Eli Roth on Venice Doc Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato on the Road to Excess and His Passion For Emanuelle Star Laura Gemser

Eli Roth on Venice Doc Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato on the Road to Excess and His Passion For Emanuelle Star Laura Gemser

Eli Roth, who is known to have a passion for Italian B-movies, is at the Venice Film Festival to help promote biographical doc “Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato on the Road to Excess,” directed by Manlio Gomarasca and Massimiliano Zanin, in which Roth features as a talking head.

The doc, which premiered on the Lido as a special screening, sheds light on Aristide Massaccesi, known as Joe D’Amato, the under-the-radar producer, director and cinematographer who between the 1970s and the late 1990s spawned some 200 films in a wide range of genres spanning from spaghetti westerns to horror to erotic/exotic to porn. Roth spoke to Variety about what makes D’Amato stand out, including the fact that Indonesian-Dutch actress Laura Gemser starred in his “Emanuelle” franchise, not to be confused with the French “Emmanuelle” pics. Edited excerpts.

How did you discover Joe D’Amato and his films?

I first experienced a lot of these movies on cable TV and on video. But I didn’t understand the difference between budgets or film stocks. Part of that was that the Joe D’Amato movies, in particular the Laura Gemser ‘Emanuelle’ films, were all on Cinemax, or ‘Skinemax,’ as we called it. So they would have the Sylvia Kristel “Goodbye Emmanuelle” and then the 1 a.m. movie was “Emanuelle in Bangkok” (aka “Emanuelle Nera”). Now the main difference to us was one Emmanuelle had one m and the other had two. But the difference between the French ones and the Italian ones was also that we loved the Italian ones. I just knew that the ‘one m’ ones had Laura Gemser and the others had Sylvia Kristel!

D’Amato clearly knew how great Gemser was. The doc shows how, as soon as he saw her, he rushed to put her under contract. They made dozens of films.

I am really sorry that Gemser wasn’t in the doc. I hope she knows how great she was. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful and sensual and sexual. She was superb in these movies. 

Laura Gemser is really one of my favorite actors of all time. I think she’s probably one of the most beautiful; her and Monica Vitti. There are a handful that are the most beautiful iconic women ever to grace the screen, she’s up there for me. And I know that she gets dismissed because of the [B] movies she made.

But of course Joe D’Amato wasn’t just the ‘Emanuelle’ movies.

No. But I wasn’t seeking out D’Amato movies until DVD came along and I started realizing how much of his films I’d seen that he was involved in. It was probably after I made “Cabin Fever” that a lot of Joe D’Amato’s movies, like “Absurd” (aka “Rosso Sangue”) and “Antropophagus” surfaced for me. They were ‘video nasties’ and they were banned, so they hadn’t quite made it over into the VHS circuit in the U.S. But then the more I read about him, the more I realized: ‘he’s fascinating’! 

What fascinated you the most about him?

I have an obsession with cinema. But D’Amato takes that obsession to a whole new level. He lived it and breathed it. The only other director I can think of who is like that is Takashi Miike. Tarantino lives cinema and breathes it, but he doesn’t compulsively make cinema the way that Joe D’Amato and Takashi Miike do. One of the reasons I put Miike in “Hostel,” by the way, was just so I could see him and talk to him.

Are there films by Joe Damato that you have referenced in your films?

The closest is “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals.” When I made “The Green Inferno” I was making my entry into the cannibal horror canon and the Italian cannibal movies were very much considered bottom of the barrel by critics and even horror fans. They are a very specific taste, but I love them because they are completely gonzo. I have such admiration for the directors that just went into the jungle and got real, true natives that were living in the jungle, living in trees, to be in their movies. And the absolute insanity of doing that in service of a horror movie just has my utmost respect. 

I had forgotten about “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals,” I’d seen it years ago. But then it was actually Tarantino who pointed out that the arrival in the village in “Green Inferno,” that moment –– of these two cannibal films, the only other film that has that [chilling] moment, when the person realizes that they are being brought to ‘the village’ was “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals.”

So I wasn’t consciously doing it, but I would says that one comes the closest.

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