Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ruggero Deodato’s Genre Experiments - Guest Post from Robert Monell

I’m very happy to feature a guest article from one of my favourite genre writers and closest friends, Robert Monell. To quote from Alex Bakshaev’s recent interview with Robert at the highly recommended blog http://trashfilmaddict.blogspot.com.au: “Robert Monell has been writing and making short films and videos since 1971. He is the creator and webmaster of Cinemadrome - a website which covers all aspects of cinema and I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind, number one English-language web resource on the cinema of Jess Franco. His articles and essays have been published in UK and Italian books, such as Il Caso Jesús Franco edited by Francesco Cesari.”
Robert takes a look at the notorious Ruggero Deodato’s lesser-discussed films, Waves of Lust and Raiders of Atlantas.

Ruggero Deodato’s Genre Experiments...
By Robert Monell

Ruggero Deodato’s film career began long before the legendary, still controversial Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was released, but that title is undoubtedly the one with which his name is most associated and will be the one for which he is forever remembered. And it wasn’t even his first foray into cannibal terror. That honor would go to Ultimo Mondo Cannibale; Mondo Cannibale 2. Teil-Der Vogelmensch (1977), a violent Italian adventure film in a which petroleum engineer (Massimo Foschi) and an anthropologist (Ivan Rassimov) become trapped in a Mindanao jungle after a plane crash and fall victims to… you guessed it.

Deodato began in cinema as an assistant to the great Neo-Realist filmmaker Roberto Rossellini (General Della Rovere, Anima Nera) from whom he developed an interest in anthropological realism. He also was an assistant to such busy Italian genre craftsman as Antonio Margheriti (Castle of Blood), Sergio Corbucci (Django, on which he directed some action exteriors in Spain), Riccardo Freda (Romeo And Giulietta), among others. By the time he directed his first films (Hercules, Prisoner of Evil, Phenomenal and the Treasure Of Tutankamen), he had years of practical experience with world class filmmakers behind him. But it would take him at least another decade of work directing commercials and low budget features to become the director capable of making Cannibal Holocaust, a film which outraged the world, became the first major “found footage” horror movie and caused the director, as Sergio Leone predicted when Deodato screened the film for him, a world of legal trouble. Filmed in the jungles of Venezuela and Columbia at a very low cost, with no union or animal cruelty laws in place, it is a landmark in the Cinema of Cruelty, real as well as acted-out cruelty, and along with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 Salo… it remains one of the most controversial Italian films ever made. Humanity beyond the boundaries of control trapped in savage corners of the world, the slaughter of animals, bloodlust and the ruthlessness of the “news” media, embodied by a brutal “documentary” film crew, were the themes. The film asked the question: Who are the real cannibals? Deodato had made a previous cannibal film, there was Umberto Lenzi’s The Man from Deep River (1972) and the later ultra-violent Cannibal Ferox, but the director never dug quite as deep as he did with Cannibal Holocaust, although in some ways his other 1980 gorefest, The House on the Edge of the Park, is equally disturbing. Animal cruelty has always been an issue in movies, from trip-wiring horses in old Hollywood Westerns, to The Mad Doctor of Blood Island to certain Italian Mondo titles. Given that every meat eating human in the world indirectly partakes in animal slaughter by consuming the end-product, as the director often points out in interviews, and the fact that the Cannibal Holocaust inspired The Green Inferno opens in US theaters soon, Deodato must have hit upon a resonant theme which has haunted civilized and not-so-civilized societies throughout the ages and continues to be an uncomfortable topic in the 21st Century.

Which brings us to the 1975 Erotic Thriller, Ondata di Piacere aka Waves of Lust, from a story co-written by Lamberto Bava and Gianlorenzo Battaglia. Filmed on Sicilian land and sea locations most of the action takes place on a luxury yacht and the cast is limited to four very deceptive characters. Waves of Lust will remind some viewers of Roman Polanski’s feature debut, Knife in the Water (1962) and, perhaps, the 1989 Australian film, Dead Calm, featuring Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill, the latter based on a Charles Williams novel which Orson Welles attempted to film. Waves… is not as subtle as the former and much more downscale than the latter, but it is perhaps the film with which Deodato formally announces his favored themes and unrelenting style.

Irem (Al Cliver) and Barbara(Silvia Dionisio) are a young couple vacationing on the island. They seem carefree and enjoy playing practical jokes, such as the one which opens the film and involves Irem standing on his head to view the action. Actually this upside-down image clues the viewer into both the character's true motivations and the film’s theme that everything is not what it seems when one turns the world on its head. The role playing begins for real when they encounter an older couple, George (John Steiner), a ruthless, sadistic factory owner and his much-abused wife, Silvia (Elizabeth Turner). George enjoys humiliating and beating Silvia both in public and in private. Curiously, Silva seems to enjoy and even encourage this behavior. But all is not what it seems in this toxic relationship. George is a thoroughly arrogant monster who feels entitled and sneers at the world and everyone in it. He brags about driving a business colleague to suicide and plans to screw over his entire factory work force when he returns from vacation. He’s a vicious predator in the business and sexual realms and has his sights set on Barbara. He plans to seduce her while putting Irem in his place as his new sailor on board, ordering him around while making no attempts to hide his groping of Barbara. It all seems OK to Irem, who is laid back and content to watch the mind games unfold. As things get more sexual, violence rears its ugly head. Silvia and George will meet their unsurprising fates, resulting with the yacht ending up with a new captain and mate.

There’s a definite socio-political subtext here as the working class Irem and Barbara seduce and triumph over the owning class George, whose motto is, “I detest the working class.” There’s also an undercurrent of dark humor as George never suspects just how tricky his invited weekend “guests” really are. The slowly cooking plot is a trap which is only sprung at the very end and Deodato keeps up the suspense while serving up some erotic sidebars as the four characters move toward the final showdown. There’s also a bit of Diabolique (1955) in the characters and plotting. As with Cannibal Holocaust it all ends with a question: Who are the villains and who are the victims in this twisted scenario?
The final shot really sums up the film’s theme as the survivors sail off while Marcello Giombini’s typically eccentric score rings off on an ironically upbeat note. John Steiner is always effective as a multi-faceted villain in such films as Tenebre, Deported Women of the SS Special Section, Fulci’s White Fang and numerous other Italian genre titles. He pretty much dominates the action here but Cliver and Silvia Dionisio are well cast as the seemingly air-headed young couple and Elizabeth Turner really looks the part of the eternally abused woman. As a game-of-deadly-consequences erotic thriller Waves of Lust gets the job done with considerable craft and skill and underlines Deodato’s flexibility as an all purpose genre director. Deodato would return to themes of social class, sex and violence in the much more powerful The House on the Edge of the Park (1980) and the woefully underappreciated The Washing Machine (1993).

Deodato’s flexibility is aptly demonstrated in the post Cannibal Holocaust, Post-Apocalyptic, science-fiction adventure I Predatori di Atlantide/The Raiders of Atlantis/Atlantis Interceptors, a 1983 cut-rate epic shot in the Philippines with a rather amazing cast of European Trash Cinema icons. I first viewed this as a VHS rental in the 1990s and immediately copied it and have been returning to it whenever I need a break from normal reality. As Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen demonstrated, Deodato is not really cut out for directing this kind of breezy fantasy, but he gives it his best nonetheless.

Filmed in Asia, with Special Effects Make-up by “Gene Reds” [the great Giannetto De Rossi] and a disco themed score by The Oliver Onions, this film is a Le Bad Cinema Hoot. This film is actually another Mad Max rip-off, Italian style. The Post-Apocalypse is set in 1994 Miami, Florida where our antiheroes Mike (Christopher Connelly) and Washington (Tony King) are introduced working as mercenaries on a secret mission for a shadowy businessman. But then Atlantis suddenly arises when they end up on an oil rig where a scientific team is attempting to float a downed Soviet nuclear sub. The mission fails, releasing radiation which allows Atlantis, represented by a kid’s bathtub model, to arise and the army of the murderous Crystal Skull to terrorize the world. It’s all actually an excuse to show a weirdly attired biker gang as they rape, pillage and murder everyone in sight on the tropical locations.

The goofy, disco-styled song “Black Inferno”, by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis aka Oliver Onions, really rules here as such Eurotrash icons as Connelly (Manhatten Baby, 1990: Bronx Warriors) Tony King (Cannibal Apocalypse), George Hilton (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh), Ivan Rassimov (Man from Deep River) Michele Soavi (Cemetary Man, Stagefright), Mike Monty (Zombi 3),  and Deodato himself as an  oil rig official, manage to hold our attention. Well, almost. Bruce Baron is the ridiculous Crystal Skull and listen up to hear Nick Alexander voicing Ivan Rassimov, along with such familiar voice actors Pat Starke, Susan Spafford, Frank Von Kuegelgen and many others. And where else can you see 1970s giallo icon George Hilton getting his head blown off by future iconic Italian horror director Michele Soavi?

According to a George Hilton interview, which appeared in an Italian zine several years ago, the late Christopher Connelly (1941-1988) was suffering from acute anxiety attacks during the rugged shoot and had a near nervous breakdown during the filming of a long siege sequence. All told, The Raiders of Atlantas isn’t really good on any level, but achieves a consistent level of mayhem probably acceptable to the sub-Mad Max crowd while allowing the talented Deodato a way to work off steam while searching for a more suitable project. That more suitable project would end up being the Hungarian lensed The Washing Machine, a dank, dark and dirty giallo which takes no prisoners with its toxic aura of post Iron Curtain dread and sexual malaise. Will someone please release an all region HD upgrade of this?

© Robert Monell, 2015

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