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Ruggero Deodato's most notorious, most famous, and probably also most
readily available film is without a doubt Cannibal
Holocaust, a very gory and uncompromising film from 1980, that
scored extremely well with the gore-crowd back then, but has since
gathered quite a following among the intellectuals (who have the stomach
to watch the film) - and rightly so.
But to reduce Deodato solely to his
cannibal films (he made 3 in all) would be grossly unfair and would mean
neglecting the oeuvre of one of the more interesting and original Italian
Born in 1939 in Potenza, Italy, he started to
work in the film business at the tender age of 18, for none other than
famed arthouse director Roberto Rossellini - whom he knew because he was
best friends with Rossellini's son Renzo. Within Rossellini's crew,
Deodato slowly moved up to the rank of assistant director. Eventually,
Deodato left the Rossellini-crew to work for other directors, including
cult favourites Antonio Margheriti a.k.a. Anthony M.Dawson [Antonio
Margheriti bio - click here],
Sergio Corbucci, and Riccardo Freda.
It was Antonio Margheriti who gave Deodato
his first chance to do some directing in 1964, with Ursus, il Terrore
dei Kirghisi/Hercules, Prisoner of Evil, a rather
run-of-the-mill peplum (= the Italian version of the sword-and-sandal
movie). Actually, the film was begun by Antonio Margheriti, who was then
called away for another project and asked his assistant director Deodato
to finish the picture. However, eventually Deodato went away from the
project, and Margheriti came back to finish the film. Ultimately the
credits of the film would only show Margheriti's name ...
Sergio Corbucci, Deodato worked on that man's milestone epic Django
(1966). In later years, Deodato would often claim that he actually shot
part of the film, however, outside of interviews given by him, there is
little evidence to corroborate this claim.
In 1968, he made the
first batch of films he was actually credited for as (sole) director -
though he wasn't always credited under his own name but as Roger
Rockefeller, as Italian directors back then almost routinely assumed
English sounding names (even the great Sergio Leone made the milestone A
Fistful of Dollars as Bob Robertson) ... these films included the
superhero comedy Fenomenal e il Tesoro di
Tutankamen/Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen (1968), the
sexy jungle adventure Gungala la Pantera Nuda/Gungala, the Black Panther Girl
(1968), Donne ... Botte e Bersaglieri/Man Only Cries for Love
(1968), Vacanze sulla Costa Smeralda/Holidays on the Costa Smeralda
(1968), and I Quattro del Pater Noster/In the Name of the Father (1969).
None of these films though was especially remarkable, they were just
run-of-the-mill Italian comedies which were then produced a dime a dozen.
Most interesting of this batch might be Holidays on the Costa Smeralda,
if only for the reason that it was the first collaboration between Deodato
and Silvia Dionisio, which whom he would soon become romantically involved
- and in 1971, she became his wife - a marriage that ended in 1978 and
spawned one kid.
Deodato's most memorable film from the 1960's
though might be Zenabel (1969), an adaptation of a then popular
erotic comic done as a sexy comedy in period costumes starring Lucretia
Love. Now admittedly, Zenabel might not be much greater than Deodato's
other films from that period, but if late 1960's sexy comedies are your
thing you might be able to enjoy it nevertheless ...
Deodato filmed a TV-series starring his wife Silvia Dionisio, All'Ultimo
Minuto, but soon he had to realize that he could gat any number of
great projects - under the condition that his wife starred in them.
of male pride, Deodato turned all of these projects down and (for a while)
turned his back on the film industry to do commercials.
wasn't until 1975 that Deodato did another film, Una Ondata di Piacere/A
Wave of Pleasure/Waves of Lust, a psychothriller about a
madman terrorizing a people on a yacht. The film stars Silvia Dionisio
(male pride must have worn off by then), Al Cliver and John Steiner as the
madman, and is a quite effective little thriller.
Deodato's next film though was a bit of a slap in the face of every
liberal thinking human being, the reactionary cop-actioner Uomini
si Nasce Poliziotti si Muore/Live
Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976), a violent film about two cops
from some special forces who rape and kill whenever it pleases them ...
and they are the good guys !
Somehow the film never seems to question the
actions of its protagonists, and it also lacks any ironic distance to the
proceedings. Despite some good action this is a bad, even annoying film,
and the fact that it was written by the usually dependable genre
specialist Fernando Di Leo makes it all the more disappointing.
Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, Silvia Dionisio would once again have
a role, if only a small one, but it would be the last collaboration of the
husband and wife team.
1977, Ruggero Deodato made his first cannibal film, Ultimo
Holocaust/Last Cannibal World,
and before long, Deodato's name would become closely associated with the
cannibal genre - which would eventually become the stigma of his career.
film itself is a pretty macho and very violent jungle adventure, which is
on one hand a crude and sensationalist depiction of the life of primitive
tribes, but on the other hand it's also a tense, fast paced jungle
Deodato would later claim that he has with this film invented
the cannibal genre ... while Umberto Lenzi [Umberto
Lenzi bio - click here] would claim the same about his
1972 film Il
Paese del Sesso Selvaggio/Deep
River Savages. Now on one hand it's true that in Deep
River Savages, the cannibals played only a subordinate role and
the cannibal scenes were only short (but explicit) ... on the other hand
though, Deodato was most certainly influenced by this film since he hired
the film's both leads - Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai [Me Me
Lai bio - click here]
- for Jungle
(Interestingly enough, while Deodato took both leads
River Savages, that movie's director, Umberto Lenzi, would later lift Me Me Lai's
death scene from Jungle
Holocaust for his own Mangiati
After going straight to the guts with Jungle
Holocaust, Deodato's next two films could not have been much more
different: in 1978, he directed the romance L'Ultimo Sapore dell'Aria/Last Feelings
and in 1979, he made Concorde
Affaire '79/The Concorde Affair, an airplane disaster movie in
the vein of the Airport-series.
Both films were hardly
In 1980 though, Deodato would make what would
ultimately be his most notorious and most gruesome but also most
intelligent and thought-provoking film - but it would also be the film
that would further typecast him as cannibal movie director: Cannibal
Holocaust is a film about a group of documentary filmmakers going
into the jungle to make a documentary about savage tribes. But when they
realize the savage tribes are by far not savage enough, they help
the proceedings along a little and stage a few savageries on their own -
but eventually it gets too much for the savages and they have their (just)
Upon its release, the film, which can be read as a commentary
on violence and ruthless sensationalism in the media, had to suffer some
of the wildest accusations, like being a snuff movie and brutalizing the
audience - accusations that could only be made by people who haven't even
seen the film or turned a blind eye to the film's subtext because it
didn't fit their prejudice about the cannibal genre. In fact one of the
most gruesome special effects in the film - a woman impaled on a wooden
stake in a way that the stake goes inthrough her behind and comes out of
her mouth - was achieved with the most primitive (but effective) means,
namely a bike saddle (for the actress to sit on) and a piece of balsa wood
(for her to balance in her mouth).
The film's structure - the main story
is supposed to be made up of the footage by the documentary filmmakers
that was only found after their death - closely resembles that of The
Blair Witch Project - which wasn't filmed until 29 years later
though, and in direct comparison, Cannibal
Holocaust is the more intelligent (but also more stomach turning)
film ... in later interviews though, Ruggero has denied he wanted to
make anything more than a genre pic and never intended the film to have a
sociocultural subtext - even if it's undeniably there.
Holocaust became an international success, Deodato refused to make
a sequel, in order to not be typecast as director, however, thanks
Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato was labelled a horror and gore director
nevertheless for the next decade or so, and consequently his subsequent films
would all be in that realm (more or less):
La Casa sperduta nel
Parco/House on the Edge of the Park (1980) was a
violent and unrelenting thriller about two working class maniacs (David
Hess, Giovanni Lombardo Radice) turning a party of a bunch of
decadent society people (among them Annie Belle and Lorraine De
Selle) into hell.
Diretta/Cut and Run (1985) was another cannibal movie that also
featured a drugrunner- and a Jonestown-Massacre-subplot. (Technically
speaking though, Cut and Run
is not a cannibal film, as the natives here don't eat other people -
they're just as violent and gruesome as cannibals.)
Camping del Terrore/Body Count (1987)
was a meaningless slasher using the many American genre movies of that
time as blueprint that was actually not worthy Ruggero Deodato's talent
(and in interviews he never denied that he detested that movie).
Delitto poco comune/Off Balance/Phantom of Death (1988),
Deodato finally made his first giallo (= the very Italian version
of the serialkiller-whodunnit), a stylish horror thriller
starring Michael York, Edwige Fenech and Donald Pleasence [Donald
Pleasence bio - click here] - but despite
the stellar cast, it's one of Deodato's less momorable films.
that time, Deodato also made a few films that were not horrorfilms as such
(even if they all featured horrific, gruesome details and fantasy cinema
- I Predatori di Atlantide/The Raiders of Atlantis
(1983), a bizarre sci-fi actioner about the sunken continent Atlantis
reemerging to the surface and its inhabitants hell-bent on world domination.
un Pugno di Diamanti/Lone Runner (1986) is a mindless actioner
starring Miles O'Keeffe and John Steiner that mixes fantastic elements with
action elements lifted from the Rambo-series.
- And then
there is I Barbari/The Barbarians/The Barbarian Brothers
(1987), a (rather late) rip-off of the Conan-films
- but even if the audience was by 1987 a bit tired of barbarian-films,
Ruggero Deodato turned this one into an entertaining film, thanks to a
dilligent direction and good action scenes - and thanks to the fact that
Deodato decided to make his film tongue-in-cheek. The outcome was one of
the best barbarian movies from that era ...
It wasn't until
1988 though - when the Italian film industry was already lieing in its
death throes and the horror genre had long lost box office appeal - that
Ruggero Deodato made one of his most entertaining horror flicks: Ragno
This one features an incredibly silly plot - leading lady Charlotte Lewis
has to realize all telephones of the town have conspired against her and
yattack her in various bizarre ways - but is told with such panache and a
sufficient dose of tongue-in-cheek humour that one just can't help liking
the film despite (or even for) its shortcomings ...
By the turn
of the decade, the Italian film industry had really gone to the dogs, and
in the 1990's, Ruggero Deodato would produce only 2 feature films: Mamma ci
Penso Io/Mom I Can Do It (1992), a for this director unusual
film about street kids in Venezuela, and Vortice Mortale/The
Washing Machine (1993), a disappointing horror thriller that
unfortunately did not do for washing machines what Dial
Help did for telephones.
With the film industry all but
gone however, Ruggero Deodato has turned his attention to television
directing, and, from the late 1980's onwards and during the 1990's into
the 2000's, has done many TV-miniseries, episodes of TV series and the
occasional TV-movie in his native Italy. His most interesting work of that era is probably
Padre Speranza/Father Hope (2005), a compelling TV-movie starring an aged
Bud Spencer as a priest in care of working class youth.
Of course, his television work
never got Ruggero Deodato the same international attention that his movie
work did, but it's just nice to see that one of the Italian
genre-directors of the 1970's and 1980's is still busy doing what he does
best - filming.
Oh, and then there's this rumour that Ruggero
Deodato is these days pre-producing a sequel to Cannibal
Holocaust - something he refused to do in the early 1980's -,
(tentatively) called Cannibal Metropolitana ... which is something the
genre fan can only await with bated breath ...