Thursday, November 10, 2016
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Last Cannibal World
Hello, boys and girls. Welcome back to Uncle Neil’s Movie Club. Now, before we watch tonight’s film, can anybody tell me the title of the most notorious, controversial, affront-to-good-taste cannibal movie ever made?
Well done, little Jimmy: it is ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. And can anybody tell me who directed ‘Cannibal Holocaust’?
That’s right, Melanie, it was Ruggero Deodato, and he upset a lot of people with that film, didn’t he? But it wasn’t Uncle Ruggero’s first cannibal movie, kiddies. Can anybody tell me what his first incursion into the green inferno was called?
Correct, Mikey: it was ‘Last Cannibal World’, a.k.a. ‘The Last Survivor’, a.k.a. ‘Jungle Holocaust’ (the latter a retro-fitted title post-‘Cannibal Holocaust’). And guess what, boys and girls? It’s ‘Last Cannibal World’ that we’ll be watching tonight.
(And this is why I don’t have children.)
‘Last Cannibal World’ was made in 1977, the year after Deodato had given us ‘Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man’, which in turn had succeeded ‘Waves of Lust’, and just three years before the Deodato annus mirabilis of 1980 and his two exploitation masterpieces ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ and ‘The House on the Edge of the Park’. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, circa 1977, Deodato was on a roll.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Following ‘Live Like a Cop…’, Deodato experienced a three year funk of which the pedestrian ‘Last Cannibal World’ is, for what it’s worth, the high point. His next two films were ‘Last Feelings’, a pitiful attempt at inspirational feel-good fare, and ‘Concorde Affaire ‘79’, a bargain basement ‘Airport’ rip off. Just how engaged or otherwise the director was with these three projects is a matter for Deodato scholars and biographers to determine, but I am aware that ‘Last Cannibal World’ was an inherited project – it had originally been developed as a sequel to Umberto Lenzi’s ‘The Man from Deep River’ which would reunite that film’s headliners Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai. Lenzi, however, demanded a bigger fee than the producers were willing to kick out, and the cameras eventually rolled on ‘Last Cannibal World’ with Deodato in the director’s chair and a rejigged script that made no reference to ‘The Man from Deep River’.
The plot – an exercise in simplicity – is thus: oil prospectors Robert (Massimo Foschi) and Rolf (Rassimov) conduct an aerial reconnaissance of the jungle accompanied by alcoholic pilot Charlie (Sheikh Razak Shikur) and token attractive female Swan (Judy Rosly). Charlie sets the plane down by an encampment but muffs the touchdown and the single-engine light aircraft throws a wheel. Robert and Rolf find the camp deserted … oh, no, wait; there’s everyone – they’ve been eaten by cannibals. By the time Charlie has completed the repairs, night is falling and they decide to wait until morning to fly out. Swan, needing to relieve herself, wanders off into the dark and, with a blood-curdling scream, promptly disappears. Come morning, rather than flying out of there, prospectors and pilot go wandering further into the jungle looking for the by-now fairly definitely dead Swan.
Let’s pause here to ask a few questions. Oil in the jungle? Prospected for by means of flying over the treeline? Who is Swan anyway? How does a drunkard aviator reattach a wheel to a light aircraft without, at the very least, a block and tackle to winch the fucking thing up? Since when is flying at night the more dangerous option compared to sitting around waiting for the cannibals to show up? Is taking a piss really all that desirable when getting eaten is the likely outcome? And why bother mounting a search mission for someone who’s almost certainly dead when it involves abandoning your means of escape?
Or am I just being cynical?
So: Robert, Rolf and Charlie go haring off into the jungle. Charlie is killed when he triggers a booby trap and what looks like an organic wrecking ball slams into him, bamboo spikes graphically aerating him. Rolf is injured and separated from Robert. Robert plunges on through the wilderness, sustaining himself on plants that make him (a) hallucinate, (b) puke, and (c) pass out. He drifts back into consciousness to find himself the prisoner of a cannibal tribe. Over the course of the next forty minutes, he’s denuded, pissed on, pelted with rocks and has his member roughly manhandled by both sexes. He has to fight a bird with a beak like a pair of secateurs for scraps of raw meat, and bears witness to the cannibal tribe doing pretty horrible things to outcasts and animals alike. As is the norm with these kind of films, the animal kingdom takes a battering: snakes, lizards, crocodiles and birds all buy the farm in the name of a quick buck at the box office.
Predictably, the prettiest village girl (Lai) takes an interest in him, which Robert exploits when he makes his escape. But there’s a price to be paid for betraying the tribe …
The best cannibal films hitch their particular wagon to another touchstone, be it specifically political, cultural or sociological. Therefore ‘The Man from Deep River’ is a cash-in on/response to ‘A Man Called Horse’ where the stakes are higher in that the natives Rassimov has to prove himself to won’t just take his scalp if he pussies out – they’ll straight-up fucking eat him; ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is a j’accuse of both audience and media; and Lenzi’s ‘Eaten Alive’ composites cannibalism and religious cults (it was made shortly after Jonestown). ‘Last Cannibal World’, though, doesn’t function on any level other than “hey, folks, check out these crazy cannibals, by the way here’s a sick bag and we hope none of you are ophidiophobes”.
Deodato’s trademark craftsmanship and ability to build tension are poorly evidenced here. There isn’t a single set-piece that hasn’t been done better in another movie. The performances are neither here nor there. The overuse of stock footage is tedious. But still there are dark grace notes, little moments in which Deodato’s bitterly cynical approach to the material points towards ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. And when ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is an indicator that one’s filmography has seen out its low stretch and things are getting back on track … well, kiddies, that’s why Uncle Neil set up the Movie Club in the first place.