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THE ITALIANS ARE INVADING CHILLER THEATRE! Mini-Interviews with Ian McCulloch, Silvia Collatina & Michael Sopkiw!

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The Italians Are Invading Chiller Theatre!

Fans of 1980s Italian exploitation have every reason to rejoice. In three weeks, Chiller Theatre in Parsippany, New Jersey will host the Italian Invasion, a gathering of a number of stars from the Fulci period. Mike Baronas has put together a great collection of guests that include: the 30th anniversary ZOMBIE reunion with Ian McCulloch, Al Cliver, Richard Johnson, and old Worm Eye himself, Ottaviano Dell’acqua; Silvia Collatina and Giovanni Frezza, the child couple from Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY; sci-fi/ horror director Luigi Cozzi; action star Michael Sopkiw; and Fulci actresses Malisa Longo and Zora Kerowa, the latter of ANTHROPOPHAGUS fame.

In anticipation of the Italian Invasion, Mike Baronas was gracious enough to grant me access to three of the Invasion guests for quick interviews. I thank Ian McCulloch, Silvia Collatina and Michael Sopkiw for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re a fan of the Italians, go meet these three at Chiller. From the answers they gave me, I guarantee they won’t disappoint.

Ian McCulloch

Phil Fasso: ZOMBIE has developed a rabid cult following over the years. Many Fulci fans place it on par with Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Why do you think that it’s achieved that status?

Ian: It is difficult to find a reason for the continued success of ZOMBIE. I suppose it came out at the right time and had all the right ingredients of plot, exotic locations and special effects. It would be nice to think that we actors helped too but I think we could have changed roles with the Zombies and the film would have been as successful. The marketing team also deserve a pat on the back and the continued notoriety of certain scenes and its video nasty history have all helped.

PF: What are your best recollections from working on ZOMBIE?

IM: ZOMBIE was the first major film I made where I was a leading player. When you move overnight from a dingy bed and breakfast and seven performances a week in a dilapidated theatre in an English provincial town to being treated like a prince in the best hotels in Rome and New York and being accorded a decent amount of respect on the set with the time and money to enjoy life – you realize what you have been missing. The unit were really professional, helpful and friendly. Bizarrely it was the time taken over my make up which gave me my first surprise. Instead of the perfunctory 30 seconds in a British movie accompanied by a gasp of horror when you asked for your eyelashes to be darkened to spend half an hour being made screen presentable was a delight.

PF: ZOMBIE wasn’t your only foray into living dead films. How did your experience on ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST compare with working on Fulci’s film?

IM: ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST was a really silly movie but fun. Fabrizio de Angelis cleverly cashed in on the success of ZOMBIE with virtually the same plot, same locations and me. I liked the director. I am impressed by people who have had careers outside show business and he had been a fairly distinguished boxer. There can’t have been many film directors with the same qualifications. I also liked the idea of there being a statue of him at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. The film clearly had a smaller budget than ZOMBIE and sadly it shows but I presume it made a good deal of money for Fabrizio and I have only happy memories of making it.

PF: How was your experience working with Luigi Cozzi, another Chiller guest, on CONTAMINATION? Did you prefer acting in science fiction as opposed to horror? Why or why not?

IM: I have not seen any of my Italian films on screen. CONTAMINATION was as silly as ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST but when you consider all the problems getting a film from idea/script to finished article you have to give credit to the people behind it. Luigi was a lovely man to work for. Very generous and considerate. Far and away the most gentlemanly of the three. Sadly I was not asked to contribute to the DVDs of the film but I am looking forward to seeing him again in Parsippany. There is of course no difference to acting in either of the two genres. As I have frequently said the acting is not all that important in such films.

PF: As a citizen of the U.K., what is your opinion of the outcry during the video nasty era in the early 1980s? How do you feel about violence in films?

IM: In a strange quirk of fate my wife’s uncle sat on the committee which classified my three Italian films as video nasties. He told me they had just banned twenty or so. I told him I was in three of them. He looked at me reproachfully and said “ Ian, how could you?” I thought it was funny at the time but today writing this I am wondering why he did not know I was in them . Mindless violence is to be condemned. In films like ZOMBIE you expect it. I was upset by the countless deaths in "WHERE EAGLES DARE" where I played a German officer. Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton between them slaughtered what seemed like several divisions of the German Army.

PF: ZOMBIE has made you a cult figure in the United States. How does it feel to have that status?

IM: Needless to say I do not feel like a cult figure. However I am looking forward to seeing fans of the film at the convention.

PF: ZOMBIE is 30 years old. As you prepare to tour the convention circuit, starting with Chiller, what stand out about it for you now?

IM: When I was asked to be in "ZOMBIE" I thought it was a joke. It was after all April Fool’s Day. But it led to a year of filming in the States, the Caribbean and Italy and while it did not make me rich financially it enriched my life. Coming to Parsippany is part of that.

Silvia Collatina

PF: How did you first get to work with Lucio Fulci?

Silvia: In fact I do not remember my first contact with him, I just have a potpourri of images and scenes but I still remember my test. My agent told me there was a part in a horror movie and I didn’t think twice. … I had to play a scary child using all the features of my face, miming amazement and terror. Frankly speaking I do not remember my first contact with him.

PF: Fulci was known to be hard on his actresses, and I’ve heard also on his child actors. How did he treat you when you worked with him on HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY?

SC: He was very impulsive and spontaneous so, consequently, unpredictable. He wanted us to be very involved while acting and Lucio didn’t hold back from shouting at us if he was not satisfied with a scene. He had everything already fixed in his mind and thus was rather severe. The scene in which Mae cries in front of the display window where Anja Pieroni’s mock-up loses its head – because she was to die - tells a lot. I didn’t succeed in crying because to be honest I couldn’t care less about her death in reality so Lucio got so angry (just verbally) that I was very upset and I burst into tears (also after the scene). Anyway I was fascinated by his behavior: sometimes affectionate, even childish but also capable of being rude and very demanding, you had to create a close connection to him to understand his thought.

PF: You play the creepy, supernatural child in HOUSE, much like Damien in the OMEN films. From where did you draw inspiration for the character? What was your acting technique?

SC: Since very young I’ve always been fond of horror movies and that somewhat helped. When the production chose me I was very excited to take part in such a peculiar movie. I had no special technique to follow: my only inspiration was trying to get involved in my role; I really felt I was Mae trying to save Bob. I had this mission. I was real and unreal at the same time! Hanging between the past and the present. I felt totally at my ease playing such a character, Mae was me, and I was Mae!

PF: HOUSE is part of Fulci’s revered zombie trilogy. How does it feel to be part of such a well-loved work?

SC: It’s an honor having taken part in such a movie, which still represents a must, a cult movie for his genre. I did not know there were so many fans of this movie considering almost 30 years has passed! I think that people love this movie so much because it has lots of different successful elements mixed all together: the shots that focus on the actors’ eyes, closing up on peculiar details, the horror transmitted slowly but so violently to the public, the environment so grotesque as a whole, the pastel colors of the autumn, the mystery that enshrouds the movie…. And Dr. Freudstein… Everyone has been fascinated by him: in our collective imagination he is still alive, for ever living in that House and awaiting other victims, other fresh flesh…

PF: You worked with Fulci again on MURDEROCK. How did that experience compare with working on HOUSE? The shift from small town zombie flick to big city giallo must’ve been interesting.

SC: Decidedly two different locations and Mae and Molly are two different personages. I’d define them as two cameos even if they are not the main characters in their respective movies. Mae was free to appear everywhere, in very wide spaces, while Molly was anchored to her wheelchair in limited area. Working on MURDEROCK was perhaps a little more challenging, I’d say harder, because Molly had a strong personality. Owing to her handicap, she was a mean, spoiled and bored child, completely different from what I was (luckily!!). Mae on the other hand embodied the ethereal, the supernatural, a pure white energy. I feel very close to this character…

PF: You’re appearing at the Chiller Theatre convention with your co-star Giovanni Frezza. As you prepare to meet the fans, what stands out to you about HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and MURDEROCK now?

SC: Certainly, It will be unusual for both of us. I am very excited at the idea of meeting fans because I am fan of horror movies too and I am honored to shake the hands of other important guests I’ve always admired through television so I will be surely happy and very willing to welcome them of course. I think that people see Mae and Bob as a cult couple of horror movies, the saver and the saved. In the collective imagination they will be always together, immortal and eternally children in another dimension.

Michael Sopkiw

PF: What was it like being an action star during a time when Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were among the biggest names in all of film?

Michael: Sylvestre and who; Arnold? I know I've heard of these guys before; especially that Arnold one. Isn't he my governor? I think he's one of those guys who spent all the state's money while things were good without putting any aside for the rainy daze and now that it's pouring says he trying to work out a better budget now........ And that Sylvester; wasn't he one of the family Stone? Sure you got his last name right? Whomever they are, I can assure you it was not competitive. I counted my blessings being put into the position of "action star". It alters reality a bit, puts one into a different realm altogether and you just have to know what is real and enjoy the moments as you pass through them; giving your best throughout. Growing along with it but not losing yourself in it. My guess is that Sly & Arnold were in similar states but on a grander scale. They're still alive too right?

PF: You made two films directed by famed Italian Lamberto Bava. What were your experiences like working with him?

MS: Almost nothing but praises for Lamberto. He's a very compassionate guy; pretty much to be expected being Italian. That was my experience with most Italians. But he shows it in his everyday consideration and caring for both actors and crew. And he sure knew how to make a lot with a little. He was always quite accessible and gentle but seems to have had a bit of a penchant for blood. You noticed? I would love to speak with him now to find out a little bit more of what drove him.

PF: Your career was strictly an endeavor in exploitation films. How do you feel about your films, and the whole exploitative genre?

MS: Was? Is it over? I am just preparing myself for the best! OK; I have mixed feelings about the genre. On one hand exploitive anything has negative connotations. Something more original and popular is being ripped off. If the choice was mine to make I would have been doing Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford in DIRTY HARRY and BLADE RUNNER or something with a more original or intriguing story line. But the exploitation genre has the advantage of not having to take itself so seriously and therefore has a great deal of freedom. So it actually turns out that, in a big way, this genre suits me and I find some of it quite entertaining. Some more than others ......

PF: Which of your four films was your favorite? Why?

MS: That's a tough one. They were all a blast to work on. I suppose overall AFTER THE FALL OF NY would top the list as a fave film. I think it has the most memorable lines like "Cleaned up & disinfected she might be all right." I also think it has the best caliber of actors overall with Gigi, Vince, Romano, Gigetto, Valentine, et al. There were really some good performances there I think and some serious actors.

PF: Your post-film career took a turn toward science. Can you tell me about it? How would you compare it to a career as an action hero?

MS: WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO! Tina Turner. Not so sure she had it right but it's not an easy career to maintain. Necessity breeds ingenuity though and I needed to do something after figuring out that Tina seemed to be right by about 1989. So I started a couple of other ventures including the special violet glass I work with now. I am actually a distributor, not a scientist, although some scientific background is helpful due to the special properties of this particular glass. Most of the 5 semesters I spent in various schools after high school were math and science courses. The glass is an effective light filter, and extensive research has been done which wavelengths are filtered out and how much of which penetrate the glass. But it is their effects on the products stored in the glass which is most amazing. There is hardly any way I can see to compare the two careers other than we live in the same body through them. (Actually, I think I would have stayed in much better shape if I had the camera aimed at me more through the years....) So in short, I am fascinated by the glass and really believe the world is a better place with it in my honest opinion, but frankly, being an action hero had its perks!

PF: As you head toward meeting fans at Chiller Theatre, what kind of fan reaction do you get from fans of exploitation cinema nowadays?

MS: I think I only have about 6 and they are all more like friends. Well, one of them, and probably the biggest, is my mother, and she's less like a friend and more like a mother. But they're very supportive so like when things get tight and I need a little beer money, all I have to do is email and tons of cash comes in, which holds me over since I don't get any residuals from the Italians. At the same time they respect my privacy, which is great, because I wouldn't know how to handle more correspondence.


Meet these great guests at CHILLER on April 17th-19th. Full details HERE (or at the image below!)

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