Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mondo Cannibale (Cannibals) (1980)

Benvenuti nella Giungla

Mondo Cannibale (Cannibals) (1980) is Jess Franco's foray into the then-popular cannibal genre (decidedly marked by Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980)).    This production was "announced as Rio Salvaje to be produced by Magna Films/Madrid;" but, it was French film company, Eurociné, who overtook the production (with Daniel Lasœur serving as production manager). (1)  Italian actors Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti) and Sabrina Siani were cast as the leads.  Humorously, Franco admits to seeing Deodato's seminal film and "then one more" before having his fill of the cannibal genre (2), and despite his ambivalence towards the genre, I cannot fathom Franco ever turning down an opportunity to make a film.

Mondo Cannibale lacks the realism and sadism so characteristic of the genre.  Hence, it completely misses the mark with the genre’s fans.  The film was shot in Alicante (3) in a beautiful palm forest, a locale more suitable for young lovers to stroll under the moonlight than for human-flesh feasting.  Turtles, if they frequent the area, were left in peace.  Franco cast the local gypsies as the cannibal tribe, and frequent collaborator Antonio Mayans (aka Robert Foster) was cast as the tribal leader.(5)  Al Cliver plays Jeremy Taylor, and with his wife and young daughter they take a foray into the jungle for an expedition.  Shit goes from bad to worse when the cannibals attack.  Taylor’s wife is killed; Taylor is tortured and maimed; and his young daughter goes missing, presumed dead.  Cliver’s Taylor wakes up in a hospital in New York with amnesia.  Lina Romay appears as a nurse in the asylum (Romay as a non-blonde Candy Coster).  She becomes attached to Taylor and helps him recuperate.  He regains his memory and is determined to return to the jungle to find his daughter...
The only real gore of Mondo Cannibale are primarily close-ups of the requisite cannibal feedings.  Understandably, with Franco’s distaste for the genre, they look like people eating raw steak upon a willing victim’s stomach.  The plot of the film reads like an American pulp novel or serial:  the young daughter of Taylor grows of age and becomes the queen of the tribe and is forced to return to civilization with her family and abandon her adoptive tribal one.  Franco treats the material in a perfunctory manner.  Of highlight, however, is the film’s music.  Despite the credits reading Robert Pregadio as composer, Franco admits the music is the collaboration of him and Daniel White. (4)  The music is evocative of Riz Ortolani’s score from Cannibal Holocaust, yet it is quite beautiful appreciated on its own.  Despite the gore being gratefully little and poorly-rendered, the actors’ make-up is quite striking.  Eschewing any realism, Franco paints his actors’ faces in bright, festival-like colors.  In any state of mind, Mondo Cannibale appears like drunken Mardi Gras revelers making a film in the midst of partying.  The palm-forest setting must be quite striking, as Franco alters many of his compositions to emphasize their beauty.  The frames do not look like postcards but have Franco’s unique, poetic touch.
DVD label, Blue Underground released Mondo Cannibale on DVD a few years ago.  Its attraction is primarily for fans of Jess Franco.  Cannibal fans can get their fill and then some with Deodato’s masterful film.  Despite the fact that she has little dialogue and delivers a sub-par performance, one can see Sabrina Siani’s charisma.  She’s incredibly sexy and scantily-clad throughout the picture.  Antonio Mayans is surprisingly animated in his role, but he is always a compelling actor to watch.  Al Cliver gives a familiar performance:  he never stretches the heights of his acting ability but manages to deliver again, an emotional and thoughtful performance.  Lina Romay’s role is very straightforward and offers little in the way of character.  She should be given more but c’est la vie.  I’ll see anything that Franco makes and have seen well over a hundred of his films.  Mondo Cannibale gets a rare revisit from me.
Finally, to those who frequent these pages, I apologize for the lack of content over the last few months.  I’ve been fine yet haven’t had any inclination to write about anything.  This post ain’t the greatest, and I wrote it mainly to shake off the cobwebs and produce something.  I plan on writing more very soon.  If you enjoy reading these pages, feel free to comment upon any post.  Comments are open to anyone and everyone.
 1. Obsession:  The Films of Jess Franco.  Ed. Lucas Balbo and Peter Blumenstock.  Grauf Haufen and Frank Trebbin.  Germany: 1993.  p. 137.
2. Video interview “Franco Holocaust.”  Cannibals DVD.  Blue Underground.  November 13, 2007.
3.  Ibid.
4.  Ibid.
5.  Ibid.


Alex B. said...

Great to have you back!
Cannibals was my very first Franco, if I remember correctly.
About Cliver not overstretching his acting muscles: I thought the episode of him having a breakdown at the hospital was very emotional. Doesn't have much impact due to the silly overall context, but I felt Al was trying hard.
I developed a Cliver obsession lately, might review L'Alcova soon. Cheers

Anonymous said...

Good to see you back in action. I haven't commented before, but read your stuff for some time now. Looking forward to more!

I totally hated Cannibals, but it was among my first batch of Franco titles (I came from the Franco angle - I'm not particularly interested in cannibal flicks except for a couple of classics) and now, knowing more of the man and his work, I might watch it with different eyes, but I'm not sure it would benefit from it.