Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mondo Cannibal (2004)

Written by: Bruno Mattei and Giovanni Paolucci
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Helena Wagner as Grace Forsyte
Claudio Morales as Bob Manson
Cindy Matic as Cindy Blair

I thought it would be amusing to bookend Thanksgiving with a couple of cannibal movies, mostly because I had just bought a couple of cannibal movies and figured I needed an excuse to prioritize their viewing above some of the higher quality entertainment that's waiting for me on my shelves. I still haven't finished the Lone Wolf and Cub Blu ray set, for example, nor have I finished the extras on the Criterion Collection edition of Cronos, or even taken the shrink wrap off of Videodrome. Last week, we took a look at Bruno Mattei's Predator/Cannibal Holocaust fusion experiment, In the Land of the Cannibals. This time around, we have his straight up remake of Cannibal Holocaust, which was shot back to back with the other movie and features a lot of the same cast and crew.

This time around, Mattei actually expended a bit of thought on updating the story of his movie, rather than cut-and-pasting exact copies of scenes from other movies together. In one case, he is even so bold as to try to one-up the reigning king of Italian gut-munchers. The result is almost as clumsy and stupid as In the Land of the Cannibals from the writing and acting standpoint, but on a technical level is a much better looking movie. Or at least as much better looking as a movie can be when it's shot on such a low grade of video that it looks like it was produced for a PBS affiliate some time in the late 80's.

Grace Forsyte is a tough-as-nails journalist who hosts a news magazine program called Face to Face. Her ratings have been slipping behind as every other station has jumped on the salacious reality TV bandwagon, pulling in the viewers while she insists on journalistic integrity and real stories. She is called in to her boss's office at TVN, the station she works for, to be informed that her show is being canceled unless she can pull the ratings out of the tank. On the way to work that morning, she saw an old friend on TV who she thinks might just be her way out of this predicament.

I have a hard time believing any place in the world would allow the nauseating footage of real funeral rites shown in this bit on an outdoor public Jumbotron, but then again, as Mattei lets us know in his own special way, this is Hong Kong (these are the people who think rape and ebola are a solid basis for a slapstick comedy, after all).

Marvel at my high-tech screen cap technology!

Meanwhile, activist documentary filmmaker Bob Manson receives a call from his backers informing him that no one cares any more about the rainforests being cut down and native tribes being ruined by contact with civilization and all that other boring hippy-dippy crap he keeps spouting off about, and that his funding has been cut. Before he even has time to consider selling himself as the human cast member of a donkey show to raise money to buy a ticket home, Grace enters the little tavern and offers him a proposition. She wants to team up with him as her guide, using his expertise with local tribes to take them deep into the jungle to find some real live cannibals to put on TV. It's a win-win scenario; Bob gets the full resources of a huge television network to continue his work raising awareness about the plight of the rainforest, and Grace gets to show humans eating other humans on her show. That ought to bring in some ratings. Suck it, Fear Factor!

We all know what happens from here. Turns out most of the local cannibal tribes dropped full-on headhunting warfare generations ago and are now boringly peaceful. However, the film crew hear occasional rumors on their journey about a tribe called the Invisible People, who may be just the band of savages they're looking for. They eventually succeed in finding them, and though a few of their primitive rituals are shocking, it would appear they are no more interesting on the whole than any of the other tribes the film crew has encountered. Inevitably, they decide to stir the pot a bit in an attempt to incite the natives to violent action, but once they get that boulder rolling down the hill, its momentum proves difficult to stop, and the situation gets rapidly, fatally, out of control.

After the occasionally amusing but ultimately disappointing In the Land of the Cannibals, I was prepared to get a few chuckles in but in the end, be let down again. I was pleasantly surprised, then, that Mondo Cannibal is the superior of the two movies. That's not to say it's good, mind you. The movie is still comprised primarily of Bruno swinging for the fences and hitting himself in the face with the bat instead. It's just that whereas the previous movie filled the time between hilarious incompetencies with boredom, this one fills it with some stuff that genuinely works.

To start with, I'll touch a bit more on what I said up top about Mattei actually putting some thought into the script. Much had changed in the world of broadcast journalism and communications technology in the years between 1980 and 2004. Rather than having an entire second cast have to trek expensively into the jungle to retrieve film canisters to compile the atrocity footage later, the film crew in Mondo Cannibal has a digital camera with a satellite uplink that transmits the footage directly back to TVN headquarters, where the show's producer and Dick Cheney impersonator extraordinaire can watch and be sickened by it immediately. In this flick, it's this guy who delivers the, “Who are the real cannibals?” line, staring directly into the camera while doing so.

Smashing down the Fourth Wall, and selling the rebuilding contracts to Halliburton!

The footage is also being edited together as it comes in and broadcast in episodes as part of an ongoing special, so some of the horrors prior to the crew being eaten alive are actually seen by the viewing public to a boom in ratings that practically bankrupts TVN's competition. We see several of the scenes repeated on a TV in the boardroom, presumably showing the finished and broadcast version of events approved by the TVN top brass, which means that when they burn down a village and slaughter most of the residents to make it look like they were attacked by another tribe, the audience at home sees Grace, Bob, and the crew gleefully beating, shooting and burning people alive and cause a ratings coup that makes the Superbowl look like a 3:30am rerun of Perfect Strangers! And you thought Ruggero Deodato's view of humanity was cynical. Damn!

There's also some excellent gore on display. They presumably didn't have the time, money, or know-how to recreate the iconic chick-on-a-stick from Cannibal Holocaust (, but as I said before, Mattei did try to one-up Deodato on another, less well remembered scene. The abortion in Cannibal Holocaust is so unnerving to me precisely because you don't see much of it – just a couple of quick flashes of something pink and vaguely baby-shaped before it gets buried in the mud of a riverbank. Here, Mattei opts for the full-on gore gross out, with the pregnant woman's belly sliced open and the baby removed and displayed to the camera. While it's certainly icky, getting a good look at what appears to be one of those jumbo Gummy Bears covered in raspberry jam takes most of the wind out of the scene's sails. That is, until they drop it on the ground and start stepping on it. No matter how fake it looks, seeing that thing squish up through a bunch of toes is horrible. Not a patch on the original, but still icky.

There's also some full frontal animal violence. The native guide guts and skins a monitor lizard in plain view of the camera. Definitely the low point of the movie, as animal snuff footage always is, but it also brings me to my next point. Mattei may be a total klutz when it comes to writing and getting a performance out of his non-actors, but he's a hell of a visual mimic. The reason there was a dead pig in In the Land... was because there was a dead pig in Predator, and actual dead pigs are cheaper than building realistic special effects pigs. We don't see the demise of the pig in In the Land... not because it was considered too grotesque, but simply because we don't actually see the pig bite it in Predator either.

I think that's a big part of the reason In the Land... was more of a failure than Mondo Cannibal. Mattei simply bit off more than he could chew trying to reproduce big budget action scenes. He copied every set piece as closely as he could, right down to the blocking. Without the money for plasma beams and huge explosions and light-bending alien monsters, all he could manage were a couple of rubber spears and some M80's blowing up buckets of slaughterhouse guts. But playing in the mud with gore and a video camera? Even the most impoverished hack can pull that off reasonably well. And when you're copying from the very best, even your worst can't reach the absolute doldrums of suck. All he needed was a copy of Cannibal Holocaust to cue up whenever he needed to take notes on how to do a particular shot and presto! Instant semi-competent cannibal flick. It's the parts where he tries to make the movie his own where things go off the rails in truly spectacular fashion.

As I said before, we get the “Who are the real cannibals?” bit out of the way well before the movie is over, so what could possibly be the big stinger required to drive home the point that we've already had jackhammered down our throats for the last 90 minutes? I honestly don't have a damn clue because it doesn't make a lick of sense. The final bit of jungle footage ends as the camera man gets his skull crushed by a club, and the TVN board members express dismay not at the brutal ends met by their team, but that they won't have any more atrocity footage to scoop the other networks with (again, making Deodato seem positively cheerful by comparison)! The evil producer guy (not the one who looks like Cheney, but another one who looks like the guy that played Karl Rove on That's My Bush) claims that their money train hasn't pulled into the station yet, because thanks to the wonders of virtual reality, they can claim their team are still alive and have the audience participate in an interactive search for them, and even determine where in the world they'll go next! What the fuck!? I can't even begin to figure out how we're supposed to take that. It's like they realized they'd already done the bit they were supposed to end on and decided the solution would be to take all the drugs they could find in Manila and use the first thing they could come up with in a fit of narcotic insanity.

If you're a fan of the gruesome, the absurd, or the just plain stupid, this one is definitely worth checking out. There's something here for everyone. Unless you like your entertainment to have class and quality. But if that were the case, you wouldn't be reading this, now would you?

1 comment:

  1. Must see MC

    Lugnet - "All The Way" Grindhouse Video!
    Featuring: Christina Lindberg "Thriller: They Call Her One Eye" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2luOuo5-iQ

    More Info here: http://seance.blogg.se/