The strange and notorious world of Mondo Cinema is overshadowed by the cannibal subgenre of the horror film. Part zombie motifs, part doomed adventureland-slasher tropes, the cannibal films are rendered unwatchable by the inclusion of animal cruelty and slaughter. There has been considerable debate about why these movies always include monkeys, snakes, lizards, turtles and other jungle creatures eating or fighting or being cut up by actors.
Personally, I think the inclusion was to make up for the poor quality of the productions, the shim-sham grotesqueries, as a crude and obvious ploy to shock and offend as many people as possible. The movies, themselves, would have been simple blips in the bad movie vaults, if it were not for these scenes of intentional and real death and gore. These are the scenes that cast the rest of the films’ bad special effects into question. These are the scenes that turn the stomach and make you advert your eyes. These are the unforgivable scenes. The fact that animals WERE harmed making these movies makes them more like fast food restaurants than we all would like to admit. Vegan Reich, or not.
That said I would not blame you if you dismissed these films out of hand. Never wanting to watch or read or think or acknowledge them in any way. I am not attempting to justify those scenes. Nor am I ignoring them. They are horrible and some would say unforgivable. I do not agree with either side, really, and frankly, the scenes compared to the extreme nature shows we now have on cable and the real death available on the youtubes greatly diminish their impact for me.
So let’s get right into the meat of the matter. I am only going to touch on a few of the movies, and not necessarily “the best” of the bunch. I have very little to add to and nothing to say about CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980). It’s worth all the attention it has and continues to receive.
Rather, what I want to focus on is a strange thing that I noticed while watching the core films of the genre. There were a group of movies that seemed intertwined, mostly due to a cost cutting measure of inserting scenes from previous other movies into the narration of the newer movie. This common trick of low budget genre movies, inadvertently created a meta-narrative running through the movies. Could it actually be possible that all these movies were happening at the same time, the action separated by a few hundred yards apart? No. Probably not. But yet, maybe.
There are three films discussed here Umberto Lenzi’s MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972), Sergio Martino’s MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, and Umberto Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE. All three movies intertwine due to their shared scenes.
Lenzi’s MAN FROM DEEP RIVER is actually a fairly sweet little love story, believe it or not. DEEP RIVER is inspired by A MAN NAMED HORSE, in that they share the plot of an arrogant white outsider from the more “civilized world” who is captured by a primitive native tribe and slowly learns to love it there. The tribe that our hero falls in with keeps his lily white behind alive because the tribe’s chief’s daughter has the jungle fever. There is a witch doctor that puts some nasty curse on the happy couple. Then the tribe is attacked by some neighboring cannibals. First the cannibals attack a young man and woman hanging out by the river bed. The cannibals do terrible things to the woman as the young man barely escapes. This scene appears again in EATEN ALIVE.
EATEN ALIVE is a weird pre-cognitive dream of ROMANCING THE STONE. When a well-to-do-blonde woman goes looking for her lost brunette sister, who has disappeared in the green jungley expanse, one heck of an adventure ensues! She hires a down on his luck mercenary who is not very tough, but somewhat durable. They end up finding that the brunette sister has hooked up with a Jim Jonestown-like cult that lives in the dense jungle surrounded by cannibals and crocodiles. On their way through the jungle, Blondie and Mr. Mercenary come upon a horrible scene where a native couple is attacked. The same scene form DEEP RIVER, which is the timing is correct, then the Lily White in the village of that movie is under a mile from our exploring EATEN ALIVE heroes.
Further complicating things, once the action shifts to the Jim Jonestown compound, Mr. Mercenary bucks the system and is beaten and tied to a log. Of course, once he manages to break free from the compound, he ends up in the stony caves of the cannibal tribe. Where he witnesses the castration of one of the cannibals and then watches as they all eat snake soup. Later, after he is captured and tied to a rock, he it tortured by the cannibal tribe’s pet midget. Who ends up helping him escape. All this happening while Blondie is naked and being painted gold for some Jim Jonestown sex ritual. Or something. But the gold body paint is just like the kind the cave cannibals have lathered up Ursula Andress in THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD.
Starring Stacey Keach and Ursula Andress, MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD is probably one of the more accessible of these films. It is even streamed on youtube, for Allah’s sake. Again, the plot revolves around a lost relative, in this case the brilliant professor/explorer husband of Andress. She organizes an expedition to head in the green inferno to track his trail and find out if he is still alive. Of course, in short order everyone is attacked by cannibals. Andress and her dutiful guide, Manola, are taken to the cannibal caves. Where Andress is painted like a golden naked goddess and tied up next to her waxy decaying husband with a Geiger counter heart. When one of the tribe does not resist temptation and tries to sex himself on the golden body of Andress, the tribe takes horrible revenge. The punishment that Mr. Mercenary from EATEN ALIVE gets to witness from up in the cave crevices. The snake soup, the midget, everything, it’s all here. In fact, Mr. Mercenary escapes only a few scenes before the Andress/Manola team manage to float down the river to safety!
While this is most likely just a case of bad film making, the possibilities of linking these movies into one large, almost Keystone Cop-like narrative, with the missed opportunities and almost bumping into each other, really crowds the jungle up. Plus it really makes for an interesting week for the cannibals. After all, there seemed to have been a lot of out of town guests in the neighborhood and they brought some very succulent treats.