A few years ago I made a conscious effort to find out more about the modern Italian independent and horror scenes and one of the reasons behind me blogging was to not only celebrate the past but to also promote the present.
Through this ongoing cinematic journey I hunted down copies of several films that were recommended (“Custodes Bestiae” from Lorenzo Bianchini was one of the highlights) and having heard so much about the multi-award winning film “House of Flesh Mannequins” I managed to import a copy and so started my discovery of the multi-talented writer, director and producer (amongst other roles) Domiziano Cristopharo.
Previously described by some as a mix between Federico Fellini and Dario Argento, his films often combine a surreal, almost dream-like aesthetic with shocking, extreme yet thoughtful content.
He has worked with many famous names including; Carlo de Mejo (“City of the Living Dead”), Maria Rosaria Omaggio (“Nightmare City”), Ruggero Deodato (“Cannibal Holocaust”), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (“Cannibal Ferox” and so many others), Lynn Lowry (“Shivers”; “The Crazies”) and Antonio Tentori (“A Cat in the Brain”)
Finally now I have had the pleasure of speaking with the Rome born film maker about his career, his influences and his future.
CE: Before your career in film I believe you made music and acted. What sort of projects were you involved in? And why did you switch to directing?
DC: I [worked in] theatre as a dancer and singer; also I produced few music cd’s. One was a very innovative project for that time and utilised the same formula I used years after for realising the collectives POE.
I used to work on stage so I didn’t see the difference in switching to directing, my background was complete following many aspects of a show… I worked as costume designer and set designer, FX make up too… all this stuff was precious for me and what I do now.
CE: What were your first steps towards directing? How did you develop your style?
DC: I directed my first short films in super 8 mm at the age of 8. Of course nothing memorable. The best one I did, I was 14 years old, was about an evil puppet clown. A TV director friend of my parents watched it and suggested to them [they should] make me study because from his point of view I was gifted. So, at 14 during the day I was in school and in evening in a private school for cinema (the one where now after 30 years I am teacher too!).
I try to not copy anyone… my first films are full of references to the movies I loved, I think is a way for feeling more prepared in what we do, facing a movie for the first time. Then I decided to follow only what I like to do. I love the direction of Brian De Palma, for example, but I think in a horror film is more effective [to do] something linear and clear like the style of John Carpenter. I watch too many indie films that wanna surprise the audience with the ego of director screaming each frame HEY I AM HERE LOOK WHAT I DO! I prefer let the movie talk by itself.
CE: In 2009 you made ‘House of Flesh Mannequins’ a terrific and layered debut that touches on many themes. How did the opportunity to write and direct this film come about?
DC: That script was ready in 2002… no one in Italy wanted it… I tried for 5 years to sell it to someone but everywhere was a big NO.
I met Giovanni Lombardo Radice (John Morghen) in Italy, besides being a worldwide horror icon, he is also an official translator of Shakesperare and a director…. A real intellectual man. He read the script and told me it is one of the best I ever read…
So, I said to myself… if someone that worked with Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti, Michele Soavi, Ruggero Deodato tells me that, either he is crazy or maybe I should try something else.
So I sent the script in USA to a producer (Domiziano Arcangeli, I chose him just because he had my same name) and after few months we was realising the film. My first idea was just to sell the script, He pushed me to direct it… so here we go.
CE: It is clear that you have your own identifiable style, which draws upon an almost surreal art house feel alongside more explicit, erotic and evocative (or should that be provocative) themes and images. Which directors were you most fond of when you started and did you consciously seek any influence from them?
DC: I knew of course the work of Joe D’amato but I think our results are very different for say that he is my inspiration. Maybe I can say the courage of Pier Paolo Pasolini is most, my inspiration in what I do.
CE: You have worked on several occasions with the writer Andrea Cavaletto, what is it about his work that attracts you?
DC: Simply Andrea has a style and ideas similar to mine. So, besides being very talented and agreeable, we always agree in every choice.
CE: As someone who has directed both his own scripts and those as others, what are the key differences in creative freedom between the two?
DC: I write the subjects of my films, no one gives them to me. So no differences, I direct only films that the contents reflect my feelings and ideas.
CE: Does writing the script allow you more freedom behind the camera to not only experiment and alter things or do you ensure you have that freedom when you take on a project?
DC: As I said no one says to me what to do, indie cinema doesn’t work like mainstream [cinema]. I never took an external project, often I reject them because I do indie films by choice, and I like to have fun. Otherwise it becomes like work and as a job [it] is not so well paid to allow someone to tell me what I can do and who to hire and why.
CE: You have worked with several members of the Italian scene who are well known for starring in or directing some of the best examples of cult cinema to come out of Italy. How have you found working with these people?
Do they bring an ego with them, the opportunity to better sell your film outside of Italy or does it really make very little practical difference to a film maker?
DC: Those icons like Venantino Venantini, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Lynn Lowry, Ruggero Deodato, Carlo de Mejo, Lombardo Radice are the sweetest people in heart. Nothing to compare with the new generation of actors, [who are] too often full of ego and problems.
I loved working with them, and I learned a lot from them… that was the principal reason for involving them in my projects… about fame or distributions, I must say that horror is not a field where a name works for sales… it only depends on the quality of the film. If it’s not a mainstream name, I must admit no one cares too much in a horror about names anymore.
CE: Through your own work and that of your production company, The Enchanted Architect, you appear extremely busy at the moment – what can we expect to see coming from you this year?
DC: This year we have new films coming out for release and festivals: the core projects “POE 4”, “Deep Web XXX”, “Phobia”, the release of two other productions of mine “Torment” by Adam Ford and Jack The St. Ripper by George Nevada plus the last segment of the trilogy of death (“Sacrifice”, “Torment”) “Xpiation” that I directed personally.
Also in March I start the first Albanian horror production, “The Best Of Me” written by Andrea Cavaletto and directed by me, in cooperation with FX artists Iva Cakalli and Jacopo Tomassini… it is a horror based on the life of the Bjork’s stalker, full of practical FX. A very bad trip full of craziness.
CE: As an independent film maker you must feel the frustrations from having to secure distribution and release to the delays that come with it. Do these delays affect your future work and budgets.
DC: I never had this problem… I always distributed all my films for good prices and great labels. Delays are part of the market strategy, sometimes problems happens, is because the contents of the films or money for post-production… but sooner or later a movie always finds it way.
“Doll Syndrome” is frozen by 4 years now, but we were expecting that… it is one of the most extreme film ever made, also full of sexual content, normal distribution (channels) is still not ready for it.
“Two Left Arms” suffered for the lack of money (one producer didn’t keep his word) and the earthquake that destroyed part of our original locations… plus the sad death of Carlo… I needed years for finish it in the best way I could.
CE: One reason that a lot of Americans may have heard of you now is due to your association with Unearthed Films. As a result several of your films are now more widely available. In your experience is it perseverance or luck that is required to last in this industry?
DC: For sure hard work and a little scent of luck.
CE: We have previously discussed those directors that influenced you at the start of your career but what about now. Are there any directors or artists that have come through that you enjoy?
DC: In Italy I like the style of Lorenzo Bianchini, outside here I think we have great talents in Kai Bogatzi, Marcus Koch and Johnathan Straiton.
CE: What would you say has been the best part of your career so far?
DC: I love every moment of it.
CE: Your work is broad and often challenging, how do you think this approach has affected your career?
DC: Yes many producers told me… you are great… but the movies you do are too extreme… no one will put in your hands a production if you don’t do something more mainstream first… well thank you… if someone called a producer cannot value what I can do until I don’t do something more commercial, I think maybe I am not good at my job, but probably him too.
CE: As an artist do you think it is important to push boundaries even if it means alienating potential audiences?
DC: Yes, I think so. We [live] in the new cultural middle ages… full of easily offended people… those people are the same that burned witches, destroyed masterpieces of art and jailed artists like Oscar Wilde or Egon Schiele. I think there must be someone that keeps screaming a different kind of truth or we will end involved again.
CE: You have previously mentioned in interviews that after directing you would like to be involved in performing social activity, what do you mean by this? What does the future hold for Domiziano Cristopharo?
DC: I have lot of free time. I use it for charity and other volunteering activity especially with the homeless. One of my dreams is to go to Africa for a while and help to build something important… there are people waiting for us outside of here…. Those things help others but also helps our soul. So, I’m planning a long journey…
CE: Grazie for your time Domiziano and best of luck for the future.
If you would like to find out more about the films of Domiziano Cristopharo visit his website. As a starting point to the films of Domiziano Cristopharo, Cinema Europa would particularly recommend “House of Flesh Mannequins” to those of you who like provocative and creepy thrillers with an art-house sensibility, or “The Transparent Woman” for those who like what we would most likely refer to as modern day gialllo…but for those who focus is more on the gore, check out the recent (and upcoming) Trilogy of Death films (“Sacrifice; Torment; Xpiation”).
If you are in the United States, all of the films discussed and more are now widely available with Unearthed Films being perhaps the first place to order from.
Directorial filmography (taken from the official website):
2018 DEEP WEB XXX (segment CRUISING)
2017 PHOBIA (segment MAGEIROCOPHOBIA)
2017 POE 4: The Black Cat
2017 RIMISHERIM / MAD MACBETH
2017 DARK WAVES
2017 Grindsploitation 3 Video Nasty (segment “NO One Will Be Safe”)
2015 VIRUS: EXTREME CONTAMINATION2017 DARK WAVES
2014 E.N.D. (episode REVENIENS)
2014 THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN
2014 P.O.E. 3 “Pieces Of Eldritch”
2014 DOLL SYNDROME
2013 PHANTASMAGORIA (episode “a snake with a steel tongue”)
2012 TWO LEFT ARMS
2012 RED KROKODIL
2012 P.O.E. 2 Project of Evil (episode “TARR&FETHER)
2011 SHOCK – My Abstraction of Death
2011 P.O.E. Poetry of Eerie (episode “Maelzel’s Chess-Automaton”)
2010 HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE
2010 BLOODY SIN – Oltretomba
2009 The MUSEUM of WONDERS
2008 HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS