Monday, 16 February 2009

Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?

Sergio Martino's Slave of the Cannibal God may seem like just another scummy Italian cannibal flick, probably because it is another scummy Italian cannibal flick, but it distinguishes itself from the competition by starring actors a normal person might have actually heard of, like Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach. Ursula Andress, of course, is best known for wearing a sexy bikini in Dr. No, and although she doesn't do that here, she does strip naked and get slathered in brown goo by cannibals. So it's almost as good. Stacy Keach is best known for his brief stint in jail on drug charges and while I'm not sure if starring in this flick was the reason for his downward spiral into drug abuse and crime, it was probably a contributing factor.

Susan Stevenson (Andress) has come to New Guinea (a helpful title card tells us how savage and primitive it is) with her asshole brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) to find her missing husband Henry, a world famous explorer. A meeting with a magnificent moustache (and the man attached) at the British Consulate is pretty useless, they claim that Henry was on an unauthorised expedition and don't want to waste any more resources to find him. The next morning she heads to one of Henry's associates, an explorer named Edward Foster (Keach). He thinks Henry might just have headed to a remote island upon which sits the hidden, forbidden mountain of ultimate mystery, called Rei-Rei-Me or doh-ray-mi or Billy-Ray Cyrus or some such. Together they gather up a few expendable natives, along with Keach's suspiciously-acting houseboy, and head out on a suicidal mission to find a guy who by now has surely passed through the digestive tract of a cannibal.

Well, as Keach says "The journey is difficult enough for a man, for a woman it would be impossible", and although Andress claims she has the chops, you know she's going to spend a lot of the film screaming, running and tripping over vines. Sure enough, only a few minutes into the journey she gets all tangled up in a bunch of vines and is approached by a curious tarantula, no doubt attracted by the light gleaming off her massive forehead. Well, she lets loose a girly shriek and Keach comes racing in to cut it in half with a survival knife. The natives aren't happy about the death of the spider (it's a bad omen or something) so they sacrifice an iguana, gutting it and munching on the entrails. Keach insists that "It's part of their religion", but I guess religious tolerance isn't one of Arthur's strong suits because he rushes in and starts kicking them around, blaming them for blowing their cover to the helicopter flying overhead. Keach's houseboy punches Arthur, Arthur punches him back, Keach punches Arthur and a couple of natives run off. Not the best start to the expedition.

When they finally reach the island they stumble across a dead leper, I guess because nobody has died yet (except the iguana) and the audience is getting pretty restless. People don't have to wait much longer for violence, because over the next leg of their journey most of the team gets caught by booby traps, eaten by hungry crocodiles and decapitated by cannibals. Luckily they're just natives so nobody cares, but eventually someone that matters is put in mortal danger. Ursula gets separated from the group and a masked cannibal tries to chase her down and stab her in the face, although judging from her plastic surgery it wouldn't be the first time.

Luckily, some dude named Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli) appears out of nowhere and saves her, taking them to a secluded mission run by a guy named Father Moses. It's here that Keach spills the beans about his past. You see, "Pooka" may sounds like the name of a Pokemon or a childhood teddy bear, but it's actually the name of a vicious native tribe who live on the mountain and worship a cannibal god. Keach got captured by them and forced to eat human flesh but eventually escaped, along with one of the tribe who is now his houseboy. He hopes by journeying to the mountain and killing every one of those motherfuckers he can get that "closure" that Americans are so fond of.

Later on it's party time, and while Ursula is pretty grossed out when she sees some native women hocking lugies into a mortar and pestle, Manolo explains that their saliva mixes with seven secret herbs and spices to create a potent liquor. I think that's how they make Jagermeister. Once they're good and liquored up she makes a pass at him and convinces him to come with them to the mountain. Aren't you supposed to be here looking for your husband, lady? She also gets her top off at one point, probably should have mentioned that earlier. She looks pretty good for a 42 year old.

Meanwhile some native chick bursts into Arthur's tent, strips off and starts making out with him, and he didn't need to buy her one of those lugie-drinks or anything. Unfortunately that one cannibal from earlier busts in and she catches a spear that was meant for him. They chase down the cannibal and kill him, but it turns out to be Keach's houseboy. I guess you can take the boy out of the cannibal-infested jungle but... well, you know the rest. The next day Father Moses boots them out for corrupting his village with violence and fornication.

From the moment they reach the village you get this weird feeling that Manolo is supposed to be the hero even though he only appeared over half way in, with Keach being relegated to a second-string, Quint kind of character. Well, pretty soon the torch is officially passed when Keach loses his balance while climbing some slippery rocks. Arthur just sits there staring at him while he begs for help and Keach slides back down the rapids and cracks his skull. If you were rushing for an elevator, I bet Arthur is the kind of guy who would just pretend not to hear you and let the doors close. What an asshole. Manolo is pissed, but Ursula flutters her eyelashes at him and he lets Arthur live.

After they montage their way up the mountain (during which Manolo bites into a whole crab like it's an apple, shit at least take the shell off first) it turns out Ursula and Arthur are actually here for the precious uranium hidden in the mountain, the location of which they plan to auction off. Manolo refuses to help them, saying something about protecting the pristine jungle and the native's way of life (uh dude, they're murderous cannibals), but suddenly the Pooka show up to impale Arthur with a spear and capture them. This the part in the movie everybody is waiting for, the 15 minutes or torture and gore that is the payoff to the preceeding 75 minutes of bearded Italians and racial insensitivity. It's not as gory as a Cannibal Ferox or something, but it's pretty gruesome.

When they get to their secret cave, Henry's corpse (or what's left of it) is sitting propped up in a throne with a Geiger counter stuck in his chest. They worship him as their god, so much so that the chief wipes the goo from his decomposing body all over himself and Ursula. With these kind of unsanitary practices it's no wonder the Pooka have almost died out. The chief then turns Ursula over to couple of native women who give her a makeover. They wipe her all over with brown goo (looks like a fake tan) and put on a pretty cool outfit and headdress. She must be pretty hot shit by Pooka standards because a cannibal tries to rape her even though he gets his dinghus cut off as punishment.

Arthur's body gets cut open and all of his organs get pulled out and eaten. After that appetiser, they have a feast of all these raw lizards and snakes and a midget cannibal (between this and 2019: After the Fall of New York, I think Martino has a midget obsession) forces Manolo to eat a lizard. Later that night the same midget starts poking Manolo with a spear, but Manolo manages to trip him over and crack his head open on a rock. Manolo manages to free himself and Ursula (those cannibals are real deep sleepers) and together they escape. Ursuala's plans for a uranium mine are not addressed, but I'm assuming she changed her mind, or at least napalmed the cannibals first.

Aside from having some real actors in it, there's nothing here to separate this film from any old Italian cannibal flick. The gore effects aren't all that extensive or convincing and it doesn't have (or even pretend to have) the subtext of something like Cannibal Holocaust. There's also some of that good old animal cruelty that seems to go hand-in-hand with cannibal flicks like this. Some iguanas and other lizards get killed and there's an extended sequence of a monkey getting eaten by a big snake. It's gory and it goes on forever. It's doesn't even have anything to do with the film, it's just inserted at random. Yeah, I get it, the jungle is a cruel and savage place, you don't have to rub our noses in it like a dog that pissed on the rug. There's not a lot to recommend about this one except that Andress looks pretty good naked if you aren't too distracted by her enormous forehead.

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