In the setting of cult venue Muthers Studios in Birmingham,Andy Black Forest and Rupert Bell spoke via skype to the Italian B-movie legend Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka John Morghen..
A reoccurring face in some of the most notorious movies in the video censorship panic of the 80’s, Giovanni has the unlikely and unfortunate aspect of actually not being a fan of horror movies himself!
Black Forest asked him about some of his infamous movies,his newer work and for any anecdotes from the movie business – we were not disappointed! (There is also a link to audio highlights from the interview at the bottom of the article)
THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980)
RB: You were involved in theatre productions before acting in movies, how did you get involved with film?
GLR: Well as a matter of fact I wanted to be a dancer, and I studied ballet for many many years, my back got injured when I was very young . I was in Amsterdam studying at the time and at that point I switched to a physiotherapy school that was connected to the ballet school,I took a degree in physiotherapy .
When I got back to Italy I decided to switch to theatre – I had done some theatre work at school with a French theatre company in Rome connected with the French embassy. I was raised trilingual with English,French and Italian ,so I started doing this amateur company where I concentrated on dancing and studying ballet . I decided to try for a stage career and since then I’ve been on stage all my life… I directed my first play which was Shakespeare’s ‘A midsummer nights dream’ when I was very young ,I had my own theatre company and did many things on stage.
Theatre however was getting me into deep poverty , debts and so forth. I did not receive a penny from my family as the rich ones were my grandparents on my Mom’s side, aristocratic snobs ,and they hated the idea of having me doing stage work so they never gave me a penny .It was just me by myself since I was 17 .At that point in 79′ I very casually met this woman , Anna Marie Spazanio , and this point she was Ruggero Deodatos mother in law.So we casually met, I was measuring a stage for a production and she was there and she asked me the Hollywod question:
“Have you ever been in a movie?
I said No..
She said “Would you like to?”
I said: “Lady if there’s some money involved I will walk on my hands with a red nose on!” (Laughs)
She asked if I spoke English, I said yes and
in a couple of weeks she introduced to me Deodato who was casting for ‘House on the edge of the park’ ,so I got my first role ,getting in the business from the main door, and I stole the character from Michele Soavi he had been cast the original part as Ricky …
With John Saxon in Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)
RB: Would you ever go back to theatre?
GLR: I never stopped , in February I start rehearsing for Macbeth ,as the director.
RB: Why did you adopt the stage name John Morghen?
GLR: I was asked to- I don’t remember the point ,either Fulci or the Magheriti movie , those movies were made for the horror market, which was mainly in the US, so they wanted everyone to pretend to be American, everybody was having a stage name, the crew,cameraman etc. So I was asked to assume an american identity and I hated the idea of having a completely unknown name . I had two grandmothers- one with the surname Morghen and one with the surname Hyacinth.I have been called Johnny all my life by my family so it was familiar to me, and Morghen was more ‘stagey’ than Hyacinth.
My grandmother was a countess and her brother was the head of the family,very proud of his ancestors. when he found I was using the ‘sacred’ family name doing horror movies ,he made my ass black and blue! (laughter)
RB: HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK – an exploitation movie,not everybody’s way to break in to the world of acting,what was that like and what was it like to work with Ruggero Deodato in your first role ?
GLR: It was a very ‘stagey’ movie considering it was my first, if you think about it it was just in one room 80% of the movie, so it truly had a stage feel which helped me a lot, Ruggero was in a hurry – the movie was shot in 3 weeks, so he was running,running running and of course shouting ,shouting shouting…But I will say his way of being coarse was a nice one if you like ,as he was insulting everybody and then adding a joke and giving names to everybody.He’s a very nice man and I had a great relationship with him and also David Hess helped me a lot.
RB: What was it liked to work with David?
GLR: It was fantastic… We loved each other, he was very supportive, always supporting, rehearsing and helping.He was just great we also had a great time offset too. David was a few years our senior, the others were a bunch of young people in their 20’s,so we had a lot of fun. We were always dancing and dining and …other stuff! He had his family with him his young wife ,so he was a bit more sedated than normal .He was addicted to food, considering I was and still am a pretty good cook, I cooked tons of pasta and other food for David..
He was generally sharing the first part of the evening eating with us then it was out with his family for the second half ,we would go out dancing,so it was a wonderful experience all in all..
RB: What about the proposed Sequel? Is that still in the pipeline?
GLR: That’s a very long story, RD and myself were asked about a sequel and offered a story which made head nor tail which we didn’t like, so we asked if we ourselves could write our own treatment ,and from that treatment ,which was very detailed, came a screenplay – that was 2 years ago. The problem is it’s not that easy to find funding and production , now we are rewriting the story according to some requests ,I don’t know what’s going to happen – it’s an interesting story with lots of horror and gore what the fans want, but also with a lot of insight into the characters… The fact is HOTEOTP is the only movie I did where I survived, so its the only movie I made that can have a sequel!
The beginning is Ricky getting out the jail,where he was kept a long time overdue as he became the sex toy of a sadistic warden,who managed to keep him in jail for 30 years instead of 10 ,so he gets out of jail finally and and he meets a young character similar to David Hess in the way he is mixed up, confusing the past with the present etc. -it’s an interesting story – so lets hope for the best!
RB: Onto Cannibal apocalypse – you’ve stated elsewhere that this was one of your favourite movies to work on? What was it that made that movie so special?
GLR: Wait..wait a second! Firstly i must say it was my favourite HORROR movie role, not my favourite movie!(laughter)as you might know am not a fan of the genre and I never go to the theatre to see a horror movie and in some cases I have not seen the entire movies I have starred in myself..
Firstly it was a great character to play (Giovanni plays the role of Charles Bukowski, a Vietnam veteran) . Immense acting potential in it ,very well written,many shades and sides to it . Second I fell in love with Antonio Maghareti,he was the Lord Mountbatten of horror movies (laughs) . He was a gentlemen, he was nice and had a sense of humour and was not considering himself a maestro .He said things like ‘I make movies like a butcher, I sell them by the kilo’.. I had a great time with him, I always considered him as a second father, we worked together again in TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE ,and we kept in touch talking on the phone , I spoke to him a couple of months before he passed away…
Thirdly it was the story – at the time I read the script and said it was preposterous, crazy: ‘I bite you and you get infected like measles’ this is stupid! but afterwards when I watched the movie, I changed my mind as there was something prophetic about it, The AIDS epidemic started not long after that movie, and not only that but the idea the disease starts with the Vietnam war, its violence and war that causes the disease, it wasn’t as stupid as it first seemed..
RB: It’s more of a social commentary in a way..
GLR: Yes yes….Also I must say that John Saxon is awfully good in it, so its a good movie,considering the genre and the fighting, gore and whatever!
RB: TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE, what was that like to work on?
ABF: We won’t ask you about CANNIBAL FEROX , but you get TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE!
GLR: TIIOS was one of the hugest mistakes in Italian history..
GLR: It was the last production internally worked out by RAI which is the state tv, which is typical Italy, no other civil country would have that,Italy is not a civilised country – you know that, so they used to produce things themselves…
So RAI, which is state tv with 3 channels, they used to produce things themselves, you had to cope with the unions, strikes etc, you had a crew made of people who were working on a salary for RAI so they weren’t motivated to move their ass for nothing! And the scenery and the sets were ridiculous – sci-fi has to be made to a certain standard and level. It went on for more than 6 months and got delayed.. One day the clapper wasn’t there, and there was a line of us waiting to shoot – Anthony Quinn, Philippe Leroy, David Warbeck and myself ,and we were checking into the aircraft, I wasn’t first in the line, after two hours I asked if I could do the clapper myself and I was eaten alive by the unions! Who were saying ‘you want to steal the work of a worker!’ etc (Laughter)that was the general climate there.
Regarding Anthony Quinn, He was the greatest pain in the ass I’ve ever met in my life! He was vile and fascist,cruel,no respect for others…He was walking on the soundman who was there with him with the microphone, literally walking and standing on him..His dresser was crying every day, he was mistreating her, he was rewriting the old script, he was turning up in the morning,not saying good morning to you and throwing 20 pages at you and saying ‘TODAY’S SCRIPT!’
He was also casting shadows on my face during production, I am a stageman, I know when the light is on me ,as he was the star you could not complain openly ! Poor Margheriti was suffering as well, he couldn’t say anything either and he said is there something wrong ,and I said ‘Er..i don;t really feel the light on my face’. He was horrible, a horrible old fascist!
TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE (1987)
RB: What was it like working with Michele Soavi?
GLR: Tomorrow morning I will be on set with Soavi, he is shooting a police drama for tv, as he has moved away from horror now…
Michele was entirely different, firstly we were best buddies, we met on the set of GATES OF HELL, we got on extremely well – at that age you have great and moving friendships .We were writing projects making stuff, so when he got to direct his first movie,it was like working with my brother – entirely different compared to other directors, he’s different as his love for horror is real – all others were pros but they had directed all sorts of genres whatever the market was asking for, people think Fulci was a horror fan -he was not – he was just doing what the market wanted him to do. Soavi has a deeply authentic love for horror, he gave me a huge book of the complete works of Lovecraft which I still have now. Michele is also a painter ,very visionary, so the movies came from his paintings, it was much more involving to work with a director who had a authentic passion. The first one STAGE FRIGHT was an adventure, we had little money but we were very motivated. On his request I rewrote the dialogue, putting in some stage bitching ,that I knew very well from experience! It was a very good movie, so was THE CHURCH, a much bigger production,more money , shooting in Budapest. Michele has an ability to motivate people as he is motivated himself..Each time he talks to you about a character or plot he’s so enthusiastic it rubs off on you..
THE CHURCH (1989)
RB: What are your favourite non horror roles you have played?
GLR: My favourite one is in the Italian TV adaptation of the bible , I was playing King Herod,and as a character he was terribly cruel,but also terribly funny so I had a good time with that role. Also some European period fiction that Fabrizio Costa directed ,we made a version of Tristan and Isolde, I was also playing a villain there.. He’s an incredibly talented director and its rare to find an Italian director that cares about actors.
RB: Moving onto some more recent movies, DAY OF VIOLENCE, HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS – What were they like to work on compared to your older movies and were you happy with the results?
GLR: I am extremely happy – since I got on the internet, which was a shock as before the internet I thought the horror movie was a private club of worshippers of Stalin’s moustache or something (laughs) , compromised perhaps of two or three thousand people in the world,a very niche thing. A couple of times there were American tourists who would see my name on a theatre poster passing and want to have their photograph taken with me biting their neck, but I thought it was just a few loonies. So when I got on the net in about 1999 I was shocked – as soon as my presence was known and I had a way to be contacted, it was like a tsunami, a huge wave of things falling on me, a new world opening to me. I was like Christopher Columbus discovering America, and thinking oh shit ,as they were asking me about movies I made 20 years ago! Step by step I adjusted to this.I started going to conventions etc. and young directors started to get in touch with me through the internet and Darren Ward was one of them.When I’m asked to star in a movie , my first answer is ‘can I read the script’ – as simple as that -even if its a 15 year old boy living in say..Birmingham say ..He might be a genius ,you never know.. So anyway I read the the script and I actually cried as the story was full of violence but with say,a moving river underneath.
The problem was he could not get a big role as he was shooting on a very low budget ,more indie than indie lets say! So he couldn’t fly me back and forth .So we settled in the role of a drug dealer, and I had a great time playing the role, we became friends,and we are now working a new project BEYOND FURY . The same thing happened with this Italian director Domiziano Christopharo – ‘HOUSE OF FLESH MANNEQUINS’ we shot in LA ,it was a good role too and then I made another one in the US ,’THE INFLICTED’ (Dir Matthan Harris) another indie production. I have to say that these guys pay much more than you get in Italy for tv work, they are young people very motivated full of energy who offered me good roles, they fly me over business class,nothing I can complain about. At my age one needs to work with older people, when you get older you become a vampire (laughs),so I give them my experience, they give me good roles , emotions, freshness, so I love working with young directors, last one I made in Ireland,’ THREE SISTERS’, Daire Mcnab a Dublin director ,interesting as there was no script , just a story and I had to improvise..
RB: You are a cult star in the US and UK, what was the reaction in your Native Italy to you being in these movies?
GLR: There is no connection.People involved with theatre and movies in Italy ignore horror. People think I am very bizarre, so they consider my movies one of my many strange assets.If you look at my website, that’s why I have it as two people – that’s how it is for me, for certain people I am a stage person, a translator of Shakespeare,a scholar, screenwriter, the heir of an important family, to to others I’m just the guy who got his head drilled by Fulci! (Laughs)
RB: Who would you say the was the best director you worked with?
GLR: Soavi, for all the reason I already outlined, he is a visionary and has movies in his blood.But I get along with fantastically with Deodato, Bava as a person, I only did a cameo role for him, we meet and talk occasionally. Recently I worked with Sergio Stivaletti, one of the best fx artists in the world,who has switched to directing.I made a short with him,(l’invito (2013)) Which was fantastic. Generally I get along well all directors, Fabrizio de Angelis and Lenzi were the only two who pissed me off! I am a stage director myself, but I never impose my opinions unless I’m asked to, otherwise I do what I’m told and never complain, and basically be a good boy (laughs).
RB: Are there any stories you can tell us from being on set, anything that stands out, any particular moments?
GLR: You mean offset?…I have so many anecdotes!
ABF: What was one of the strangest things you ever seen on the set of a movie?
Strangest? Well I can tell you about the funniest -In Cannibal Apocalypse , We were in Atlanta Georgia , in that scene where we stopped at the gas station if you remember – not to get gas ,but to kill the owner! And I was butchering him then, we kept escaping offset, we resumed shooting and just one second before action was called for ,the propman gives me a plastic bag with blood dripping from it and I said what’s that?And he said ‘bits of the guy to take with you’ ,it was a long shot so you don’t see me laughing but I laughed til I was in tears as I was carrying this nice grocery bag with the entrails of the garage owner, that was really funny!
The other one I’ve told many a time – I was shooting ‘Gates of Hell’ there was this zombie scene there, there was Antonella Interlenghi and myself, the makeup took 6 hours and the last touch was to out marmalade on you for the decomposing fx, we couldn’t drink or eat as your mouth was closed due to make up, so made up as zombies and not wanting to Atlanta Georgia dressed as zombies so Antonella and myself just got into a van we were waiting and waiting and waiting, after a couple of hours Antonella ,who was very much into the stuff, she said ‘why don’t we smoke a joint’ I said ‘yes,lets..’, She had some marijuana , I don’t know who she got it from ,but maybe from father Thomas himself, as it was the strongest stuff I had ever smoked, we freaked out completely, man I mean completely! We were staring at each other in zombie make up going Aghhhh! This lasted for an hour or so , and then we calmed down. I said ‘look Antonella, they can’t keep us waiting like this’ – at that point 4 or 5 hours had passed: ‘ They can’t keep us waiting like this for hours and hours,I’m going to make a scene!’ so I opened the van and there was this 6 years old child with his mother going ‘Mummy! Mummy the creature’! But he was happy and not scared and I was asked to take pics with the child in make up! I have many stories like this – I have wrote my auto biography so I hope in a few months you’ll be able to read more stories…
RB: As you mentioned BEYOND FURY is currently in production…
GLR: No ,it’s not in production, its in funding..
RB: Can you tell us anything about the movie?
GLR: On the web there is a funny promo I did for it,me acting as a cocaine fuelled gangster Ivan Lenzivitch ,so you can guess who’s that’s based on… It’s a good script, I love my character I am going to play, as I love villains who are witty and funny..My ideal role I hope to play next year is Richard III…
ABF: Ok, last question, what are your plans for the future?
GLR: I am about to stage Macbeth as I already mentioned ,I have a few writing projects,inc HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK 2 and we have some more projects with Dedodato – I work well with him in the writing process,he is the crazy one and I am the logical one…And I shouldn’t tell you this but I will, I have a project with Michele Soavi – he really would like to go back to making horror movies.Future projects all involve my writing , I wrote for 25 years for Italian tv -that’s a great part of my economic career! Then Mr Berlusconi decided i was too leftist in 2001 ,In 2001 elections I was strongly involved against Berlusconi considering he owns the entire tv system in Italy. He decided to get rid of me, and I haven’t worked for tv since then. So I have a skill in writing movies…
ABF: Thank you Giovanni for taking the time to speak to us!…