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D'Amato at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival
15 December 1936
|Died||23 January 1999
Joe D'Amato (birth name: Aristide Massaccesi) (15 December 1936 in Rome - 23 January 1999 in Rome) was a prolific Italian filmmaker who directed roughly 200 films, usually at the same time acting as producer and cinematographer, and sometimes providing the script as well. While D'Amato contributed to many different genres (such as the spaghetti western, the horror film, the war movie, the swashbuckler, the peplum, and the fantasy film), the majority of his films are exploitation-themed pornography, both soft and hardcore.
He is perhaps most well known for his horror film efforts, many of which went on to become cult movies (such as Anthropophagous and Beyond the Darkness), and for his hastily-produced remakes of popular American films (such as the Ator series, based upon the Conan the Barbarian films), some of which were featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000. The poor production value of many of his films, combined with his expressed lack of concern for the production quality of his films as long as they proved profitable, have led him to be labeled as "the Evil Ed Wood", despite D'Amato's apparently amiable nature.
D'Amato was familiar to the environment of cinema through his father who worked as an electrician at Cinecittà. He began his career in 1961 as camera operator (often working under cinematographer Franco Villa). Then, starting with Pelle di Bandito in 1969, he regularly worked as director of photography for directors such as Demofilo Fidani (Dead Men Don't Make Shadows, One Damned Day at Dawn… Django Meets Sartana!, A Barrel Full of Dollars), Alberto De Martino, Massimo Dallamano (What Have You Done to Solange?), Silvio Amadio, Mino Guerrini, and Michele Lupo (Ben and Charlie).
In 1972, D'Amato started directing his own movies whilst still continuing to work as cinematographer for other directors. His first directorial efforts include the spaghetti westerns Scansati... a Trinità arriva Eldorado and A Bounty Killer in Trinity, the decamerotic movies Novelle licenziose di vergini vogliose and More Sexy Canterbury Tales (The Last Decameron), the swashbuckler burlesque Fists, Pirates and Karate (starring Richard Harrison), the war movie Heroes in Hell (with Klaus Kinski), the sword and sandal movies The Arena (uncredited) and Livia, una vergine per l'impero romano (aka Diario di una vergine romana), the gothic giallo Death Smiles at a Murderer (starring Klaus Kinski and Ewa Aulin), and the western Cormack of the Mounties (with Fabio Testi and Lionel Stander, shot in Canada alongside Lucio Fulci's movie The Return of White Fang (on which D'Amato worked as second unit director).
In the latter 1970s, D'Amato tried to capitalize on the worldwide commercial success of the French softcore movie series Emmanuelle. His first attempt, Emanuelle's Revenge (a collaboration with Bruno Mattei) only referred to the French heroine by name. The next movie, Black Cobra Woman (aka Eva Nera), starring Jack Palance and Laura Gemser), already incorporated several plot elements from the French series. Laura Gemser had previously impersonated the character of Black Emanuelle in a film by Bitto Albertini. Under the direction of D'Amato (who had first cast her as a maid in his 1976 erotic comedy Vow of Chastity, Gemser continued the series with a total of five sequels (Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976), Emanuelle in America (1977), Emanuelle Around the World (1977), Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), and Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978)), a series which grew increasingly violent, including gang rape, zoophilia, cannibalism, and fake snuff film footage. (Some versions for the foreign market — especially in France — also contained hardcore sex scenes, which D'Amato claimed not to have directed himself.) Besides the Emanuelle movies, D'Amato also directed Ladies' Doctor (1977), a sexy satire on the Italian health care system starring Renzo Montagnani, the mercenary movie Tough to Kill (1978), made two erotic mondo movies (Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights and Sexy Night Report) again in collaboration with Bruno Mattei, and the sequel Sexy Night Report 2 on his own. At the end of the '70s, D'Amato directed The Pleasure Shop on 7th Avenue (which follows the Last House on the Left formula and, though essentially a softcore movie, contains in its uncut version, a brief scene of fellatio), and Images in a Convent (a nunsploitation movie containing a hardcore gang rape & fellatio scene).
In the early 1980s, D'Amato made some of his best known gore films such as Antropophagus (The Grim Reaper), Absurd (Rosso Sangue), and Buio Omega (Beyond the Darkness), for which he later gained cult status among horror film fans.
He then went into an early hardcore phase, starting out with a series of hard and soft porn movies shot around Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Some mix eroticism with horror movie themes like cannibalism (Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals, softcore, with Sirpa Lane), zombies (Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, hardcore, with Laura Gemser), voodoo Sex and Black Magic (a softcore movie starring Richard Harrison), and homicidal radioactive mutants (Porno Holocaust, hardcore). Less horrific are Black Sex (the first genuine Italian hardcore movie) and at the same time a weird melange of ghost story and cancer drama), Hard Sensation (another variation on the Last House on the Left model, also hardcore) and Paradiso Blu (a softcore Robinsonade starring Anna Bergman). Recurring stars of these movies were Mark Shannon, Lucia Ramirez, Dirce Funari, and Annj Goren.
Back in Italy, D'Amato mostly worked together with Claudio Bernabei on a number of obscure low-budget hardcore productions with titles like Super Hard Core, La voglia, Blue Erotic Climax, Le porno investigatrici, Stretta e Bagnata, Bocca Golosa, and Love in Hong Kong, for most of which they used the directorial pseudonym Alexandre Borsky. On his own, D'Amato directed the so-called Imperial Trilogy, starting with Caligula: The Untold Story (the sequel to Tinto Brass's Caligula) and concluding with the obscure low-budget follow-ups Messalina orgasmo imperiale and Una vergine per l'impero romano. Recurring stars of this period were Pauline Teutscher, Laura Levi, Mark Shannon (again), and Paolo Gramignano.
Around this time, D'Amato also started working as a producer, which eventually led to the founding of his own film company. From 1982 to 1994, Filmirage — as it was called — financed a total of 42 escapist non-hardcore genre entries: slashers, horror, and post-apocalyptic movies directed by Umberto Lenzi (La Casa 3 - Ghosthouse, Hitcher in the Dark), Claudio Fragasso (La Casa 5, Troll 2), Lucio Fulci (his last movie: Door into Silence), Michele Soavi (directorial debut: Stage Fright), and Luigi Montefiori (2020 Texas Gladiators), as well as a number of horror, fantasy, and softcore erotic movies directed by D'Amato himself, most notably three of the four Ator movies, the postapocalyptic film Endgame, the Dirty Dancing rip-off Dancing Is My Life (starring Valentine Demy), and the trilogy revolving around the fictional author Sarah Asproon (Eleven Days, Eleven Nights, Top Model, and Web of Desire, starring Jessica Moore and Kristine Rose). Cinzia Monreale (co-star of Buio Omega) came back to star in his mid-90s film Return From Death (Frankenstein 2000), one of D'Amato's last horror films.
In 1994, when Italian cinema was at a low point commercially, D'Amato returned to hardcore filmmaking. For his first handful of low-budget productions (mostly starring Luana Borgia), he again used the pseudonym Alexandre Borsky — before teaming up with Luca Damiano to co-direct, mostly uncredited, a number of higher-budgeted costume porn movies such as Aladdin X, Marco Polo, and Hamlet X.
Then, from 1995 until his death in early 1999, he mostly directed and produced movies on his own again, founding the production companies Butterfly Motion Pictures and Capital Film (with seat in Los Angeles). He transformed into hardcore pornography such diverse subject matter as the tragedies of William Shakespeare (Juliet & Romeo, Othello 2000, Anthony and Cleopatra), Greco-Roman mythology (Ulysses, Samson and Hercules in the Land of the Amazons, Olympus - Refuge of the Gods), Roman emperors (Caligula - The Devious Emperor, Nero, Messalina), the 1920s and 1930s in the U.S. (Gangland Bangers, Some Like It Hard, Rudy - The Valentino Story), the W.I.P. genre (Operation Sex, The Joy Club, Midnight Obsession), the western (Outlaws, Calamity Jane), and Swashbucklers (Selen the Girl from Treasure Island, Raiders, Lady in the Iron Mask). He also devised porn versions of successful movies, such as Anal Instinct (Basic Instinct), Dangerous (Damage), Eternal Desire (Highlander), Anal Paprika (Paprika), Robin Hood: Thief of Wives (Robin Hood: Men in Tights), and Anal Perversions of Lolita (Lolita).
D'Amato was one of the few porn directors who in the late 1990s continued to shoot on 35mm film (and not on video). In the last five years of his life, he directed almost 100 hardcore movies for the European video market. During this time, he also sought ways to finance non-hardcore movies with money earned from directing hardcore pornography, of which he grew tired at times. They were to be four: the erotic movies Provocation (1995) and Top Girl (1996), the erotic thriller The Hyena (1997), and the pirate adventure movie I predatori delle Antille (1998) starring Anita Rinaldi.
He had one son, Daniele Massaccesi, who started out by helping his father in the camera department and later moved to the United States where he entered into a lucrative career as a cameraman, working on such films as Cold Mountain, Hannibal, and Kingdom of Heaven.
D'Amato built many of his filmography's plots around strong female characters with a promiscuous tendency. A recurring theme in his movies is on-screen voyeurism scenarios, in which either a man or a woman watches a sexual act from a hiding place, often leading to sexual arousal and self-masturbation.
Until 1994, D'Amato's horror movies also contained graphic gore scenes, many of a cannibalistic nature. Most notorious in this respect are D'Amato's movies Anthropophagus, in which the monstrous protagonist devours a human fetus ripped from the womb of one of his victims and at the end of the movie gnaws on his own entrails, and Buio Omega, in which the protagonist bites into a human heart, but the theme already occurs in one of D'Amato's earlier films, Emanuelle e Françoise le sorelline (1975), which was an erotic thriller fantastique with a cannibalistic dinner scene. Besides that, cannibalism is only marginally present in Ator l'invincibile 2: The Blade Master and Endgame.
Attitude towards filmmaking
People who worked with D'Amato have repeatedly stated in interviews that he was a very kind man, on and off set.
D'Amato himself repeatedly said that he really enjoyed filmmaking, but that he was sometimes more concerned with making money than any kind of artistic merit his films might have had. His attitude could perhaps best be characterized with a line from his film Emanuelle's Revenge, spoken by a film producer playing a facsimile of D'Amato: "We're not making artsy-farty crap for intellectual faggots. We're out to make money!".
Technique and methods
D'Amato is renowned for having produced and directed many "knockoff" films - a common practice in the Italian film industry at the time - which D'Amato took to extremes, e.g. in the following cases:
- The idea of shooting a Black Emanuelle film as director featuring cannibalism came with the success of Ultimo mondo cannibale (aka Jungle Holocaust or Last Cannibal World) by Ruggero Deodato. Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (aka Trap Them and Kill Them) was released in 1977, the same year as Deodato's film, which was set in the Philippines, while D'Amato's plot unfolded in the Amazon Rainforest (the movie was actually shot in the Pontine Marshes).
- Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978) features the character named Madame Claude, an upper echelon procurer, following the success of The French Woman (1977).
- Images in a Convent (Immagini di un convento) (1979) followed Walerian Borowczyk's Behind Convent Walls (1977).
- In 1981, D'Amato released Caligula 2, which he marketed as the sequel to 1979's Caligula, even using similar poster art.
- Only months after the release of Conan the Barbarian in 1982, D'Amato wrote, directed, and released Ator the Invincible about a Scandinavian barbarian who goes on an epic quest against fantasy monsters to save his beloved. Two years later, when Conan the Destroyer was released, D'Amato quickly filmed and released Ator l'invincibile 2: The Blade Master, which, while closely resembling Conan, also contained several clips of other movies which D'Amato had stolen and inserted, among them Where Eagles Dare. Joe D'Amato wrote and directed only the first, second and fourth Ator movies in the 4-film series. The third film in the series, Ator 3: Iron Warrior was written and directed by Alfonso Brescia, not Joe D'Amato, and Joe D'Amato said in interviews that he never considered that film to be part of his Ator series. (D'Amato's final entry in the series was Ator 4: Quest for the Mighty Sword.) Years later, Ator l'invincibile 2: The Blade Master was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, mysteriously retitled "Cave Dwellers".
- Undici giorni, undici notti (Eleven Days, Eleven Nights) was released in 1986, just a few months after Adrian Lyne's 9½ Weeks.
- Following the success of Sex and Zen, D'Amato directed a series of films in the Philippines, disguised as Hong Kong productions in the period of 1993-1994. The film named China and Sex, D'Amato credited as "Robert Yip" is particularly significant. He later displayed the expertise he gained in shooting "Chinese films" with Marco Polo: La storia mai raccontata (1995), a pornographic film starring Rocco Siffredi and Tabatha Cash.
- He produced and directed several porn films that were rip offs of major Hollywood films.
- D'Amato also often bought stock shots, sometimes taken from other films, to insert them into his own as part of the narrative.
- Heroes in Hell (1973) starring Klaus Kinski
- Death Smiles at a Murderer (1973) starring Klaus Kinski & Ewa Aulin
- Emanuelle's Revenge (Emanuelle e Françoise le Sorelline) (1975)
- Emanuelle in Bangkok (Black Emanuelle 2) (1976)
- Emanuelle in America (1977)
- Emanuelle Around the World (1977)
- Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali) (1977) aka "Trap Them And Kill Them" (starring Laura Gemser)
- Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978)
- Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals (1978)
- Images in a Convent (Immagini di un Convento) (1979) aka Scenes From a Convent
- Beyond the Darkness (Buio Omega) (1979) aka "Buried Alive" (starring Cinzia Monreale)
- Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980) starring Laura Gemser & Luigi Montefiore
- Orgasmo Nero (Black Orgasm) (1980) aka Sex and Black Magic
- Antropophagus (1980) aka "The Grim Reaper", aka "Anthropophagus: The Beast", aka "Savage Island" (starring Tisa Farrow, Zora Kerova & Luigi Montefiore)
- Porno Holocaust (1981) starring Luigi Montefiore
- Absurd (1981) aka "Monster Hunter", aka "Anthropophagous 2", aka "Grim Reaper 2", aka "Zombie 6" (starring Luigi Montefiore)
- Caligula: The Untold Story (1981) (as David Hills)
- 2020 Texas Gladiators (1982) aka Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro (starring Sabrina Siani & Luigi Montefiore)
- Ator the Fighting Eagle (1983) aka "Ator, The Invincible" (starring Miles O'Keefe & Sabrina Siani)
- Endgame (1983) starring Luigi Montefiore & Al Cliver
- Blade Master (1985) aka Ator 2: Blademaster, aka "Cave Dwellers", aka "Ator l'invincibile 2" (starring Miles O'Keefe)
- Convent of Sinners (La Monaca del Peccato) (1986)
- Killing Birds (1987) aka "Raptors", aka "Zombie 5" (co-directed with Claudio Lattanzi); starring Robert Vaughn
- Quest for the Mighty Sword (1989) aka "Ator 4: Quest for the Mighty Sword"
- Deep Blood (1989) aka "Blood in the Abyss", aka "Squali" (co-directed with Raffaele Donato) unreleased in English dubbed format
- Troll 2 (1990) co-directed with Claudio Fragasso (D'Amato was uncredited)
- Return From Death (1992) aka "Frankenstein 2000" (starring Cinzia Monreale & Donald O'Brien)
- Troll 3 (1993)
Selected films as producer only
- Stage Fright (1987) aka Bloody Bird, aka Aquarius, aka Deliria; directed by Michele Soavi; written by Luigi Montefiore; starring John Morghen
- Ghosthouse (1988) aka La Casa 3, written & directed by Umberto Lenzi; starriung Lara Wendel & Donald O'Brien
- Witchery (1988) aka La Casa 4, aka Witchcraft; directed by Fabrizio Laurenti; starring Linda Blair & David Hasselhoff
- Hitcher in the Dark (1989) aka Fear in the Dark, directed by Umberto Lenzi; starring Joe Balogh
- La Casa 5: Beyond Darkness (1990) aka La Casa 5, (unreleased in USA); written & directed by Claudio Fragasso; (not to be confused with Joe D'Amato's "Beyond The Darkness/ Buio Omega")
- Troll 2 (1990) directed by Claudio Fragasso (but Joe D'Amato claimed he co-directed this film)
- The Door to Silence (1991) written & directed by Lucio Fulci; starring John Savage
The aliases of Aristide Massaccesi
D'Amato always took credit for his camerawork with his birth name Aristide Massaccesi until his late hardcore phase, when he started to use the pseudonym Frederiko Slonisko.
When first starting to work as a director, he chose to credit the producer or co-director instead because he wanted to avoid interference between his directorial work, of which he did not think much due to budget constraints, and his professional reputation as cinematographer. Around 1973, he started using directorial pseudonyms, the first being Michael Wotruba. The only movie which D'Amato as a director ever took credit for with his birth name was to be Death Smiles at a Murderer (1973); in an interview, D'Amato said he had felt comfortable with the reasonably high budget and the actors he had at his disposal.
In 1974, he first used the name Joe D'Amato as director on the Canadian spaghetti western Cormack of the Mounties, a name proposed by producer Ermanno Donati to resemble Italian American the Italian names of directors such as Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma and which became his better-known pseudonym.
During his lifetime, D'Amato worked under innumerable aliases. Because of this, it is on the one hand possible that there are still Joe D'Amato films which are in circulation, which he wrote or directed, but for which he used an as yet unattributed pseudonym. This seems especially likely for the years devoted to the production of hardcore pornography in the early 1980s and the second half of the 1990s. On the other hand, titles are easily wrongly attributed to D'Amato as long as they are directed by a lesser known director with only one or a few titles in his oeuvre who happened to work in the same genre as D'Amato and whose name is then misinterpreted as a pseudonym of Joe D'Amato. This is largely due to the lack of easily accessible documentation on most of these movies.
The following is a list of pseudonyms D'Amato is known to have used. The names which recur on a regular basis are highlighted in bold.
Anna Bergman, Raf Donato, Gerry Lively, and Romano Gastaldi are sometimes listed under pseudonyms as well. However, these were not mere names, but actual people involved in the production of the respective movies who for various reasons took the credit in D'Amato's stead, and thus should not be listed as pseudonyms, but allonyms. The same goes for D'Amato's use of the fictitious character-name Sarah Asproon. Contrary to popular belief, John Shadow is not a pseudonym for Massaccesi, but the real name of a British filmmaker once married to Ewa Aulin.
- "The New York Times". The New York Times.
- J.C. Maçek III (2012-06-15). "The Zombification Family Tree: Legacy of the Living Dead". PopMatters.
- Joe D'Amato at the Internet Movie Database
- Biography on (re)Search my Trash
- Interview with Joe D'Amato in 1998 on the E-Zine 'Project A'