[aka Sal Boris/Salvatore Vaccaro/Boris Lugosi]
Born in Rome in 1944, Baccaro started life as a flower seller, his pitch conveniently placed outside the famous Cinecittà Studios, site of the filming of Ben Hur and La Dolce Vita, to name but two. Despite a distinct lack of acting training, Baccaro’s features, stature and demeanor led to him being approached to appear as an extra in numerous low budget films during the early 70’s. Though the parts offered little in the way of opportunity to display any thespian overtures, they did enough to make him known to many genre directors and he became favourite playing thugs, henchmen and generally rough around the edges characters.
Some of these directors were well established in their respective fields – he played a prisoner in Enzo Barboni’s E Poi Lo Chiamarono il Magnifico (Man Of The East) and had recurring roles (as different characters) in the Spirito Santo series of Spaghetti Westerns. Though these were very small parts, he was nevertheless appearing in films connected with highly influential people; the writer of Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato…Parola di Spirito Santo (His Name Was Holy Ghost), Tito Carpi, went on to be involved in pretty much every sub-genre of Italian exploitation movies, screenwriting for politiziotecchi; La polizia incrimina la legge assolve (High Crime), gialli; Gli occhi freddi della paura (Cold Eyes Of Fear), cannibal gorefests; Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (Jungle Holocaust), creature features; Tenticoli (Tentacles), post-apocalyptic fare Fuga Del Bronx (Bronx Warriors 2) and even, though rather late in the day, peplum; Sinbad Of The Seven Seas.
Even at this stage proving to be ever the nearly man, Baccaro starred briefly in clunking cod Passolini knock-off Decameron 2, alongside perennial what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here starlet, Camille Keaton. His biggest early ‘break’ was certainly an appearance in the oft-overlooked Argento film Le Cinque Giornate (The Five Days Of Milan), the first film to offer Baccaro a part he truly stood out in. Although only glimpsed he also has a part in another Argento film, that of a barking fruit seller in Profondo Rosso (Deep Red). These may only be relatively insubstantial parts but they are parts that make you stop and say, “Oooh, that’s…” but of course, you never know the name. The use of Baccaro by Argento and also many of the Spaghetti Western directors that used him is to create a feeling of unease and of confusion. Doubt immediately settles on him due to his appearance, yet he is generally there to throw you off the scent or to add to the atmosphere of tension and accusation, the paradox being that he is rarely as bad as he looks.
Baccaro’s heavyset appearance and apparent ability to grow facial hair as you were watching him, led to roles in Italian sex comedies (has there ever been a greater misnomer?) appearing opposite squat annoyance Alviro Vitalli in a string of Pierino films. Ultimately, as demand for Spaghetti Westerns diminished and the demand from Italy was for the cheap and shocking, Bacarro settled into what can only be described as a niche role – appearing as cavemen or as characters as near to Neanderthal as you could get. Added to the maelstrom of Tinto Brass’ Salon Kitty and Luigi Cozzi’s incredible Star Wars-never-happened epic Star Crash, Baccaro began to steamroller through a string of parts that attracted a small cult following. Not needing much in the way of make-up, Baccaro became the definitive caveman, if one were ever needed. This trend started with his appearance as Ook in Dick Randall’s everything into the pot blowout Dr Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks.
There is little to recommend this film, aside from the fact that it’s the filmic equivalent of the phrase “see Rome and die” – you truly haven’t lived unless you’ve got to the end to dwell on your wasted 90 minutes. The sets are nice enough, daring the breeze to blow them over, and the film also features Michael Dunn as a necrophilic accomplice to ‘Count Frankenstein’…maybe this isn’t so bad after all! Baccaro is in full “oogah boogah” mode, caveman in excelsis, replete with natty off-the-shoulder fur-wear and where-did-you-get-that-club trim. If you’re gonna be a caveman, do it right. It is a no-nonsense performance in an utterly nonsensical piece, this wasn’t the forum for Oscars nominations, actors in pieces like this did it because it was work and it paid – it was more importantly an opportunity to get yourself known and cash-in whilst you could, in this case Baccaro struck gold; before this appearance his career had been steady if unremarkable, after this point, though often small, he was used as a character actor frequently. However, this was not Baccaro’s most famous role, neither was it even his best as a caveman.
Released under many names, La Bestia in Calore/Horrifying Experiments of the SS’ Last Days/SS Hell Camp, Luigi Batzella’s The Beast In Heat is either the best or the worst entry into the ever dubious Nazisploitation cycle of films made across Europe in the mid to late 70’s. The film’s status was secured a few years later when it became banned in the UK under the Obscene Publications Act; briefly making an unrated appearance on the JVI label, this uncut video is now STILL making around the £850 mark on ebay, despite the fact it is readily available on dvd. Nazi regalia abounds throughout and no filthy stone is left unturned in a bid to shock the viewer. In World War 2, a European village is under the rule of occupying Nazi forces – not unattractive head scientist Dr Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall who barely worked again!) is subjecting troublemakers and unloved locals to horrifying experiments involving, amongst other things, electrodes, pliers and rats. If I said the scene involving the rats showed footage of them gnawing a prostrate victim’s torso you may well squirm – if I pointed out the rats are blatantly fluffy guinea pigs this would give you a far better insight into the real joys of this film. Elsewhere a very unreal baby indeed is tossed into the air as target practice for restless soldiers. It isn’t shocking; it’s frankly very good indeed. The coup de resistance is however Baccaro – the result of Nazi experiments to create a Neanderthal killing machine (who needs bombs?) he is unquestionably the star of the show. Squealing female victims are tossed into his cage and are duly raped enthusiastically and then ripped to pieces as he gurns into the camera longingly. These scenes are not repulsive, they are hilarious, Batzella was, with all due respect, an utterly rotten director, here filtching footage from his even more rotten earlier films When the Bell Tolls and Tre franchi di pietà to supply wartime footage to pad out hopeless scenes in cardboard cut-out sets. Batzella and Baccaro’s finest moment is clearly the triumphant segment when The Beast noshes on his new victim, raising his head to reveal a mouthful of lady parts and pubic hair. We are allowed to savour this for sometime as frankly, nothing else could possibly be worth watching. One scene in particular perhaps typifies Baccaro’s state of mind at this point in his acting career – again in the throes of delirium, he actually fogs up the camera lens – the director either believing this lends credibility or realising he’s been rumbled, this scene remains intact, a ‘fuck you’ to anyone who doubted Baccaro’s motivation. You want a daft caveman? You got one.
Baccaro’s status as an exploitation icon was now assured and he worked right up to his death in 1984, never again achieving the same giddy heights or notoriety but known to directors throughout Europe for his reliability and to create head-turning cameos. It would be impossible for me to claim he was a master actor reduced to insignificant roles through misfortune – Baccaro knew his limitations and exploited the situation for everything it was worth and it is this that is his great triumph – the exploited becoming the exploiter; long after his fellow actors and his directors have been forgotten, he will always be the greatest caveman ever committed to celluloid.