Sunday, 24 May 2009

Last Cannibal World (aka Jungle Holocaust) (1977)

Seriously, there's more sausage in this film
than in a German butcher

There have been rumours of a Cannibal Holocaust remake circulating around the internet for a few years now. With all these horror remakes coming out it wouldn't surprise me in the least. No doubt they'll change the corrupt documentary filmmakers looking for the ultimate story into sexy teenagers in low-rider jeans searching for a hidden stash of weed. Instead it turns out that this project is more of a companion piece than a remake and more importantly it's directed by Ruggero Deodato himself. With that in mind, I thought I'd have a look at Deodato's first go around at the cannibal genre, Last Cannibal World. This film was originally intended as a pseudo-sequel to Umberto Lenzi's genre-defining cannibal film Man From Deep River. Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov return from that film, but they couldn't get Lenzi back, so they got Ruggero Deodato instead.

Now as we all know, an area the size of a football field is cleared from the Amazon jungle every second, and I think we can all agree that that simply isn't fast enough. I mean, the ill-fated oil prospectors in this film spend the first few minutes on-screen bitching about how awful and dangerous the jungle is, and they don't even know about the cannibals yet. Worse still, the opening text claims this film is completely factual. I know, I was skeptical too, but it also says all of the events were personally witnessed by the "central character" Robert Harper and that's good enough for me.

Robert Harper (Massimo Foschi) is an oil prospector on a surveying mission in the Phillipines. Accompanying him is his anthropologist/survival expert pal Rolf (Rassimov) and some unnamed woman. After a shaky landing leaves their aircraft slightly damaged, they discover the outpost abandoned. They quickly come to the conclusion that the prospectors have been attacked by natives. During the night the woman is snatched by cannibals and the next day the pilot gets caught in a booby trap. Soon Harper and Rolf are completely lost and pursued through the jungle by hungry cannibals.

The two of them build a raft and try to escape downriver, but they hit some rapids and wreck their raft. Harper struggles to shore, but Rolf is nowhere to be seen. After battling his way through the jungle, Harper wolfs down a strange jungle mushroom (always a good idea) and after a night of projectile vomiting and fierce stomach cramps, he is woken by spear-wielding cannibals.

He is taken back to their cave, and it's about now I realise that this film has a shitload of dongs. I mean, there's naked dudes standing around everywhere. They shouldv'e called this film Last Cock'n'balls World (aka Jungle Dongocaust). The only woman there to break up the sausage party is the beautiful Me Me Lai, who takes a strange interest in their new captive. The natives chain him up to a rock, strip him naked and for some reason start playing Stretch Armstrong with his dingus. Even Me Me Lai gets in on the penis-pulling action, which would have been pretty awesome under other circumstances, but here it's just embarrassing, especially since Harper is clearly more of a grower than a shower. Turns out they think he can fly (because of the plane), and pretty soon they've got him tied up to a vine as they hoist him up to the top of the cave and then let him freefall over and over again.

After they've had their fun they put him in a cage with a bunch of birds. Some kids stop by occasionally by to piss on him or pelt him with rocks, but he manages to curry their favour with a simple finger trick. I would have gone with the detachable thumb trick, but maybe he's saving that one for later. Me Me Lai stops by as well, but when Harper tries to get her to bring him some water she misunderstands and give him a handjob instead. Man, if I had a dollar. So Harper's sitting there in his cage feeling good and miserable, wondering why they haven't just killed him and gotten it over with, but then the cannibals bring home a crocodile, slaughter it, and extract one of his former avian cellmates from it's stomach. It's then that he realises they're going to use him as bait, so he figures it's a good time to escape.

Playing possum, he bashes one of his captors on the head with a rock and escapes, but not before saving Me Me Lai from a would-be rapist and taking her with him. He escapes into the jungle and uses a vine to tether Me Me to his waist, exploiting her jungle smarts to find him water and food. Later she tries to escape, but Harper chases her down, slaps her around and then rapes her. That must have done the trick, because the next morning he wakes up to find his new girlfriend preparing him a jungle breakfast. These stone-age cannibal women, always going for the bad boys.

Eventually he and his new gal pal meet up with Rolf, who is still alive but sporting a badly infected knee. Harper is happy to see him, but not as happy as we are since Rolf gives him a loin cloth and spares us from having to look at Harper's flaccid dong for the rest of the film. It's clear by this point that Harper's a few bananas short of bunch as he starts babbling insanely about his luxury computer-controlled mansion on the California coast while Rolf cooks up a few bats for dinner.

As they struggle to get back to the plane, Me Me Lai gets captured by the cannibals and eaten while Rolf becomes increasingly worse for wear. Harper manages to intimidate the pursuing cannibals by killing one of them, pulling out some sort of internal organ and taking a big ol' bite. It's a pretty horrifying moment, one that marks the completion of Harper's slide into savagery. I mean, shit, he could have just pretended to take a bite. I guess he's a method actor.

One thing this film does right is bump off all the secondary characters early on in the film. We spend most of the film with Harper as he's forced to witness and do horrible things to survive. The focus on one character's slow transformation and struggle for survival really works in this film's favour, especially since Massimo Foschi and his penis put in such great performances. Me Me Lai is also great and the fact that she's naked for the whole film doesn't hurt either.

Of course there's the requisite animal cruelty that sits there like a turd on a freshly baked birthday cake. There's some stock footage of snakes eating various animals, and the bit where they slaughter the crocodile is extremely graphic, but it's a little more organic and doesn't seem as gratuitous as in some other cannibal films. Or maybe I'm just getting desensitised, sliding into savagery like Massimo Foschi. Soon I'll be running through the jungle with my dong hanging out.

One other thing this film does better than most other cannibal films is make the jungle seem fucking scary. There's a great bit when Harper and Rolf first get separated. After struggling to shore, Harper whirls around in a panic and as the sounds of the jungle get louder and louder he realises that he's completely alone in one of the most savage environments on Earth. They didn't just dub in the same bird calls and animal noises you hear in every other movie, it sounds frightening and completely alien. In parts it kind of reminded me of Deliverance, except I guess Harper is one who does the raping.

Although Deodato's later cannibal-mockumentary (or cockumentary) Cannibal Holocaust is better known and certainly ups the stakes in cruelty and gory shock value, I think Last Cannibal World is a better film overall. It's more engrossing than most other cannibal films, the characters are more likable and it doesn't feel as hateful or misanthropic. If all of the Italian cannibal films were actual cannibals, Last Cannibal World is the hot one that's going to reach through the bars of your cage and give you a handjob, and unlike Foschi you'll probably enjoy it.

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