Ovidio G. Assonitis, a Greek national known as “The Rip-off King” for making rip-offs of famous Hollywood movies, was born in Alexandria on January 18th 1943. Like Ricardo Freda before him who was also credited as George Lincoln and Robert Hampton, Assonitis was also sometimes known as Oliver Hellman.
A prolific filmmaker working as director, screenwriter and producer, much like Freda and the Hakims whose multiple skills and specializations should perhaps suggest versatility echoing the multiplicity of names and the plurality of technical identities, he started his career in Italy directing the movie Chi Sei? (1974).The film was a rip off of The Exorcist, which got him into trouble with Warner Bros. who took legal action against him. When played in Italy, however, it was a huge success and he managed to make a few other Italian flicks throughout the 1970s.
Just as Freda had chosen to do horror movies, making Italy’s first horror talkie, Assonitis decided to make rip offs and remakes. Before them, too, the Hakims had their formula of big productions, star driven melodramas with plenty of sex and an international market built in. All three seem to have stuck by a formula the recipe of which they had an instinctive means of discovering. All three cleverly and shrewdly exploited the European Cinema’s reputation for sophisticated sensuality as in the case of the Hakims, or an open market for introducing horror, or the fascination with animal flicks during the 1970s. By putting their skills to work on behalf of great directors the likes of Ken Russell, Karl Reisz and Truffault they managed to make bankable films. No less can be said of Moussa who worked with Fellini, and El Fayed who financed an Oscar winner.
To speculate that our Alexandrian born cinematographers possessed special talents or were themselves possessed by cinematic genies or genius, requires more than this present work has set out to research. However, the shrewd sense of cinema and flair for the needs of the market may well owe its origin to that which runs deeper than we can tell; or to blood that runs thicker than the water of the sea.
In 1977, he made another rip off, Tentacoli, about a giant Octopus loose in the ocean killing swimmers, very closely imitating Jaws (1975). In 1989 he made Beyond the Door III which grossed over 40 million dollars, a tremendous achievement by the standards of that time.
From the 1970’s to 2000 Assonitis financed and produced 53 films many of which were joint ventures with the USA and Japan. His partners have included the likes of Prince Anusom Yokol, brother of the king of Thailand. Releases of his films were made through Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox Film Corp, Warner Bros. and United Artists.
Interestingly, in 1980 Assonitis made Piranha II which was to launch the career of director James Cameron who went on to direct The Terminator and later The Titanic. Assonitis fired Cameron during post production of the film deciding the final cut himself, and evoking a temper similar to that of Freda on the set of his last film Daughter of d’Artagnan his comeback after an absence of fourteen years. In 1990 he assigned to Universal Pictures the remake of The Scent of a Woman which was released in 1993 starring Al Pacino.
Apart from a very keen sense of business, reminiscent of the Hakim brothers’ shrewd choice of films and sure sense of the market, Assonitis is also a philanthropist and takes interest in the social and economic infrastructure of countries in Asia. He continues to make films to this day.