Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cannibals: Petty and Disingenuous

When last we left Umberto Lenzi, he had turned down the chance to direct Jungle Holocaust because they weren't going to pay him enough money, as if he deserved it. So Ruggero Deodato took the project, made a much better film than Lenzi ever could have or has. Then he made the mother of all horror films. Where did that leave Lenzi? Crying in his room I hope. I wonder if he was actually on the set of Eaten Alive when he got the news that people thought Cannibal Holocaust was real, or if he was in his living room sitting with a cup of coffee. If so, I imagine he spit it out and then ran to the phone, "What the fuck is this? Get me to the Jungle! I have millions of dollars to make!"

Eaten Alive
By Umberto Lenzi
Sheila Morris is a young American (yeah, ok!) looking for her sister Diana who disappeared in New Guinea a few months ago. We find this out when a native starts killin' folks with a blow gun and when he dies, all he has on him is some 8mm footage of a native ritual. And who should be one of the only white extras in this grainy movie but Diana Morris! Sheila hires surly mercenary Mark Butler to take her to where Diana is supposed to be. You’re just gonna have to take Lenzi’s word when this guy tells you how manly he is, because Robert Kerman (fresh off his strikingly similar turn in Cannibal Holocaust) who plays Butler is about as rugged as Oscar the Grouch. He’s more of an abrasive jagoff than Indiana Jones. Anyway, so they go deep into the jungle, get attacked by a loony white guy, almost eaten by crocodiles, and watch some stolen footage of animals being killed and then find Diana in the midst of a Jim Jones style cult run by a tall fellow named Jonas (Jones....Jonas....Get it? My, how clever). Lenzi raises the stakes a bit by making the commune smack-dab in the middle of Cannibal country. So Bulter and Sheila have to get Diana out of the commune (with the help of Me Me Lai, hired because she'll work with her shirt off and because she's in some footage Lenzi stole from Jungle Holocaust) while not getting killed by Jonas' guards, cannibals, or falling prey to Jonas' jedi mind tricks, which include covering Sheila in gold body paint for some reason. In the end, Sheila and Mark are not only completely unsuccessful, they probably caused a lot more death than they would have if they'd stayed the hell home.

Here’s the problem with the internet, anyone can say whatever the fuck they please whenever the fuck they please. Allow me to be completely condescending while still talking about movies that insult the intelligence of just about everybody as if they were works of art. Take a look at this sample review of Eaten Alive from a nameless site:

This is Lenzi’s second cannibal film (the first being Cannibal Ferox aka Make Them Die Slowly) and it does rather pale in comparison. It’s violent, exploitative, and gory, as one should expect from this genre, but unfortunately, Lenzi went the Cannibal Holocaust route of cheapening the film with needless real animal deaths (much of said footage was borrowed from other cannibal films). That being said, it’s still a decent outing and worth including in any horror fan’s collection.

If anyone can tell me what the fuck that means, I'll give you a hug. How can you roundly chastise something, get simple facts about it incorrect that a trip to the IMDB could have told you, and then say we all need to buy it? There's seems to be a checklist with bloggers and such when talking about old sleaze, and I admit to using it at the start of Honors Zombie: you say something historically accurate about the film, make fun of it for something easy, and then say something catchy you may or may not believe. Eaten Alive and Make Them Die Slowly are not decent outings, they're trash, and the worst kind of trash because they actively pursues their trashiness; you can't just sit there and enjoy some dated sleaze, you have to pick a side.
Eaten Alive is actually pretty ambitious considering what sort of film it is. And I do realize that I've already encountered a film called Eaten Alive; that was Tobe Hooper's sophomore effort about the veteran who feeds people to his crocodile, which, while not exactly Rosemary's Baby or anything, was a right sight better than this film. Though, weirdly, both films have Mel Ferrer in inconsequential bit parts. Consider that to make his cannibal cash-in, Lenzi didn't settle for his neighbor's yard like so many other directors would have. He actually went to the jungle, granted he went to Sri Lanka rather than actually going to New Guinea, but still; actually he didn't even have to say the film was in New Guinea, come to think of it. He stole footage from Mountain of the Cannibal God which took place in New Guinea but was also filmed in Sri Lanka because he was either too lazy to learn where else cannibalism is practiced or he was just a big old copycat. His initial ambition aside this is a terrible movie with few redeeming features. Eaten Alive isn't nearly so disgusting as his next 'movie' Make Them Die Slowly, but its pretty gross in all aspects. Ok, so lets talk origins. Though it's tempting to say that this film came out in response to Cannibal Holocaust, it was actually more likely in answer to Jungle Holocaust and at best rumours of Cannibal Holocaust's production. It's clearly a Jungle Holocaust rip-off because as I said a good deal of the effect footage (that is to say all the actual cannibalizing) is lifted from that film. Lenzi was clearly in "let me show you how it's done" mood because he went and got his old cast from The Man From Deep River, Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov. They sell their parts well enough, but Lenzi is just not as talented as Deodato. Me Me Lai goes from mute native in Jungle Holocaust, to scheming maid in Eaten Alive; Ivan Rassimov is always kind of interesting to watch, so it doesn't matter that he gets a less dynamic character than he did in either preceding cannibal film. Clearly this was a knee-jerk film and so the resulting problems can be blamed on that; all things considered it could have been worse. Lenzi was out to make something quickly so he might have the last word on the cannibal genre before the upstart Jungle Holocaust made him look dated and soft; funny that this film just proved how out-of-step he was with audiences.

Also funny that in order to make a film that would out-match Jungle Holocaust he chose subject matter as tasteless as the Jim Jones incident. Jones, for those scratching their heads, was a communist who was so out of his mind trying to make the world a better place that he started his own 'socialist paradise' in Guyana, refused to let anyone of his 900 plus converts leave, and then had them all commit suicide by drinking poison when he lost hope in humanity. Jones, for his part, had a number of progressive ideas regarding race relations, but he was also probably mentally ill and routinely denied a lot of personal things like his drug addiction and homosexuality. But during the 60s and 70s when people who were caught in the maelstrom of racist America had someone like Jones, who tried really did love the black community and devoted much of his time to integrating society and who used religion as a jumping off point to talk about progress really charismatically, they listened because a lot was at stake. People were being killed over the color of their skin so someone like Jones was like a beacon of hope for a little while, at least until he started Jonestown, his Guyana-based commune where he and his followers killed themselves. At the time there had never been a single greater loss of American lives as a result of one incident. This was in 1978. In 1979, Lenzi went into production. Any argument he might make about relevancy is, in my mind, completely forfeit. In an interview, Lenzi compared Eaten Alive to Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris because both films were banned. For this, I'd like to smack him. He can't even see why he's so oafish and pigheaded. On an interview he gave for the The Man From Deep River DVD, he was furious at the suggestion that people credit Ruggero Deodato with the creation of the cannibal genre. WHO CARES, MAN?!? What do you think people will be comparing your movies like El Grecos and Rembrandts? Grow up! Deodato at least has the good sense to regret his choices, Lenzi is completely clueless and Eaten Alive is proof positive. Lenzi has earned his reputation.

Eaten Alive is a movie in which, though clearly a lot of effort went into it (by people other than Umberto Lenzi), everything is stolen. This movie literally cannibalized other movies. The cannibal thing, second hand; the Jonestown cult thing, obviously cribbed; the structure (guy and girl trying to survive), stolen; Robert Kerman in fatigues; stolen; real animals being killed; that's actually like three generations stolen; the effects, stolen; Janet Agren covered in gold; stolen from Goldfinger. There's not a unique bone in this film's body. There's footage stolen from Mountain of the Cannibal God floating around as well, some of which was actually already stock footage; if that's not lame, I simply don't know what is. Eaten Alive is not good for a scare or for excitement; it got banned simply because Jungle Holocaust got banned. I guess thats one way for your movie to be condemned for publicity's sake, just fill it with footage from other condemned movies. The trailer has more tension than the film itself. Lenzi, I think, realized that this movie was no good, despite his senile ravings about how groundbreaking it was. Not even a year after he finished this movie, he went back to the jungle with a younger cast in one final effort to have the last word on cannibalism.
Sadder than the fact that Lenzi was outmatched in every way by his young colleague, was the fact that Eaten Alive seems to have been the inspiration for movies like Zombi Holocaust and Cannibal Terror more so than Cannibal Holocaust. Almost as if lowlifes like Marino Girolami knew they couldn't best Cannibal Holocaust they just stole from less ambitious films because ultimately a film like Eaten Alive is dumb and dumb is easy to copy (Zombi Holocaust plays like a hybrid of both of Lenzi's later cannibal films, with a dash of Zombie and Mountain of the Cannibal God thrown in for good measure). That puts me in mind of one of the film's many delightfully stupid quotes "People need to know that the stone age still exists, not everybody's living in the space age." No, they don't, and hundreds of years of anthropological study proves that that is a stupid way of looking at things; what people really need to know is facts and compassion; then not only would there be no Eaten Alive, there would be no group of people who say they like it.

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