Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cannibals: Seedy and Roguish

I thought I'd reward myself because today is my birthday. Frequently in this line of work (do you have to get paid to call it work?) I run up against movies so thoroughly crazy that you question your place in the universe...but most of the time you watch movies that are uninterestingly misogynistic. Not today though! Today I have a film that celebrates, nay revels in its own indecency in a way that's uncommon even for Italian exploitation! I'm talking about Massacre in Dinosaur Valley; well, in the interest of full disclosure, I watched Jean-Pierre Denis' Murderous Maids first and then got my sleaze on, but I digress. Cannibal films kept getting made all throughout the 1980s, but the reason you've probably never heard of the next film or at the very least don't know its reputation is because it and all its peers had nothing of the true savagery required to enliven the genre. They were at best ripoffs of earlier cannibal films and the most that can be said in their defense is that no animals were killed; either way the world had by 1985 seen or heard about Cannibal Holocaust and there wasn't much you could pull after that. But that wasn't about to stop the Italians, who may have been aware how powerless they were but probably just didn't give a rat's ass. Michele Massimo Tarantini sure didn't. In fact his response was to make a cannibal film that ripped off just about every previous cannibal film. Hey, he wasn't in this to win oscars or friends; the italians were in it for the money, the gore, and the filth.

Massacre in Dinosaur Valley
by Michele Massimo Tarantini
We open with what is probably a crib of The Man From Deep River. A truly strange assemblage of characters at a cock fight in an unnamed South American country. There's Captain John Heinz, a vietnam vet who don't mind tellin' you about it, and his drunken battleaxe of a wife, Betty. There's Rob, a photographer, his nude models Belinda and Monica, and their driver Carlito. There's Professor Pedro Ibañez, paleontologist, and his feisty daughter Eva. And finally there's bone hunter and Indiana Jones-type Kevin Hall. What do these people have in common? Tomorrow they'll cram onto a small plane headed for the amazon basin for differing and wholly unimportant reasons and before too long fall victim to cannibals. Hall proves his unlucky-but-loveable asshole credentials when he picks a fight with two monstrous looking locals whose little brother gropes Monica at the cockfight. They kick the shit out of him, but his reward is to spend the night with Monica so I doubt he's all that bummed out. He's going to the basin to look for dinosaur bones and has to ask Professor Ibañez for a seat on the plane as he's the one who organized the flight; Ibañez is a renowned paleontologist and would love to take Hall (Hall's read all his books; can't turn away a devoted fan) despite his daughter's protestation (he walked in on her in the shower). Rob and his models are going to take photos for what's either a pornographic magazine or an underwear catalog, but it couldn't matter less. The way Tarantini sets this up is actually pretty funny; he has the women being inspected by a couple of burly natives with spears and just as you start to go "What is this bullshit?" we zoom out and see the cameras and its all just good, dirty fun. Heinz, whose eyes are stuck on 'Bug', has no reason that I can see for being there (and so by extension, neither does his wife) other than to give Hall someone to tussle with in the jungle.

After a stop at exposition depot, the sleaze train rolls right out of the station. The chartered plane goes down killing everyone but Rob, Belinda, Eva, Heinz, Betty and Hall. Heinz demands to be put in charge (cause he's a vet) so he can lead them to safety. Sound good to everyone else? Great! Until they get caught, we'll stop every few minutes to ogle either Eva or Belinda just to remind us that Heinz is horny, impotent and he's got a wife who just loves to needle him about the former thing. So he keeps everyone alive for a few hours but Rob falls in a pool of piranhas and they eat the skin off of his leg. Rob can't stop screaming so Heinz sticks his GIANT knife in the poor man's gut. This doesn't sit well with anyone, but I'm just glad we're moving at a brisk pace. What's next, let's see....YES! A snake! Now we're in Cannibal country. Granted Hall doesn't deal with the reptile in quite the masculine way that Gabrielle Tinti or Claudio Cassinelli did, but the point is taken. What's next? Rapids! Awesome! Hall goes over the falls and is portrayed by a dummy just like Foster in Mountain of the Cannibal God, except Hall survives cause Michael Sopkiw was probably asking for a lot less money than Stacey Keach. And then there's a croc waiting for him at the bottom of the waterfall, but he dodges it! The natives soon have Belinda and Eva in their clutches, so Hall makes like Hawkeye and runs after his beloved (or the girl he most wants to screw). Betty falls in some quicksand, and her cowardly husband leaves her at the first sign of native trouble, but they catch up to him with spears soon enough anyway. Captain Heinz looks like a pin-cushion when the natives finally get around to eating him him (he died as he lived...in a 'nam flashback). The ceremony that follows is right out of Cannibals...or Devil Hunter....or well, anyway, they've got drugs, a guy wearing a Triceratops skull, and a full set of next-to-nothing to dress the girls in. Hall comes out guns blazing (he finally gets to use that giant shotgun he's been toting all movie long) and rescues the girls. The girls get the distinction of running for like three minutes wearing only bead necklaces; I can only imagine how much that hurt! Hall ushers them through the jungle to a boat...just like Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, though I think that both Suzane Carvalho and Susan Hahn were more top heavy than either Laura Gemser or Mónica Zanchi so this was probably not as easy a shoot for Tarantini as it was for Joe D'Amato. And the fact that none of those women compare to Sabrina Siani just makes Massacre seem more than a little ludicrous and desperate. Ok, boat chase, 'cept through careful plotting, the natives don't have boats to give chase in. This movie thought of EVERYTHING!!!!
After a few narrow escapes, Eva and Hall get a few minutes alone. I thought that Raiders of the Lost Ark was as close to making archeology sexy that filmmakers got, but Hall literally discovers a fossilized dinosaur footprint while taking Eva's shirt off. Nevermind how insulting it is to try and tell us that footprints are just on the ground waiting to be stumbled upon as if they'd been left by a pig in wet mud a few minutes ago (instead of by a creature who took its last step hundreds of millions of years ago) and that fossils by nature have to be Underfuckinground, this guy makes a find while getting to second base with a girl who's dad died two hours ago! But forget all that, let's meet China, the pig-farming slavedriver. China's been looking for something in a mine that requires slaves, slaves that Myara, his predatory lesbian assistant, keeps in line. To quote Hall after he's been beaten and tied up, China is a "fat, smelly, evil bastard!" China's got some nasty shit planned for his new guests involving that pack of blood-thirsty pigs we keep seeing. Let's let Myara enlighten us: he's going to have sex with Eva and then when he's sick of her, she becomes a camp prostitute. And because China has called dibs on Eva, Myara has to settle for Belinda, whom she rapes in front of Eva in exchange for the promise of escape. What are the odds that that sleazy promise isn't a double cross? More importantly, what are the odds that Hall doesn't manage to save himself and Eva (who's been placed in a Cannibal Ferox-type cage) while still being an irascible jackass?

This movie was called Nudo e Selvaggio in Italian, or Naked and Wild, which is really about as fitting a title as I could have thought up (the international title that Vidco slapped on it, Cannibal Ferox 2, will probably just get a lot of people's hopes up for gorier and meaner fare). In keeping with tradition Massacre rips off everything but Cannibal Holocaust, which Tarantini knew he couldn't touch, but weirdly never loses its whimsical tone, even in that tangent about slavery. In fact, as Tarantini was primarily the maker of ridiculous sex farces the end of the movie has not one but two last-minute dirtbag quips. While we're treated to an Eaten Alive departure shot from a helicopter, Hall kisses Eva and the thing starts to crash as he feels her up. Hall jokes "no joining the mile high club on this trip!" And don't even get me started on the Brazilian helicopter joke. Michael Sopkiw, who delivers those and many other stupid, manly oneliners, was probably a much better actor before they dubbed over his lines. He made exactly four movies before he quit acting in 1985 to become a medicinal botanist and make the world a better place. I salute you Sopkiw, even if I laughed my ass of at your performance in Devil Fish, because you hit the ground running.
Though Massacre in Dinosaur Valley is about as stupid and exploitative as movies get I enjoyed myself. Tarantini, unlike his peers, knew that cannibal films had to be filthy so he took all of the guilt out of the equation and just made it about nudity, masculinity and comparatively tame violence. So, no, I don't recommend this to anyone looking to think or feel, but it's just too much fun to ignore; they don't even kill any animals. The script, by an uncredited Dardanno Sacchetti, makes no sense and the cast, who only ever made bad 80s movies, are just fantastically dreadful. It became even harder to take when I realized that the same person who dubbed Eva also did the voice of Tracy in the movie Pod People, a favorite of classic movies lampooned by Mystery Science Theatre. An unqualified success for bad movie fans everywhere and I can think of no better way to depart from the 80s cannibal film.

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