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A review of the 'Hard Gore' DVD, which can be had for less than £3.
Cannibal films were a grotty little horror subgenre that flourished in Italy in the late 70s/early 80s. Usually set in South American or New Guinea, they invariably involved white characters being dismembered and eaten by natives. They were unendearing because of their heavy emphasis on sexual violence and animal cruelty, but they must have been popular, as there are a lot of them.
Jesus Franco was a low-on-talent Spanish horror and exploitation director. His languid, badly made films usually combine slow horror and fairly explicit nudity and sex scenes. Most of them are close to unwatchable. Franco has made about a hundred films, although many of them are just porn. He jumped on almost every exploitation bandwagon going - zombies, Nazis, women in prison, slasher movies - you name it, Franco made a bad film of it. Cannibals was made in 1980.
A scientist, Jeremy, is travelling upriver to a hospital in the middle of a jungle in somewhere called 'Malabi' (I can think of no better place for a hospital than the middle of a jungle). His wife and daughter accompany him. Unfortunately, they are ambushed by cannibals. Wifey gets eaten, and Jeremy barely escapes with his life (he loses an arm). But his daughter, young Lana, is taken for a 'white goddess' by the cannibals, who adopt her.
Jeremy makes it back to civilisation (New York, according to the stock footage, although I'd be amazed if this production ever left southern Europe). He spends a certain amount of time in a mental hospital. We never find out why he was in the jungle in the first place, but his expedition to the hospital was being funded by an organisation apparently called 'the Shilton Foundation', so perhaps it had something to do with goalkeeping. Anyway, now he wants to go back to the jungle to look for his daughter. She's all grown up, and married to the chief's son. Will Jeremy make it to the cannibal village, and what will he find there?
Would it surprise anyone to learn that this is a terrible film? I'll assume not. Was it ever meant to be anything other than disposable trash entertainment? Again, probably not. That being the case, is it not slightly pointless, even self-indulgent, to ruthlessly list its faults? Maybe, but I will anyway. Like most Franco films, it was made to be dubbed badly into several languages and sold to distributors who didn't care what they were showing, as long as it made money. At least it's too cheap to feature real animal cruelty and too inept to be offensive.
Cast wise, we're on familiar Eurotrash ground. Al Cliver plays Jeremy - he's also in Zombie Flesh Eaters and Franco's other cannibal effort, the execrable Devil Hunter. At first he looks like an odd cross between Boris Johnson and Matt Smith, but later he grows a beard that does most of the acting for him. His adoring nurse is played by Franco's long-term partner Lina Romay. Most unusually, she doesn't have any full-frontal nude scenes in this (although we do see her nipples a couple of times). Miss Shilton's absurdly camp boyfriend who looks like Tony Hart is in lots of other cheap rubbish I've seen recently, including the dreadful Cannibal Terror (which may have been filmed at the same time as this, as I'm pretty sure the cannibal village is the same location); The Man With the Severed Head; The Devil's Kiss; and yet another Franco jungle adventure, Diamonds of Kilimandjaro (sic). You know you've seen too much of this stuff when you start to greet a terrible actor like an old friend. Franco himself is in it briefly, too.
You generally know what to expect where Franco's concerned, and several of his trademark motifs are here. There's dreadful day-for-night filming, lengthy shots of boats sailing across harbours, and endless wobbly zooming in on the tops of trees. This is rather better made than some of Franco's films - at least the camera stays in focus most of the time - but it still starts to seriously drag around about the one-hour mark (it's just shy of 90 minutes in total). As with other Franco films, there's a good loungey soundtrack that could have been used in any number of similar films.
The plot is weak; it is evidently at least five years before Jeremy and pals return to the jungle, as Lana has had a chance to gain about two feet in height, develop breasts, and dye her hair blonde. But this is never conveyed, and it's not clear whether Jeremy spends five years raving in hospital, or whether he just takes ages to get back to Malabi after he recovers. He has the worst stump I've ever seen - his mutilated arm is twice as thick as it was before it was chopped, because the actor needs to be able to fit his entire real arm inside it. It is a pathetic effect, but then the jungle itself is lame. It's more a forest with a few exotic trees, and it even has a road through it. Franco deploys the usual tricks to try to convince us we're in the tropics - a tape of weird bird song played continuously, and occasional cutaways to stock footage of a crocodile.
There's a lot less nudity than you usually find in a Franco movie, with more or less no full frontal. However, there's still an underlying misogyny - these cannibals only eat women, it seems. It's odd that they decide that one girl is a white goddess and just eat all the other white women they encounter. Is consistency too much to ask?
The actual violence is bizarre. The cannibalism scenes are almost abstract. Played in slow motion, with echoey sound effects, they mostly consist of extreme close-ups of the cannibals chewing on lumps of raw meat while a naked actress lies there looking worried. The sound of screams on the soundtrack is accompanied by some alarming sounds of a man grunting in apparent sexual frenzy, while Franco occasionally cuts to close-ups of real organs being pulled from a pig carcase. These sequences go on for so long they become deeply boring, but presumably they're strong enough to earn the film an 18 certificate - I can't imagine what else it's for.
The chief joy of the film is the cannibals. They are almost all pasty looking white guys with rubbish facepaint on. Some have sideburns or moustaches, and you can often see their distinctly modern looking underpants under their loin cloths. At least two are wearing wedding rings. They wave plastic skulls around, and talk in ludicrous 'unga bunga' language. Oddly, though, the words 'white goddess' mean the same in cannibal as they do in English, and the cannibals speak English on a few other occasions, when important plot points need to be conveyed. As with Cannibal Terror, which I'm pretty sure uses the same bunch of cannibals, they resemble a corporate bonding exercise that's gone a bit Lord of the Flies. Apart from Lana, there's only one woman in the tribe, and she looks kind of like Janis Joplin.
The dubbing is terrible, of course, and as with all these cheap, dubbed Eurohorror movies, characters speak with incredibly garbled syntax, presumably in a desperate attempt to make them say something that roughly matches their lip movements. Dialogue like 'You can always count on me you know on my help that is you understand', all delivered in one breathless outpouring from the poor voiceover artiste, just serves to further alienate viewers from the film.
The DVD has acceptable picture quality, although there are a couple of times the soundtrack goes briefly crackly. The print of the film is dubbed into English, as mentioned, but the opening credits are in French (it helpfully informs us via subtitles what the French title 'Les Cannibals' means in English. It's 'The Cannibals'. You learn something new every day.) There are no extras, but there are a lot of trailers for other releases by the same company, which range from rubbish older movies like The Red Monks to unwatchable modern DV drivel.
Very obviously, you don't need to see Cannibals. It covers exactly the same ground as Diamonds of Kilimandjaro, another Franco film you don't need to see. John Boorman's The Emerald Forest is a more respectable take on the same subject.