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Ruggero Deodato - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

June 2006

Films directed by Ruggero Deodato on (re)Search my Trash

 

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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 B-directors ...

 

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 ...

 

With 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 ...

 

In 1971, 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.

Out of male pride, Deodato turned all of these projects down and (for a while) turned his back on the film industry to do commercials.

 



It 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.

 


Ruggero 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.

In Live 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.

 

In 1977, Ruggero Deodato made his first cannibal film, Ultimo Mondo Cannibale/Jungle 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.

The 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 thriller.

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 Holocaust.

 



(Interestingly enough, while Deodato took both leads from Deep River Savages, that movie's director, Umberto Lenzi, would later lift Me Me Lai's death scene from Jungle Holocaust for his own Mangiati Vivi.)

 

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 remarkable.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

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.

 

 


Flix.com

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) revenge.

 

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).

 


Flix.com

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.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Admirably, after Cannibal Holocaust became an international success, Deodato refused to make a sequel, in order to not be typecast as director, however, thanks to Cannibal 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.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Inferno in 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).

 

With Un 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.

 

During 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 plotlines):

  • 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.
  • Per 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 Gelido/Minaccia d'Amore/Dial Help. 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 ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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