By Gav Ellinger.
Born in Rome in 1954 Giovanni Lombardo Radice (often credited under his psuedonym John Morghen) is an Italian actor that fans of spaghetti splatter will be familiar with, having starred in a number of gory delights such as City of the Living Dead, Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Apocalypse. Many of the movies he appeared in were initially banned in the UK during the height of the ‘video nasties’ witch-hunt, and he surely holds the title of having suffered some of the most brutal and inventive death scenes ever commited to celluloid!
Giovanni established a career in theatre before landing a role in Ruggero Deodato’s violent revenge shocker House on the Edge of the Park in 1980. So good was his performance as Ricky, the demented side-kick of David Hess, that his talent was quickly noticed and he became a regular genre mainstay throughout the 80’s/90’s working with some of Italy’s finest horror directors.
Here is a selected filmography of his other homegrown genre movies:
City of the Living Dead (Lucio Fulci, 1980), Cannibal Apocalypse (Antonio Margheriti, 1980), Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi, 1981), Treasure Island in Outer Space (Antonio Margheriti, 1987), Stagefright (Michele Soavi, 1987), The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989), The Sect (Michele Soavi, 1991), Body Puzzle (Lamberto Bava, 1992).
A cult favourite amongst afficionados of Italian horror, a thoroughly nice guy, and an animal lover to boot, I was very pleased to catch up with Johnny (as he likes to be called!) recently to ask him a few questions on his productive career in Italian horror cinema and what he is doing now…
When did you first realise you wanted to become an actor and how did you get involved in the Italian film industry, in particular horror movies?
Johnny: I always wanted to be in the show business, since my early childhood. I was always playing with little theatres, organising shows with my school friends and so on. I started with professional theatre at the age of nineteen, and then I started directing and acting at the same time. The movies arrived quite casually, in a moment when I was having great money problems, and the first movie was Deodato “House at the edge”. Since then, for some years, horror it was. I accepted one movie after the other, continuing my work in the theatre, because I needed the money.
You have worked with many of the great Italian horror/exploitation director’s such as Antonio Margheriti, Ruggero Deodato, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi etc…, which were your favourite to work for and why?
Johnny: Antonio Margheriti. I worked twice with him, in Apocalypse and Treasure Island In Outer Space. I was very fond of him. He was a real gentleman, with a great sense of humour. He never pretended to be creating masterpieces and though his movies, due to his great experience, are maybe better than many others. As I said many times I adored him.
You certainly had some very memorable and gory screen deaths, in Cannibal Apocalypse you had a hole blown right through your stomach, in Ferox you were castrated and had your brains eaten by cannibals and in City of the Living Dead you had a drill right through your head. Did you enjoy doing these scenes and how did you cope with all the gory make-up effects?
Johnny: Enjoy? Why? I felt uncomfortable, but just because the scenes are generally very long and complicated, and you have to go along with “who cares about acting, just spit the blood towards the camera”.
You played a Vietnam veteran alongside John Saxon in Margheriti’s excellent Cannibal Apocalypse, this remains one of my favourite films, how did you get involved in this movie and how was it working with Saxon?
Johnny: I got involved because I was called, as usual. Saxon was professional and very reserved. I was much younger than him and I was still enjoying the sheer fact of acting in front of a camera, which surely was no longer exciting for him.
One of your most challenging roles in my opinion was Ricky, the fairly retarded sidekick to David Hess in Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park which you played fantastically in my opinion. Did you base this character on anyone in particular and did you find this a difficult role to play?
Johnny: I was quite frail and neurotic myself at that time and in my wild teen days I had met a lot of street people. So it wasn’t difficult.
What are your memories of working with David Hess and Ruggero Deodato?
Johnny: David was some years my senior, but very much alive and always ready for good time. Nice person, very friendly and a very good actor. He helped me a lot, considering I had no experience in the movies. He was a real sport. He was always laughing, always telling jokes and definitely in love with Italian food. I’m a pretty good cook and I remember tons of pasta cooked for David. He was also very interested in ladies (but didn’t rape them, at least as far as I know). At that time he had recently married with a girl much younger than him, but couldn’t take his eyes from every woman that passed by. His sudden death was a great sorrow. Deodato was nervous because he had a short time to shoot the movie, but he was very effective. I had a perfect professional relation with him.
Which was your favourite horror movie you starred in and why?
Johnny: It was Cannibal Apocalypse because of Margheriti and because I had a wonderful character.
Do you watch many of your own films and what do you think of the modern horror movies compared to the films of the 70’s and 80’s?
Johnny: I only watch my movies if I have to do commentaries. And I know nothing about the modern ones. I never saw one.
Do you enjoy watching horror movies and which ones do you think are good?
Johnny: I don’t like them and never did. I was always very sincere in declaring that the movies (and especially horror movies) are something I did mainly for the money. If instead of offering me zombies and cannibals they had called me for more subtle stuff (as it happened later) I would surely have been happier. But nevertheless the horror side of my career was fun and, strangely enough, taught me a lot about acting. If you get any close to be believable with some of the lines I had to say in those movies, when you get back to Shakespeare it’s like a stroll in the park after free climbing.
What were your experiences working on City of the Living Dead? Was Fulci really difficult to work for as some people say? I have met Catriona MacColl and she is a lovely lady, did you get on well together?
Johnny: The atmosphere on set was edgy, because Fulci was always shouting (at the production mainly) and work was quite hard. But all in the same I have good memories. Lucio surely had a bad temper and frequently mistreated people but to me he was always very kind. He liked my acting and respected me. . He was very unhappy both for tragedies that had happened in his family and because he was unsatisfied about his career. Once I invited him to a party in my house. He went to the toilet and found out that whilst theatre posters were displayed in the living room, the horror movie posters were decorating the bathroom. He came back, yelling, “Hey, people, I’m in the loo!” Anyhow, he was a cultivated man and respected me for my family background and for my theatre credits. He was always very polite and friendly with me. I never met Catriona on set because we hadn’t scenes together. I only met her for the first time a few years ago at conventions and she is very nice.
You had parts in several of Michele Soavi’s films, Stagefright, The Church and The Sect, was this because you particularly enjoyed working with him?
Johnny: You seem to think that actors choose what to do. They don’t. Anyway I was happy to work with him because we were friends. He is an airy spirit, always changing mood, dreams and ideas. I always thought he would be the perfect Puck in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night Dream”. He is not at all “adult” and that’s his charm, both as a person and as a director. He films what he dreams at night and what he paints (he is quite a good painter). He lives in a fantastic world of his own and tries to put his fantasies in his movies. That’s why he was surely much more of an artist than the others directors I worked with. Working with him was fascinating, even if it wasn’t always easy to understand what he really wanted. A bit like being directed by Chagall.
I know you don’t like talking about Umberto Lenzi, but please can you explain more about why working on Cannibal Ferox was not a good experience? There was some animal cruelty involved I understand?
Johnny: It’s a stupid, violent, racist film with animal cruelty. Does it answer it? As for Lenzi, differently from Fulci or Deodato, who could be really intimidating and violent (even if not with me), Lenzi was simply tiresome and boring. He had a crumpled ego and always wanted to be acknowledged as a genius (obviously victim of the Big Bad World). Most of all (in that occasion) he wanted to be acknowledged by me, because I was a theatre person and came out from an important family. I just didn’t accomplished. When he was trying to tell me that his camera movements were of a John Ford quality, I just watched the sky, waiting to shoot. After a while he desisted and our relationship became simply very distant.
What are your thoughts on the Italian film industry of today?
Johnny: It simply doesn’t exist. TV ate it up.
Are you still involved in making movies and what have you been doing lately? Any new projects?
Johnny: Of course I am. My last movies were A Day Of Violence by Darren Ward, The Inflicted by Matthan Harris, Three Sisters by Daire McNab. I have many more projects but I don’t speak of them for superstition and I am writing my autobiography.
Finally Johnny, as you are probably aware many of the horror films you starred in were banned in the UK. What are your feelings and views on this and censorship in general?
Johnny: I think there should be just an age limit, but even that is preposterous because of the Internet. I don’t think censorship works; it just makes more desirable what’s unattainable. There should be a strong censorship prior shooting as for animal cruelty or child abuse.
My thanks to Johnny for taking the time to talk to me.
Giovanni has recently written a book on his career entitled ‘A Zombie Life’ which is at this time with publishers and we will hopefully see it soon. He is also preparing a screenplay for the proposed and much anticipated House on the Edge of the Park 2.
Giovanni’s website is here: http://www.giovannilombardoradice.com/