The Mountain of the Cannibal God/Slave of the Cannibal God/Prisoner of the Cannibal God/La Montagna del Dio Cannibale (1978) ***
Surprisingly restrained by cannibal movie standards, The Mountain of the Cannibal God spends most of its running time doing more of a safari adventure sort of thing, the only indication of its underlying nature being the occasional presence of masked and mud-smeared natives lurking half-seen in the underbrush. Its latent mean-spiritedness also surfaces from time to time in recurring scenes of animals eating each other-- anaconda vs. monkey, crocodile vs. turtle, hawk vs. cobra, etc. But most of The Mountain of the Cannibal God could almost pass for a low-rent Italian rip-off of an Alan Quatermain movie.
This time around, the excuse to head off to the jungle to be eaten by savages is provided by a woman named Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress-- now there’s an actress whose career went spiraling down the shitter. Not that I have any respect at all for the James Bond series, but at least people actually watched Dr. No. To go from there to The Mountain of the Cannibal God and The Sensuous Nurse... how depressing is that?). Susan’s husband, the respected anthropologist Dr. Henry Stevenson, has been missing for three months in the jungles of “Free Guinea.” (I have no idea where “Free Guinea” is supposed to be-- are they talking about Equatorial Guinea? About Papua-New Guinea? Either way, it’s quite obvious from the physiognomy of the “natives” that the real setting is someplace like Malaysia.) Mrs. Stevenson and her brother, Arthur Weissenauer (Antonio Marsina, from The Black Cat), want to go looking for him, but the authorities absolutely forbid it-- something about wildlife conservation policies. When Susan and Arthur can’t get what they want through official channels, they turn to an anthropologist friend of Dr. Stevenson’s, a man named Edward Foster (Stacey Keach, a very busy man who more recently appeared in Escape from L.A.). Foster knows the jungle well, and is more than willing to be Susan and Arthur’s guide. And more importantly, he thinks he knows exactly where Henry went.
On the other side of the Matabara Jungle, just a few miles off the coast of Free Guinea, is a tiny island, covered in dense jungle and dominated by a single large mountain called Ra-Rami. No expeditions to Ra-Rami are ever authorized by the government, supposedly because it is a wildlife preserve, but really because the people of Free Guinea consider the mountain and its island to be cursed. And so far as anyone knows, Edward Foster is the only white man who ever went up the mountain. Foster believes that Henry disappeared while attempting to match his achievement.
A short helicopter flight later, the Stevenson party is in the jungle. In addition to the three whites, the party includes Asino, Foster’s trusted companion who was born and raised in the Matabara Jungle. The four of them hire a slew of native porters and set off, but the period of smooth sailing is short, for soon those masked islanders begin showing up in the shadows. Before much time has passed, Asino has vanished and all of the porters have been killed, either by the masked men or by their booby traps in the forest. (Check out the snare-and-box-of-knives trap-- you don’t want this to happen to you, ever.) In the panic that inevitably follows, it starts to look like Susan, Edward, and Arthur will be next, as the three get separated just as what looks like a full-scale attack by the natives begins. But at the last minute, they are saved by a rifle-wielding white man named Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli, of Flavia the Heretic and Screamers), who drives off their attackers.
Manolo takes them to a small village, where he lives and works for a missionary (Franco Fantasia, from Assignment Outer Space and Justine and the Whip). The villagers are happy to take the travelers in and give them supplies for the remainder of their trip. And it is here in the village that the back story begins to emerge. Foster, we learn, knows who the tribesmen who attacked them were. He says they call themselves the Puka, and that they live on the peak of Ra-Rami. In fact, the mountain’s name comes from their language, and means “Mountain of the Cannibal God.” As you might imagine, the Puka are themselves cannibals, and they were far and away the most feared tribe on the island. I say “were” because so far as anyone knows, they are extinct, exterminated by tribal warfare decades ago. But Foster knows a Puka when he sees one, because on his trip up Ra-Rami, he was captured by them, and avoided death only because he was able to cure the chief’s son of a fever that would otherwise have killed him. That boy turns out to have been Asino, and when Foster finally escaped from the Puka, during the massacre that was believed to have destroyed them, he took the boy with him. But the Stevenson party’s troubles have only just begun. That night, while most of the villagers are celebrating who knows what, that smarmy bastard Arthur beds one of the native girls, and then both she and her husband are killed by a Puka raider, who is revealed to be none other than Asino after he narrowly loses a fight with Foster. The next day, the missionary makes the white travelers leave; they “have brought sin, adultery, and death to this peaceful village,” and he never wants to see any of them again. He’ll get his wish.
The Stevenson party sets off again with Manolo taking Asino’s place. This phase of the movie is mainly “man against the elements” and is noteworthy only for the death of Foster. His leg was badly wounded in his fight with Asino, and he understandably has a hard time doing things like scaling waterfalls. He begins to lose his grip on the wet rocks as he attempts to do just that, and smarmy bastard Arthur (to whom Foster had been calling for help) just looks on with a smug simper on his face as the wounded man plunges to his death. It’s about now that we start to seriously question Susan and Arthur’s character; so far, Arthur has seduced a married native girl and caused the death of one of his comrades, while Susan has been making a suspicious amount of goo-goo eyes at Manolo for someone who claims to be searching for her husband.
And then they reach the mountain, and it’s payoff time. Ra-Rami turns out to be made of fucking uranium, and it rapidly becomes obvious that Susan and Mr. Scheissenauer were not looking for Henry, but rather for the fat fucking licensing checks that will be theirs once they open up the mountain for mining. But alas, poor Susan, the Puka have other plans.
This climactic section is a little light on the carnage (though they do eat Arthur-- can I get a “fuck yeah”?), but heavy on the imaginative plot twists. The cannibals’ altar is fucking great, as is the rationale Manolo comes up with to explain it. There’s also a first-rate onscreen emasculation (the first time this genre commonplace was used?), and Ursula Andress, naked, getting an oily rubdown from a couple of hot cannibal chicks isn’t such a bad touch either. I can’t say I was too pleased with the ending, though; in the great Italian tradition, the film just kind of stops, like the filmmakers ran out of money before they ran out of story. But it’s not a bad little movie, and let’s face it-- there’s something to be said for the experience of watching a movie you have to track down like a wild animal first. (The copy I finally got my hands on was a pirate edition with-- of all things-- Dutch subtitles!) If you can find this one, by all means check it out.