By ROBERTO E. D’ONOFRIO
Judging from the increasing number of movies, recently released and in production, it finally looks as if horror cinema is gaining back interest from Italian producers and directors. Among them, filmmaker Raffaele Picchio, whose controversial debuting film Morituris quickly attracted a cult following, as well as many detractors (especially for one particular torture scene that was so unwatchable, mainly for women, that dozens of viewers fled from their seats), decided to give shape to his love for the characters created by Amando De Ossorio in 1972, “the blind dead.”
Taking inspiration from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s Gothic horror tale El Monte de las Ánimas (1862) and from the cult of the Templars, with their black magic rites, human sacrifices, and other legends, De Ossorio established in the seventies a new, original and truly fascinating cinema myth. His Templars are evil knights who, in the 13th century, quested for eternal life by drinking human blood and committing sacrifices. Blinded and executed by villagers for their unholy deeds, 500 years later the Templar knights return from the grave every night to search for victims and blood, finding their prey through sound. Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first film, spawned three sequels, all directed by Ossorio, taking the Zombie subgenre to a different level, in which the creatures are more dark, mysterious, and frightening than gory and brutal.
John Gilling resurrected them in the unofficial sequel La Cruz del Diablo (1975), but it was Raffaele Picchio and writer Lorenzo Paviano who take the basics of the Blind Dead subject and reboot the whole story: In the thirteen century a group of Satan’s worshipers (Knight Templars) is captured during a ritual and brutally murdered by the locals. Just before the execution, the knights swear to return from the graves to haunt the village and the nearby forest. Centuries later, in a post-apocalyptic future, a man and his daughter try to survive against both the zombie-knights and a sect commanded by a mad preacher.
Produced by Francesco H. Aliberti and Zombie veterans Marco Ristori and Luca Boni (Eaters, Zombie Massacre, Zombie Massacre 2: Reich of the Dead), CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD stars Aaron Stielstra, Bill Hutchens (The Human Centipede II & III), Yoon Joyce (Gangs of New York), Francesca Pellegrini (Parasitic Twin) and has a cameo role of Oscar winner Fabio Testi (What have you done to Solange?, Virgin Killer).
The movie, which will have plenty of blood for gore fans, was slated for an October 2020 release. Rue Morgue had an exclusive chat with director Raffaele Picchio and producer Francesco H. Aliberti.
The Blind Dead created by Amando De Ossorio are among the most inventive and fascinating characters of Spanish Horror Cinema, how did you come up with the idea of a modern reboot?
Raffaele Picchio: It’s a saga that I have always loved a lot. The figure of these Templar knights, necrophiliacs, esotericists, and murderers, who are blinded, executed, and rise from their graves to continue their human sacrifices, it’s absolutely mythical. Watching them riding their horses in slow motion it’s frightening and has a very evocative atmosphere, which inspired me also when I was doing Morituris for the characters of the resurrected Roman Gladiators. The most difficult thing was finding a way, both practical and artistic, to take in our hands such a myth and give it a new life; we put on paper all our ideas and did many revisions of the script until we came up with the final draft and were satisfied with it.
Did you make any contact with the original production company in order to obtain the rights for your movie?
Francesco Aliberti: Raffaele has been talking to me about a reboot or a remake of the De Ossorio Templars for a long time, therefore I decided to debut as a producer. I’ve done extensive research about the rights for the characters and the story and I found out that I didn’t have to obtain them. First because CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD it’s not a remake of none of the original movies, it’s a totally different story, with a diverse setting, in fact our film is set in a post-apocalyptic future, Mad Max-style. Thanks to the help of some experts of Spanish Cinema I also came to know that De Ossorio did not create his characters, but did a lot of researches on the cult of the Templars, their black magic rites with human sacrifices and other legends, and also was inspired by a Spanish writer (Author’s note: probably Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer).
How did you decide to become a Producer?
FA: CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD is my first venture into film production. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, Raffaele and I are long time friends and I totally love Horror movies, so when we started to discuss new projects it was obvious to think about the Blind Dead. We just needed to have a story that I could produce, although within certain limits. My father is a businessman and I think it’s in my blood the desire to get into business as well; I love cinema and this was a natural choice. In the end, two years ago, my father and I founded – in the city of Bergamo, in the north of Italy – Mafarka Film. CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD has been totally produced by me and my father, with Marco Ristori and Luca Boni (Eaters, Zombie Massacre) serving as executive producers. We totally financed the movie and we didn’t search for other investors, as it’s not a big-budget production and we wanted to keep full control of the film.
In the seventies De Ossorio established the laws of the franchise directing four films centering on the Blind Dead Knights, aren’t you worried about the comparison with the original movies?
FA: Not really, I am not concerned about that because our picture is just a humble homage to the saga created by De Ossorio. Of course, the audience will do any kind of comparisons, but our idea was to pay homage to the saga and not to improve it or do a better version.
RP: I know that there always will be someone that will criticize our movie, comparing it to the original films, but our approach toward this project was fueled by the desire to pay homage to them with a conceptually “old school” film and revive these great characters in order to see them once again in action in a different context. It wasn’t our intention to remake and improve the first movie or to actualize it. To me, the Blind Dead have always had a strong visual impact and when also Peter Jackson referenced them with his Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings, I got confirmation that De Ossorio created an amazing myth.
I’ve noted that “Curse of the Blind Dead” has many common elements with “Morituris”, your first picture, there you had Roman Gladiators returning from the graves, while here we have the Knight Templars…
RP: As I told you, De Ossorio’s Templars have always fascinated me and when I conceived the plot for Morituris I was influenced by them, in a way, with that film we did a sort of a Roman version. But, although also CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD it’s a very gore movie, it’s more a Horror of pure exploitation, made for the fun of lovers of the genre.
How were you able to cast such an international star as Fabio Testi, whom I know doesn’t like very much Horror movies?
FA: A good friend of mine gave me his contact a few months before we started filming. I wanted to cast a famous actor, even if it was for a small role, so that the movie would be more easily marketable. Fabio was immediately very interested in our project, precisely because he had never done ultra gore horror before. It was a real pleasure and an honor to have him on the set, even if it was for a short time. He is a great professional.
How was working with an international cast?
FA: Having a cast from all around the world and filming the movie in English is fundamental to sell it easier. Many actors, like Aaron Stielstra and David White, had already worked with our executive producers who introduced them to us. Speaking of non-Italian actors, I am very happy of having cast Bill Hutchens (The Human Centipede 2), we became friends and he is an amazing actor. I will have him for sure in my next productions.
RP: Movie after movie we are getting together a small crew of people (actors and technicians) with whom we keep working, therefore we trust and know each other very well. Among the new entries, we were surprised by the audition of Alice Zanini, an amazing actress, she is incredible as the young leading lady. This is her feature-length film debut, but I am sure that we will see more of her soon.
Where did you film the movie?
RP: We filmed entirely around the city of Bergamo, at Alzano Lombardo and Villa d’Almè. The main set was a former cement factory, a huge and old industrial complex, which was a very evocative location but at the same time, it was difficult to film in it.
What kind of camera did you use? Comparing it with your previous works, how was it?
RP: We used a “Red Epic”, the same one, but a most advanced model, I used to film Morituris. It’s always a shock and a very demanding task doing a picture, especially when you have higher ambitions. It was backbreaking, challenging, and extremely difficult, probably the hardest movie I have ever done; but I love doing it and in the end, as the great Sam Fuller said: “Surviving is the only glory in war”.
What do you think of the new distribution platforms like Netflix? Do you believe that they will help or kill cinema?
RP: I don’t own a smart TV and I didn’t subscribe to Netflix, I just have an Amazon Prime subscription because I use it to do shopping and almost never to watch movies or, even worse, TV series. This new system of movies fruition I think it sucks, it’s nonsense and derived from a still work in progress mentality in which I don’t really see myself. That said, I must acknowledge that, in the near future, any change in the production system – unless you are Disney – will come from this world. Quite simply the way of conceiving the fruition of cinema has changed, both as a system and as art, today it’s all an explicit mega serialization, episodes and seasons and in the middle just a few rare, noteworthy productions.
FA: I occasionally use these systems of movie fruition, although I prefer to watch movies in a theatre or on home video. But I am pretty sure that this fierce competition among these different platforms will generate greater demand for independent films and that’s absolutely positive for us.
We can say for sure that you love horror movies, would you ever consider doing other kinds of pictures? What recent movies did you like the most?
RP: Horror is my first love and it’s the genre I like the most to work on, because of its infinite nuances that you can exploit and it’s a genre that is never out of fashion, although one day I would like to do something different. Lately I’ve been impressed and I’ve loved films like The Witch, Hagazussa, Rainer Sarnet’ November, Hereditary and Midsommar. I’ve heard that Robert Eggers would like to do a new version of Nosferatu, that’s a movie I would really love to see, although it sounds like a risky project, I am pretty sure that in his hands it will become a great film. Talking about more mainstream movies, I had so much fun with the new Hellboy directed by Neil Marshall, with its many monsters and gallons of blood. Overlord surprised me and was so much fun and Michael Dougherty was absolutely brilliant with Godzilla 2, a really fascinating Kaiju-eiga.
Today in Italy, for a young filmmaker, is it more difficult or easier to get your picture done, compared to the seventies and eighties?
FA: As I told you, CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD is totally self-funded and produced, however, I believe that today is harder than 40 years ago. At that time they were making 300 films per year, A-movies and B-movies, while today they are much less and the independent ones that get noticed are unfortunately very few. But the situation is slowly getting better and the fact that some big production companies are beginning to do horror films is a big step forward.
When do you plan to release CURSE OF THE BLIND DEAD? Do you have already an international distributor?
FA: The film will be released by October 2020. High Octane Pictures will release the movie internationally, it’s a well-known sales company and, particularly in the United States, we already have important interest, but I say no more because I don’t want to jinx it.