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Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato on the Road to Excess (Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato Sullva Via Dell’eccesso)

Director - Manlio Gomarasca, Massimiliano Zanin - 2021

"Mostly clean movie"
More of a DVD supplement than a genuine film, horror and porn director Joe D'Amato is given a tribute that is only skin deep — live from Transylvania


In a strange moment of serendipity, I caught Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) the night before on my hotel television. It’s that weird mixture of boobs and gore that feels like it comes out of the imagination of a fourteen-year-old child, hitting me very definitely than when I was entranced by the movie as a teenager. But some directors never grow up, attracted to both eroticism and gore right until the very end.

It’s serendipitous because Eli Roth is also an executive producer and interview subject in Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato on the Road to Excess, a workmanlike documentary about the ultimate cinematic workhorse. Before his death in 1999, Joe D’Amato directed soft-core and hard-core porn, grotesque horror movies, adventure films and historical films; films for Italian cinema, films for foreign distributors and films in America starring big actors. He had his own production company and mentored others as well, making him the “Roger Corman” of Italy. All in all, he was involved in over 200 films, making him one of hardest working directors of all time, a man who made movies as if he was merely breathing.

He’s a fascinating character, his forays into the smartest risk-to-reward genres, telling typically low-budget porn and horror, making him worth of his own deep dive. We are treated to clips from his classic films, including mutilations, sexual violence, body horror, sacrilegious elements and lots and lots of topless ladies. In one of the few stylistic flourishes in the entire documentary, we are treated to rapid-fire montages of naked bodies in all their writhing, sexy glory, showing off just how far D’Amato was willing to push the boat out in the name of entertainment.

Despite all of this titillation, this film is oddly incurious. Only 70 minutes long, it feels made for television rather than the big screen. It’s curious how a director that made so many films wasn’t captured more often in archive footage, making me wonder if the team behind this didn’t do enough research or there simply wasn’t enough to go on. The same goes for the interview subjects, who are incredible knowledgable about distribution details or the technical details of filmmaking, but betray little emotion about the man himself. His daughter tearily tells us about how he was misrepresented as a mere porno director by the press, or how he put the house up as collateral so he could continue making movies, but the camera doesn’t linger, and we move on to more platitudes, reducing the emotional impact of the moment.

He is obviously a complex figure, but the complexity feels flattened by this tribute film, introduced by Nicolas Winding Refn. In one major misstep, we are told an actress tried to sue the crew of one of his films after she felt traumatised on set. This moment is basically treated as a joke by the men who remember it, who say it was all part of the way films were made back then. That might’ve been true, but a more interested documentary would embrace the different aspects of filmmaking back then, instead of just going down memory lane. If you’re just interested in a primer on a legendary filmmaker, then you’re in the right place. But there’s no genuine interrogation here, making for a flat experience. Horror and eroticism can benefit from a childlike perspective, but documentaries need to be far more grown up.

Inferno Rosso: Joe D’Amato on the Road to Excess plays as part of the Larger Than Life section at TIFF, running from 17th-26th June.

"Mostly clean movie"

By Redmond Bacon - 21-06-2022

By Redmond Bacon - 21-06-2022

Redmond’s tastes are pretty diverse – from the neglected cop classic Tango and Cash (Andrei Konchalovsky,1989) the lesbian drama Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998) to Scorsese’s best film:...

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