Giannetto De Rossi (8 August 1942, Rome – 10 April 2021, Rome **due to a clerical error, which has since been rectified, on behalf of the hospital, the date of death was incorrectly reported as being 11th April when in fact it was 10th) tragically, has left us, as a result of the same plague that has cut short the lives of many. He leaves behind a mammoth filmography which, with roughly 163 films, contains plenty of contradictions and surprises and further outlines the career of a true independent, a bona fide iconoclast, and the third generation of a family to leave a lasting mark on the film industry, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Camillo De Rossi, considered by many historians Italy’s first make-up artist, and his father, Alberto De Rossi. Giannetto, however, will be the first De Rossi to delve deep into the world of practical special effects, and his legacy lives on in the work of one of his two daughters, Lorella. To truly put into perspective the incredibly multi-faceted career of this giant, let us briefly go through a handful of the many diverse directors he has worked with:

Lucio Fulci: His meeting with Lucio Fulci will reveal itself decisive in Giannetto’s career. Their first collaboration together dates back to 1964 and the satirically black episodic comedy I maniaci (The Maniacs), for which he was responsible for the aging effect of Raimondo Vianell, and “for a whole array of fake beards and moustaches.” In 1972 De Rossi created the make-up for All’onorevole piacciono le donne (The Eroticist) starring Lando Buzzanca, who was made up by De Rossi to look like the then-Prime Minister and exponent of the Christian Democrats, Emilio Colombo. “I think the genius of Fulci is best exemplified in …e tu vivrai nel terrore. L’aldilà! (The Beyond, 1981) because the script was nothing, a pile of incoherent mumbo jumbo that Lucio was able to transform into an all-around refined film. The only thing I feel I have to ask forgiveness for are the clunky spiders.”

Joe D’Amato: In Emanuelle in America (1976) by D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi), Giannetto is responsible for the long and infamous “snuff sequence” discovered by the protagonist (involving several bloody flagellations, a sliced ​​breast, acid effects, and incandescent awls applied to the victims ' bodies) which was so realistic that it was mistaken as real and contributed to the urban legends surrounding the actual existence of snuff movies. “For many years I denied having done that, and to be honest I don’t know why. It’s good, isn’t it? Not the film, I mean my work on the film”.

Randall Wallace: “That was a fun film to work on, The Man in the Iron Mask (1998). I met with Gerard (Depardieu) after so many years, and the cast was wonderful. Leonardo Di Caprio was coming off the massive success of Titanic (1997) and I guess was rather spoiled but ultimately a nice guy. I created and designed the actual mask for that film, and at the end of principal photography Di Caprio asked me for the original prototype I had made; he wanted to keep it as a souvenir. ‘Sorry my friend, I promised it to one of my daughters.’ I love to shoot some of the Hollywood actors down.”

Peter MacDonald: “The real director of Rambo III (1989) is Stallone. I imagine most people know this, but MacDonald was more of a directing collaborator or technical consultant, but the actual director, no doubt that was Stallone.”

Sergio Leone: “Sergio was a genius. No director has ever analyzed my work as meticulously as he did. We had one meeting just to discuss the color of Claudia Cardinale’s eyeliner and every little choice he made is up on the screen. When she appears in that crane shot of C’era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968): that is what cinema is supposed to look like.”

With Giannetto’s death I lose a dear friend, someone with whom I shared many evenings and dinners, long conversations, and lots of laughter. He was truly humbled by people’s love and admiration for his body of work. The last time I talked to him on the phone he told me the big screen was never going to recover from this chapter of history we are still going through. Only the big screen can generate figures like Giannetto, so, whoever and wherever you are, if you can, go to your local cinema theatre. And if you can’t, watch one of the films from Giannetto’s diverse and amazing career. He deserved it, and so do you. E.E

Let’s start simple: how did you begin your career in films?

I come from two generations of make-up artists; first, there was my grandfather, Camillo, followed by my father, Alberto, and finally I come on the scene. Initially I didn’t want to work in this business; I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to follow in my relatives’ footsteps. However, a series of minor events supervened… I hated Latin so I looked for a school that didn’t teach it, which led me to try to pursue a fine arts degree without really knowing if I was able to draw or not. I soon discovered I could after being admitted. At that time my father was working on modest little indie productions (he laughs gleefully)…like Il gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963) or The Bible (1966). Once he realized I had it in me, he asked me to join him, and from the very early sixties onwards I was always on his team. To be honest right at the beginning I didn’t like it: “What kind of job is this?” I would ask myself, “Wiping the sweat off actors…” I could only see the superficial aspects of the trade. Then, on Cleopatra (1963) I was responsible for doing Elizabeth Taylor’s eye make-up throughout the film, but most importantly I was made responsible for the sequence in which she is surrounded by the “marble men” and all the colourful midgets. That’s the moment in which I realized there was more to it than sweat and lipstick: overnight it had become pictorial artistic expression.

That’s when I became enthusiastic, and from that moment onwards I tried to raise the bar, taking greater risks and actually putting an effort in. I began relentlessly working at the greatest pace I could sustain. You see, I’m adrenaline-powered; I can’t stop a moment. I have never taken a drug in my life, because I think I’d die instantly… I would explode in a bloody geyser. I remember Lucio Fulci once looked at me after a complicated scene and goes, “Still excited?” I touched my heart and it was going a mile a minute. It may seem incredible but I managed in time to control my adrenaline. The day before a complicated effect I wouldn’t sleep or eat anything. I would tell myself, “You can’t fall to pieces,” but then two hours before getting started, once on set, the adrenaline would kick in and with it my capacity to remain focused and concentrated. At that time we would work sixteen hours a day. Those who watched me at work thought I was mad because I was going at 200km an hour. Anyway, my priority in this line of work has always been the search for some kind of truth, however difficult the sequence. I have always tried to create the effect directly on the actor, so no dummies, no inserts, and this isn’t easy; it’s fucking crazy in fact. I once managed to do an effect nobody believed I could pull off, myself included: a hog’s tooth had to enter the mouth of an actress and come out of her cheek in one shot. I did it using the actual performer, creating a second cheek and moving the tooth myself. The result was great! Nobody believed it possible and to be able to do that successfully was really emotional. I would go and watch films and think of all the tricks and effects I would one day want to do. Actually, I still do that. I’m not sure if that’s sad or inspiring at my age.

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you go back to your teenage years, growing up in the industry?

Just observing my parents at work… Well, the first image that comes to mind is at Cinecittà, while they were working on War and Peace (1955), and me walking through the Red Square surrounded by fake snow. I was a kid. I was born in 1942, so I was thirteen at the time and I would observe these wonderful sets that seemed to me more real than reality. At that time things were done on a scale that is now unimaginable: production designers, grips, and technicians were monstrous at their job. There was great enthusiasm, but it all began with me first going “yuck” and then discovering this world by experiencing my parents, later on, working at such high a level… I mean, generally we had marvellous technicians and artisans at that time. The Americans had many advantages over us poor devils, but we learnt as much as possible and later on did things like The Leopard. My father used to tell me: “I will never have your creativity but you will never be able to put a fake beard on like I do.”

For so many you are remembered for your zombies…

Yes, I was about to say… for example, when I did Zombi 2 (Zombie, a.k.a. Zombie Felsh Eaters, 1979), for which it seems I did God-knows-what, I discovered the Holy Grail… Well, they wanted to do a copy of Romero’s film, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Now, let’s be honest… Fulci was coming from a difficult period, work-wise… When I read the script I said, “We can’t compete with Romero, we should focus everything on the zombies and the special effects.” Of course, I didn’t fully realize what I was getting into.

The thing is, if you have to create ten zombies per se, you get ten actors and you take moulds of their faces, after which you create prosthetics with the material of your choice. But they weren’t going to give me ten people for the whole period; being a low-budget production they would just pick who they could get, possibly the day they were needed itself. So, I had this idea of using red clay and created the make-up effects on the spot. I would get a gentleman, sit him in front of me and deform everything: his nose, ears, his whole face. Like facial sculpting. Poor things, these extras would go around like this all day and in the evening take a 45-minute shower to get all this red shit off. I literally had one assistant on that so the workload was massive.

When you get to Zombie, you had actually already worked with Fulci.

Yes, with Fulci I had already made All’onorevole piacciono le donne (The Eroticist, 1972) and before that I maniaci (The Maniacs, 1964). The Eroticist was fun to make. The whole erotic dream sequence was drawn and conceived by me and believe it or not it took some convincing to get Lucio to embrace it fully. I have always been very meticulous, the reason for which some directors couldn’t stand me, but if I had an idea that I thought was good, I would go up to the director and tell him so, because I’ve always felt part of a process. I’m a pebble among all the various pebbles that make up a film crew and I wanted to render my pebble as appealing and shiny as possible so that the director could place and use it as he saw fit. This is a film for me. If I have an idea I have to tell you, which doesn’t mean you have to follow it but I need to tell you regardless; if not, I suffer (he laughs). Fulci was a very gracious person, intelligent. He approached the horror genre as if it was a “normal” film. In this country horror is a rude word; it’s undignified cinema. But not for him. He was serious about his craft and he liked what I did for him because we were both a bit crazy. We both liked complicating our lives and I think we did some nice little things together.

Give me your portrait of him.

He always had his pipe in his pocket and every time he put his hand in it, half a kilo of ash would fall out. He was stupendous in his lunacy but a real intellectual. At one point, he started calling me Wojtyla, and whenever I arrived on the set he would go, “Here’s Pope Wojtyla with his cortege.” He was extremely funny, expected the best from everyone involved and sometimes more. I would often go to him and express my ideas. Forty times out of fifty he would follow my suggestions. He wasn’t a director that felt superior to everyone, you know, “I’m the director and you are simple peasants.” One evening, during the production of Zombie – we were still shooting interiors in Rome – he asked me when he could come over to my place for dinner, because he knew my wife, who worked on hair with me, was a fabulous cook. So we invited him, I believe it was a Saturday and he was supposed to be at our place at 20:00. At that time this area where I lived, Casal Palocco, was difficult to find. Anyway, by 21:30 he hadn’t shown up. We just figured he’d forgotten, and we started eating. At 22:00 the bell rings and it was Lucio: “I’m here, a little late but I’m here.” What had happened? He couldn’t find his way so he’d hitched a ride from a municipal bus. He stopped a public bus and got himself dropped off in front of our house. That was Lucio.

How are special effects and the artists who create them perceived in Italy?

Italian superficiality is notorious and not only regarding special effects. From a certain moment onwards in my career I stopped working on films that didn’t take my work seriously or put me in the condition of working at the best of my abilities. For example, at one point a film based on Tex Willer entered pre-production, directed by Duccio Tessari (Tex e il signore degli abissi (Tex and the Lord of the Deep), 1985). Duccio called me up and told me, “I want to do this film the American way, with big effects…” “OK.” So I go to meet the producer who was in his office. When I go in he’s on the phone, and so I wait sitting in front of his desk, when at one point I hear him say, to this person with whom he was speaking, “What?!... They want coffee as well? Have we gone mad? Nooo.” There and then I realized that it wasn’t the right film for me. He hung up, and I presented myself, “Hello, I’m Giannetto. I came here to meet you but now I’m leaving…” “Why? We haven’t spoken yet.” “You see, for the love of Duccio, who’s a person I feel great esteem for, I could reduce the costs to the minimum, but I know that you’ll still go, ‘Are you crazy?’” “De Rossi, what are you saying? Are you crazy?” “You see!”

Going back to Zombie, tell me about how the “eye scene.”

Now, the eye moment was difficult to come up with. Initially, everything you see in the film, the hand crashing through the door, for example, wasn’t there… What was in the script was pretty vague and something much more banal, so I told Lucio I would come up with something different and new. When I exposed my idea he liked it but realized that each shot had to be conceived to favour the special effects, so he told me to direct it myself. The hand you see in the close-ups is mine, and I’m also the one handling the spike. I managed to establish the shot in such a way that you can mainly see the white part of the eye, which then gets squished. It is made of “mortician’s wax” filled with egg, because there wouldn’t be much blood pouring out of a punctured eye. Regarding the zombies, I have a nice anecdote: Ottaviano (Dell’Acqua) had to emerge from beneath the soil, and I had put a bunch of worms on some hooks hidden in the clay mould, a few on his eye, others near his mouth… At one point, as we were shooting the scene, one of these worms frees itself and heads for one of his nostrils. I caught it in the nick of time. Those suckers look for humidity and God knows where it would have ended up. It would have been a tragedy. Ottaviano’s eyes had been shut so he couldn’t see a fucking thing; realizing something was going on he got panicky: “What’s happening for fuck’s sake?!” “Nothing, just relax.” All this happened as we were shooting. I interrupted the scene to go and pull this worm away. Lucio gets all mad: “Giannetto what are you doing!?” I tell him. “Sooo? It’s just Dell’Acqua!”

Before we continue, let’s just say it once and for all, you have nothing to do with Gino De Rossi.

Gino, also known as Bombardone, did special effects as well, but he has nothing to do with me. He’s very sweet though… Once, as he was hammering at something, he broke one of his own teeth. Gino…is Bombardone: he’s a big boy who likes blowing things up. He’s a nice guy though. I never realized there was this confusion until the advent of the internet, or actually, when I started using it a little…

Tell me a bit about your collaboration with Bernardo Bertolucci.

I remember that Bernardo (Bertolucci) once wanted to shoot me. He had come to New York to ask me to work on La luna (Luna, 1979) and I initially accepted, because I adored Bernardo. But then what happened? I was offered three period-piece TV movies and I chose those over his film. He never fully forgave me. Sometimes he would still call me, I also declined The Sheltering Sky (1990), for example, for similar reasons. I’m tied to projects rather than people, if you know what I mean. All that said though, my most beautiful experience in cinema was with Bernardo, on Novecento (1900, 1976). We were three kids: Bertolucci was 34, Storaro 33, and I was 32, and we were inventing our way of making cinema. I recall that after working seven months, Bernardo took me aside and as we strolled he said, “Giannetto, today I don’t know what to do.” “What?” “I don’t know what to do today.” “Look, it’s been seven months now that you‘ve been creating scenes, each more beautiful than the next. You don’t know what to do? Thank God you don’t; it’s actually reassuring to know you have doubts, proves you’re human too.” The thing I’m most proud of in that film is the aging make-up of Burt Lancaster. He hated the process and the last day he went, “Giannetto, I hate make-up.” “You were very good then!”

Then other things as well, maybe more normal, like the aging of Bob De Niro and Gerard Depardieu, who was a wonderful, glorious madman. That fatso is nothing less than extraordinary in his exploding humanity. Robert De Niro less so…because…you know… he’s an asshole… Oops, it slipped. Cut that, remove it. No, I’m kidding, don’t remove anything. After all, he is an asshole. On that film I also remember the cutting of the ear, which is one of the best things I’ve done. You know how that came to be? Bernardo calls me and describes the scene: the landowner goes to the workers and tells them that they will have to make sacrifices. The farmer takes a knife, cuts off his ear, and hands it to him. “Wow, beautiful! Who did you choose?” “That one.” This man had jug-ears and short hair so there was no way of hiding a prosthetic. So I asked him if we could do it as an insert and he said yes, but he wanted it at dusk with all the actors around him and with dialogue. The first time he let the ear fall, because not being an actor he couldn’t rip it off properly. All this with the sun setting. Four times I had to stick it back on, in the space of twelve minutes. In the end it turned out perfect.

You were telling me before that often people who interview you are shocked by the diversity in your filmography.

I can say that I’m proud of having worked on films like The Taming of the Shrew (1967), C’era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968) Casanova di Federico Fellini (Fellini’s Casanova, 1976) but I’m equally proud of having made Zombie. That film was amazingly successful and a big goal for Italian cinema; it was a box office hit for three weeks running in the States. All the films I’ve done are the same for me. All of them. Thank God, working with my wife, we never had to worry about putting food on the table, and I’m not an accumulator, prolific at times but always remaining selective. When I chose a film it is the best film in the world to me, be it The Leopard or Zombie. Exterior perceptions relating to genre or to the intelligentsia of film critics is something I have never taken into account. Out of all the films I’ve made with Fulci, Zombie is definitely the one I’ve felt more intensely, because it was the first time doing something totally different. I was worried throughout production that I could mess things up so it’s an experience that’s stuck with me. On that we really established a connection, me and Lucio, even if he was an intellectual and I’m a little rougher.

You are also very well remembered for Apocalypse domani (Cannibal Apocalypse, 1980) but you told me you never actually worked on it.

I’ve never worked with Antonio Margheriti. I know many say this, but I didn’t work with him. He called me up, asked me to do a quick ageing effect. At the time it was done using lights: you would have it very strong on the actor’s face, and then once removed you saw him properly. Something vomit inducing. Margheriti spoke as if he knew everything. I had a discussion with him and refused the work, said bye and left. I did a film with John Saxon, maybe it’s this one, I don’t remember. I left whatever it was immediately. I fought with Margheriti and as far as my memory is concerned, I didn’t do it. Seeing I’m very old… But no, I’m pretty sure…

On which film did you start dealing more with special effects? I mean, on which project did you begin transitioning from make-up to more complex effects?

That would have to be Waterloo (1970). I started with my father, then he went off and left everything in my hands. He was sly; he would prepare everything and then leave me to it, and Waterloo wasn’t exactly a TV spot. There was a scene in which one of Wellington’s officers, on horseback, asks him if he can leave: “Why?” “Because I’m losing a leg.” “Granted.” And he had this busted knee, which was fun to do. If there was something different I would be happy, and if it wasn’t in the script and I could conceive it, even better. So, on Waterloo I started having fun and experimenting with broken limbs and bloody war gashes. That film was an ideal context in which to do that because the film was made on such an extraordinary budget that I had the manpower and time to make mistakes. It served me very well for situations later on in my career. On Zombie I did everything on the first take. Only on one occasion we had to repeat it, and it was my fault. The most difficult thing to do with effects is being the devil’s advocate of your own work. You have to think everything through: “How should I do it? What material should I use?” The scene was of a girl getting her throat ripped out by the bite of a zombie, and I did something silly. I covered up the wound with a veil of “dool”. The teeth slipped on it and nothing happened. There I was an idiot: I should have known.

We’ve mentioned 1900, which has some incredibly graphic special effects. 

The scene in which the kid gets taken by the ankles and swung ­– that was me by the way – and I had to reason well… In a centrifuge everything detaches, so I had to be careful. I cut the head slightly under the hair; I made the cranium out of chalk, and inside the body I placed a small tank with a tube reaching the neck and a litre and a half of blood in it, which is a lot, believe me. On top of the chalk head a sectioned wig because it would have been ridiculous to see a whole set of hair fly off. At impact it needed to disintegrate. Remaining on 1900, another anecdote comes to mind… There was Maria Monti who played the mother of Gerard, the character of Olmo (played by Gerard Depardieu), who we see giving birth. Bernardo asked me if we could see the baby coming out: “Ah Bernà, aren’t we shooting the day after tomorrow?” “Yes.”  “What am I, God that impregnates her and makes her give birth?” Finally, we decide what to do, and I created this huge nine-month belly. The funny thing was that she couldn’t bend over because it was one piece of prosthetics, a little bit like a hard tent covering her torso. Furthermore, I had put a billion hairs to cover the attachments. The grips would stop and stare and Maria Monti would plead, “Giannetto, come on tell them they aren’t mine!”

How is it working with Americans?

They are terribly precise. They can fire you at any moment and give you three days’ notice, but otherwise they give you everything you ask for; whatever you need as long as you get cracking. I’ve always got along fine with them. I remember at the first important meeting, which was for the film Dune (1984) as we were all sitting around the table, I started counting the Oscars won by everybody present, 18 or 19, and I thought, “Great, what am I doing here?” Then they started talking and they were like children. They are very naïf but strong as well, like an army of intelligent babies. Whenever they had to decide something, they would talk about it for hours, whereas we Italians would probably take four minutes. Italians are geniuses, but we don’t know it. When it comes to taste, sensitivity, improvisation, in the best sense possible, imagination, we are unbeatable: there is no competition. So with them, being as they are, it’s easy game for us.

On Dune that lovely scoundrel, Raffaella De Laurentiis… There was this scene with one of the huge sand worms, and it had to be opened up with something like a trident. David (Lynch) wanted to be able to see green slime coming out and the tendons moving around, and Carlo Rambaldi, who was responsible for the big “navigator”, and Keith Wells, special effects on Indiana Jones, couldn’t find a quick and effective enough solution. I was hanging around, because I like observing these situations. So, Raffaella who had noticed me listening in, goes, “Giannetto, can it be done?”  They thought it would take a month to do. I go, “Yes, it’s bullshit.” “What?” “Yes, when do you need it for?” “We have to shoot in three days.” “Fine, even the day after tomorrow.” They looked at me as if I was an idiot, but it was really quite simple. I built a section of the worm using just clay, cotton, latex, and tubes filled with a green substance. No problem, the Italian way. Rambaldi hated me from that day onwards. On that film they even burnt Jurgen Prochnow, and I had warned them. Basically, from his face this yellowish smoke had to come out, which was scorching hot. He had a prosthetic and a fake beard. I asked Keith how much it would take for this vapour to reach his cheek. Six seconds he tells me. “It’s important,” I say, “Because I have to be ready to take everything off. It’s boiling.” “Don’t worry.” Ready. Action. In one second it had already reached his face. I ran in and ripped his fake cheek off but it had already burnt him.

I know you didn’t get along much with Rambaldi.

Carlo (Rambaldi) was an intelligent person, who tried to resolve problems a certain way and tried to do his best. When he did the first King Kong (1976) he was helped by a young genius called Rick Baker. Even if young, Baker was still a prodigy, and for me the best special effects artist of all time. Carlo tried to do some interesting things, but if you look at them closely you notice that they are, most of the time, superficially conceived. The navigator and the newborn in Dune, I did those just as much as he did, because I ended up having to solve his mistakes and carelessness. I always ended up being forced into doing these things by Raffaella. For example, on Dragonheart (1996), the inside of the dragon’s mouth seemed like a muppet. I was stuck for two days trying to make it seem like a real mouth. Of course I did it for free because Raffaella never paid me for these extra things. She knew that I liked doing them and counted on my work ethics. Let’s say I‘ve been a young enthusiast until yesterday, for my entire life. Anyway, to answer your question; Carlo was an ideas man and an excellent conceptual designer, but not a great special effects technician.

Even in more recent years you have always challenged yourself.

Yes. The hardest was definitely Whatever Happened to Monday (a.k.a. Seven Sisters, 2017). That was a difficult film to do, and to do with a sense of truth, because I had eight characters played by the same actress and I had to be careful not to make caricatures out of them. That was very stressful, and in fact soon after I had a heart-attack... That virtually ended my career.

Going back in time, but not too much, let’s talk a little about your rapport and collaboration with Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone is an incredibly intelligent person, incredibly spoiled, but a wonderful filmmaker. He could have done even more, if he hadn’t surrounded himself with “yes-men”. I wasn’t one of them. Our relationship began when I was called to go to Hollywood to meet him. I don’t know who had spoken to him about me, but it had always been a dream of mine to receive a telephone call from Hollywood. I went to the studios; there was the “Stallone Building”, his own building. The appointment was at, let’s say, 10, and at 11 I was still waiting. I go up, enter his office, and he was sitting on a sofa at the far end of the room. He looked like Mussolini preparing for a speech. “Sit down,” and I did. The first thing he told me was, “You know everything about me and I know nothing about you. Tell me something.” I thought to myself, “Look at this pompous idiot. Fine, I will play his game”: “I did 145 films, where shall I start?” “Tell me one.” OK, now I wanted to see his culture in cinema: “Casanova by Fellini. Who did Donald Sutherland’s make-up? Me.” “Ah, OK, tell me another.” “Dune by David Lynch. Who made up the Baron? Me.” “Fine, that’s enough.” So, he goes: “What did you think of the script?” “Well, it’s a Rambo film, but there is one thing I don’t like.” It’s my damn habit of always saying what I think. His secretary and bodyguard went rigid like corpses. I had forgotten that he had written the script. He goes all serious: “What is it you don’t like?” “In the first film you stitch your own arm and in this one the Afghan medicates you? That isn’t Rambo; he does everything on his own.” He goes silent, then says, “What would you do?” “After having saved the child and getting nearly blasted away by a bomb you manage to reach the caves with a spike in your side. Then they leave you alone there and you pull out the spike and cauterize the wound with gun-powder.” I swear I came up with it there and then. He goes, “Wonderful!” and in fact he wrote it in and it’s in the film.

After this meeting I thought I had broken the ice but actually on set, during the first ten days he hardly acknowledged me. “There we go!” My tactic was to stare at him in the eyes twelve hours a day. Whenever he would turn around there I was. All very tiring. There was a scene in which he was in these fake sewers. No space to move, and I looked like a Christmas tree loaded with containers full of sweat and blood. I prepare him, apply the sweat, and he asks for a handkerchief because a drop of sweat had ended up on his nose. I look around: “No, we don’t have one.” So I rip off my shirt and use it to clean him. He starts shouting, “This is how you do cinema!” From that moment onwards he would consult me about shots or how he should play the scene. It seems incredible but I had become his director practically. Immediately after, they offered me Tango & Cash (1989). I said yes, right until the end, and then pulled out, because I don’t fixate on actors, even if they are Stallone. So we said goodbye, he gave me the Rambo special forces pin.... (he laughs) What a wonderful dickhead. After having left his building soon after the bodyguard came back running after me and told me, “He said you did well not to accept: ‘I’m not enough food for Giannetto’s brain.’” How wonderful is that? We met again with Daylight (1996) directed by Rob Cohen, with whom I had made Dragonheart. A film made with a lot of effort at Cinecittà. The whole tunnel was built there in scale and made very well. As soon as he saw me he hugged and kissed me. It was the 25th anniversary of Rocky, so he asked me if I could make a sculpture with his arms crossed, one with a glove and one with the bandages. I did it for him as homage, as a gift. He gave me two jackets from his restaurants for my kids. There was great affection between us. Working with him was always very tiring.

Any fights on set?

I had two fights with him; one was particularly ugly. The effect of him pulling out the spike from his side we did in a master shot, because I don’t like working with inserts. So in pre-production we met in my lab: “OK Sly, you have to find a position you like which cannot change, because I have to take a mould, and the exact form; he was skin and muscle so I had to be very careful. Finally, we find a position with him slightly leaning forward. “You like it?” “Yes, fine.” I actually had two moulds: one in which to put the spike and the other was his skin covering everything up.  It was all very hard and rigid because he was really hard; he had nothing soft to be able to shape. I prepare everything and… Fast forward weeks, we are on set, on location, in a fucking cave in the desert, we are ready to shoot, and he tells me he’s changed his mind. “Oh God…” I think. “What’s wrong?” “I don’t like that position,” and he straightens a bit. “But I made the mould with you leaning forward.” “Yes, but I don’t like it anymore.” “OK,” I tell him, “Now we both go into the cave alone, find your position, and don’t move. I’ll try and prepare you on the spot hoping that, with a miracle, everything sticks.” It took me two hours and fifteen minutes with the whole crew watching and with this arrow that kept jutting out. Snap… It popped out. I would have liked to kill him. I used all the glues known to mankind, and finally we managed to keep it attached long enough to get the shot. If you see it in the film, it’s quite a nice little effect. Once we’d reached the trailer to remove the make-up I go, “Listen asshole I’m leaving.” “Leaving? Why?” “Because you made me look like a fool out there. You on the ground and me, for two hours, trying to glue everything on you. They will think I’m an amateur, when it was all your fault.” “So? Let’s do this: I will change the whole crew.” “What?” “Yes, I will replace the whole crew so you can stay.” I couldn’t help but smile. Such a dickhead, but an intelligent one.

Forgive me but we do have talk about the Killer Crocodile (1989, 1990) films.

Well I was the director of the second film and did the special effects on both. I directed the sequel because Fabrizio De Angelis pushed me to do it, but I wasn’t exactly filled with the flame of passion and art. The crocodile is what it is, what we Italians could do without money. The mouth could barely open. The nice little thing is the creature’s face. The muzzle, I must say, came out well. All considered it came out OK. Visually it’s quite functional and effective but you know it’s… When people ask me: “Giannetto, what do you think of the films you’ve made as a director?” I did two absolutely shitty films, especially I must say, considering I’ve always had good taste. I didn’t do them because I wanted to become a director but simply to give a helping hand, so I did these ignoble things. I mean, don’t get me wrong, De Angelis is a son of a bitch, the only reasons he pleaded me to direct is that he knew he could save money on the FX and make-up department. He knew that despite not being a director I was proficient enough technically to pull it off and while doing so I could even take care of all the problematics tied to the effects. This goes for Killer Crocodile 2… Even the other one, Cyborg – il guerriero d’acciaio (Cy Warrior, 1989) is the same. They would sell these films abroad spending as little as possible, trying to grab a bit of money. Fabrizio was smart, gifted with a sly intelligence. I used to call him “the Cobra”. He had his career, did what he wanted. It’s not the kind of career I envision or ever wanted within cinema but… The passion for cinema wasn’t as strong there. He did want he felt like doing…

  • Eugenio Ercolani
    About the Author - Eugenio Ercolani

    Eugenio Ercolani is a film historian and leading expert on Italian genre cinema. He has worked for a number of monthly magazines and websites and is the author of Darkening the Italian Screen (McFarland) and Cruising (Auteur Publishing/Liverpool University Press). Ercolani is responsible for dozens of featurettes and other special content for numerous home video labels, both American and European. He lives between Rome and London.