Sunday, January 17, 2016

Surprisingly Bad, the Joys of Cannibal Terror



I love the unexpected.  In movies, at least.  The unexpected in real life usually boils down to shit like “why isn’t the air conditioner working?” or “what is this bill for?”  It’s not as fun.  In movies, it can be a thrill.  A well-executed surprise can disrupt your equilibrium, get your heart racing, keep you interested.  Those are easy to appreciate.  Then there are surprises that are less “I didn’t see that coming” and more “what the hell just happened?”  They can be off-kilter bits of dialogue, wildly inappropriate reactions, or stupefying twists.  The pleasure comes from wondering what crazy shit is going to pop up next.  It takes you out of the moment, but some movies you don’t watch for their immersive, nuanced plot.  With some movies, the crazy shit is the only thing going for them.  Take for example, CANNIBAL TERROR (1980).

The capsule:
Two incompetent thieves and an unsuccessful prostitute have had it with penny ante schemes and decide to kidnap the young daughter of a prominent businessman (or something, he wears a suit).  When one of their associates gets hit by a car because he is literally incapable of crossing the street safely, the kidnappers are forced to hide out in the lush jungle region of Spain.  Unfortunately, it also happens to be “cannibal country” (the warning is given as casually as if it were “bear country”).  Even though their guide is attacked and eaten by a pack of cannibals hiding in the tall grass (as cannibals do), the kidnappers still think it’s the best place to lay low.  They stay at the parrot and rifle filled house of Antonio.  Everything is running smoothly until one of the kidnappers inhospitably decides to rape Antonio's wife.  Antonio gets revenge by tying the rapist up in the backyard and actually whistling for the cannibals, who again happen to be loitering in the tall grass.  The wife gets word to the police about the kidnappers, and a rescue party consisting of the parents, Antonio, an unidentified old guy, and one policeman grab guns and rush in to save the little girl.  The remaining kidnappers push deeper into cannibal country, where, to their surprise, they encounter more cannibals and are captured.  Things do not go well for them.  But since the cannibals only eat morally ambiguous people (as cannibals do), the chief returns the little girl, unharmed, to the parents.  Though she may be a cannibal now.  Jury’s still out on that one.

Alain Deruelle's CANNIBAL TERROR (not to be confused with Jess Franco’s CANNIBALS, which was filmed at the same time, in the same location, using the same cannibals) is an absolute mess.  It does not contain a single iota of competent filmmaking.   No one behaves the way actual human beings behave.   There is zero continuity.  Some shots have mysterious hands tapping at the edge of the frame.  Unidentified people appear and vanish randomly from scene to scene.  This is exactly why I enjoy this movie.  The plot itself, what there is of it, is predictable, but everything else is completely insane.  It’s like watching a drunken clown at a kid’s birthday party, there’s no telling what will happen. There’s a scene where the wife is talking to a couple of weird Manson Family looking hippies that live on her property for some reason.  One of them is cleaning his gun and it accidentally goes off.  It isn’t part of the script, I think it was a real, loaded gun that accidentally fired.  And they just left it in.  You don’t see that kind of thing in THE HUNGER GAMES.

The weirdest aspect is that the criminals, even the out of the blue rapist, are very doting kidnappers.  I don’t believe the little girl is ever aware that she has been kidnapped.  She acts like she is on a field trip with her aunt and uncles.  The actual kidnapping happens off screen, one minute the criminals are coming up with the idea, the next the girl his hanging out in their apartment, laughing and playing with the prostitute.  She is tickled, given piggyback rides, and even kissed goodnight.  The criminals all seem to genuinely care about the little girl.  They should have hung up the kidnapping plot and become au pairs.   It’s like SAVANNA SMILES, but with cannibals.

And speaking of cannibals…  
The film never specifically indicates what part of the world it is set.  They talk about the “jungle” on the other side of “the border”, but really it’s Spain, a land not typically known for either its jungles or its cannibals.  Thus, the cannibals cast in this movie don’t so much resemble remote tribes in the Amazon or Papua New Guinea as they do a bunch of local Caucasians with moustaches, sideburns, and Scott Baio haircuts.  One of them has a tattoo of his girlfriend on his chest. They do wear face paint and dance around a fire, so the illusion is mostly intact.  I’m fairly sure one is an uncredited appearance by Steve Perry of Journey.   

Like most movie cannibals, they are very messy eaters.  There is a lot of reaching into chest cavities (which look suspiciously like pig carcasses in jeans) and pawing at intestines.  Luckily for them, the human body is apparently also filled with cooked kielbasa sausage, so it’s not all gnawing on raw liver.  Apart from eating ne’er-do-wells , they enjoy decorating their village with plastic skulls and pookah shell necklaces.  They are not the reclusive type of cannibals, though, since you can clearly see cars passing by just on the other side of the tree line in the village. They are centrally located.  I hope the transportation department at least puts up some of those yellow animal crossing style warning signs along the road.  Caution:  Hitchhikers May Be Flesh Eaters.

CANNIBAL TERROR is audacious in its badness.  It does not bow to logic or traditional storytelling.  It shoves its ridiculousness in your face like a fistful of guts.  If you can stomach its unintentional hilarity, go on and take a bite.  Don’t worry, it’s probably just sausage.

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