The announcement that the Rotterdam Film Festival was to pay homage to the makers of the italian exploitation films, was met with raised eyebrows here at Project A HQ. After all, hadn't we just done a series of articles on this very subject, a series by the name of Spaghetti Splatter? Coincidence? We gave Simon Field and friends the benefit of the doubt, not only because we're big fans of the festival, but also because we spotted a certain Joe d'Amato on a list of the festival's foreign guests.
Ah, yes, Joe d'Amato, splattermeister extraordinaire, king of the italian b-movie, one of the most infamous names in film. He is the prime example of an exploitation filmmaker, a man who has worked in every genre imaginable, right down to hard core porn. He has mastered the art of making a quick buck with inferior, but highly enjoyable variations on films as diverse as Emmanuelle, Conan, Mad Max and Caligula.
I still fondly remember the early days of commercial television in Holland, when late night screenings of Joe d'Amato (real name: Aristide Massaccesi) films were common. The Black Emanuelle series, starring dutch model-turned-softcore actress Laura Gemser. The Ator movies, imitations of Conan, for which he created a prehistoric world just a few miles outside busy, modern-day Rome. I enjoyed Joe d'Amato's films tremendously back then in my early teens, and now, with my fascination for cinematic zombies and cannibals, I've sort of rediscovered him. So when the Rotterdam Film Festival invited him to my home town, of course I was the first in line to interview him.
The thing I appreciate about you as a filmmaker is that you're very honest about the fact that you make exploitation movies or B-movies. Unlike a lot of your colleagues, who try their best to find excuses for what they do. You don't seem to be ashamed of your films.
Absolutely not. I am very proud to do movies, any kind of movie, I am a filmmaker. For me it is good to make really any kind of movie. I also make porno movies, and I do a porno movie like I do a horror movie.
You're a filmmaker first, and you just like doing movies.
The genre of italian exploitation became less succesfull in the late eighties after the wave of Vietnam-type movies. It seems that now the Americans have taken over the production of B-movies with their direct to video-industry. Do you make movies specifically for this market as well?
Oh, no. Not just for the american market, I make movies for any market who want to buy it. I don't do movies just for America. Also because really, it's not a big market for us. United States make so many movies each year, they don't need to buy from foreign countries.
But isn't that what you do with all your pseudonyms? Turning the italian names into english, you're making them sound american.
To sell better. In foreign countries, but also just for Italy. Because in Italy if you have one american name, everybody thinks you are american.
So it also makes it easier to get financing in Italy? They have more trust in Americans?
And what about the fact that the lead actor in many italian b-movies is often from the States or England?
You know why, it's because it is better for the sale, the foreign sale. When you sell to the United States it is better with one american actor then just italian actors. It's just a commercial thing, it is not because of something, uhm, artistic if you want, it's just a commercial thing.
You use the name Joe d'Amato mainly. There's a sort of label attached to that name now.
Really I have many pseudonyms, like Steven Benson, Joe d'Amato, David Hills. The truth is I make too many movies, especially before. Also now, but before I make fifteen movies each year and it's a little complicated to put out all the movies with the Joe d'Amato name. And I try to change my name, depending on the kind of movie. For erotic movie I am Joe d'Amato. I try to change the name, but the problem is, now everybody knows me and everybody understands that Steven Benson and David Hills are the same man as Joe d'Amato. Now I forget all the pseudonyms and I have only Joe d'Amato.
We now see that in Italy the B-movie genres are slowly coming up again. The most notable example of this is Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore.
I made one movie before with Michele Soavi, called Aquarius or Stagefright. This was the first movie Michele made as director, and I was the producer. Before that he worked with me as assistant director, and actor. Because before, Michele was an actor. He was the italian James Dean (laughs).
I read an interview with him once where he talked about his work on your version of Caligula. He said about your work as a cinematographer that you can make simple things look very good on screen. He said you shot the interior scenes basically inside a shack with only one roman colummn and you still made it look very beautiful.
(Laughs) Yes, that is true. For example now I make a movie called Messalina and I shoot in one place. I find a place that looks like something roman, with columns, and shoot all the movie there. I change it with pots and flowers and use different angles.
How did you start in the film industry?
I started when I was still a kid. With a big movie, an italian movie with Anna Magnani, called The Golden Coach. The director of this movie was Jean Renoir. I did still photography. In this period, the fifties, the photography was not like now, where they take a quick picture. We had a really big camera. When I began this movie, I had to stay all day to unload the chassis, because it was not on film, but on glass. And after that I did more movies, I began to work with the camera, as an assistant to the camera operator. That's how I began to work with real film. Every time it's a step up.
As a filmmaker you've basically had three roles. One as a director, one as a producer and one as a cinematographer. Now, as a director you work in b-movies, as a producer you try to help young filmmakers, and as a cinematographer you also work on big budget productions.
Yes, I also do big budget movies. I worked in the movies for 45 years, so I got to do a bit of everything. My son, my brother, my father all worked in movies. We are like circus, you know.
Have you ever worked together on a movie with your relatives?
No, never. One works on a movie, then I work on another movie. My son is a camera operator, he specialises in the steadicam. He's very important now, because he did The English Patient. Now he's staying in Vancouver to do another movie with an american company. It's nice, he is one of the best steadicam operators in the world, everybody always calls him.
As a producer you work as a sort of Roger Corman, producing young talent. When did you start doing this?
Oh, about fifteen years ago. I made movies with Fabrizio Laurenti, Michele Soavi, Claudio Fragasso. I try to find young directors, let them grow. I try to do many movies, also as producer. I just did a fantastic movie with Lucio Fulci, starring John Savage, all set in Louisiana. It's really a fantastic movie, nobody has seen this movie yet. Unfortunately Lucio Fulci died, so this is the last movie he made. It's really an unbelievable movie, called The Door To Silence. The whole movie is shot in a cemetery. Next year I want to send this movie in to the Rotterdam Festival, because I think for me it's the best movie I ever produced.
You've shot a lot of your movies in Italy, especially around Rome. And they're all very different movies, from the Ator films to contemporary films, and it all fits. Does Italy have such a varied landscape?
Yes, you have many possibilities to shoot any kind of movie in Italy. It's not so cheap as in the United States, where I also shoot a lot of my movies. But in Italy it's nice because it's a different kind of feeling. And them I am Italian, so it's nice to shoot at home.
With your film Antropophagous you shot a lot around Greece and then the finale you shot in caves around Rome. I really liked those scenes, they were very atmospheric.
I also shot in one small island close to Rome, I don't remember the name. Part of this movie was shot in this island, part in Greece and part inside of the catacombs close to Rome. These catacombs are the tombs of the knights from the crusades.
That film was the last of the italian cannibal movies.
No, I shot one other cannibal movie starring Laura Gemser, called Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals. This was made after Antropophagous.
Still Antropophagous was sort of symbolic for the end of the genre, especially the scene at the end with George Eastman...
...eating himself, yes (laughs).
So you made two cannibal movies, and also one zombie movie, Le Notti Erotiche dei Morti Vivendi, with both Laura Gemser and George Eastman. With Le Notti and Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals you tried to mix horror with sex.
Yes, I tried, but it's not the best result. For me the sex is the sex, the horror is the horror, and the comic is the comic. It's almost impossible to mix well. If you want horror with sex, it's okay. But comedy with sex is no good, because if you laugh you don't see the sex or feel the sex the way you should. But usually if you mix something, it doesn't work, there is no straight line to follow.
You made a film called Buio Omega, about a man who keeps the dead body of his own wife at home. At the time there was a lot of controversy about you having used a real corpse for this film.
Yes, somebody said I used a real operation, real surgery. It's not true, I buy meat and things at a butchery. It's worthless to do a real operation for a movie. For horror movies it's bullshit. It's impossible to even change the angle of the camera. When it's fantasy, you can do all the special effects you could want to do. But with Buio Omega everybody thinks I used a real body, it's bullshit. It's really very simple, like in Antropophagous, when he eats the foetus, it's just a rabbit without skin I bought at the butchery.
Did you get into trouble over Buio Omega?
Many, many troubles. It's forbidden in England, it's forbidden in Germany. I don't understand why. Also Antropophagous is forbidden in Germany, because it's too violent. It's just a movie, I don't understand what all this bullshit is. They say it's too violent. When you see somebody shot in the head, with all the blood, that is much more violent to me than George Eastman eating himself. That's just too silly.
You never know with censors, they are strange people. We're very lucky in this country not to have any. Anything can come out here.
Yes, I saw on television you showed porno movies.
A few months ago they showed Salo by Pasolini.
Fantastic. It's forbidden in Italy, you cannot see this movie. Bullshit.
Which of your own movies are you very proud of?
Yesterday night I saw Endgame, a movie I made eighteen years ago. And there were parts I didn't remember. It's a nice movie, a nice action movie. Antropophagous is one, but really I am proud of everything I do. There are some movies I like more, and some I like less, but I like all my movies.
Your films seem to be very much non-political.
What I want to do is shock the people who come to see my movies. I don't think it's possible to shock anyone with political things. I don't care about politics. I am not a psychological filmmaker, I'm a craftsman.
Is there a movie you'd still really like to make, not for the money, but simply because you really want to do it?
It's very difficult. Because I want to make money all the time (laughs). Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. If it's just for the money I'll do it for the money. Really, I like to do action movies, scary movies, even really erotic stories. I have no clear idea what I want to make. I want to make money (laughs).
Name, age, occupation
Aristide Massaccesi, 61, filmmaker
Dog. I have three dogs. One is a female, a bastard, it's unbelievably intelligent. I have another two, they are such idiots.
Indiana Jones. The first Indiana Jones I think is fantastic.
It's good. It's not my style, because it's too much psychology.
Goal in life
I'll wait for it. I don't have one now.
Message to the world
Anything you do, you need to love it. I talk about money, that I want to make money, but really I am so involved in this kind of job, I actually lost a lot of money making movies. But I am very happy to do this kind of job. To me, if you love what you do, that's the best way in the world.