Chances are if you’ve ever watched an Italian horror film from the 1980’s then you will be familiar with Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Often credited under the pseudonym John Morghen, Giovanni’s intense screen presence in such classics as Antonio Margheriti’s Apocalypse domani (Cannibal Apocalypse), Lucio Fulci’s Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead) and Umberto Lenzi’s truly repulsive Cannibal Ferox would transform him into one of the biggest stars of the era.
Three of Radice’s pictures from the early 1980s would be among the thirty-nine titles selected by the Directors of Public Prosecution in June 1983 as being video nasties, making him one of the most notorious actors working in Italy during that time. To English-speaking audiences, Radice was often credited as John Morghen, a common practice for Italian performers and filmmakers in order to make themselves more marketable to interntational audiences.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice discusses the Italian film industry and his place in it.
At what point do you feel the Italian film industry was allowed the freedom to make more daring and graphic movies, and how come there was such a horror boom during the 1960s and 70s?
The Italian film industry developed during the 50s and became prosperous and rich, producing more than one thousand movies a year of all kind, including fantasy, sci-fi, and later on horror. Producers were independent (and not at all totally linked with the TV market and money as it is now), and so totally responsible of what they were producing. Furthermore in the late sixties and in the seventies the hard grip of censorship (strongly related to the power of the Catholic church in Italian politics) started to loosen.
Why did Italian filmmakers become so obsessed with producing mondo, cannibal and zombie movies and how come the late ’70s saw the country produce a series of extremely controversial features?
In my opinion, Italian filmmakers were always obsessed just by one thing and I mean money. And they were always following fashion and trying to imitate foreign movies. If, after Ben Hur, Maciste and Steve Reeves were the thing, you would have a hundred movies with bodybuilders in Ancient Rome, while if cowboys sounded like making money – hop. in the saddle! It wasn’t any different as for zombies and cannibals. It was a wave and they rode it.
Having appeared in both zombie and cannibal films, which is the most intriguing to you and what was it that would constantly draw you to such dark material?
As for directors, actors are VERY drawn by money and so was I. It’s strange how journalists often seem to think that actors choose what they are doing, when, as a matter of fact, only big stars can afford to do it. I was called for a thriller (House on the Edge of the Park) and then for zombies and cannibals. If they had called me for Nineteen Century romantic stories I would have starred in that. I was young, no star, and in bad need of money because of the great amount of theatre I was doing (one of the less moneymaking activities in the world).
This said, I always prefer fantasy to fake reality (which is often the realm of cannibal movies). Zombies and monsters and poltergeists are the modern version of fairy tales, which are at times very scary if you read them in the original Grimm books and not in the Disney sweetened version. And I am a great fan of fairy tales. They help putting children fears in the open and out of them and I think it works for the grownups too.
Amongst the list of so-called ‘video nasties’ that were labelled as obscene and subsequently banned in the United Kingdom during the 1980s, over twenty of them were of Italian origin. Why do you think the censors reacted the way they did and do you believe that some of these movies may have gone too far?
I don’t believe in a ‘banning’ censorship, because I think that an adult should be free of watching what he likes if minors and animals are not involved. And such involvements should be censored at the origin, not allowing the movies to be shot. On the other hand I do believe in age censorship, because extremely violent movies shouldn’t be viewed by children, which is unfortunately preposterous since video tapes and DVD appeared. I am not a horror fan and didn’t see any horror or cannibal movies apart from the ones I were in. Cannibal Ferox was surely going too far. As for the others I wouldn’t say so.
You have expressed your disgust at your involvement in Cannibal Ferox. Were you already aware of Umberto Lenzi’s reputation and do you feel that the movie had any redeeming qualities?
No, I wasn’t aware of him in any way and still, after thirty years I can’t find a single ounce of good in that movie. Bullshit from the beginning to the end, including my bombastic and over the top performance.’
Having already collaborated with Ruggero Deodato on La casa sperduta nel parco (The House on the Edge of the Park), how did you come to be involved in Un delitto poco comune (Phantom of Death) and how would you compare these two experiences?
He called me and I said yes. In Phantom Of Death I has a very little role, so it was totally different from House, but I was very happy to work with Michael York, which was positively an electric emotion. The most exiting actor I worked with. Almost as being on stage.
Another frequent collaborator was Michele Soavi, who would direct you in Stage Fright, The Church and The Sect, yet you had both appeared in Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead in 1980. Did you become close friends during this time or would you be cast in Deliria through the usual channels?
We became best pals while working on City Of The Living Dead. We saw each other continually, we had projects, we went on holiday together…when he was ready for his first movie it was obvious that I was going to be in it.
As the 1980s came to a close, the Italian horror industry seemed to lose popularity around the world, particularly after the death of Fulci and the decline of Dario Argento’s career. Why do you think international audiences lost interest in giallo and cannibal movies and do you think there will ever be a new generation of filmmakers that will enjoy similar success?
I am not so sure that the Italian horror industry stopped because of lack of popularity. It’s more the fact that the private TV networks changed everything. From the mid-eighties on everything was produced with their money and independent producers disappeared. And TV networks (at least in Italy) produce things that are apt for a family audience. Horror, extreme gore and zombies aren’t in the line. There surely is a new generation of horror directors, such as Domiziano De Cristopharo, who directed me in his House of Flesh Mannequins, but I don’t know if they will be as successful as the Fulci generation and I am pretty sure that, trying to achieve success, they should move abroad or at least find the necessary funds out of Italy.
Are there any filmmakers that you wished you could have worked with during the 1980s and which of the directors working in the industry today do you find the most interesting?
Millions of them. Can’t name them all. Carpenter, Bertolucci, Tarantino, Coppola. But they are alive. I can always hope.
Out of all the movies that you have worked on over the last thirty years, which are you most pleased with and which do you regret making? Are you proud of what you have achieved in your career and how would you compare the Italian film industry of today to the one that you first started in?
As for the horror movies the one I prefer is Cannibal Apocalypse and the one I surely regret making is Cannibal Ferox. Proud is a bit too much for my vocabulary, but I do not complain. As for the film industry, as I said before, it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just an extension of the TV market, producing TV-movies about happy families or sad imitations of the American medical series and some twenty movies a year compared to the thousand and more of the golden years. No comparison is possible.