Tuesday, December 8, 2015

CANNIBALS (1980)



Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different result each time. If this is true, then I’m insane—because I went into a Jess Franco horror effort—again!—expecting something decent.
     How stupid of me.
     Cannibals (a.k.a. White Cannibal Queen) was Jess Franco’s second, and last cannibal cash-in flick (the other being the superior, yet still completely inept, Devil Hunter). My copy of the DVD has a blurb from Joe Bob Briggs on the cover: “A 97 on the vomit meter.” Frankly, it’s more like a 97 on the stupid meter.
     Jeremy Taylor (Al Cliver sans his usual ‘stache and beard) is a professor who studies tropical diseases. He, along with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Lana, are on a boat headed to Mulovie (I’m guessing that’s how it’s spelled: no subtitles on my DVD) when cannibals storm the boat. His wife Elizabeth is eaten alive; Jeremy is taken captive along with Lana. Once the cannibals reach their village, they promptly relieve Jeremy of one arm before accepting his daughter as a white goddess. Jeremy escapes, is found by some people, and taken back to New York where his ‘stache and beard reappear. Once there, he gets an expedition together (financed by the Shelton Foundation, the same group who financed his previous expedition) to go back into the jungle to retrieve his daughter—who, thanks to an ambiguous timeline, is now a full-grown woman (Sabrina Siani—shwing!). Cannibal hijinks ensue. Will Jeremy be able to rescue his daughter and escape with his remaining arm in tact?
     On the one hand, you have cannibal films like Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust which, thirty-plus years later, still holds up as both a shocking viewing experience and a marvelous film. On the other hand, you have Cannibals which holds up about as well as a house of cards against a strong fart. And that fart comes straight from Jess Franco’s own ass. In the interview “Sexo Canibale” (found on Severin’s release of Franco’s Devil Hunter), Franco admitted that he didn’t like the cannibal subgenre. That dislike shows in every aspect of the film: the sets (which were, apparently, the same used in the equally terrible Cannibal Terror—I knew I recognized that “jungle”), the effects, the dubbing, the writing—the entire production really.
     Without a question, the biggest offender here is the writing. The script was penned by Jess Franco using two pseudonyms, A.L. Mariaux and Jeff Manner, and I’m sure Franco was half-asleep when he wrote it. The passage of time is vague, confusing, or unrevealed until after it should have been; cures for previously non-existent amnesia (or, non-established amnesia, depending on how much credit you wanna give the film) pop up out of nowhere; character motivations change on a whim, or they act downright stupid, or both. I had to rewatch several parts to ensure that I wasn’t missing something, then promptly chastised myself
Do these look anything like cannibals?
for actually giving a shit. (Truthfully, I’m convinced the only reason the script was produced was to showcase Sabrina Siani in skimpy clothing—which, frankly, isn’t a bad reason.) The only thing I can give the script credit for is the pacing. It knows what the viewer wants and gets right to it—Blood! Guts! Gore! Flesh-eating! Bodily mutilation!
     Unfortunately, it’s all a letdown.
     While the effects on display aren’t quite as bad and laughable as they are in Devil Hunter (just watch that film’s decapitation scene to see the epitome of We Don’t Give a Fuck “special” effects), the dreck offered up here is enough to make the Savinis and Bottins and Bakers wonder why they bother trying. In one particularly memorable scene, an expedition member is reduced to a large pile of what appears to be spaghetti topped with clothing, and surrounded by mannequin parts. Cannibal Holocaust this ain’t. At least Devil Hunter had a small amount of effort behind it (sans the decapitation scene). Hell, films made by nine-year-olds have more effort put into them than Cannibals did.
     But let’s put aside the confused writing and bottom-of-the-barrel special effects, and let’s really get down to where Franco upped the ante on Don’t-Give-A-Fuck-ery: the cannibals themselves.
     The cannibals on display are about as bottom-of-the-barrel as it gets. In fact, they’re so bottom-of-the-barrel they’re actually beneath the barrel. Gone are people who actually look the part, here are men fresh off the reject line from Central Casting; all sporting beer guts, mustaches, sideburns, receding hairlines, comb-overs, afros, and God-knows what else (and I’m certain they’re the same extras from Cannibal Terror). Hell, the “chief” of the village looks like a philosophy professor who should be before a freshmen class expounding upon the virtue of goodness as opposed to hiding in the jungle detailing the virtue of eating uncooked human flesh. Oh, and I should mention that every cannibal in the flick wears face paint. And no, it’s not face paint that actual tribesmen might wear: it looks like it was done by a five-year-old for the clown team of the cannibal circus. One even looks like Peter Criss from KISS. I’m not joking.
     And there must be some brain-warping substance in the river water because these “cannibals” have confused themselves for zombies: anytime they devour someone they do so by falling upon them like the shuffling undead, dispatching their victims by chewing and pulling on terrible prosthetics. And if that isn’t enough, Cannibals decides to get artsy during these scenes by adding echo and reverb to any sounds as well as utilizing a light filter, a black-and-white filter, and close-ups—all which results in it looking like an autopsy video. And the soundtrack that plays is basically a mixture of someone grunting and gorging themselves on food. This failure of good judgment wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that it lasts way too long. A little over two-and-a-half minutes, though it seems like a lot longer—and your eyes and brain will hate you for it, as will your ears.
     However, all is not a total failure: at least there is bad dubbing to be laughed at. Seriously, I think all of three people dubbed this film, altering their voices when they saw fit. My favorite: two people who’re dubbed with voices straight outta Deliverance—and one’s a New Yorker! I’m not gonna claim to be an expert on New York (never been there actually), but I highly doubt they’d sound like a cartoon cowboy. To give you an idea, imagine the old woman voice from Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda? with a heap of Southern gravy poured on it. There you go.
     As you can probably tell, Cannibals was a miserable, forgettable, and disappointing viewing experience. At the same time, I have no one to blame but myself seeing as I expected something decent. While Franco’s Devil Hunter was just as shitty, at least it had the benefit of being laughable, something that Cannibals isn't. Oh well, at least Franco gave us Sadomania and 99 Women.
Sabrina Siani taking pity on a man forced to watch this pile of shit.

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