Friday, February 15, 2013

Invasion of the Pastaland Chunkblowers

Back in 2003 or so, I wrote an article for a fledgling website called cinema-nocturna. The website is somewhat defunct no, but it was a fun opportunity so try my hand at writing. I came across this document file while cleaning out some folders on my laptop so I thought I would share. I also added some pictures to spruce it up a bit. Enjoy!!

Cannibal- noun. 1. A person who eats human flesh. 2. An animal that eats it’s own kind.  adj. Of, resembling, or having the habits of cannibals.

            The eating of human flesh is one of mans’ biggest taboos. It’s not a topic that people like to discuss. It is a vile and repulsive act that society will condone only if used as a last act of survival under extreme conditions. It’s no real surprise that it has been the subject matter in some horror films.

            From George Romero’s zombie films where the re-animated corpses of the recently dead feast upon the flesh of the living to Hollywood blockbusters like Hannibal where the focus is on a maniacal serial killer, cannibalism has both thrilled and revolted audiences worldwide. The Italian cannibal films of the 1970’s and 80’s are no exception and it’s a sub genre that I have come to appreciate in the past few years. 

Back in 1989, I read an article about the film Make Them Die Slowly (1981) in Gorezone magazine. I was blown away by the images of cannibalism shown in the article. I was also spellbound by the 20 plus scenes of violence mentioned in this gut buster. I knew I just had to see this exercise in mayhem. It wasn’t until two years later did I find a copy for rent at a video store about a half hour away from where I lived. I stumbled across it really while looking for used movies for sale. I snagged it up, rented it out and sped all the way home, committing several moving violations along the way. I can still remember the feeling of anticipation as I popped the tape into my VCR. I wasn’t disappointed either. The “Banned in 31 Countries” sticker on the box was a pretty fair warning. The gritty feel of the film crept over me like a blanket, cutting out the outside world. My eyes were bombarded with scenes of animal cruelty and vicious acts of violence, not to mention the gut munching. When the movie ended I actually felt dirty, but in a good way! I was hooked plain and simple.

Like any other addict, I had to get my fix. I dubbed a copy of the rental and went on a search for more cannibal delights. I found myself at a dead end though. These films just weren’t available at video stores for rent or sale. It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s did I discover the world of “gray market” video. By this time I was so into zombie films and gialli films that I had overlooked the cannibal sub genre. That changed about two years ago when I discovered a copy of Ruggero Deodatos’ Cannibal (1976) for rent at a new video store that had opened up. This began a revived interest in Italian cannibal flicks. Since I haven’t seen all that this sub genre has to offer, I can only comment on the films that I have had the pleasure of viewing.

Umberto Lenzis’, Man From Deep River (1972 aka Deep River Savages, Sacrifice!) is credited as being the first cannibal film in this sub genre of the Euro horror film. It contains all the makings of the cannibal film that we have come to know and love; Exotic jungle locations, tribal rites, animal violence, naked jungle women and of course the graphic depiction of flesh eating. Even though this film is considered the “granddaddy” of the cannibal genre, it certainly isn’t the most shocking that I have seen. Lenzi was able to concoct an exciting jungle adventure with a love story thrown in for good measure.

            John Bradley (Ivan Rassimov), photographer, ventures into the unexplored territories of Thailand. While traveling down river, he and his guide are attacked by some hostile natives. The guide is killed and Bradley is taken captive, mistaken for some kind of “fish man” hence the title “man from deep river”. He is tortured and beaten, often bearing witness to many savage tribal rites of punishment and discipline. He is eventually accepted by the village and weds the tribal chiefs’ daughter, Marya (Me Me Lai). This part of the storyline was very effectively told. I was actually drawn into the relationship that develops between Bradley and his jungle bride. This is an area in which other cannibal films I have seen have never attempt to dwell into, thus making Man From Deep River a very unique film. The U.S. release of this film was edited upon its’ theatrical debut. American censors excised some of the real animal violence shown and the films’ most shocking moment when a young tribal woman is attacked and violated by a group from a nearby cannibal tribe. Once she has been raped, the cannibals proceed to eat her. All of the “eating” sequence was cut from the U.S. print. Even without the footage, Man From Deep River is one of Lenzis’ most impressive cannibal films. Lenzi would go on to contribute two more cannibal films to the genre, Eaten Alive (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981).

In 1976, Ruggero Deodato filmed his epic cannibal movie, Jungle Holocaust (aka Cannibal, Last Cannibal World). The guidelines that Lenzi had set with Man From Deep River were about to be blown out of the water.

            Robert Harper (Massmo Foshi) and anthropologist Rolf (Ivan Rassimov) fly to a remote island to meet up with an advance team from the oil company that Harper works for. They find the camp deserted and conclude that a primitive cannibal tribe attacked it. The cannibals attack Harper, Rolf and their two crew members. Harper is eventually taken captive by the tribe and kept like an animal in a cage. Sound familiar? Well, this is where the similarities begin to disintegrate.

            As in Man From Deep River, we get to see real footage of animal death. Some of the footage is from nature documentaries and others are filmed for the purpose of the movie, like the killing of a crocodile by the cannibal tribe. The croc is stabbed in the neck, gutted, cooked, hacked up and then eaten by the tribe. The viewer also bears witness to a tribesman who is punished for his disobedience by having his arm cut open and flesh-eating ants poured on the wound. Harper befriends one tribal girl, played by Me Me Lai and escapes from captivity. Unlike Lenzi, Deodato forgoes the “love story” aspect between Harper and the girl and settles for a more unsettling story of survival. This decision makes Jungle Holocaust a more visceral film. The gore factor is turned up to ten and actually adds to the realism instead of falling into any kind of comic relief like many gore films have the tendency of doing. The gore is used to push the savage and foreboding atmosphere of the jungle. Deodato “treats” the audience to such atrocities as cannibal gut munching, a jungle woman who gives birth, then throws the baby into the river for the crocodiles, impalement and a woman decapitated, split open, disemboweled and hot stones placed in the empty body cavity. Yowza! Of course, many of these scenes were either trimmed or removed upon U.S. release. This is a wonderfully created cannibal tale that would lead Deodato to film two more cannibal films, Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Inferno In Diretta (1985).

Ivan Rassimov ponders your fate as you continue to read.

Lenzi’s and Deodato’s two films opened the floodgates for Italian chunkblowing cinema. The late 1970’s are heralded as the “cannibal heyday” and it’s not an exaggeration. By 1980, seven more cannibal themed films would be released. Some good, some bad and one that would turn the cinema world up on its ear!

           Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi), famed Italian sleaze/horror/hardcore porn director, had made a name for himself by directing a series of films starring Laura Gemser portraying the world traveling and sexually promiscuous Emanuelle. D’Amato decided it was high time she experienced the jungle cannibals that terrorized the white man in Lenzi’s and Deodato’s previous films. She did so in 1977’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (aka Trap Them And Kill Them).

This is an entry into the cannibal genre like no other. Emanuelle is a reporter who is investigating a mental hospital. While there she discovers a young “Jane Doe” who seems to belong to a cannibal tribe located in South America. How she got to New York City is anyone’s guess. Emanuelle assembles a rag tag expedition to make the journey but not before she has sex several times. This seems to be the major theme throughout the entire film. D’Amato is not concerned with the social ramifications of cannibalism and the western world or the survival of man among a jungle hell, he just wants to provide 78 minutes of copulating for the viewing audience. Only the last 15 minutes of the film are really dedicated to cannibalism. The expedition, which includes a poacher (Donald O’Brien), his wife, a black man servant (?), a nun and some woman who seems to be tagging along for fun, are basically picked off one by one until Emanuelle gets naked, again, paints herself up as a goddess and saves the day. Among the gory happenings are a woman’s breast eaten, another woman decapitated, disemboweled and eaten, yet another gutted from vagina to sternum, castration and a man ripped in half via a clever game of “tug of war”. This plays out like a porno/gore flick which D’Amato has a history of making. Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals is a really pointless entry into the cannibal genre but it’s worth mentioning because it’s still a fun film to watch.

Marino Girolami (aka Frank Martin), director of such films as Between God, the Devil and the Winchester (1968) and Violent Rome (1975), decided to take Italy’s two greatest exports and mix them together. In 1979 he combined jungle cannibal chills with living dead zombie thrills and came up with Zombi Holocaust.

A cannibalistic cult member from an island known as Keto is desecrating cadavers at a New York City hospital. He is caught in the act but commits suicide before authorities can question him. Peter Chandler (Ian McCullogh) and Dr. Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli) head up an expedition to track down the cult. En route they meet Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien). He provides them with a boat, supplies and a guide to get to the island. The boat mysteriously breaks down and they are forced to land at a nearby island. It turns out this island is actually Keto and that the captain of the boat was deliberately misleading them. Once on the island the cannibal natives make themselves known and start killing off expedition members. Ridgeway is captured by the cannibals and taken back to their village. They are eventually convinced she is some kind of goddess. Chandler however is taken hostage by one of Dr. Obreros’ men. It turns out the doctor has been conducting experiments on human cadavers and turning them into mindless zombies. Dr. Obrero decides to use Chandler as his next experiment but Ridgeway and the cannibals make an assault on Dr. Obrero’s compound and save Chandler. Pretty wacky huh?

Zombi Holocaust is a mixed bag of fun entry into the cannibal genre. This is simply a gore film that went horribly awry. Like Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, the acting is horrible and the gore is poured on thick. One man is gutted by the cannibals and while he is still alive, has his eyes pulled out and eaten. One zombie is dispatched by a boat motor! This film is devoid of any gritty realism, character development and any hint of a plot but since it featured some cannibal mayhem, I felt it was worth mentioning. The movie was released in the U.S under the title Dr. Butcher M.D. and seems to be the only Girolami film to ever get an American theatrical release.

Flesh eating became serious again when Ruggero Deodato decided to make a follow up to his 1976 gut buster Jungle Holocaust. Cannibal Holocaust (1979) is considered the greatest cannibal film of all time. Many fans, including this one, describe it as “the one that goes ALL the way”.

A group of four young filmmakers travel to South America to film a documentary on cannibal tribes. They are never heard from again. A professor from New York University, Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) goes to South America to look for them. Once there he finds a cannibal tribe who has possession of the group’s film cans. Kerman gains the trust of the tribe and they hand over the cans. Once back in New York, Kerman and some television executives view the contents of the film. The cans contain footage of what happened to the filmmakers. They had exploited the natives to get what they wanted. The filmmakers even sacrificed one of their own for the purpose of getting footage of actual cannibalism. They also raped one of the native girls and set fire to a village. They pay for their actions once the cannibals get fed up with their exploits and it all gets caught on film.

Smile you're on Cannibal Camera!

This is one of the most mean spirited and disturbing films I have ever seen. The first half of the film concerns the search for the filmmakers and the second half is the viewing of their footage. It is this footage that packs the punch. It is shaky, gritty and realistically filmed like a documentary you would see on PBS. Clearly this film was an inspiration to the makers of The Blair Witch Project (1999).  In the same vein as Jungle Holocaust, this film is full of real animal cruelty and lots of violence. In one scene the film crew hacks apart a live tortoise, a sight that would cause every member of PETA to have a coronary. There are several rape scenes that are very difficult to stomach. One involves a tribesman who rapes an adulteress tribeswoman with a spiked mud ball. He then beats her in the head with a rock until she is dead. This is explained as some type of tribal ritual. The most disturbing scene of the film for me is the death of the one female filmmaker. In an act of vengeance, the cannibals chase her down and gang rape her. She is decapitated and literally torn asunder. While the cannibals feast, one native holds her head high and starts to dance in celebration. The other two filmmakers keep the camera rolling to capture every agonizing moment to film. I don’t want to list all the scenes of brutality and violence because the film really needs to be experienced by the viewer. Deodato again uses ultra-violence as a tool to show the cruelty of jungle law but in this film it is much more unsettling. So much that he was accused of making a “snuff” film. The movie was banned in his native country of Italy and locked away. Deodato also faced a jail sentence but luckily had the verdict overturned and the film was ultimately released. It is still banned in many coutries and in Japan it is the highest grossing film next to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)!

I have yet to see another cannibal film as cruel and brutal as this one. Its relentless assault on the senses is unparallel. This relentlessness is what makes this film so unique. To put it simply, Cannibal Holocaust looks you straight in the eye and spits!

The 1970’s were now over and the new decade had begun. The cannibal film genre was about to experience a slow demise much like the kind inflicted upon its characters on screen. By this time zombie and slasher films were becoming all the rage. The cannibal genre had to evolve a little in order to compete.

At the beginning of this new decade, Antonio Margheriti decided to take cannibalism and move it into the modern western world. He did so with much success when he released Cannibal Apocalypse (1980 aka Invasion Of The Flesh Hunters).

Army officer Norman Hopper (John Saxon) leads a rescue mission into a Vietnamese village during the Vietnam War. He finds two captured soldiers from his company eating on a recently killed villager. While trying to help them out of their bamboo cage, he is bitten. Flash forward to Atlanta, Georgia where Hopper is trying to adjust to normal life after the war. He begins to develop a taste for raw meat and is plagued by nightmares of what had happened that fateful day in Vietnam. One of the ex-soldiers, Charlie Bukowski (John Morghen) that had been in captivity is released from the psychiatric hospital only to attack and bite a chunk out of a woman at the local cinema. He is chased by an angry mob and holds himself up in a flea market. The police call in Hopper, hoping he can convince Bukowski to surrender. Hopper’s doctor runs a few tests on the two them. It seems that they had contracted a rabies-like virus while in Vietnam. Hopper ends up busting Charlie and another ex-army buddy out of the psychiatric hospital and they go on a bloody rampage.

Unlike Zombi Holocaust, this a very well done cross genre cannibal film. Margheriti handles the action and the gore with ease. The gore effects are superbly handled by Gianetto Di Rossi, especially the softball size hole that is blown through one of the main characters chest! There are no inept pieces of dialogue or laughable acting. Margheriti does an excellent job of bringing a serious tone to the film. He attempts to address the sociological problems that many Vietnam vets had while trying to adjust to normal life after the war. I don’t think any of them where going around chomping on the neighbors but you get the general idea. This is an underlying theme throughout the entire film. Unlike most cannibal films there are no scenes of animal cruelty or mean spirited torture. This is a fun, gore filled romp through the streets.

Umberto Lenzi returned to the genre with two more efforts in the 1980’s. Eaten Alive (1980) aka Emerald Jungle and the now infamous Cannibal Ferox (1981), or as it is more affectionately known, Make Them Die Slowly. The film gained just as much notoriety as Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1979); too bad it didn’t pack as much a punch.  Sure Lenzi’s film is stuffed with gore and animal cruelty but it is more an onslaught of exploitation and not as “real” and disturbing as Deodato’s film.

Gloria (Lorraine De Salle), an anthropology student from New York, goes to the Amazon to prove that cannibalism no longer exists. Gloria is accompanied by Rudy (Danilo Mattei) and Pat (Zora Kerova). While tromping through the jungle they meet up with Mike Logan (John Morghen) and Joe (Walter Lucchini) who are one the run from some New York mobsters. They are looking for jewels and more importantly to Mike, drugs. The two had just escaped from a cannibal tribe and are lucky to be alive. It turns out that Mike had gone into a cocaine induced killing spree in the village. He tortured and killed two tribesmen. The group ends up returning to the village and are trapped when the rest of the tribesmen return from hunting. Thus begins the second half of the film where the tribe enacts its bloody revenge.  Mike gets just what he deserves. He had castrated one of the tribesmen and in turn he himself is castrated and survives! His hand is also chopped off and finally the cannibals lop off the top of his noggin and eat his brains. The most painful death goes to one of the women. She has hooks impaled through her breast and then hung up to writhe in agony. Of course no cannibal flick would be complete without the traditional eating of the entrails! One lucky winner of the group gets this treatment. The special effects, handled by Gino Di Rossi are a bit crude but done well considering the budget of the film.

The gore is the fuel of this movie where as it was more an accent in Deodato’s previous cannibal outings. Lenzi tried to imitate Cannibal Holocaust by using two different settings through out the film. The jungle footage is intertwined with a “sub plot”, I use that word loosely, which takes place in New York. Where Deodato’s settings went hand in hand to tell the story, Lenzi’s attempt falls flat on its face. His inter-cutting of scenes between New York and the main characters in the Amazon, destroy all tension and doom that attempts to build up during the jungle scenes. Lenzi’s film is good for what it is, a gore extravaganza for all! As one reviewer put it, “Make Them Die Slowly plays out like a greatest hits package…24 scenes of violent brutality”. 


The cannibal genre finally ran out of entrails in 1985. The slasher film had now taken precedence in the movie houses around the world. So who better to close the door on our jungle pals than Ruggero Deodato. Mixing action, adventure, a Jim Jones wannabe and cannibals, Deodato released Inferno In Diretta in 1985. Unfortunately it never hit American theaters and suffered a straight to video release under a butchered print entitled Cut And Run.

Fran Hudson (Lisa Blount), television reporter, and her cameraman Mark (Leonard Man II) are on the hunt for the lost son of a wealthy corporate executive Bob Allo (Richard Bright). His son Tommy (Willie Aames!!), is an unwilling participant of a drug smuggling ring based in the Venezuela jungle. They find Tommy just as Quecho (Micheal Berryman) and his cannibal cohorts attack the base. The three escape only to be captured by Col. Brian Horne (Richard Lynch), a one time Jim Jones follower who played a large part in the mass suicide in Guyana. Horne has been living with an Indio tribe since his days with Jones. Quecho and his army go around killing anything that moves while Horne drones on about absolutely nothing. He eventually sacrifices himself for the good of humanity (?) and his base of operations goes up in smoke in one of the most disappointing climaxes I have ever seen.

Nowhere near the intensity of Deodato’s previous cannibal films, Cut And Run falls flat just about everywhere. A “go absolutely nowhere” storyline, half assed acting and the wasted talents of Richard Lynch and John Steiner. There is however plenty of gore but you’ll only see it in the uncut version. Limb hacking, decapitations and a man ripped in two are just a few of the juicy bits removed from the Italian version. You will also get to see the big screen debut of E.R.’s Eriq LaSalle as a pimp/drug dealer! This film is a perfect example that no one, not even Ruggero Deodato, could add anything else to the cannibal genre without rehashing every film that had been previously made.  It was time for the Italian cannibal film to peacefully expire in its jungle grave.

Fortunately the genre left a legacy of brutality that will live on in the DVD players and VCR’s of fans to come. As younger horror fans discover the delights of the horror world across the Atlantic, they will no doubt stumble across the cannibals’ lair. They will be repulsed by what they see but they will also be drawn to it just like every fan before them. The grittiness, the realism, the chunkblowing, it’s what makes the Italian cannibal films what they are. They have forever left their teeth marks in the hide of cinema history.


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