Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cannibals: Lurid and Sleazy

Cannibal Movies become less and less impressive when you watch them all one right after the other. Let me explain the trickle down effect of bad movies. Ruggero Deodato makes the successful and gory Jungle Holocaust as an effort to squeeze money out of people's lingering memories of The Man From Deep River at roughly the same time that Joe D'Amato makes Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals which shares a lot of the same elements but is ultimately its own film. The market demands further cashflow and ten times easier than hiring some kid to work a minor miracle by creating an original cannibal story (the same way Deodato did) was to get someone reliable to make the same movie twice (they already made a few bucks, why screw with success?), which is what happened with our next film. First, the powers that be wanted another cannibal film, so Sergio Martino gets called in basically to make Emanuelle and the Last Cannibal World. Then a few years down the line, after both Cannibal Holocaust and Zombie have made their respective splashes, Marino Girolami makes Zombi Holocaust which is really just this film with zombies. That's why incest among royalty is such a bad idea, because the people making decisions are just going to get dumber and dumber and dumber. Martino's film may be better than Zombi Holocaust, but its still a pretty terrible movie.

Mountain of the Cannibal God
by Sergio Martino

Sergio knows exactly what kind of movie he's making because while the credits roll we get about a dozen pieces of staged animal killings. The first thing we're told is that the following is all basically real, and that New Guinea still has primitive tribes and since we're "On the Dawn of the Space Age," whatever the fuck that means, you know, it pays to know about cannibals. This isn't true, but evidently Umberto Lenzi bought it, because he had Janet Agren deliver this same bullshit (almost verbatim) at the end of Eaten Alive, which, like this film, was a ripoff of Jungle Holocaust. Anyway, brother and sister Susan and Arthur have arrived in New Guinea looking for Susan's husband Henry, a scientist whose expedition vanished a few months ago. The authorities, as usual, are powerless, so they turn to Edward Foster, one of the few Americans left in the region and one of the only people who's been to the spot where Henry disappeared and lived to talk about it. They visit Foster's dilapidated mansion (?) and convince him to guide them. Together with a handful of servants, they head into the jungle.

The place their headed is off limits for some reason, so they have to sneak their way to the island where Henry disappeared. As the crew of servants thins (to a crocodile I take to be a Kruna prototype, an animal trap, a cudgel to the head, and some brainwashing poison respectively), Susan sees Edward talking to his cohorts in hushed tones and looks worried. After everyone but Susan, Arthur, and Edward have been knocked off, they locate the mission of Father Moses. The mission is the last bit of humanity before what the natives call the mountain of the cannibal god. Their proximity to cannibal gods probably accounts for the masked killers stalking the gringos throughout the jungle, and as we'll soon see, into the mission. The only other white guy in the village is Manolo and he's played by Martino favorite Claudio Cassinelli, so naturally we'll be spending a good deal of time with him. He came out to the jungle looking to test himself and Susan convinces him that going up the mountain will be the ultimate test (making out with him probably helps with the convincing). That night, they get their final bit of motivation when one of those masked fellows kills a girl midway through screwing Arthur; Edward gets a nasty leg wound from the man when he gives chase. Moses blames all the white folks for bringing sex into his mission (just how the hell does he expect to keep the damn thing afloat if no one has sex?) and demands that they all leave. I guess its up the waterfall and onto the mountain for everyone. I wonder what they'll find at the top?
Mountain of the Cannibal God looks great and was clearly a lot of work. That's about all the complimenting I'm going to do in this review other than to say I could watch Claudio Cassinelli do just about anything and this counts (and the music's gonna get some lip-service a little later on). This film smells of desperation. Sergio was clearly given more money than either Joe D'Amato or Ruggero Deodato which is why its shot in widescreen and why the names Ursula Andress and Stacey Keach are on all the posters. Andress wasn't as big a name as she may once have been (like Sean Connery in Zardoz, she'd looked a lot better just a decade earlier in Dr. No) and Stacy Keach wasn't exactly Al Pacino, but those were still big enough names that they probably ate up a good deal of the budget, and yet there's a sense that Martino pulled a rabbit out of his moth-eaten hat. Lousy though this was, the allure of a very topless Ursula Andress probably filled a lot of seats even though her age was starting to show. And what is a cannibal movie but a series of gimmicks anyway (attendees of Cannibal Man screenings were given bags to puke in when they entered the theatre, Cannibal Ferox claimed to be the most violent movie ever made and wore its 31 banishments like merit badges, and Cannibal Holocaust had just about the biggest and best gimmick any horror director could have asked for, but that's another story).

The plot is, as I mentioned earlier, a combination of Jungle Holocaust and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals; cannibal cave and animal killings in this corner and unmotivated sex, thinning search party, and a last minute money-driven switcharoo in this corner. That means we're privy to a whole lot of development in not a lot of time and though it's done a little more bawdily than either film, it has almost none of their strengths. Jungle Holocaust was egoless, claustrophobic and grim and so there was no chance that Martino's lurid treatment was going to be anywhere near as powerful or realistic as that film. The crazed sensibility of Emanuelle carries over a little bit (like the heroine's battle with a snake), but, that was porn and so didn't need to adhere to logic or anything else, it just needed to be fun and erotic. You really understand how dirty a film this is once we're in the cannibal cave. It takes its cues from the other films and shows us a parade of disgusting sexual images including Ursula getting naked, painted and raped by the natives, and unnecessary violence to animals and we, like Manolo, have to sit back and watch it all unfold. It's grimy and nasty and its all there just because its been done before. When you look at it like that, its even more gross. When Martino tries to put his own spin on Robert's escape in Jungle Holocaust by having a midget attack Manolo in his bonds, I just felt sad. When Ursula Andress gets naked, I got even sadder, and that shouldn't be so. I got sad when Stacy Keach disappeared towards the end because they'd spent so much energy padding out his character. There's too much that this film wants to do and can't pull any of it off correctly.

Mountain of the Cannibal God is supposed to be a 'real' film (wow, ok, so maybe real isn't the right word. Let's say more like Let Sleeping Corpses Lie than Mansion of the Living Dead. Good? Good!) and looks like one so the off-putting non sequiturs like when a native girl masturbates for twenty minutes or when one of the natives fucks a pig during Susan's drug fantasy (no, really!) don't seem at all like the continuation of the film's overall feeling they do in D'Amato's film; they feel like an hour long pit-stop in the ridiculous and uncomfortable. The pig thing and a few other bits (the animal trap, the masks and the geiger counter heart) were all that really distinguishes Martino's style from the films he was stealing from, so pay attention to those diversions in the formula and you'll get a good idea of what kind of director he was. He liked adventure, poorly executed gore, absolutely pointless sexual tangents, and crazy inappropriate music. The score to this film is so off the wall in that 70s way, in fact I dare a room full of guys to come up with anything so specifically bizarre; my guess is you couldn't do it; it's too weird and dated. If anybody's wondering what Italy's contribution to psych music was, watch a few Italian horror films and you'll have your answer.
Mountain was part of a cycle of adventure films with horror elements that Martino made with Cassinelli in the lead role over the course of two years. Mountain, The Great Alligator, and Island of the Fishmen appear to be roughly the same film with a few minor changes (Now I have to find and review Island of the Fishmen). Personally because The Great Alligator was so bad that I could sit back and laugh my ass off, I liked that better. Mountain of the Cannibal God is halfway legitimate and halfway incomprehensible sleaze and it was born out of a commercial need, so all in all, I'm glad I didn't pay money to see it and you might take a lesson from that.

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