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The hidden romanticism Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy

Please note that this article may contain spoilers.

The Gates of Hell trilogy of films from the Italian director Lucio Fulci defy classification to a certain extent. Sure they are horror but what type? As fans of the genre will understand, using such a broad classification is too simplistic when discussing not only our love of these films but the artistic intent and style contained within. 

By using such an umbrella term one may fail to do justice to the work and the (variety of the) genre. Consider the films of Lucio Fulci alongside the horror of Tobe Hooper (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE; POLTERGEIST), Wes Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and Alexandre Aja (HIGH TENSION; PIRANHA 3D). All of which are notably different and may appeal to slightly different audiences but yet all come under the bracket of horror.

So there is often the need to discuss and classify sub-genres but what kind of horror do the Gates of Hell films fall under? 

General consensus would place them in the filone of the zombie sub-genre however at certain points they may also incorporate the supernatural, the haunted house, the fantastical, the slasher and maybe even a little touch of the giallo. One thing however is that these three films are art.

In his book How to Read A Film, James Monaco argues that art is what you can’t specifically define and these three films certainly adhere to this. 

But ironically even the undefinable needs to be classified. I propose that these films do in fact conform to the definition of later period romanticism. That is to argue that they are art for art’s sake; in this case to elicit a sense of trepidation and fear. The same argument could be made for SUSPIRIA by Dario Argento, but that is a topic for another article.

Taking the movement of romanticism, which promoted form over content, we can see clear parallels between it and the work of Lucio Fulci covered here. Hardly surprisingly and I doubt a coincidence or mere conjecture considering that the director himself started out as an art-critic.

Throughout each film of the trilogy we are quick to realise that despite a relatively basic story that the films themselves do not directly relate to our reality, that is the world in which we live in, but rather to the relationship between the film and the artist (that is to say Lucio Fulci) and to the relationship between the film and us – the viewer.

Ever since the Ancient Greeks and their creation of drama a psychological element has been evident in performance but here it is taken to a logical, or perhaps that should be illogical, extreme wherein the emotion felt is the art and therefore is also the film. As such the three films that make up this trilogy focus on the visual and the atmospheric as opposed to plot or character development. A clear prioritisation for the makers is the focus on abstractism.

Although that is not to say the trilogy was exempt from contemporary economic demands or pressures. Those zombies are not there necessarily because they suited Lucio Fulci’s artistic vision but rather because distributors insisted that they be there and besides it was the early nineteen eighties and zombies sold. And who was he to argue with their demands considering it was their money paying for it all. Not to mention that it was arguably the zombie which gave him his biggest box office returns and may do once again.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD was originally proposed under the title Paura, which translates as fear in Italian, and according to Italian screenwriting legend and frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator, Dardano Sacchetti, after the success of ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS the director had realised the potential success that could be had from the horror genre and so he began reading H.P. Lovecraft, falling in love with the atmosphere of the books, in a bid to further his own journeyman career. This perhaps explains why the flesh-munching voodoo inspired ghouls from his previous film were put aside for more cranial, teleporting creatures. 

With a desire to reach critical and commercial success, a refined and well-read palette and having shown himself to have his own artistic capabilities (see A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN for evidence) it was as if now “(Lucio) Fulci had let go of reality and embraced the fantastic…[taking] horror into a more primal subconscious place” (Eli Roth in An Introduction to The Beyond [Arrow blu-ray booklet]). 

City of the Living Dead

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Starting with CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, a film which critics and fountains of Italian genre cinema knowledge Antonio Bruschini and Antonio Tentori state “oscillates between splatter and fantasy, visual cruelty and metaphysical poetry” (from their book Lucio Fulci: Poetry and cruelty in the movies). A brief synopsis of the film sees a reporter and a psychic traveling to Dunwich to close a gate of hell which opened due to the suicide of a priest, courtesy of a powerful and heretical opening – it all sounds rather straightforwards.

However a deep Lovecraftian influence pervades the film lending it a sense of the strange. Additionally there is further literary influence as opposed to a cinematic one, by way of the likes of Edgar Allen Poe (the rural gothic atmosphere; premature burial) and Stephen King (influence from Salem’s Lot). These influences are moulded into something that would almost define what many would think of when they think of Lucio Fulci’s body of work – surreal visual horror.

All of the Lovecraftian illogical and unpredictable horror utilised actually generates its real horror from the evil of men and their sadistic nature. This dark cynicism is a theme common in several of Lucio Fulci’s films.

In CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD perhaps this is most clearly shown in the brutal killing of Bob (as played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice). Here this act represents arguably one of the most brutal moments in the film and without a supernatural aspect in sight.

Talking of the supernatural, the séance in the opening of the film is unfortunately borderline Garth Marenghi, just take a look at the flames that occur after the first incident, but does a job in setting the tone for the rest of the movie.

Another moment from the otherworld, and one in which makes very little narrative sense, is where familiar faces Michele Soavi and Daniella Doria are sat in a car when our problematic priest reappears and disappears causing eyes to bleed, intestines being vomited up and skulls being crushed by teleporting zombies. Here the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ are irrelevant making it about the form and not the content. 

Free from the restrictive shackles of the George Romero inspired undead or even the requirement for a tight script and continuity, Lucio Fulci is able to focus more on the form. As Fangoria editor Chris Alexander is quoted in the booklet ‘Fulci of the Living Dead’ by Calum Waddell, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD see’s “Fulci at his most uninhibited, free to jam his curious camera into the crevices of creepiness…with grandiose, abstract gore and surreal shock.”

Further support for the argument of art for art’s sake can be found in the films ambiguous ending. Like with a painting (more on that later), we the viewer are invited to overlay our own thoughts and interpretation to the piece. This is device that is repeated across the three films and the idea of the innocence of children is explored further also.

The Beyond

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A year later and THE BEYOND would continue with not only many of the same themes but also an ending that is also open to interpretation. 

Due to its focus on visual horror and supernatural themes some have compared THE BEYOND to the first two (SUSPIRIA; INFERNO) of Dario Argento’s ‘3 Mothers’ trilogy however this is slightly misleading as although there are several commonalities the key driver and execution are significantly different. 

In THE BEYOND Lucio Fulci eschews the more traditional thriller plot structure and instead fully commits to creating “an experiment in total terror” (Antonio Bruschini and Antonio Tentori). The film builds on the abstract and the surreal which again gives the director free reign to terrify us with no logical rhyme or reason. But that is ok as this almost dreamlike narrative flows like a nightmare as again the how and why is superfluous to the resulting action. 

Now THE BEYOND is the perhaps the best example of form over content, with critics such as Arnold Blumberg & Andrew Hershberger (in their book Zombiemania: 80 Movies to die for) stating that “the key to appreciating the proceedings is not to get wrapped up in the plot and instead focus on the mood.” Something that the director is on record as stating as the aim indicating a very conscious effort. Upon its release Lucio Fulci is believed to have been quoted as saying:

“People who blame The Beyond for its lack of story have not understood that it’s a film of images, which must be received without any reflection. They say it is very difficult to interpret such a film, but it is very easy to interpret a film with threads: Any idiot can understand Molinaro’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, or even Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, while THE BEYOND or Argento’s INFERNO are absolute films.”

THE BEYOND opens in Louisiana, 1927, as an armed mob slowly descend upon a large rural hotel. A psychic reads the book of Eibon telling us of seven gateways but it is not her that the vigilantes are interested in but an ungodly warlock, played by the distinctive Antoine Saint-John (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN), who resides in room number 36.

More than a simple whipping later we jump to contemporary times as Liza (Catriona MacColl) inherits said old building and is having it renovated so that may give her a much needed fresh start. Throw in a handsome local doctor (as played by David Warbeck) and we get what initially looks like playing out as a classic gothic horror but with Italian horror sensibilities. However after an attack on Joe the friendly plumber, things begin to change. 

This act of shocking barbarity is followed immediately by a beautiful and expansive shot of an empty bridge, save for Liza travelling in her car. But in the middle of the bridge, quite literally stands a blind woman, Emily, and her canine companion. Very strange. Even more so considering Emily was stood there waiting for Eliza and we get a sense that whatever conventional narrative (in horror terms at least) that had begun to take hold was about to be twisted into something a little stranger. On a side note the arthouse film INFERNO VENEZIANO would take influence from the image on the bridge and prove to be equally out-there in terms of abstract horror.

Now after some much needed exposition, courtesy of our blind friend, we get a first look towards a barren and bleak painting, showing us more that what is just on the canvas. Such as with any painting the meaning is personal and open to interpretation. While in his review Donato Totaro states that the “painting that becomes integral to the thematic and metaphysical landscape” and I am certainly one to agree.

In THE BEYOND Lucio Fulci has shown us the materials for which we can either interpret, simply accept and be entertained or as is the case with most genre fare, to scorn and ridicule it’s lack of spoon-fed narrative. However you see it though, you cannot deny that THE BEYOND has the feeling of a film in which anything could happen and it does.

The House by the Cemetery

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It is hardly surprising that the thematic influence of Lovecraft would seep into the final entry of the trilogy, only this time it is seemingly merged with a variation of the myth of Frankenstein. Only this time the doctor and the monster are one and the same.

In the film, rationality once again takes a backseat and rather than mull over lines such as “You really should take those pills your baker prescribed” we should instead accept and appreciate that it plays out almost in a dream-like state where brutal random violence is juxtaposed with childlike innocence by way of situations that assault our senses.

Much like CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD the film is a mesh of several strands of horror; the slasher, the giallo, the supernatural and the haunted house movie. Because of this THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is the hardest film of the three to rationalise in terms of a (neo)romaticism angle, as it could just as easily be argued for as a disjointed and incomplete mess as it could a poem of childhood anxiety and fear. 

For those unfamiliar with the film the basic storyline focuses on Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) and his family, rounded off by Catriona MacCall as the wife and Giovanni Frezza as the oddly voiced son, who relocate to the rural town of New Whitby (a Bram Stoker reference perhaps?) so that he may continue on the research of his recently departed mentor. Oh did I forget to mention that the research was on suicide and the late mentor had also committed suicide – the ill omens are all there. While discussing strange coincidences this is a second pivotal character in the trilogy named Bob. 

From the very beginning Lucio Fulci lays his cards out on the table for all to see, indeed even before the opening titles, a female victim (played by the ever suffering Daniela Doria) is brutally murdered. If anyone had wondered what type of film they were about to watch they did not have long to wait in order to find out. 

Interestingly throughout the film the script drops what may be seen as a few clues as to both the absurd nature of the proceedings and also the underlying objective and direction of the film. Examples of this include when the babysitter (Ania Pieroni) is cleaning up a large pool of blood on the kitchen floor and is questioned about it by the lady of the house, Lucy. Rather than answer she simply states that some coffee is in the pot and this random bit of information placates Lucy who simply forgets about the unexplained spillage. Although this is perhaps also explained by the previously mentioned line regarding Lucy Boyle’s pills (as prescribed by her baker) in order to supress her hallucinations, leading us to question is any of this real? After all Bob is a bit too odd but he seemingly isn’t the only one. 

Talking of odd, a member of the local community while speaking to the Dr suggests that he had visited the town previously only that time with his daughter. While it is very possible that the citizen had heard but not seen Bob and just assumed it was a girl this is very unlikely. However just as these points are raised quite often they are ignored although both do hint at another reality so to speak, one in which the young girl May exists in, only whether this is genuinely real or a figment of someone’s imagination is never made clear. 

Supernatural aside, and there are several ethereal moments, arguments of the neo-romanticism influence on the film can be made rather interestingly through the use of the ugly. Ugly in the terms of the gratuitous violence that is employed. Not only through the framing (credit to Sergio Salvati here) but also in the way that THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY makes the viewer feel like a helpless voyeur during the carnage as the director elects to revel in the violence. Instead of shying away from the action we are actually invited in for a closer, longer look and just like those visiting the grand guignol shows of Paris we love it. We are captivated by it and it draws us in. Check out the death of the Estate Agent for some prime action.

For fans of horror THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is a must watch. It is a film built on many things including the creation of suspense, the mystery of the murderer and perhaps most of all, the visceral thrills of the violence. In short it is about eliciting and heightening a select group of emotions through its visual medium.

While watching the film viewers will have many questions, including the symbolism at the end as Bob emerges from the tomb that is located in the front room.

What does this all mean? After all he is too young to be ‘born again’ but is it even representative of a birth of anything? Meanwhile his ghostly friend May does not seem too bothered about the final confrontation that Bob had just been a party to but then again neither does Bob despite both parents fates…as he has seemingly travelled back in time without a care in the world. 

A singular vision

The Gates of Hell trilogy are three films brought together by a singular idea; to create emotive horror free from the logical constraints of a traditional narrative. Incorporating a Lovecraftian influence, as Jamie Russell would say in his book “Book of the Dead”, Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti “set out to create …radical, avant-garde gore movies” and to an extent this is an accurate take.

As all three films reject conventional and traditional film structures instead focusing on “just a succession of images” (Lucio Fulci in a printed interview with Starburst Magazine) that are interested in exploring personal fears and anxieties. 

Indeed the Tate Gallery define Romanticism as a “movement in art and literature distinguished by a new interest in human psychology, expression of personal feeling and interest in the natural world” which Neo-Romanticism builds upon to overlay the more abstract. In which it is the message and not the content that matters. 

Clearly as evidenced by the men involved these three films are built on abstract literary sources and were created for a specific form of expression and feeling in which we, the viewer, are then invited to impose our own interpretations upon.

So it is not surprising when people talk about the poetry of Lucio Fulci’s films, or when some of them are are described as “delirious, dreamy and often demented” (Calum Waddell in his booklet ‘Freudstein Revisited’ for Arrow films) because like a dream many scenes and sequences have no logical starting point or arc to help feed into the narrative but instead jump from action point to action point. Thankfully however Dardano Sacchetti never forgets to throw in some exposition so that we have some context and to aid the flow of images.

The deeper level of artistic endeavour employed adds weight to the argument that Lucio Fulci is, as many of us would already believe, a creative artist and not merely a workmanlike artisan or even a hack as some would have you believe and that the Gates of Hell trilogy stand up as a collective yet singular piece of art.

These films therefore in my mind are akin to an artist’s collection, which we as fans have dubbed the ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy, held together by a common concept and artistic execution. Like individual paintings each film can be enjoyed on its own and viewing of the whole collection is not necessarily detrimental or mandatory but when viewed together Lucio Fulci’s vision can be best understood. Whether or not it was his original vision is another matter.

And remember…Fulci lives!

(Hell)Rising from the British horror scene

Articles and Interviews

As part of my old site (Cosi Perversa) I caught up with the multi-talented British director Steve Lawson (“The Haunting of Annie Dyer; Killersaurus; Hellriser”) about what it is like to operate in the b-movie scene, how he sets about creating and what it is really like to put together these films that many of us scoff at the title of but then end up buying.

CE: Hi Steve, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Working in the film industry is a fantasy for many, at what stage of your life did you start to think that this was a real possibility?

SL: It’s hard to say, because things happen so gradually that you barely notice the progression from dreaming of being a film-maker to actually doing it for a living. Particularly when you are doing it independently on the fringe of the established industry; it’s not like I can point to my Oscar on the shelf and say “That’s it, I’ve arrived!” I would say it’s only been in the last four years that I’ve made the transition to being a part of “the film industry”, but I’ve been making films for around thirty years, literally since childhood. It’s really been the developments in technology in recent years that have massively democratised the film-making process and made it possible to make cinema-quality films on a low budget, and that’s become my speciality.

CE: Your first credit on IMDB is for writing and directing the short film “Dead Lane” ‘ back in 1998, which you then followed up in 2000 with the short film “The Office Fight”’, how invaluable did you find these experiences?

SL: Well, the IMDB is a strange beast – anyone can submit anything so it’s quite hard as the film-maker to ensure that your listing contains what it should. I made an awful lot of films prior to 1998 but I guess because that was the “analogue” era and none of them are online, that means they don’t exist as far as the IMDB is concerned!

“Dead Lane” was actually an attempt at a feature film which I ended up cutting down to make a short. I eventually took this concept and reworked it to make “Survival Instinct” which was the first of my recent batch of features.

“The Office Fight”, as its name suggests, is not really anything much, just a short fight scene in an office. I used to shoot fight scenes for fun; we would always try to come up with something akin to a Jackie Chan fight scene but usually fell short of the mark. It’s all good experience though, [and]we recently shot a martial arts scene for “Essex Heist” which came out pretty good.

CE: Early in your career, action appears to be your genre of choice. Was this a conscious decision by you, in order to follow a passion for that type of cinema or for more practical reasons?

SL: As I mentioned, Jackie Chan was a huge influence. I love classic martial arts films from the late 70’s through to the mid-90’s so a dream project would be to make a martial arts film with a decent budget. The reason I haven’t done so in recent years is that low budgets just don’t allow for the kind of shooting schedule it takes to film this kind of action. You really need at least a week to shoot a good fight scene, but on “Essex Heist” we had about four hours!

The performers did an amazing job considering the constraints we were under, but ideally the fight should have been much longer and more spectacular – but it just isn’t possible. Also, action films ideally have big stunts and explosions and car chases, all the kinds of things you can’t do on a low budget, so it’s best not to tackle a genre if you can’t do it justice – as I found with “Killersaurus”!

CE: Many independent directors seem to write their scripts as well, was this something you always intended to do?

SL: Not particularly – I’d prefer not to, really, but a lot of people send me scripts and I’ve never yet received one for a feature that I would want to produce. The vast majority are just atrociously written in terms of the basic English and grammar, so I don’t even read the whole thing. But usually they’re just very generic, and I can do “generic” myself.

I’m not a great scriptwriter but I am a very smart scriptwriter because I always write from a Producer’s point of view – how many days shooting is this? How many characters? Can I get rid of that location scene and just have somebody make a phone call? I’m not making great art, I’m making entertainment on a budget, so these considerations always come first. For example, I was recently asked to come up with a treatment based around a particular idea that a producer had, and without even realising it I wrote the whole thing as taking place in one apartment and there were only four characters! We could have shot it in a week! So in that case I actually had to go back and open it out and make it bigger, because I had inadvertently written a micro-budget film without actually being asked to. 

CE: How did you set about learning your craft in telling stories, both on paper and visually?

SL: I have picked up one or two tips from screenwriting and film-making books, but mainly I think I just absorbed storytelling from the hundreds of films I watched growing up. I don’t have a problem with converting the written word to the screen because I almost always have the entire film visualised in my head before I actually put pen to paper on the script. Because of this, writing the script can become a bit of a chore because in my head I’m already framing the shots and imagining the edit.

CE: Going back to your career, it wouldn’t be until 2014 that you entered the world of horror, with “The Haunting of Annie Dyer” aka “Nocturnal Activity” [CP editor note – Love this title and its double entendre] where did your inspiration for this come from?

SL: Strictly speaking “Survival Instinct” was shot before “The Haunting of Annie Dyer”, and that was intended to be in the horror genre, though it’s more of a survival-thriller than true horror. The idea for “The Haunting of Annie Dyer” was simply to shoot something specifically aimed at US distribution on a particular B-movie label that I was in touch with. But because there was no upfront money on offer, it had to be done as cheaply as possible, so it ended up being shot in five days with no crew whatsoever. I literally did everything myself, and all the names in the credits besides the actors are made up.

In terms of the plot, it was inspired a little bit by “The Entity”, but the idea was to take out the violent aspect and make it more erotic and a bit light hearted. But I have to admit, the tone of it is a bit all over the place; sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sexy, but it’s rarely scary. I’m told the best thing about it is my commentary on the DVD rather than anything in the film itself!

CE: This film would also be the first for your film production company Creativ Studios as well as being one of the first to be distributed by British genre label 88 Films. How did that deal come about?

SL: Well, it’s funny how things turn out – in fact “Survival Instinct” was the first project that 88 Films decided they could release. I shot “The Haunting of Annie Dyer” shortly afterwards, but at the time it wasn’t intended for 88 Films but for the US distributor I mentioned earlier. There was a delay in the release of “Survival Instinct” as there wasn’t a suitable supermarket slot for it, so in the interim I suggested to 88 Films that it would be a good idea to put out a dinosaur film to tie in with the release of “Jurassic World”, so I then shot “Killersaurus” very quickly and if memory serves me correctly that turned out to be the first of my films that 88 Films released.

Fortunately it did alright and subsequently so did “Survival Instinct” – although they had to change the title to “Footsoldier” in order to get supermarket support – and so 88 asked if I had any other titles they could put out which led to them releasing “The Haunting of Annie Dyer”. It was at this point that 88 Films and my company Creativ Studios began to collaborate creatively, coming up with the concepts for “Essex Heist” and “Hellriser” together.

CE: How important is it for an indie film maker such as yourself to make sure that you get that distribution? Did you ever have to prioritise seeking a distributor and the business side over your creative work?

SL: Distribution is everything. It’s as simple as that. Of course, we all have to start somewhere and it’s hard to get distribution when you have no track record, so I shot “Survival Instinct” using my own money and with no distribution lined up, just to prove I could produce a decent feature film. But since then I have never made a film without at least having built up a relationship with a distributor. And I never will. Making a film and then shopping it round to distributors is a horrible and totally inefficient process, and I can’t think of anyone – outside of the famous incidents like “Blair Witch” – who has ever made their money back that way.

CE: Creativ Studios are based in Leicester, a city not widely known for its media industry. Has the decision to not be based in London affected your trade and industry opportunities?

SL: It was not a decision, it was a necessity! It’s always been my dream to own my own studio building, but there was absolutely no way this was ever going to happen in London considering the price of property down there! But fortunately the location of my studio is actually quite convenient for travel to and from London, we are just off the M1 and very easy to get to, and there are numerous hotels and other facilities in the surrounding area. And I think being based outside London makes it easier to keep costs down throughout the production process.

CE: You followed this up with the terrifically named “Killersaurus”, which appeared to be a bit of a departure from your previous movies. Did you decide to write this film to simply build a diverse body of work or had you seen one too many SyFy and Asylum movies and thought I could do better?

SL: It’s true to say I enjoy having a diverse body of work, but really “Killersaurus” was just an attempt to cash in on the release of “Jurassic World”. In my original script it was much more of a horror film and there were some interesting ideas in it – it had a lot more in common with David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” than with “Jurassic Park” – but the schedule and lack of budget meant it ended up being reduced to a rather poor 1950’s style monster movie where most of the running time was taken up with people sitting in a control room talking about a dinosaur. The main difficulty was that although the puppet dinosaur we used looked okay for head shots, there was basically no way of making it walk around or attack people so we were very limited in regards to what sort of action scenes we could pull off. There’s one very good death scene we were able to achieve by having the dinosaur hidden behind a huge door and just showing the actor dragged off to their death, but there’s only so many times you can cheat the audience with tricks like that!

CE: Looking through your films a few faces reappear in front of the camera, how important is it to find reliable (and suitable) actors when dealing with lower budget films?

SL: There are two sides to this – firstly of course you need actors who you know are reliable and who understand the process of making a low budget film as opposed to doing something high end at the BBC or whatever, but secondly very often the actors I work with become friends and so each film shoot becomes another chance to get together and have fun making a movie. It’s very hard work of course, but collaborating on a project with people you enjoy spending time with is a great way to earn a living.

CE: On smaller budget independent films, often the director has to wear more than one technical hat, have your films ever seen you have to do something bizarre or unexpected?

SL: I’ve got a long background in professional video production and so fortunately I can carry out just about any job on set that needs doing. Not that I would ever walk onto somebody else’s set and start telling the DOP or the sound recordist how to do their job, but for my purposes I can do these jobs just fine and many more besides.

The culmination of this was on “The Haunting of Annie Dyer”, where, as I mentioned, there was no crew at all and I did everything behind the camera. So for example, during the big finale love scene where the naked ghost girl seduces Annie Dyer, I was literally running back and forth between the lights, the camera and the smoke machine, making adjustments to all three whilst the girls performed the scene. People imagine it must be quite sexy filming those kinds of scenes but between all the jobs I had to do I barely had a chance to actually watch what was happening!

CE: After mixing things up again with “Survival Instinct” and “Essex Heist” you return to horror with the genre crossing ‘Hellriser’. What prompted this almost unofficial sequel and did you always have it in mind to link back to “The Haunting of Annie Dyer”?

SL: Okay, I’m going to tell you a secret now! What actually happened was that I needed to shoot a very short scene with Raven Lee (who played Annie Dyer) for “Essex Heist”, but since it was such a short scene and would only take a few minutes, I decided to improvise some other scenes and ended up shooting a lot random footage with her in a prison cell set that I had built in the studio. I had a vague idea that perhaps it could be used for another Annie Dyer movie, but there was no script or even a story, it was just random stuff that looked cool. So then after “Essex Hesit” was finished I had to come up with a plot that could make use of the footage – and so “Hellriser” was born! It really isn’t a sequel to “The Haunting of Annie Dyer” though; it’s a completely separate story that just happens to have a few of the same characters.

CE: I had the privilege of attending the premiere for “Hellriser” and I was surprised at how well you manage to blend a dark, British humour into something that resembled a (paranormal) mystery thriller. What was your process and inspiration while writing this film?

SL: The primary aim was to fix what I got wrong on “The Haunting of Annie Dyer”. That film was meant to be a sexy horror comedy, but the sex was tame, the horror was weak and I forgot to actually put any jokes in it. So with “Hellriser” I knew from the start it had to be stronger in all those areas. It’s got some proper horror – some really nasty death scenes of the kind you’d see in a Dario Argento movie – and a clear supernatural element. It’s also got a lot more graphic nudity and some proper character comedy scenes with the mismatched detectives, the mad scientist and the clumsy pathologist. Stylistically the intention was to give it the same look as some of the classic horror films from the 70’s and 80’s that I enjoy and that 88 Films specialise in releasing, so there’s a lot of very bold coloured lighting and deliberately artificial-looking sets which give the film a very stylised look which I rather like.

CE: As mentioned there you manage to successfully weave several influences as well as genres into the movie, making it arguably your most expansive movie to date. How did you manager to maintain a balance?

SL: I’m not sure how well the elements blend – I guess we’ll see what the customer reviews say in a few weeks’ time! I just wanted to throw in as many elements as possible that people might find entertaining, just to ensure that anyone who buys the DVD will feel like they got their money’s worth. So if you don’t enjoy the gore scenes, don’t worry, there’ll be a naked shower scene along in a minute. And if you don’t enjoy that, well… sorry, you bought the wrong film.

CE: As with many independent films what is planned in the writing stage is not always feasible when filming. Does the end product of “Hellriser” accurately represent your vision for the film or did you have to make compromises during filming?

SL: The film is pretty-much as I envisaged it. There are always compromises, especially when you have to rush through scenes to get everything in the can, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know what I’m capable of. I think there are one or two scenes that don’t gel as well as I’d hoped but overall the plot hangs together well and visually I think it’s rather impressive for a low budget production. It’s certainly not your standard drab, hand-held indie horror film.

CE: Now I have to ask – why the title “Hellriser”? Is this simply to show next to an already established title in stores and on streaming services or is it something more integral to the film?

SL: I don’t do the titles! To be honest a lot of people are reacting badly to the title, the tag line or the packaging, because they don’t realise that it’s a joke, not a rip-off of “Hellraiser”! I agreed to the title because I thought it was funny and cheeky, but it’s a double-edged sword; hopefully the title will be eye-catching and make people give the film a second look when they see it on the shelf, but horror fans who dismiss it as some kind of cheap knock-off of “Hellraiser” need to realise that’s not what it is at all. I sometimes wonder if we should have put an exclamation mark on the end of it – “HELLRISER!”

CE: With a strong body of work now behind you what does the future hold for Steve Lawson and Creativ Studios? And will we ever see you back in front of the camera?

SL: I’ve done a bit of voice-acting in recent productions – including “Hellriser” – but I’ve no desire to step in front of the camera. I’m much too busy on the production side – I’ve had five features released in the last couple of years and if anything I’ll be stepping up a gear in the next few years, the intention being to have a rolling slate of projects with one in post while the next one is shooting. I’m looking forward to working with a wider range of producers and distributors over the coming year, whilst also maintaining the fantastic relationship that I have with 88 Films, to whom I’m very grateful for the opportunities so far. And also for all the free Shaw Brothers blu-rays!

CE: Thank you for your time Steve and good luck for the release of “Hellriser”.

HELLRISER was released on DVD by 88 Films on 9 October 2017 and is currently available for pre-order from 88 Films and Amazon UK.

Keep up to date with the latest releases from Creativ Studios and give their Facebook page a like here.

You can also read a bit more about the film and the premiere over on the Midlands Movies website and check out the trailer below.

Rebuilding the house

Articles and Interviews, blog

If you are reading this blog then in all likelihood you are open minded regarding your films and see age as just a number. The advent of home entertainment has provided several opportunities for films to be released and re-released with every iteration from VHS onwards and with each release the opportunity to find new fans. 

Generally speaking the films that benefit most from this process are decades old and as such manage to appeal to both new and old audiences due to the superior quality offered or additional material they provide over past releases. Although recent times have also seen more modern films receive this treatment, after all how many different versions exist of the major Hollywood blockbusters, which are at best an attempt to provide fans with as much footage and value as possible and at worst a cynical cash-grab. Normally the latter.

With that in mind there one version of a re-release that is most likely to have some artistic merit – the director’s cut. Often released after the producers and distributors have made their required money, these versions allow a film to be seen as it was originally intended (or at least they would have you believe) and theoretically give the director another chance of putting their vision on screen away from the pressures and requirements of the business philistines or distributor demands.

In genre cinema we have seen several companies do this with older films, one only has to look at Shameless with their release of Cannibal Holocaust, although perhaps this is not the best example given that some of the cuts made were enforced by the BBFC. 

Regardless of the reasoning behind it however each release, of both new and old movies, gives the market the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-discover films within not only a new, wider context (allowing us to use hindsight and take into account movies that followed) but also a personal one – had we been lucky enough to be witness it the first time.

One such film that I believe was overlooked upon its initial release back in 2009 was HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS, the debut film from Italian director Domiziano Cristopharo, which is now due to benefit from an extended director’s cut to mark its ten year anniversary.  I say extended as a 2009 release also boasts being a directors cut, although I suspect that this release was more of a business decision made by others with an aim for a quick return as opposed to any desire for the film to be seen.

Talking of the film, it follows a loner artist named Sebastian (Domiziano Arcangeli) who has a history of abuse and a strange fixation but when he meets a beautiful woman (Irene Violette) who takes an interest in his life and work despite the reservations of her father (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) things set off on a path of no return.

A strange and compelling watch, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS displays influences from not only the likes of Joe D’Amato but also David Lynch and Michael Powell amongst others all wrapped up within some beautiful cinematography and an almost arthouse sensibility combining to make something unique and that would arguably go on to define the directors own personal style.

Seemingly buried by distributors, while an unrated edition that exists is even more hidden and perhaps targeted at a very specific section of society, in that time that has passed since these releases the Roman director has been extremely prolific and is only now seeing the fruits of his labour, particularly in the United States of America, where his more recent films such as RED KROKODIL; THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN and TWO LEFT ARMS amongst others are now readily available

So why revisit the past? And why a directors cut?

I managed to speak with the director who informed me that this release was simply to mark the ten year anniversary of its release and rather than a simply be a straight up re-release that this special edition will be used to “bring back the original shape of the movie”. Something that sounds very intriguing. 

This release will feature new music alongside additional footage that has never been seen before, with this covering original footage that he “had to cut because it was considered too obscene,(but) now thanks to movies like A SERBIAN FILM that were released four or five years after our movie, extreme is more acceptable, more normal but [back then] it was a different story”. Considering that HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS was no playful, family friendly romp in the first place one can only wonder what else will be included.

On this note Domiziano Cristopharo promises that this release will be “unrated and more shocking” and I have no doubt will appeal to many if it gets the distribution it deserves. Including the Unearthed Films audience, a company who also distributed A SERBIAN FILM, and who will be familiar with the Italian director thanks to his recent contributions to the label (such as RED KROKODIL and a number of the AMERICAN GUINEA PIG series).

Despite never quite benefitting from first mover advantage, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS arguably helped contribute to kickstarting to the erotic and sexual horror sub-genre, an area in which its director has generally continued to pursue, and it is hoped that this release will go some way in claiming some of the dues that it thoroughly deserves.

Domiziano Cristopharo has some way to go in claiming the fame and notoriety of the forerunner Joe D’Amato, despite arguably creating more technically competent films, but his past, present and future (see the poster for NUDI E MORTE) all point towards him finally claiming that throne.

Although no distributor or release date has been announced this is one release that is worth keeping on your radar. Discover the trailer for the HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS below:

Suspiriaaaahhh

Articles and Interviews, blog

Today (Monday 4 June 2018) Amazon Studios released the first teaser trailer for Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming remake of SUSPIRIA. 

The 1977 original by Dario Argento, one of the masters of Italian horror, was a supernatural and vivid masterpiece as vibrant in colour as it was dark in soul and so it was understandable upon the announcement of a remake that many fans were anxious at best and angry at worst.

Even myself felt some trepidation, after all there was no need for a remake as the original despite its age holds up to this day and is still widely available. My initial concerns remained in place upon the unveiling of the first poster.

This poster was more than just a teaser or an announcement, it was a an opportunity for the producers (marketing team, creative team and everyone involved) to adjust how potential viewers would see the film, it would give an opportunity for the 2018 version of SUSPIRIA to position itself for all audiences, regardless of whether they were familiar with Dario Argento version or not.

So it was a great disappointment when the poster was unveiled as when viewed without much context and on its own the font style and production technique were so mis-aligned with the tone of the film it was hard to understand the ideas or objective behind it.

A stone like background with a messy-yet-computerised, I would even go as far as to say artificial and contrived, painted “S” would certainly be understandable to the initiated but certainly would not appease or excite. While those new prospective fans, unaware of the film, would surely be left uninformed by this poster without any article to support it and no doubt would surely be wondering what kind of film it is. Hardly conducive to sticking in their memory. 

Here in lies the dangers with modern day drip feeding of content, there may or may not be any context to support or help form an opinion. For many, myself included this washed out background and artificial foreground red was bland, the font type of the S looked bloated and there was little to latch on it.

Ultimately it was a design that would not change anyones mind, those who wanted to bad mouth the film would use this to do so and those wanted to keep an open mind would still keep that niggling worry in the back of their head. 

But we all would talk about it, increase its reach and perhaps that is all that matters.

So with the teaser video, the next piece of teaser marketing being fed to us masses I was delighted to see and understand the complete use of the logo (for lack of a better term), to see and understand a bit more about the tone of the film and most of all start to feel the atmosphere of the film.

A much darker colour scheme permeates throughout this trailer (as opposed to those popping primary colours previously) but the sense of unease remains as the footage comes across as both frantic, claustrophobic and sinister all at the same time and I for one am now very excited to see this film.

There is always a danger in analysing a trailer too much but here the footage chosen works hinting at a wider, sinister and cruel mystery that would be apparent to anyone regardless of their familiarity with the source material.

After speaking with the highly informative Bob Freudstein (of the amazing House of Freudstein blog and more) he recognised the Red Army Fraction logo in the diary adding another potential line of inquiry, red herring or perhaps even inconsequential cultural/period reference piece. Very intriguing.

I am delighted to see that those creatively behind the film have had the bravery to go their own way and put their own stamp on things rather that simply regurgitate or appease. No matter what happens this will be Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA and based on this trailer the November release date cannot come soon enough. 

What are your thoughts on the trailer and the remake? Let me know over on Twitter.

Of death…of life…of many other things?

Articles and Interviews

A personal look into Dellamorte Dellamore (1994).

In 2017 a list went viral online detailing landmarks in European Queer Cinema and I was a little surprised to see Michele Soavi’s DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (aka CEMETERY MAN) listed. As aside from the sexuality of leading man Rupert Everett, which has absolutely no relation to the film or his casting, I could not see exactly how the list maker came to their conclusion.

Now, being a self-entitled millennial I obviously took to social media to debate it and to hopefully gain alternative viewpoints and interpretations of the film. Thankfully having a diverse and articulate network group I discovered several reasons behind why some agree with it falling into this queer category, such as it “daring to be non-normative” while possessing a “very queer sensibility” (@schmollywood666, 2017).

These types of discussions I believe are vital to film fans in helping us to see what others see. It allows us to challenge our own thoughts and serves to open our minds to other points of view, regardless of whether we agree or not. Ultimately this is a skill that we can and should take into our real lives.

Regardless of the movie (although the vapid dross Michael Bay creates is excluded), we can each form our own unique interpretation of what we have seen, filtered through our own experiences and thoughts to find meaning, and it is because of this I love the medium. So here, I am going to detail exactly what DELLAMORTE DELLA MORE means to me. 

It is one of those films that is clearly open to interpretation thanks to a layered approach touching on several subjects and allowing viewers to choose whether they just want to dip in and out of a titillating (no Anna Falchi jokes please) and bonkers Italian zombie flick or if they want to contemplate the existence of their own personal world and its confines. Depending on how many beers I have had I can do either. Full disclosure however, I have never read the Dylan Dog graphic novels and so that avenue at least cannot be explored by me,

Now if you are unfamiliar with this unconventional 1994 movie, then the premise itself when simplified may not sound all that much but when you begin to expand the narrative then things suddenly become a lot more abstract, philosophical and let’s be honest at times, humorous.

Fundamentally the film follows Engineer Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) and his simple assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) who work as the guardians of the Buffalora cemetery. A cemetery where for some reason approximately seven days after being buried the dead come back to life and must be put back to rest once more.

With only the child-like Gnaghi for companionship, and fed up with his lot in life – unappreciated by all of the townsfolk who are unaware of his real work and instead make snide sexual comments about him – Francesco decides that there must be something more for him out there, be it love or adventure. Anything to break the monotony and sheer futile nature of his life. After all if the dead return to life and we are all destined to die, why wait for it to happen. At this point of the movie, he feels impotent to make a change, needing a catalyst he eventually is sparked into action by the power of love. However much like his mental state, events soon unravel pushing him to his limit. And on further reflection we start to consider is his impotence related to his fear of losing his job, his identity or even his masculinity?

If you haven’t realised by now this piece is certainly not a review of the film, or at least not in the traditional format, and therefore I have no need to reiterate the praise for Mauro Marchetti’s fantastic cinematography, the memorable music by Riccardo Biseo and Manuel De Sica or even the excellent work by all of the crew regarding set and costume design. Perhaps there is room for me to reminisce about that Anna Falchi scene however, but I digress.

Right, back on track and what we do need to talk about is the terrific script by Gianni Romoli (TRAUMA), who was working from source material in terms of initial characters and set up by Tiziano Sclavi and his Dylan Dog comics – the character Dylan Dog was of course originally modelled on Rupert Everett and therefore only he could have played Francesco. Despite this, some American producers attempted to line up Matt Dillon for the role. To be fair I can see this logic from a visual perspective but this role really was handcrafted for Rupert Everett and him alone.

In his script, Gianni Romoli grants Francesco a wry, sardonic sense of humour (of which Rupert Everett skilfully delivers) while simultaneously managing to lead us through the highs and lows of our leads mental state. To do this the writer took an interesting approach ulitising a device that one does not see all that often, if ever, in Italian genre cinema – a monologue voiceover. The effect being something that comes across as a very internal, personal film – a journey. Due to this approach as the viewer we can empathise and place the actions that we witness into a much wider emotional context.

Sure, sometimes the visual representation of these ‘states’ is a little heavy handed but at other times they are open to interpretation and if I may borrow from the art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who when describing the works of the Baroque artist Caravaggio stated that (of the artist) “He habitually collapses the immensity of the world into the confines of a room…” I feel that this also speaks of Francesco’s world and to those of us who grew up in more remote locations, where the world is limited in physical reach and scope. One may also interpret this as an internalisation due to the use of the internal dialogue.

“The rest of the world…who knows if the rest of the world even exists.”

With this point it is also important to remember that the film was made in 1994, a time when the world was not as interconnected as today, a time when you could not simply go online to communicate or learn or discover the world. It was a time when the world for most of us was only as big as our social network (and possible few foreign holidays) would allow it to be. Where events occurring even in our own continent must seem unconnected, at least directly, to our way of life. It is in this situation that, like Francesco, we are most likely to ask – does the rest of the world really exist? 

This feeling plays off the concept of object permanence and fascinates me in regards to how we see, interact and understand both our world and that of the wider one. These points incorporate our social interactions and by the final act of DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE we begin to question the very nature of the film due to the almost absurd actions of several characters, giving rise to the argument that perhaps all of this is played out in Francesco’s head. How much of this is his interpreted reality? 

We ask are the Police Marshall and Francesco’s friend Franco merely manifestations of his own mind? Perhaps in some sort of Freudian way they are elements of his conflicting psyche (the id, the ego and the super-ego) as they try to justify his ever erratic actions which culminate in his realisation and liberation.

This ending is what leads me to believe that the film is talking about how we perceive the world based on our own experiences. 

Of course there are other subjects tackled in the film; one example is the self-centred Mayor exploiting his daughter in order to win an election is extremely cynical, perhaps here the film is displaying a distrust for politicians and disillusionment of the system. This would hardly be surprising considering the Italian political system. I will leave you to discover the rest for yourself.

Ultimately for me DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE is not a horror as such but a darkly comic, bizarre, profound and stylistically violent drama. Possessing a sly, dark wit with several humorous throwaway lines peppered throughout in order to keep the film fresh and preserve a balance to the more serious topics that are touched upon.

For me this is a film about existentialism, for others it is about non-conformity (and the personal damage of appeasement) but what about for you? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter over @cinemaeuropa.

If you have not watched the film I implore you to track down a copy, remove any distractions and give it a watch. Perhaps the last great Italian genre film.

If you are in the UK the film is available from Shameless Films.

I’ll leave you with one line from Francesco You can never be too different”. So perhaps daring to be non-normative is not far off the mark at all. 

Lucky or not so lucky Ros!

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Wait, you’re that guy from that movie, aren’t you?

Many may not know his name but almost every Italian genre fan will know his face. Having appeared in over 70 movies, although not always credited, the career of Luciano Rossi appears almost a paradox. 

Constantly in work but barely ever in truly memorable roles, Luciano Rossi would be seemingly invisible in the grand scheme of things, often reduced to a mere footnote, due to the frequency of being cast in a minor or extra role, usually as a glorified punch-bag.

However thankfully his contribution has been not only noted, but actually the sole purpose of the book A Violent Professional by Kier-La Janisse, and it is in this spirit of recognition that I wrote this brief piece on his more known genre work. And if you enjoy this piece (or even if you don’t) I would suggest picking up A Violent Professional, which marks an interesting read and discovery of the man’s roles. 

Luciano Rossi was born in Rome on the 28th November, 1934 and would begin adulthood working at an import/export business before deciding that acting would be the career for him. As a result he began visiting Cinecittà regularly looking for any work that he could find as an actor.

No doubt aided by his distinct and stereotypically un-Italian appearance his first, albeit uncredited, role was as a German soldier in the 1962 war drama ‘Dieci italiani per un Tedesco (Via Rasella)’ which literally translates as ten Italians for a German. 

For whatever reason it would be a further four years before he would return to the big screen  – this time appearing in the Franco Nero fronted DJANGO.  Although uncredited once again, this brief role saw him play a lackey to the town Major, and would set the tone for many of his future roles as viewers would witness him being violent towards a woman before being killed. Normally I might consider that bit of information a spoiler but as this is Luciano Rossi we are talking about these actions are almost a given. 

Several varied roles followed across a range of genres as Luciano Rossi, like many other Italians in the industry, forged a journeyman career but at least for him there was one constant – Django! In total he would go on to feature in seven Django films during the late sixties (including ‘Sentenza di morte’) as well as a handful of other westerns and crime flicks.

After a very active 1968/69 his career was on an upward trajectory, at least in terms of volume of work, but it would be another uncredited role in 1970 that would see him appear in perhaps the most successful film he would ever be involved in – Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST. It is just a shame that his role is so brief that you might miss him even if you don’t blink.

However things would soon click for Rossi however with a role in Roberto Bianchi Montero’s 1972 giallo-esque thriller SO SWEET, SO DEAD which is also known by the catchy title THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC or if you manage to get hold of the US hardcore sex version, PENETRATION. Although I suspect that version had a very targeted audience for whom plot and mystery had little to do with the appeal.

Roberto Bianchi Montero’s film features an almost moralistic killer who targets adulterous women resulting in several denouncements for misogyny and it certainly does attempt to live up to the more salacious and presumed stereotype of the sleazy side of the genre, However due to the cast this film is still worth your time, but don’t go expecting a classic. 

In it Luciano Rossi plays a morgue attendant who likes to engage in, let’s say, extracurricular work activities but portrays the character more as pitiful than perverse – a distraction or a lead suspect, that is for you to find out.

In addition to this, Luciano Rossi would go on to feature in a small but notable role in Luciano Ercoli’s giallo DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS, 1971. Playing Hallory, a very distinctive village local, he managed to briefly steal some of the attention away from our leads in a terrific and intriguing little robbery thriller-come-giallo.

Now whatever he did on set, he clearly did it well enough to feature in the directors second ‘Death walks…’ feature, released the following year. Although in truth it was probably harder to not be recast by Luciano Ercoli than it was to be cast as highlighted by the return of several actors. 

Only this time in DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT he gained a bit more screen time with his memorable role as Hans, seeing him cast as a German once again while also maintaining his default comeuppance and ultimately taking a beating.

Crazy and hamming it up, Luciano Rossi not only looked fantastic in this film but also puts in arguably one of his best performances, even if he was had very little dialogue or variety to work with. 

Now death isn’t a good thing for most people but Luciano Rossi thrived off in a manner of speaker as he followed up these two films with appearances in Maurizio Pradeaux’s neat little giallo DEATH CARRIES A CANE, seeing the actor once again feature alongside Luciano Ercoli’s other half and muse Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott. This film of ‘death’ was soon followed by DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER by Joe D’Amato. In this he managed to secure a relatively awful lot of screen time as the hunchback Fritz in what Janisse would call “one of the most satisfying roles of Rossi’s career”.

By this point the Italian industry saw the giallo wane, at least in terms of its golden period, with this genre being overtaken in popularity by the rise in eurocrime and poliziotteschi. So it would be no surprise to see Luciano Rossi, along with many others in the Italian film industry which no doubt suffered from cronyism, make the move across. However this would not be it for him and the giallo as he would return later to the genre, if only loosely with 1974’s PROSTITUZIONE by Rino Di Silvestro – a curious hybrid of giallo and social sleaze.

However back on cinematic trend, Luciano Rossi went on to appear in THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS (1973) alongside Luc Miranda, Silvano Tranquilli and American actor Richard Conte…however he would not event make it out of the first act, such is his lucky.

This role however would set him off on a spate of eurocrime including an uncredited role in EXECUTION SQUAD (aka Le mano spietata delle legge; The Bloody Hands of the Law) in which he receives a blowtorch to the groin courtesy of the one and only Klaus Kinski. According to writer/director Mario Gariazzo this scene was somehow set to be even more violent but was shortened in order to appease both the producers and the ensure an easier ride with the censors.

Roles soon followed as part of the Comissario Betti films, first as a low life rapist in the 1975 film VIOLENT ROME before scoring a more substantial role in Umberto Lenzi’s follow up VIOLEN NAPLES in which Maurizio Merli reprised the role of Betti handing out judo chop after judo chop.

In VIOLENT NAPLES Luciano Rossi plays young thug Quasimodo who, as part of a small gang kidnap a married couple and rape the wife. This action all occurs near the start of the film and is the initial trigger for Comissario Betti to rally against the bureaucratic and restrictive system and culminates in a battle against John Saxon and the mob. Although that is not before the world’s worst escape attempt in which poor Quasimodo is impaled on a spike in an almost comedic manner. VIOLENT NAPLES proves that rarity of a sequel in that it actually manages to surpass the original with Luciano Rossi playing the small-time, loathsome criminal perfectly as ever.

Once again, the by now dare we say character actor, must have made a good on-set impression as Umberto Lenzi would also give him a part in his 1976 crime drama Il trucido e lo sbirro which was co-written by Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci regular Dardano Sacchetti and stared another genre icon, this time in the shape of Tomas Milian.

Now Luciano Rossi was ever worried that he would be typecast as a low-level criminal he needn’t have worried as that another stereotype – a Nazi – would provide him with some variety. First briefly in SALON KITTY by Tinto Brass and then in Fabio De Agostini’s THE RED NIGHTS OF THE GESTAPO.

Based on a book by Bertha Uhland, the ridiculous plot sees a group of German industrialists try to overthrow Hitler . This film however is one for the dedicated only.

Unfortunately it was around this time that depression began to sink in, perhaps due to the frustration of always being the nearly man. Eventually the actors health began to give way as severe weight loss and muscular dystrophy took hold and the mid-to-late 70s marked the beginning of the end for Luciano Rossi.

The final act of Luciano Rossi’s career saw more brief roles in minor films, primarily in the ailing eurocrime genre with little of interest except perhaps the 1977 film CRIME BUSTERS starring former Django Terence Hill (who he featured alongside in THEY CALL ME TRINITY and DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN) and Bud Spencer.

It wouldn’t be until 1980 when, thanks to Lucio Fulci, Luciano Rossi would be back on the cinema screens thanks to CONTRABAND in which he played a chemist and in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, released the same year, where he played a policeman. Both very small roles but he is instantly recognisable if inconsequential.

Eventually Luciano Rossi would see out his career with roles in a few footnote films (HOTEL PARADISE; SANGRAAL; La spade di fuoco) culminating with the comedy LONG LIVE THE LADY! in 1987 which was the end of a deteriorating career that would parallel his health.

Having starred alongside and for many greats of the 1970s Italian film industry, many of which he would work alongside on multiple occasions it is a shame that someone who toiled away in the background so often and on so many entertaining and quality films would ultimately be remain overlooked struggling to get his due for many decades.

For whatever reason that breakthrough to the next level of success eluded him but thankfully now with the re-release of many classic and not so classic films he is finally, albeit posthumously, getting the attention that he deserves.

So next time you recognise that blonde haired, short little sleazeball or that chemist that the camera holds on for slightly too long think of Luciano Rossi and what a life he must have lived.

Brief note, depending on the film and the release you have Luciano Rossi may also be known by one of his anglicised pseudonyms such as Lou Kamante, Lucky Ros or Edward/Edwin Ross.

Un’intervista con Antonio Tentori

Articles and Interviews

Per il mio l’ultimo blog (Cosi Perversa) ero fortunato a intervista il meravigoloso Antonio Tentori. Questa intervista sono stato difficile per me perchè abbiamo fatto in italiano, quindi la mia lingua forse brutto ma spero divertiti comunque.

CE: Come hai fatto a entrare nel mondo del cinema e hai sempre saputo che volevi scrivere storie?

AT: Scrivere è sempre stata la mia più grande passione e da quando ero ragazzo ho desiderato fortemente scrivere per il cinema. Ho iniziato a lavorare nel cinema come generico in alcuni film (per esempio Yado di Richard Fleischer, che è stato girato in Italia) e in seguito sono stato assistente alla regia di Antonio Bido (Barcamenandoci), Tonino Valerii (Sicilian Connection) e Lucio Fulci (Demonia). Questo percorso mi è stato necessario per poter arrivare alla scrittura cinematografica.

CE: Quando hai capito che avevi fatto come sceneggiatore e ti senti che coloro che lavorano con orrore ottenere il credito che meritano?

AT: La consapevolezza di essere sceneggiatore è venuta in un secondo momento. All’inizio ero soltanto felice di aver contribuito alla realizzazione di alcuni film con registi che amavo, come Fulci e Aristide Massaccesi. Le soddisfazioni sono arrivate nel tempo, non subito. Ma ritengo che le prove e le sfide che superiamo siano stimoli per andare avanti e fare sempre meglio.

CE: Hai lavorato con Lucio Fulci e lui ti ha dato un’introduzione al settore con ‘Demonia’ e un inizio con il meta-film ‘Un gatto nel cervello’. Come avete trovato questo battesimo del fuoco nel settore?

AT: Lucio Fulci è stato il mio maestro, non avrei fatto niente senza il suo aiuto. Esordire con lui mi ha insegnato tanto e ancora adesso conservo i suoi preziosi consigli e seguo le sue indicazioni. Ho vissuto il mio “battesimo del fuoco”, come giustamente lo chiami tu, in uno stato di perenne entusiasmo, quasi di esaltazione. E’ stato un momento indimenticabile, magico.

CE: Qual è stata la principale lezione che hai imparato a lavorare con Lucio Fulci?

AT: Conoscere e lavorare con Lucio Fulci, ripeto, è stato fondamentale. Mi ha insegnato che il cinema è tecnica, lavoro, professionalità. Elementi essenziali per uno sceneggiatore, insieme alla visionarietà e a quel tocco surreale che ha sempre contraddistinto il cinema di Fulci e a cui sono legato.

CE: Quando ti scrivi un racconto che cosa è il solito processo per la scrittura?

AT: Quando scrivo un racconto seguo l’idea principale, da cui si svolge poi l’intera narrazione. È un tipo di scrittura non lontana dalla sceneggiatura, nel senso che parto da un inizio e proseguo con le varie diramazioni del racconto. È evidente che ogni racconto è a se stante e quindi ogni volta è diverso il modo in cui comincio a scrivere. Per alcuni racconti è necessario una ricerca e una documentazione riguardo luoghi, ambientazioni o argomenti scelti. In ogni caso mi faccio trasportare dalla fantasia.

CE: Italiano è tua lingua madre, ma la maggior parte dei film sono in inglese, si fa a scrivere le bozze script in italiano o in inglese? E quanto si perde nella traduzione?

AT: Scrivo in italiano. Qualcosa nella traduzione inevitabilmente si perde, ma non l’essenza della storia che si vuole raccontare. Un buon traduttore deve saper restituire in inglese quello che esiste nel testo originale.

CE: Per uno sceneggiatore, cosa vorresti dire è stata la sfida più grande nel garantire che la vostra visione si imbatte o avete semplicemente affidati al regista di fare il meglio per il tuo lavoro?

AT: Il primo compito che mi prefiggo quando scrivo è che le mie idee abbiano una loro coerenza narrativa e che anche la storia più delirante possa avere una propria logica interna. È chiaro che poi sta al regista visualizzare il mio lavoro e farlo al meglio, secondo il proprio stile e la propria sensibilità.

CE: Una notevole quantità di tempo trascorso tra ‘Frankenstein 2000 -Ritorno dalla morte’ e tuo ritorno per l’industria con il fantastico film di Sergio Stivaletti ‘ I tre volti di orrore ‘(I tre volti del terrore’). Che cosa ha spinto questa pausa?

AT: È vero, tra questi due film sono passati una decina di anni. Ma sono anni in cui ho sempre lavorato come sceneggiatore, anche se diversi progetti non si sono concretizzati. Nello stesso tempo ho scritto e pubblicato libri di cinema, collaborato a riviste, scritto fumetti horror. Bisogna poi aggiungere che all’inizio degli anni novanta c’è stata la crisi del cinema italiano di genere e il lavoro è sceso per tutti.

CE: Hai scritto Dracula 3D con Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo e Stefano Piani. Come si è arrivati a tanto e come si fa a trovare la scrittura con un gruppo?

AT: Ho scritto Dracula con Argento e Stefano Piani, Cerezo è nei titoli solo per ragioni di coproduzione. Il film nasce dall’incontro tra Dario e Gianni Paolucci, il produttore di tanti film di Bruno Mattei, con cui avevo già lavorato. A noi si è poi aggiunto Stefano Piani. In precedenza avevo lavorato sia da solo che con altri sceneggiatori e in questa occasione mi sono trovato molto bene a scrivere con Stefano e, naturalmente, con Argento.

CE: In questo processo di scrittura di gruppo si è dovuto compromettere o c’è una sensazione di sinergia un terreno comune tra tutti voi?

AT: Non ci sono stati veri compromessi, ma soltanto la scelta di eliminare alcune situazioni narrative presenti nel romanzo di Bram Stoker (tutta la parte londinese per esempio) e concentrarci sul territorio e sul paese dominato da Dracula. C’è stata fin dall’inizio un’intesa immediata tra noi e la comune volontà di creare qualcosa che ci differenziasse da tutti gli altri film di Dracula.

CE: Dracula può cambiare in animali ma perché una mantide religiosa?

AT: L’idea di Dracula in grado di trasformarsi nei più diversi animali nel corso del film è stata potenziata al massimo da Dario. Dopo aver mutato forma più volte, l’apoteosi delle sue trasformazioni è questa mantide gigantesca che appare in maniera imprevedibile nel finale. E’ irreale e delirante, ma personalmente trovo che sia una scelta indovinata, per quanto straniante.

CE: Hai lavorato a fianco della vecchia guardia (Argento, D’Amato, Fulci e Mattei) e ora la nuova generazione di registi italiani (Pastore, Cristopharo). Quali sono stati i maggiori cambiamenti nel settore da quando hai iniziato nel 1990?

AT: Sono fiero di aver lavorato con maestri del cinema fantastico e horror e adesso sono contento di collaborare con giovani autori. In questi ultimi anni ho incontrato diversi registi che sono cresciuti con gli stessi film che ho amato io. Oltre a Pastore e Cristopharo, anche Edo Tagliavini (Bloodline), Lorenzo Lepori e Bruno Di Marcello. I più grandi cambiamenti sono stati a livello produttivo: rispetto al periodo in cui ho iniziato io, ovvero la fine degli anni ottanta, mancano produttori che investano nel cinema di genere. Di conseguenza si producono ovviamente meno film. E’ nata, però, una notevole produzione indie, da cui a volte nascono autori notevoli e film interessanti.

CE: Quale film per tutta la carriera si è sentito più soddisfatti?

AT: E’ difficile rispondere a questa domanda perchè ogni film a cui ho collaborato, anche quelli minori, ha rappresentato per me un momento importante nel mio percorso di sceneggiatore. Posso dire che sono molto legato ad alcuni film, così come ai registi che li hanno diretti. Ne cito soltanto due: Un gatto nel cervello, che ancora oggi dopo tanti anni continua ad essere visto e apprezzato dai fan di tutto il mondo, e Dracula, grazie al quale ho avuto la fortuna di essere invitato al festival di Cannes.

CE: Hai scritto molti libri, sia fiction e non-fiction. Pensi che la scrittura narrativa ti dà più libertà di uno script?

AT: Parallelamente alla sceneggiatura, la saggistica è una componente importante del mio lavoro. Ho cominciato nello stesso periodo, perché il mio primo film ha coinciso con il mio primo libro. Per quanto riguarda i libri sul cinema, questa forma di scrittura è certamente molto diversa dalla sceneggiatura. La libertà totale è però quella della narrativa.

CE: Ho letto e apprezzato le versioni in lingua inglese di film italiani Giallo (con Antonio Bruschini) e film horror italiani (con Luigi Cozzi). Che cosa ti hai fatto decidere di scrivere queste guide?Ci sono piani di tradurre tutti i più libri in futuro?

AT: Italian Giallo Movies è l’aggiornamento due libri sul cinema thriller italiano scritti con il mio amico Antonio Bruschini, ovvero Profonde tenebre e Sotto gli occhi dell’assassino. La stessa cosa si può dire per Italian Horror Movies, aggiornamento di alcuni volumi sull’horror italiano scritti con Cozzi.Potrebbero uscire altre versioni inglesi dei libri che pubblico con Profondo rosso, la casa editrice del mio amico Luigi Cozzi.

CE: Il tuo primo credito attore è tornato nel 2010 in di Luigi Pastore ‘Come una crisalide’, che si anche aiutato co-scrittura. Come è nata la decisione di venire su per voi per recitare in essa, o era sempre presente l’intenzione?

AT: Precedentemente sono apparso in film scritti da me (Demonia, Un gatto nel cervello, I tre volti del terrore), oppure di registi amici come Brass (Fermoposta Tinto Brass, Trasgredire, Senso 45, Monamour) e Argento (Il cartaio, La terza madre). Come una crisalide – ‘Symphony in Blood Red’ è il primo film in cui sono veramente attore. Inizialmente non dovevo interpretare io il serial killer, ma Luigi Pastore era rimasto colpito dalla mia apparizione in I tre volti del terrore, dove impersonavo un torturatore vestito di nero, e mi ha proposto il ruolo. Ho accettato anche per ragioni di budget e perché sarebbe stato più complicato spiegare questo ruolo a un attore “vero”!

CE: È tornato davanti allo schermo con un ruolo nel film di Pastore 2015 riavvio del Violent Shit’. Possiamo aspettarci di vedere di nuovo in qualunque momento presto?

AT: Dopo ‘Symphony in Blood Red’ sono apparso anche in Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show di Gabriele Albanesi e Paura dei Manetti Bros. Prossimamente mi vedrete in Catacomba di Lorenzo Lepori (nell’episodio Evil Tree) e nel nuovo film di Luigi Cozzi Blood on Melies Moon.

CE: Quest’anno tu sei coinvolti in un paio di film, tra cui ‘Virus:Extreme Contamination’. Cosa mi puoi dire dei tuoi prossimi progetti?

AT: Con Domiziano Cristopharo abbiamo altri progetti in lavorazione ma è troppo presto per parlarne, così come per quanto riguarda i progetti con altri registi. Per ora posso dire che uscirà il film a episodi Catacomba di Lorenzo Lepori e tra breve dovrebbero iniziare le riprese di House of Murderers di Bruno Di Marcello.

CE: Grazie mille a Antonio per il tuo tempo e tanti auguri.

Mi scusa a tutti per mio scrivendo brutto in italiano. Trovi piu vertere intorno Antonio Tentori sul website o su Facebook.