Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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

Late last week I spoke via email with cult film actor, John Morghen (aka 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 from CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) and the pitiable, sexually deviant role of Bob 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 famously (or infamous depending on one's point of view) nasty role would have to be the role of "Naughty" Mike Logan from Umberto Lenzi's trash classic, CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) released here under the more notoriously titled MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. This was the first time I'd seen Morghen in a film and he was frighteningly sadistic. A true comically grotesque and over the top performance that, outside of the offensive scenes of gore, was the best aspect of the film.

John Morghen in Antonio Margheriti's TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE (1987)

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 effects sequence. His passion lies in theater and work of a far more cerebral level. Hopefully, his fans will come to appreciate that side of John Morghen and not just as the guy who lost his hand, balls and brains in CANNIBAL FEROX.

Morghen in the hugely entertaining Italian horror film, DELIRIA (STAGEFRIGHT; 1987)

Venoms5: You began your stage career at 17. Is that correct?

Johnny: 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?

Johnny: Some Shakespeare I staged at the very beginning of my career as a director and all the Alan Ayckbourn plays I staged (both acting and directing) in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Until then this brilliant English author was unknown to the Italian audience.

Morghen as the unstable character of Ricky from Deodato's HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980)

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

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

John Morghen (left) and Tony King are hungry in CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)

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 during the 1970's?

Johnny: Never saw them as I never saw genre movies in general (gialli, horrors, spaghetti westerns and so on) with the exception of Sergio Leone movies, which I always liked. I was into theatre and attracted to the great directors of that time: Antonioni, Visconti, Fellini. Intellectual stuff…

V5: In relation to the characters you would later play, you would have been a natural as a villain in this genre.

Johnny: Yes, I guess so and I ride horses well, so westerns would have probably been right for me.

Morghen and David Hess menace a group of young partiers in Deodato's sleazy take on Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

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

Johnny: 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 the movies. I said yes and a few days later I was introduced to Deodato, who cast me for HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK in the role of Ricky, which had been previously thought for Michele Soavi. The lady agent at that time was his mother in law and maybe that helped….

Lorraine De Selle and John Morghen from HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK. Both performers were good friends off screen.

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?

Johnny: No I hadn’t seen it (never saw it actually).

David Hess (left) and John Morghen (right) prepare for a night of death and decadence

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

Johnny: 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 with 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 on screen…

V5: Were your experiences with Deodato pleasant ones?

Johnny: Yes. He was screaming a lot, but always with a sense of humour (something I highly appreciate) and was very fast and efficient, but always respectful to actors and the time they needed.

Morghen as the unhinged Charlie Bukowski in CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)

V5: Were you excited about coming to the States to shoot APOCALYPSE DOMANI? Was it your first time being in America?

Johnny: Because of something wrong on Wikipedia, many people think that Apocalypse was my first American movie, whilst the first was 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.

Morghen in a bit of a predicament from Lucio Fulci's mega atmospheric 'Hell On Earth' opus, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD aka THE GATES OF HELL (1980)


Johnny: 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 behind the scenes? If so, what was your impression of them?

Johnny: Actually I never met them, because we hadn’t scenes together. I only met Catriona quite recently, running conventions and she struck me as a fascinating and clever woman and still very, very beautiful.

Logan (Morghen) carries the injured Joe through the hostile jungle in CANNIBAL FEROX

V5: How did you come about getting the part of Mike Logan on CANNIBAL FEROX?

Johnny: Lenzi had called me to play Mike's friend (Joe?). This offer came after three movies (House at The End Of The Park - City Of The Living Dead - Cannibal Apocalypse) 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. More, I found the script too revolting to appear in it with 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 ("What's Naughty Mike having for breakfast?" - "What's Naughty Mike smoking?")

V5: Lenzi had worked in so many genres, had you seen any of his prior films and if so, did you have any idea as to how he would be as a director?

Johnny: No to both questions.

"Naughty Mike" about to lose additional limbs from Lenzi's cannibal classic(k)

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?

Johnny: Of course CANNIBAL FEROX. I still find it offensive to human nature and to good acting.

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

Johnny: 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.

Those who have seen the movie know what's about to happen here!

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, or were you enjoying yourself?

Johnny: I surely had been typecast, but at the same time I was 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?

John Morghen as Brett in Michele Soavi's classic slasher/giallo horror, DELIRIA (STAGEFRIGHT; 1987)

V5: DELIRIA (1987) was a bit of a departure for you in relation to your past horror films. Did you enjoy participating in this movie?

Johnny: If 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 in comic roles and the character in "Deliria" was somehow a comedy role. Playing it was fun, especially in the "bitching" dialogues with Mary Sellers, who later became a great friend of mine and acted in some plays in English that I staged in Rome. And anyway I was (and still am) a great friend of Michele and being in his first movie was thrilling by itself.

Morghen (right) argues with his stage director played by David Brandon (left) from STAGEFRIGHT

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

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

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

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

A surreal moment of a wind swept, seemingly empty stretch of town in Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980)

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 appeared in being made in Italy again?

Johnny: 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 stuff. So horror is definitely out.

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

Johnny: 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 miniseries I did with Duccio Tessari, 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 end with a kiss, he just didn't say stop to see what I would do. But there I surprised him because I went on stripping and making love to the actress. He said stop just when I was about to take off my underwear...

Morghen in the lively, unusual and star studded Italian science fiction movie, TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE from 1987

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

Johnny: The stage is the main one, as director, actor and translator which is something I constantly do, for myself or for others, translating generally 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--in film, or on the stage and why?

Johnny: I can’t really say I prefer one to the other and 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.

The background in this scene foreshadows gruesome things to come in the CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD

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

Johnny: 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…

A "tender" moment between psycho's from HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980)

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!

John Morghen can also be seen at his official website which is linked below. The sites main page is split into two sections--'The Nice Side', which is in Italian and displays some of John's many non-horror works. 'The Horror Side' is in English and contains additional information about one of Italian horrors most recognizable faces.


He also has a myspace spage which is linked below. Here, fans can get autographed photos, t-shirts and other things including information about John's other work in showbusiness...

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