Bringing Back Erotic Horror: A Severed Cinema Interview with Filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo
Written by Jay Creepy   
Sunday, 24 June 2018
Bringing Back Erotic Horror: A Severed Cinema Interview with Filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo

Bringing Back Erotic Horror: A Severed Cinema Interview with Filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo

He is misunderstood in his home country, but loved by many around the world on the underground extreme circuit. Domiziano Cristopharo is an Italian filmmaker, amongst many other things, who doesn't shy from bringing shocking images to the screens. Yet to take on board his films as just a form of graphic gore entertainment is incorrect. His work comes over with a lot of finesse and style. They are rather dream like in quality. There is so much happening in the depths below the surface you can see. This is the chap behind such titles as Doll Syndrome, Bloody Sin, Red Krokodil, and many more.

I chanced upon the world of Domiziano Cristopharo from viewing part of an anthology sent by another director to me Ė POE 4 (see review). From then we communicated on Facebook and it seemed our beards developed a friendship.

Now then, my bearded brother. How are you today? In fact, what have you been up to and what have you got planned?

For today? Just start the day as usual with a cup of espresso -- I'm a coffee lover -- then I'll check emails, hoping for good exciting news, and then, I'll follow the sales and the post production of my films. I keep the rhythm of three or four films per year (mine, or produced by) so I'm always busy in the follow-up.

You're championed as the Italian man who has brought back erotic horror. When did you, in your career, decide this was the way to go?

I started writing screenplays at a very young age. The first two that I've proposed in USA were a sort of horror remake of the Sense's Empire. They liked more the other one that became House of Flesh Mannequins. I always considered the melt between death and sex, blood and sperm a good combination in art fields. Love and Death, Eros and Thanatos are immortal themes. In Italy, I'm considered porn, but Italy isnít the open minded land of culture that we used to be in '70s anymore.

Yeah, I've noticed that your films are compared to porn in some places. To me, real pornography ended as the floodgates of geeks holding camcorders and filming sex without stories or preparations arrived on the market. I recall Ron Jeremy saying that the best years were films scripted with lighting, rehearsals, and make-up departments, not what is mainly available on the web. How do you respond to the porn thing? Porn, or pornography?

I simply respond always in the same way, quoting an artist like Pablo Picasso: "Art is never chaste and we should keep it away from the pure ignorants. If it were chaste, it wouldn't be art at all."

Your movies do deal with darkness and fetishes though. Do you inject a lot of your persona into your characters and writings? Or are they all just a work of fiction?

There is nothing about me or about the things that I like in my movies. But it is not fiction anyway. I take inspiration from recent news stories. I find reality more horror than what we can even imagine in a movie. I find human beings like real scary monsters, capable of everything. My movies in some ways are neo-realism. They show the dark part of someone's daily life.

Rarely I created fictional stories, Virus and To Left Arms from Lovecraft, Mad Macbeth from Shakespeare,  beside those, all the other films are inspired by real facts.

Yeah, I recall Lucio Fulci stated something similar about how reality is far worse than what he could create. How far would too far be for you?

I think we are living in a sad unlucky cultural era. After the middle ages we had Illuminism, and then the Mccarthyism. We had few freedom impressions here and there and now, thanks to twenty five years of bad TV, books, and commercial movies, we are falling down again in a technological new middle ages. In 2018 we are offended by everything, especially nudity, full of rage, ignorant people dare to respond to scientists for teaching them the truth, Flat Earthers, racism everywhere against gay or black people.

This is the future? This is the civilization? 'Till there are those feeling, I think is the duty of an artist to be in the opposite side and balance with his contents all this decline.

A true genius or a true original will always have a finger pointed towards them, shaking. For instance, it seems you're known as an extreme director, yet your movies set themselves apart from others in the field via a sharpened view of men and women full on nude, rather than gore. I've noticed that for most of the time, your gore in concentrated to a quick shock, instead of lingering pointlessness. I take it you like to use blood in the correct manner?

I think that extreme gore and splatter are good for entertaining, but basically are meaningless in a narrative way. I trust that one drop of blood, if well filmed, is more effective than one liter of red.

The infamous Psycho scene will advertise that way of thinking for a long time. Let's consider the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, known as one of the most brutal and harrowing films of that era. Yet, watching it, how much blood do you actually see? I know, via our talks, that one of your films (an anthology in which you created with others) struggled due to a certain 'fisting' scene. As we said, had it been a woman or probably an animal, there wouldn't have been so many issues. The fact it was the fisting of a gay man in a gay scenario changed it all. I imagine you face a lot of repulsed or bewildered audience comments over your works?

You are talking about Deep Web XXX (see review)!

About animals, I must say that if in a movie you kill a dog or a cat (in fiction, of course) for "millennials" you are a sick bastard, but of course it is fine to rape a girl, eviscerate a man, and even decapitate an old lady. I don't know how people lost common sense and empathy so quickly in the last decade.

It feels like desensitization is common place for all age groups these days. As regards to animal abuse, there is unfortunately so many videos on the social media and a petition to sign against it. Regardless of the petition, it's still advertising such a thing. Way back in the UK, on TV, a comedy duo, Hale and Pace, had an obviously fake cat in a microwave. The media latched onto it, and there were people actually performing this with real cats Ė apparently. Wherein, Jorg Buttgereit and Uwe Boll have shown brief moments of animal deaths (they haven't filmed it, used stock footage) to hammer home the sickness to the masses. It seems much has been lost though. Yeah, girls have a hard time in the movies.

About girls, yes we saw them impaled many times in movies, even in full nudity. But if you dare to show more with a man, then you step in something "sick and forbidden."

Hmm, I wonder if the scene had been of a group of thuggish heterosexual men torturing a gay man, would that have been seen as different? (Sighs) It's a long hard road in a society that claims to be opening its mind but still struggles out of its conditioned bubble.

I did just what Friedkin suggested in his masterpiece Cruising. Of course we are in an indie extreme horror field, and of course we represented a scene with FX and actors. But looks like that a penis or a male ass is not "nice or legal" to see if compared to a pussy. I wonder if horror movies are made only for men and straight guys, and so not gay or women are allowed to watch them. But actually, I donít even want to make this answer something sex related... it is a horror. We are talking about tortures. There is nothing "sexually exciting" to watch a woman or man tortured naked. Those who think about that stuff in sexual way have serious problems to me.

To me, your works are moving art pieces. Like images in a museum. I get a sense of a kind of dance underneath the visuals.

I studied arts and fine arts for ten years, so I'm sure my background shows up here and there. But this is nothing I can say by myself. If you find my work like a moving piece of art is a compliment that I accept with pleasure. I just do my job in the best way I can.

Do you see the naked human body as art? You seem to place it on a pedestal in most of your works.

I started as an actor and dancer on stage. Then I became a body art performer with Poison Rouge and we created our sideshow called The Blood Cabaret. The body and the naked body is essentially my factory, my expressive field, and I find it totally natural and pure.

Clothing could be seen as masking for the true form below or an extension of the person inside. When a person has undressed do you see a vulnerable figure or the hidden strength of their personality unleashed?  

A good actor doesn't need masks. Clothes, sentences Ė all are something that help to build a character, but when you have a good actor you can do movies like Red Krokodil or Doll Syndrome where without dialogues and costumes you can still create strong stories filled of emotions an pathos.

I see many indie directors that try to look "cool" or mainstream filling the film with characters overacting, dressed in cheap costumes that pretend to recall the Hollywood films, speaking infinite dialogues that in the end brings nothing. It is a bit sad to me, and often painful to watch. As indie we should represent the alternative to the mainstream and feel free to experiment new contents and languages - but often the new wave try to be just a poor appendices of it.

Like there has always been pockets of music set as alternatives to the mainstream. Good point. So if you had to compare yourself to another director, who would it be? I see Alejandro Jodorowsky in parts, somehow the way you capture the colors and the backgrounds.

Jodorowsky is a big compliment to receive! I donít like to compare myself to big artists. I can say that I admire the work of Bava, Fulci, Fellini, Fosse, Polanski, Pasolini, Carpenter, and Russell.

Who, whether it be filmmakers past and present, or people working beyond the field, inspired you and the man you have become?

For sure the work on stage of Carolyn Carlson, an American contemporary dance choreographer, performer. She was my first inspiration to move from the idea to the action!

On a personal level, who keeps you going through all the highs and lows?

Myself. I must admit I'm a very positive thinker.

Professor Gunther von Hagens stated once that he saw himself not as an artist, but a discoverer. How do you see yourself?

...a craftsman!

I noticed you were briefly alongside Umberto Lenzi?

We were friends in some way. I was only 14-years-old and he had the patience to support my teenager's dreams. We used to spend one hour by phone every Friday evening after dinner. We used to talk about my young boy dreams and his dreams, the dreams of a man conscious to be abandoned by the industry he helped to grew up internationally with fame and success.

He invited me to watch the filming of one of his last movies, House of Lost Souls, 1989, and I learned a lot being there on set.

One day I asked to him: "Why does a so famous director keep his name in the phone book (we had no internet, no smart phones, and socials in that time) and spend time talking with a fan?"

He said: "I love to pay attention to whoever respects and loves my work, and also, like you have your dreams, I have my dream too: I hope that in the same way you opened the phone book for find me, one day Robert de Niro will do the same, and call for say HEY UMBERTO, I WANNA ACT IN ONE OF YOUR FILMS!"

I'd love to hear your genesis. How did it all begin?

I used to create paper puppets in the lunch break in school and make little shows with them. I started work in TV and theater at 14 and as special FX make up at 24. When I was 8 I started to use the Super 8mm camera of my father for realize short films (not even able to call them films, but they had a kind of structure). At 15 I did my first short horror film about a killer clown puppet.

Poison Rouge creeps into a lot of your world. In fact, if you penned an autobiography, my guess is that she would feature frequently. I take it she's an important part of your creative realms?

I know and work with her for 12 years now. We shared good and bad times. We built many things together. Even in film industry, included the 4th American Guinea Pig: Sacrifice (see review).

You both became involved in White Gardenia's Not in My Mouth video. What's the genesis of that one?

Daniel Valient (lead vocals in White Gardenia and is an amazing guy), watched Sacrifice in a festival and wanted so bad Poison as director for a music video. Poison never did a videoclip so accepted. We loved the attitude of Daniel that also suggested in some way a storyline that Poison developed in her way for the videoclip theme. She hired me for FX and lights. We are happy of the results and it looks like people are reacting very well to it! She wanted to do the point of view from inside the mouth, was a very funny thing to realize in practical FX.

I like the fact that within your circle of director buddies who add to the anthologies, there is such a mixture of styles such as Chris Milewski, and Jason Impey. How did all these talents get in contact originally? Or did you contact them?

Me and Chris are friends by many years. I consider him a real friend. We cooperated in many things. For example, he gave his voice to Lovecraft in Two Left Arms!

Impey is a good friend of Tony Newton (co-producer of the anthologies) and he introduced me to him. I loved his attitude and his way to work. I'm very happy to have Impey in Phobia and Deep Web, and a bit sad that Chris didnít enjoy Deep Web too - I think his contribution could have been something different and amazing!

Was Chris involved in Deep Web XXX at any point?

No, never. I just proposed it to him, but it wasn't the right theme for his style.

I understand there's a special edition of your earlier House of Flesh Mannequins being pieced together.

Yes, that film is my debut, but also one of my biggest regrets. I was 33-years-old, not very experienced in directing. But thanks to Domiziano Arcangeli and Daniele Panizza I had the chance to film in Los Angeles my first feature! I created a small Italian crew to take there, and Arcangeli set up the other members, but after one week we faced many complications for the content of the scenes and the nudity involved - so many actors after the deal just didnít show up. Also the art director/costumes designers escaped with twenty thousand dollars of the budget for costumes and props leaving us even without scenic shoes! It was the love of amazing creative people like Vincent Albo (assistant director) and Megan Vigil (makeup artist) that we ended up saving the set supplying the missing things with new ideas.

I had to fire a big part of the American crew 'cause they weren't loving what we do. Also, they were not very supportive, too negative about everything, so I decided to send them home forever. We had remaining seven on set plus actors, and we worked perfectly. Many locations missing and actors last minutes, I had to change/cut a lot of good ideas from the original screenplay.

Also, after filming, we had problems with the law in some USA states, so what was fine in California, for example, wasnít in another state and the producers decided to film again almost half of the movie.

In the end, what we offered to the audience was the skeleton of the original movie. A pale copy. Now, in 2019 it is the 10th anniversary and I'm editing it again bringing it back as close as possible to the original shape!

Give an example of what's missing from the version which is out on the market now?

The movie will have new music, less dialogues and will show some snuff and gore scenes never edited before.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice was apparently very supportive of the original script wasn't he?

He is a horror icon but also a great intellectual man. In Italy he is one of the official Shakespeare's translator. His opinion was fundamental for trust again in a script that in Italy no one trusted, pulling me down. I was a bit depressed but he pushed me into a positive mood and I found the courage to send it in USA where I sold it in a few months.

What are you hoping will happen with the re-release?

I hope that more people will discover this little underrated cult item, and love it (or hate it) watching it in the most similar way I thought about it.

What's with your association with Unearthed Films?

Its a great label, maybe the most important in horror fields, not only indie. Steve Biro is my distributor, but we also became friends time by time. The love and support I received opening more of my market to USA is simply amazing. I was starting to feel depression for all the hate I received in Italy. But it is nothing against me (sadly) - it is the Italian mood, the one to destroy everything that is made in Italy. Besides Lenzi, Deodato, De Mejo, and Radice, I must say I never had support in my country: no distribution, no respect, no production. All you can see made by me is thanks to the USA and UK. I donít even feel my movies are Italian. I owe nothing to this country. Iím just sad for the small amount of real fans I have here, they must pay a lot to get the movies imported.

Imagine one of your films suddenly became so well known it hit the mainstream and your future works were to become a cottage industry of graphic novels, collectable figures, etcetera. Would you dilute yourself? Or would you stick to your true self?

I cannot imagine something like that happening. I'm a realist person. If something like this should happen it means that I have changed the way I do movies (and I'll not) or that the whole society changes, opening to extreme contents, nudity, slow rhythm in movies. Both impossible things to happen actually!

I noticed some very striking pictures of you on Facebook. Have you ever modeled? 

I used always my body as expression as we said previously. From acting, to dancing, to performing. Due to the way I look, I receive offers sometimes to pose, but nothing important (not for magazine or publicity). If I like the artist's job, even if I'm not in shape anymore, I accept. I donít mind. A body changing tells a story too.

What else do you do besides making films? What's your hobbies? Hobbies makes a man. Who are you when you relax?

My work is my hobby. I'm not stressed at all, I consider myself a lucky man.

What musical genre and artists reach inside you?

My favorite artists/groups in music are: Kate Bush, Matia Bazar (from '80 to '90), Belcanto, Cocteau Twins, Grace Jones, Giuni Russo.

Are you a very confident person?

No, I trust no one in this field (beside Poison Rouge and Adam Ford). Every time I hope that everything goes well, sometimes it works, sometimes no. But I have no choice, I need to face reality and interact with MANY people so I must stay open.

If for some reason you had to simply conclude filming everything and walk away, what would become of Domiziano Cristopharo? Who would you be as in having to earn a living, yet feeling your soul fulfilled?

I work in my spare time as a volunteer for the homeless. I donít need to conclude filming for a radical change. I've already planned a long vacation from filming to go to Africa or Chile and spend three to six months there with an association.

Somebody says to you they are to pass away soon and they wish to see one of your films. They are so open to the world now because they know their clock is about to wind down and this person has heard little about you but is very curious. Tell me, which film would you recommend to them so that they could understand Domiziano Cristopharo and his true works?

I will say Doll Syndrome, Red Krokodil, and House of Flesh Mannequins.

My friend I thank you, as does my beard, for this wonderful chat.

There is only one name for men without beards: women!


Interview with Domiziano Cristopharo was conducted by Severed Cinema writer Jay Creepy. You can find him on Facebook.

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 24 June 2018 )