Interview with Riccardo Freda (1971)

This is the English translation of an interview with director Riccardo Freda conducted by Luigi Cozzi. The interview was originally published in Italian, in the Italian monthly magazine Horror, in April 1971. You can find more info about Italian horror movies in the monograph Vampires in Italian Cinema, 1956-1975 (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). If you are interested in buying the book, feel free to use the launch discount code EVENT30 for 30% off.

Riccardo Freda: I don’t love cinema too much. The world of cinema is too improvised, too ephemeral to be worthy of consideration. It is impossible to make a logic, consequential discourse from one film to the next one: cinema is ruled by trends, genres and filoni… In order to make a living, I adapted to this situation. I made a lot of movies, especially adventure movies, and I am not ashamed of it. My old collaborator and friend Mario Bava, instead, feels ashamed: he made 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto / Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) and tried to excuse himself by saying that he did it only for the money. It is obvious that we make these films for the money. But if we accept to make a movie, then we must do our best to make the best movie possible, in spite of all the difficulties.

Luigi Cozzi: Do you often go to the movies?

RF: I go to the movies all the time. I watch any kind of movie even if, when I get out of the theatre, I have to tear the film apart. But I am interested in cinema as a medium and I try to keep myself up to date. Moreover, I am working for a state censorship commission these days, so I have to review the films before they are released. I granted 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto the permission to be screened in Italy and I rejected Bava’s Quante volte… quella notte / Four Times That Night (1971), a lesbian-erotic film. Quante volte… quella notte is a horrible movie, to the point that Bava never mentions it as part of his filmography, even if he did direct it. By not granting the film the permission to be screened in Italy I think that I did my friend Bava a big favour.

LC: In your recent erotic giallo A doppia faccia / Double Face (1969), there is a full-frontal-nudity scene. How do you reconcile your activity as a film director with your activity as a film censor?

RF: I reconcile it very well. To make a film is one thing, to watch and judge a film is another thing. And after all, in A doppia faccia you can see “the bush” [il pelo] only in the foreign version [the version edited for foreign markets]. In the Italian version the girl wears her underwear, you can only see her breasts: that’s quite normal, isn’t it? What matters, to me, is the value of the film. The eroticism, or the “audacity”, of the single scene doesn’t matter. I explain myself. In La caduta degli dei / The Damned (1969), Luchino Visconti included an incest and nobody [in the state censorship commission] complained. We approved the film for public screening because it is such a beautiful and intelligent film. But we had to reject Candy (1968), made by an incompetent director called Christian Marquand. I would have greenlighted Candy : Ewa Aulin’s naked breasts and an anal intercourse briefly suggested and seen through the curtains are not that scandalous anymore, nowadays… But then there was the incest theme and the film was so dull and boring that I couldn’t really oppose my colleagues’ decision, so Candy was rejected. After one year, the movie was eventually released in Italy in a heavily cut version and very few people went to see it. It wasn’t a good business for the producers…

LC: How did you start making horror movies?

RF: I started making horror movies because of a bet. I was talking with two producers one day, [Ermanno] Donati and [Luigi] Carpentieri. I said that a film could be made in two weeks, and they replied that it was impossible. I insisted, so they phoned [Goffredo] Lombardo [owner of production and distribution company Titanus]: they explained to Lombardo my proposal and asked if he wanted to distribute the film once it was finished. He accepted without much enthusiasm and I very quickly wrote a screenplay for I vampiri / Lust of the Vampire (1957), which was shot in twelve days. Then I quit the job because I had an argument with the producers, and they completed the rest of the picture in two days. The movie was set in Paris but, thanks to the miniatures and tricks I created with cinematographer Mario Bava, we shot it in the courtyard of Titanus studio, in Rome. I believe in a subtle, psychological kind of horror. No vampires, no monsters, please: they are just vulgar, ridiculous tricks. My theory is that horror – the authentic terror – can be achieved with the simplest, most common means. The most terrifying monster is our neighbour cutting his wife’s throat, am I right? The theory behind my film L’orribile segreto del dr. Hichcock / The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) is this: anybody can marry a lunatic, a raving mad person, a monster… It was a shame that L’orribile segreto del dr. Hichcock had censorship problems.

LC: Which problems?

RF: The film was cut. You see, back in those days they used to cut a film for a half-seen thigh or for a low-cut neckline, and L’orribile segreto del dr. Hichcock dared to deal with the theme of necrophilia, as the protagonist was a doctor who is in love with corpses. So the censors cut the most explicit things like the doctor kissing the corpses. As a result, the film ended up being a bit obscure, because it wasn’t clear that the doctor was a necrophile. That’s why I wanted an opening scene showing the murder in the cemetery: it’s not a film about grave-robbing, it’s a film about necrophilia. But with all the cuts that were made, the logic behind the film was a bit lost.

LC: And what about your film Lo spettro / The Ghost (1963)?

RF: Lo spettro was born to exploit the success of L’orribile segreto del dr. Hichcock. I wrote the screenplay in one day, all in one go. I shot Lo spettro in twelve days and I am happy about it. Barbara Steele was great with me: a real lamb.

LC: And your film Caltiki il mostro immorale / Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)?

RF: I don’t consider it a film of mine. There are monsters and space jellyfish in it: it is Bava’s stuff, honestly. It is his thing. Caltiki il mostro immorale was born by chance, I made it in order to help Bava. You see, back then he was working as a cinematographer for a director called Pietro Francisci. On set, Francisci was always sleeping, it was Bava who did all the work: setting the camera, creating the tricks, directing the actors, and so on. Basically, Bava was directing the films and bringing them to success. There is nothing wrong with this. But, one day, I discovered that Francisci was always saying bad, humiliating things about Bava. Therefore, since Bava was my friend, I told him to break up with Francisci. Bava agreed with me but his dog was ill, his wife was pregnant and he had to pay his taxes… In one word, he had to make a living… So we met up at his father’s house and we came up with a film: Caltiki il mostro immorale. Then I proposed the film to a production company and it was accepted. I quit the job when the shooting was almost complete, with two days of work left. I directed the film, but Caltiki il mostro immorale is the typical film by Bava. I don’t want to take credit for it. The only thing I remember with pleasure are the statues that we used in the film: I sculpted them myself. As for the horror genre, I am now trying to make this film provisionally titled Il ragno. It is a sinister story, but it is the kind of brivido [thrill] that I like: something real, something possible. No monsters, no bogeymen like the ones that even Roger Corman is forced to use. No, in my film there are real anguish and fears, things that really exist, hidden inside all of us. Anybody can hide a monster inside the depths of his self, right?

LC: What about your film Maciste all’Inferno / The Witch’s Curse (1962)?

RF: Nobody wanted to make the film, because there were too many tricks and special effects to do. But I love tricks and special effects, so I accepted the project. Maciste all’Inferno starts as a witch story, but then it becomes the usual adventure film with Maciste. I would also like to mention my film Romeo e Giulietta (1964), which got great reviews all over the world, and Trappola per l’assassino (1966) (which I made in France, where I lived from 1965 to 1967, after becoming a French citizen). And then I would like to let you know that I made a film with Michelangelo Antonioni.

LC: Really?

RF: Yes, the title was Nel segno di Roma / Sign of the Gladiator (1959) and the credited director is Guido Brignone. Actually, I shot the spectacular scenes (the battle scenes), while the rest of the film was directed by Antonioni. Of course, both Antonioni and I did it for the money…

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