Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cannibals: Laughable and Unmotivated

Perspective is important. Often times it seems like the lowest rung of the genre foodchain is Jesús Franco. What happens when more ripping off occurs even after a genre has been bled dry by the likes of Franco. If I had been asked to think up a movie even worse than Cannibals, I guess the hypothetical film I would have dreamt up would have been something like Alain Deruelle's Cannibal Terror. This film was a lot of fun to watch because it can be seen as either the single dumbest cannibal film ever made or a parody of the cannibal film genre. It's not a parody but that's just how clueless Deruelle was and how desperate the producers were.

Cannibal Terror
by Alain Deruelle
We join our movie already in progress. Two jackass thieves called Mario and Roberto are in the middle of botching a boat robbery; when that stupid bit of business, some of this film's insufferable latin music starts up as we watch the thieves' female accomplice Lina walking with the widest and most absurd hip-swinging gait I've ever seen. She stops and chats up a six year old girl dubbed insidiously by a woman easily in her thirties. She's the daughter of a car manufacturer which I guess makes her worthy of kidnapping, cause that's what the three morons plan to do. Things go from bad to worse once they've got her; their getaway driver runs a guy down just as they're about to make their escape; Mario goes looking for another way out. He calls somebody (a kidnapper's resource hotline, maybe? Seriously, they kidnapped this girl on their own, who are they reporting back to? Cause if they're getting paid to be this stupid, imagine how dumb their boss is...) who lets them know about his friend Don Antonio who owns a house they can hide out in (they never come out and say it, but my guess is that whatever European city this film was shot in is supposed to be someplace else - maybe African as in Devil Hunter, maybe Latin American like Cannibal Holocaust, maybe Asian like Mountain of the Cannibal God, maybe the moon, but whatever it is, there's no way that it's supposed to be whatever Spanish city this filmed this in).

The three crooks and their young captive meet Mickey, the driver who's going to drive them across the border to Don Antonio's house. Mickey is a girl and I guess Mario thought she'd be a boy and decides to piss and moan about being wrong. They drive the car past the border guards (if these guys let every girl through who chats them up, the whole country must be just as stupid as Roberto and Mario). Mickey has just enough to tell these morons that they'll be driving through cannibal country before her car overheats and she decides to go out and get water AS IF SHE'D NEVER SAID ANYTHING AT ALL!!!! They capture her instantly and drag her back to their village (though the cannibals aren't quite as laughable as those in Franco's film, their village most certainly is). Mario starts the car up AS IF THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH IT IN THE FIRST PLACE and they arrive at their destination.

Don Antonio, for whatever reason, has no idea who these guys are or why they were told to come to his house. They complain a lot and throw their connections name around and finally Antonio lets them stay. A word about their host - the man is this side of 70 and looks like he's going blind, his wife Manuela is no older than 30. Perhaps that's why Roberto thinks the best thing to do when the don goes to 'town' the next day is to rape his wife and leave her tied up in the woods. Then he just hangs around at Antonio's house AS IF HE'D DONE NOTHING AT ALL!!!! When Don Antonio finds Manuela tied up, he goes back and just watches the would-be gangsters dancing like morons while some guy called Alan plays the guitar. Then both he and his wife, independently of one another, take revenge. Manuela asks someone we've never met before (played by the director) to get his gang together to hunt them down and talk to the authorities (he cocks the gun he's holding and accidentally fires off one of the blank rounds its loaded with). Antonio takes Roberto out hunting, gets the drop on him, ties him to a tree and whistles for the cannibals to eat him (we get deprived of seeing him eaten, my guess is the budget only covered two dismemberings). So when the parents of the little girl show up, dressed like guerillas, with armed soldiers, Mario, Alan and Lina run for it and take the little girl with them for some reason. Before long they've got to dodge the parents, the military, the director and his hippie guerilla friends and the cannibals, whose territory they wander into.

Producer Daniel Lesoeur was if nothing else, a family man. His brother Marius helped him on most films, he put his daughter Anoushka in Franco’s Cannibals, and stole handfuls of footage from his earlier films. Much of the stock footage and native village stuff in this film was twice recycled after having already been in Cannibals, not to mention that the story is really just a slight alteration of Devil Hunter's already tired and silly plot. Much of the cast of Franco's two films are here in some form or other, whether recycled or not. Antonio Mayans, Burt Altman, Olivier Mathot, and Pamela Stanford were in either Cannibals or Devil Hunter. And half of the actors that weren't Lesoeur's stock players were people who never acted before or again; my guess is they were just friends of the director. So what effect does that have on the production? Have you or your friends ever tried making a movie when you were teenagers? Just got a camera, some buddies, and shot a movie in your backyard? That's what this movie is most like. The make-up, acting, dubbing, plotting, directing, editing - in fact, everything but the cannibal attacks which are still better than those in Cannibals, is blundering and amateurish to the utmost. Hence why when Lina and Mario get captured, we only see Mario get eaten; its implied that Lina has also been eaten, but it feels more like the director forgot she was in the movie. Everything that happens seems to happen for no reason other than it struck the director as something cool to film. With that in mind, it seems unfair to hold it up to the standards of regular filmmaking. That said, man oh man, is this some funny shit and because of the great transfer by the guys at Severin, all of its lunacy shows up loud and clear. If for no other reason than to hear Lina's first exchange with Roberto and Mario, you ought to seek this out.

My only real question is were the people at Eurociné that desperate to squeeze another dime out of the cannibal genre? Why else would you ask some spanish kids to make a movie for less money than it would take to fly some place that could pass for the jungle? And still, it was banned by the British Board of Film Classifications along with all its mean older brothers. That means that it took absolutely nothing to wind up on the banned list. This is why Make Them Die Slowly feels like such an empty gesture; what could you say about the cannibal genre now that films like this were being made, especially when you created it? What legs could you possibly have to stand on? So I say Brava, Alain Deruelle! Your incompetence is a greater victory than you know.

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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cannibals: Rabid and Shellshocked

I like it when a genre takes over because everybody throws their two cents in. Antonio Margheriti isn’t someone I’m terribly familiar with, so its fun to see what he does with the cannibal movie. Having seen his entry I wouldn’t call him a good director, but one things for sure, he keeps things lively. Margheriti was hugely into the Vietnam war (almost obsessed) and spent much of the 80s making Rambo-type films with everyone from David Warbeck to Donald Pleasence. Today’s film could be seen as the catalyst for all that because before then he had pretty exclusively made below average Gialli, Westerns, and Sci-Fi. His 1980s war films were also below average and so is this but this is most definitely the film he’s best known for and as cannibal films go this one is at the very least a lot of silly fun and at best morally sound.

Cannibal Apocalypse
By Antonio Margheriti
Ah, nothing says Italian quite like a historically inaccurate ‘nam flashback and Giovanni Lombardi Radice. Giovanni is actually secondary to the real action. He and Tony King are POWs and the squad that’s been sent to get them is led by none other than John Saxon (he's also carrying a Thompson submachine gun which the Army hadn't issued since the Korean War, but historical accuracy isn't really why we're here, is it?). Saxon is the king of the 80s character actors; he was in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tenebre and he directed Zombie Death House. He’s one of those people who’s always in shit but he’s ten times better than all of his co-stars, but it may just be because everyone like seeing them in bad movies. Michael Ironside and Lee Van Cleef are the same way. Anyway, Vietnam. So Saxon plays Captain Norman Hopper and the carnage we see his platoon inflict in order to save the two POWs may or may not have actually happened because when Hopper tries to help them out of their tiger cage, one of them bites his hand. At this point he wakes up from a dream at home in bed with his wife in Atlanta, Georgia. The dreams seem to be recurring and one gets the feeling he’s fighting something internally; why else would he look ever so longingly at that raw meat in the fridge?

Hopper isn’t the only vet with issues in the greater Atlanta area. Those two guys he rescued from bondage (Charlie Bukowski and Tommy Thompson are their names, Radice and King respectively, and sweet god do they like to overact) are also pretty close to losing it. Bukowski calls his old Captain up on the phone one day and suggests they get together to swap war stories; Hopper wisely declines. With both of their afternoons now free Hopper bites a neighbor girl who comes over to sleep with him (she looks about 15, by the way; I don’t know what the hell that’s supposed to mean, but it does become sort of relevant. The girl! Not her age). Anyway, if you think that sounds like fun, just wait and see what Charlie does with his lunch hour. He goes to a movie theatre and watches a couple make out for what seems like an hour before biting the girl on the throat. He tries to flee but a biker gang sees him and assuming he must be guilty of something chases him into a thrift store. Charlie gets ahold of a gun, kills one of the gang member, the rent-a-cop on duty, and then the police show up. Hopper comes down when his newscaster wife calls him and says one of his old platoon mates is about to make the news thinking he might be able to talk Bukowski down. He goes in and they share some cryptic words before Charlie surrenders but not before taking a bite out of one of the arresting officers.
When they get Bukowski to the psych ward he bites one of his nurses after seeing Tommy struggling to get to him. Tommy is already interred in the ward; one wonders what he did to get there? Anyway they’re isolated in their own little room until the doctors can figure out what in Christ is wrong with them. They’re there just long enough for that cop who got the bite to flip out and kill some people down at police headquarters. The nurse goes cannibal next and then frees Tommy and Charlie. Norman, too, has embraced his inner gut-muncher and gone to meet his old friends down at the hospital; he gets there in time to drive the getaway car. They don’t get too far because that biker gang that Charlie shot at earlier, they show up and they want revenge. Do you think a bunch of doughy white guys or some cannibals with absolutely nothing to lose is going to come out on top? That’s what I thought. The police arrive just after the fight stops and the four cannibals escape into the sewer where it’s cat-and-mouse until credits. Oh, and there’s a last minute zinger.

Yeah, this isn’t really a good film, but hell I had fun. Cannibal Apocalypse, rather than sticking to the run-to-the-jungle-and-die formula of the preceding cannibal films, falls nicely in line with my favorite breed of late 70s, early 80s exploitation film: the Youths-Gone-Wild film. I’ve coined this phrase and it is in a sense an extension of 50s problem child films like High School Big Shot and The Violent Years and late 60s/early 70s drug films like The Trip and Gas-s-s-s; movies that tried desperately to capture the money of kids by pretending to know what they liked to see. The movies of the 50s were way too complicated to have a shred of truth and those of the 60s were too aimless and weird; gimme the 70s/80s anyday. Movies like The Warriors, Escape From New York, and 1990: Bronx Warriors (which shares screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti with this film) tried to capture the zeitgeist of youth culture in order to impress and increasingly non-consuming audience and all of them failed spectacularly. These movies are basically good for a laugh; they don’t have the first clue about what youths do in their spare time. Cannibal Apocalypse is one such film and its even better because it’s a generation removed in that its made by Italians trying to impress American teens. That means we have a vet named Charles Bukowski and a biker gang who look like they just rode off the set of Martin. In other words, a bunch of loaded but ignorant gestures. I don’t think punks in 1980 were reading Bukowski (or even riding motorcycles). There’s a chance Dardano Sacchetti was still trying to rip-off Dawn of the Dead as he did in his Zombie script (Sacchetti was an insanely prolific writer of bad Italian movies. He also wrote House By The Cemetery, Demons and its sequel, The Beyond, and Cut & Run). Sacchetti in all probability just loved motorcycles; almost as much as McG, I’d wager. Anyway, believe me when I say this film misses its target audience by about ten years. I have a theory that this was really his Dawn of the Dead remake because Zombie didn't quite give him the chance he wanted as the plot was wildly different (it actually adheres more carefully to the cannibal movie formula than the zombie film formula, actually). I feel like this was the film he really wanted to make: a Romero tribute instead of a bastard sequel.

Notice that despite my not-exactly glowing review of the film, see all the connections I was able to make? That’s really half the fun of a film like this; its historically lucky. It represents the coming together of a dozen elements that are easily more interesting than the film itself. On its own, the film has its craziness to offer, some inspired gore set-pieces (there’s a bit where one of the cannibals is shot and Margheriti frames the next shot through the hole in his stomach) and the fact that Sacchetti turned the genre inside out by starting in the jungle and returning to the city. If he were a better writer, he’d really make something of this point. Anyway, the fact that cannibalism is treated like a virus puts this movie halfway between a zombie film of the Romero school and those of the off-shoot North American school (I’m thinking I Drink Your Blood and The Crazies specifically; hence its militaristic themes and its American location). If you were attempting to study the admiration that Italians had for American culture, you could do worse than to start here. I can think of no other phenomena (with the exception of Japanese rockabilly gangs and manga) which is so curious. Consider: a movie about the effects of the Vietnam War on American veterans set in Georgia made by Italians whose original title translated to Apocalypse Tomorrow (instead of Apocalypse Now, I guess. And while that doesn't really mean anything in and of itself, neither does half the shit Italians do in the name of the film industry). Now if that isn’t misplaced hero worship, I don’t know what is. I can also think of no other movie which claims so many influences. Cannibal movies, zombie movies, Vietnam movies, youth culture, American urban/suburban living, the list goes on.
So while it isn’t a cannibal film in the strictest sense, and it is really quite silly, it sure is fascinating from an academic standpoint. Anyway, it's a hell of a lot better than Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and hey, it could have been worse. It could have been Umberto Lenzi’s last cannibal film…

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cannibals: Naked and, well, Naked

In my summation of Eaten Alive, I noted that Umberto Lenzi’s movie was slightly more ambitious than some of his peers stab at the same subject matter. Case in point: Jesús Franco’s cannibal movies. Franco himself has said that he hated most cannibal movies, he didn’t like their documentary-style feel and he didn’t appreciate the violence (before you ask, no, I suppose his films weren’t traditionally violent in that a six year old could identify the blood as sloppily applied paint – I guess I just didn’t realize he was doing that on purpose). But Franco being Franco, when producers Daniel Lesoeur and Franco Prosperi asked him to make some cannibal films he said 'yes' even if the resultant film said 'no'; Mondo Cannibale was actually shot about an hour away from where he lived in Spain, and looks nothing like the third world country it stands in for. The first of these films is so lackluster it’s a wonder it ever got made; Franco didn’t give a goddamn and believe me it shows. He would eventually see that in order to make a cannibal film, he had to fill it with crazy.

Cannibals or Mondo Cannibale
By Jesús Franco
Jeremy Taylor, his wife, daughter, and associates are in the jungle doing…something. It really doesn’t matter. In fact, nothing much matters once the initial plot has been set up. They’re out on a boat in the middle of the jungle when a group of the most sorry-ass cannibals you'll ever see shows up, eats Taylor’s wife and associates and throws his daughter overboard. They bring Taylor back to camp and cut his arm off as part of a sacrificial rite (maybe? hell, I don't think Franco and Jean Rollin knew and they wrote the fuckin' thing), but are interrupted when one of the village elders spies Taylor's daughter on the banks of a river. These guys must have some prophecy or other about a 'white goddess' coming to them from the river because the only English words he manages are "White Goddess" and everyone seems to catch his drift. They bring the girl back to camp to make with the worship. In all the hubbub, Taylor escapes and some hunters find him passed out in the jungle a few hours later.

Jump forward ten years, Taylor has just gotten out of a psych ward and is placed in the care of his nurse Ana (played by Franco's muse Lina Romay, who I could barely recognize). He wants to conquer his fear of the jungle and find his missing daughter so he pleads with eccentric billionaire Charles Fenton and his mistress to fund his expedition. Though at first they seem reluctant, not only do they agree to fund the zany ass project, they actually go with him. Taylor, Ana, the millionaire and his wife hook up with a safari party that happens to be headed to cannibal country, which I don't really get at all. Why would a safari be headed there? Don't ask the director, he doesn't have anything for you. In fact much of the plot just slipped between my fingers as we crawl drunkenly towards the conclusion. The IMDB doesn't know the name of many of the characters on the safari and neither do I, and again, it doesn't really matter. By the time Taylor finds his daughter, whose engaged to be married to one of the cannibal warriors, it's just him and some nameless kid with a camera left alive and Taylor has to work out a pretty good endgame strategy to persuade his daughter to come home with him....or not.
Franco indicated in an interview with David Gregory (director of Plague Town and about 200 DVD-only interviews just like this one) that he really had nothing but contempt for the cannibal film and that disdain more than shows through here. Despite Franco Prosperi's name on the credits, this film has nothing of his viciousness; I think Prosperi jumped onto a sinking ship that not even he, the Captain Bligh of exploitation films, could save. No one seems to be acting, which leads me to believe that Franco really wasn't directing; and though this could be said about a lot of his films, its especially pathetic here; people just walk through scenes, yawn through their lines and in general don't seem at all like they're in any danger or even on camera. The only acting in the whole damn film is when Mrs. Taylor gets eaten alive in the prologue. There is no real sex, it's just sort of hinted at; Sabrina Siani walks around naked the whole film, and I'm sure that was enough for some people, but as she doesn't seem to know how to form words with more than one syllable, it just doesn't do anything for me (nudity for nudity's sake is really vile in my opinion, even if it is Sabrina Siani. I had no fun). Franco said that she was one of the dumbest people he'd ever met and rewarded her with about ten lines of dialogue. The music is some white funk that is rather unfortunate to say the least. Also, I'd like to ask why you'd bother cutting off the arm of your protagonist if you know full well you can't pull that effect off. When Al Cliver battles Antonio Mayans in the river towards the end, his arm is clearly visible, pretty much the whole time. That's more sad than it is funny.

The laziness and hopelessness carries over to the cannibals themselves, namely in the make-up. Sweet Christ, The Make-Up!!!!! I don't know if Franco had never seen a third world tribe or he truly didn't...Give...A...Fuck! but every cannibal in this movie has bright watercolors smeared on their faces like children at a fucking birthday party. I shit you not! A bunch of them look like spotted dogs, others have cat whiskers, and most of them are painted with neon blue, orange, purple, green, and a white base coat. Which is awesome because when the red paint they were using for blood is thrown into the mix, you literally can't tell if its smudged face paint or Faux Positive. It would be a lot funnier if the natives or Franco seemed like they thought they were pulling it off, but, alas, they seem to get how shameful it is. Then there's the conclusion. I didn't bother introducing anybody other than Taylor and Ana because when they finally make it to cannibal country they are all killed off within five minutes of arriving. If I didn't know better I'd say Franco was going through a divorce or something. There isn't even much actual cannibalizing; we do get to see Lina Romay eaten (she was on her way to being the chubby Lina Romay of Mansion of the Living Dead at this point and butchers the few lines she has; will the sadness never end?) and then the movie just...ends. The nameless photographer kid dies and I feel like maybe I was supposed to feel something, but...nothing. Then Al Cliver and Antonio Mayans (who was both the head cannibal and the production designer) fight and nobody wins. Cliver, who plays Jeremy Taylor, wins by default because his daughter doesn't want the cannibal to die, cause maybe she's in love with him? I don't call that victory. That's sort of a good way to sum this film up: nobody wins. This is truly The Searchers of giving up.
Maybe the reason Franco phoned in his direction was because he hadn't discovered a way to find the fun in the cannibal genre. His next film, while not measurably better, is definitely a return to form for our auteur. My theory is he figured out what bothered him most about cannibal films and fixed it, Franco style. Whereas most cannibal movies are consciously difficult to enjoy, Devil Hunter, his second and last cannibal movie, is a riot. There's more fake violence, more irascible dirtbags, and more bizarre nudity than you're gonna know what do with.

The Devil Hunter or Sexo Caníbal
by Jesús Franco
Laura Crawford is an actress who's famous enough that the paparazzi follow her around wherever she goes to ask her things she clearly has no idea about. Her fame is such that it has given some people a devious idea. Some bandits, Thomas, Chris, Pablito, Jane, a nameless blonde and their nameless boss abscond with the buxom Crawford and head to the jungle to wait out the ransom they requested. Laura's manager has dropped some serious coin grooming the idiot girl into a press sensation and he'll be damned if some thugs are gonna pry a nickel from his greedy mitts, so he hires Peter Weston (once again Al Cliver, ladies and gentlemen, Al Cliver!), vietnam vet, slouch, and current self-assured mercenary to go down and sort those creeps out. He seems way confident in himself but he brings his selectively shellshocked buddy Jack (give it up one more time for Antonio Mayans!) with him just in case. Their incredibly tedious exchange of "Gimme the money and you'll get the girl" "No, gimme the girl and you'll get the money" (or as I like to call this part of the kidnapping "No, you come ovah 'ere!") carries on for fifteen minutes before both parties start shooting at each other and everyone gets separated. Laura runs into the jungle with a bullet in her leg (this will disappear before too long), Peter and Jack fake their deaths when their helicopter crashes (Jack has a bullet in his leg; this, too, will disappear) and both the vets and the kidnappers try to find Laura.

Maybe now's a good time to mention the devil god. The natives in the area that our jackass captors have chosen as their rendezvous point worship a seven foot black man with bug eyes who kills everything he encounters; mostly he encounters naked people, as we'll find out. Anyway, the scenes of Laura being kidnapped are shown, through parallel editing, side by side with footage of a native girl being captured and sacrificed to the devil god. Said god will then show up and dispense with minor characters after the helicopter crashes, ensuring that only Peter, the nameless boss, and Laura are left when its time for the final showdown.
As for that showdown; I don't know if you've ever seen Al Cliver trying to put a naked black man in a half-nelson, but, nothing quite compares. This is the Jesús Franco I know and love. Once he figured out how to add That Franco Touch™, he had his audience eating out of the sweaty palm of his greasy hand. Again, this is not a good movie, nor is there even a lot of cannibalism, but this is the depraved lunacy I've come to expect and when I don't get it, I start to get cranky. I knew I was in capable hands once more when Chris, one of the kidnappers says to no one in particular in his first few seconds of screentime "Damn Shit! What a fuckin' awful place!" Werner Pochath, who plays Chris, overacts beautifully, stunningly! I mean really topnotch, A+ overacting! Other craziness: well that nude devil god is a stroke of mad genius, I'll say that. There's the yacht that Peter and Jack find with that naked girl on board. Even after they climb aboard and disarm her, she refuses to get dressed! Then, as if the preceding couple of hours weren't stressful and weird enough, she decides that what she'd like to do most of all is have sex with Jack. Jack, by the way, is dubbed by someone who couldn't decide on Kentucky or Brooklyn for his accent, both of which sound dreadful! It's awesome. I didn't mind that we don't see much cannibal gut munching because when Jack has his uncalled for vietnam flashback (which Franco stages by shaking the camera around), his dubbing guy grabs a fork and knife and does all the chewing you could ever wish for on the scenery. Thank you Daniel Lesoeur for assuming Americans wouldn't want subtitles and hiring this guy! Wierdly though, the version I watched kept switching between Spanish and English language tracks, but I'm not complaining.

The jungle, incidentally, actually looks like a jungle this time instead of a community park, and the music is the right kind of insane. Also, when Al decides to hang out on deck shirtless...mercy! A paler, flabbier action hero there may never have been. Whoever convinced Lesoeur that Al was rugged mercenary material, twice in a row no less, must have had a way with words. Then, of course, there are the native rituals. The natives get hold of Laura before either Peter or her captors can and decide to sacrifice her to the devil god. That means we're privy to a montage of the native women showering, rubbing down, and finally dancing around a naked Ursula Buchfellner as they await the arrival of their bug-eyed demigod. Pay close attention to this scene. The guy on the left playing the conga drum (with no rhythm, I might add), he looks like John Oates! Oh, and remember that bit of parallel editing I mentioned. That was a setup so that when Al Cliver fights Magic Johnson on the top of the hill while Laura stares on helplessly, he can keep cutting back to close ups of a very naked priestess writhing around back at camp. Yeah, doesn't seem so artistic now, does it?
So while, technically speaking The Devil Hunter is really no better a movie than Cannibals, it is way, way more fun than its older brother because it feels like the work of its creator; loaded with logical inconsistencies and sleaze, instead of just logical inconsistencies. Come for the cannibals, stay for the Franco brand lunacy! And the accidental ball shot toward the end of the movie. That shit's insane!

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.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cannibals: Infamous And Unforgiving

There are a few examples of films being more than just raw stock projected on screens for the enjoyment of viewers. Pasolini's Salò is one such film, as is Nabuo Nakagawa's Jigoku. These are films not intended to simply horrify or anyway they do so much more. In their short running times they raise questions about life and death that many of our greatest works of literature don't have the deftness to propose. Steve Mcqueen's Hunger comes to mind as a more recent example of a film having the power to do more than provoke happiness or sorrow from its viewer. He makes death and hardship beautiful and tragic in a way I had never encountered before. The film today isn't beautiful, but it does at times appear to be more than just a film. Like Salò, it stems the tide of modern cinema by bombarding the viewer with images of vileness, torture, and rape in service of eschewing western beliefs and the safety of films and ends in a smorgasbord of sexualized violence. It is a film so lifelike, grim and ghastly that chanting "it's only a movie" simply doesn't cut it.

Cannibal Holocaust
by Ruggero Deodato
The film starts, weirdly, with an Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals crib; I don't know if Deodato had watched Joe D'Amato's film, but it does seem rather conspicuous that both films start in pretty much exactly the same way. Robert Monroe of NYU's anthropology department is the subject of a news segment because of his planned trip to Brazil. He's going down there to find out what happened to filmmaker Alan Yates and his crew who went there to make a documentary about warring cannibal tribes and haven't been heard from for weeks. Once in the jungle he hires two guides from the military garrison monitoring the conflict who happen to have an ace up their sleeve: they have one of the natives captive. Using their injured native as something like a bloodhound, they are taken on a tour of the home turf of the Yakumo, a neutral tribe. After a few days being coddled by the Yakumo, Monroe and his guides go further down river to find the tribes that Yates was after. The three men save one of the tribes, the Yanamamo, from a war party of Shamatari, the other tribe. Monroe takes care to try and integrate himself into the Yanamamo society so that they might give him the cans of Yates' footage. After Monroe dines with him on a Shamatari captive, the chief agrees to let him take the film back with him.

Once back in New York, Monroe views the footage before allowing the news executives who paid for Yates’ expedition to see so much as a foot of film. The network did foot the bill after all, the least they might expect is some ratings in exchange for their losses. Monroe, having seen it, knows what a bad idea that is and insists they watch it first before they make any decisions (wouldn’t they anyway?). So Monroe sits down with the crew and together they watch The Green Inferno. On top of showing what became of Yates and his crew (his girlfriend Faye, two cameramen Mark and Jack, and one guide) it also becomes immediately clear that Yates got what was coming to him. If Yates had even a slight understanding of the region (that is to say the truth about the so-called cannibals) he would know that they wouldn’t be putting on the flesh-and-blood show he came down there for. So what did he do? He decided to invent a little savagery himself and force the hands of the tribes. Yates effectively became a one man colonial power; he and his crew burn down villages, murder and rape natives, kill animals for no reasons, he cuts off his guide’s leg after a snake bite resulting in the man’s death, and then shoots Jack when he gets injured so that when the natives find and kill him he can film it – that the natives attack and kill Yates and the others on camera should come as a shocker to no one. The executives finally see that running on this primetime would be the biggest mistakes of their careers and order the footage burned (which I don’t think news executives actually do; they aren’t the ministers of propaganda for a 40s fascist state). Reading about these things and seeing them happen in front of your face in one of the most convincing pieces of mock Cinéma vérité in history are vastly different things.

If you think I'm kidding about this being realer-than-reel listen to this. The film premiered in Rome in 1979 and was doing pretty well in its opening week until the proper authorities got involved. Ten days into the film's run, the police confiscated it, and Ruggero Deodato was hauled off to prison. He was about to be convicted of murder because to the police and the censors it appeared as though Alan Yates and co were actually raped, killed, and eaten by cannibals (Hey, they weren't the only ones who worried that Deodato was a murderer. Carl Gabriel York who played Yates was worried he was going to get killed for the sake of the film and was half-convinced it was a snuff film while he was down there. Robert Kerman who played Monroe thought Deodato was a cold son of a bitch, too. Perry Kirkanen who played Mark is supposed to have cried and wretched at the sight of a lot of the director's choice of setpieces). They gave Deodato 30 days to produce the actors as proof he hadn't fed them to the Yanamamo. Clearly not thinking that this was going to happen, Deodato had instructed his leads to lie low for a year, they’d even signed contracts to that effect. Finding and presenting them may have crushed one of the best laid publicity schemes in history, but it made way for quite another. The murder charges were dropped, but the obscenity charges stuck for four more years until he was able to argue his way into a heavily edited home video release. Japan, incidentally got it for a theatrical run and the film made thousands of dollars; it was the second largest grossing film that year after E.T. He was in point of fact, trying to make the harshest film ever made, so all things considered, Deodato made out ok in that now not only has he got the most fiercely manipulative movie on his resume, but also one of the more infamous. Try counting the countries in which Cannibal Holocaust was banned, you’ll get somewhere around 30 before the proof runs out. And while at first that might seem like a stroke of particularly bad luck, isn’t that just the thing that 42nd street freaks eat for breakfast? Can you think of a better possible way to get people into grindhouse seats (today it would be foreign video hosting websites) than to say your movie was banned by more than two dozen countries? I didn’t think so.
There are many comparisons to be made here, most of which other, smarter people have already pointed out, so I'll stick with my impressions and the facts. Deodato had in the years immediately following Jungle Holocaust, made other films; Cannibalism is not his one trick as many have suggested. His films Last Feelings (1978) and The Concorde Affair (1979) are both well regarded, which proves my point that Deodato was an actual moviemaker, not just a machine like Joe D'Amato or Jesús Franco. He had learned from an apprenticeship with Roberto Rosselini and knew quite a bit about making a convincing and involving story. That's why, when the opportunity arose to make another cannibal film, he said yes. Deodato had been fascinated with the stories of the Red Brigade, a terrorist group in Italy known for political assassinations. He watched a good deal of the media coverage and began wondering why no one thought to look into the media coverage. He thought that much of the footage seemed to be staged for the sake of the media, which struck him as being uncouth and just about the furthest thing from journalist integrity (he was also a fan of Mondo films like those made by Prosperi and Jacopetti, who I always like to point out, bribed a judge to delay an illegal execution so they could film it!!!! for their movie Africa Addio, so I leave it to him to tell the difference). Mix intensity, anger and deftness and some frightening shit is going to result, no two ways.

The reason for all the controversy comes from the last half of the film, the Green Inferno. Deodato went out of his way to make the first half, the framing segments look glossy and polished, which led me to believe that 1984 was the film's actual release date (the cinematography on the whole is years ahead of its time). This means that there are things that go pretty terribly awry in part 1. When Monroe arrives in the jungle, he and his guides witness a native man punishing his cheating wife. There's a lot not to like about this scene like the fact that the men could easily stop it, but don't, which I guess is a touch of the Red Brigade influence seeping in, but still...Fuck! The man molests her with a big stone phallus and then kills her with it, I didn't need to see that. From a logical standpoint, the scene looks preposterous because though the crew did their best to cover the girl in mud, she's clearly white. Her name is Lucia Costantini and she's the head of wardrobe; they had to have her in the scene because Surprise! Surprise! none of the actresses wanted to get raped with a stone in the mud. The change in cinematography also helps change the depiction of natives. In part 1, you see their faces up close, and they are not nearly so frightening as all that, in part 2, you can't see anything but menacing faceless bodies writhing around in the jungle. Finally, the real difference in part 1 and 2 is that in the found footage with the Green Inferno segment on it, the footage itself is thoughtfully and carefully degraded so that it looks like it was left in the jungle. Scratched, overexposed, shaky, and consisting of long takes edited with a hatchet, it perfectly mimics uncut documentary footage (evidently, the rest of the world thought so, too, hence Deodato's murder trial).

Which brings me to why this movie is so difficult to watch. The tedious first half is riddled with holes through which Deodato’s realism falls fast. The adulteress punishment, Monroe’s integration into the Yanamamo, the behavior of the Yakumo (who, like the natives in Jungle Holocaust, play with his penis for an uncomfortable amount of time. That Kerman was a pornstar (you could find him in Debbie Does Dallas if you cared to) and the girls were on loan from a brothel might explain why he doesn’t seem as bothered by it as Massimo Foschi in Deodato’s previous film), the helpful asides from our guide and the lazy not-quite-charming acting from Kerman makes the framing parts feel like the work of a lesser director. It makes sense that Deodato would try being a little less grim so that when the Green Inferno is shown, it is a total departure in tone, style, and everything else, but part 1 feels too boyishly naïve to be paired with the grizzly and cutthroat ending.
The Green Inferno is something that was so distressing and horrifying and confrontational that not too long after I had seen it, my brain had actually blocked a good deal of its content. I remembered vaguely that the murders were terrible and that the animal slaughter was repulsive, but after about a month or so, I couldn’t conjure up the images to go with the feelings of disgust or the order in which things happened. As I noted in my Goodbye, Uncle Tom review, the way he presents the bodies of the cannibals, as a thriving mass, less than human, almost alien, is monstrous and it really frightens me. All of them dancing about and participating in the murders, all of them painted very inhuman colours; they are made to look evil, but they're just people driven to do horrible things. We don't get that, we don't really get their side of things other than in the actions of Yates and his crew, which is disproportionate to say the least. Murder and rape on one hand and murder and rape on the other, that isn't exactly easy to stomach. Beyond the characters, there's also the actions of Deodato and his crew to consider. Let’s talk animals, shall we? I don’t like seeing animals die (I’ve had pets all my life) and seeing them killed for the sake of a film-within-a-film was just ugly. A monkey is hacked up, a coatamundi (rodent not unlike a muskrat, which is what I thought it was) is stabbed, lizards and spiders are killed, a pig is shot, and then there’s the turtle. Right around the time Yates and co. torch the Yakumo village, they catch and kill a turtle so they can eat it. As I watched them take it apart, that’s when I realized that this was not an ordinary film. I’d seen a lot of violence, but never like this, never completely free of artifice; Deodato and this film suddenly seemed evil. In hindsight I get that this is supposed to be a comment on journalism, but I can’t put myself in that position; I cannot see myself suggesting that an animal (and a fucking turtle, no less) needed to have its dignity stripped from it as it is murdered; I’m not in PETA or anything, but that’s what it is, it’s murder. Accounts of the shooting are about as scary as one would expect.

Carl Gabriel Yorke was a young actor's studio graduate with no film experience, which is perhaps why his acting is so good; he had no ego and everything to prove. He and the other four members of the expedition do such amazing jobs (especially when paired with the wooden actors of the framing story) that it's easy to believe everything they say. And they were doing such believable jobs in spite of (or perhaps because of) the horrible treatment they underwent. Perry Kinkanen is supposed to have wept after they killed the pig, though you wouldn't know it from watching that scene, so brutal and chilling is his acting. After the rape of the Yanamamo girl, Yates and Faye are supposed to have sex as the homes of the Yakumo burn behind them. Yorke was a little nervous about the scene so Francesca Ciardi who played Faye actually suggested that the two go off and have sex somewhere in the jungle; he declined. He and Robert Kerman have both stated that Deodato was an unfeeling bastard and that everything was subordinate to the film. At one point during filming, the father of one of his actors died. Deodato did let him leave for the funeral, but you can still see him crying on film. Who the fuck would do that?

Deodato was effectively conditioning everyone in the audience to expect the worst from his characters. So they murder animals, burn down villages and rape women and just revel in the carnage. He was purposely stacking up acts of violence and debauchery so that the third act would be so devastating and he was doing it in the most realistic way he could have, short of actually killing people. The script stacks the odds against Yates getting out alive, but you don’t hate his crew as much as you hate him and yet they’re the ones who get the brunt of the punishment. First is the guide; he gets bitten by a snake, and not even a poisonous one, and Yates hacks his leg off; he dies shortly after. He then coerces Jack and Mark into raping a Yanamamo girl with him and shortly after they find the girl dead, stuck on a pole (the image you’re probably familiar with even if you’ve never seen the film), clearly punishment for her being raped; Yates spouts some bullshit about it being a purely sexual ritual so, one would assume, he could edit it later. Then he all but murders Mark after the cannibals come looking for retribution for the girl. Mark is injured by a spear and so Yates shoots him so they can catch up to him; he films from a short distance away as they castrate, dismember, and eat him. Somehow it only clicks what an unforgivable mess he’s made of things when the cannibals take Faye. He insists that he and Jack go back for her, but when he runs out of bullets, his only recourse is to hide in the bushes as Jack films her being raped, beheaded, and eaten. We don’t see Yates being properly punished, we just see his face as the camera falls out of Jack’s hands onto the ground. The ending is horrifying and pitch black in tone. Riz Ortolani’s music perfectly fills rounds out the soundtrack as a series of entirely-too-convincing murders are carried out by the pulsing throng of natives who have stopped being human; they are monsters. We’re told we need to consider who the real cannibals are. This movie, its proponents, and all that it stands for is unforgivable.
This is a movie about victims, collateral damage, but I don’t think that was Deodato’s intent. He, like Yates, wanted to excite and disgust and had no concern about whom or what got in his way. So, he behaved abhorrently, killed animals, treated his actors like shit, lied about the lives of two actual tribes who never asked to be treated with such disrespect, fed into stereotypes, fell into exactly the traps he supposedly set out to condemn and then got off essentially scot-free (albeit after a lengthy fight, but that was in no way proportionate to the crimes he committed). He was even allowed to make a third cannibal film (Cut and Run in 1985) and he’s currently doing a fourth. He says he regrets the animal killings, he’s reportedly gone so far as to say the whole exercise was a mistake, but I don’t see that that makes up for it. The end didn’t justify the means and I don’t know how he could have thought they did, even as the intense realist he was 1979, desperate to prove he was an uncompromising genius. Well, he succeeded, I guess, he didn’t compromise and his film was so real looking that he was almost executed for it. So he’s clearly one of the most talented and meticulous filmmakers of our time, but no one’s ever going to recognize him; in fact if he had never made this film, he’d be just another Italian filmmaker. Deodato is sort of like a real-life Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood (and yes, I know that Plainview was based on the real-life Edward Doheny but stick with me); he has an ocean of oil under his feet but no way to profit from it; in order to do so he has to cut all his ties and betray his beliefs. We might see the ending cannibalistic orgy and Plainview's bowling pin cudgeling as the same tragic collapse; both men finally achieve what they want to, but it's the end of the line.

It makes sense then that the only person dumb enough to, in the wake of this controversy, try and achieve Deodato-style infamy is Umberto Lenzi. In crafting the ultimate cannibal film, Deodato also obfuscated the whole genre; no one was ever going to outdo him. Did that stop Lenzi? Hell no! When Cannibal films became the full-fledged genre that they are today, Lenzi was at the forefront, trying to beat Deodato at his own game, oblivious to the fact that he had no hope of succeeding and that Deodato wasn’t paying attention, he was too busy trying to get his film screened. It didn’t matter anyway because by the time Lenzi had made his final cannibal film (Make Them Die Slowly), people like Jesús Franco had gone in, churned out a dozen cheap-ass ripoffs and everyone stopped expecting things from the cannibal genre and graciously stopped in 1981. After Cut and Run a few more appeared, a few as supposed sequels, but they were largely ignored. On the night he saw Cannibal Holocaust, Sergio Leone, one of the great overrated directors of the 20th century, wrote Deodato a letter saying how much he liked his movie, but that it was going to get him in trouble and he was right for once in his life. The film earned something close to two million dollars before it was banned, so maybe its true that Italians get Italian films more than any outsider ever could. It does strike me that no one with any taste could ever pay money to see this movie more than once (or at all if you knew anything about it).
Recently the influence of Cannibal Holocaust has been felt all over the world; A Japanese film was released in 2003 that claimed to be a Cannibal Holocaust sequel; an independent Amercian film called Welcome to the Jungle was made, clearly in homage to Cannibal Holocaust, in 2007. Eli Roth has spoken of his debt to Cannibal Holocaust and even put Ruggero Deodato in Hostel Part II in a small role as…a Cannibal! There’s now a generation of young filmmakers and critics who completely missed the point and simply take the violence at face value no different from the violence in Zombie or Suspiria. If someone tells you that they like this film, they are either lying, trying to get you to think something about them or both. Cause if they actually do like it, like most people enjoy say Pulp Fiction or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Casablanca or whatever, think about what that means. They like the murder, the animal deaths, the exploitation of other cultures for profit and the rape. I don't think, but can't prove, that Deodato made this movie so people could enjoy it, but I do know he regrets it. So, you know where it came from, you know what happened, and you know what it did. I’ll let you decide whether the world would be better or worse without Cannibal Holocaust; you already know what I think.

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.