Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cannibals: Vindictive and Irrelevant

Jealousy is a dangerous thing. If you find yourself with a lot of power and the way you choose to exert it is out of jealousy then dangerous, destructive things can happen. Umberto Lenzi was jealous of the success of Cannibal Holocaust; jealous that Ruggero Deodato was being given all the credit for the cannibal genre; and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was jealous that he knew that films weren't nearly as powerful as those of his peers. Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were getting a lot of press at the time for their gruesome 'art films' and cannibal movies were now just this side of irrelevant (Jesús Franco had already put his two filthy cents in, how pertinent could they still be?). Let's just say 'the kids' weren't paying attention anymore. So Lenzi, having just gotten back from shooting Eaten Alive wakes up on the flight to read the daily mail and there in bold type is "Italian Director Suspected of Murder for the Sake of Art," just how pissed do you think he was? Pissed enough to get right back on a plane with memories of Cannibal Holocaust's plot still fresh in his mind and a slew of atrocious things to try out and what might be seen as a warning to his peers. He claims never to not have been influenced by Cannibal Holocaust, but...well, I'll let you decide.

Cannibal Ferox or Make Them Die Slowly
by Umberto Lenzi

We open on a pair of ice cold mobsters (for the record, I don't how its possible that Italians seemed to have no idea how overblown their portrayal of mobsters were for pretty much the entirety of the 1970s and 80s; they invented the Camoristi yet their movies were all Godfather impersonations) who kill a junkie when he can't help them locate the dealer he was after. Lt. Rizzo is stumped (he is also Robert Kerman from Cannibal Holocaust wearing exactly the same outfit he wore in the New York scenes of that film). Then we jet down to the amazon where Gloria Davis, her brother Rudy and whorish friend Pat are trying to find a guide to take them to a village deep in the jungle. Gloria is the reason republicans are able to make fun of liberals; her belief in right-wing lies is so naive and obnoxious that clearly it has no basis in fact, yet she's the kind of person that all right-wing ideologues think that liberals are at heart. She's out to prove that cannibalism never existed; it's a lie invented to make white people think less of the indigenous peoples of third world countries. Umm...yeah...she's like read books and gone outside and stuff right? Native Americans practiced cannibalism and so did white people, so I don't know how you could not only be so dumb as to think that, but then get grant money from your graduate program to hike down to the Amazon basin to prove that no one's eating anyone else for the week and a half you're down there. So after waiting for Pat to come back from screwing some guy she JUST MET they get in their jeep and tear ass around the jungle for awhile trying to find Manhoca, a village where stories of cannibalism have been coming from recently.

Halfway there, the jeep breaks down and our intrepid jackasses decide to hoof it (more bright ideas). It isn't long before they come across two sweaty travelers who claim to have just come from Manhoca. Mike and Joe are their names and they say they'd be more than happy to lead them to the village (well, Mike is a bit more enthusiastic than Joe, who has an injured leg and seems like he's hiding something). They go back and find the village in ruins; it looks like someone or something laid waste to it. If you're thinking it's crazy-eyed Mike, you're bang on the money. The first thing to notice about the village is that there are apparently no men around and that there's a lot of dead bodies strewn about the place. Mike reveals himself to be a truly ghastly person and it isn't long before he's shacked up with Pat and convinced her that the real way to get your kicks is to find a villager, rape and kill her. Pat gets cold feet midway through and Mike bests Rudy when he tries to wrest Mike's gun away from him. In the end Rudy, Gloria, and Joe are left to fend for themselves when the men of the tribe come back from whatever errand they were on.

They put the three of them in a cage and submerge them in a nearby lagoon. Joe has in the meantime divulged what really went on in Manhoca before Gloria and company showed up. They paid some portuguese guy to take them to the village because Joe and Mike were hoping to Man Who Would Be King for a little while; they had their pick of the women and killed everyone who got in their way. When the natives decided to fight back, Joe and Mike ran for it and the portuguese guy's remains are tied to a post in the center of the village. We can also assume that the reason the men were away was because they were trying to find Mike and bring him back (why Mike decided to go back to Manhoca is anybody's guess). Just when things seem as grim as they could get, a hunting party comes back with Mike and Pat and decides to get revenge. Their treatment is bad to be sure, but it can't compare to the end of Cannibal Holocaust in any way.

I should say that occasionally we get taken back to NYC where Rizzo rescues Mike's girlfriend Myrna from those two gangsters. Oh, Mike is the drug dealer they were after, in case you were wondering, which is really like three strikes against him. Rizzo and Myrna charter an aircraft to scope out Manhoca. They go back after a few hours unsuccessful flying; this is about the time that the natives start cutting Mike and Pat to pieces. A native boy agrees to help Gloria escape for no real reason and meets the same fate as Charlie in Jungle Holocaust. Then she gets out having seen cannibalism with her own stupid eyes. Where to start.... I think some of that jealousy I was talking about accounts for the plot of this film and why it is so illogical and riddled with inconsistencies. Lenzi just needed an excuse to get stupid people into the jungle so he could tear them apart in awful ways. Why would someone go to the jungle? Why, to prove there are no cannibals, of course! Yeah, that makes perfect sense! Let's just make things simple and say that no one's motivation is reasonable or believable; they're in the jungle and they all deserve to die. That's all our director cared about. Proof: Act 3, wherein our heroes are killed horribly and some animals are killed for no good reason.

Lenzi can claim all he wants to that this movie isn't a response to Cannibal Holocaust but I believe there's a dead gator, a headless turtle, and a butchered pig who beg to differ. Why, if you weren't engaged in a cinematic pissing match would you kill exactly the same animals in exactly the same way? What's worse is that he doesn't even make as big a deal of the deaths as Deodato does; they're just morbid footnotes. It's almost like he was having second thoughts about how violent his movie was as they were shooting. Part of the reason I didn't rent this movie was because I didn't want to be tempted to listen to whatever nonsense Lenzi would spew in the inevitable interview/commentary. This film is hard enough to watch on grainy, lo-res, Korean movie streaming sites, let alone a high-definition DVD transfer. I'm a bit of a masochist, I grant you, but even I have lines and finding a way to more expertly turn my stomach is not anything I was interested in when I decided to finally bite the bullet and watch this movie - it's bad enough that the premise can be summed up in one sentence. Something along the lines of: Umberto Lenzi kills animals because he's jealous of Ruggero Deodato, or Umberto Lenzi is a turncoat racist because he's jealous of Ruggero Deodato, or Umberto Lenzi is a coward and a bully and he's jealous of Ruggero Deodato.

The competition between these two sort of reminds me of the one between the mondo filmmaking teams Antonio Climati and Mario Morra and the brothers Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni who tried during the 1970s to make the most disturbing mondo film. Climati and Morra were famous for their savage trilogy comprised of Final Cry of the Savana, This Violent World and Sweet and Savage. The brothers Castiglioni made the films The Last Savage, The Last Savage 2 and Naked Magic. The films featured footage of people killing and eating animals, animals killing each other, animal mutilation, castration, sex, and occasionally people being eaten alive by animals. You know who won? NOBODY! When you try to out-gross-out somebody...everyone loses because you're playing with taste in a wholly uncouth way and in the cutthroat world of Italian factory filmmaking, animals were almost certainly going to die and the dignity and culture of humans we can't possibly understand is being displayed like a circus act, out of context. Suffering, real suffering, is not something you are ever allowed to play with, to do so makes you less than human in my eyes.
Giovanni Lombardi Radice who plays Mike under the pseudonym John Morghen has gone on record as saying that being in the film was a mistake that he regrets. His experiences on the set are telling and characterize everything that's wrong with this kind of filmmaking. Radice was morally opposed to killing the animals his character was supposed to kill. At first Lenzi tried to browbeat him into doing it by saying things like "Robert DeNiro would do it!", to which Radice said "Robert DeNiro would kick your ass all the way back to Rome!" A little later Radice almost cut off the hand of the double who actually killed the pig, so distracted and angry was he about the filming conditions. He says that Lenzi was just trying to make Cannibal Holocaust 2   and that any claims to the contrary are bold-faced lies. Also telling is that Lenzi actually went out of his way to get his movie banned so he could then bring it to the states, where they'd show just about anything, with a "banned in 31 countries" banner, which the DVD cover still proudly displays despite it no longer being banned in most of those countries. Lenzi would never admit what a two-bit carnival barker he was but his movie more than speaks for itself. It has nothing of the gritty realism of Cannibal Holocaust and his way of trying to even the score was to have his one villainous actor just say and do reprehensible things for NO REASON! Radice storms about the place shooting at people and calling everyone 'twat' and that is supposed to be as evil as Alan Yates and his crew. The only true evil is that Make Them Die Slowly was made out of impotent rage. Lenzi's never apologized for making Make Them Die Slowly because he doesn't understand what he did wrong, why it was wrong to force actors to kill animals because someone else did it first. He'll die in ignorance of his own malicious stupidity; the best I can hope for is that people learn from his mistakes but if Saw and Hostel are any indication, his mission was a success. Sometimes life is bitterly unfair.


Aaron said...

I've been enjoying your coverage of all the Cannibal movies. Awesome stuff.

Scøut said...

Well thanks terribly, old man! I appreciate the good word!

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