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Joe D'Amato a.k.a. Aristide Massaccesi - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

October 2007

Films directed by Joe D'Amato on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Joe D'Amato was one of the most prolific genre directors of Italy (back in the days when the Italians still produced genre movies), yet more often than not he is dismissed as a sleaze merchant or a studio hack, which is at least in my eyes a bit unfair.

True, his horror films were never on the same artistic level as those of Mario Bava [Mario Bava bio - click here] or Dario Argento, he lacked the unique vision of Lucio Fulci (which, truth to be told, Fulci showed only rarely as well) [Lucio Fulci bio - click here], and in terms of craftmanship he was no match for Sergio Martino or Antonio Margheriti [Antonio Margheriti-bio - click here]. It's also true that he never saw filmmaking as an artform but merely as a business venture, that a great deal of his movies are driven by sensationalism and sleaze, and that he never shied away from ripping off successful contemporary movies (but for a time, this was true for most of the Italian film industry). 

However, among his vast cinematic output that touches almost every popular genre there is (including hardcore pornography and extreme gore I feel obliged to mention) you will find the occasional gem as well as quite a few entertaining pieces (if sometimes entertaining for all the wrong reasons), some extremely erotic films ... and, one just has to admit it, lots and lots of rubbish (sometimes funny rubbish though).

 


 

Early Life and Career

 




Joe D'Amato was born by the name Aristide Massaccesi in 1936 in Rome, Italy, to a father who was already working in the Italian film industry since the early 1930's, usually as a gaffer since he was a learned electrician - which provided the boy with an excellent opportunity to enter the business ...

Young Aristide started following his father's footsteps at the tender age of 14, initially doing all sorts of menial jobs like cable transporter and set electrician before rising up in the ranks, and by the late 1950's, he bagan working as an assistant cameraman, working over the years for quite a number of high profile directors ranging from Mario Bava (Ercole al Centro della Terra/Hercules in the Haunted World, 1961) to Jean-Luc Godard (Le Mépris/Contempt, 1963), from Duccio Tessari (La Sfinge Sorride Prima di Morire - Stop - Londra/Secret of the Sphinx, 1964) to Franco Zeffirelli (La Bisbetica Domata/The Taming of the Shrew, 1967).

 




By the late 1960's, Aristide Massaccesi - as he then still called himself - had risen in the ranks to director of photography, and as such his work can be seen in many a fine and/or notorious genre film like Massimo Dallamano's Cosa avete fatto a Solange/What Have you Done to Solange (1972), Giu la Testa ... Hombre/Fistful of Death (1971, Demofilo Fidani), Il Plenilunio delle Vergini/The Devil's Wedding Night (1973, Luigi Batzella as Paul Solvay), L'Anticristo/The Antichrist/Blasphemy (1974, Alberto De Martino), and the Italian-American co-production The Arena/La Rivolta delle Gladiatrici (1974, Steve Carver), a Roger Corman production starring Pam Grier of which D'Amato is quite frequently given co-director-credits in various sources, though this claim is unconfirmed.

 


 

First Directorial Efforts

 

Aristide Massaccesi did direct his first film in 1972, Scansati ... a Trinita Arriva Eldorado/Pokerface/Trinity in Eldorado, a cheaply and quickly shot Western comedy. However, he did not sign that film with his own name (or any pseudonym) and instead had directing credits go to the film's producer Diego Spataro (under his alias Dick Spitfire). The film was held back until 1975 though and then it flopped terribly.

Aristide Massaccesi also did not sign the films that immediately followed Trinity in Eldorado as a director with his own name, the Western Un Bounty Killer a Trinita/A Bounty Killer for Trinity (1972) went to the film's production manager Oscar Santaniello aka Oskar Faradine, while Sollazzevoli Storie di Mogli Gaudenti e Mariti Penitenti - Decameron nº 69/More Sexy Canterbury Tales (1973) and Fra' Tazio da Velletri (1973) were credited to Massaccesi's own assistant director Romano Gastaldi aka Romano Scandariato. This was however not some sort of conspiracy against Massaccesi but rather happened by his own choice as back in the early 1970's he was still a much-demanded director of photography and he was fearing that if it came out that he was moonlighting as a director it could jeopardize his career.

As a consequence, even when he didn't borrow someone else's name for the directing credits of a film, he rather made up some fantasy name than use his own name. So Aristide Massaccesi was John Shadow for Canterbury No 2 - Nuove Storie d'Amore del '300/Tales of Canterbury (1973) - a film quite obviously inpired by the success of Pier Paolo Pasolini's I Racconti di Canterbury/The Canterbury Tales (1972) - and he became Michael Wotruba for the war movie Eroi all'Inferno (1973) - a film that featured Klaus Kinski in a small role -, the sex comedy Novelle Licenziose di Vergini Vogliose/Diary of a Roman Virgin (1973) and the oddity Pugni, Pupe e Karatè (1973) that starred Richard Harrison [Richard Harrison-bio - click here]. By and large, these films were all cheaply produced routine pictures, nothing really memorable and most of them made to cash in on a current success, but these were the films where D'Amato learned his craft, whether he's credited or not ...

 


Actually, Aristide Massaccesi signed only one film he directed ever with his real (birth) name, 1973's La Morte ha Sorriso all'Assassino/Death Smiled at Murder, mainly because on one hand he was encouraged by the film's budget that was significantly higher than those of his previous films, and on the other hand he had the chance of working with Klaus Kinski (again) and Ewa Aulin, then a popular Italian actress - which made the film just something he wanted to put his name on.

But however proud Massaccesi was of the film, it comes across as a little bit of a mess, a wild blend of gothic and erotica, a mixture of ghost story, reanimation of the dead, and straight, lesbian and incestuous sex, presented in an over-the-top manner. Now it's of course easy to dismiss Death Smiled at Murder as simply a bad movie for all its shortcomings (not only storywise), but to trashfilm fans like me, it has this irresistible B-movie charm that makes it quite enjoyable.

 


By 1975, Aristide Massaccesi gave up working on other people's films - as director of photography or anything else -, with one of his last works being re-editing Jess Franco's never-released hardcore Marquis de Sade adaptation Juliette, oddly enough by throwing out half of the footage shot by Franco and replacing it with scenes from two other Franco-films, Shining Sex (1975) and Midnight Party/Lady Porno (1976) to make up a whole new (and different) film, Justine De Sade - which wasn't released until 1979.

Also around 1975, Aristide Massaccesi adopted a new alias, Joe D'Amato, a name that ultimately stuck with him for the rest of his career - even if he would time and again still use yet other pseudonyms as well, David Hills and Steve Benson readily spring to mind, but there were others still ...

 

One of the first films that Massaccesi directed as Joe D'Amato was Emanuelle e Francoise le Sorelline/Emanuelle's Revenge (1975), a sexploitation film he co-scripted with Bruno Mattei [Bruno Mattei bio - click here] with a title that was quite clearly inspired by the then popular Emmanuelle-series, but while the Emmanuelle-films were basically glossy travelogues with sex and some atrociously silly and pretentious dialogue tagged on, Joe D'Amato went straight to the jugular with Emanuelle's Revenge, in which a model (Rosemarie Lindt) is raped by a thug (George Eastman), but then she gets hold of him, chains him up and has her revenge - by hiding him away behind a one-way mirror and having sex with countless partners of both sexes in front of the mirror just to ever increase his sexual frustrations - now I don't know, aren't there easier ways to get your revenge ? Maybe, but certainly not sleazier ...

(By the way, despite other claims elsewhere, Emanuelle's Revenge was not, and wasn't intended to be, a part of the Black Emanuelle-series which Joe D'Amato took over one year later - see next paragraph -, it was just an attempt to cash in on the Emmanuelle-series - as was the Black Emanuelle-series, incidently - by using the name Emanuelle, with one m as opposed to the original series, in the title.)

 


 

Black Emanuelle

 


In 1976 Joe D'Amato had what can be seen as his breakthrough as a director when he took over the Black Emanuelle series (which wasn't even a series yet) from Bitto Albertini - but to properly tell this story, we have to go back to the year 1975, when Albertini (under the alias Albert Thomas) directed a film called Emanuelle Nera/Black Emanuelle, a film that was quite obviously inspired by above-mentioned Emmanuelle-series, and not only because of the title - just like the original Emmanuelle (1974, Just Jaeckin), the film offered exotic locations presented travelogue style to frame a story about some horny foreigners (foreigners to the exotic locations) engaging in all sorts of sexual activities, and while the film is harmless fun to watch and probably more enjoyable than the whole Emmanuelle-series, it's also completely pointless and quite forgettable ... if it wasn't for the film's lead actress Laura Gemser [Laura Gemser-bio - click here] an extremely erotic and exotic beauty who easily made the film her own. In this respect it is quite ironic to note that Gemser was chosen for the lead quite probably only because she had a small (but revealing) role in Emmanuelle, l'Antivierge/Emmanuelle 2 (1975, Francis Giacobetti).

Anyways, for whatever reason, Albertini did not ask Gemser back for his Black Emanuelle-sequel Emanuelle Nera No 2/Black Emanuelle 2/New Black Emanuelle (1976) - he hired Shulamith Lasri aka Sharon Lesley in her stead - and the film turned out to be a desaster at the box office and is today as good as forgotten.

 


Joe D'Amato's Black Emanuelle-sequel Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage/Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) on the other hand - which was released a good two months before Albertini's film - totally revolves around Laura Gemser, which makes the film almost irresistible.

Stylistically, Emanuelle in Bangkok pretty much follows Black Emanuelle's lead, once again the film is a blend of erotica and exotica, of travelogue and sleaze, only D'Amato was clever enough to shift character motivations around a bit: In this one and the subsequent movies, Emanuelle is an investigative journalist who has a habit of getting in the thick of it, and who just happens to be (extremely) promiscuous and tries to solve all her problems with sex - and usually successfully so. This of course gives Laura Gemser much more motivation than in the previous Black Emanuelle-film let alone Sylvia Kristel in the Emmanuelle-series and thus makes Emanuelle in Bangkok more interesting - even if the film at the same time was made on an obviously low budget and focussed first and foremost on sleaze.

 


D'Amato followed Emanuelle in Bangkok with three (!) sequels the very next year:

First there was the rather misleadingly titled Emanuelle in America (1977) which is in fact nothing short of a sleaze-fest with an abundance of sex scenes and even some hardcore (without Laura Gemser performing though) thrown into the mix (at least in the uncut edition), plus a scene in which a woman gives a horse a handjob. The film is of a rather episodic structure, with Emanuelle visiting various sex resorts and sex clinics around the world, with extensive footage shot in Venice (Venice, Italy not Venice, California, as you can easily tell), which once more results in many travelogue style sequences, before she returns to the USA to expose a snuff ring - which results in a few ghastly scenes for which D'Amato was accused of having used or even shot real snuff material, but of course it was all just crude but effective special effects. It's save to say though that Emanuelle in America is one of Joe D'Amato's more outrageous films (and there are many outrageous films to follow) and both concerning sex and violence it seems to go right to the jugular.

 


After the over-the-top Emanuelle in America, D'Amato's next entry into the series, Emanuelle - perché violenza alle donne ?/Emanuelle around the World (1977) was a bit of a letdown: Sure it still contained sex aplenty, and again Joe D'Amato treats his audience to a few isolated scenes of hardcore sex (again Laura Gemser not performing, even if one scene clumcily suggests she is), but it's by far not as wild as its predecessor and not as appealing, even if it does better in the story department, teaming up Laura Gemser with asidekick, Karin Schubert - who also was in the original Black Emanuelle - to smash a white slave ring ... and having many erotic adventures along the way. Still the story of the film comes across as awfully episodic - but then again, the general audience might not exactly watch a Black Emanuelle-film for its narrative coherence in the first place ...

 

On a pure narrative level, in fact, Joe D'Amato's third Black Emanuelle-film for 1977 would be much more satisfying - it's just wild in other ways and certainly not to everyone's liking ...

 


In 1977, director Ruggero Deodato [Ruggero Deodato-bio - click here] had just revived the cannibal genre with his film  Ultimo Mondo Cannibale/Jungle Holocaust/Last Cannibal World, basically a violent adventure movie with heaps of gore starring Massimo Foschi, Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai [Me Me Lai bio - click here] - and suddenly cannibal movies were the talk of the day and an immensely profitable genre for the next few years.

 


Joe D'Amato was among the very first to jump the bandwagon with his film Emanuelle e gli Ultimi Cannibali/Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), in which he (with reasonable success) tried to merge the Black Emanuelle- with the cannibal-formula - and for that occasion he also showed what an economic filmmaker he was: While most cannibal movies of the time were shot on location in the Phillipines, D'Amato just took his cast and crew to a forest near Rome that was supposed to double for the Amazonian jungle - and truth to be told, the Italian forest works reasonably well as the tropics, plus of course, who is concentrating on trees and plants anyways when Laura Gemser and young Mónica Zanchi get naked a lot and scenes of gore and dismemberment are around every other corner ?

 


As a whole, the film isn't even half bad, a typical cannibal movie with a rather stupid plot that goes straight to the jugular in terms of violence - which is of course a trait of the genre as a whole - and has some sex attached to top it off.

 


After the excesses of especially Emanuelle in America and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, La Via della Prostituzione/Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade/Emanuelle and the Girls of Madame Claude, D'Amato's 1978 entry into the Black Emanuelle-series, comes across as rather tame, it's starts out as another travelogue-sleaze hybrid until Emanuelle decides to smash another white slave ring - this time by going undercover as a prostitute and soon becoming the top hooker of a brothel. But while there is no explicit violence in this film and the sex is decidedly softcore, it's also one of the most entertaining films of the series.

 

In all, however, the Black Emanuelle-series has lost steam and above all audience appeal over the years, so as early as in 1977, Joe D'Amato co-directed a Mondo-film with Bruno Mattei [Bruno Mattei bio - click here] hosted by Laura Gemser (as Emanuelle), Le Notti Porno nel Mondo/Sexy Night Report/Mondo Erotico, which was followed in 1978 by Emanuelle e le Porno Notti nel Mondo 2/Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights, once again co-directed by D'Amato and Mattei - both cheesy anthologies of unrelated (softcore) sex scenes taken from various sources, spliced together rather at random and only so-so held together by Laura Gemser's introductions and segues.

(By the way, besides these two, D'Amato also made the Mondo films Le Notti Porno nel Mondo n. 2/Sexy Night Report 2/Scandinavian Erotica and the Amanda Lear-hosted Follie di Notte/Crazy Nights, both in 1978.)

(And even more by the way, Bruno Mattei tried to revive the Black Emanuelle-series in the 1980's with two women in prison films also starring Laura Gemser, Violenza in un carcere femminile/ Violence in a Women's Prison/ Emmanuelle in Hell (1982) and Emanuelle Fugal dal'Inferno/Emanuelle's Escape from Hell/Women's Prison Massacre/Blade Violent (1983) - which were no match for D'Amato's films though.)

 

During his work on the Black Emanuelle-series, D'Amato only made few other movies, and only two of them are of interest, actually:



  • Eva Nera/Black Cobra Woman (1976) is an erotic revenge drama starring Laura Gemser (again) as a high class stripper who does an act with a giant snake, and Jack Palance as a snake lover who falls for the stripper even though she is more attracted to a lesbian (Michele Starck) and Palance's own brother (Gabriele Tinti, Gemser's real life husband) - until of course the brother kills the lesbian ... Black Cobra Woman actually could have been a good film, an erotic murder mystery with horror overtones, if it wasn't for a rather lazy directorial job, a rather muddled screenplay, and once again many travelogue-style scenes (this time shot in Hong Kong).
  • While Black Cobra Woman isn't too much unlike your average Black Emanuelle-film - it had Laura Gemser, exotic backdrops and sexscenes aplenty - Duri a Morire/Tough to Kill (1978) is pretty much a complete change of pace, a war film about a group of mercenaries on a manhunt with definite parallels to Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). What's really interesting about Tough to Kill is that for the longest time, it seems to carry a racist subtext, exemplified in the relationship between hero Luc Merenda and his manservant Percy Hogan - until in the end, Percy Hogan comes out on top, having used Merenda's racism against himself. Of course though, it was far from D'Amato, a director who always had his mind on the money first, to make a statement of any sorts with his film let alone a message movie, so the whole parable of racism hitting back in one's own face is hidden in a trashy, cheaply made warfilm that might not always live up to the promise of its basic plot ...

 

The Caribbean Series

 


Flix.com

In 1978, Joe D'Amato started his Caribbean series with the film Papaya dei Caraibi/Papaya of the Caribbean, a rather weird tale of violence and voodoo, sex and seduction which is basically about a handfull of natives opposing a powerplant to be built in their village by seducing and killing the powerplant's engineers (!).

 

Actually, the Caribbean series is not a series as such, but a sextet of films that were filmed in the Caribbean and - quite in the spirit of Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals - quite freely mix sex and gore, both often quite explicit, but while Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals is besides the sex and violence issue a pretty straight forward adventure film, the films of the Caribbean series often feature incredibly delirious plots and incredibly muddled screenplays. Also, the films often feature quite similar sets and locations, first and foremost because they were on one hand shot back to back or on the other incorporated scenes from each other, plus many performers like Geroge Eastman, Mark Shannon, Lucia Ramirez, Dirce Funari and Annj Goren turn up in more than one film. And almost all of the films feature at least some hardcore scenes if not being hardcore porn as such.

In 1980, Papaya of the Caribbean was followed by Orgasmo Nero, Hard Sensations, Sesso Nero/Black Sex and Le Notti Erotiche dei Morti Viventi/Erotic Nights of the Living Dead while in 1981 Holocausto Porno/Porno Holocaust followed.

 

  • Orgasmo Nero has scientist Richard Harrison [Richard Harrison-bio - click here] give a native girl (Lucia Ramirez) to his wife (Susan Scott) as a present/slave - but thing is, the native girl and the wife fall in love with each other, which eventually leads to Harrison raping the native girl and ultimately to her tribe sacrificing him while she stays with the wife in happy lesbian bliss. The film features a few hardcore scenes, most probably pulled from Porno Holocaust, which wasn't even released until a year later.
  • Hard Sensations, the least known of the series, is pretty much a version of Last House on the Left (1972, Wes Craven) set in the Caribbean, with three escaped convicts having their way with three young girls ... until the girls turn the tables.
  • Black Sex has a man (Mark Shannon), who prior to vital surgery in which his penis will be cut off, wanting to find his one true love (Annj Goren), whom he had left 10 years ago, to resolve things with her. Thing is, she is supposed to have died all those years ago, but when he's not busy shagging other women (like the series' regular Lucia Ramirez) or feeling pain in his penis, he tends to see the girl everywhere ... could it be voodoo ?
  • Erotic Nights of the Living Dead features Laura Gemser [Laura Gemser-bio - click here] as a native seductive priestess releasing her zombies on those who want to turn her island into a holiday resort, in particular Mark Shannon, Dirce Funari and George Eastman. Once again, the film features a few hardcore sex scenes that seem to have been shot for the movie (and not just interspersed at a later date as D'Amato later claimed in an interview), but the scenes with Gemser are all strictly softcore.
  • ... and finally there is Porno Holocaust, perhaps the most notorious film of the Caribbean series. Essentially it's hardcore porn, but with a sci-fi-horror plot about a zombie-mutant tagged on, so when the actors are not busy fucking themselves, they are bumped off by a zombie, who uses his enormous dick to either smother or shag his female victims to death (he disposes of the men much more traditionally, by the way). In the end, it's only series regulars Mark Shannon and Lucia Ramirez who survive the ordeal. It eludes me (or anyone else for that matter) why D'Amato thought it to be a good idea to mix hardcore sex and zombies, but then again, Porno Holocaust is to a degree entertaining to watch ...

Actually, there was yet another film that Joe D'Amato shot in the Caribbean during that time, Porno Esotic Love/Porno Exotic Love (1980), but this is actually little more than a reworking of Black Cobra Woman, using circa 40 percent of that film all freshly redubbed and tied together (?) by scenes of Mark Shannon, Dirce Funari and Annj Goren performing hardcore sex, plus a few Hong Kong location shots thrown into the mix. Interestingly Jack Palance is in none of the Black Cobra Woman-footage - and he was probably quite happy to not be associated with a hardcore film he didn't even act in ...

 


 

Joe D'Amato, Horror Director

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Let's go back in time a little to 1979, when Joe D'Amato found his other true vocation besides sleaze: Horror.

Sure, many of his erotic features from the 1970's had horror elements, and Death Smiled at Murder was even an outright gothic, but it was 1979's Buio Omega/Beyond the Darkness/Blue Holocaust which really brought D'amato to international attention as a horror filmmaker, because of the film's cynical, disquieting and almost perverse atmosphere - but mainly because of its gruesome gore scenes.

The film features a weird story about a widowed taxidermist (Kieran Canter, the weakest element of the film) who can't get over the death of his wife (Cinzia Monreale), so he digs up her body, embalms it and keeps it in his French bed - but to keep his secret, he finds himself forced time and again to kill young women, while his perverted maid (Franca Stoppi) desperately tries to get him to marry her - until the wife's twin sister and splitting image shows up ... It all ends in a gruseome fight between our taxidermist and his maid ...

Actually, Buio Omega is a pretty effective little shocker, and even if its story was quite obviously inspired by the little-known and rather disappointing Italian thriller Il Terzo Occhio/The Third Eye (1966, Mino Guerrini) starring Franco Nero [Franco Nero-bio - click here], it turns out to be the better of the two films and D'Amato proves that he can handle gore, atmosphere and suspense equally well.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Unfortunately, the film gained a certain (very profitable) notoriety on basis of its rather gruesome gore scenes - D'Amato had a certain talent of creating crude but effective gore effects on his own simply by buying props at a local butchery - instead of its other qualities, and as a result, D'Amato - always more of a businessman than an artist - reacted to this by making his most notorious, most gruesome but also blaeakest shocker, Antropophagus/The Grim Reaper/Man-Eater, in 1980.

The film is basically about a bunch of tourists arriving at an island paradise - only to find it completely deserted safe for one man (George Eastman) who is a demented mutant who feeds preferably on human flesh - and since he has already eaten all of the island's inhabitants he starts to feed on our tourist group ... 

The film has gained widespread notoriety especially for one scene in which George Eastman rips the fetus (actually a skinned rabbit) from a dead woman and eats it up, a very unsettling scene but exactly the kind of stuff an otherwise rather dull film like this needs to create a scandal, become infamous and remain memorable - besides granting the film many re-releases ... and this way, with one of his weaker films, Joe D'Amato had one of his biggest successes ...

 

The 1981-film Rosso Sangue/Absurd was marketed as a follow up to Antropophagus, even though the films have little to do with each other (safe for George Eastman as the mad baddie in both of them) and actually Absurd wasn't even intended to be a sequel to the earlier film, and references to Antropophagus were only added during shooting after that film became such an unexpected success. Absurd however lacked Antropophagus' bleakness as well as its gory setpieces and thus couldn't duplicate the success of the earlier film by a long shot and is today almost forgotten.

... which is a shame really since in direct comparison, Absurd is the far better film, a little suspense tale about demented George Eastman terrorizing a small American village. Sure, the film is a bit short on plot and isn't always completely plausible,  but rather unexpectedly Joe D'Amato proves his talent creatng suspense, and as a result he has directed a very tense and exciting little thriller - just too bad he has made the movie in a time when everyone was longing for gore ...

 


 

Rip-offs

 

Once again let's go back in time for a bit, and once again to the late 1970's: By this time, the Hollywood blockbuster was beginning to take over the cinematic world, and because of smaller budgets and smaller advertising budgets compared to US-movies, the Italian film industry found it more and more difficult to compete, but what's worse, it also lost confidence in its own strength, and from the late 1970's onwards, many Italian genre movies were mere rip offs of (mainly American) hit movies.


Joe D'Amato, who was always a money-conscious filmmaker (both concerning keeping his budgets low and keeping his profits high) never had a problem with copying other people's concepts, as he has proven with some of his previous films like the Black Emanuelle-series - an obvious take on the Emmanuelle-series - and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals - which was quite clearly inspired by Jungle Holocaust - and thus he had little reservations about making rip-offs of other popular films:

  • Immagini di un Convento/Images in a Convent (1979) followed hot on the heels of Walerican Borowczyk's Interno di un Convento/Behind Convent Walls (1978), but of course with that film's power. Still, the film, D'Amato's first excursion into nunsploitation - a genre he would revisit with La Monaca del Peccato/Convent of Sinners in 1986 - was sleazy as could be, with a hardcore gangrape scene and plenty of dildo play.
  • Erotic Nights of the Living Dead was of course inspired by the success of both Dawn of the Dead/Zombie (1978, George A.Romero) and Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979, Lucio Fulci), but with sex tagged on.

  • Flix.com


    Flix.com

  • Caligola: La Storia mai Raccontata/Caligula: The Untold Story (1982) was a quite obvious take on Tinto Brass' highly controversial but much talked about Caligola/Caligula from 1979, but to top that film, D'Amato included not only a bit of hardcore sex in his movie but also a scene of horse masturbation similar to the one in Emanuelle in America. The result is of course sleaze galore.
  • Anno 2020 - I Gladiatori del Futuro/2020 - Texas Gladiators (1982) and Endgame - Bronx lotta Finale/Endgame (1983) are both post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movies heavily inspired by Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981, George Miller). Al Cliver plays the lead in both of these films, trashy but not entirely uncharming low budget rip-offs, and both were co-scripted by George Eastman, who also stars as a baddie in the latter, which also stars Laura Gemser.


  • Ator l'Invincibile/Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982) and Ator l'Invincibile 2/Ator the Blade Master (1984) were both very cheap rip-offs of Conan the Barbarian (1982, John Milius), the film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star. Unfortunately the Ator-films starred Miles O'Keefe and were obviously made on the cheap so they're at best so-bad-they're-good or just utterly ridiculous (depends on your definition of at best I suppose).
  • 11 Giorni, 11 Notti/11 Days 11 Nights (1986) was made in the wake of the then incredibly successful (but grossly overrated) 9 1/2 Weeks (1986, Adrian Lyne) - but more about 11 Days 11 Nights below ...
  • In 1989, D'Amato made the film Sangue negli Abissi/Squali/Deep Blood, which was pretty much his version of Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg). Interestingly enough, in the 1980's, many Italian genre directors made Jaws rip-offs, e.g. Enzo G.Castellari's L'Ultimo Squalo/The Last Shark (1981) [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here] or Lamberto Bava's Shark: Rosso nell'Oceano/Devil Fish/Monster Shark (1984). By the way, most of the shark footage D'Amato used in his film is stock footage he bought from National Geographic.

  • In the early 1990's, an erotic film from Hong Kong, Michael Mak's Sex and Zen (1991) became an international hit (international hit at least by Hong Kong standards), so Joe D'Amato wasted no time to travel to the Philippines to shoot a few erotic films with mostly Oriental actors under the aliases Chang Lee Sun - Kamasutra Cinese/Chinese Kamasutra (1993) - and Robert Yip - Racconti della Camera Rossa (1993) and Cina e Sesso/China and Sex (1994).
  • Plus, when D'Amato returned to hardcore porn in the mid-1990's, he made hardcore versions of many a current blockbuster - but that has to do more with the genre as such than with the director's predilections and shall be discussed below ...

 

First Porn Period in the Early 1980's

 

As mentioned above, D'Amato was always more businessman than artist, so when hardcore pornography became a profitable business in the early 1980's, he had no problems trying his hands on that genre as well (and was actually quite successful at it). This move was of course hardly surprising since his earlier films also sometimes contained a few hardcore scenes (e.g. Emanuelle in America and Emanuelle around the World) and were often incredibly sleazy even in their softcore sequences, and thus going into hardcore full swing seemed like the next logical step.

Super Climax (1980), which D'Amato co-directed with Claudio Bernabei - both of them sharing the alias Alexandre Borsky - was possibly D'Amato's first hardcore film (it's hard to tell in this genre), and before long many more followed like Blue Erotic Climax (1980), La Voglia/Desire (1981) Bocca Golosa/Greedy Mouth (1981), Caldo Profumo di Vergine (all 1981), and Super Hard Love (1982), all also co-directed with Claudio Bernabei, above mentioned Porno Holocaust, Orgasmo Esotico (1982) - another porn-zombie hybrid, this time co-directed with Mario Siciliano -, the hardcore peplums Messalina Orgasmo Imperiale (1983) and Una Vergine per l'Impero Romano (1983), and Le Déchaînement Pervers de Manuela/Unleashed Perversions of Emanuelle/Emanuelle's Perverse Outburst (1983), a film that mixes scenes from various films of the Black Emanuelle-series and from Black Cobra Woman with hardcore scenes from Porno Exotic Love to elevate (?) the Black Emanuelle-series to hardcore level ... oh well.

 


 

The Mid-1980's to Mid-1990's: The Softcore Period

 


Flix.com

In the mid-1980's, Joe D'Amato gave up hardcore again and returned to softcore erotica, something he scarcely touched during his hardcore period, one notable example being Paradiso Blu/Blue Paradise (1980), a film starring Anna Bergman, daughter of arthouse legend Ingmar Bergman. In an attempt to widen the film's appeal and to set it - being more of a tender love story - apart from his usual sleazy output, D'Amato also had Anna Bergman sign as directo. The attempt however failed and Blue Paradise is one of D'Amato's more obscure films.

 


D'Amato's softcore films from the mid-1980's onwards however somehow rarely matched those of the 1970's. Initially, everything still seemed to be in the right place, and a film like L'Alcova/The Alcove/Lust (1984) starring Laura Gemser [Laura Gemser-bio - click here], Al Cliver, Lilli Carati and Annie Belle is still sleazy enough to compete with the best of them. Soon however, his films deteriorated to meaningless and mindless drivel.

The main problem was probably that most of his later films lacked a lead actress with the beauty, the enthusiasm and the charisma of Laura Gemser, who being in her mid-30's, was getting a bit old for this kind of work (she still stayed with D'Amato, with whom she was close friends, though as a supporting actress, extra and later costume designer), and a suitable substitute was hard to be found.

 



The only actress who somehow came close to replacing Gemser was Italian model-turned-actress Jessica Moore (born Luciana Ottaviani) [Jessica Moore-bio - click here], a very sensual, curvey and self-confident young woman whom D'Amato discovered in 1986, when she was a mere 19 years old.

D'Amato quickly cast Moore in two of his films in 1986, the nunsploitation film La Monaca del Peccato/The Convent of Sinners and 11 Giorni, 11 Notti/11 Days, 11 Nights, a 9 1/2 Weeks rip-off. In The Convent of Sinners, Moore only played a supporting part and was given no opportunity to really shine, but in 11 Days, 11 Nights she plays the lead, a promiscuous writer doing field research for her erotic novels (and you know what that means) - and she quite simply melts the screen. Consequently, the film became one of D'Amato's biggest international successes, even if it's not one of his better directorial efforts and features a rather silly storyline.

 



In 1988, D'Amato made a sequel to the film, Top Model/11 Days, 11 Nights Part 2, once again starring Jessica Moore as the lead character, Sarah Asproon, and if anything she's even hotter in this one and again carries the film's silly plot effortlessly.

 

However, when in 1990 Joe D'Amato asked Jessica Moore back for his third Sarah Asproon-film Undici Giorni, Undici Notti 2/Web of Desire he had to find out she had already retired from the screen due to her overly jealous fiancé (and later husband), and eventually D'Amato made the film with little-known Kristine Rose. She however failed to create a lasting impression similar to that of Jessica Moore, and since the film was not nearly as successful as its predecessors, the series was disbanded afterwards ...

 



D'Amato tried out quite a few actresses from the mid-1980's onwards but none managed to make a lasting impression, and some even were appaling: There was Lilli Carati, Miss Italy 1975, who was in above-mentioned The Alcove, and Il Piacere/The Pleasure (1985), Voglia di Guardere/Midnight Gigolo and Lussuria/Lust (both 1986), American actress Tara Buckman was in Blue Angel Café (1989) and La Signora di Wall Street/High Finance Woman (1991), and Valentine Demy was in the weird but bad sex-voodoo tale Pomeriggio Caldo/Afternoon (1987) as well as Amore Sporco/Dirty Love (1988) - Demy would by the way soon graduated to Tinto Brass films (Snack Bar Budapest [1988] and Paprika [1991]), even if she never got beyond supporting role status.

 


In the early 1990's, D'Amato started to put more and more effort into his softcore flicks to give them a better and more expensive look, however, the better-looking they were the more blatant and forgettable they were as well, and with badly scripted films like Kamasutra Cinese/Chinese Kamasutra and Il Labirinto dei Sensi/Labyrinth of Love (both 1993) he failed to leave any impression at all - quite unlike the erotic films from his early career.

 

During the late 1980's/early 90's, D'Amato also tried to make a few films away from the erotic genre, but unfortunately these films were not too impressive either:

  • Above mentioned Sangue negli Abissi/Squali/Deep Blood (1989) was little more than a cheap and disappopointing Jaws-rip-off.
  • Quest for the Mighty Sword/Ator l'Invincibile/Ator III: The Hobgoblin (1990) is a film of the so-bad-it's-good variety, a totally over-the-top but under-budgeted fantasy film not really connected to the first two Ator-films (and starring a different lead actor, Eric Allan Kramer). Actually this film is so wild concerning blending far out story elements with cheap special effects it has to be seen to be believed.

  • Contamination .7/The Crawlers (1990) is a weird little film about radioactive tree roots killing people after nuclear waste has been illegally dumped in a forest. But like Quest for the Mighty Sword, the budget was way too low to provide proper special effects for a story like this.
  • Finally there was Ritorno dalla Morte/Return from Death/Frankenstein 2000 from 1992, which was widely advertised as Joe D'Amato's return to the horror genre (even though he signed it as David Hills) - but the film about a woman in a coma (Cinzia Monreale) resurrecting the dead to have vengeance on those who have wronged her turned out to be a complete desaster, a dull and unconvincing horror-by-the-numbers without the slightest of scares - let alone even traces of originality.

By and large, all of this shows how Joe D'Amato's career as a filmmaker has come to a dead end and consequently, the only logical path for him led back to hardcore pornography - but more about that later.

 


 

Joe D'Amato, Producer

 

Back in 1980, D'Amato formed the production company Filmirage, which produced most of D'Amato's (non hardcore) films from then on (the Caribbean series being a notable exception), its inaugural film being the notorious Antropophagus. It was in 1987 that D'Amato widened the scope of the company and besides his own films also produced films by other directors - many Italian (trash-)horror greats among them -, films that occasionally have become far more successful and memorable than Damato's own films from the period:


    Flix.com


    Flix.com

  • Deliria/Stage Fright (1987) was the directorial debut by Michele Soavi, who soon enough would become one of Italy's horror greats before leaving the genre behind him and going into other kinds of film. Stage Fright is not essentially a great movie, more of your typical slasher actually, but it's extremely well-made and shows a director with great talent - as Soavi's future would prove.
  • Killing Birds - Uccelli Assassini/Raptors (1987) was originally to be directed by Michele Soavi as well, but then he got the offer from Dario Argento to direct La Chiesa/The Church (1988), and D'Amato, not wanting to stand in the way of the young talent's career, let him go and instead hired Claudio Lattanzi to direct the acting scenes of the film while D'Amato himself handled the special effects scenes. The result though is a tired zombie film with killing birds thrown into the mix. Robert Vaughn stars in this one

  • Flix.com



    Flix.com

  • Veteran genre director Umberto Lenzi directed La Casa 3/Ghosthouse (1988) and Paura nel Buio/Hitcher in the Dark (1989) for Filmirage - both not among the better films in his decidedly uneven film career [Umberto Lenzi bio - click here].
  • Ghosthouse did actually get a sequel, La Casa 4/Witchery/Witchcraft/Ghosthouse 2 (1988, Fabrizio Laurenti) that features a (relatively) stellar cast including David Hasselhoff, fresh from his success with Knight Rider and still a year away from Baywatch, Linda Blair, still trying to live up to her Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) reputation, and German veteran Hildegard Knef.
  • Claudio Fragasso's La Casa 5/Beyond Darkness/House 5 (1990) however does not feature the same stellar cast as its predecessor and is a pretty lame and forgettable film (not that the earlier films weren't).


  • Flix.com

  • Claudio Fragasso also directed Troll 2 (1990), an equally forgettable film, even if many regard it as a cult item of the so-bad-it's-good-variety.
  • Metamorphosis (1990) was George Eastman's (aka Luigi Montefiori) first and so far only film as a director. Eastman acted in many of D'Amato's films and also scripted a few. His main claim to fame though might be the screenplay for Enzo G.Castellari's cult Western Keoma (1976).
  • Even genre veteran Lucio Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click here] made a film for Filmirage, Porte del Silenzio/Door to Silence (1991), which would turn out to be his very last film (he also died in 1991), a weird and surreal little film that doesn't resemble Fulci's usual output of his later life and is more Twilight Zone blown up to feature proportions - not without interest though.

With the Italian film industry in its death throes in the early 1990's though, D'Amato eventually shut down the operations of Filmirage in 1994 and picked up directing hardcore porn full-time, something which he was already experienced in from his porn stint in the early 1980's, and since the early 1990's he had done porn on and off ...

 


 

Joe D'Amato, Porn Director

 

 

With the market for his usual cinematic output pretty much gone, either retirement or the turn to porn was inevitable, and D'Amato, though approaching 60, had no desire to retire, plus he was always a businessman first and artist second (and a sleaze merchant anyways), so he had little difficulties to cross the boundaries to hardcore porn (again) ...

Within the hardcore-genre, plot-based period pieces were his specialty, and his films were about actual historical characters - e.g. Marquis de Sade (1994) and Marco Polo, la Storia mai Raccontata/Marco Polo (1995), both starring Italian porn superstar Rocco Siffredi in the lead and co-directed by Luca Damiano (= Franco Lo Cascio), new takes on both Caligula (Caligola: Follia del Potere/Caligula, the Deviant Emperor [1997, starring Olivia del Rio and Ursula Moore]) and Messalina (Messalina [1996, starring German porn star Kelly Trump and Olivia del Rio]), Amadeus Mozart (1995, starring Deborah Wells and Kelly Trump) and Rudy/Rudolph Valentino, American Lover (1997) -, characters from Greek mythology - e.g. Aventuras Sexuals de Ulysses/Ulysses (1998) and Le Fatiche Erotiche di Ercole/The Sexual Challenges of Hercules (released way after D'Amato's death in 2005, again starring Kelly Trump) -, plus characters from high and low literature including Shakespeare-adaptations - Giulietta e Romeo/Juliet and Romeo (1996) and Hamlet (1997) -, Robin Hood: Thief of Wives (1996), Carmen (1996, co-directed by Justin Sterling, starring Ursula Moore), The Erotic Adventures of Aladdin X (1995, co-directed by Luca Damiano and starring Tabatha Cash), his takes on the Tarzan-myth - Jungle Heat/Tarzan X (1994) and its sequel Tarzhard, both starring Rocco Siffredi - and a Jekyll and Hyde-adaptation once more starring Rocco Siffredi, Dr. Rocco et M. Sodo (1995), to name but a few. Besides that D'Amato also made the occasional Western - Rocco e i Magnifici 7/Outlaws (1998), and its sequel Rocco e i Mercenari/Outlaws 2 (1999), both starring you guessed it, Mr Siffredi again, and Calamity Jane (1999), also starring Siffredi - and swashbuckler - I Predatori della Verginita Perduta/Raiders and Anita e la Maschera di Ferro/Lady in the Iron Mask (both 1998, starring Anita Blond). Plus there are two flicks that fit neither above category really (apart from being hardcore porn like all the rest) but that are mentioned repeatedly, this being Passion in Venice (1995, co-directed with Cameron Grant) starring Juli Ashton, Kelly Trump, Deborah Wells and Anita Blond and Torero (1999) starring Rocco Siffredi, Sunset Thomas and Olivia del Rio.

I may have to make it clear here that I have rather randomly picked only very few of D'Amato's porn flicks here, he made about a hundred at the tail end of his career. Interestingly, in the latter half of the 1990's, D'Amato only made one none-porn flick, the pirate adventure I Predatori delle Antille/Predators of the Antilles/Tortuga (1999), which he signed with his familiar David Hills-alias. However, he probably made this film only because he had paid a lot of money for the stock footage and costumes he used for his pirate/period porns like Raiders and Lady in the Iron Mask (both also from 1998) and wanted to stretch the footage to the max ...

 

 

Interestingly enough, D'Amato found the recognition in the porn industry he never got in the mainstream industry (mainstream as in non-porn), and looking at his films, they really look carefully produced and directed, feature some of the biggest names in the business and obviously were done on a higher budget than your usual hardcore flick, as reflected in the sets and costumes - plus D'Amato's insistence on shooting on film instead of on video quite obviously pays off on a visual level, his films have a cinematic feel to it rarely found in the genre ...

The downside to it is of course that D'Amato lacks a certain inventiveness as director, especially his hardcore scenes seem to be just filmed by the numbers, and at times the plots of his films are so thin that one wonders why he even bothers to put his performers into costumes in the first place instead of just letting them have sex. Sure, a film like Marco Polo has its amusing moments, but films like Ulysses or Messalina show the characters just put on their costumes to get from one scene to the next to take them off again and have sex, with little narrative drive and no panache at all.

 

 


 

Closing Words

 

Joe D'Amato is no more, he died in 1999 from a heart attack at the age of 62. Besides an extremely rich oeuvre of almost 200 films (many of them hardcore porn), he also left behind a son, who has followed his father's footsteps and has become a cinematographer and especially steadicam operator himself, and in that field he has surpassed his father, working on many prestigious productions and blockbusters including Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese), Cold Mountain (2003, Anthony Minghella), Munich (2005, Steven Spielberg) and Silent Hill (2006, Christophe Gans). And wouldn't you know it, he did start his professional career working as assistant cameraman for his father from the late 1970's onwards.

 

Admittedly, Joe D'Amato was not the greatest director, which he never claimed to be, and sometimes it was painfully obvious in his films that he was more of a businessman than an artist, nevertheless his films have helped to make Eurotrash the exciting and sometimes hilarious genre it is seen as today, and it is hardly surprising that so many of his films, the good and bad alike, are continually reissued throughout the world. The world quite simply put would be a sadder and duller place without the trash he made ...

 

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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