It’s often been remarked that the cannibal movie is the only wholly original subgenre of Italian exploitation cinema — lord knows they didn’t invent the western, the Star Wars knock-off, the Alien knock-off, the Road Warrior knock-off, etc. , even if they trafficked pretty heavily in all of them — and while that’s probably true, it doesn’t mean that many, or even most, Italian cannibal films were all that original in and of themselves once the template of “what these things are like” had been set.
In fact, by the time 2003 rolled around and rip-off artist extraordinaire Bruno Mattei — the guy who gave us such uber-sleazy semi-classics as Hell Of The Living Dead and Rats : Night Of Terror, here working under the pseudonym of “Vincent Dawn” — made his way to the Philippines to direct two ultra-low-budget shot-on-video numbers that would be among the last entrants in the cannibal oeuvre, there hadn’t been anything “new” about these sorts of flicks for a couple of decades. Still, the more (in)famous of this pair of cheapies, Mondo Cannibal, is such a blatant riff on Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 seminal work Cannibal Holocaust that it was released (on video, naturally — to my knowledge no theater has ever screened either this film, or its “companion” piece, In The Land Of The Cannibals) in some markets as either Cannibal Holocaust : The Beginning or the only-slightly-more-verbose Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning (depending on which country you found it in, you may also have seen it under the title of Mondo Cannibale or Cannibal World).
Just how derivative is it, you ask? Consider : the plot centers around an ethically compromised (to put it very kindly) crew of documentarians/journalists who purportedly travel to “the Amazon jungle” to show the world that no matter how far we like to think we’ve come, there still exist “savages” who eat the flesh of other humans. Along the way, in order to “prove” their “man is still an animal” thesis, they engage in behavior so reprehensible (mostly in terms of staging scenes for maximum dramatic impact) that it puts even the cannibals themselves to shame and the end result is a film that proves that “civilized” man is more cruel, shameless, and outright sleazy than his more “uncivilized” brethren could ever dream of being.
If all that isn’t enough to give you a distinct sense of deja vu, then consider that among the atrocities they either witness and/or concoct we have a diseased woman being torn apart while her unborn fetus is violently ripped from her (Mattei actually opens the film with this), setting fire to the huts of the cannibal village in order to provoke a panic, and the above-pictured scene where they find a dead girl tied to a bamboo pole (okay, so she’s not actually impaled on it, but still — it’s pretty clear where they got the idea from). Does it all seem familiar enough for ya yet?
Basically, the whole modus operandi Mattie appears to be employing here is to check as many boxes off the list of things Deodato did first, minus the flat-out ubiquitous animal cruelty, which certainly wouldn’t fly in the 21st century (though there’s still one scene here where — oh, never mind, if you’re gonna watch this thing, you’re gonna watch it regardless, right?). And, I suppose, to do it all for a lot less money and in a lot less time.
Does that mean Mondo Cannibal isn’t fun to watch? Actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all — it’s so nakedly derivative that is really is quite an enjoyable romp (at least if you’re a sick fucker like me), and its shortcomings in terms of production values are well worth a laugh. whether they come in the form of bad dubbing, inexplicably weird dialogue translations (such as when former “star” reporter Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner) offers former “star” photojournalist Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) — who certainly lives up to his character’s last name in terms of harboring a twisted persona — not a million bucks, but “a million quails at a buck a head”), or half-assed translations such as the one pictured below that introduces a flashback sequence and should read “some months before” :
In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I said this flick was good for much beyond that. Wagner — who quickly exited the movie business after this — is certainly easy on the eyes and has a bit of natural “leading lady” charisma about her, but most of what comes out of her month — err, mouth — is so weirdly discombobulated that its hard to tell whether or not she can carry a film. Likewise, Morales and the other members of his “squad” are saddled with such a bunch of nonsense for lines that one can’t accurately judge whether or not they’re capable of anything like “quality” work, either — although in the aforementioned abortion-and-dismemberment scene, he does look like he might be getting ready to shoot a load off in his pants, so that’s at least —- I dunno, memorable, I guess, even if for all the wrong reasons.
Still, if all you’re in the mood for is wretched sleaze with no morally redeeming qualities whatsoever — and who isn’t sometimes? — you’ll be pleased to know that Severin Films have just released Mondo Cannibal (as well as its “sister” production, which we’ll take a look at tomorrow) on DVD under their on-again/off-again InterVision Picture Corp. label. Extras are pretty well non-existent (just the trailer), but the full-frame picture and two-channel stereo sound are perfectly acceptable, all things considered , especially since something this shameless doesn’t really deserve any sort of “deluxe” treatment. If you’re capable of locking your conscience away in a strong box for about 90 minutes and just going with the (blood red) flow, odds are you’ll have a pretty good time with this one — and then hopefully feel appropriately guilty for at least a few minutes afterwards.