CINEMA ATLRETRO MACABRE #1: Of Cannibals and Chocolate: A Short Chat with Ruggero Deodato

Posted on: Jan 19th, 2014 By:

Andrew Kemp and Ruggero Deodato at Twisted Fears.

Since Atlanta has become such a classic monster movie kind of city, ATLRetro presents the first in an ongoing new feature, CINEMA ATLRETRO MACABRE, featuring exclusive interviews with the masters and mistress of 20th century horror films. Our intrepid Retro Reviewer Andrew Kemp caught up with Ruggero Deodato, director of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), last fall at the Twisted Fears convention. A special thanks also goes to Sandra Despirt, who translated the taped interview from Italian into English. Watch for our next interview with Barbara Steele soon.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

We’re done talking, but the elderly gentleman holds me up for a second. He smiles and palms me a tiny wrapped piece of candy. He has, I swear, an actual twinkle in his eye. The gesture reminds me of something a movie grandpa might do, and the man—warm sweater, round glasses and with one last tuft of unruly white hair atop his head—certainly fits the role. I half-expect to find a golden Werther’s Original in my hand, but it turns out to be a fun-sized Milky Way. It’s not what I expect, but I can’t stop smiling at the thought that Ruggero Deodato just handed me a little morsel of something to eat.

A scene from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

Moments earlier that kindly old man, speaking to me in Italian with a translator, expressed bewilderment at his place in cinema infamy. “What I find incredible is that when I ask young people what they find more disturbing—my movie, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or the film of the real beheading of an American in Iraq—and they reply CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST,” he says. “Incredible, very disturbing.” Over 30 years after Deodato’s cannibal opus, the director still appears surprised at the power of what he made, even though he remains to this day one of the few film directors forced to produce his actors in the flesh simply to prove to authorities that they were still alive. Clearly, there’s just something about his film that digs beneath the skin.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) is one of cinema’s great provocations. A late entry into the brief Italian subgenre of cannibal movies, the film is alternately credited with canonizing the genre or destroying it, or sometimes both in the same breath. The film concerns a documentary crew that traipses into the Amazon to acquire rare footage of a savage, stone-age tribe of locals who may or may not engage in cannibalism. The title, I guess, is a spoiler. Suffice to say that no good comes to the crew, or to pretty much anyone else, including some unfortunate animals butchered on camera. Unlike the crew “deaths” that fooled the Italian courts, the animal torture is regrettably unsimulated. In the past, Deodato has claimed he was only filming a fact of daily life  for the local tribes, that animals were routinely slaughtered in such a way for food and materials, not simply for his cameras. (A similar argument has always been made by Francis Ford Coppola about the bull death that closes APOCALYPSE NOW [1979]).  Still, if you plan to see the film, consider the state of your stomach.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

Central to the movie’s ability to unsettle is the way Deodato frames the movie as a documentary and shoots it accordingly. Today, we know what that should look like, but nothing else quite like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST existed at the time. Already established in cannibal cred after his 1977 LAST CANNIBAL WORLD [aka JUNGLE HOLOCAUST], Deodato found inspiration for his new technique much closer to home. “I had already made the film LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, which was a big success, especially in Japan. I ultimately decided to make CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST when terrorism [the Red Brigades] was almost a daily occurrence in Italy and my 7-year -old son asked me why there were so many horrific images on TV, casualties of these acts of terrorism. I thought to myself, hey, why is it that journalists can get away with it and I can’t? If I make a film, they cut it, so I decided to make this movie as a statement against the journalists and censorship.”

Although Italian media may have been the inspiration, Deodato’s film had a global impact because it tapped into the rise of media violence being beamed into televisions everywhere, including those seen in American living rooms every night during the Vietnam War, still a fresh wound in 1980. The brutality and realism of Deodato’s images rankled the public. It felt real, with none of those distancing effects that make movies so much fun to watch. A cult classic was born. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST became so notorious that other directors had difficulty launching their own cannibal productions, and the bubble quickly burst. Deodato’s was a tough act to follow.

In recent years, Deodato is seen less as a rebel and more as a horror pioneer. The journalistic style Deodato developed in 1980 is today called by another name: found footage. Both fans and critics of the now-ubiquitous genre usually point to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) as the movie that brought shaky cameras and screaming amateur actors into the mainstream, but it’s hard to watch those mapless teens die in the Massachusetts woods, or to remember the internet buzz the accompanied the film, without noting that Deodato got there almost 20 years earlier. Don’t expect Deodato to be proud of all of his misbegotten children. “Unfortunately my idea has ruined movie-making to some extent because there are those that think all they need to have is a small camera and [to] start shooting without consideration for technique or storyline development.”

Deodato's cameo in HOSTEL, PART II

“When I see films that have truly been inspired by my CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I’m very happy, but not when they start putting in zombies, aliens and vampires,” he adds. “I hate that.”

Eli Roth is one Deodato admirer who not only shares the director’s taste for horror realism but also prefers to populate his pictures with sadistic human monsters rather than ghosts and ghoulies. After breaking out with the disease gorefest CABIN FEVER (2002), Roth became a spiritual successor to Deodato with his HOSTEL series, replacing clueless journalists with clueless American teens whose condescension to Europe and lust for booze and sex make them prey for sinister millionaires willing to pay big bucks to kill. Roth wears his influences on his sleeve, adding a wink to this in HOSTEL PART II (2007) by casting Deodato as a cultured cannibal in one of the film’s more memorable gross-outs. Roth’s latest effort, THE GREEN INFERNO (2013), takes another step in Deodato’s direction by reigniting the cannibal drama. In Roth’s film, again it’s the naïve outsiders who are torn apart by the natives they were hoping to protect. “Thirty-three years have passed and I’m still being imitated,” Deodato says. “Eli Roth is a friend of mine so at the end of his movie he did an homage to me by saying in the credits – To Ruggero.”

GREEN INFERNO.

The warmth that Deodato has for Roth doesn’t extend much further, it seems. I asked him about the current state of horror, how nobody seems to be terrorizing and disturbing audiences quite the way he did. “LAST CANNIBAL WORLD was filmed in the black jungle of Malaysia,” he notes. “For CANNIBAL HOLOCAUSTI was filming in the middle of the Amazon with indigenous tribes. Back in those days, people still didn’t know about a lot of things so when you came across a tribe in the middle of the jungle that was something. Now people travel everywhere. People were more easily shocked. It is much more difficult to do so now.”

Later, sitting on a panel with other Italian horror cinema legends Lamberto Bava and Barbara Steele, Deodato reminds me once more of a kindly old gentleman. When asked about horror cinema, he confesses that he doesn’t much like the genre anymore, noting his preference for dramas and romances. I think back on the story of the “murdered” actors he had to produce in court, and recall that even after the actors appeared, not all of the charges were dropped. Such was the impact of Deodato’s gore that to be fully cleared, the director first had to first demonstrate to court officials exactly how he had accomplished a signature, grotesque impalement with special effects. I think the prosecutor in question just wanted to get that particularly nasty bit out of his head.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else. 

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Days of The Plaza, Day 30: Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA Provides a Grand Guignol/Giallo Finale to the 2012 Buried Alive Film Festival, Courtesy of Splatter Cinema

Posted on: Nov 8th, 2012 By:

SUSPIRIA (1977); Dir: Dario Argento; Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett; Sat. Nov. 10 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Presented by Splatter Cinema for the Buried Alive Film Fest; trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The fine folks over at Splatter Cinema are offering gorehounds and the gore-curious a chance to see SUSPIRIA on the screen this coming weekend as the grand finale of the Buried Alive Film Fest (Read our full festival preview here). They’re advertising this screening as a “Special Restored Edition” which suggests that this beautiful film will be presented without all the marks, scratches and chemical bleeds that might get in the way of the full SUSPIRIA experience. If you’re going, be sure to arrive on time, as SUSPIRIA also sports one of the best taglines in movie history: “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes are the first 92.”

For hardcore horror fans, SUSPIRIA hardly needs an introduction. For many, just the first few notes of the main musical theme are enough to send them into vivid memories of their favorite scene, the most gruesome death, or the way they felt when they finally saw that famous last reel. “Cult” is a term that gets thrown around too easily with genre flicks, but SUSPIRIA is one of those movies that earns the title. There’s a church of the converted for this film. Critics overwhelmingly support the movie, and some (such as The Village Voice) even say it’s one of the greatest movies of the entire 20th century. That’s quite a lofty position for a film that’s more about mood than plot, lives on extraordinary violence and willingly, gleefully makes little sense.

What story there is revolves around Suzy (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student who arrives in Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy, only to gradually discover that the school is infested with a coven of witches. And while “a school full of witches” might invoke pleasant thoughts of Potions Class and mail-by-owl, Hogwarts this ain’t. These witches, led by headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, DARK SHADOWS), conjure dark forces and engage in sadistic rituals, pursuing bloody, prolonged murder for anyone who gets in the way of their sinister, yet oddly vague schemes.

Jessica Harper in SUSPIRIA (1977).

SUSPIRIA (the title translates loosely into “Sigh”) is one of the best-known titles from Italian horror maestro Dario Argento and helped to cap the short, intense heyday of the Italian giallo picture. The history of Italian cinema is built around trends, with hordes of opportunistic producers chasing any large success by flooding the cinemas with lookalike content. Just as the smash hits A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and DJANGO (1966) launched a tidal wave of violent, sweaty  (spaghetti) Italian westerns in the 1960s, the 1970s belonged to the Italian thrillers and early slasher films. Originally spinning off from the works of Alfred Hitchcock—the movie usually considered the first giallo, Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), was an obvious and unlicensed Hitchcock homage—the giallo genre increased the intensity and cheapness of the thrills, placing their usually-female protagonists in the path of knife-crazed killers, and combining the elements of a whodunit mystery with murder scenes extended beyond belief and buckets upon buckets of blood. Argento made his international name in the genre, and the artistic ambition and style of his films, such as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), inspired a rash of imitators and launched giallo’s peak in the early 1970s, when it extended into all areas of Italian culture, from film to music and literature. In fact, the term giallo itself means “yellow” and refers to the cheap, yellow covers of the typical Italian pulp slasher novel.

By the time Argento made SUSPIRIA, the giallo picture’s moment was nearly over, and the genre had drifted into some very weird territory by embracing the supernatural. Giallo had always favored style over story. Directors like Argento and Bava realized that the plots of their films were usually too silly or too convoluted to hold an audience, and so they treated the films as exercises in image and technique. For SUSPIRIA, Argento took this philosophy to its logical end, drenching the movie in vivid, saturated colors and horrific, grotesque gore. These elements, combined with the odd twists and turns of its story, give SUSPIRIA a dreamlike quality, like a nightmare you’re only half-aware isn’t real. These elements steer SUSPIRIA away from its exploitation roots and into a cinema of the surreal, a deeply affecting and harrowing journey through a landscape that should make sense, but doesn’t.

Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc in SUSPIRIA (1977)

Backing up this feeling is the film’s famous score, created by the prog rock group Goblin. The infectious, haunting music is as inseparable from the mood and effect of SUSPIRIA as “Tubular Bells” is from THE EXORCIST (1973) or John Carpenter’s main theme from HALLOWEEN (1978), itself heavily inspired by Argento’s work.

SUSPIRIA is an entertaining film, but it’s also an experiment into the effects of extreme cinema on something as primal as the horror movie. Unlike the blunt, mostly artless slasher films it inspired in the states, SUSPIRIA remains one of the prime examples—perhaps THE prime example—of the horror movie as art. There’s been talk of a Hollywood remake for the last several years, but it seems to stall at least in part because the act of remaking a film is largely about the story and the premise, and what makes SUSPIRIA so noteworthy is everything else.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As Real As It Gets: Cinema and Reality Blur in Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME!, A Fascinating Look Behind the Scenes of the ’70s Italian Cop/Gangster Movie Genre

Posted on: Mar 26th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

A labor of love for Atlanta filmmaker, Mike Malloy, who researched, wrote, directed, produced, edited  and even contributed a small amount of instrumental funk to the score, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Friday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Midtown Art CinemaEUROCRIME! is a  feature-length cinema documentary concerning the violent Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ (a literal translation is “policesque”) cinematic movement of the 1970s which, at first glance, seem to be rip-offs of American cop/crime films like DIRTY HARRY or THE GODFATHER, but which really address Italian issues like the Sicilian Mafia and red terrorism.

What sets these movies apart from American cop movies of the era were the rushed methods of production (stars performing their own stunts, stealing shots, no live sound) and the dangerous bleed-over between real-life crime and movie crime. EUROCRIME! is an excellent, exhaustively researched, fascinating chronicle of this action-packed sub-genre of low budget Italian cinema.

ATLRetro scored an exclusive interview with the busy movie maker earlier this week.

ATLRetro:  What inspired you to make EUROCRIME?

Mike Malloy: I got my first book contract – to write a cinema biography [of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef] – when I was 19, and over the next decade, I was slowly but surely building a career for myself writing for movie magazines [(FLAUNT, FILMFAX, VIDEO WATCHDOG, etc] and for newspapers [AP, Knight-Ridder, SUNDAY PAPER]. Then, one morning in 2007, I woke up and learned that the whole world had apparently decided overnight that film journalism was no longer going to be a paying profession. So I decided to try to parlay my film commentary into cinema documentaries.

The Eurocrime genre was my cinematic fascination at the time, so I made a three-minute demo video, and a colleague got it in front of an acquisitions VP at a major cable broadcaster. They said they’d be interested in buying the broadcast premiere if I could get it made. That allowed me to jump headlong into the project.

Mike Malloy dons a police badge himself in an acting role. Photo courtesy of Mike Malloy.

Looking back, I see what caused me to fall so madly in love with Eurocrime movies. I love cinema that rings true to life. And it may seem strange to say this, considering the Eurocrime genre’s over-the-top violence and action, but these movies are about as real as it gets. And that’s because of the way they were made. Sometimes the organized crime down in Naples got involved in producing these films, so you got a pretty hairy blurring of real-life crime and movie crime. And because the leading men of these films – even big international stars – performed their own dangerous stunts, the action had a certain authenticity to it too.

How long did it take to make EUROCRIME!?

Getting the interest from the broadcaster launched me on a four-year odyssey. I know nothing about raising money, and I was in a bad place to do it anyway, as these movies weren’t experiencing the revival here in Atlanta that they were in places like Los Angeles and Austin. So I just did the doc on my own, basically, with a few small private investments and with some help from some colleagues who also loved these movies. And I ended up starting the project Standard Definition and starting over midway as HD, teaching myself all the necessary editing and VFX software along the way.

Having no real budget meant that most of the things that other pop-culture docs farm out – like stylish, graphics-oriented opening credits sequences – I just had to do myself. In fact, because I realized that many of our filmmaker interviews were shot on the fly and with less-than-ideal circumstances, I wanted to compensate by creating as many graphics, montages and other touches of style as possible.

I started the doc in my living room and finished it in the upstairs of my fiancée’s parents house, as this project even cost me my ability to pay my rent for a while!

How did you obtain all the amazing footage (in addition to all the great interviews)?

These films have gotten some pretty great-looking DVD releases in other parts of the world. So it’s a matter of finding those good-looking releases, than finding cruddy-looking gray-market copies of the same films with English dialogue, then matching up the good-looking print and the English audio. Of course, NTSC (North American) and PAL (European) video run at different speeds, so it takes plenty of trial-and-error adjustments to sync it.

We also were very grateful to receive some 8mm home movie footage from one of our interviewees – John Dulaney. And we got some other cool materials from people like Italian cinema documentarian Federico Caddeo.

Wasn’t Quentin Tarantino supposed to be involved at some point?

We were interested in interviewing him regarding the important part he played in the revival of these movies, setting up Eurocrime screenings at The New Beverly inLos Angeles, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austinand at events like The Venice Film Festival. He said yes a couple times to the project, but we never could make it happen.

What’s next for you?

I’m now in production on PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80s HOME VIDEO BOOM. And I’d like to do DAVID CARRADINE: THE LOST AUTEUR.

Where would intrigued viewers of the doc go to find these movies?

Last time I checked, Videodrome on North Avenue had a Eurocrime section. And the longtime Italian DVD company, RaroVideo, just started releasing some of their titles in theU.S.last year -movies like THE ITALIAN CONNECTION and LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN. And for years now, the U.S. DVD label Blue Underground has been championing Eurocrime movies in the U.S., releasing films like STREET LAW and THE BIG RACKET. All these titles from Raro and Blue Underground are available through Netflix, too.

Contributing write Philip Nutman, is a long-time film journalist, author, screenwriter and occasional director. He recently produced the forthcoming, controversial zombie love story, ABED, in Michigan.

 

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress