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Who doesn't love a good sleazy jungle cannibal flick? Well actually, lots of people. Probably more people do not, then do. Zombies are ok and maybe the occasional family of hungry hillbillies, but the living, breathing, remote variety of flesh eaters depicted in things like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) or  Cannibal Ferox (1981) may come with too much baggage for some people.. Even Eli Roth's attempt to Tarantino’ up the genre with The Green Inferno (2013) didn't garner the infamous horror subgenre many new fans. In fact, out of all the trashy, offensive or out of time media I consume, a good old-fashioned cannibal movie is among the hard sales for the “regular” viewer, and it’s even harder to get them to sit through the whole thing. The category has gained a strong seedy notoriety for its grizzly effects and controversial subject matter. It took center stage in Britain's video nasty scare, sometimes based solely on the over-extended artistic license of those in charge of advertising.  The mean-spirited nature of the films, people's fear of outside cultures and the overall grimy feel even famously lead some to believe that they had watched snuff films. Of course It didn't help that the filmmakers played into the mondo “real” footage angle for sales . I struggle to explain my own love for the off-putting shock-fest of murder, sensitive subjects, and human-based diets. Without  a discussion of motives, speculation on public awareness or (much needed) discourse on the depictions used, it can be said that I enjoy the cannibal film as horrors trashy answer to the the jungle explorer adventure trope. Much In the same way a high school slasher film spends a good amount of its time playing a teen sex comedy, the Italian cannibal film takes cues from classics like White Witch Doctor (1953), The Naked Prey (1965) or even Tarzan films. Sensationalist media depicting “civilized man's” seemingly heroic interactions with untouched lands and peoples is one of fictions oldest go-to cliches.  The Jungle explorer elements were used commonly as a setting for formulaic serials, alongside things like medieval swordplay, space battles, and fucking good old fashion cowboy shit.  Fictional hordes of “savages” made easy targets for carbon copy protagonists as a substitute for evil aliens or pillaging Indians.  Some of the early cinema’s most popular films depicted explorers taking a break from discovering shit to save some chick from grunting, violent jungle natives. The genre used public anxieties and ignorance to provide thrill to the same old recycled princess rescue tales, to varied success. Horror films then, of course, doubled down on the fear aspect, pushing the antiquated idea culture clash to a more gruesome (but still mostly uninformed) level . Like the privileged highschool scream-queen's prom night, the valiant explorer is not guaranteed the happy resolution that its counterpart enjoyed in more traditional tales. I like that.  Personally, I can get down with a good, culturally stunted cinematic romp through the rainforest with some heroic invader now and then, but it sure can be a lot more fun if there is a chance Mr. Manifest-destiny will get his ball sack roasted over an open fire at some point. A good example, that I think showcases the seemingly natural transition from ignorant adventure classics into offensively gruesome cult favorites, is Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978).
The rich scientist husband of Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) has gone missing in the jungle of New Guinea. When her and her brother’s (Antonio Marsina) pleas of “Don't you know who I am?” are unable to sway the local authorities to extend their fruitless search, the two decide to mount an expedition independently (and against police orders). Because neither one of them is really a jungle person, they enlist the help of one her husband’s colleagues, Professor Edward Foster (Stacy Keach), whose own rich-scientist adventures had taken him deep into the same jungle, as well as obviously scarred him emotionally in the process. He signs up with little struggle, and the affluent crew enters the dense jungle, in search of the wayward hubby. Right off the bat, shit gets rough, as Susan picks a fight with both a tree and a big-ass spider, moments after leaving the chopper. Their local guides begin to skin a large, unlucky lizard and eat his raw guts to calm the jungle gods down a little bit, but this too leads to an unnecessary brawl-- because religion is confusing and some rough looking cops fly by in a helicopter. It quickly dawns on the un-initiated and over-privileged of the group that the wild jungle is a harsh, unforgiving place, but the rescue crew presses on. The numbers begin to dwindle when one random dude goes missing in the night and another is lost to a mostly peaceful (makeshift) riverboat trip with an unexpected visitor. The hike is a strenuous one, so everyone gets a little grumpy and it starts to become obvious that the wildlife isn't the only thing hindering their ascent up the mountain when cartoon style traps kill off a few nameless party members. At some point, they run into some old homies of Foster that call the death jungle home. During the much-needed rest at their colony, we learn of a legendary tribe known as the Puca. It had been a violent tribe, known throughout the area for its ruthless cuisine styles and cool headwear, believed to have been safely extinct for a long time. Although he failed to mention it before, Foster is pretty sure the tribe of man-eaters is still out there and kicking and, in fact, may have just come along just to exact revenge on the entire tribe (for a dinner party gone bad in a previous expedition).  It's not long before (what's left of) the search party finds the fabled tribe who, sure enough, starts eating everyone. They also must have been Dr. No (1962) fans, because they capture and begin worshipping Susan instead of eating her. The Puca share some of their skin care secrets and show off a little by torturing some people, but mostly she is too freaked out by their lack of food prep standards to care. 
First a quick admission and warning: I love watching some fucked up shit in a movie. I cheer when people explode, and I can appreciate some offensive, vile actions for entertainment purposes... that is as long as all the pain and suffering is all fictional. Like a lot of films in this category (and era), the film uses intercut, real footage of animal cruelty, and as always-- it's hard as fuck to watch. Even with my interests where they lie, I will never understand the appeal of true life horror footage. It never enhances the viewing, it's really fucked up and only serves to make the practical effects on the human gore look fake. Unfortunately, the tactic was common at certain points in cult cinema and is just part of history, especially in “cannibal” films. In this particular film, it's relatively light, depending on the cut. Of special note--it features an excessively stupid staged moment between a python and a spider monkey. Again, the addition of the footage does nothing for the film and very well could have been left out with no negative effect on any of the entertainment value. Sadly, It's just one of many cases in which a filmmaker has regrettably tarnished a great work with an act of real-life cruelty. I get over it to watch a flick, but that is my humble take on the subject as just another random hunk of living meat myself.
It is an incredibly polished effort from one of the Italian greats of exploitation cinema, Sergio Martino, with the majority of the film shot in truly wonderful form by multiple standards. Quixotically there is a hint at of admirations in the images of floral density and untouched land, as it tries to make us fear the beautiful wild area it depicts. The editing is clean (even with the regulatory scary wildlife shots), feeling like a high end (70s) nature documentary at its worst. There is an out of character lack of technical blemishing, but in this unique instance, it can be both a blessing and a curse. The end result is an entertaining deadly adventure flick, but it may lack the snuff film like cruelty that we sometimes look for in a “cannibal” film. Ultimately, being one of the more tame Italian cannibal horror flicks isn't really a difficult maneuver, and the film still contains ample practical gore effects depicting some pretty nasty shit (I feel like every week I mention testicle mutilation so I'm not going to here….fuck), as well as Ursula Andress wearing nothing but blood-sauce at some point. The soundtrack, provided by The De Angelis Brothers, is pretty reliant on that cool wub-wub sound and some woodblocks but has some great atmosphere and gets really good later in the film when the flesh-munching starts.
The drama is handled pretty effectively, and there is a consistent build to the plot. The story has a simple structure and accompanying dialog but with more depth to its characters then the majority of its peers. It moves at a quick pace that is reminiscent of the exciting pulp matinee films of the previous era but with dramatic weight. Scenes seem to be written with intent, not heavily relying on makeshift red-herrings for filler. It takes some time to develop the structure of the plot and successfully makes with a few little twists along the way.  The well maintained build up of drama, before even reaching the tribe, creates a more calculated type of horror element as opposed to the Jason-like main event you showed up for and have spent the film waiting on. Not nearly the type of shock fueled tension that is found in something like Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Depending on the viewer, this could label it a welcomed slight-break from the angry norm on your cannibal marathon night or quite possibly a near-dud.   It's still strictly trashy fun and full of imperialist ignorance, so all involved are better off numbing most of their brain for a viewing.
The film is unique for its kind but makes a somewhat accessible entry point into the hard to swallow sect of cannibal horror. The 1978 production predates the more notorious moments in the subgenre, and the influence of classic jungle adventure flicks is more prevalent. It is still very much a part of the family of exploitation cannibal films from the late 70s and 80s, but the thoughtful story structure and high production values might make it more palatable for some.  It's padded with beautiful scenery shots (as opposed to just animals eating other animals), and the explicit scenes are for the most part woven into the story. Its attention to detail (etc.) makes it kind of an outlier in the mass of Italian cannibal films and could possibly be a little light in the shock department for those looking for the blood-drenched, grimy moments, like the hardcore films that would come later. It still packs quite a bit of Italian sleaze and exploitation-style fucked up moments but may more accurately be described as a dramatic jungle action film with a sprinkle of grotesque carnage.
The great Stacy Keach plays the damaged Professor Edward Foster. Keach has been to the credit of everything I can remember him in popping up in, which includes cult classics (Road Games, The Ninth Configuration),  numerous mainstream roles and timeless stoner comedies (Nice Dreams, Up in Smoke). Persistent wasp Susan Stevenson is played by "Bond" favorite Ursula Andress. She will forever come to my mind first as Aphrodite from the 1981s Clash of the Titans. By the late 70s, she had plenty of on-screen experience beyond her bond girl roots and puts in some solid work.
The Mountain of the Cannibal God (AKA Slave of the Cannibal God AKA Primitive Desires etc...) is one of the 70s earlier prototypes for the Jungle Adventure/horror chimera. The mix isn't quite what we have come to expect from later versions, but has got its own kind of dire charm. Plus, it stars Honey Ryder and Mike Hammer, which is a huge bonus. Hardcore cannibal fans may be a little disappointed, but it makes a great introduction to films of its type. It's pretty as fuck and slightly less depraved, so it might make an easier sell for the (sacrificial) virgin viewer. It's kind of got a depressed Indiana Jones thing going on-- but with more gore. So if you have a friend who has always complained about the Indiana Jones films being too flattering of foreign cultures, this might be the one for them. Wait, on second thought, just stop hanging out with that person.
1h 39min | 1978
 Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Cesare Frugoni, Sergio Martino


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