Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'm a Slave (of the Cannibal God) For You

Critics today can bitch and moan about the blight of torture porn, but there was a far more nihilistic, misogynist, racist, and generally darker (though physically better lit) period of exploitation cinema in the late 70s-early 80s, courtesy of those wacky Italians. Cannibal cinema--a huge hit for a brief but fertile few years--followed its own grisly recipe: take one exotic jungle locale that made Lost’s lost island look like a Disney resort, add several non-Caucasian actors relegated to the roles of savages, stir in a pinch of rape and/or castration (as obligatory as the “I can’t get any bars on my cell phone” line of current horror), bake in the sweltering sun for 80 minutes and serve with exotic wildlife creatures on the craft service table.

Watching lesser cannibal cinema makes me feel rather dirty and unfulfilled, in much the same way that the ‘unrated’ Captivity reminded me of what it’s like to eat at a cheap buffet restaurant; I dutifully fill my plate repeatedly for the duration of my stay, but everything tastes the same and nothing comes close to being good. Both subgenres work so hard to show you scenes no human has any need to witness, with such little finesse that any shock value is muted. Sort of like the Seinfeld (Marble Rye lady has been haunting me) episode where Jerry’s nudist girlfriend seems like a dream come true until he catches sight of her struggling to open a jar of pickles. Imagery--whether artistic, horrific, or both--can only go so far without context. It’s one thing to show a thrilling chase and reward the hunter with meal of his prey; it’s another to simply insert footage of an alligator eating a monkey.

Sergio Martino's Mountain of the Cannibal God, as my heavily edited version is titled (Slave of the Cannibal God is the more common name), is not quality cannibalia, despite having a decent budget and a semi-famous cast who seem to be enjoying the film as much as I was.

Quick Plot: Ursula Andress plays the concerned wife of a missing anthropologist, who disappeared into the jungles of New Guinea. She and her shifty brother enlist the aid of a khaki shorts-wearing Stacy Keach (along with several dispensable natives whose fates seem far less valued by everyone in and behind the film) who has his own reasons for hiking through the perilous rain forest. An Italian adventurer of sorts joins the fun to make googly eyes at Andress and save her life lots, while a cannibal tribe slowly sends scouts to reel those sun-tanning imperialists in for a dinner invitation.

There’s nothing wrong with this premise, yet I found myself so overwhelmingly underwhelmed by everything about this film. It looks gorgeous and the action-adventure aspect is played decently, but in watching the characters stumble through a terribly intrusive score, I got the feeling that nobody had any desire to be a part of this. The white actors look on in mild fear as stock footage is awkwardly inserted. Several animals are torn apart for our (dis)pleasure. Sometimes a plot point happens and characters kind of react. More often, it doesn't and they don't. But the music keeps playing. Then it stops. Then it plays again. And so on.

High Points:
Well-done scene of a boa constrictor wrapping itself around Andress is neat, but since it feels like the 7th ‘animal-attacking-woman-saved-by-white-men’ scene in the film, the scare isn’t what it should be

One of our main characters has an unexpected fate that actually surprises

Low Points:
Gratuitous animal violence feels even more carelessly tacked on than all the topless shots of the recent Friday the 13th

Andress’s one facial expression of blank worry=her performance

An alligator attack is 96% facial reactions, 3% alligator, and 1% "I’m bored and will now play Boggle"

Lessons Learned:
Cannibals are jerks, but little people cannibals are just plain dicks

The jungles of New Guinea are rich in uranium

Being a cannibal goddess gets you the same costume designer as Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls

Native girls are easy

Winning Line:
“You showed them fornication!”
It’s not that I condone the evil Swiss brother’s fatal seduction of an island lass, but isn’t a little fornication necessary for, you know, ensuring the continuation of your small and endangered tribe?

Repeat Offender:
Perhaps it’s the jungle air, but skinny and helpless Andress has the same punching power (and sound effect) as every male twice her size

If you want to see a beautifully shot, well-written film that uses extreme violence to tell a story and explore complex themes about the dark nature of a copy of Cannibal Holocaust. While I don’t condone the animal cruelty--in fact, I abhor it and take mild comfort and knowing direcot Ruggero Deodato has since admitted wrongdoing--those scenes are at least prompted by characters’ decisions. In Mountain of the Cannibal God (bury), I imagine this as a sample and standard conversation during shooting:

Martino: Ursula, stand right hear so we can see Johnny gut the lizard.

Andress: Why?

Martino: Don’t ask stupid questions. Action!

No comments:

Post a Comment