Cannibal Terror/Terreur Cannibale (1981) -***½
I like to think I’m more knowledgeable than the average bear when it comes to Italianate cannibal movies (were I actually smarter than the average bear, I surely would not watch so many of the fucking things), but even so, I could not remember ever hearing of Cannibal Terror until the day when a screener copy from Severin Films showed up in my mailbox. Perhaps some of Cannibal Terror’s obscurity stems from its being one of the few cannibal films on the Lenzi-Deodato model that were not made by Italians, nor indeed even for an Italian production company; this is, after all, a plot of cinematic territory in which “Italian” is practically an integral part of the genre name. Then again, maybe it has more to do with Cannibal Terror being far and away the most blitheringly inept example of the form I’ve yet seen, trailing Umberto Lenzi’s most brainless efforts by a distance comparable to that by which Lenzi’s worst trails Ruggero Deodato’s finest.
The syndicated alternative newspaper column “News of the Weird” has a recurring category called “Least Competent Criminals.” Cannibal Terror is like watching the “Unsolved Mysteries” dramatization of one of those stories. None of these people will be identified by name until later (and one of them won’t be named until after the half-hour mark!), but our central figures here are Roberto (Gerard Lemaire, maybe? Damn these Europeans and their vague-ass credits!), Mario (Antonio Mayans, from Tender and Perverse Emanuelle and Oasis of the Zombies), and Lina (probably Montserrat Salvador), a trio of shady characters operating in the capital of some unnamed South American country very obviously stood in for by the north of Spain. When we meet them, Roberto and Mario are failing to rob a boat, even though its owner left the door to the main cabin unlocked, because Mario is too dense to figure out that said door opens outward. (He discovers what he’d been doing wrong only when he pounds on the frame in frustration, and the resulting vibrations jar the door open into his face— and even then, it turns out there’s nothing in the boat worth stealing.) These Moriarties of the Spanish Americas think they hear opportunity knocking for real at last when Lina encounters Florence Dauville (“The Little Annabelle”— no, really, that’s what it says in the credits), the schoolgirl heiress to the Dauville automobile fortune, playing outside the salon where her mother (Silvia Solar, from Crimson and Night of the Howling Beast) gets her hair and nails done. Lina thinks they should kidnap the girl and hold her for ransom. The kidnapping itself proceeds without a hitch, but when Ricardo— an uncredited fourth conspirator whom we’ve never seen before, and whose role in the scheme I never did figure out— rushes to meet the rest of the gang at the apartment they’ve been using as their base of operations, he gets hit by a car while crossing the last street to his destination. In no time at all, the whole block is swarming with cops, both Ricardo and the driver who struck him are in custody, and Roberto is convinced that the fourth man is about to rat him out— even though the police have no reason to suspect Ricardo of anything worse than jaywalking, and will surely be asking him no questions about anything save getting run down. Then again, if we may judge Ricardo by the company he keeps, maybe he really is stupid enough to blurt out his real business at the apartment complex while filling in his share of the accident report. So perhaps it does make sense for Roberto to call his well-connected buddy, Pepe (nope— not credited either), to secure quick passage out of the country for him, his two remaining partners, and their juvenile hostage.
Pepe arranges to have the kidnappers flown to a point just this side of “the border” (don’t ask me which), where they are to meet up with Mickey Morris (Miriam Camacho, I think), who will show them the ninja route around the checkpoint, keep the border guards busy while they make the crossing, and then escort them to the home of somebody named Antonio (head over to my review of Devil Hunter for a somewhat lengthy discussion of who I think this might be and why), who will presumably not mind them using his place as a safe-house. Mario is not happy to learn, upon meeting her, that Mickey is a woman— apparently females are not be trusted to operate motor vehicles, or something. Or course, since Mickey’s plan to distract the border guards is to flirt with them and flash a bunch of leg, Mario should probably be thankful she isn’t a guy. And in any event, Mickey has done this sort of thing plenty of times. The only thing there is to worry about is the Indian tribe on the other side of the border; the Indians whose territory the road skirts are cannibals, but provided Mickey and her passengers are able to keep moving, they shouldn’t have any trouble. Yes— provided… So not a single damn one of you is going to be a bit surprised to see the radiator in Mickey’s jeep boil over, am I right? Mickey says there’s a stream nearby, from which she can get water for a refill, but no sooner is she out of sight of the others than the cannibals are upon her. Roberto, Lina, and Mario hear the screams and the gunshots when she attempts to defend herself, but rather than coming to her rescue, they fire up the jeep and drive off, radiator be damned. Mickey’s absence makes for some tension when the kidnappers arrive at Antonio’s house, but rudeness and belligerence strangely succeed where name-dropping fails, and Antonio consents to take the unexpected visitors in— and by the way, your guess as to why Pepe didn’t call ahead to tell Antonio they were coming is as good as mine.
Another guess you could make as well as I can concerns Mario’s idea of the proper expression of gratitude toward one’s hosts. Antonio’s wife, Manuela (Pamela Stanford, of Doriana Grey and Lorna the Exorcist), is both very pretty and young enough to be his daughter, and Mario begins lusting after her immediately. Shortly after the gangsters arrive, Antonio is called away on business for a day, and Mario wastes literally no time in making his move. First he spies on Manuela while she takes a bath in a huge outdoor washtub, then he chases her down and rapes her in the woods, leaving her tied to a pair of trees when he’s finished. (Incidentally, that Mario-on-Manuela bondage-rape is juxtaposed against Lina’s seduction of some guy we’ve never seen before, and will only rarely see again. I gather that it’s supposed to be an exercise in ironic contrast, but it’s really just sleazy and dumb.) Obviously, Antonio comes back from his errand; obviously, he goes looking for his wife when he can’t find her around the house; and obviously he isn’t the least bit happy with what he learns when he discovers her semi-conscious and tied up in the so-called jungle. (Nothing says “tropical rainforest” like pine trees and sagebrush…) Cannibal Terror flirts briefly and nonsensically with ripping off The House on the Edge of the Park at this point, but in the end, Antonio just takes Mario on a bogus hunting trip, ties him to the same tree where he left Manuela the day before, and summons his pals, the cannibals, to take care of the rapist. (That does at least explain how Antonio is able to live unmolested on the margin of cannibal country.) Meanwhile, Manuela pursues her own form of revenge, telling Pedro the handyman (Alain Deruelle, who some sources claim directed this shit under the bizarre pseudonym Allan W. Steeve) that the “guests” are really those kidnappers who have been all over the news lately, and sending him to contact the police. Florence’s parents— as befits a big-time capitalist and his wife— have underground sources of their own, and they find out that the girl has been located before their country’s authorities do. Mr. Dauville (Olivier Mathot, of White Cannibal Queen and Hell Train) rounds up a posse of thugs and boot-partiers from the crowd he ran with back in “the old days,” and he, his wife, and their private army set off to get Florence back. There’s nowhere for Roberto and Lina to run except into the arms of the cannibals, which is probably an even worse idea than just waiting around to get caught by Team Dauville.
Back at the beginning of the review, I posited two potential explanations for Cannibal Terror’s lack of visibility, even among dedicated fans of such films: its conspicuous lousiness and its non-Italian origins. Well, it happens that those may simply be aspects of a single whole, for the non-Italians behind Cannibal Terror were our old friends at Eurocine. That’s right— we’re talking about a rip-off of Make Them Die Slowly from the company that gave us Zombie Lake, and the kinship between the two pictures could scarcely be more obvious. The Pyrenees Mountains standing in for the Amazonian jungle. The flagrantly Caucasian “Indians” (I guess we know now which tribe Laughing Crow belonged to, huh?) and their tiki bar village. The gore effects so pitiful that the camera itself often seems to be ashamed to look at them. The ludicrously inappropriate score, which makes the city theme from Make Them Die Slowly seem like the epitome of taste and sound judgement. The steadfast failure of the script to make any sense at all at any level. Yes, Cannibal Terror truly is the Zombie Lake of cannibal movies, and as such, I score it as a film not to be missed. Where else in this genre are you going to see a cannibal village with plenty of children roaming about, but with just one briefly-glimpsed woman, who is nowhere near old enough to have born any of those kids? What other gut-muncher has a stone-age chieftain who looks like a doughy and gone-to-seed Tom Araya and a war-party leader who looks like Ringo Starr, the both of them sporting war paint and wigs apparently derived from a dimestore “Indian Brave” Halloween costume? What other film offers you the awesome spectacle of “tribal dance” choreography that just makes it look like the revelers really need to pee? Hell, Cannibal Terror even repeats Zombie Lake’s signature “faces only, please” corpse-makeup design, seen here on Roberto when he is about to be cut open for feasting upon, and made even more glaring by the fact that Gerard Lemaire (or whoever) is shirtless at the time. Best of all, there seems to have been no money in the budget for live animals to butcher and mutilate, so even those who normally eschew cannibal movies on ethical grounds (and good for you, by the way, if you’re one of them) can enjoy Cannibal Terror’s magnificent idiocy without compromising their principles. Come on, people— you know you want to…