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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: An Interview with Italian Cult Film Actor, John Morghen

Late last week I spoke with cult film actor, John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) about the possibility of an interview conducted over the internet. He kindly agreed to the interview and much to my surprise, answered every question I gave to him. A very interesting and lively personality, John Morghen's cinematic resume features a number of off-kilter movie roles including the ravenous Vietnam vet, Charlie Bukowski in CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) and Bob, the pitiable, sexual deviant in Lucio Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980).

John Morghen as the cocaine addled villain, Mike Logan in Lenzi's controversial CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)
Quite possibly Morghen's most well-known role would have to be "Naughty" Mike Logan from Umberto Lenzi's trash classick, CANNIBAL FEROX (1981); released here in 1982 under the more notorious moniker of MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. A comically grotesque, over-the-top performance that, outside of the offensive violence, remains the film's most memorable aspect.

However, John Morghen has been more than just a horror movie villain; or a character that comes to a bad end in a spectacular gore sequence. His passion lies in theater and work of a far more cerebral level. Hopefully, his fans will come to appreciate that side of him, and not just the guy who lost his hand, balls and brains in CANNIBAL FEROX.

Venoms5: You began your stage career at 17, is that correct?

John Morghen: Actually, I began at 15. I was tri-lingual with English and French and so I could join the French Cultural Centre Theatre Company; which was mostly staging contemporary French plays.

V5: Of your stage work, which are you most proud of?

JM: Some Shakespeare I staged at the very beginning of my career as a director and all of the Alan Ayckbourn plays I staged (both acting and directing) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Until then, this brilliant English author was unknown to the Italian audience.

V5: What was it that initially drew you to your fascination with movies as well as the theater?

JM: I was a lonely kid; very shy and tending to live in a world of my own. I liked to play with toy theaters, puppets and so on. I lived in Sicily for four years as a little kid and I was fascinated by the Sicilian puppet theater staging the old saga of King Charles of France and his warriors fighting the Moors. From there, whatever was "stagy" attracted me and when my mother was bringing me to the movies, at the end I always felt like I was the characters I had just seen. I guess it was in me.

V5: Considering so much of the real life violence occurring in Italy at the time, what are/were your opinions of the many Italian crime movies that were popular in the 1970s?

JM: I never saw them as I never saw genre movies like the gialli, horror, westerns, and so on; with the exception of Sergio Leone's movies, which I always liked. I was into theater and attracted to the great directors of that time: Antonioni, Visconti, Fellini. Intellectual stuff.

V5: In relation to the characters you played, you would've been a natural as a villain in this genre.

JM: Yes, I suppose so and I do ride horses well, so westerns would probably have been right for me.

V5: How did you become involved with Deodato's LA CASA SPERDUTA NEL PARCO (THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK)?

JM: In the most casual way. I met by chance a lady who was a casting agent and she asked me if I was interested in being in movies. I said yes, and a few days later I was introduced to Deodato who cast me for HOUSE in the role of Ricky; a role that had previously been considered for Michele Soavi. The lady agent at that time was his mother-in-law and maybe that helped.

V5: Were you aware of the Wes Craven film, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT at that time? If so, what were your thoughts on it?

JM: No, I hadn't seen it; never saw it, actually.

V5: How was David Hess offscreen as opposed to the vicious characters he often played in his movies? He's very believable in these kinds of roles.

JM: David was a sport; 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 a girl much younger than him, but couldn't take his eyes from every woman that passed by. Fortunately, actors are generally quite different from what they do onscreen.

V5: Were your experiences with Deodato pleasant one?

JM: Yes. He was screaming a lot, but always with a sense of humor (something I highly appreciate) and was very fast and efficient, but always respectful to actors and the time they needed.
V5: Were you excited about coming to the States to shoot APOCALYPSE DOMANI (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE)? Was it your first time being in America?

JM: Because of something wrong on Wikipedia, many people that CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE was my first American movie, whilst the first was actually GATES OF HELL. Anyhow, I had American relatives and I had been to the States many a time; but never in the South, which I loved immediately.


JM: I would say four weeks in the States and a couple more in Italy, mostly for interiors.

V5: Did you get to know Christopher George or Catriona MacColl? If so what was your impression of them?

JM: I never met them as we hadn't any scenes together. I only met Catriona quite recently, running conventions and she struck as a fascinating and clever woman; and still very, very beautiful.

V5: How did you get the part of Mike Logan on CANNIBAL FEROX?

JM: Lenzi had called me to play Mike's friend, Joe. The offer came after three movies; and in all three I had played the frail and neurotic young person. I was resigned by then to the "Horror Wave" that had submerged my professional life, but I was sick and tired of that kind of character. Moreover, I found the script too revolting to appear in it with only a minor role. I considered refusing the movie, but I needed the money. So I said it was leading character or nothing--presuming that "nothing" would be the answer. But Mike it was, or "Naughty Mike" as Lorraine nicknamed me in the Amazonas. She'd say, "What's Naughty Mike having for breakfast?" or "What's Naughty Mike smoking?"

V5: Lenzi had directed films in so many different genres had you seen any of his prior work? Did you have any idea how it'd be working with him?

JM: No to both questions.

V5: I probably already know the answer to this one, but if you could erase one film from your resume, which one would it be and why?

JM: CANNIBAL FEROX, of course. I still find it offensive to human nature and to good acting.

V5: I must say you were extraordinarily good in FEROX. Over the top, but I feel the role demanded it.

JM: Thank you. But in my opinion, I was just being bombastic and shouting all the time, for sheer lack of acting material. That guy was a puppet, not a real person.

V5: In your more extreme horror pictures, you always seem to play these wildly eccentric, sleazy characters. Do you feel you had been typecast at this point? Were you enjoying yourself in these roles?

JM: I surely had been typecast, but at that time I was indeed having fun, or at least trying to. Good lads never attracted me much, though. There's generally more acting material in villains. Who would be crazy enough to play Snow White if the Cruel Queen was available?

V5: 1987s DELIRIA (STAGE FRIGHT) was a bit of a departure for you in relation to your past horror films. How did this one compare to your past roles?

JM: In not any personality I can surely play a much wider choice of roles than the ones I did in the horror movies. In theatre I'm very good at comic roles and the character in DELIRIA was somehow a comedy role. Playing it was fun, especially in the "bitching" dialogues with Mary Sellers. She later became a great friend of mine and acted in some plays in English that I staged in Rome. And I was and still am a great friend of Michele; being in his first movie was thrilling by itself.

V5: David Brandon had also appeared in some exploitation movies around this time. How was he to work with as an actor?

JM: As an actor he was okay; very professional. As a person he was by himself a lot, so I never talked much with him.

V5: How well were these movies accepted in Italy? Were they popular with Italian audiences?

JM: Not really. They were shown for a couple of weeks in 'B' theaters and then forgotten. I think they were intended from the beginning for the markets abroad more than for the Italian one.

V5: With such gruesome types of horror films becoming increasingly popular in America and in other countries, do you see the types of horror films you did being made in Italy again?

JM: No. Nowadays in Italy filmmaking is strongly tied to television and networks money. We don't really have a strong pay-per-view TV or thematic channels rich enough to produce. And big networks put money in prime time family; so horror is definitely out.

V5: Do you have any humorous, or interesting stories from the sets of your films you could share that you haven't already?

JM: I really think I told them all and more than once. But there is a little story concerning a non-horror movie, which was BORN OF LOVE, a mini-series I did for Duccio Tessari. It was from the books of Liala, who was the Italian equivalent to Barbara Cartland. Duccio loved jokes on set and carefully prepared them, but I was wiser than him. In a seduction scene that should have chastely ended with a kiss, he didn't say stop--to see what I would do. So I surprised him when I continued stripping down, making love to the actress. He said "stop" just when I was about to take off my underwear.

V5: What are some of your other interests in show business? I understand you are involved in operas.

JM: The stage is the main one--as director, actor and translator which is something I constantly do whether for myself or for others; translating two or even three plays every year. Opera is a great passion of mine, but I only staged three operas in my life. It's a bit of a mafia world and I am not good in courting politicians.

V5: Which type of performing do you enjoy most--working in movies or on the stage and why?

JM: I can't really say I prefer one to the other. I do miss both if I am not in them for some time. Stage work gives you more time to get into character and the possibility to improve every night. The movie work is more quick and intense, but thus more challenging.

V5: Out of your entire career, what is the one thing you would most like to be known for?

JM: Something that only a small crowd knows about. My Italian translations of the Shakespeare sonnets, respecting verses and rhymes. I translated one half of them and hope to finish the job before I die.

I would like to thank John Morghen for this opportunity to have exchanged conversation with him about his long and varied career. If you are reading this, Johnny, your roles in film definitely made an impression on me as well as your many fans out there. The best of luck to you on all your future endeavors!

His official fan page is HERE.


Will Errickson said...

Terrific interview! I've seen Morghen in more films than I thought. Still need to check out HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, however. But I can appreciate both Italian horror AND Antonioni...

John Morghen said...

Well done, I liked it a lot.
Thanks to you and to all people reading it.
I would like to remember everybody my official site and the Myspace at

venoms5 said...

The thanks are all to you, John! I will amend the interview accordingly to post links to both your official site as well as your myspace page.

Brian (V5)

venoms5 said...

@ Will: Thanks for reading! I must say I don't believe I've seen any Antonioni films.

I Like Horror Movies said...

John thank you for taking the time to stop by and answer all of these questions, you have lasting fans that still appreciate all of your roles across the world, and it was great to read so many of your personal experiences! I have never been a fan of CANNIBAL FEROX, but you truly made HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK through Ricky's character. Thanks again for all of your contributions to the genre, and best wishes in your continued stage work!

Unknown said...

Terrific interview!

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