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Good for the novice
on October 7, 2004
Sergio Martino's "Slave of the Cannibal God" is this director's entry in what ranks as one of the most fascinating horror sub-genres to ever grace the screen: the Italian cannibal craze. Starting in the early 1970s and peaking towards the end of the decade, a slew of depraved, ultragory shockers emerged from the minds of such Italian filmmakers as Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi. "Cannibal Holocaust," Deodato's grindhouse shocker and a film still considered to be one of the sickest ever made, marked the apogee of the cannibal film, but other directors continued to churn out more product. I could, and probably am, wrong in saying this, but by the time Umberto Lenzi released "Eaten Alive" in 1980, the cannibal genre was declining. Watching these films proves one immutable truth about the 1970s: this decade truly was a time when filmmakers would try anything to shake audiences up. It's impossible to even conceive of a film like this being made today unless you take into consideration the plethora of super cheap shot on video junk, which I don't. These are films shot on film, and they are definitely something to see. If you like horror pictures, be sure to check a few of these gutmunchers out. Especially since most of them have gone to DVD in the past couple of years.
Martino's film stars Ursula Andress (!) as Susan Stevenson, the wife of an intrepid explorer who went in search of a tribe of cannibals and never returned. Stevenson, concerned for the safety of her husband, begins to organize a search party. She hires Doctor Edward Foster (Stacy Keach!) to guide the expedition into the jungles of New Guinea. Susan brings along her shady brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) to help in the search, and the group sets off with the requisite number of local guides. What follows is, sadly, a rather boring series of scenes consisting of the group endlessly tramping their way through the foliage. In true cannibal movie fashion, we do get to see several scenes of real life animal death spliced into the film stock, but we must wait awhile to see the human characters perish under nasty circumstances. Between the snake attacks on monkeys and other such useless rubbish, Foster and Stevenson stumble over a village in the interior where the group meets a European priest running a mission, and learns about a dangerous tribe of cannibals called the Puka or Puki. Keach has a run in with a couple of these guys, so the party heads back into the jungle for another interminable jaunt until they arrive at the cannibal mountain.
Stevenson gets what she wants when her expedition runs smack dab into a tribe of masked cannibals atop this mountain. We see that her husband is here too, although he's quite dead and covered in some sort of weird jelly substance. It turns out that the tribe worships this corpse as a deity, probably due to the fact that he carried a Geiger counter when he stumbled over the cannibals. This tribe is so impressed with the machine that they mounted it in his chest, where it still clicks and clacks away all these months later. Since Susan's hubby carried a picture of her in his wallet, the cannibals think she's a god too. They strip her clothes off and tie her up just as they did her husband. Finally, we see a bit of the violence that are these films' stock and trade: one of the tribal members attempts to have his way with Goddess Ursula and pays an extreme price for his insolence. A dwarf has his brains dashed out on a rock, the cannibals sit around for some good old-fashioned eating, and startling revelations about Stevenson's reasons for coming to the mountain emerge before the film glides to a watery end.
"Slave of the Cannibal God" is bound to disappoint hardcore followers of the cannibal sub-genre due simply to the fact that Martino restrained himself in the gore department. If you've seen "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Eaten Alive," you won't believe how tame this film is by comparison. Nothing much happens except for animal violence and the flurry of activity at the end. Sure, we see a couple of native guys buy the farm during a leg of the trek, and dinnertime at the mountain took on decidedly queasy dimensions, but it's not enough to keep us gorehounds interested. I suspect with a cast including Andress and Keach, Martino felt he should throttle back on the extreme gore. Too bad and too sad. I did take pleasure in seeing Ursula bare her heart and soul in preparation for her deification ceremony, and I enjoyed seeing Keach turn in a solid performance. I also liked the beautiful shots of the jungle and that waterfall the expedition had to climb to get to the cannibal lair. "Slave of the Cannibal God" succeeded in one central element common to this sub-genre, namely that Europeans in the jungle are only there to engage in evil acts. I thought Martino pulled off this plot point--revealed in full at the end--quite nicely. But I must doggedly return to the central premise of an Italian cannibal picture: it should contain over the top gore, and Martino's effort failed in that area big time.
Surprisingly, the DVD edition of the film contained a thirteen-minute interview with Sergio Martino. The other extra was a poster and stills gallery. Picture and audio quality were sharp for a film this old. Ultimately, I must recommend that "Slave of the Cannibal God" is a film best suited for newcomers who wish to understand the general themes involved in these movies. Then move on to Deodato's and Lenzi's pukers. Since I already saw "Cannibal Holocaust," "Cannibal Ferox," and "Eaten Alive" before Martino's effort, this film left me wanting more.