park, because it’s so much better remembered, became the comparison point. There was a feeling that nostalgia for that would give us a boost, because nobody had made a movie like that for so long and of course while we were making it, Jurassic World came out! That was the first movie I sat down and watched when I returned to the UK and I was just sitting in the cinema thinking: “Oh No!” to myself…

It must be so daunting to find yourself up against the big boys…

I was glad that I hadn’t seen any of their imagery because some of it is so close… my first impression was that we has a boat but they had a proper fuck off Jurassic World boat… the whole scale thing, that we had 3.5 million and they had 175 million! There were certain scenes that, you realise, just come with the thought process. These days, the way you do your research is strangely homogenised by the internet. If you put certain words into google, you’re going to get a certain bunch of images coming back at you. There were obviously certain reference images that both teams had looked at and we’d gone in separate directions with, or sometimes the same direction. Bits of costume design were amazingly similar and there’s an image in the control room in both films that’s essentially the same shot. They were made a year-and-a-half apart, with no knowledge of each other whatever but if you’re being pointed in similar directions those things come together and it fascinates me. I was worried that people would think we were just jumping on the coat tails of Jurassic World but then again, the fact that Piranha is a knock off of Jaws doesn’t make me love Piranha any less…

Certainly not!

Anyway, it’s fascinating to see how somebody with all that money does something that we were struggling so hard to do with a much smaller amount of money.

Despite the obvious discrepancy in budgets, you really did get a lot of bang for your buck. What was the secret in making such a low-budget production look like a much bigger one?

It’s a combination of things. I was coming out of ambitious films on low budgets. The Outpost films had both been done for about a million quid so. On The ReZort I obviously had more money than that but it was a massive jump in scale… the key is to know what you want, to know what’s readily achievable and to be aware of which shots are going to give you the impact and which will eat time and money without giving you the same pay-off. If I learned that anywhere, it was from a whole childhood of watching John Carpenter… look at the scale you get from Escape From New York, with such a small

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budget. The trick is hire well, hire really good people who know what they’re doing. My brief was to make it feel big so as much as telling the story and making the characters work, there was always that in the back of my mind. The big challenge was to make people believe in this multi-million pound facility, which would spend as much on their logo as we could spend on the actual place itself. We had about three weeks to lock down on a logo and get a look and a feel so you make sure that your teams work well together… costume and production design work hand-in-hand. Thankfully I have a “family” crew, I use the same people as often as I can so Ali Mitchell the costume designer and Jamie Lapsley the production designer know each other well and kind of cross-pollinated each other. A lot of credit goes to my brilliant cinematographer Roman Osin. This is the first picture I had done with Roman and I was looking for someone who had never done anything like this, then I went out of my way to make sure that he didn’t watch anything like it for research. The idea was that, for the first half of the film, until the wheels come off, it should look like the people who ran The ReZort would want it to look, as if it was a trailer for that holiday, so it’s very smooth, very slick, we were on dolly and tracks and steadicam until it started getting more and more fucked up… we worked on that from the beginning, essentially it was like shooting a commercial… Mallorca was a magnificent location with fabulous crews that worked really hard and it hadn’t been overshot. Hardly any movies had been shot there but a lot of commercials had, so the crew were used to that look, that vibe and naturally brought that gloss to it. It’s about being on top of a lot of very different things, choosing various shots through the acts of the film, knowing that those were going to be my scale shots and working my way down from there. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. There were some really memorable shots in the film and a couple that particularly stuck in my mind were very high altitude shots… of the boat leaving for the island and then, at the climax, of streams of zombies converging on the last survivor, who’s legging it to get off the island before The Brimstone Protocol is initiated… how were those shots achieved?

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That’s a really interesting one actually. While you have to be strategic and get everything planned out, you also have to be able to manoeuvre your way in and out of stuff as it arises. Those were scale shots, originally we were going to shoot them with a drone but this was just before the appropriate cameras got light enough for that to happen so in fact both those shots are entirely digital, but I actually came to them almost backwards. Originally it was going to cut from the close up of our leading lady to this very high and wide shot, let the audience know that they were travelling to the middle of nowhere and once they get to the island, they’re stuck there. I’m really pleased with how those shots turned out and a lot of the credit, particularly for the boat one, go to our vfx supervisor Dominique Fiore, who was quite magnificent. I grew up reading Cinefex and loving the old school models, foreground miniatures and all that, the illusions you could create that way. There are things you can do now, in the digital world, that are kind of like that in the sense that it’s smoke and mirrors. So the high shot … I don’t want to destroy the illusion here (laughs) … Dominique put it together himself because we were really under the gun trying to finish the movie at that point and it’s effectively a still but with some smoke actually integrated into it above and below to make it seem like undulating water and a layer of highlight plus a cardboard cut-out of a boat and some animated water, yet when you put it together with a bit of artistry… he just took it home from the office and played it to me next morning and I went: ”Wow! I completely buy it!”

It totally fooled me…

I totally buy it and I’ve seen all the elements that go into making it! My favourite thing about movies is those moments where it fools me. Similarly, when she jumps over the cliff at the climax, that’s almost entirely digital apart from a shot of her running which has been digitally looped. I was very lucky that the vfx facility was in Belgium… because we had less money than most movies it was gonna be a lot easier to make decisions quickly if I was actually there, so we put the cutting room right next to me. It was actually in the office next door so I could literally walk between the two every day, which must have driven the vfx guys nuts but it meant that we didn’t go down any false paths, we were always moving in the right direction.

It’s obvious from what you’re saying that although you were this “hired gun”, you didn’t just slide in, film what was in the shooting script and say: “There you go, then…”

I wouldn’t even know how to do that, Bob. It was a fascinating thing to go into, I was wary to start off with and I probably created problems just in terms of how I approach things. I became aware that I was driving the writer Paul Gerstenberger – who’s a lovely lad – nuts! I did that total director / wanker thing of walking in and saying: “I love it… let’s change everything!” What I would do, if I was instigating a project, is push in all directions on the idea so here we were, shooting in four months and I was putting him through it early on. I couldn’t understand a director who would just cynically walk in, take the money and run.

There are plenty of them about.

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I think I’ve just been lucky but all the people I know and work with, once we’re committed to something we’re all in and we’re trying to find the thing that will make it at least stand out from the crowd, as much as that is possible. My philosophy is almost like the old studio system before it went freelance, where directors were under contract, they’d be assigned a picture and would make it the best film they could…

… you still had auteurist directors working in that system…

To be honest I’ve never been the biggest fan of the auteur theory. I don’t get an amazing amount to of joy out of… I can’t watch my pictures when they’re finished because I can’t stand to see how much I did wrong. I don’t get much out of touring pictures around, either, I just say thank you very much and keep my head down. I do love crafting and making the film,  the joy of that for me is working with the people who are making it with me. I’ve never taken one of those “a film by…” credits because I think they’re nonsense, in the end there might be a shot that is incredibly stylish but there are a million different people whose ideas are accumulated in that shot. I understand the propriety credit “a film by Steven Spielberg” or whatever, I get that it’s part of the way things are done in the industry rather than saying “Look, it was all down to me!” There are genuine auteur film makers in the world… David Lynch… I think Kubrick represented a heroic tale of somebody trying to beat the system… David Fincher, these days… but the stuff I really enjoy is when I’ve got something in my head about how the shot should be done but then the DP kind of modulates it slightly or the actor turns round and has a way of playing it that’s completely unexpected yet makes it so much better… then something totally random happens like it starts raining or the sun comes out and all of those things then combine to make it special. I’m not into the idea of fighting all of those things to keep going, I think you should embrace that and hopefully know what you’re trying to do well enough that you can modulate it and accommodate all of these new and exciting things that are happening around you. The thing is that my collaborators are all so much better at it than I am! Every DP I’ve ever worked with understands photography so much better than I do. It’s something I’m interested in but I’m probably only good enough at it to be dangerous rather than helpful. Likewise, when it comes to music…. I’ve never been able to play an instrument, I know what vibe I want but I have almost no vocabulary to talk to composers, they have to speak with me almost like I’m a child because I’m literally talking in terms of emotions. It’s the same with actors, I’ve got no conception of what they have to do to go to the places they go to and I think that’s brilliant, I love them but I still have this certain sense of wonder when they pull it off. I like to trust actors as much as possible, tell what the movie needs and where I think that character is but also asking them what  they want to bring to it.

You got a compelling performance out of Claire Goose, playing somewhat against type…

Oh, Claire’s lovely and deserves so much credit in the sense that she took it really late. There’s always one of those that happens on every movie, one or two roles that, for whatever reason, just never get sorted… whoever you had in mind isn’t quite right or you can’t afford them or whatever. One of the producers thought of Claire, I didn’t know her for that kind of performance and was already well into prep, days from shooting and so had no time to meet her, plus she was working on something else so we literally built it down the phone, had a few core conversations in which I gave her the idea of what I wanted. It really helped that she was able to have a long conversation with Alison Mitchell the costume designer, because Ali and I had discussed at length how we imagined that character. Unfortunately that caused all kind of traumas for Claire, wearing this dress in which she couldn’t sit down because it would have creased instantly. So she was always propped up on set and we didn’t roll until seconds before we turned on her because we wanted her to have this pristine look throughout most of the film. I was amazed at how easily she just slipped into it, with instant confidence but without overdoing it. For this long intro speech she has, where she’s by the swimming pool greeting the guests, she got her lines at about 10am and we were shooting at 6 but she nailed it, instantly. No disrespect to  Paul, who wrote the film, but a writer friend of mine gave me the fabulous line: “Every apocalypse deserves an after party” and she just got that instantly and knew how to play that, how to play against all the zombie stuff. She’s cracking, she really is and incredibly lovely, she’s as lovely in real life as she is nasty on screen.

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We could probably have found a less gratuitous picture of Claire Goose but decided not to…

The film just seems to me to be more relevant to the times we’re living through with every passing day and every time I turn on the news…

I  know!

Dunno if this is pursuing it too far but when you’ve got Claire Goose’s chic, alpha female character being mean to refugees and justifying everything in the name of business, supply and demand… it just makes me think of Theresa May and her thousand pound leather trousers!

Somebody said to me after the screening in Edinburgh, possibly just because of what had been in the news that week, how much Claire reminded them of… I can’t remember her name, now, that hideous fucking woman who thinks refugees are cockroaches…

Katie Hopkins?

Yeah, Katie Hopkins, that truly hideous human being… such a terrible, terrible waste of the oxygen she breathes. People were asking if Claire’s character was based on her…

She should be so lucky as to be played by Claire Goose… but character-wise, yeah, absolutely. You’ve made three zombie movies now… are you at all a buff in this genre and if not, did you research by watching a bunch of them?

(Laughs) This is probably not the thing to own up to in an interview with a horror blog, but although I love genre film making, Horror is probably the genre that I’m least well genned up on. I was never really a horror guy though I’m friendly with people who are, like Paul Hyatt and Jake West… he’s a really full-on horror guy who did that amazing documentary about video nasties. People like that are at one with the genre whereas I go to something like Frightfest and feel like a bit of a fake, they obviously know so much more about this stuff than I do even though I grew up watching these things, pooling pocket money with friends so that we could rent videos and John Carpenter became a massive influence on me… I actually went to see Carpenter play his scores live in Manchester about three weeks ago.

I heard it was a great gig but the venue was awful…

The sound was terrible. I loved it though because it was more like a gig rather than video I’ve seen where they treated it as a classical performance with seating and it didn’t have the atmosphere, but this was real gig with so many people in fancy dress, girls everywhere dressed in the wedding gear from Big Trouble In Little China and a lot of people dressed as the aliens from They Live… amazing! Anyway, from those VHS renting days there are titles that still comfortably in my top 10 or top 20 movies of all time, obviously Alien, Escape From New York but also on that list would be Jaws, The Apartment by Billy Wilder, All The Presidents Men… so I don’t know, I love Horror when it’s great Cinema but also I like it when somebody like Cronenberg pushes the boundaries really hard. Where I’m not so big on it is… I’m not disparaging them because I don’t know them, but I’ve never gone very far into this whole other world of Italian stuff…

Interesting that you should mention that, because… maybe this is down to Paul Gerstenberger as writer or maybe it’s a complete coincidence, but the climactic revelation in your film of what is really going gone, although it’s really effectively handled, is almost identical to the pay off a truly awful Bruno Mattei film called  Zombie Creeping Flesh…

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Zombie Creeping Flesh?!? That’s a hell of a title! If he did pinch, it he never told me about it.

Well, they say that mediocre film makers quote bits from other movies but the great ones just go in there and steal them… it’s done with much more aplomb in your movie anyway, in Mattei’s it gets delivered in this really dead pan: “So, the Western powers decided to solve the problem of world hunger by turning Third World people into zombies who would eat each other” kind of way…

Oh, I can pretty much vouch for him on that then, because the first script I read for The ReZort was actually set entirely within the UK. Then they took the decision to make it international but they were waiting until a director was on board before they agreed on how they were going to do that. Paul’s original version was about the exploitation and eradication of the displaced though just within one nation, but certainly the idea of using the refugee crisis came with me pitching into the job, right at the point that they were making this translation from the UK to a more international setting. A lot of the stuff I built up for that got lost, I actually cut so much of that out because my preference was ultimately for viewers to enjoy the action-adventure ride rather than risk alienating them with too much sub text and arguably we lost a little artfulness and elegance in the process.  There was a lot of stuff about how the world was rebuilt after the Zombie war but what I realised was that, when I started pacing up the opening via montage, you got all that stuff in one line.

However it happened, the film is so on the money as a metaphor for what we’re currently living through… wars, social dislocation on a global scale, victims as villains, the underground resistance and hacking, the glorification of the entrepreneurs who took us down the toilet and are hard at work on doing it again…

The feedback I’m getting is that the film feels very timely to people who are seeing it… actually you could probably release it again in two or three years.

To underscore the cyclical nature of it all?

Yeah. I think there actually is a cycle and it looked like this year was going to be the year of fighting back against globalisation, of a backlash against the way the world is going, but unfortunately it seems to be going in directions that we didn’t account for, which are frankly rather alarming.

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It’s like that old Chinese curse… may you live through “interesting times”! You’ve talked about the pleasure you take in the collaborative aspect of making movies… what about the more solitary business of writing them?

Well, I obviously didn’t write The ReZort but I did as much as any director would do, tweaking it here and there. Even if I had a new element I wanted to introduce, I would turn it over to Paul to do it. I’ve gotta say that writing is my least favourite part of film making in every way, simply because it’s the antithesis of everything I love about the process… working with people in a team to construct something.

It’s a hermetic thing, isn’t it?

I fucking detest it! I learned on The ReZort how much I love NOT writing!

As you mentioned before, you’re not crazy about promoting them either, are you?

The festival circuit’s an odd one because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I love meeting the fans though, particularly at genre festivals, which are just amazing, they’re just like family events. I owe an enormous amount to The Edinburgh Film Festival, who were first to get this one out there but the next one we went to was Frightfest, where I’d been with my previous picture and everyone there knows everybody else, you’re wandering about and folk will come up to you constantly… in fact that led to RamaSkrik in Norway, which was absolutely amazing! One of the guys who runs that saw The ReZort at Frightfest and came up to me with an invite to theirs … it’s in the Norwegian hills in the middle of nowhere, all the film makers go for the entire three or four days, everybody watches everything and there’s a genuine sense of community which you just don’t get with other genres. I think part of that is about being a genre that was, in previous times, maligned. It’s like the geeks have taken over the asylum, so much that’s now massive in our culture has come from these movies and comics. All the stuff that I was considered very geeky for loving when I was a kid is now the absolute norm, a standard Saturday night out. I don’t know if I would even have a career now if it wasn’t for the fact that my first movie, Outpost, was this tiny little film and Sony, thank you very much, bought it worldwide but they were never going give it a big release in The States and kinda just threw it out there … but before they threw it out anywhere else, it was the community that found it. The fans don’t like having something shoved down their throats, they like to be able to find something for themselves and we were lucky that we were little enough for it to be a bit of a surprise and then folks started talking about it and they started talking about it loudly enough so that Sony in the UK noticed and started putting some money behind us so that we got a relatively big release and it did very well, which obviously helped me enormously. As somebody who’s not very good at festivals, I find that  genre festivals are the ones I do OK at because the folk there are so lovely.

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What kind of stuff do the fans talk to you about?

A lot of folk were really interested in and asked a lot of questions about the slow / fast thing. Paul, who’s a real genre fan, came up with that very early on, the idea that this action is set ten years after The Zombie War so the old zombies moved around slowly and the more recent ones were fast. I thought that was cool though I really don’t have any ideological standpoint on it. I think Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake is a belting film.

You got the best of both worlds with that because you had those lumbering masses of slow zombies and also the fast ones to give you those shock moments…

Exactly and I tried to break down the set pieces so you would get the maximum, or as much as I could get anyway, out of each variant… when to use the fast ones, when to use the slow ones and I think some of that was clearer in my original conception of the movie. Any film you do for this kind of budget, you’re not gonna get everything that’s in your head but I got more on this than on any picture I’ve made before.

Because I saw and enjoyed The ReZort at Mayhem in Nottingham, I was wondering how you enjoyed your time there…

Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil are top lads, they really are. It was fab. The only difference from the Norway one was literally that I obviously got to go to Norway for that, which was rather more glamorous…

Well, the River Trent can’t really compete with those fjords…

Mayhem was brilliant, what I love about that was again that it had this real sense of a community for one long weekend… another thing I love about it, that I didn’t know till Chris told me, was that it started as a short film festival and they’ve managed to maintain that at the heart of it and again, this is the kind of stuff that was previously maligned or ignored. I think the good festivals and the good genre festivals have managed to maintain something at the heart of them, the little gem that brought folk together in the first place.

Mayhem is a great festival… did you get a chance to watch anything else while you were there, or were you just in and out?

I was only there for one day. I missed The Greasy Strangler, which I finally caught up with in Norway. That one is…

… interesting…

… it’s absolutely insane, Bob! I actually got to know the producers of that film and they’re lovely, really sweet guys.

I would love to have sat in on the brainstorming sessions for the script on that one…

Yeah (laughs) … I told them, there’s no hiding how fucked up your film is and they said yeah, either people are going to dig it or they’re not. What I did get to see at Mayhem was part of Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires, it was getting quite late and I was tired but I watched the first act of that just to see how it played on the big screen.

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Bava was the king of this thing we talked about earlier, getting more bang for your small budget via amazing key shots and scale shots…

Absolutely. I came to his stuff backwards because I knew Argento from Suspiria and found my way to Bava from there. Stuff like Danger Diabolik… what the fuck? Again it’s got this real grand sense of scale about it and I think Planet Of The Vampires is one that just keeps giving. I mean, everybody talks about Alien but if you take a look at the costume design it’s so close to what they ended up using in Prometheus, amazingly close with the off blue colour and the yellow piping… you know, Ridley Scott has clearly seen this film!

I think The ReZort got a boost at Mayhem by following another film, which shall go unnamed, that was really pretentious and up itself…

It’s amazing, I’d never quite realised the importance of where you fit into the running order at a festival. I do know that one of the few screenings where we didn’t go so well was a festival at which they screened Last Train To Busan and us right next to one another for two nights and on each night, whichever film came on second didn’t go down as well. The movies were too similar… although they had a lot more money than we did.

Reminds me of the Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix and The Who were arguing about who was going to close it, because neither of them wanted to have to follow the other…

Yeah. When we screened The ReZort at GrimmFest in Manchester, we went on right after a film called Tonight She Comes by a lovely young American guy, it was his first fest anywhere outside The States and I won’t spoil it for you but it’s got a truly memorable last scene and I thought: “My film is almost polite in comparison to this… fuck!” Yet strangely enough, after everybody had digested that over a drink and come back in they were ready for something a little more “mainstream” as it were. So that was a real learning experience, too…

Programming is a real art in itself…

It is and I don’t think I’d ever considered it, never had an opinion on that before.

Promotion is an art in itself, too… now that it’s finally getting out there and all this stuff has gone on in the meantime, your guys could really push The ReZort as some kind of horror film that’s got this grip on the zeitgeist… I’d like to think it will be seen by as many people as possible and given the credit for what it is.

I have very little say in it but yeah, I kind of like the idea that it’s that kind of film. I’ve only made three films but everything has changed so much since my first one came out in 2008… we had a very traditional low-budget release for that, you’d go out in about 150-200 cinemas for about a week or two weeks and effectively it was a very long, elaborate advert for the DVD and BD releases. Nowadays it just seems like an entirely different world, cinemas have so little interest in those kinds of movies and you can pretty much blanket wall to wall for the entire year a film that’s going to have cost 70-100 million. I kinda dig the idea that if film is meant to break through, the fans are going to find it.

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“Let’s Have A Drink… It’s Margheriti Time!” The ANTONIO MARGHERITI Interview

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Almost as much as he enjoyed his participation in the wild and wonderful world of Italian exploitation cinema, David Warbeck enjoyed hooking up its exponents with those in the fan press who revered them more than all the Speilbergs, Scorseses and Coppolas of this world put together. It’s a bittersweet experience for me to remember the days when I’d answer the phone to find David urging me to hot foot it down to his Hampstead pile because some pasta paura luminary (e.g. Fabrizio De Angelis) was visiting him. Over the years I’ve become vague about the exact dates of some of these delightful days but one in particular is difficult to forget… there were lots of jittery-looking commuters on The Northern Line on 20/03/95, in the aftermath of media speculation over that morning’s nerve gas attack on the Tokyo Metro system and whether it foreshadowed wider chemical assaults on the world’s major transport hubs. Nevertheless…

It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Signor Margheriti… what have you been up to?

I’m talking to Terence Hill about doing a movie, which would be fantastic. I like Terence very much, and perhaps this will be the right vehicle for him to make a change. Terence and Bud Spencer made money In Germany with every movie they made, sometimes they were making movies just for the German market, because they were seen to be too old in the rest of the world. Now they are tired of what Terence did in the western, and this is my way of proposing something different for him, you know? He plays an expert in electronics… very smart, does crazy stuff, but mostly a genius in electronics, and apparently he dies in the middle of the picture… but his ghost, an electronic ghost, carries on through the rest of the picture. Only at the end do you realise he’s spent the last three days covered in rubble but still alive, so they put an electric plug in his body and give him a shock. The electronic ghost disappears and everybody starts to cry because they miss him, but it turns out he’s escaped from the hospital. It is a very funny story, maybe it is good for the new generation…

How is the Italian film production scene now… still very flat?

Yes, everything’s still very flat, and because Berlusconi became a political guy, he doesn’t have anything to do with film production anymore. TV Rai aren’t doing anything… they have a new woman president now, who is very good, but they aren’t doing anything in film production these days… and the Lire’s going down every day.

Even the Japanese economy is stalling these days…

… and the Americans. Everybody but the Germans. What we need is another war, then the world can start all over again… we have to kill people because there are too many of us! Maybe we will fight on the same side in the next war… I didn’t learn English until it was too late, because when I was younger we were enemies… Mussolini called you English “Perfidious Albion” (Laughs). I had to wait until after the war to learn, which was a pity, because now I have terrible English.

Oh, far from it… way better than my Italian, anyway. You’re still making movies, and I think you’re the only still-active director from what people now talk of as a “Golden Age” of Italian horror cinema. I mean, Riccardo Freda is still alive…

Yes, but he doesn’t work now. He’s in his 90’s, lives in Paris…

Were you aware at the time that you were working in this “Golden Age” of Italian popular cinema, or did this only become apparent to you in retrospect?

It’s a great memory, we had a lot of fun… but we didn’t have very big budgets! We had to improvise a lot for the special effects, and so on. I’m lucky, because I forget these things easily at my age – the arteriosclerosis wipes so much from your mind!

How do you remember working with Barbara Steele, Signor Margheriti?

What’s with this “Signor Margheriti”?

(David Warbeck interjects) John is a great admirer of yours, so he’s addressing you respectfully.

Well that’s very nice, but you must call me Tony… Barbara Steele? She was perhaps not a great actress, but she was a great presence. You sensed her presence. She was very good, and she was a real star… in my opinion, she was perfect for that kind of a picture. When she was on the screen she was the star of the picture, and she was a very nice lady, too. She did possibly the best picture of Mario Bava…

… Black Sunday?

Yes, La Maschera Del Demonio, a very beautiful picture I think. That is the best picture of that era…

Your picture The Long Hair Of Death has a similar storyline, and also stars Barbara Steele…

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Yes, Barbara Steele and a Polish girl who’s killed at the beginning of the film but comes back. That was a different kind of picture, they wanted to do more of a historical picture with horror elements … I don’t know if that was the right idea. It’s not a bad picture, but it’s not Danza Macabre – that’s a ten times better picture!

Did Sergio Corbucci work with you on Danza Macabre, as is mentioned in some reference works?

Sergio Corbucci prepared  Danza Macabre. He wanted to do that picture but later he gave it to me, and I gave him another picture on another occasion. We were very close friends, Sergio and I. We’d do one picture with me directing one part, him directing another, and he’d sign it, then another the other way round. The whole period was fun. Sergio did all the Toto pictures, maybe 30 or 35. Sergio is dead, 5 years ago he died, and he’s still made more pictures than me, because with Toto he did one picture every 15 days, editing too because it was direct sound, maybe ten pictures in one year.

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You later remade Danza Macabre (as Web Of The Spider)…

Eleven years later, we were given the opportunity to redo it in colour, with better actors – Klaus Kinski, Tony Franciosa, Michelle Mercier instead of Barbara – which turned out to be a mistake. It was an interesting experience, but didn’t bear much comparison to the first one, in my opinion. Danza Macabre was the first picture at that time, to my knowledge, to talk about lesbianism, and it was so well done, so sensitively handled, that even the terrible censors we had at that time in Italy – guys who used to put on mask and then take an axe to your film (laughs) – didn’t cut a single frame. That element was so important to the story that it was impossible to take it out. They cut just one little bit in the beginning where she made love with the gardener. And the rest of the picture in my opinion was very well done … sometimes you do good pictures, you know, the whole combination of actors, the crew, the script, the right moment and it all comes together – we made that picture in just two weeks, with one day’s special effects with the dead people who become alive in their tombs… a nice picture but not too much work. Everybody did what they had to do and the picture was finished before schedule – why shoot more?

So why remake it?

Well, the producer was so pleased with that picture that after 11 years he wanted to do it again, imagine, with Cinemascope, colour, stereophonic sound, with American, German and French actors, you know … put it all together. It was different you know, completely different, though the script was exactly the same. George Riviere was very good in the first one, Tony Franciosa did a little too much in the second one. Michelle Mercier was very beautiful, she played “Angelica” for years, you remember, but she was no Barbara Steele. She was a beautiful woman from this planet, whereas I always got the idea that Barbara was from some other planet! She had the… I’ve done so many pictures, and I think I can say that when she understood a scene, when she was into a scene 100%, she was perfect. Maybe she was not as great an actress, but she was definitely a star, and absolutely perfect for that kind of picture. In Bava’s film she was great, that was more of a fantasy picture… you remember the scene with the coach at the beginning? Mario’s best picture, together with one science fiction picture he did in this period…

Planet Of The Vampires?

Terrore Nello Spazio – I think that’s the one I meant, yes …

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Didn’t you take over the picture Nude… Si Muore aka The Young, The Evil And The Savage, from Bava?

Nude… Si Muore is an English script from a group called Woolner Bros, and they wanted to do the picture with Mario… it wasn’t a horror picture, just a suspense picture set in a college. It would have been a good subject for a Dario Argento picture, in fact it’s like a Dario Argento picture ten years before Argento started to make movies! Mario didn’t do the picture, I don’t remember why, he was probably working on something else, but because I had done these pictures with the Woolners, we had a company in America together under my name and theirs, and we made the decision to do that picture. I cast Mark Damon and many English actors and actresses, because I came over here to do it. We had a 30 year-old lady to play the part of a 16 year-old schoolgirl… she was so beautiful when I saw her in a stage show in London. They said it is not possible to make her up as a schoolgirl but we got away with it. Very funny actress, I saw her in something like vaudeville, unbelievable stuff. But that was a suspense rather than a horror picture… (looks up her name) Sally Smith… Leonora Brown was the girl who played with Sophia Loren in Two Women, she was the young girl who was raped, you remember? Alan Collins… you know I counted up, and I’ve made 18 pictures with Alan Collins, “the Italian Peter Lorre” as they call him. “Alan Collins”, who is really Luciano Pigozzi, is the actor I’ve used more than any other, he is like my invention, you know?

You also had Michael Rennie in that picture…

Michael Rennie was … Michael Rennie! (Laughs) He had suffered a heart attack about a year before we shot that picture. Every time we had to shoot a scene with some action, he would come to me and say: “Tony, what do you think? Maybe we could have Franco come in with all the policemen running and I arrive later and have a look…” What he meant was: “Don’t make me run, I don’t want to die!” (Laughs) A terrible story. He would open the door and step out before you could tell him to jump out, because he was really  sick, you know?

Your other giallo was 7 Deaths In The Cat’s Eye

…with Jane Birkin…

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… and Serge Gainsbourg.

It was a suspense picture, a story in a castle, good story. Venantino Venantini was dressed as a priest, it was only revealed at the end that he was the killer. That was quite a nice picture, with Hiram Keller (the American actor who was in Fellini Satyricon)… Anton Diffring… they were all very good, I have a very good memory of that picture.

Was it because it was a French co-production that you had Gainsbourg and Birkin?

Well, it was a French co-production, but Jane was very hot at that moment in America too. Alan Collins was in there again, of course. In my opinion it was a good picture… not so successful in Italy, but it did very well in France and not bad in America. When we started with that picture the producer wanted a suspense film but also he wanted horror, and he wanted me to do something elegant, not crude. There is a violent murder at the start, but the rest of it was really quite stylish, with the set, the scenes at the dinner, etc… not Visconti, but it was very well done, elegant, and it turned out very well for that producer because he made a lot of money from it in France, but under a very strange title: Les Diabeleusses (“Two Devil Women”), which is nothing to do with what was in the picture!

What was Klaus Kinski like to work with?

Together with Werner Herzog, I think I’m the director who made more pictures with Kinski than anyone.  I did six pictures with him and in the first one I shot him with a Winchester, in the second one I tried to poison him, in the third I tried to kill him another way, because he was so infuriating, but I must respect the memory of him, he was wonderful, the  most talented actor I ever used in my life… completely crazy, of course, but a fine actor. Nobody believes me when I tell them how beautiful the crazy Klaus Kinski looked when he was young, but look at this photo I’ve got of him… it’s from my first picture with him (And God Said To Cain…), a suspense picture with a mysterious American arriving in a western town one night and killing six people during the course of that night, but each time in an intriguing way. He shot down a bell to kill Alan Collins, for example…

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… another good picture I made with Alan Collins was The Unnaturals in London, with terrible weather and the characters have to stop at a castle. Inside is Alan Collins with his terribly old mother, a German actress and during that night, obviously full of lightning (acts out the sound effect), they start to do a seance – is that the right word? During this seance there are murders and we start to realise that everything we are seeing has happened before and will happen again, these people are already dead… a very strange picture, very nice and very well done, with a very good German actress, Marianna Koch… Joachim Fuchsberger was very good in it too… Claudio Camaso, who was the brother of Gian Maria Volonte, one of the very best actors, who died a few months ago..

Gian Maria Volonte died ?!? Good grief, it didn’t even get a mention in the press over here!

Yes, they had nearly finished a picture when he died. It’s has just opened, a crazy picture about a dictator…

Like yourself, Volonte worked with Sergio Leone …

In the first Dollars movie, yes …

What are your memories of Leone?

Very good! To me there is no question, he was a genius. He did really fantastic films. I particularly like the last picture he did, Once Upon A Time In America, unfortunately they sold the film to the Alan Ladd company in America… I can’t understand their decision to cut out so much of it. They said the picture was too long. Remember when Bertolucci did 1900, he made it in two parts because the audience would not sit down for five hours to watch a picture? That was a big mistake, because if they’d shown it with two big intermissions, with music, it would have been a great spectacle, like Napoleon by Abel Gance.

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The Americans also cut down Leone’s Duck, You Sucker!, on which you worked…

Yes, it’s very difficult to please everybody. If you try to do that, you please nobody, so really you must have your audience in mind when making a picture, then everything is possible, it might catch on in other markets. But if you do the picture and you have an adventure story with a revolution, and great special effects also, it’s maybe too much, that was perhaps Sergio’s mistake.

You were responsible for all the miniature work on that film…

Yes, all the stuff with the train. Only when the actors go into the train is it full size, all the rest is miniatures, and I insisted to Sergio that it be like that… he didn’t want it, but I made him understand. When you see the train for the first time, almost in the middle of the picture (makes train sound effects), the light coming towards you in a long shot, then you see the miniature. From this moment, every time you see the train, that’s what your frame of reference is, and then when at the last moment the locomotive goes against the other train, everybody’s expecting to see the join, because normally you would change photography, everything, but here nothing’s happened, because it was the same. For more than one hour in the picture, you’ve been seeing this miniature. In my opinion that’s the only sensible way to do this, because you don’t have the big change, you don’t see the join, and this increases the impact.

Your colleague Alberto De Martino also did some work on Duck, You Sucker!!

He was shooting second unit in the last battle, because they were over schedule and Sergio was also the producer, with many other things to do, so Alberto had to finish it: all the adventure after the explosion of the train, the train on fire, when he takes the machine gun and starts shooting, all the fight… that sequence was all Alberto, but Sergio’s personality was so strong that Alberto shot exactly what he wanted anyway, and even if they hadn’t, Sergio would just have cut it out. I shot more footage on that picture, just to do the train, than I would have shot for the whole of one of my own pictures. There was so much material to edit, and unfortunately when I saw the finished film later that year, I realised that some very good special effects stuff I shot had not made it into the picture, like big close-ups of the train wheels, etc.

You say Leone was a perfectionist who shot a lot of footage… is it true that you also worked with another perfectionist – Stanley Kubrick – on 2001?

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No, I was over there at this time to see the president of International Metro… previously I had made a package of four science fiction pictures for Metro one of which – Wild, Wild Planet (above) – was very successful. Everyone was so happy about my little picture that they wanted me to work on 2001. But it was two completely different film worlds, you know? One was all about perfection, professionalism, whereas mine is about coming up with something at the last moment, because otherwise I’m going to kill myself, you know (laughs and mimes pointing gun to head)… So for one reason that was a good idea, otherwise no. I was talking to them in London, in Los Angeles… it was very good for me anyway because I got to know the English effects guy who also directed Silent Running … what was his name?

Doug Trumbull…

Doug, yes, he had the idea to use just one light in space, which was the key to the success of that kind of special effect… anyway, I was in America waiting to hear abut 2001, until somebody offered me work on another picture and I said to the 2001 people: “Sorry, I’ve got to work”. I like to keep working, you know?

Is it true that in 1966 you actually directed the film Spara Forte, Piu Forte… Non Capisco (Shoot Loud, Louder… I Don’t Understand), which is usually credited to Eduardo De Filippo?

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I directed much of that picture, yes, with Marcello Mastroianni  and Raquel Welch. Raquel was very young then, and so beautiful… I had to shoot a dream sequence with her naked beneath some netting, but it didn’t end up in the picture because I just couldn’t shoot it. Everyone said: “Oh never mind Antonio, the back projection was wrong”, “this was wrong”, “that was wrong” or whatever, but I think the truth was just that, for some reason, I couldn’t keep my mind on my work that day! (Laughs)

Another couple of films you worked on with another director were the Andy Warhol pictures Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula: there’s a lot of confusion about who actually directed what on those pictures…

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The thing is, they were ready to do the picture… Carlo was very scared because originally they wanted to do both in 3D, and… Andy Warhol was a genius, yes, and Paul Morrissey was a very intelligent man, but he had previously directed movies like Flesh, pictures like that with no technique at all, no chance to get something coming from out of the screen at the audience. Carlo was very scared that things wouldn’t work out, so he worked a kind of blackmail on me, he said: “Tony, you want to make that picture in Australia? If so, you have to make this picture for me. You have to be with them before you can shoot the other picture”. But it was a great human experience for me on that shoot… in the beginning I was kind of a supervisor, but as it went on I was doing more and more because we had to shoot a lot of sequences with special effects and I took care of all that. When the first edit of the first picture, Flesh For Frankenstein, was finished, Carl said: “But What’s happening with the kids? You have to take care of that”. So I wrote a new story about the kids, and later I shot all the stuff at the beginning of the picture with the spider and them playing with the hand, and so on. We put more story in and with the two kids I had a chance to bring it all together and do more special effects and stuff. It was just friendly – I got my money for sure – but it was an informal thing, not to be creative. Carlo needed the picture to have an Italian nationality, which was impossible with that picture – there was Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey from America, Udo Kier from Yugoslavia (Germany actually – BF)… not one Italian, with the exception of “Anthony Dawson” (Laughs). But Carlo says: “No, I want it to be an Italian picture”, so I signed it for Italy and some parts of the world, and Morrissey said to me: “Do you want the credit as director everywhere else?” I said: “No, open with your name in America”… in the rest of the world they think it was mine, but in America it was Paul Morrissey’s and I have another credit. But it was a very funny adventure because they didn’t have a script, just 14 pages of what was to happen, and they made decisions with the actors what the dialogue would be, re-writing the script all night for the next day. That was another bad idea, because they left out so much good stuff…. hey, what do you call that thing in David’s garden?

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It’s a squirrel, Tony…

Squirrel? Squirrels are beautiful – when they are fried, ha ha! But those films were a great experience for me, lots of fun, and Carlo kept his word – as soon as we finished that I got to make the other picture.

Which was Hercules Vs Kung Fu… with that one and pictures like The Stranger And The Gunfighter, you were one of the first to mix western and oriental cinema in a manner that is now very much in vogue…

Well, that was more down to Carlo Ponti than me, that was how he wanted to go, and I was just doing it for the money, you know? The Stranger And The Gunfighter was originally entitled Blood Money, it was a fun film to make, a nice script and beautifully shot, with a lot of Chinese locations in the second half. Columbia did OK with it in the US, so I made another picture with them.

You’ve made so many movies with our host, David Warbeck

I first saw him in Duck, You Sucker!, you remember he is the IRA man who betrays James Coburn, and I said: “What a fantastic face! I must have that face in my movies”… so we talked and then we made our first film together, The Last Hunter, also known as The Deer Hunter Part 2…

With John Steiner…

John, yes… he’s in real estate in LA now. I was there last week and I wanted to see him, but it was not possible because I had to go off to St Louis. I was trying to find his number, but all those people had to change numbers when the big fire destroyed much of LA last year… some of them became millionaires because they had a very good insurance arrangement! Richard Harrison owned three villas in Malibu, completely destroyed, and many people I knew lost their house because it was such a terrible fire.

Harrison’s the guy who turned down the Clint Eastwood role in A Fistful Of Dollars…

I don’t know if that’s true or just a story, but he was always saying: “Sergio offered me A Fistful Of Dollars but I said no, I’ll do Giant Of Rome with Tony because it’s more secure.” He was always telling me that story but in my opinion when we were making Giant Of Rome, Fistful Of Dollars was already done. I think I did Danza Macabra just before Giant Of Rome, and Danza Macabre had its opening at SuperCinema, I think, a few months after the opening of Fistful Of Dollars. Maybe I’m wrong… but no, I’m quite sure. Anyway, you know, all actors and directors have some sad tale to tell. It’s a part of the fantasy of our work – if you take out all the fantasy then you’re just left with the truth… with shit, you know!

Is it true that you gave Ruggero Deodato his chance to direct?

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I was working on so many movies simultaneously at that time, and Ruggero was my assistant director. I wanted to concentrate on shooting Giant Of Rome with Richard Harrison, so I let Ruggero take over Ursis, Il Terrore Dei Kirghisi, but he experienced a kind of crisis and I had to return and help him out. So I was shooting Giant Of Rome during the day, then I would take a shower, go to Cinecitta to shoot the other one, work till 2 AM, then a few hours later it was time to start on the other one. And I did that for two weeks… I understood, because Ruggero had really been thrown in at the deep end, and you know he was the only assistant I had in my career – and I’ve had many – who was very good. He understood things, picked up what you told him immediately, and in my opinion as well as being a very nice, charming person, he’s a good director, technically one of the best, though he hasn’t been lucky in his career.

As a boxing buff, I’m really interested to hear how you found working with Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the Indio films…

Very good – the first picture wasn’t too good though, because he had only a small part and also he was working with Brian Dennehey, who is a great actor, and he hit him!  Dennehey’s a great actor, also on the stage, but poor Marvin the boxer, who arrived for the first time on a film set after doing just a coca-cola commercial…  but he resisted, he didn’t fall over. Marvin says his secret is that, although he isn’t very tall, he had very big feet, so when you hit him, he doesn’t fall over! (Laughs) But Brian hit him, and he didn’t have much to do in the first picture, but the producer gave him the chance to do the sequel, and when he got the chance to act he was very good, so he will be the partner of Terence Hill in this new picture I’m going to do, a black / white, salt’n’pepper teaming. I think it will work because he’s such a strange guy, Marvin, so weird, and he’s not bad… did you see the tape of Indio 2? He did quite well. Sure, he’s not an actor but he’s not a boxer who has problems after the boxing… his mind is straight, perfect, you don’t get many like that. He destroyed a lot of people. I remember when I saw him the first time he had this little beard, you know, to look tough. I go to meet him in the Manila hotel because I didn’t have time to meet him in America. The first thing I said to him was, I think you should shave the beard and he was so angry he became white, if that is possible (laughs). I don’t know what is wrong with this man, he looked at me like I was crazy, like he wanted to kill me, and later he started thinking about it, and he said: “Maybe”.. I said: “What do you mean, maybe? You  have to do it!” (Laughs) I risked my life! The production manager, an Italian guy, was very tall, and all the way through this exchange with me and Marvin, he was getting shorter and shorter! (Laughs) So funny… that was our introduction. The same thing happened when I met the other black guy who killed loads of people …

Tony King?

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That Raquel Welch gets everywhere these days…

No, Tony King was an angel, he never killed anybody…. it was Jim Brown (above), who I had acting in a Western. One day I was in a canyon with him and the other guy, Big Fred Williamson (a very nice guy), and I said to Jim that he was to say to Fred: “Cover me” or something, while he ran to his place… so Jim comes to me, with all the production people and crew behind me, and he says: “Tony – I don’t like that.” I said to him: “You have to do that, because the story is that you run over there and get a machine gun and kill your opponents – that’s all in the script”, and he said: “OK, we’ll shoot it, but tonight we must discuss it.” And I said: “Let’s discuss it now – what’s the point of shooting it, if we’re not going to use it?” Anyway, he started making these noises like he was really angry, came over to talk to me and I turned round to get a chair for him… and everybody was gone, including the producer –  they had all run away! Why? Because in the picture before, 100 Rifles, somebody said he had thrown his girlfriend through a window, so everybody was very scared of him, and if you see him, so big… but he’s also very clever and one of the best chess players ever, unbelievable! When I turned I started to laugh because nobody was there and that was the moment, it eased the tension, so we discussed it there and I convinced him, he said OK, OK. Only then would they all came back. From that night on, every night we would sit in the hotel discussing everything, but very nice to be with him.  Afterwards, after the picture opened and everything, a friend of mine was in a party and somebody introduced Jim to him and he said: “I am a friend of Antonio”, and there was a long moment’s silence – suspense (laughs) – and Jim said: “He’s really a man”… from him that was the greatest compliment ever. I liked Jim very much, but unfortunately he was not lucky, had some problems to do with the Black Panthers, he kind of disappeared… I saw him recently on television in the States, it was about the player who killed his wife…

O.J. …

O.J., yes, and they went to Jim’s house and interviewed him about the case –  he was fat with white hair, very sad to see him.

I recently discussed a lot of these movies with Quentin Tarantino… I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but he’s a big fan of yours, collects everything you’ve ever done on video…

Why would he want to collect all these terrible movies? (Laughs) I’m lucky, because at my age, the arteriosclerosis has wiped most of them from your memory… hey, maybe he could get me a copy of Danza Macabre… that one’s very hard to find, you know. But I’ve made some terrible pictures, like Yor in Turkey with prehistorical animals, a very stupid picture though it did very well, in fact it’s probably my most successful…

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… and this one (he’s signing my Japanese programme for Cannibal Apocalypse – BF)… not a great picture, but that boy Lombardo Radice was a good actor… I sometimes do pictures, when I need the money, where I just read the agreement and not the script, I say: “OK, that will be a very beautiful picture” and afterwards maybe I am ashamed, but I keep working. You do it because you want the house in town, you want the house in the country, you want this, that, maybe a beautiful girl… whatever you want, everything costs a lot of money, and that’s the reason why I’ve made 70 pictures! People ask me: “Why so many pictures?”, I say: “Because I want money… and I’m not about to rob a bank or anything!”

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Je Te Tue … Moi Non Plus! 7 DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE Reviewed

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BD. Region B.  88 Films. 15.

1973  was an especially busy year for prolific journeyman Antonio Margheriti, during which he contributed to the direction of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dracula brace (officially credited to Paul Morrissey) and still found time to knock out the risible Hercules Vs Kung Fu… also the item under consideration here. Prolific as he was, this is just Margheriti’s second and, it turned out, final giallo, one which owes more to Mario Bava’s (and indeed Margheriti’s own) gothique efforts than it does to, e.g. Blood and Black Lace (1964.) If anything, it’s a less florid variation on Bava’s Lisa And The Devil (which was made and promptly buried in the same year.) 7DITCE opens with the same “body in the box in the cellar” McGuffin as Margheriti’s only other Italian slasher, Nude… Si Muore / School Girl Killer / The Young The Evil And The Savage (1968.) Once that body has been secreted in the cellar of Drakenstein Castle, no less, young heiress Corringa MacGrieff (Jane Birkin, looking particularly succulent but conspicuously dubbed) turns up at the very familiar looking (to Italian exploitation buffs) “Scottish” castle. Corringa’s aunt, the family matriarch, announces that she’d rather die than sell her niece’s inheritance, an ironic prelude to the imminent kill-fest. In swim the expected shoal of red herrings… James the Byronicaly cool but totally insane cousin who allegedly killed his sister when they were both children (Hiram “Satyricon” Keller, in a role analogous to the one taken by Alessio Orano in Lisa And The Devil)… Doris Kuntsmann as Suzanne, the intriguing, bisexual French teacher (who takes little care to conceal her amorous designs on Corringa)

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… Dr Franz (Anton Diffring… just being Anton Diffring!)… not to mention James’ pet gorilla (despise Margheriti’s rep as an FX ace, the ape is rendered via poverty row suitmation)… Serge Gainsbourg as “the police inspector” doesn’t get much screen-time (perhaps he came as a package deal with Birkin) and spends most of it struggling with his dubbed Scottish accent  (“There’s bin a Muuuurder!”) and visibly failing to get interested in a role which the screen writers couldn’t even be arsed to attach to a name. The talismanic Allan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi) is also pretty much wasted as “Angus.” Venantino Venantini is “the Reverend Robertson”… or is he? Matters are further muddled  by a pointless family legend about vampires, which manages to find its way into Corringa’s dreams and bump up the running time a bit.

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Meanwhile the culling of the clan MacGrieff cracks on apace. Only that darn cat witnesses all the killings… and pussy ain’t saying nothin’! Lady Alicia, Corringa’s Mum, is smothered with a pillow. Then Corringa, during her nocturnal wandering through the castle’s many secret passageways, discovers the rat-nibbled corpse in the cellar. While that’s giving her the heebie-jeebies she is attacked by a bat… I bet she wishes she’d never thrown that bible on the fire! Angus rescues the eponymous feline from the family crypt, only to have his throat slashed. Just before his wife Maria (the matriarch who won’t sell the castle) discovers him making out with Suzanne, the bilingual, bisexual teacher, Diffring asks her “are you excited by all the blood that’s flowing around here?” Sure thing. Aided by an overwrought Riz Ortolani score, Margheriti builds nicely to a frantic climax, as Diffring gets his throat slashed, closely followed by the guy in the gorilla suit (what, precisely was the point of having him in the movie, anyway?) Then Suzanne cops it. That body in the box turns out to be the real Reverend Robertson and the killer (guess who?) is explaining his ludicrous motivation to Corringa, prior to killing her, when Inspector Gainsbourg pops up and guns him down. Entertainingly  corny stuff. Somebody really ought to make a board game out of this one!

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Troy Howarth (you might remember him from such voice overs as…) provides the commentary track here and told me he’s interested in knowing what I thought of it. Well, he’s clearly studied hard at the school of Tim Lucas and that’s no bad thing, especially when you contrast it with e.g the commentary on 88’s Burial Ground disc, which seems to catch the “film expert” who delivers it in the first throes of early onset Alzheimer’s. Howarth is avuncular, authoritative and strikes a nice balance between fact and opinion. On the odd occasion when I don’t agree with his opinion, he expresses it so cogently that I’m obliged to re-examine and clarify my own, which is always a useful exercise. Sometimes, as Troy himself concedes here, he does rather overdo details from the CVs of actors who play only a marginal role in the proceedings but genre fans can be a pretty anal bunch and I’m sure there are many of them who’ll appreciate this stuff more than I do. Howarth yacks entertainingly and amusingly throughout and with just one brief outbreak of dead air, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he came prepared, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a run through before the tapes started rolling. I’ve taken all of this on board and will put it to good use in the unlikely event that I’m ever offered another commentary gig.

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One aspect of this film that TH deservedly flags up is the superb job done by cinematographer Carlo Carlini and indeed, there are shots here that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Mario Bava film. I’ve never had much to say about this in my previous scribblings on the subject of 7DITCE, then again, the film has never looked this good. My comments about one or two of 88s previous BD transfers have been a bit sniffy (and rightly so) but they’ve done a cracking job with this one… ravishing stuff!

Bonus materials (aside from that commentary track and the expected reversible sleeve) comprise English and Italian trailers and an interview with Margheriti’s so Edo. He’s quick to scotch any rumours of bad blood between Mario Bava and his father and, talks of a childhood visit to the set of Seven Deaths and his father’s efficient way of getting the best out of his low budgets. He even attempts to name the guilty man inside the gorilla suit, only for memory to fail him… maybe next time, eh?

JANE BIRKIN

Yum…

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… yum!

 

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“The Ruthless Logic Of Commercial Production”… THE SERGIO MARTINO INTERVIEW

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Sergio Martino interviewed in March 1997.

Were you surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino was one of your biggest fans?

When I first read his comments in Giallo Pages, yes – but after reflecting a lot on it, I realised that he was paying tribute to myself and also to a whole generation of Italian film-makers who knew, above all, how to improvise,  and use their imaginations to overcome restricted resources and shooting schedules. Tarantino started off in “low budget” cinema himself, so he appreciates only too well what it takes to get good results under these circumstances.

Are you aware of the increasing “cult” status of Italian genre films in America, England and Europe?

Yes, because with increasing frequency I’m hearing from journalists like yourself, who want to interview me about films I’ve made in the past… I hope that in the future I’ll get to make some more that will also be of interest to you!

Me too, but the present state of the Italian film industry isn’t very promising… what is the reason for this? And can you see any remedy?

The present state of Italian genre cinema is, indeed, very sad. The cause of our decline has been the massive economical and technical superiority of Hollywood, which you can only fight with improvisation and imagination for so long. The investment sources that we used to have in Italy have just dried up. If we could get a million and a half dollars to make an action film, then perhaps we would again be able to get the attention of the international market, but there is no Italian producer in a position to risk such a sum. Perhaps the future lies with more European co-productions, though these bring difficulties due to differing languages and national taste.

Have you managed to keep making movies during these last few difficult years?

I’ve been offered opportunities to shoot a few films on which the budgets would have been disgraceful, so instead I’ve been concentrating on making TV series.

I believe that in the early days, you worked as an assistant to the great Mario Bava… how do you remember him, and what did you learn from him?

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I worked on the shoot of Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963) as a production assistant. I remember his technical ability, his expertise in constructing scale models and how skilfully he used lighting and camera positioning to make up for certain deficiencies in the acting department. He had previously worked as a cinematographer, so he knew that a shaft of light or a lower positioning of the camera lower could heighten the dramatic impact of a line. Also, he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and would never shoot anything superfluous. If a film was to last 90 minutes, he would scarcely shoot any more than that.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti and Umberto Lenzi on some of their films…

I have very positive memories of them as two real pros, who had mastered the technical side of film-making.

Your earliest directorial credits were “mondo” efforts such as Mille Peccati… Nessuna Virtu (1969) and America… Cosi’ Nude, Cosa Violenta (1970)… how do your remember those?

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Extraordinary memories. These films allowed me, while very young, to live through unrepeatable experiences… this was the time of the youthful rebellion in 1968, the hippies, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation and the first men on the moon…

You also worked in a genre, which is a descendent of the “mondo” documentaries… cannibal movies: how would you compare and contrast your Mountain Of The Cannibal God with the cannibal pictures of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato?

I saw one of Deodato’s films, though unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. It was made before my Montagne Del Dio Canibale…

That would be L’Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, then…

 … but it was trying for the same sort of ambience. I think Lenzi’s films in this genre  were made after mine, but I must confess that I haven’t seen them. I think that between all of them there was some affinity… once one such film has been successful, the producers obviously want you to come up with something similar.

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Did you, your cast and crew encounter any real dangers in the jungle?

The only problem was the wasps, really. I made Montagne Del Dio Canibale and The Great Alligator in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The most effective jungle scenes were actually shot in the botanical garden of Kandj, in very comfortable circumstances. I remember though, shooting in the cave in Montagne Del Dio Canibale… it was so hot and humid, even more so under the lights. In addition, we’d just had to climb 500 metres up a mountain!

Because she’s such a big star, did you have problems convincing Ursula Andress to have all that crap rubbed all over her?

Ursula had already experienced a lot in life and made other films in the jungle, so she was not worried on that occasion, nor indeed  in the scene with the python, which she insisted I shoot without using a double.

How do you respond to the charge that such films are “racist” or “cruel to animals”?

Racism? This is a first for me, but the things critics come up with never cease to amaze me! As far as I’m concerned, these films were inspired by American adventure cinema of the 4O’s like King Solomon’s Mines, and other American and European adventure cinema. I can understand the “cruelty against animals” charge, but the scene in which the python strangles the monkey, for instance, was shot almost by chance. Admittedly, the monkey was put next to the snake, but it had every opportunity to escape… there was nothing inevitable about it being killed. Anyway, in the jungle the law of life is the law of survival. I don’t believe, moreover, that the makers of all these “respectable” nature documentaries we see on TV just shoot what they find… I think that many of their violent scenes of jungle life are contrived and reconstructed.

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Were you surprised that your brother Luciano put some of your footage from Montagne Del Dio Canibale into Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive?

Not at all – it’s the ruthless logic of commercial production. Would it be more just to shoot another scene of violence to animals? So it seems right to me to re-use the footage, as it suited the purposes of that film so well.

Is it more or less difficult working with a producer who is also your brother?

As with any other situation, there are both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have managed to keep working in a field that is otherwise rather precarious, and I am allowed to make my films with a certain autonomy. The disadvantage is that, I’ve made so many films with my brother that other producers are less inclined to call me for their projects.

How would you define the term “giallo” and assess the Italian thriller’s influence on the thriller genre internationally?

It’s obvious that directors like Romero and De Palma have been influenced by their viewings of Italian gialli. In essence, these are thrillers based not only on the intricacies of uncovering the identity of the culprits, but also on the use – and, at times misuse – of violent imagery. As for myself, the biggest influence on my own gialli has been Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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That influence is very apparent in a film like Your Vice Is A Closed Room… what are your favourite and least favourite of your own entries in this genre?

My least favourite would certainly be Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery, my favourites are All The Colours Of Darkness and – my absolute favourite – the sequence at the end of Torso in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there.

Was Kendall cast as an hommage to her role in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

Suzy Kendall is an excellent actress, and at that time she was very bankable, internationally. The film was shot in English, and her casting was partly motivated by this, though of course the fact that she had been in Argento’s film was also a major factor.

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Do you agree with the assessment that Torso represents a transition from the stylish gialli of the ‘60s and early ‘70s to the brutal “splatter movies” that came later?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t recall the kind of films that were being made at the same time or just afterwards… in fact I followed Torso up with a comedy and two tear-jerkers.

How did you find the experience of working with Carlo Ponti?

It was a very positive experience. There was a great deal of trust between us. I was then a very young director, and not particularly self-confident… it’s fair to say that I became one of his pupils. Unfortunately we only made a few films together… three, and all successful. Soon after this, he had his tax problems, and could not work as a producer in Italy for a long time. A pity from my point of view, but above all for the Italian film business, because he was one of the most intelligent producers we ever had.

What did you think of the alterations that American distributors made to your films, e.g. Joseph Brenner with Torso, the way that All The Colours Of Darkness lost its opening nightmare sequence in America, and the way that more gore was added to Island Of The Fishmen?

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For a long time, I was not even aware of this. I was later told that these changes were made to make the films more appealing to an American audience. It’s not that the distributors found the content of these films below par, just that different audiences are looking for different things.

The theme of female masochism in your The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh echoes that in Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh, which as we mentioned earlier, you worked on…

Possibly so… the films shared the same writer, Ernesto Gastaldi. But the real inspiration for Strange Vice, of course, was the commercial success of Argento’s first film.

What was Nora Orlandi’s inspiration for the haunting theme music to that film?

Nora Orlandi is a woman of great musical sensitivity and passion. I thought it was right to use her because she would be better able to interpret the sensations of the female protagonist.

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Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery and Delitti Privati are both, in their different ways, “TV gialli”. Is the genre suited to this medium?

In a TV series, which runs longer than a feature, it’s more difficult to keep suspicion moving between the various characters… the plot must be much more intricate to hold the viewer’s interest and persuade them to tune in next time. In the case of Delitti Privati, I think we managed this quite well.

Sergio Stivaletti worked on Etruscan Cemetery and other  of your movies… how do you rate this FX man-turned-director?

He’s a young man with a fantastic talent. I think that it’s a good move for him to start directing, and I’m sure that he will be successful.

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Giovanni Lombardo Radice from Etruscan Cemetery told me that he found you a very “cold” director, but later realised that you had made him give one of his best performances… do you have a set way of working with actors?

I think that the rapport between director and actors is determined, above all, by the quality of the story and by adherence to the truth of the characters’ motivations. In genre films the stories are often very mechanical and the characters are moved not by true reactions to the situation, but by the necessities of moving the story along. For example – why, in giallo films, do so many beautiful and vulnerable girls sleep alone in sinister, isolated  castles instead of comfortable and secure hotels in the towns nearby? Because otherwise, it would not be possible to generate any suspense. The characters are motivated by the will of the writer and the director. In this respect it is difficult to communicate to the actors how they should be interpreting their roles, when it’s mainly a matter of mechanics. Perhaps my “cold attitude” towards actors in certain films was determined a little by my own natural timidity, but also from my awareness of the limitations on creative possibilities in these circumstances, where all you want from them is a routine “fearful” expression, or whatever. If Lombardo Radice believes that this brought out the best in him as an actor, so much the better.

Was it important for you to keep a regular cast (e.g. Edwige Fenech, George Hilton) from picture to picture?

It produced a great sense of camaraderie among us, which probably helped everybody to give their best to the production.

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What are your memories of working with Fenech?

Very agreeable and positive. I hope to work with her again in the future.

What did you think of her appearances in gialli made by other directors, like Giuliano Carnimeo and Andrea Bianchi?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge the work of my colleagues, in the giallo field or elsewhere. I will say though that these are excellent professionals, who have worked well in most genres, not just the giallo.

Do you think Fenech is better as a giallo ingenue, or a comedienne?

Her sunny face and Mediterranean beauty inclines me to think she’s more suitable for comedy. On the other hand, Delitti Privati demonstrates just how well she can do in a dramatic role.

Any memories of Barbara Bouchet?

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Another actress with a great comic talent. I think it’s a real pity that she doesn’t seem able to get roles in the cinema and on TV these days. She works mainly in the theatre, now…

Presumably you used international actors like Marty Feldman, for example, in Sex with A Smile, in an attempt to make the Italian comedy a less domestic affair and more saleable abroad?

Yes, obviously. Marty Feldman in particular was a great comic. In fact, at this time Italian comedies did have a certain amount of international success, and actors like Buzzanca and La Fenech became quite marketable.

Your cop films – like Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia (The Violent Professionals) with Luc Merenda – were criticised for being “fascistic”…

I remember that in Italy at the start of the seventies there were moves in  parliament to disarm the police, and sociologists were arguing against putting people in prison. But the man in the street wanted strong, decisive action against crime. All the cop films of the time had this same theme, like the American films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson – are they, then, “fascistic”?

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In 2019: After The Fall Of New York, you tried to put a new slant on the hackneyed “after The Bomb” scenario, with Wagnerian allusions, and so on…

To be honest, although the Wagnerian tone is a suggestion that pleases me, I’m not sure how intentional it was.

Well, you’ve got a character named “Parsifal” in there, for starters… what are your memories of the Westerns you made?

Arizona Si Scateno was my first non-documentary film. I remember with nostalgia how green I was in those days. I think that with Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) I made a good film with some beautiful sequences, though it came a little too late in the great “spaghetti western” cycle.

Can you tell us something about Claudio Cassinelli’s tragic death during Vendetta Del Futuro (Hands Of Steel)?

More than ten years later, it still feels like an iron in my soul! Claudio was one of my dearest friends, a sensitive and gentle person. The circumstances of his death were really absurd… I don’t want to go over it all again, because no amount of that will bring poor Claudio back. I prefer to cherish the beautiful, personal memories I have of him.

What can you tell us about your 1993 film Craving Desire, with Serena Grandi?

It’s a film that I was able to make after the TV success of Delitti Privati. Serena did play a part in that film, though the star was Vittoria Belvedere. Serena had already played some small roles for me at the beginning of her career, so I knew very well how good she was.

Has Queen Of The Fishmen been completed yet? Is Edwige Fenech in it, as announced?

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The film was shown, with some success, at the Cairo Film Festival in 1996. It’s a kind of fairytale that uses repertory footage from Island Of The Fishmen and 2019.  La Fenech did not appear in the film, because at the last moment she decided that she couldn’t face wearing a heavy costume in the equatorial climate that we would be shooting in.

Why do you use two American-sounding pseudonyms (“Martin Dolman” and “Christian Plummer”) instead of the customary one?

The name “Plummer” was used only for the abridged version of Etruscan Cemetery, the feature that we “salvaged” from the TV series. At this time there were so many films by “Martin Dolman” on the market, we thought that another pseudonym was in order, so as not to devalue the name.

Any future projects that we should be anticipating?

Some TV projects, then another “giallo” serial.

Sergio Martino, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

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In Memoriam, Luciano Martino (22.12.33 – 14.08.13)

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FULCI MENTAL JUNKET… “My Lunch With Lucio”

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It was twenty years ago, today (yep, this very day)… that Lucio Fulci passed away. I had intended to mark the occasion by finally publishing here the complete text of my interview with him, which has only previously appeared in excerpts (e.g. in Dark Side when the news of his death came through.) It now appears though that the interview will make its unexpurgated world debut in another and very exciting context, which I will announce on this blog if / when confirmed. In lieu of that, I’ve taken the opportunity to wallow in nostalgia with the following updated account of the weekend (09-11th December, 1994) that I spent with Il Maestro in London during his triumphant appearance at EuroFest 2 in Hampstead. Like Mark Twain, rumours of Fulci’s death had been greatly exaggerated, and although he joked that in ten years or so he would be experiencing The Beyond personally (sadly, it didn’t take anything like that long) the legions of fans who travelled from all over Britain, and indeed Europe, had come to praise Fulci, not to bury him …

Friday evening

Having completed the filming of interviews with the BBC (I’ve enquired with the Corporation as to what happened to this footage but nobody knows or seems to give a toss) and a London cable channel, the grand old man of Italian horror is holding court to a couple of Dutch fanzine proprietors / festival organisers amid the opulence of Beyond star David Warbeck’s palatial Hampstead spread as I am ushered into his presence, at the end of a torturous car-crawl through London’s grid-locked traffic. Resplendent in the red and black hunting hat he sported while top-lining his own A Cat In The Brain, Fulci firmly grasps my hand and fixes me with an Old Testament glower as he growls “Maaartin… I ‘ate journalists!” (uh-oh!) Looks like my long and fervently held ambition to meet and interview him is going tits up already. “But…” he continues with a chuckle “… to me you are not so much a journalist as a friend of Lucio Fulci”. As you can imagine, dear reader, this comes as quite a considerable relief.

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Fulci smooches up to Mario Bava back in the ’50s…

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… and with our very own Bob Freudstein in 1994

I’m also introduced to Fulci’s charming daughter Antonella, a very sweet and helpful lady who, as well as assisting her father, follows an independent career of her own as a rock and film journalist (she’s currently preparing a piece on Amando de Ossorio.) Due to the interpretative skills of Antonella and the inestimable Loris Curci, the first interview session goes splendidly, with some fascinating insights and hilariously scabrous anecdotes (“Mama mia!” Fulci tends to exclaim when the names of certain people are mentioned: “He has the intelligence of an idiot!”)

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Later, at the dinner table, the assembled company enjoys David Warbeck’s fabled hospitality in full force and effect, while Fulci rhapsodises over A.C. Roma’s recent 4-0 stuffing of Lazio before launching into an unprintable roll-call of your favourite Italian exploitation stars and their scandalous sexual liaisons, which keeps us all in stitches. Other anecdotes, which I can recount here, revolve around Al Cliver / Pier Luigi Conti’s allegedly meagre I.Q., Auretta Gay’s feat of shitting through the string of her tanga (“After that we called her ‘Ca-ca-ca’ Gay’!”), and Tisa Farrow’s similarly cavalier attitude towards defecation, plus how her stint as an inept New York taxi driver ended in her losing an eye (what better qualification for a Fulci heroine?) Fulci’s having a ball, playing the role of Pasta Paura’s elder statesman to the hilt (why not, he’s certainly earned that laurel) and thankfully at no point does he appear to be hallucinating scenes of cannibalism while tucking into his meal, a la A Cat In The Brain …

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Saturday

Having spent the night kipping on a sofa at Mariano Baino’s flat (where the hospitality is perhaps less lavish than at David Warbeck’s place, but every bit as graciously bestowed and gratefully received) I arrive at the Hampstead Everyman just too late to catch my cameo in Mariano’s Caruncula, obviously one of the Festival’s stand-out moments. News filters through on the grape-vine that the Manchester Film Fair has just been raided by Trading Standards Officers. Bad timing, officers – all the gore-pups are in Hampstead today, and right now they’re checking out the new multi-director anthology movie De Generazione, which starts in promising style with two Peter Jackson-flavoured episodes (Piergiorgio Bellocchio’s Our guys Are Coming , then Marco and Antonio Manetti’s Home Delivery) before, er, degenerating into under-achieving artiness. Alberto Taraglio’s creepy Is TV Bad For Children? marks him down as one to watch, but Asia Argento’s pretentious Outlook is more typical of the collection’s general tone (although I’m able to forgive Dario’s daughter on account of her feisty performance as a hippy hit-girl in Alessandro Valori’s Squeak!, which at least closes the proceedings in agreeably manic style.) Apparently we’ve been “treated” to a couple of episodes that were cut from the Italian release print, but most of the punters seem to feel that they’ve seen more than enough …

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“Degeneration”, of course, could also serve as a convenient summary of what’s been happening to Italian horror and indeed, a much better reception is afforded to a film which predates De Generazione by virtually 15 years, i.e. Fulci’s classic The Beyond, soon to be the subject of a major Fangoria retrospective by Mr Curci and introduced here by its star David Warbeck. As usual, David and his entourage laugh like drains every time he appears on the screen, and there are reverential murmurs of approval for Fulci’s customary cameo. We cheer on the pipe-cleaner spiders, chuckle at the spectacle of David reloading his revolver through its snout, encourage Cinzia Monreale’s dog to “attack, Dicky… attack!” … and that frigid vision of Hell still raises the hairs on the back of your neck. In fact, seeing a slice of classic Fulci on the big screen again after all these years reminds you of the impact these films originally had on you, the sense that you were watching something quite unlike anything else you’d ever seen before, an impression perhaps diluted by subsequent years of video over-familiarity. Indeed, the heartfelt howls of audience anguish that accompany this ‘X’ print’s several censorship cuts brings it home to me that a lot of people here today have only ever seen this movie on uncut bootleg video: David Alton’s worst nightmare, an upcoming generation of video nasty brats … ample testimony to the continuing pulling power of Lucio Fulci.

Speaking of pulling power … what a ladies’ man! To rapturous applause, Fulci takes the stage (with Warbeck and Loris) to compliment the female fans on their pulchritude and announce that he’s looking for his next wife (the lady producer of The Doors To Silence pursued him but was apparently rejected on the grounds of halitosis.) Fulci also announces his mission to marry Antonella off to card-carrying Fulci fan Quentin Tarantino… “Then, at last, I will be rich!” Fulci acclaims Tarantino as “a genius”, but those who’ve incurred Fulci’s wrath are not spared his waspish wit: “Wes Craven is a very successful guy” he opines: “ … so why does he have to rip off A Cat In The Brain and call it his New Nightmare?” The audience are equally amused by Fulci’s description of John Savage as “a once-handsome actor, now weighed down by drink and his social problems”, by way of introduction to the British premiere of The Doors To Silence.

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From The Land of the Big Boot…

Most importantly though, Fulci announces the news over which I’ve been sworn to silence for these last couple of months: his next film is to be a remake of the classic Mystery In The Wax Museum, produced and presented by… Dario Argento. I think you could safely say that audience response is enthusiastic! The punters are still getting their heads around this bombshell as The Doors To Silence commences. I’m delighted to finally catch up with this picture, complete with its original jazzy score (subsequently changed by producer Joe D’Amato, whose infectious penchant for pseudonyms resulted in the picture being credited to “H. Simon Kittay”, much to Fulci’s chagrin.) For an hour or so Fulci skilfully keeps this virtual one-man show on the road, but by the end of Door’s feature-length running time the slimness of its premise (essentially a low-fi reworking of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) and the paucity of resources afforded by producer D’Amato have taken their toll. I discover that while watching it I’ve been sitting next to Cathal Tohil and Pete Tombs, authors of Immoral Tales, a wide-ranging, lavishly-illustrated door-stop of a guide to European erotic and horror cinema. It’s a wee (not so wee, actually) cracker, so scour your local quality bookshop (or indeed, t’interweb) for a copy now.

As Messrs Tohil, Tombs and I soak up the atmosphere (and alcohol) in one corner of the bar, Signor Fulci is being besieged by fans on the other. Although he’s just told the audience that “like a father with many children, I love all my films … even the illegitimate ones”, this obviously doesn’t extend to Zombi 3 (finished and ruined by Bruno Mattei), across stills from which he scrawls “I do not like this film!” If Fulci is entertaining any doubts at all as to his cult status, the frantically haggling German nut-case who’s just got to buy that hat off him will surely dispel them … meanwhile I’m handing out flyers for the latest Giallo Pages (am I setting a new record for most plugs in one piece or what?) and meeting many readers. I even get to sign a few copies of Seduction Of The Gullible. Thanks to everybody who came up to say hello. Skipping Zombie Flesh Eaters and Dark Waters, Mariano, Loris, Mark Ashworth and I adjourn for a pizza.

Sunday

Best Apple

The apple never falls far from the tree…

Granted a morning audience in il maestro’ s hotel room to conclude my interview, I am urged to inform the fans that Fulci didn’t receive a penny for signing memorabilia. Speaking of which, our hero lets himself in for a terminal bout of writers cramp by agreeing to autograph mountains of stuff for me (he’s particularly taken with the Japanese Zombie Flesh Eaters cinema programme and its pop-up zombie!) as he grills me on my impression of Quentin Tarantino and his eligibility; Antonella proudly shows me the runic symbol from The Beyond tattooed on her arm and I quiz her father about the upcoming Argento collaboration: “It’s going to be a ferocious film, I hope some courageous British distributor will bring it over here for a theatrical run. It has a good script, which I just finished … Dario made some suggestions, which I took on board”. Is he daunted by the prospect of working with such a powerful personality as Argento in the producer’s chair, bearing in mind the stories we hear of Argento “taking over” Michele Soavi’s films? “No, no , no …” protests Fulci: “You have to remember that I’m an older man than Soavi, and indeed Argento, so he will show me the proper respect. He’s a very intelligent, cultured man. Don’t forget also …”, he chuckles: “Lucio Fulci is a strong personality, too!” Right – so couldn’t there be a clash? “Argento will be in America in March, anyway, shooting Stendhal Syndrome while I’m shooting Mystery In The Wax Museum in Turin …” responds Fulci: “ … then he’ll return to work on the post-production. Who knows what will happen in the future, but so far we’ve had no problems at all”.

LowResOtherTrium

The collaboration of these two titans of Tiber Terror is a tantalising prospect for Spaghetti horror buffs, a consummation devoutly to be wished, but for Fulci it amounts to even more than that – the Italian horror film’s last stand, no less! “If Argento and I together aren’t enough to turn things around, then who is there that can do it?” (Who indeed?) Fulci’s apocalyptical pronouncements, still pounding in my head, combine with the intoxicating effect of hanging out with one of my heroes, not to mention the impenetrable architecture of this bloody hotel, and I find myself circling its infernal corridors for half an hour, seeking a way out to the street and keeping a wary eye out for pipe-cleaner spiders.

Back in Hampstead, Sunday dinner is a slice of garlic and mozzarella ciabatta from the deli over the road, then it’s once more into the fray, dear fiends. Today’s audience are a rather listless bunch compared to yesterday’s, possibly on account of the fact that it contains a much higher proportion of journos, complimentary ticket holders and general liggers (I even manage a rare meeting with Mr Bryce)… and who’s this black-garbed figure, with the face of a debauched cherub, making his way over to say hello? Why, it’s none other than Eyeball editor Stephen Thrower, a man about whom I’ve had the odd printed spat, back in the day when I felt the need to defend Samhain against every slighting comment made about it by the London horror mafia. As is almost invariably the case in these instances, we get along (reasonably) famously and I’m delighted to learn that he’s penning a tome on Fulci for Nigel Wingrove’s new Redemption Books imprint (interesting bit of trivia there for those of you reading this in 2016.) I also run into the ever-genial Norman J. Warren, who is apparently about to clinch the financing for that Fiend Without A Face remake / sequel he seems to have been banging on about for years. Always nice to see Norman.

Fulci arrives, scales the stage and puts on another barn-storming performance. “Censorship is a hypocritical exercise of power …”, insists this frequent victim of it: “Instead of censoring my films, they should censor the news!” He reprises most of his best lines from yesterday (e.g. “It’s the censors who should be shot in the brain… but it’s a very small target?”) and adds a few new ones, most of which are wasted on this comatose crowd. Even in this subdued atmosphere though, he brings the house down by answering a fan’s enquiry about the advantages of Cinemascope by informing us that it’s the best format in which to watch Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs!

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Also wandering around the bar we find Doug Bradley, fretting over how Liverpool F.C. are getting on against Crystal Palace (a lack-lustre O-O draw, it transpires) and also about how to make a link between the Hellraiser series (which he takes the stage to answer questions on, teasing is with the prospect of – would you believe it? – “Pinhead In Space”?) and Zombie Flesh Eaters, which he’ll be introducing. I assure him that the film is a big favourite of Clive Barker’s. Problem solved, I settle down to watch an un-cut Italian print (“Zombi 2”, doncha know …) with semiotician / lad-about-town / future Giallo Pages contributor Xavier Mendik, who runs this country’s only academic course on Italian horror cinema at Southampton University … carve his name with pride! It’s difficult to view Tisa Farrow, Al Cliver and Auretta Gay in the same light, given some of the stories I’ve heard about them this weekend (and it never was easy to take Ian McCulloch’s hair-do in this film seriously), but for me and many others in the audience our first exposure to the uncut squashing of Olga Karlatos’s eyeball in its full Cinemascopic majesty is an experience we’ll always cherish (… whaddya mean, “sad bastards”?) I hook up with Darrell Buxton and Chris “I kissed Chow Yun Fat and I liked it” Barfield (rest in peace, dude) for the return to Saint Pancras, stopping for a moment of meaningful reflection outside the barred doors of what used to be The Scala. On the red eye special back to the The Great East Midlands we run into none other than Phil Hedgehog of Nottingham’s Forbidden Planet notoriety, who’s keen to hear our tales of les folies de Fulci… Phil, you shoulda been there!

Thanks to Lucio Fulci, of course, to Antonella, David Warbeck, Lois and Dave, to Mariano and Marilyn, to translator Loris Curci, Paul Brown and anybody else I’ve forgotten to mention.

Fulci shoots from the hip

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The Devil Wears Primani… ITALIAN EXORCIST KNOCK-OFFS

BeyondtheDoor

“The Devil truly exists, and we are all in his power” 

Pope Paul VI, November 15th, 1972. 

The above quote kicks off Michael Walter’s energetic, entertainingly schlocky German effort Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil (aka The Devil’s Woman) released in 1974, the year when that Pontiff’s point was conclusively proven for him… at least in cinematic terms. For in the wake of the runaway international box office success enjoyed by William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Old Nick found plenty of work for film-makers with idle imaginations to do. No sooner had the pea-soup hit the priest, Linda Blair’s piss splashed on the floor and that crucifix caressed her crotch than horror hacks the world over began invoking Beelzebub, brushing up on their blasphemy and setting more wobbly furniture in motion than at an MFI clearance sale. In 1974 alone, America offered William Girdler’s Abby (starring Blacula himself, William Marshall, as a black bishop casting demons out of his possessed daughter-in-law, Carol Speed; Brazil begat Black Exoricsm (from nutty ol’ Coffin Joe, aka Jose Mojica Marins); and Spain spawned a tripe-whammy of succubus sagas with Juan Bosch’s Exorcism (starring and co-written by Paul Naschy) and Amando De Ossorio’s Demon Witch Child (those two released within a week of each other), not to mention (no really, please don’t mention it!) Jesus Franco’s The Devil’s Possessed.

Yep, Exorcist imitations were being churned out thick and fast, but nowhere thicker and faster than in J. P. VI’s homeland. Barely had the pea-soup dried on Max Von Sydow’s face than a posse of pesto-spewing poppets and maniacal moppets seemed to be taking over every film studio in Italy, where there was understandably a big market for this kind of stuff. In fact the first Italian Exorcist clone off the block, 1974’s Chi Sei? (“Who’s There?”) proved to be a hit not just with domestic audiences, but also (inexplicably) did significant business (as “Behind / Beyond The Door”) in the U.S., which only encouraged the flow of further Italian imitators. Released on the Videospace label in Britain as The Devil Inside Her (not to be confused with Peter Sasdy’s 1975 effort, also known as I Don’t Want To Be Born) this one had earlier played theatrically with the gimmick of sensurround (a la Earthquake), and opens with an irritating voice-over monologue supposedly delivered by ol’ Scratch himself, backing up His Holiness and assuring us that he (The Devil) does indeed exist: “That stranger sitting in the seat next to you could be me”. Alternatively, the person in the next seat could very well have been be dozing off or scratching their head trying to work out what the Hell was going on. This picture’s total incoherence (catatonic pacing, impenetrable narrative, mannered directorial tricks such as the eccentric, erratic use of freeze fame) could possibly be partially attributed to its dual direction, by Ovidio G. Assonitis (under his never-more-apt “Oliver Hellman” pseud) and his favoured cinematographer, Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli (masquerading as “R. Barrett”)… maybe one of them got on with the Exorcist imitating while the other handled the Rosemary’s Baby stuff?

3X Mills

Respected Shakespearean thesp and Zombie Flesh Eaters alumnus Richard Johnson is typecast as oldest-swinger-in-town Dimitri, a Satanist apparently brought back from the verge of death to claim for Satan the baby Jessica (Juliet Mills) is expecting. However badly the new sprog turns out, it can’t be any worse than the two she’s already spawned with record producer husband Gabriele Lavia. Assonitis and / or Piazzoli handle the obligatory “rebellious children” sub-text clumsily, and although the kids’ foul-mouthed, jive-talking antics are obviously intended to be cute and endearing, these are arguably the two most nauseating brats in cinema history. When some malefic influence or other causes the boy to convulse in his bed, suffering night terrors, his sister babbles. “Ken, you gotta stop that – it’s gonna blow my mind! If you don’t stop, you’re gonna have a real bad trip – y’hear?” Elsewhere Ken refers to Lavia as an “asshole”, prompting daddy dearest to ask mom if he “needs to see a shrink” (probably not, but a good slap would undoubtedly work wonders.)

Mills soon develops the mandatory leprous complexion and lapses into the expected cussing, bile-honking, head-twisting,  levitating and talking in tongues. “Jessica – what’s gotten into you?” asks her doctor, ironically. As punishment for this corny line, the incubus demands of him: “Come on you filthy pig – lick this vile whore’s vomit!” When he shows understandable reticence to comply, she scoffs a handful of it herself and chucks the rest at him. After much writhing around, she eventually gives birth to a baby with no mouth. While the viewer’s still trying to get his head around this enigmatic development, the film slips into a ludicrous epilogue featuring the kid Ken (David Collin Jr) in that freeze-frame standby of “how the fuck do we finish this one?” cinema , his eyes glowing red via a cheese optical effect.

House Of Ex

“I love what you’ve done with that wall…”

“That picture made $15 million in America and $25M in the rest of the world… it was then the most successful European film ever in America” remembers Assonitis: “It was so successful, Warner Bros tried to sue us!” Chi Sei’s international success also led to Mario Bava’s masterly 1977 psychological thriller Shock being released States-side as Beyond The Door 2 (though admittedly, Bava had probably made a rod for his own back by casting David Colin Jr as a brat with telekinetic powers and an invisible playmate who just might be real, exactly as in Chi Sei?) This wasn’t even the greatest indignity inflicted on poor old Mario due to exorcism mania: producer Alfredo Leone, who had been keeping Bava’s totally baffling Lisa And The Devil unreleased in a vault since 1972, detected an opportunity to salvage some kind of commercial return on his investment by cutting back on the original footage, splicing in inept restagings of key moments from The Exorcist (“Here’s your fucking daily bread, priest!”, snarls Elke Sommer while slinging vomit at Fr Robert Alda, elsewhere answering his questions about the identity of the demon inhabiting her with a few enquiries of her own, e.g. “Have you any idea how a virgin yearns for a man’s cock?”) and releasing the resultant mess as House Of Exorcism, attributed to one “Mickey Lion”. With a certain devilish irony, exactly the same mutilation was meted out to William Peter Blatty’s over-rated second official sequel, The Exorcist 3 in 1990. Another 1972 picture, Lucio Fulci’s giallo masterpiece Don’t Torture A Duckling, was re-released as Long Night Of Exorcism, and in one of the last blasts of exorcism mania, even Fulci’s 1970 satirical sexy comedy AllL’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne was put out on the VPD video label as “The Eroticist” during the 1980s.

Getting back to that annus mirabilis of spaghetti exorcism, 1974, veteran journeyman director Alberto De Martino (who would in 1977 clone Richard Donner’s The Omen with Holocaust 2000) clocked in with The Tempter aka The Antichrist (on which a certain Joe D’Amato, no less, served as cinematographer.) Continuing Chi Sei’s trick of picking up on Friedkin’s Freudian sub-text and then battering the viewer over the head with it, The Tempter stars Carla Gravina as Hippolyta, hysterically paralysed as a result of living in a dysfunctional family. While still a child she witnessed her mother dying as a result of her Father(Mel Ferrer)’s reckless driving. Now she resents icy Anita Strindberg’s affair with her dad, whom she’s perhaps a little too close to for comfort (it’s also hinted that she’s having it off with her brother.)

Cz6hgQiUAAAP0jX copy.jpgThe Antichrist

Meanwhile Bishop Arthur Kennedy is celebrating mass when he discovers a severed toad’s head in his tabernacle. This he puts down to a decline in moral values, but it turns out that the Satanic shenanigans surrounding Hippolyta are rooted rather farther back than in those sinful swinging ‘60s: our heroine is hypnotically regressed to the burning of an ancestor (Gravina with a rather less severe hair-do) for witchcraft. “It was scientifically proven that previous psychic facts could be transferred from generation to generation”, opines a psychiatrist, who obviously uses a different text-book from the one favoured by most following his profession: “These phenomena happen very often, and once the trauma suffered by her ancestor has been cleaned up, I’m sure we can cure her.” Guess again, Frood dude…

Hippolyta hallucinates herself floating on her bed through the clouds to attend a witch’s Sabbath in a steamy glade. The Devil himself turns up to shag her, Rosemary’s Baby-style (a moment further recreated in Michele Soavi’s The Church, 1989). While being knobbed by Old Nick, she’s also obliged to chew on another of those toad’s heads and lick a goat’s rectum (do these guys know how to party, or what?) One quick poke by the Prince of Darkness later, her legs appear to be working again, so she nips out to the local catacombs to seduce a young lad and leave him lying with his head twisted round, back to front. At a celebratory banquet thrown by her family, she gorges food and starts spitting it out, along with curses aimed at Anita Strindberg, together with the usual non-sequitur obscenities (“Bishops… holy men of the Inquisition… I’ve fucked them all!”) Lights flicker, furniture flies through the air… you’ve seen it all before. Nurse Alida Valli calls in a cowboy freelance exorcist, but after his miserable failure (Hippolyta forces him to scarf down the now obligatory fistful of vomit) the Bishop himself is called in, resists Hippolyta’s dubious sexual charms  and – after all the usual manifestations – blithely announces that ”The Anti-Christ will not be born”.

Up to this point The Tempter had been a lot  more coherent than Chi Sei, Martino effectively building a sense of menace with wide-angled compositions. But it’s conclusion is every bit as confusing edited as the “climax’ of Hammer’s To The Devil A Daughter. The Godlike Ennio Morricone contributed the score of this picture, but it’s not one of his finest moments by a long chalk, proving conclusively that The Devil really doesn’t have all the best tunes.

Sexorcist

The condemnation of “swinging” lifestyles in Mario Gariazzo’s L’Ossessa (also 1974, and “a true story” to boot… sure thing, you guys) is the baldest statement of this sub-genre’s reactionary rationale. This kinky twist on the Pygmalion story, released on video in the UK  on a series of increasingly cheesy labels (and in varying degrees of completeness ) as The Exorcist, The Obsessed, Devil Obsession, Enter The Devil and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (phew… talk about “my name is legion, for we are many”!) stars Stella Carnacina as Danilla, a sensitive student of art history who’s suffering emotional turmoil on account of her parents’ hell-hole of a marriage. She eavesdrops on her mutton-dressed-as-lamb mother Lucrezia Love being whipped with a rosebush by gigolo Gabriele Tinti. When her cuckolded husband witnesses the wheals on her flesh, he chides: “You bitch, you’ve acted in the most vile and disgusting way possible… subjecting your body to whips and belts and other masochistic tomfoolery.” Should Danilla stay in this heart-wrenching environment or strike out as an independent young woman and go live with her boyfriend? (You get the idea that many of these possession cases could be just as effectively cleared up by sharing a nice cup of tea with some counsellors from Relate as by the usual cross-and-holy-water routine).

Naturally, Danilla’s dilemma causes the evil spirit of a crucified carving (Ivan Rassimov, in what is literally one of his most wooden roles ever) to step down from the cross then rape, crucify and torture her (most of this stuff is naturally cut from the film’s various British video releases.) Predictably, Danilla responds by projectile vomiting, wrecking the furniture, hallucinating a black mass apparently presided over by Dr and The Medics, and masturbating enthusiastically in front of her folks. ”There’s no such thing as incest, daddy – it’s only an invention of priests!” she taunts him, receiving a wack around the head for her trouble. Enough’s enough, so mom and dad patch up their troubles, mom renounces masochistic tomfoolery for good, and they dispatch Danilla to a convent in the country where she’s softened up by nuns singing hymns before master exorcist Father Zeno (Luigi Pistilli) turns up, looking more like a gunslinger than a demon-wrangler. Morricone-esque musical flourishes enhance the impression, together with Leone-esque camera-shots (unfortunately including ultra close-ups of Pistilli’s black teeth.) After an unsuccessful run-in with Danilla’s demon, Zeno triumphs in round 2, at the cost of his life.

Responding to Danilla’s sexual temptation after round 1 (“Penetrate me… take me any way you like!”), Zeno spits:“Abomination!”, and heads off to his monastic cell to stiffen his resolve with a spot of self-flagellation. A more ambitious director would have pursued the parallels between this form of spiritual discipline and Danilla’s momma’s sexual predilections, but Gariazzo is happy to just throw all these balls up in the air and let them fall wherever they may. The end product is, predictably… a load of balls!

Nicoletti Night Child

Naked For Satan (also 1974) was directed by the ever reliable (i.e. you can rely on him to serve up a tawdry slice of drivel every time out) Luigi Batzella (alias Ivan Katansky, Paolo Solvay, et al), and resolves itself as one of those deceitful “so, it was all a dream!” efforts. The following year’s The Cursed (aka Bloody) Medallion / Night Child / Perche?! (directed by capable journeyman Massimo Dallamano) features Richard Johnson, again (as Art historian and documentary maker Professor Williams) and perpetual ‘70s Italian splatter-brat Nicoletta Elmi (above) falling under the evil influence of the titular trinket.

Needless to say, when Johnson’s Professor Williams decamps with his family to Spoleto to study a spooky old canvas depicting witch hunting, a shedload of domestic problems go with him. His delinquent daughter Emily (Elmi) is traumatised by having seen her mother falling, in flames, from a high window to her death (it’s ultimately revealed that Emily started the fire herself in a fit of pique!) “Evelyne Stewart” (Ida Galli) essays the uncharacteristically frumpy role of Emily’s nanny and suffers the pangs of unrequited love for Williams, before Emily puts her out of her misery by pushing her off a cliff. The kid’s homicidal jealousy is intensified with the arrival of Joanna Morgan (the super luscious Joanna Cassidy) to assist in the making of his latest documentary.

Once again, one begins to suspect that a therapist would be more use to this family than an exorcist before the plot line concerning that cursed medallion and Emily’s visions of herself being lynched by medieval peasants is firmly(ish) resolved on the occult side of the equation. The film’s narrative is, quite frankly, a mess ( “Perche?!” is about right) but I’ll happily watch anything with Joanna Cassidy in it (the Blade Runner scene in which she beats the crap out of Harrison Ford never fails to bring me out in palpitations) and the florid cinematography of Dallamano’s regular collaborator Franco Delli Colli is most impressive. Calum Waddell has made persuasive claims for Night Child, likening it to Mario Bava’s pet project Lisa And The Devil (1974) and arguing that “it is not too much of a stretch to say that these early templates aptly anticipate such widescreen wonders of later years as Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) – both of which showcase nightmarish scenarios with an ominously baroque beauty.” Suffice to say that Fulci’s Manhattan Baby (aka Possessed / Eye Of The Evil Dead, 1982) certainly flatters Night Child in the sincerest way it can.

%22Eye Of The Evil Dead%22

Although spaghetti exorcism continued to recur in spasms throughout subsequent years (right up to the likes of Marco Bellocchio’s Visions of Sabba, 1987), the sub-genre had really shot its vomitous wad barely a year after the release of William Friedkin’s original. Even so, there were still some pasta puke-a-thons in the pipeline. For instance, former Hollywood heavy Richard Conte, fallen on hard times, found himself rubbing shoulders with Bruno Mattei’s favoured leading man – charisma bypass victim Franco Garofalo – in “Frank C. Lucas” (Elio Pannaccio)’s Naked Exorcism. Made in 1976, this one was released the following year (to cash in on John Boorman’s frankly ludicrous official sequel Exorcist II – The Heretic) as The Exorcist III – Cries And Shadows, which is the guise under which it appeared for its British video release on the obscure HBL label. After repeated perusal of this picture, I’m still unable to make head or tale of it, so let’s see what the liner notes have to say: “Peter, an archaeological research participant shivers finding out a strange medallion in a mysterious cave. It forms into a beautiful girl but an Evil Haggia. He gets hold of Sherry’s body and in a wild and animalistic way starts lovegame with her in a rough manner. Sherry realises it was wonderful as he had never made love to her like that. He starts killing, resulting with the involvement of the police. The Bishop’s help was sought after to perform the right of Exorcism. Haggia, naked on self-shaking bed, laughing horribly, shouting insults and curses, tries to kill the Monk who at last manages to tie up the damned soul. He takes the crucifix, presses and pours into the mouth of the being resulting in the vomiting of a filthy and horrible liquid.” Well there you go – I couldn’t have put it better myself…

Nobody has yet managed to concoct even that good an account of what’s going on in Pier Carpi’s Rings Of Darkness (1978), which stars the recently deceased Frank Finlay and Ian Bannen alongside such spaghetti exploitation stalwarts as Anne Heywood, Marisa Mell, Irene Papas, John Phillip Law and Paola Tedesco. This one focuses on the apparently Satanic exploits of the appallingly smug Lara Wendel, who’s given to repeating “What good is a doll… if it can be bought?”, in enigmatic fashion. She may well have a point there, though frankly I felt that the axe attack this “actress” suffered in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, five years later, was no more than she deserved.

L'Esorciccio

Ciccio Ingrassia had a solo stab at doing what he had made a career of with erstwhile partner Franco Franchi – i.e. lampooning successful genres – in L’Esorciccio (1975), where poor Old Nick is expected to carry the can for the usual “Carry On”-type sexual buffoonery. Believe me, the title of this one is easily its strongest point, though it’s still preferable to 1990’s Leslie Nielsen piss-take Repossessed (in which Linda Blair perpetrated the biggest blasphemy of them all, sending up the only worthwhile role in her less-than-sparkling career.)

Andrea Bianchi’s Malabimba (1979) stars the unpleasantly androgynous Katell Laennec as Bimba, a troubled young lady who’s possessed by a permanently randy revenant and drives her fellow guests in a Medieval castle to furious sexual indulgence, though most of them seem to need little encouragement on this score. Highlights include Bimba pleasuring herself with a smurf and fellating an old cripple to death before long-suffering Mariangela Giordano – here  playing heroic nun Sister Sofia – invites the demon into herself and then – in the time-honoured Father Karras manoeuvre – hurls herself to her death from the battlements. Hard-core inserts were added to later versions of Malabimba, which made it ironic that when its producer, Gabriele Crisanti, decided to remake the picture as a hard-core effort entitled Satan’s Baby Doll (1980), the wretched thing (directed by “Alan W. Cools” alias Mario Bianchi) was only released in 1982 after all the porno footage had been take out.

Satan's Baby Doll

Damiano Damiani, one of the originators of the political spaghetti western, dumbed himself down for the opportunity of making an American crossover with Amityville 2: The Possession (1982). Old Exorcist-imitating ways dying hard, he threw out the lame-ass “haunted house” formula of the first Amityville Horror and laid on a feast of state-of-the-art bladder-induced shape-shifting effects (below) to compliment his kinky tale of patricide and incest, to highly entertaining if totally brainless effect…

… which was effectively the last gasp of Italo-exorcism as we know it. In no time at all, the influence of Old Nick – though occasionally felt in the likes of  Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) and The Sect (1991) – would be virtually banished from Italian screens, not by the ministrations of any priest, but by the influx of zombies and cannibals advancing to claim the devil’s monstrous mantel for themselves… shortly before the complete and seemingly irreversible collapse of the entire Italian film industry. R.I.P. …

Amityville II

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“All That Glitters…” DR GOLDFOOT & THE GIRL BOMBS reviewed

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Blu-ray. Region B. 101 Films. 12.

Opportunities to plug the gaps in your Mario Bava collection are always welcome… but some are decidedly less welcome than others. Dr Goldfoot & The Girl Bombs (1966) is a typical example of the Superspy craze that briefly gripped Italian studios in the wake of James Bond’s brisk box office business… so very typical that the signal baroque visual flair and black wit that lit up Bava’s sorties into so many other genres are totally submerged in the desperate zaniness of this uninspired yarn. “Meet the girls with the thermo-nuclear navels”? Ah well, if we have to…

Vincent Price is the eponymous doc, an evil (albeit camp-as-a-row-of-tents) genius whose explosive dolly bird androids are copping off with, then blowing up, a series of high ranking Nato generals. This leaves only General Willis, who’s a dead ringer for Goldfoot (i.e. also played by Price.) When the latter kidnaps this guy and assumes his identity, it leaves him in charge of an H-bomb that he intends to drop on Moscow, kickstarting a nuclear dust-up that will eliminate the US and USSR, leaving Goldfoot free to divide up what remains of the world with his Chinese backers. None of which is remotely as interesting as it sounds…

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This US / Italian co-production manages to kill two birds (along with 82 minutes of your life and several million of your brain cells) with one stone. AIP released it in The States (under the DG&TGB handle) as a sequel to Norman Taurog’s Dr Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine from the previous year, in which  Frankie Avalon thwarted Price in the execution of a similarly nefarious masterplan. The budget of Girl Bombs doesn’t even extend to re-emplying Avalon so here we get the low-rent pretender to his crooning beach beefcake crown, Fabian, aided and abetted by lovely Laura Antonelli (in her first credited screen appearance) and “The Two Idiots”, Franco & Ciccio. To 21st Century British sensibilities, this Sicilian double act’s comedy stylings are… er, broad enough to make On The Buses look like Seinfeld. But they were such a big deal in the land of the big boot that this film was released over there as Le Spie Vengono Dal Semifreddo (“The Spies Who Came In From The Frozen Custard”) and marketed as a sequel to their antics in Giorgio Simonelli’s 1965 Goldfinger Spoof, Due Mafioso Contro Goldfinger. Bava allegedly had more control over the Italian cut but as this means several more minutes of Franco & Ciccio, I’m happy to leave it to Tim Lucas to do the “compare and contrast” duties.

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Although he puts in an amusing saintly cameo, Bava’s heart isn’t sufficiently invested in the proceedings for him to rein in Price’s thespian excesses (and why should he even attempt to do so… this is Dr Goldfoot & The frickin’Girl Bombs, after all, not Witchfinder General) and I don’t imagine anything (short of a judicious tasering or two) could ever have induced Franco and Ciccio to cool it. In fact by the end of film they’re confined to some sub-zero Siberian gulag, which is probably the best place for them. Antonelli prettifies the proceedings with a fresh faced charm and lightness of touch that’s a far cry from the controversial roles for which she would subsequently be noted (though her briefly glimpsed, libidinous robotic doppelgänger foreshadows the manipulative sex-pot unveiled in Salvatore Samperi’s Malizia, 1973.)

Fabian : Laura

With Bava’s personal and formidable bag of cinematic tricks reduced to such cliches as speeded-up fight scenes and hall-of-mirror dance routines (Les Baxter’s feeble sub-Bacharach score failing to punch up the “action”), this is strictly kiddy matinee fare and I assume that’s where the young Mike Myers saw this clinker and was sufficiently impressed by it to later nick the ideas for fembots and a super-villain named Goldmember for his Austin Powers trilogy. If you want to see what Bava is really capable of in a shagadelic 60’s comic book context, you obviously need to be checking out the brilliant Diabolik (1968.) I’m amazed that the BBFC have handed DG&TGB a ’12’ certificate, attributed on the packaging to “dangerous behaviour” (sure, I’d hate for some impressionable 11 year old to watch this and then nuke Moscow!)

101 have simultaneously released The Lou Ferrigno Collection in a great VFM Blu-ray pack, affording you all the opportunity to gawp incredulously at Luigi Cozzi’s Hercules 1 and 2 and Sinbad Of The Seven Seas, for which Cozzi and Enzo Castellari persist in blaming each other. Mrs Freudstein (Tess to her friends) and I are currently enjoying Lou’s antics in the Donald Trump version of Celebrity Apprentice… I’ll try and post a review of this impressive package before Trump gets into The White House, at which point girls with thermo-nuclear navels might prove to be the least of our worries!

dr-goldfoot-and-the-girl-bombs

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