Directing from the abyss!

Articles and Interviews

In 2017 a chat online led to me to the strange Italian film CREATRUES FROM THE ABYSS aka PLANKTON, which I subsequently picked up on DVD for only a couple of pounds. Receiving the disc just a few days later I was excited to see what all the fuss was about and immediately stuck it into my home entertainment system, cracked open a drink and sat back as what could only be described as nautical lunacy unfolded.

Once the credits had finished rolling and my senses came returned I was left with so many questions not just about the film itself but also the director; who the hell was Al Passeri and why hadn’t I heard of him or this film before?

A quick cursory search online seemed to confirm my initial suspicions, Al Passeri must have been either one of many non-descript one-hit Italian directors who got involved in the VOD boom of the early nineties or perhaps a low budget director using a pseudonym, not wanting to stifle a potentially promising career while still needing to make some money and learn his craft.

Neither of these hypotheses turned out to be true and instead I wound up discovering a man who had spent the previous two decades toiling away in the background of Italian genre cinema before getting his directorial break.

Born in Nocera, Umbria back in 1950 Alvaro Passeri would move to Rome soon after, where he has lived ever since. A keen artist from his teenage years, he enjoyed painting and musical studies but perhaps it was his interest in electronics that would ironically set him up for a career in the creative world of film making. After graduating in Sculpture at the Art Institute of Rome he spent a few years working backstage in the opera before landing a position as a sculptor on the TV series JESUS OF NAZARETH starring Robert Powell and Laurence Olivier, a production that I am sadly familiar with due to attending a Catholic school in England and being forced to watch it during lessons in which the teacher felt particularly lazy.

Anyway back to Alvaro Passeri; he followed up this initial foray in the world of film with sculpture and special effects on the 1977 rampaging octopus flick TENTACLES by Ovidio Assonitis. This additional work came around as the previous crew member charged with creating the effects had unfortunately missed a lot of them out, resulting in the director calling up Alvaro and giving him his first opportunity to not only showcase his emerging talent but discover a new world of (professional) enjoyment.

After working on the set of  CALIGULA by Tinto Brass the following year, a flurry of work rolled in and a young Alvaro Passeri would go on to gain more experience with a number of productions including work by Enzo Castellari (THE SHARK HUNTER), Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH; ALIEN 2; HERCULES), Paolo Cavara (LA LOCANDIERA), Sergio Martino (2019 – AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK) and even with the great directors Sergio Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) and Dario Argento (INFERNO), for whom he contributed scenic artwork and special effects including the building of the gothic castle.

Looking back to this period we are presented with an impressionable rookie on the set (not to mention literally building them) of several masters of the Italian scene, with these experiences both direct and indirect helping to skill him in the art of working with small budgets. No doubt a necessary skill as over time the horror and fantasy markets started to wane, especially in Italy.

Alvaro Passeri took these experiences and formed his own production and special effects company in 1982. This is the reason why his company carries that number. From this moment on his career would continue in the fashion and frequency he had no doubt become accustomed to despite the market downturn.

He would later go on to return to working with Enzo Castellari as well as with the likes of Ruggero Deodato (THE ATLANTIS INTERCEPTORS; THE BARBARIANS; OCEANO) and several other known directors such as Aldo Lado, Dino Risi, Duccio Tessari and Sergio Martino. Not to mention the legendary Lucio Fulci on productions of THE NEW GLADIATORS and AENIGMA.

When asked about his time working with Lucio Fulci, a man who several have said is demanding and cruel on set, Alvaro Passeri remembers fondly their working relationship as the iconic director would allow him to get on and work without supervision, trusting in his output.

However these cult films were only one aspect of Alvaro Passeri’s work and he would also have the opportunity to contribute and work on several other genres and films, most notably the critically acclaimed CINEMA PARADISO by Giuseppe Tornatore.

Speaking with Alvaro Passeri about what it was like watching these directors both from afar and up-close it becomes apparent that he took the most out of these opportunities and was always learning and very appreciative of everyone’s unique skills; not only technique from the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore but also some practical ideas from the future Hollywood directorial star James Cameron, for who Alvaro Passeri spent a month with in the early 1980s. This period also included the making of a piranha effect for the film PIRANHA II. No doubt this professional collaboration was the result of Ovidio Assonitis who had acted as an uncredited director on the film.

With all these experiences, in 1992, now 42 years old, Alvaro Passieri finally took the step into directing with his first feature film – CREATURE DAGLI ABISSI otherwise known as CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS or PLANKTON depending on which English language market you are in, and it is this film that was the catalyst for this article.

A film that combines elements of the aforementioned PIRANHA II, just look at all the flying prehistoric fish and POV shots, with John Carpenter’s THE THING, in regards of hideous ‘alien’ mutations; and then throws in more than just a touch of off-the-wall bizarre humour; It really has to be seen to be believed and honestly I would recommend that you did see it!

To quote one guy on Twitter (@Seamaster73) who replied to me after a post regarding the film, he described it as: “The film Jaws *could* have been…if it had featured a scene in which a woman gives birth to caviar”. If you are a fan of crazy low budget horror then that description should be sending you straight to Amazon (other suppliers are available).

Now the plot itself is quite straight forward, a bunch of obnoxious teens head out in a boat for a party only to get stranded at sea. Luckily they come across a deserted yacht which just so happens to be kitted out for two things – sex parties and mad fish-based science, what else!

Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth our party animals get down to the business of getting down, well most of them….only to soon realise something fishy is going on and they are not alone on board….with hilarious consequences.

According to the ever increasingly inaccurate IMDB, it was shot on a reported budget of $250,000 across Miami, USA and Rome, Italy and was written by the no doubt fictitious Richard Baumann (whose only other credit was starring in 2 episodes of a 1950s TV series CAVALCADE OF AMERICA). Hmmmm. Although I do suspect the credited story co-coordinator John Blush may have had an early career role in this although all the internet details are very fuzzy. Now what was it I saying earlier about pseudonyms?

Having spoken to the director he admitted that he undertook the old b-movie director trick of inventing many of the crew in order to give the appearance of a bigger production than it actually was and this is perhaps closer to the truth.

In fact the director would go on to say “I could not write that I had done everything, in addition to the actors my troupe was 5 people, you realise that this movie was produced with the money that in a normal movie pay only the lunch for the crew.” Making the film even more of low budget triumph and success and to my mind, I even doubt the budget given on IMDB as when you have the special effects knowledge on hand and quite frankly set the movie in one location your costs are in all likelihood notably reduced.

Having been privileged to get the opportunity to speak with the director, I go on to explain to him the purpose of my interest and how I discovered his largely forgotten film from 1992 [although it was trapped in distribution hell for a couple of years before finally being released].

He seems humbled and somewhat surprised admitting that he “did not know that ‘CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS’ had fans” and that although he “had directed the film with great passion” he still could believe that it was gaining new fans.

To me this really highlights the benefits of the digital age to film makers and older work, no longer are these esoteric films the hidden away in the confines of murky store basements or underground mail order catalogues available only to the chosen few but now with the click of a button people from all across the world can discuss and share their latest find or oddity and within minutes trailers found and viewed thus perpetuating the cycle.

Although kept busy with special effects work (including on the terrifically titled and themed but hugely disappointing JURASSIC PARK rip off CHICKEN PARK) it would be a further sixteen years before Alvaro Passeri would return to direct.

Between 1998 and 2004 he made a further four films (THE GOLDEN GRAIN [check out the trailer under its original title FANTASTIC GAMES at the very end of the article]; THE MUMMY THEME PARK; FLIGHT TO HELL; PSYCHOVISION – many of which are now on YouTube) but these were not met favourably by many critics and in 2004 he hung up the directors cap as the commercial market and backing for these sort of films had completely disappeared.

Despite this end, Alvaro Passeri had worked on and contributed to several significant and notable Italian films and gave us the highly entertaining and memorable CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS and for that I salute him!

Nowadays he spends his time on his passion of mechanical electronics, robotics and music. You can find out more and visit his official website here.

Finally I would like to thank Alvaro Passeri for his time and generosity in replying to me and humouring what must be a strange request from a random viewer about a film that is now 25 years old!

If you have even just a few pound (or dollars) find this gem on Amazon where it is cheap, grab some drinks and snacks and settle in for a night of fun. I always believe that films should at least entertain or have something to say, the rare few have both, and this film certainly does one of those two.

Addition: After posting this article I spoke a little more with Alvaro Passeri about his time in the industry and his favourite pieces of work to which he intrigued me by describing his follow up directorial effort FANTASTIC GAMES, which was retitled THE GOLDEN GRAIN after a distributor shall we say acted not in the best interest of anyone other than themselves forcing a drastic overhaul.

Intrigued by this I probed a little further and to my delight the director posted online a showreel trailer for the film – I was certainly captivated. A million miles away from the crazy fucked up fish violence of CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS, instead FANTASTIC GAMES comes across as if Luigi Cozzi made a 1980s sci-fi combined with THE NEVERENDING STORY and INDIANA JONES by way of the Jim Henson Company and Ray Harryhausen.

After this movie was completed the bottom really did fall out of the industry and he saw his budgets reduced down to a tenth of what they once were. Reminiscing on this point he displays some regret over whether he made the right decision to continue in the face of increasing obstacles but when you own the studio and have the responsibility of several people’s livelihoods to contend with it suddenly is a whole different situation.

I hope Alvaro enjoyed his time talking to me as much as I did him, and looks back fondly on a career not only well spent but still enjoyed by b-movie and cult film fans across the globe.

Check out the trailer for PLANKTON aka CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS below

I can’t sleep… …so I penned a love letter to Dario Argento’s Sleepless

Articles and Interviews

Appreciation of a film is very subjective, not just to personal resonance, the period of our lives in which we watch it and taste but also the wider context in terms of genre and technical competence. All or some of these elements may combine leaving us with both our personal impression and the wider accepted view. However it may also mean that we love films that perhaps we shouldn’t and dismiss films that maybe require reappraisal. 

In regards to the giallo genre one such film that I believe falls into the latter for many is SLEEPLESS aka Non Ho Sonno by Dario Argento.

No introduction is needed for this director or the impact that he has had not just on Italian horror but the wider genre overall and frequently when his name is mentioned amongst fans be it at a festival, in the pub or on a cult internet forum, the debate of what constitutes his last great film is raised.

For some it is TENEBRAE, for others it ended with OPERA although I have also seen cases made for THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and even DRACULA 3D….ok maybe that last one was a joke, in more ways that one. But for me it is unequivocally SLEEPLESS.

In fact I propose that SLEEPLESS is not only his best work in the last three decades but also represents the very best of all post-nineties gialli. Not because it is a Dario Argento film but because it is one of the very few that actually adheres to the tropes of the genre, incorporating them into a working narrative whilst simultaneously managing to engage with the audience.

Now let’s be clear I am not against innovation or adaption of the genre rules, the giallo genre throughout its history is rife with appropriation and adaption having gone through several cycles, adapting itself to the requirements and preferences of audiences at any given time from Hitchcockian and Agatha Christie murder mysteries, to the psychological or the psycho-sexual and then the straight-out erotic by way of the occult and supernatural, although not necessarily all in that order.

So films such as SYMPHONY IN BLOOD RED from Luigi Pastore, FRANCESCA from Luciano Onetti not to mention AMER from Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani and THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN from Domiziano Cristopharo all have their merits but it is the likes of  ALMOST BLUE from Alex Infrascelli and EYES OF CRYSTAL from Eros Puglielli that sit alongside SLEEPLESS in that they are the most true to the genre, although a special mention has to go to Sergio Martino for the disappointing TV movie MOZART IS A MURDERER (1999) that also attempted to fit into the more traditional genre style.

However while ALMOST BLUE and EYES OF CRYSTAL provide a decent watch, they both fall by the wayside when talking about actual giallo, as we would understand it as opposed to the wider Italian interpretation of the genre – with one element of where we differ in terms of the mystery genre being the deployment of a professional detective.

Additionally, ALMOST BLUE  and EYES OF CRYSTAL are both based on novels, therefore they are constrained further due to having to remain true, to an extent, to the source material. While SLEEPLESS, although co-written by a novelist (Carlo Lucarelli) was free to be written purely for the screen – and as a result is better able to visually mimic the giallo film formula, with mimic being a key term.

It is at this point that I may lose the support of some of you, have I made a contentious claim here? Going back to my opening thought, it is clear that how we interpret the genre and how we define also shapes our arguments and our preferences.

For me, a black gloved killer, POV shots and plot absurdity, to some level at least, reign supreme as a staple of the genre. That is why I feel assured and certain in my argument that SLEEPLESS is not only the last quality film made by Dario Argento but also the best giallo of the last three decades.

But why do I rate this film so much and why should you check it out or give it another go?

Coming three years after the misguided attempt that was THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998), fan expectation was low and with good reason as Dario Argento had spent years proclaiming that he did not want to finish his ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy – he would – or make another DEPP RED just because of fan pressure and that he would rather indulge in his own creative interests. 

However for one reason or another he returned to the genre he made his own and whether he committed fully to the project or not, the brief footage in ‘The Making of Sleepless’ extra from Arrow Video’s UK DVD release certainly makes it seem like he had a change of heart, the end result is an energetic and authentic giallo that throws as much on the screen as it can.

Opening immediately with an upbeat killer theme tune, courtesy of Goblin in their first collaboration with the director since PHENOMENA, we witness retrospectively a scene set in Torino at some point during March, 1983 where a young boy named Giacomo is being consoled by Police Inspector Moretti after the brutal killing of his mother.

Jumping to modern day Turin, a prostitute is having trouble with her client but after the offer of additional payment she suddenly becomes a little more amenable to whatever perverse demands were put to her. Once her sadomasochistic customer falls asleep our luckless prostitute attempts to leave only to overhear sleep-talking about killing lots of people. Panicking she rushes to leave, knocking into a small cabinet and sending its contents along with that of her bag flying everywhere. Now a mixture of files, press cuttings and make up not to mention a kill kit lay strewn across the floor and in her rush to leave she hastily grabs her items and leaves. Taking with her a key piece of evidence and starting an exhilarating and brutal chase sequence complete with ramped-up tension, POV shots and of course excessive violence and blood.

A blistering twenty minutes opens this film and putting any implausibility aside, admittedly you might have to, it is highly satisfying to finally get a film that plays out like the genre of old.

Sleepless by Dario Argento

As the film progresses events lead a couple of investigating officers back to what was known as the ‘Dwarf killer’, a case that was investigated and solved by our old friend Moretti back in the early eighties. 

Now that this old case is awoken so is the murderer’s intent, with the ferocity and frequency that a slasher film would be proud of. Off-camera it is at the point of the films third murder that something rather strange for a Dario Argento film occurs – the gloved hands of the killer are not those of the iconic director but rather another crew member. The reason for this was simple, as stated to Almar Haflidason in an interview with the BBC, it was simply because the “gloves were too big” for his hands. With something as mundane as this a Dario Argento directorial tradition was broken.

The opening act of the film coming to a close we see a now grown-up Giacomo thrown back into the mix, along with a brutal alternative flashback of the films opening scene, completing our back-story while driving the narrative forwards as an entertaining modern amateur investigation links the past and the present almost like a play off Dario Argento’s greatest hits including a killer dwarf (a la Deep Red), fiction influencing reality (a la Tenebrae) and much more across displaying wider genre influence and history.

Constantly straddling the line between parody and authenticity SLEEPLESS takes an almost frantic, kitchen sink approach but the tight pacing, intriguing mystery and clever, if sometimes convenient, plot devices keep it ticking over as the writers leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the investigating characters (and viewers) to follow with twists, turns and red herrings at each and every step of the way and as we slowly understand more we find ourselves engrossed in this violent mystery.

In regards to the success of the scripting we must be careful giving Dario Argento all of the credit or perhaps even the lions share as alongside him was semi-frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini (EYES OF CRYSTAL; PHENOMENA; OPERA; THE CARD PLAYER) and, I would propose more importantly, crime television celebrity and author Carlo Lucarelli (writer of the novel Almost Blue) who is also credited with contributing to the story. Although his exact involvement is unconfirmed the fact remains that SLEEPLESS is above and beyond the films of Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini both immediately before and everything after , so the only difference in this respect being Carlo Lucarelli.  

But whatever the reason and all speculation aside every aspect of SLEEPLESS works, from the pacing and (preposterous) story to the Goblin score all the way to the excellent special effects which beautifully highlight the art of violence that Dario Argento is best known for. 

Sergio Stivaletti (DEMONS; OPERA; DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) has to receive the credit here as he does exceptionally well on a limited budget, never hiding the gore as he displays these not only extremely bloody but also inventive pieces of work as fingers are chopped, teeth smashed and heads exploded.

Although we must accept that this is still a modern day Dario Argento movie and for all the positives there are still a few areas in which the director misses the mark for one reason or another. One such example is the cinematography which is functional at best and admittedly lacking that extra bit of flair that was prevalent in his seventies output but perhaps more seriously there is a moment which cannot be simply chalked down to cultural or historical attitudes as one might do with some of the characters or scenes from his early to mid seventies output.

This is the insensitive choice of comical, almost circus-like music for the scene in which the police round up the city’s dwarves. This particular scene comes across as ill-judged at best. Meanwhile others may criticise the films over-the-top adoption of the genres tropes which at times leave the film open to being a pastiche of Dario Argento’s work rather than actually being from the director himself. Conversely this might also be to the films benefits in regards to the entertainment stakes.

Ultimately I can admit that SLEEPLESS is riddled with plot holes and conveniences, it panders to the needs of the giallo fan and can be seen as a souped-up TV movie, but what separates it from being another MOZART IS A MURDERER are these very same points.

The film counters any story issues with strong pacing…and violence, so sure it does pander to the needs of the giallo fan but is that such a bad thing when it is being delivered by someone with the credibility and validity of Dario Argento? 

Meanwhile the casting and performance of Max Von Sydow (THE SEVENTH SEAL; THE EXORCIST) lends the film a certain level of gravitas unreachable by many other films produced around the same time or the straight to TV produced gialli. Not to mention strong turns by Gabriele Lavia (DEEP RED) and Rossella Falk (BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA; SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS) giving the film yet another link to the past.

The giallo genre’s decline is well document and the new breed producing this cinematic art form have moved on, evolved if you will, that much is clear but every now and then is it so bad to want something modern that does more than just pay a slight visual or audio homage to the past? 

I say no and for those very moments SLEEPLESS is there. So if you are yet to see it or if you have only seen it the once I recommend you give it another go.

(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:


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!

Articles and Interviews

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.