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Retro Review: SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978)

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SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD
aka MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD
(Italy - 1978; US release 1979)

Directed by Sergio Martino. Written by Cesare Frugoni and Sergio Martino. Cast: Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Claudio Cassinelli, Antonio Marsina, Franco Fantasia, Lanfranco Spinola, Carlo Longhi, Luigina Rocchi, Akushla Sellajaah, T.M. Munna, M. Suki, Dudley Wanaguru, Gianfranco Coduti. (R, 85 mins/Unrated, 103 mins)

Not as consistently disgusting as some of its more notorious contemporaries in the Italian cannibal craze, Sergio Martino's 1978 contribution MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD is almost a mondo take on a traditional jungle adventure for most of its duration. That's especially the case in its significantly truncated US version, retitled SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and released on the drive-in circuit by a relatively fledgling, pre-Freddy Krueger New Line Cinema in the spring and summer of 1979. Both versions--Martino's full-strength 103-minute director's cut and New Line's 85-minute US re-edit--are on Code Red's just-released SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD Blu-ray (because physical media is dead), and they offer a study in contrasts where each has its own unique strengths, the US cut in part because New Line saw fit to trim some of the fat. Indeed, the R-rated, 85-minute cut is better-paced and eliminates a talky early scene at the British consulate that ultimately makes no sense in the longer version. And while it retains a surprising amount of onscreen animal killing--always the major deterrent when it comes to one's ability to enjoy this type of tawdry exploitation fare--it suffers from almost complete lack of any graphic gut-munching, usually leaving the aftermath or reaction shots of other actors. In Martino's version, one major character is disemboweled and devoured, with a lingering shot of what feels like a mile of intestinal tract being yanked out of his gut, while in the US cut, it's reduced to one distant shot of the tribe chieftain holding up the victim's heart. Likewise, a graphic castration shown in Martino's version is merely implied in the US cut. The biggest difference in the uncut version is the inclusion of a CALIGULA-esque cannibal orgy, with some up-close and borderline pornographic footage of a young tribal woman masturbating along with some simulated bestiality involving a tribesman and a large pig. These shots were included in Martino's reconstructed version originally released by Anchor Bay back in the halcyon days of the Eurocult DVD explosion, and are understandably nowhere to be found in New Line's American cut. At the end of the day, regardless of which version of SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD you watch, both are trashy enough to make you wonder what the hell Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress are doing in it.






Andress is wealthy Susan Stevenson, who arrives in New Guinea with her younger brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) in search of her missing explorer husband Henry (played in photos by perennial Eurocult bit player Tom Felleghy). They believe he was headed for the cursed mountain of Ra-Rami on the island of Roka, but the British consulate refuses to authorize a search and rescue mission. They instead direct her to Dr. Edward Foster (Keach), an anthropologist who happens to have been a close associate of Henry's (if you're wondering why she didn't just go to him in the first place, the US cut completely removes the ultimately pointless sequence at the British consulate) and is the only person who's been to Ra-Rami and made it back alive. Foster agrees to guide them on the treacherous trek to Roka, though tensions soon flare between him and the obnoxious Arthur and they're eventually joined by rugged adventurer Manolo (Martino regular Claudio Cassinelli). Foster confesses that he was captured by the Puka, a tribe on Roka, and was forced to partake in their cannibal rituals ("You never forget the taste of human flesh!" Foster cries in what's not one of Keach's most dignified moments), and is going along on the trek not to save Henry, but to wipe out the Puka once and for all. Susan and Arthur have their own secret, as she's not quite the probable grieving widow (she attempts to seduce Manolo), but is instead driven by TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE-esque greed and wiling to put Foster and Manolo at risk, knowing Henry was searching for a massive secret uranium deposit on Roka, and they want those riches for themselves.


The expedition is whittled down, from Foster's native guides getting killed along the way to Keach making an abrupt exit with about 35 minutes to go when an injured Foster falls down a waterfall in one of Eurotrash cinema's more hilarious dummy deaths. Susan, Arthur, and Manolo are captured by the Puka and are introduced to the decaying, oozing corpse of her husband, with a Geiger counter planted in his chest and worshiped like a god by the Puka. Then they're submitted to the usual cannibal ritual antics--Arthur is eaten, Manolo forced to watch, and Susan is stripped nude and given a long, lingering oil and body paint rubdown in a scene that would be repeated with Alexandra Delli Colli in DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. and with Bo Derek in TARZAN THE APE MAN, directed by her husband John Derek, who was once married to--wait for it--Ursula Andress. Martino's version comes to a screeching halt with the X-rated orgy, which really slows things down in a way that makes the third act of the US version move a lot faster, but it's also missing Arthur's disgusting demise, instead relying on Cassinelli reaction shots to convey the horrors taking place. It's worth noting that neither Andress nor Keach are around for the really gross stuff other than an early scene where Foster's guides capture a small crocodile and slice it open for food. Keach is killed off before they even encounter the cannibals, but up to that point, much of the big names' interactions with the horrific onscreen carnage was limited to the magic of the cutting room: the explorers are rowing along a river and someone says "Look!" as Martino cuts to footage of a giant lizard barfing up a snake (that one's not in the New Line version). Martino also gets a thumbs down for a morally bankrupt shot of a monkey being thrown by some rigged mechanism right into the waiting mouth of a large crocodile (that's in the New Line version), essentially negating the oft-repeated argument from directors of these cannibal films that these were examples of "survival of the fittest" caught on camera (some of SLAVE's animal killings were later recycled by Umberto Lenzi for 1980's EATEN ALIVE).


Martino's uncut version looks terrific on Code Red's Blu, and there's an HD transfer of the US cut that's not quite as good in quality but still looks better than it has in any home video incarnation. Keach is on hand for a new interview and expresses no regrets over appearing in the film (this was the same year that his uptight Sgt. Stedenko was a memorable foil to Cheech and Chong in UP IN SMOKE), saying it offered him a chance to work with Andress and to see Sri Lanka. where the exteriors were shot, and where Martino and Cassinelli would return for 1979's THE GREAT ALLIGATOR. He has some vivid memories of the shoot and shares stories about Andress and Cassinelli, and has a good laugh at his ridiculous death scene, but he still doesn't seem to be fully aware of just how foul SLAVE gets in the last third after he was no longer around. 1978 found Keach at the end of a brief sojourn into Eurocult, which included the 1976 gangster thriller STREET PEOPLE and Umberto Lenzi's cheap-looking 1978 WWII saga THE GREATEST BATTLE. But none of those were as dubious as SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, where the involvement of respectable actors like Keach and Andress is certainly on par with Henry Fonda in TENTACLES and Richard Harris in STRIKE COMMANDO 2 in the "How the fuck did this happen?" chronicles of Italian trash cinema.





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