Thursday, 14 June 2018

SOMETHING TO GET YOUR TEETH INTO...

CANNIBAL MOVIES


*** THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS AND GRAPHIC CONTENT ***




If you were around in the 1980s and remember the media frenzy which surrounded the films which were deemed "video nasties", chances are that you'd have seen the front cover of Cannibal Holocaust in print and on television. This infamous example of pre-cert video artwork - featuring a primitive tribesman tucking greedily into the entrails of some poor unfortunate - was the literal poster child for those who were all too ready to voice their disgust at those sick, depraved pieces of work masquerading as entertainment.



The video nasties may not have had the corrupting effect on society which was predicted by some but they certainly upset the wrong people. Of the nasties, the cannibal movies were always going to be the most problematic, often featuring animal cruelty and sexual violence in addition to the extreme gore on display. The lurid packaging, as demonstrated above, didn't particularly help their cause either.

These films evolved from the "Mondo" documentaries, which featured graphic depictions of sensational and taboo subjects. The first of these was Mondo Cane (rough translation: A Dog's World), a 1962 production which featured archive footage of cults, strange rituals and violent scenes involving animals. The footage was said to have been assembled from archive material but rumours persisted with regard to just how much of it had been staged.

Nevertheless, it was successful enough to spawn Women Of The World a year later, which used some of the out-takes from Mondo Cane as its basis. Three years further on, Africa: Blood And Guts (also known as Africa Addio!) followed, featuring scenes of animal poaching, executions and more tribal customs.

Taking these examples of ghastly, in-your-face reality and giving them a further, fictional twist, the cannibal subgenre rapidly became one of the most controversial and oft-banned examples of exploitation cinema, upsetting folk left, right and centre but also featuring a cinematic innovation which, decades down the line, we'd come to refer to as "found footage".

It could be a bumpy ride, folks, so buckle up as I take you on a whistle-stop tour of the highlights and lowlights, the landmarks and the skidmarks. A world where academics, documentary crews and more than a few idiots venture into uncharted territory and generally wished they hadn't.

Let's begin with the movie which ushered in so much gut-munching but surprisingly it's one that's lighter on the human buffet than you might expect. Despite this, it almost inevitably found itself in trouble with the censors...


DEEP RIVER SAVAGES (1972)

Alternative titles include: Man From Deep River, Sacrifice!



Resembling a jungle-set remake of the western A Man Called Horse more than the OTT celebration of sensibility-shredding violence than would become his trademark in later outings, Umberto Lenzi kicked things off with Ivan Rassimov as a photographer who likes the odd bottle of J&B whisky and whose trip to the rain forest goes south very quickly as his guide turns up very dead indeed and he's captured by a primitive tribe. This won't be the last time you hear about a trip to the rain forest which goes badly wrong in a cannibal movie.

So if Rassimov's captured, surely it won't be too long before he's the main course, right? Actually that's not the case here because these natives don't have a particular taste for Westerners or indeed any flavour of person. Instead he has to endure numerous trials for the entertainment of his captors, which include being hit with sticks quite a lot and in one particularly painful sequence he's used as a human dartboard.

One of the women in the tribe (played by Me Me Lai - you won't have heard the last of this actress) takes a bit of a shine to Rassimov and, as he's gradually accepted into his new environment, romance blossoms between the pair before, as is this genre's wont, tragedy inevitably strikes. If you're looking for unbridled joy, the cannibal movie is very much not the place to find it.

Originally submitted to the BBFC in 1975, it was refused a certificate but then showed up in the early days of the unregulated home entertainment market courtesy of Derann Video where it proceeded to upset various punters who, it's safe to say, hadn't particularly been exposed to this kind of movie making before.

There are scenes of cockfighting - always a no-no for the UK censors, even now - but those turned out to be relatively minor transgressions compared to a protracted sequence showing a fight between a mongoose and a snake, a crocodile being killed, a snake being cut open as part of a fertility rite and, arguably most disconcerting of all, a clearly terrified monkey being restrained and having the top of its head sliced off.

There is cannibalism here but it's introduced in a subplot involving a rival tribe and compared to other movies of the type it's not awash with scenes of intestines being yanked out, although the brief gore shown here probably caused more than a few palpitations at the time of its release.

A sturdy adventure flick with an unexpectedly tender romance which goes some way to offsetting the unpleasantness going on elsewhere, Deep River Savages firmly established the template for the subgenre going forward and its influence can be seen on most of the movies which were to follow.


LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (1977)


Alternative titles include: Cannibal, Jungle Holocaust



At one point, Umberto Lenzi was slated to direct Last Cannibal World but a final agreement could not be reached and in the end the gig went to compatriot Ruggero Deodato, who'd just directed the thriller Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man. Lenzi would eventually return with Eaten Alive! three years later but Ultimo Mondo Cannibale was to give Deodato's career a boost, leading him to bigger, not to mention more infamous, things.

Released in the UK - missing several minutes of its original running time - under the alternative title of Cannibal (see the video cover above from the jungle horror-friendly folks at Derann), Deodato's first foray into the cannibal genre is effective and this is in no small part due to the central performance of Massimo Foschi as Professor Robert Harper, whose plane crashes in the rain forest and who then falls into the clutches of the tribe who dwell there. By the way, this won't be the last plane crash you hear about in a cannibal movie.

One of the women in the tribe (played by Me Me Lai) takes a bit of a shine to Harper and... hold on, hasn't this happened before in another movie? Well, not quite, although Me Me Lai ends up two for two in terms of not making it to the end credits, her demise both imaginative and spectacular as she's killed for assisting the Prof then sliced open and cooked from the inside using hot stones wrapped in leaves.

Ivan Rassimov - the original Man From Deep River - is involved again but he takes a supporting role, playing the professor's travelling companion who disappears early on in the movie following a rafting accident √† la Deliverance but then reappears in the final reel as Harper makes a final, desperate bid for freedom.

As in Deep River Savages, the animal cruelty is often played out as major set-pieces. For me, these do little other than slow down the proceedings as a crocodile is gutted and, in the film's most gruelling sequence, a staked-out bat is slowly killed by a snake. This is every bit as abhorrent at it sounds.

The story goes that the animal killings weren't in the original story, it being the producer who shot these scenes afterwards and added them into the movie, much to the consternation of Deodato and Foschi who asked for them to be removed. Of course, there was no way they were going to be cut out (certainly not in the original version), they were left in to maximise its boundary-pushing credentials.

Those revolting moments aside, Last Cannibal World is actually a rather fine, handsomely shot, surprisingly absorbing, often suspenseful effort and the impressive work from its cast lifts it well above most of the other movies I'll be covering. It also paved the way for Deodato's magnum opus, but more of that after...


PRISONER OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978)


Alternative titles include: Mountain Of The Cannibal God, Slave Of The Cannibal God



Taking the genre in more of an action adventure direction, Sergio Martino's movie is a more polished product than you might expect in such grungy company. Here, the familiar plot device of the lost expedition gets an early outing as Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) enlists the help of Professor Edward Foster (Stacy Keach) in tracking down her missing husband.

As with Deep River Savages, the cannibalism takes a back seat for most of the proceedings and here it's only in the last third when the natives get to chow down and due to the machinations of the plot they're not actually the villains of the piece. It's the supposedly civilised folk who are the bad guys here, looking to exploit the natural resources of the unspoiled wilderness for commercial gain.

If there's something of a lack of human beings on the menu, Martino doesn't skimp on other types of salacious material including the by now de rigeur scenes of animal cruelty which somehow seem even more out of place here considering "name" actors such as Andress and Keach are along for the ride.

To be fair to them they're both incredibly game. Keach is good value as the adventurer who's haunted by previously having to resort to cannibalism to survive (his delivery of the faintly ridiculous line "You don't forget the taste of human flesh!" is particularly enjoyable) but Andress takes the honours, going the extra mile - make that several extra miles - as she disrobes at the drop of a hat, gets smeared with the putrescence of a rotting corpse and is forced to eat...well, you'll find out if you see the movie.


CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)


So here it is, arguably the most infamous, upsetting and controversial of all cannibal films but also the most complex and well made, interspersing a conventional narrative with what we would now call "found footage" as a documentary film crew vanishes without trace in the wilds of New Guinea and an academic is tasked with discovering exactly what happened.

The first half introduces to the crew in flashbacks and touches upon their decidedly dodgy previous work before noted anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) retraces the route taken by the missing film-makers in an attempt to uncover more information about their fate. Not only does he make a gruesome discovery, he also locates several reels of film which they'd shot and he brings those back to New York.

The second half of the movie is almost entirely devoted to that footage as Monroe screens it for eager TV network bigwigs - and us. This is where the movie really ramps up, the true nature of the documentary makers coming to the fore as they stage various atrocities for maximum effect, including trapping some of the natives in their huts and burning them down. This sequence is marrow-freezing, terrifying and repugnant and every time I've watched this I'm gripped by a feeling of dread knowing it's about to happen.

With the film crew now completely out of control, it's only a matter of time before the cannibals take their revenge and the final yards of the footage capture this as they continue to film ("We're going to get an Oscar for this!" is heard just after they've seen their friend and colleague castrated, decapitated and disembowelled). The tears in the film stock, the over-exposure of certain sequences and issues with the sound all add to the realism as well as cleverly taking just enough of the focus away from the special effects. It's an overwhelming, sickening climax.

The last film reel runs out on the close-up, bloodied face of the director and the silent reaction of the viewers in the projection room mirrors the silence that I think would have followed at screenings of the movie, certainly the early ones in any case. You - and those on screen who have just watched exactly what you did -  are sitting there, shell shocked, left to deal with it. You may feel you've been sucker punched but there's little to deny that it's also challenging, skilled film-making from a director who plies his trade with assurance.

The disgusted TV network bods order the footage to be destroyed, Monroe walks out of the building on to a bustling New York street and his voice-over closes the movie with a line that's maybe a little too on the nose but still has a great deal of resonance: "I wonder who the real cannibals are".

Because of its extreme content and its place within the horror genre it would be easy to dismiss Cannibal Holocaust as a mere exercise in testing the viewer's limits in terms of gore and depravity but that would be doing it the most enormous disservice as it's a much smarter piece of work that many would wish to give it credit for.

It raises pertinent questions about what and what isn't "real" in terms of what's fed to us on the screen. Arguably, it's even more relevant now in these times of "staged reality" shows and it asks us to question what we consider entertainment, even challenging what you've just seen in the movie. How extreme are the desires of viewers and are producers providing content which is merely feeding into those desires? 

Away from the main bones of contention, it's worth seeking out the Riz Ortolani score which is absolutely gorgeous. In a total contrast to the landscape of human and animal suffering on the screen, the soundtrack could have been lifted straight from a romance. The contrast between the hideous visual content and the gentle score is stark, creating another layer of disquiet.

A true landmark of horror cinema, Cannibal Holocaust is grim, intelligent and perturbing. You may only want to see it once and you may want to look away at various points during the movie but it deserves to be seen. It's a film that's to be experienced rather than enjoyed and it'll definitely push your buttons but you'll also be wanting to talk about it afterwards.


EATEN ALIVE! (1980)



While in Rome for a couple of weeks to complete his work on Cannibal Holocaust, Robert Kerman met with the producers of Eaten Alive! and pretty soon he was heading back into the jungle but this time for Umberto Lenzi who was also returning to his previous stomping ground.

Again, in a similar subplot to that of Deep River Savages, the cannibal elements in this film come courtesy of a neighbouring tribe. The main thrust of the story concerns Sheila Morris - beautiful Swedish actress Janet Agren re-dubbed as a "well gosh I do declare" Southern belle from Alabama - trying to track down her missing sister with the help of J&B swilling rogue Mark Butler (Kerman) and ending up at the mercy of a Jim Jones-like cult headed by the charismatic Jonas (yes, it's that man Ivan Rassimov again).

Also featured here is Me Me Lai as a native who takes a bit of a shine to...hold on, haven't we been here before? Anyway, she assists Kerman in his attempts to break out of the cult's compound and - in a plot development that will surprise almost no one - she ends up three for three in terms of not making it to the end credits. Her demise is also very similar if you happen to have seen Last Cannibal World, mainly because it uses a portion of those gory highlights from that movie.

Not only does this, er, cannibalise that particular scene from Deodato's 1977 entry into the genre, this also replays footage from Lenzi's earlier Deep River Savages including the draining of venom from a snake in order to coat the tips of arrows with its poison and then utilises a sizeable amount of the bloody attack on a native girl. Saves on the budget, I suppose.

Although the cannibal tribe is something of an adjunct to the main action there's still plenty of unlucky types finding they're suddenly missing various bits of themselves and being generally chomped upon. Paola Senatore's character gets a particularly gory death in this one, with lingering close-ups of natives feasting on the bits of her they've cut off.

Of course, there's a disturbing amount of animal violence in the unexpurgated version including a snake killing a monkey, another snake killing a bird, another snake fighting a mongoose, even more snakes being stripped of their skins and eaten by the cannibals (what is it with this movie and snakes?) and the mutilations of a crocodile and an iguana.

It does at least attempt to offset its exploitative elements with some form of plot and a bit of globe-hopping as the action switches back and forth from the jungle to New York where Mel Ferrer makes a "special appearance" as an expert discussing the disappearance of Sheila's sister - and subsequently the disappearance Sheila herself - with a generally incredulous police department.

Disappointingly, having set up Sheila as a potentially no-nonsense heroine who looks to be more than a match for Mark, the story then has her turn into the archetypal damsel in distress who's at the whim of Jonas and his rather bizarre rituals, one of which involves a large dildo dipped in snake blood. She's also there to be slapped around by Mark whenever she gets hysterical, which happens far too often in the last act.

If you can ignore the macho posturing and the incredibly dodgy sexual politics, Eaten Alive! moves at a fair old clip and there are bodies littering the place come the end. It would have really come alive had Agren been kicking ass alongside Kerman, though.


THE DEVIL HUNTER (1980)



It's fair to say that Jess Franco is not a fan of this particular subgenre - he's on record saying how much he hated cannibal movies - but that didn't stop him from contributing a couple of flicks of the type, most likely as a favour to the company which was bankrolling his other films.

Franco shot two cannibal movies for production outfit Eurocin√© in 1980, this and White Cannibal Queen (also known by a slew of other titles including the straight and to the point Cannibals). In both movies, a blonde girl falls into the clutches of a native tribe. In WCQ it's Al Cliver's daughter, in this one it's model Laura Crawford - played by the striking Ursula Buchfellner. In both movies our rugged protagonist mounts an operation to bring 'em back alive so if you're an Al Cliver rescue plot completist then knock yourself out.

Both movies touch upon many recognisable tropes but at least The Devil Hunter approaches them from an odder angle than most, throwing in a "Devil God" who's worshipped by the natives and who also shows up to snack upon various ill-fated folk. It's a distinctive way of tackling the well-worn template of the cannibal film but unfortunately its elements are thrown together in such a haphazard way that it's ultimately something of an endurance test.

Large chunks of the film are taken up by nothing really happening, people show up and then disappear having not moved the story on one jot, Werner Pochath gets to go full-on, scenery-chewing, batshit crazy and if you do manage to soldier on to the climax, no, you're not hallucinating, that is Al Cliver having a fight with a naked guy who's seven feet tall and has plasticine eyes.

The cannibalism sequences are just as strange, mainly consisting of close-ups of the Devil God chewing on something that doesn't even look like human sacrifice, fresh or otherwise. However, it still upset enough people to land on the Video Nasties list even though the gore is as fake as it comes and there's no animal cruelty featured whatsoever. We're an odd bunch in the UK.



CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)


Alternative titles include: Make Them Die Slowly



It's time for another expedition to the rain forest as anthropologist Gloria (Lorraine De Selle) sets out with a couple of friends on a mission to prove her theory that cannibalism no longer exists. Looking at the title of this movie, what do you think she'll discover in relation to said theory?

With a trailer pointing up just how many acts of cruelty are featured in the movie and the list of countries in which this is banned worn as a badge of honour it's safe to say that Cannibal Ferox is not asking those lingering, troubling questions raised by Cannibal Holocaust. As a matter of fact the only question you may be left with at the end of this is "Why?" after having your face metaphorically rubbed in slaughtered animals and human viscera for an hour and a half.

Still, if it's gore you're looking for then step right up. The 42nd Street title of Make Them Die Slowly really fits the bill here, with Euro horror stalwart John Morghen topping the charts for the most gradual demise. First he gets castrated (his penis becoming an afternoon snack for the tribe's chief), a bit later on he loses a hand and finally he has the top of his head lopped off so the natives can pick at his brains. There are also traces of A Man Called Horse coming back into play as Zora Kerova's character is strung up via hooks through her breasts.

Of course, it wasn't only the special effects that gave Ferox zero chance of getting past the censors uncut on its original, BBFC-approved release (or subsequent releases, for that matter). It also contains several repellent sequences of animal cruelty, starting off with a coati squealing in agony as it's very slowly strangled by a snake. It's thoroughly distressing, utterly vile and, according to Morghen, the Italian crew stopped filming and wouldn't continue until it was taken to safety.

If that wasn't enough, there's a monkey being attacked by a jaguar, a fight between a snake and an iguana, a live turtle having its head and legs chopped off and a crocodile being killed and eaten. Whereas these kinds of events are used in previous movies to demonstrate primitive environments as being red in tooth and claw, here it just seems to be an excuse for cramming in as many nauseating moments as possible.

There's little doubt that this and Cannibal Holocaust are the two most talked-about titles in this arena but for markedly different reasons. Whereas Holocaust is shockingly brutal and possesses a chilling air of verity, Ferox constantly rides the edge of gross/cartoony in its quest for ever more bloodthirsty vignettes and it's so wilfully OTT that it risks becoming nonsensical. However, what frequently brings it down to earth with a bump are the moments where animals are genuinely tortured and killed on screen, giving the movie a sobering edge which it doesn't seem to be striving for over the bulk of its running time.

A couple of Cannibal Holocaust alumni can be found here too, notably Robert Kerman who stays firmly in New York this time as a detective investigating a murder which takes place early in the movie. An uncredited Perry Pirkanen - one of Holocaust's doco crew - also shows up briefly as another nasty piece of work.


CANNIBAL TERROR (1981)



And here's the nadir of the entire cycle, the third cannibal movie made by Eurociné in a very short space of time and somehow the very worst out of the three which is really saying something. Cannibal Terror tries to recreate the Italian formula and manages to fail on absolutely every level. In fact, it probably fails on levels of which we may not be fully aware for years to come. Alain Deruelle - who may or may not be the director of this, the details are confusing to say the least - looks to spin gold out of rubbish but the hoped-for alchemy only results in an even more monumental pile of clag.

Not only is this, in my opinion, the worst cannibal movie ever made (even edging out the aforementioned White Cannibal Queen which takes some doing), this is also a genuine contender for one of the worst movies ever made. The gore is laughably fake, the Spanish countryside locations don't convince in the slightest as "the jungle" and the cannibals themselves are unintentionally hilarious, spending more time dancing to their tribal music than posing any sort of threat to whoever wanders in.

The gore is about as unrealistic as it's possible to be, relying on mannequin limbs with a bit of offal smeared on the end and substituting what looks to be a pig carcass for the odd moment where someone's getting their insides pulled out. Despite the amateur hour effects, it did qualify as a Video Nasty in the UK. If you watch it - and I'm not saying you should - you'll almost certainly be wondering why.

The English language version is sunk even further by an atrocious dubbing job. Almost none of the dialogue is synced up to the lip movements of the actors and just wait for the bit where someone plays an acoustic guitar. The threadbare plot, meanwhile, takes an age to go anywhere and it's a test even for those of us who revel in trash. One thing I can say about Cannibal Terror is that there's no animal cruelty in this one. The cruellest act was foisting this one on to an unsuspecting audience.


AMAZONIA: THE CATHERINE MILES STORY (1984)


Alternative titles include: Cannibal Holocaust 2



Mario Gariazzo's film was given the title Cannibal Holocaust 2 in some territories and the opening title music riffs heavily on Riz Ortolani's beautiful score from Deodato's classic. In actual fact, it's nothing to do with that movie at all and an example of a notorious title being used to drum up interest in a "sequel" that isn't anything of the sort.

It's slightly surprising then that the obvious marketing ploy gives way to a movie that's actually pretty decent, even if it does risk disappointing the fans by featuring absolutely zero cannibalism. That's right, no one gets served up as the chef's special at any point. There's mention of cannibals in the area but you don't get to see them going about their business.

The featured tribe here are headhunters so what you do get to see is a few gory (but not especially convincing) decapitations and some wince-inducing eye trauma via blow darts but the film's more concerned with the story than most of its ilk, weaving in a revenge plot, themes of honour and a gender reverse of Deep River Savages' romantic undercurrents into its familiar trope of "first world inhabitant(s) captured by third world natives".

The framing device - a court case where everything is told in flashback - is clunky and often seems to be there to pad out the running time but overall this is one of the better efforts of its type and it's rather watchable.


CUT AND RUN (1985)



This started out life as a production called Marimba which was being touted at Cannes in 1980 and with none other than Wes Craven slated to direct. Fast forward a few years and the project had developed into Cut And Run with Ruggero Deodato in the chair.

Even in the company of the other movies in this list, Cut And Run is a bit of an odd beast, mixing plots involving the search for a TV exec's missing son, the machinations of a surviving disciple of the Jim Jones cult (played by the ace Richard Lynch) and a series of attacks by natives on Westerners working at drug-producing installations in the jungle, all culminating in a reporter and her cameraman venturing into the badlands of South America to broadcast their findings to the world (the Italian title, Inferno in diretta, translates as Hell, Live! which I think is terrific).

It's to Deodato's credit that it all just about works, even if some of the subplots drag. There are some lovely touches, such as the insertion of Lynch's character into actual footage of Jim Jones (take a look behind Lynch and you can see Deodato himself). The opening, pre-credits massacre is also brilliantly handled, the only problem being that you're wondering how the rest of the movie is going to top it and unfortunately it never really does.

I remember seeing the Medusa Video release of this a long time ago and wondering just what the fuss was all about in terms of the supposedly ultra-gory violence. Turns out the UK version was watered down for our delicate sensibilities with alternate, less problematic takes being deployed at key moments. For other markets, extra gore sequences were added and it has to be said that the longer version does pack quite a gruesome punch.

Even if you do get to see the shorter cut it's worth it for the performances, notably those of Lynch and John Steiner who are both excellent. The latter is such a reprehensible bad guy that you can't wait to see him get his comeuppance. And what a comeuppance it is, at least in the full-strength version.

In fact, the cast in general is a, ahem, cut above, with Lisa Blount (from An Officer And A Gentleman and Dead And Buried) as the reporter and horror icon Michael Berryman as a mute Indio tribesman who can't wait to get busy with his machete. It's a shame that Berryman isn't used more but he certainly makes an impact with the limited screen time he has and he's responsible for the jump scare towards the end that any viewers of this will have seen coming a mile off. Still fun, though.

Although the pic is frequently cited as a part of the cannibal movie cycle (and forms the final part of Deodato's Amazonia trilogy), it's another of the films in the list in which no absolutely cannibalism is featured. A fair amount of gore, yes, but no cannibalism. In the final analysis this matters little because Cut and Run sets itself up as an action flick with its own brand of particularly vicious violence. Despite a few flat spots and a disappointingly maudlin ending, it's an entertaining enough diversion.


MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (1985) 

Alternative titles include: Cannibal Ferox 2



Michele Massimo Tarantini - under the pseudonym of Michael E. Lemick - edited, wrote and directed this cheerily knockabout and casually offensive slice of jungle shenanigans in which the cannibalism and animal cruelty are kept to an absolute minimum while the leery sexism is wound up to dial-breaking proportions. It also bears very little resemblance to anything related to Cannibal Ferox and anyone watching this expecting it to contain the same level of gore and violence is going to be extremely disappointed.

The opening act does at least show some promise as a bunch of disparate characters (adventurer/paleontologist, Vietnam vet, boozy wife of said vet, professor, professor's daughter, photographer and two models) are brought together to take a plane ride which - you're ahead of me here - ends in the plane, yes, you guessed it, crashing in, yes, you guessed it, the rain forest, where inexplicably ineffective cannibals attempt to track the group down.

More of them perish as a result of their general incompetence rather than at the end of a spear and as a result the only thing ending up on the tribal menu is the heart of the vet, which is a blessed relief considering how terrible his acting is. With just over half of the film gone the only main characters left are our cut price Indiana Jones (played by Michael Sopkiw), the professor's daughter and one of the models.

The three of them launch a desperate attempt to flee the arguably not very bloodthirsty natives - and succeed fairly quickly. With a whole half hour still to go the film changes tack and has them captured by a group running a slavery racket and, with no budget to allow for an action-packed last third, the running time is padded out with the thoroughly unnecessary menacing and assaulting of female characters who a) don't fight back, b) offer themselves up as target practice and c) magically forget their ordeal by the closing credits when they're given shiny jewels.

Anything positive to report? Well, the movie does steal, sorry, use some of Fabio Frizzi's ace Blastfighter soundtrack which is always worth a listen. There's a further connection to that movie in the casting of Sopkiw but he's actually not that good here and he turns in a much better performance in Lamberto Bava's superior wilderness actioner.


NATURA CONTRO (1988) 


Alternative titles include: Cannibal Holocaust 2, The Green Inferno



Bringing an end to the main cycle of cannibal movies was Antonio Climati's 1988 eco-adventure outing. It's another movie also known as Cannibal Holocaust 2 - how can that movie have two second chapters? - and another movie that really is nothing like its supposed predecessor. It's also known as The Green Inferno, which would eventually become the title of Eli Roth's 2013 homage to the genre and is also the title of the "film within a film" featured in Cannibal Holocaust.

It's also fitting that both Climati and Franco Prosperi (who contributed to the screenplay) should be a part of the film which was the parting shot of the subgenre, considering that they were involved in the original Mondo Cane (Climati as the cinematographer, Prosperi as one of the co-directors) and subsequently worked on Africa: Blood and Guts.

Here again, though, the turn these movies took is once again evident as there is no cannibalism to be found in Natura Contro. Yes, there's a missing professor and yes, a group bands together to go looking for both him and the legendary tribe for which he was searching. However, our "heroes" end up against a bunch of treasure hunters and also uncover a scheme to ship native children back to civilisation in order to harvest their organs.

Although this does feature a monkey being hit by a blowdart, this makes a point of not showing any animal deaths. In fact, at one point the main characters end up saving a jaguar which has fallen into a pit. There are several moments when this movie goes out of its way to make it very clear that it's not into the killing of animals.

Natura Contro finds itself, and with it the subgenre, spluttering to a uninspiring halt. Its main characters are remarkably unengaging, their climactic team-up with the natives to win the day smacks a little too much of "Hail Whitey" and the whole enterprise lacks both tension and excitement. Our heroes may lack the evil streak of the treasure hunters but they're still dicks, a bunch of irritating chancers who I secretly hoped would be double-crossed and eaten by the natives at the very end in an unexpected twist. Doesn't happen. Sorry.



EPILOGUE

If Natura Contro was an indication of where the cannibal movie found itself towards the end of the 1980s then it was probably no great loss that the cycle came to a halt there. Sixteen years' worth of movies wasn't a bad effort for a niche so specific and the subgenre even managed to produce one acknowledged classic of the horror genre.

In fact, it was another sixteen years before another cannibal film surfaced - actually, make that two cannibal films, both from the same director, the late Bruno Mattei (who has been referred to as "the Italian Ed Wood" in some circles). This information will bring a smile to the face of some and strike terror into the hearts of others.

Mondo Cannibal bears more than a passing resemblance to Cannibal Holocaust, with an almost identical story and even lifting some of the dialogue word for word. In The Land Of The Cannibals is a cross between Cannibal Holocaust and Predator as a team of commandos embarks upon a mission to rescue a person of interest who has been captured by a cannibal tribe.

Unsurprisingly, this didn't lead to a revival of the cannibal film but movies continue to feature cannibalism - to a greater or lesser extent - as part of their stories. Eli Roth's The Green Inferno is a straightforward homage to the cannibal movies of which he's obviously a big fan, whereas S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk takes a classic Western set-up and spins it into an ultimately gruesome tale.

So what's next? Big screen remake of Cannibal Ferox? I'm thinking that's probably not going to happen. As the uncharted areas of our planet become smaller and smaller, it would seem the possibility of new films set in the darkest recesses of the wilderness reduces accordingly. However, with the number of horror remakes out there, who knows? All I know is that I'll be watching them and I'll be back to tell you about them.