Posts Tagged With: Ruggero Deodato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibal Ferox?

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

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

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

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Wind In Eden…

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

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

In Tuscany?

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

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

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

A Quiet Place To Kill?

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

… for the youth market…

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

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

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Maybe…

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

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

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

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

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

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

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

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

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

The Spiral Staircase…

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

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

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 … Sandokan…

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

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

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

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

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

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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

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

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

When Two Tribes Go To War… Calum Waddell’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Tome Reviewed

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Cannibal Holocaust by Calum Waddell: Auteur. ISBN paperback: 978-1-911325-11-6 ISBN ebook: 978-1-911325-12-3

When I interviewed Ruggero Deodato in the ’90s I mentioned the obvious (to me) affinities between his 1980 films Cannibal Holocaust and House On The Edge Of The Park, only for him to pointedly dismiss any such parallels. Well, I persisted, both films deal with a group of feral outsiders who are ultimately revealed to be less morally culpable than the “civilised” sophisticates whom they encounter… but the director was having none of it. Although both films had been lumbered with the moronic “video nasties” label in the philistine climate of early ’80s Britain, by the time I spoke to Deodato the reputation of his little anthropophagous epic had made the transition from international pariah to postmodern phenom worthy of serious critical – and even academic – attention. House On The Edge, in the meantime, has undergone no such re-evaluation (and admittedly, it’s nowhere near as good a film)… it remains, in the eyes of the world, an irredeemably tacky little knock off of a Wes Craven knockoff (I personally find much to “like” in HOTEOTP but this isn’t the place to go into that) and Deodato didn’t want anybody besmirching his suddenly respectable cause celebre with any comparisons to it. Have it your way, Ruggero…

From my earliest scribblings in Samhain, during the aforementioned video witch hunt, I was agitating for (and I hopefully contributed towards) a criticism that would fuse fannish enthusiasm for such genre films with an intelligent, analytical approach. Subsequently (blame me if you want to… I’ve frequently had the impression that I’m being shot by both sides) there have been comings together of the zine scenesters and the ISBN-totin’ academics, who’ve generally snarled at each other before withdrawing to their respective corners. One gathers there was a particularly mean-spirited poker game at one point but, as yet, nobody’s managed to find the found footage that documents this…

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Calum Waddell is not (and this won’t come as news to him) everybody’s cup of tea or bowl of monkey brain mush. He notably declared himself horrified by Cannibal Holocaust. Gore hounds, horrified by the fact that he was horrified by it, then alleged hypocrisy when he continued to write (very well) about it in genre publications and get paid (nothing like as well, believe me!) to do so, interviewed and befriended several of its principal creators, toured the festival circuit with them and collaborated on the film’s Blu-ray release in The States. But come on, guys… isn’t anyone who’s fascinated by this most notorious “video nasty” also appalled and repelled by it? Isn’t that the very essence of its ongoing “appeal”? Cannibal Holocaust isn’t Marmite (even if one of its most persistent chroniclers seemingly is.) Waddell’s proven track record of willingness to take a wider view, plus his extensive connection with the film’s creators (Carl Yorke – the hateful Yates himself – contributes a thoughtful and witty foreword) guarantee that anyone who picks up this latest entry in Auteur’s (Columbia University Press in the U.S. of A) ongoing Devil’s Advocates  series will find a lot to, er, get their teeth into… much food for thought in, e.g. his survey of which Italian cannibal movies got distributed in which Third World territories, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

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The author gives cursory treatment to Cannibal Holocaust’s seminal role in the aforementioned “nasties” hoo-hah and its roots in the “mondo” school of shockumentary, satisfied that enough has been written on both of these scores, elsewhere (not infrequently by myself.) My own particular interest in these films has always been the extent to which they represent a range of domestic reactions to the failure of Mussolini’s abortive (and ultimately absurd) attempt to refound some sort of Roman Empire. Waddell casts his net wider, framing his (persuasive) arguments in the wider context of The Cold War, which still had a decade or so to run when Deodato took his band of cinematic conquistadores up the Amazon. The proximate inspiration was no doubt Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), though Cannibal Holocaust makes a starker statement about the impact of imperialism on the bodies of “gooks” and “savages” than FFC’s bloated folly, with its relentless focus on the mindset of its American characters, could ever hope to achieve… if, indeed, it was ever interested in doing so. When Alan, Jack, Faye and Mark massacre the yanomami in their huts for the purposes of their tacky little mondo movie it is, as Waddell points out, the spectre of My Lai that haunts our screens…

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“A clump“?

… Cannibal Holocaust could as easily be read as an allegory of the 16th Century European (specifically Latin) conquest of South America and a much more finely nuanced one than, for example, Neil Young’s celebrated Cortes The Killer, which combines musical fireworks with a portrayal of life under Moctezuma and his warrior priests so naively sanitized as to amount to inverted racism. Trust Bernal Diaz, who was actually there with Cortes and whose account, in The Conquest Of New Spain, of brutal life and death in the Aztec empire is all the more trustworthy because he pulls absolutely no punches at all about what a bastard (and indeed a killer) his master was.

Similarly, it’s a moot point (and one made eloquently in the final section proper of Waddell’s book, “Patriarchy In Cannibal Holocaust”) whether the indigenous women here (not to mention Faye) suffer more at the hands of the mondo crew, casual rapists and killers as they are, or their own jealous menfolk, casual abortionists and honour killers that they are.

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Hip as he is to such moral relativism and the irony of an exploitation movie that’s exploiting its own expose of exploitation movies to put bums on cinema seats, Waddell can’t help but multiply rather than resolve the ethical ambiguities of Cannibal Holocaust… as would any self-respecting discussion of Deodato’s film, which remains a hall of distorting mirrors in which the moral high ground is impossible to locate, let alone claim. Nevertheless, those seeking a guide through the arterial byways of Deodato’s Heart Of Darkness (perhaps towards a verdict that will be – to paraphrase a line in another notorious “nasty” – one of self-incrimination) will wait in vain for a better one than this.

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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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“Do we love her… Me Me Lai? Deep River Woman, Rising High”… ME ME LAI BITES BACK: RESURRECTION OF THE CANNIBAL QUEEN reviewed

Me Me

Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen

Edited, produced and directed by Naomi Holwill. Produced by Calum Waddell. Certificate TBC.

Once upon a time… sometime in the mid 1980’s… back  in the darkest days of “video nasty” witch hunting… somewhere in Essex… police were raiding a suspected “nasty” dealer. We can only speculate as to the levels of apprehension and disgust felt by the officers as they bagged up tapes with such lurid titles as… shudder… Deep River Savages. Did they believe the shrill tabloid claims, amplified by publicity hungry politicians and misguided members of the judiciary, that people were “actually eaten” during the making of Italian cannibal films? One of the cops, at least, had good reason to doubt the veracity of such alarmist claims… starring, as she had, in Deep River Savages.

Spinning off of their acclaimed Eaten Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Film, the High Rising team have hit another home run with this riveting effort, which succeeds on levels of human interest and social history, over and above its obvious appeal to anally retentive horror nerds such as myself. While making EA:TRAFOTICF, Calum Waddell’s internet researches turned up photos of Me Me Lai that had been posted by her daughter, via whom a contact was effected, after initial reluctance on the part of the retired actress. Gradually winning her confidence, Waddell began to unravel a story of life after cannibal movie infamy and introduced Ms. Lai to a demi monde which she could probably never have imagined, a fan scene and convention / festival circuit where her film career could be openly celebrated rather than hushed up. It’s good to see her striking up a friendship with Catriona MacColl, an actress for whom that particular penny dropped a little earlier.

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On becoming a mother (one of the many fascinating insights we gain from this doc is the fact that she was pregnant during the Last Cannibal World shoot) Me Me decided that her screen earnings were too precarious to support a family and briefly changed career to competitive body building (!) before becoming, yes, a policewoman in Essex, completely forgetting about her film career until that fortuitous contact was made with Calum. We see her on stage, reliving former glories with Ruggero Deodato and discussing the films she made with Umberto Lenzi. Me Me remembers Lenzi as being a bit of a screamer on Deep River savages, Deodato as a more laid back director (though plenty of others have attested to his own screaming fits) when they collaborated on Last Cannibal World. Apparently Lenzi had mellowed out by the time the made Eaten Alive, though this remains her least favourite of the films in which she’s appeared. She subscribes to the general view that Ivan Rassimov was a sweetheart. In turn, fan boy Eli Roth pays handsome tribute to our heroine, as do Waddell, academic Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Sitges Festival programmer Mike Hostench. The documentary does not shy away from their thoughts on the proverbially thorny issues of how women, ethnic minorities and (thorniest of all) animals were treated in the films Lenzi, Deodato, Martino and D’Amato (among others) contributed to this genre, without coming to any glib conclusions. Those issues remain thorny.

This is a curiously moving film about the vicissitudes of life, changing social mores, personal self-discovery and the way that the internet has facilitated a micro universe of alternative fandom. Any quibbles I have would concern the lack of further information about aspects of Ms Lai’s career which are tantalisingly referenced, e.g. the body building and the films she made outside the Italian cannibal milieu, for the likes of Val Guest, Lindsay Shonteff, Blake Edwards and Lars Von Trier. But these are issues concerning the remit that the film makers set themselves (and as such cannot be second guessed) rather than of competence. Me Me Lay isn’t the only unsung heroine to emerge from MMLBB…  Naomi Holwill, formerly something of a grey eminence at High Rising, makes her feature directing debut in confident and accomplished style (and I was particularly pleased to see her animation expertise making a welcome return in the film’s title sequence.) This documentary will gain its first general exposure as a bonus feature on the imminent 88 Films BD release of Man From Deep River (aka  Deep River Savages.) Whatever the merits (or not) of that transfer, Me Me Lai Bites Back justifies the price of a copy on its own.

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Reunited with Massimo Foschi and Ruggero Deodato…

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Me Me in the news

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