Saturday, September 20, 2008

CANNIBAL TERROR (1981) d. Allan W. Steeve aka Alain Deruelle

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Beginning in the very late 1970s and continuing well into the 1980s, European Horror Cinema began leaving behind the well-traveled paths of historical or modern gothic stories and imagery to embrace the slasher craze and an even more infamous subgenre rage, the “cannibal” movie. Titles like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL FEROX with their subsequent sequels and miserably unrivaled knockoffs proliferated for a time and helped to raise the bar of what the movie-goer could endure when it came to shocks, guts and gore. Not all “cannibal” films lived up to the hype and were more commonly exercises in enduring boredom before you got to see some violence and viscera. CANNIBAL TERROR is just such an example of that type of flick.

CANNIBAL TERROR is the story of a pair of hapless thieves and their hooker friend who try to make a big score by kidnapping a wealthy businessman’s little daughter Florence. When the snatch goes wrong, the three hide out in the wilderness with an associate named Antonio. While they are lying low, one of the gangsters rapes Antonio’s wife. It is after that act of savagery that even more bloodiness ensues, as nearby cannibals exact their own version of vengeance on the villains. By the end, the gangsters have become communal snacks, revenge has been served cold and little Florence is returned to her Mommy and Daddy.

There are some who might consider CANNIBAL TERROR an example of a “good/bad” film, but I just found it to be bad. Right from the start, the title sequences’ bright and bouncy Latin horns and calypso music warned me that I was in for a rough ride, and I was sad to see my instincts weren’t wrong. For the duration of the movie, music that didn’t fit the scenes and was ludicrously bad, awkward or just atonal would return to haunt me and cause my teeth to vibrate painfully. If you start a film with bad music and that is one of the many terrible qualities that is memorable, you know you’ve got a stinker on your hands.

For any medical professionals who wish to study the science of locomotion, CANNIBAL TERROR will serve them well. This film is mostly about people walking. Whether they are walking through cities, walking to meet other people, walking over hill and dale or through a river or a meadow, sometimes walking purposefully or just ambling about, you will see all kinds of walking. Sometimes it’s the villains, other times it’s the victims, and occasionally it’s the cannibals, but the actions of moving from place to place via the use of one’s legs is the primary agent of the plot. As a result, I found CANNIBAL TERROR punishingly dull and only terrifying when I realized that another walking scene was imminent. By the end of the film, I was entirely desensitized to the few scenes of gore that were to be had (cannibal gore is not something I generally like), but at least such segments broke up the long tedium of tramping about.

If extensive padding of this 90+ minute film due to walking wasn’t enough, there were also long scenes of Spanish men painted and dressed up like natives, bouncing up and down and pretending to engage in aboriginal dance that continue the suffering. Obviously this particular cannibal village procreates through some mystical form of parthenogenesis due to consuming non-villagers, for I saw no village women, just a bunch of stooges with bad haircuts and wearing war paint that made them look like kinky kabuki dolls or experimental Maybelline misfits. I wanted so much to find these meat-loving forest critters amusing or asinine so that I would chuckle here and there, but they were thoroughly uninteresting. In addition to this second form of padding, there was more stretching of the story to be had. Whenever a chance came to just hold on a scene, whether characters were doing anything worthwhile or not, ludicrously long holds occurred. Often a viewer would be served up a heaping helping of a person just staring off into space, people sitting in chairs, a toucan waddling about or a monkey looking intently at something only he finds compelling, cars rolling across a landscape or cars bumping up and down over obstacles in the road, all at slow speed of course. By the end of this film, I felt like I had been swathed in cinematic padding and desperately wanted a cannibal to come and finish me off. I even contemplated spreading condiments on myself to hasten the process.

It gets worse. So many other elements of this film that could have gone bad did. The dubbing was horrendous and the acting was worse. While some of the exterior scenery had a “wild charm” to it, most of the exteriors did not match each other. During the horribly choreographed gunfight scenes when one shot in a reed-choked riverside would cut away, it would be to a conifer forest, then the next cut would be to a flatland filled with palms, but the next would be a deciduous forest, and yet these were combatants supposedly fighting each other! Sadly, if you are a fan of cannibal gore sequences and yearned to see bloody guts being stretched between the greedy hands of hungry hunters, there isn’t that much to be spread around. In the first half of the film, there is one vile eviscerating and dismemberment. After that we return to cinematic introspection of a circuitous nature. It is only in the last 30 minutes of CANNIBAL TERROR that two more “chop & chew” chances are to be found and two short scenes where the heaped remains of a bloody feast on Mario were to be “enjoyed”. As I said, I am not much of a fan of such fare, but there are those who like their cannibal films chock-full of grisly goodness, and CANNIBAL TERROR will probably disappoint as a result. CANNIBAL TERROR is really a kidnapping/rape/revenge film at its heart with cannibalism thrown in as a lure for the unsuspecting. As a kidnapping film it is as inept as you can possibly imagine. As a rape/salacious film, there really isn’t a lot to titillate and as a revenge film, everything happens so slowly that no amount of tension or suspense is created. CANNIBAL TERROR is the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.

What was done right was done by Severin Films. CANNIBAL TERROR received a crisp and bright transfer. I doubt this film ever looked this good before, possibly not even in the theater, considering the condition of the early 1980s cinema experience here in this country with small screens and poor projection being the norm. Severin was able to scrape together a 1 ½ minute deleted scene and the theatrical trailer into the “bonus features” menu. It’s not much, but considering how cheaply made CANNIBAL TERROR was and how unknown most of this cast and crew is, finding anything to supplement this stinker shows a great deal of relentless determination.

I have generally liked everything I have seen that Severin Films has put out and it pains me to shred this terrible movie because I REALLY like what they are doing and feel that the efforts of Severin and other small, niche DVD companies should be supported. If you like to be bored to death by a story that is pointless and leaves you waiting for something to happen, watch CANNIBAL TERROR. If you like bad acting, worse dubbing and abysmal incidental music, watch CANNIBAL TERROR. If you want to see some Euro-Horror and Euro-Sleaze worth watching, check out the rest of Severin’s vault, for it is very good. Steer clear of this road apple, for it stinks worse than the real thing.

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