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Nico Mastorakis

Director - "Island of Death", "The Wind"
Interview by: 
Head Cheeze

HV: Hey Nico! Welcome to the Horrorview Interview! First off, we'd like to express our gratitude for taking the time out to talk to the folks here!

My pleasure. It's always nice to be able to mess with people's minds, especially those who have such an unsettled, non-compromised mind and they love horror and suspense. I mean that, as it bores me to death to know that more and more people every day, sing the "Logical song" and exorcise everything original, unique and iconoclastic. Horror fans are not warped, as the hypocritical middle class likes to label them. They are seekers of a different kind of horror, in a world full of everyday horrors which, unfortunately, are disguised under the pretences of government dogmas and sociological pseudo-rules.

As a fan of your work, I am amazed by the fact that you seem to jump effortlessly from one genre to the next. From Hitchcockian thrillers to absolute balls-out action films and raunchy comedies, you've seemingly covered the "guy-film" niche'. Is there one genre you feel particularly at home in?

I'm at home with movies, my true niche is definitely suspense thrillers. From time to time, I strayed to comedy and action, but this is almost like cheating on your attractive wife, because you can get a quickie here and there. I know now that if there was to be one cuisine in the world, I'd choose Italian and if there was to be one genre of movies, I'd choose thrillers.

Early in your career you made a film called Island of Death. It was one of the most controversial films of it's time, yet it was critically and commercially embraced even as it was being banned worldwide. What do you think the public consensus was at that time that made Island of Death such a hit and made it one of the most sought after cult films all these years later?

The best way to make a piece of crap "in demand", is to censor it and ban it. I'm an avid fan of censors: They have such a fucked-up brain, that I consider them endangered species. I was blessed by the censors around the world who made "Island" a "cult" movie, simply because they either banned it or blasted it. Of course, when "Island" was first shown to the public, it was the seventies. The movie had a kind of crude, unbearable honesty about issues which were only discussed behind closed doors at the time. Bestiality? Does it really exist? They hypocritically asked themselves and each other. "Oh, come on" I answered. "Ask any villager about his daily sex with the goats and he'll tell you". "Island" (also titled "Island Of Perversion" in its early release stages) was a recipe movie and violence, sex and perversion were indeed concentrated in strong, doses. In real life, things don't happen in such density, but unfortunately, they do happen. The fact that the movie is considered as one of the most sought-after cult films, flatters me. I never intended it to be. I only needed to make money.

You've stated that you made Island of Death simply to get a "name" and secure financing for further projects. However, unlike many filmmakers who have used such tactics in their early films, you managed to escape being pigeonholed as an exploitation filmmaker, and actually moved on to writing "respectable" fare like The Greek Tycoon. How did you avoid falling into that trap?

It's my nature to get bored with the same shit again and again. After "Island" was picked up by a UK distributor, I was offered one deal after the other for similar exploitation movies. I was living in London, almost broke at the time and the offers were tempting, working with gorgeous babes was tempting, but I said "fuck it" and turned them down. I was writing and re-writing "The Greek Tycoon" script and deep in my heart I knew that if I succumbed to low budget temptations, a genre I could do really well, I'd probably get trapped. I lived with "The Greek Tycoon" for 26 months and when I finally managed to finance and make it, it was so sweet!

You've had a hand in writing all of your films, but you are also a novelist. Do you find that writing books as opposed to writing screenplays enables you to create stories beyond the budgetary restraints of cinema, or do you write with cinema in mind?

Both novels I wrote with Barnaby Conrad ("Fire Below Zero" and "Keepers Of The Secret") were developed with movies in mind. However, when I write a novel I don't involve my budget-minded self in the process. I build huge sets and it costs nothing, I write action scenes with thousands of extras and I don't have to spend a penny, I let my imagination go wild and the suits don't yell at me. It's a much longer, much more painful process, but it's every writer's duty.

Have any of your books been adapted to film?

Nah, they were either too expensive or too controversial for Hollywood. Hollywood is sold on big name writers and huge best sellers. The suits don't want to take chances and risk their fat salaries, company cars and all the freebies they got. They find it easier to say "no", as "no" hasn't cost anybody his job. In my two years with Paramount, I learned that quite well. Don Simpson, in his infinite wisdom, has said "no" to John Carpenter and Ridley Scott, when I brought them in various projects, early in their careers. Studio bullshit and backstabbing politics were my best schooling at the end of the seventies. They taught me to be independent.

You are truly a one-man moviemaking machine, producing and writing the majority of your films. Do you do this because it gives you more freedom with your projects or is it just a necessity in getting your films made?

It's easier this way. You can never blame someone else for failing and nobody else can steal your success. I am my cheap labour and although the director in me sometimes has fights with the producer in me, it's rewarding that in such fights, the director always wins. Besides, when someone asks you "what's the packaging of the project?" you can grin and reply: "You're looking at it".

After Island of Death you moved on to a very racey film called The Para Psychics, which is perhaps best remembered for it's very graphic sex scenes. However, the film's plot centers around psychic international assassins and espionage. Was the graphic sex used in this film merely a natural progression between Island of Death and the film's you would go on to make, or did you feel you had to one-up the furor caused by Island of Death ?

Let me correct you historically. "Death Has Blue Eyes", as the original title is, was shot before "Island" and it was my first feature. I don't know why the sex scenes are labelled "graphic" - it was mild, simulated sex, a little too risqué for the seventies but nothing dramatic. You always write these scenes in a small movie so that you can sell it, if all else fails.

Your next film, The Time Traveller (aka: The Next One), eschewed sex and violence for a very personal story about a man who may or may not be the second coming of Christ. Films that deal in the theological realm are always magnets for controversy. What sort of reaction did this film get upon it's initial release?

If it played on the BBC and other major networks, it must have made a good impression. Strangely enough, the theory that Jesus had a brother and he too was a time traveller, didn't raise any eyebrows in the constipated conservative community. Regardless of its sci-fi theme, the movie also conveyed some significant theological messages, especially stating how cruel humans have remained for the last 2,000 years and how disbelieving they still are when it comes to miracles and miracle makers.

You followed The Time Traveller with a very effective thriller called Blind Date. While the film featured several homages to the Hitchcockian thrillers of old, it also seemed to emulate the Italian giallo films of the 1970's, especially the twist ending. Were you ever a fan of this sub-genre of Italian horror?

Never. I didn't watch or follow any Italian genre, as I always thought that the Italians themselves followed American genres, a sort of cooking burgers with spaghetti.

Blind Date featured a very intense love scene between a then unknown Kirstie Alley and star Joseph Bottoms that was edited out of the final film, but is now presented in full on the Omega DVD. I'm sure Alley fans are quite happy about it, but how did the actress respond to this "unearthed" footage in light of her post-Blind Date success?

I don't think there's anything that would bother Kirstie, especially in view of the fact that now that she's older and heavier she'll probably take great pleasure in studying herself slim and fit and with a great body. I could have included the whole scene in the original cut, but I needed desperately to make the movie shorter at the time and because the previews were for major studios, I didn't want to scare the suits.

My favourite film in your ouevre' is 1987's The Wind. It's one of the most atmospheric thrillers I've seen, and is truly goosebump inducing material. The Wind is a rather unique film in that it's essentially a two character film in a confined environment that came after a series of bigger budget action/comedies, filled with helicopter chases, gunplay, and broad comic setpieces. Was this a conscious decision to take things down a notch?

It's also one of my favourites. And you're wrong about the two characters. It's three characters, if you consider the wind being a protagonist. I built the wind as a character, ever present, catalytic, threatening, lethal but also knowing when to back off and allow Meg Foster to move and, ultimately, proving a true blue. "The Wind" came before my action movies ("nightmare At Noon", "Hired To Kill") and was written for the location itself. I experienced some terrifying winds while shooting "Time Traveller" in Mykonos, and it was then when I thought of the storyline. If I was to re-make "The Wind" today, I don't know what I could do better.

2001's .com for Murder was, in my opinion, one of the only films that has thus -far managed a successful marriage between the internet and horror/suspense. While much of the computer interplay between characters had to be reproduced in a way to make it visually appealing to audiences, it's still done in a believable way. Did you have to bone up on your computer skills before making this film?

It was the other way around. I used my computer skills to design and shoot the movie. I also shot all the on-screen stuff, using a small DV camcorder, so that I could even "move in" to single words and give the movie a realistic look, despite its slightly futuristic approach. Again, I used the computer as a main character, in the same fashion as the wind was a protagonist. Again the computer is a friend and a foe and it's also the catalyst at the end. Having watched "computer-based" movies and having hated most of them, I made ".com For Murder" on Hitchcockian simplicity but giving the computer a human complexity to counterbalance high tech with realism, two elements which rarely blend successfully.

What projects are on the horizon?

We are voyagers of a very sinister vessel, meaning we go through turbulent times of war, conflict, terrorism, unsettling factors. They influence the movie business, especially the independent movie making. In times of hardships I've learned to lay low and learn from other people's mistakes. When this is over, the movie industry will bounce back and during the couple of years this will take, I'll be thinking of story lines worth making into films. Unfortunately, I got a restless mind, even when the biggest part of me is seemingly resting!

Once again, we'd like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak to you! Before we go is there anything you'd like to say to the Horrorview audience?

I'd certainly say "thanks for being out there", because they're a good, dedicated audience and they are the backbone of the small, sometimes tacky, sometimes tasteless B movie genre. Without them there wouldn't have been some significant talent and there wouldn't have been some of the world's great directors. I'd also like them to buy the DVDs from "The Nico Mastorakis" collection, all my movies which I personally supervised from transfer to packaging. The four parts of the documentary describing how I made all those movies, is probably worth more than the features themselves. Just kiddin' of course!