Saturday, October 24, 2009

Last Cannibal World

Last Cannibal World
Aka: Jungle Holocaust, The Last Survivor, Cannibal.
Original Title: Ultimo mondo cannibale
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato

Drama/Horror/Cannibals, 92 min

Italy, 1977

Distributed by: Noble Entertainment

Among all the strange and bizarre sub-genres ever to come out of the wonderful world of Italian cinema, the brief, but impactful cannibal genre must be among the most provocative and disturbing. Perhaps the genre itself isn’t such a strange niche as it in many ways is a progressive evolution of the previous Mondo genre perfected by directors like Franco Prosperi, Gualtiero Jacopetti. Gianni Proia and Luigi Scattini.

Say the words cannibal film and two definitive movies come to mind, Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (aka Make them Die Slowly) 1981 and Ruggero Deodato's landmark gut-muncher Cannibal Holocaust 1980 come to mind. Both landmark movies that stand out and still are considered quite offensive and provocative.

Where the nazisploitation traits are sleazy Germans tormenting naked women in their bordello concentration camps, the nunsploitation has sinful nuns engaging in lesbian romps and hailing the forces of darkness, no cannibal movie is complete without loin clothed savages tearing open the stomachs of their victims, cultural clashes between modern and primitive worlds and a fair deal of violent animal deaths. The killing of animals in the genre is still today a sensitive subject, which the directors still are at unease talking about. But in it’s own unique way it’s part of the genre, and it is within here that the movies have their historic debt to the Mondo genre. It’s only a natural progression of the re-enacted rituals and lifestyles of exotic cultures once showcased as documentary footage in the Mondo genre would be brought to life as part of dramatic narrative. This is also what director's of the genre fall back on. I was only showing the primitives everyday hunt and preparation of food, and all animals killed in front of the camera where eaten by the primitives. A rather pale excuse as these scenes of barbaric slaying is still what makes these movies disturbing, but then again so is any footage of slaughter, be it by primitives in the jungle or in your nearest processing plant. Death is a bitch to watch whey you know it’s for real. But no matter how haunting the real animal deaths are there is a vital point to why they are such an important part of the genre’s traits and narrative. The real violence enhances the illusionary violence that the characters are put in front of. We know that the monkey/crocodile/turtle snuffed it for real, there’s nothing but my common sense retaining me from believing that the human deaths on screen are fake. Which is most likely why the cannibal genre was surrounded in controversy and frequently banned as audiences where fooled into believing that the movies could have been snuff films. But for those still in doubt, actors Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman starred in many more cannibal movies pre and post Last Cannibal World.

Deodato’s Last Cannibal World wasn’t the first of the strange niche, as Umberto Lenzi beat him to it with five years when he directed his Man From Deep River in 1972 which is considered to be the one that set it all in motion. Although Deodato will forever be associated to the genre because of his classic masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust from 1980, a truly disturbing and impactful movie, which leaves no one untouched after a viewing. Directors like Sergio Martino, Mario Gariazzo and Michele Massimo Tarantini also jumped in on the genre, well jumped on isn’t really fair as the majority of these fantastic directors where all “directors for hire” guys, which is why they all followed each others leads when the genre demands turned, but still they all got in to their elbows and went with the flow churning out some savage movies in the obscure niche. Even Jesus Franco, and Joe D’Amato got in on it and brought all their sexploitation traits with the, producing some really weird entries in the subgenre. Who could ever have thought up the movie Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals 1978 but good old Joe D’Amato. During the eighties, the themes once again changed, the cannibal genre was abandoned in favour of the undead zombies, and slasher hybrids which dominated the ever inspirational American scene. A few years ago the late Bruno Mattei tried re-vitalising the cannibal niche with a few low budget attempts, but considering that nobody really noticed, it's fair to say that the genres time has passed long ago.

The producers of Man from Deep River approached Lenzi with a proposal to direct Last Cannibal World, in some ways a sequel to his previous movie, but when Lenzi demanded to much pay, producer Giorgio Carlo Rossi went after the second name on his list, Ruggero Deodato.

Staying with the idea of dramatised realism, Deodato starts his movie by proclaiming that it is based on true events, that this is the true story of Robert Harper and his terrifying ordeal. A group of people Harper [Massimo Foschi], Rolf [Ivan Rassimov who held the leading role in Lenzi’s Man From Deep River 1972 and Eaten Alive 1980], Charlie the pilot and Swan find themselves stranded in the middle of a god awful jungle on the island of Mindano after landing their small airplane on an overgrown landing strip. Charlie sets about repairing the landing gear as Robert and Rolf shoot into the jungle looking for the team supposed to meet them there. In a few minutes they find the remains of the previous teams’ radio, and set off towards the camp location. Obviously it’s abandoned and Ubaldo Continiello’s rather bleak score set’s the tone as flutes taunt us and bring us into a mood of mystery. After finding bloody weapons apparently made by primitives Robert rushes into the jungle and witnesses the first animal death as an anaconda wrestles and chomps down on a large monitor lizard. Nature at work, survival of the fittest, and it is shocking as the snake swallows the giant lizard, which definitely set’s a tone for the movie.

Back at the plane Charlie the pilot starts to curse the two men as it will soon be too late to take off. With this said Robert and Rolf find the rotting remains of the other team… and as night falls the fight for survival begins. Forced to spend the night in the hazardous jungle with the knowledge that the “last cannibals left in the world” are most likely watching them as they speak, taking shelter inside the small airplane. Going out to retrieve herself, Anna is snatched by something sneaking in the rough terrain surrounding the craft. The next morning, the men venture out into the jungle to look for Swan. Charlie finds her dress and grabbing it triggers a deadly trap. Charlie is skewered and dies in front of Robert and Rolf who scramble deeper into the jungle only to come upon a group of primitives enjoying a barbeque. You don’t need any previous knowledge of genre to understand that it’s the remains of the well-done Swan that they are chomping down.

For the next ten minutes Robert and Ralph build themselves as tiny raft and set of towards salvation down the river. But where there are rivers, there’s bound to be rapids and once again the forces of nature strike down man. Climbing ashore on the riverbank Robert tries to come to terms with the fact that he’s the only survivor of their small assemblage. Obviously Robert never watched any nature programmes and is really ignorant as he hungrily binges on some strange mushrooms he finds. After fainting he’s rudely awakened by the savages who drag him along to their amazing camp inside a cave. This is where the movie gets really interesting, as modern man meets primitive culture in a wonderful clash of cultures.

The first thing the cannibals do is humiliate him and reduce him to their level, tearing off his strange clothes leaving him naked just as they are. Screaming and objecting to their treatment of him Robert sees Pulan [Me Me Lai who also starred in Lenzi’s Man From Deep River and Eaten Alive] make her entrance as she pokes his strange white flesh, yanking the elastic in his underwear and finally ripping them off. Robert is now equal to the savages. As the savages saw Robert arrive by plane, they want to see this strange god like entity fly and hoist him up by a rope to the top of the cave. Needless to say Robert can’t fly and as they repeatedly rise and drop him towards the ground he passes out. This scene is reminiscent of the coming of age ritual that Richard Harris goes through in Elliot Silverstein’s A Man Called Horse from 1970. A Man Called Horse is very much the same template and definitely an inspiration upon the cannibal genre, as it deals with the same topic. The savage rituals and crashes between primitive and modern worlds.

The primitives go about their everyday life, as Robert sits starving in his primitive cage but for some strange reason Pulan takes pity, or perhaps it’s fascination, upon Robert and starts befriending him. As we reach half point Deodato reminds us of the cruel and harsh reality of nature as we are shown how the cannibals capture and kill not only a huge snake, but also a crocodile which is sliced open to reveal it’s still beating heart. The obligatory nature documentary footage is here too, as yet another snake snares and swallows a bat whole. The footage acts as reminder of the carnage gone before, and also an effective tool to sell the illusion of reality in the scenes about to come.

Finally Robert get’s his big break, he manages to escape after his cage door is left unsecured and snatching Pulan by the arm the two set off towards the deep deep jungle. The tables are turned in more than one way as Robert is now the predator and Pulan the victim, after all he has kidnapped her. Civilized man plummets deeper and deeper into his repressed primal instincts and as he almost reaches the bottom he rapes Pulan. Robert is now the alpha male and Pulan his subordinate, which is enhanced in the next scene where Pulan hunts for food and serves Robert a delicious meal of fresh caught fish, fruit and berries.

While seeking shelter from a monsoon rainstorm the couple take refuge in a cave, a cave that reveals itself as the hiding place of Ralph! He also survived the ordeal on the rapids, but has a gangrenous knee injury after his bout with the forces of nature. The two friends and Pulan make the most of their safe place as they plan their route out of the jungle. But in any self respecting script, there has to be downfall after joy and happiness, and the script writers of Last Cannibal World [Gianfranco Cleric, Tito Carpi, Renzo Genta and Giorgio Carlo Rossi, yeah the producer] are well aware of this as they unleash the final reel of savagery upon us. Pulan attempts to lead the two men back to their aircraft and obviously they run straight into the cannibals. If you where waiting for mayhem, this is where you will find it in the most disturbing scene of the movie as Pulan is captured, decapitated, gutted and finally roasted before the cannibals consume her freshly grilled flesh.

Coming to it's climax, the movie sees Robert going head to head with the cannibal leader and becomes what he has been fighting against all this time, the civilized man becomes a savage. After beating the leader to death Robert embowels him and frantically gobbles down the tribe leaders innards. Seeing him eating the flesh of their leader, the cannibal let Robert escape and they finally get to see their strange visitor fly off into the skies.

For an early entry into this bizarre subgenre, Last Cannibal World is still an entertaining movie. Its ferocious, disturbing and packs a punch even though it a times is somwhat tedious. Unfortunately the movie was to be overshadowed by the movie magnificent Cannibal Holocaust that Deodato would make a few years later. Daniele Alabasio’s editing is worth pointing out, as instead of focusing on the onscreen violence, he edits his way through the violence towards the cast with such ferocity that the images are almost impossible to see clearly; hence creating mental images that surpass what really was shown. I also have to comment on Paolo Ricci’s special effects, because they are top notch. Keep in mind that in 1976 this harsh violence wasn’t as common as it is in the horror genre these days. It was only a few years previously that George A. Romero showed zombies eating human flesh in Night of the Living Dead 1968, and two years before he unleashed his Dawn of the Dead 1978, setting the guide lines for the splatter genre. People hadn’t really seen stuff like this, and packaged with all that real animal violence, there’s no wonder that the films where controversial. After creating special effects for many of the infamous Cannibal flicks, Ricci later worked with the special effects on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia 1983. For Deodato and screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici it’s quite apparent that they planted the seeds which they three years later would reap with the masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust, where instead of observing the carnage, they would turn the cameras on themselves and question the genre and it’s origins the Mondo genre in a remarkable way. But Cannibal Holocaust is a completely different movie which apart from being extremely gruesome, also holds a lot of social and political criticism that makes up part of the legacy it brought with it. Although that is a completely different story.

Image: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

Audio: Optional English or Italian dialogue, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian or Danish subtitles are available.

Extras: Well unfortunately there are no extras at all apart from the theatrical trailers for each individual film. The trailer for Last Cannibal World is by far the most spectacular as it sees Deodato and Crew paying homage to those great Alfred Hitchcock walking through the set trailers, as they talk about the shoot and the perils they have encountered during it. But considering that this is a rather price worthy collection “The Cannibal Collection” packaged with Lenzi’s Man From Deep River and Mario Gariazzo’s Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, I feel that you are getting to great genre pieces and one lesser (Amazonia, which focuses more on Elvire Audray getting her kit off than the horrors of confronting the cannibals) which makes up for the lack of extras.

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