Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Section 3: Cannibal

Section 3: Cannibal

Welcome to Section 3, film supplier to her majesties finest in the decade that fashion sense forgot.
This episode we take a wander back into the green inferno in an earlier work by the director of one of the most infamous films of the video nasties scare. The cannibal genre would never be quite the same again. Careless explorers, deep jungle and bitey natives take the screen in Ruggero Deodatto's...Cannibal.

A group of oil prospectors on an assignment land in the jungle to meet some colleagues. The plane is damaged in the landing and the group find themselves alone in the jungle with no sign of the people they were meant to meet. After realising that they in danger and having missed the window of opportunity to leave they are soon separated and Robert Harper is captured and the others have vanished, presumably dead. After an ordeal at the hands of the natives Robert goes on the run for his life with one of the native girls and must try to find the plane and escape from the Cannibals

Before Cannibal Holocaust the cannibal film was alive, well and eating healthy explorers with a few offerings that at the time must have been quite an eye full. Deodatto himself, before his infamous offering, presented the world with Cannibal, later also known as Jungle Holocaust and otherwise known as last Cannibal World and Ultimo mondo cannibale, a much more straight down the line film than it sibling.
Cannibal will usually be the second of Deodatto's Cannibal films that an audience would be likely to see and it couldn't be more different. For one thing it's very similar in tone to Man from Deep River and again stars Cannibal movies stalwarts Ivan Rasimov and the astoundingly gorgeous Me Me Lai. It also follows a more traditionally cinematic approach, there is no blurring of reality and fiction here, at least beyond that of the mondoesque animal footage the hallmarks the cannibal genre. Yes there is animal slaughter here again, some seems to be documentary footage, other bits staged for the film. Once again Italian cinema gives the weak of constitution a legitimate bone of contention, but this is nothing new and something I've already explored in other videos [cannibal holocaust etc.] so I'm not going to address it yet again, it's a relic of it time.
As a result of this less heightened reality Cannibal does at least feel less threatening as these films go. This is not to say it doesn't have its strong moments, because it really does, but no one is likely to mistake this for a snuff film like Cannibal holocaust is.
What we do have with Cannibal is a rather decent action adventure movie that's played in typical Italian exploitation style, in other words over the top. This said it isn't camp like Cannibal Ferrox is, it's played very straight faced and thankfully in this case it's not as brutal as Cannibal Holocaust which makes it all the more fun to watch. It is a rather simple affair for certain, there is a certain amount of commentary with the white guys invading the third world and taking the resources and of course it's rather significant that these guys are oil prospectors, if ever there were an industry that typifies western greed and arrogance it's the oil industry. Deodatto has always seemed like a fairly angry director, his protagonists are rarely entirely sympathetic and those in Cannibal are no exception. The main character here, Robert Harper, is a rather unpleasant guy to begin with. He's rather brusque,agitated and unreliable to the point that given the opening text one wanders how accurate his recollection would be anyway. Harper is rather like a softer version of the horrifically unpleasant Alan Yates to some degree, arrogant and ignorant but most importantly he represents something bigger than himself. With this of course Deodatto's familiar themes are present here, the criticism of western behaviour and corporate interests and a typically ambiguous approach to the central characters. Harper is not a hero, he certainly has his less than stellar moments right from the beginning and along the way he indulges in some fairly repulsive behaviour, but Deodatto does keep him human enough as to not alienate him entirely from the audience. He does on occasions come over as being simultaneously capable and callous, if nothing else he is an interesting and multidimensional character. As I've mentioned Ivan Rassimov is here too and while his character is more likeable and certainly the one you would expect to be the films focus, he soon disappears and we're left with Harper which is an interesting turn in the movie considering he would normally be the one we'd celebrate getting turned on by the natives. The main thrust of the character development is aimed towards Harpers deterioration in civilised behaviour and ceremony scene where he is stripped and encouraged to fly seems to be the beginning of the removal of his western standards. It's a slow process, it begins with the removal of the trappings of western society, including his watch which a native tries to literally consume only to become frustrated with its in edibility which prompts him to smash it, not that time has meaning in this world. Harper reverts to basic survival and goes through several stages of change becoming more primitive in his behaviour.
He has to fight animals for food, even the most repulsive morsels, and even reverts to less than progressive tactics to win over his female companion. This is suggestive of the idea that when it comes down to it our primitive side is only a few meals away. Harper certainly becomes less than civil and resorts to rape as a means of possessing her, certainly a very primitive act but one that certainly seems to work. Obviously this is a bit of a problem, he rapes her, she brings him dinner and is suddenly compliant. Whatever reading you can apply to this, and it can be read in all manner of ways, it certainly flounders in the awkwardness of the most basic interpretation and this, ironically, made it past the BBFC on its cinematic certificate. In some ways it's possibly a comment on the behaviour of western industrial behaviour presented literally on screen, though with the cut I'm reviewing here there is a shortfall in the communication of that idea given the act and the result of it.
Cannibal is a rather patchy affair in these kinds of terms though. It has some fairly well set up ideas that suddenly get diverted from. It's this lack of focus that lets it down and the way the film runs has a tendency to betray a certain lack of completeness to the movie, as such it does feel patchy, as if several ideas have been awkwardly stapled together. There's the preamble which puts them in the situation which has a healthy degree of suspense, then there's the second act which delivers the gore and cannibal fixation, and finally an extended chase scene. These parts are decent enough in their own right but do feel like stand alone sections rather than part of one story. The presentation of the story does occasionally jump around at random with in particular the sudden inclusion of Harpers inner monologue. This is rather jarring, it comes out of nowhere and is utterly out of character with the rest of the film, it's just another thing that makes the proceedings that bit more messy. However the film in parts does show some serious potential and demonstrates Deodatto's penchant for not holding back in the slightest. There is just enough coherence in the story and its undertones to raise it above being a mere gore film, even if occasionally Deodatto does fumble it a bit. It could be argued that the portrayal of the natives is rather less than flattering, possibly racist, however as with Holocaust I think that the film is not really trying to portray a realistic cannibal, it's rather more about the western characters than it is about any jungle dwellers and as such the cannibal people are more to do with creating a situation to which the white guys react to, they themselves are not really the main focus of the film. It is undoubtedly a much rougher and less well formed film than Cannibal Holocaust was to be but it is worth acknowledging that it is a very different kind of film. For all its faults it is a more palatable and somewhat less ferocious film despite the obvious Italian exploitation gimmicks, though for many this will still be way beyond the pail. One does wander how this one got away from the DPP, It possibly to do with it already having had a cinematic certificate awarded and the fact that it was already cut significantly on VHS, it still remains even in the cut form a rather bold and difficult film though, lesser films, in terms of excessive gore and violence, had made it on to the DPP list for far less than this offers, but then consistency was not a key priority for the powers that be back in those days.
All things considered Deodatto's Cannibal presents a rather exciting adventure and is one of the best of the genre with a real hard core adventure atmosphere that is peppered with enough madness and gore to keep most fans of the genre happy. It's certainly worth a watch if you can stomach the genres typical excesses, don't expect the genius of Cannibal Holocaust but you will find out where some of that gut punching gut munching came from in this movie.

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