A group of low-life gangsters kidnap a starlet (Ursula Fellner) and hightail it off to a jungle island, where they subject their victim to endless indignities while waiting for the ransom money to arrive. Al Cliver is dispatched to rescue her, but his helicopter arrival draws the attention of a group of hostile natives and, more to the point, a red-eyed, cannibal zombie-god who holds them in a grip of fear.
It was 1980, and so the short-lived cannibal subgenre was in its heyday, so naturally Jess Franco was faced with directing his own contribution. Of course, he did so in his own peculiarly idiosyncratic way. Released the year prior to Severin’s other recent cannibal release, Cannibal Terror, it shares that film’s conceit of gangsters running afoul of dangerous locals. Also common to both films is some unintentional hilarity (“primitive” tribesmen sporting wedding rings and running shoes, a park bench visible in the background of the jungle around minute 93, or the hero climbing a “vertical” cliff face on his knees, thanks to the wonders of a tilted camera). The usual racism associated with the cannibal movie is somewhat problematized (deliberately or not) by the odd and obvious multiracial composition of the tribe. Where Franco’s film steals the march on its poorer successor is a greater sense of expansiveness, even on what couldn’t have been much greater means (we even get a helicopter crash), and a more lush, somewhat more convincing jungle (even though we are still pretty clearly in Spain). As well, Franco keeps the pace up with a wealth of incident, not to mention that strange mixture of elements (crime, action film, cannibal film, supernatural terror, even a little bit of King Kong). And the scenes of cannibalism, while far more simplistically mounted than in the likes of Cannibal Holocaust (an extreme close-up of a mouth showing meat and dribbling blood) are nonetheless suitably disgusting. The only shot of innards being yanked out is so brief, it feels like the contemptuous dismissal that it is. All in all, a sleazily entertaining mish-mash that could only have been made by one man, bless his twisted little heart.
The 2.0 mono track is an odd fish, reflecting not so much a difficulty in the transfer so much as the cutrate production values of the original film itself. So long as what we’re hearing is the omnipresent “tribal drums” score and background cries of jungle animals, things aren’t bad at all. Whenever anyone speaks, however, the truly awful dubbing also happens to be deafening and prone to distortion. There is also a scene where the dubbing shifts to Spanish. On those occasions when the score suddenly gets very loud, it too sometimes loses clarity. But enough of the striking sound design still comes through to be effective.
Is there such a thing as a grey filter? Because that’s what Franco appears to have used on his camera lens. The entire film is distinctly murky, and the obsessive use of soft focus doesn’t help either. But the print itself is in superb condition, with hardly any grain at all, and no damage to speak of. So we’re dealing with an impeccable transfer of a movie that just happens to be one of Franco’s aesthetically weaker efforts.
Only one extra here: “Sexo Cannibal,” an interview with Franco. The man is in fine form, an enormously engaging storyteller, and has plenty of anecdotes about the film (yes, those are ping pong balls acting as the monster’s red eyes). He makes his distaste for the cannibal genre perfectly clear, which is reflected in the ways the movie pulls away from its genre origins.
Not a major Franco film, but one with plenty of joys all the same, and the interview is worth the price of admission alone.