It’s back to the infamous 72 film hit-list that were known in a time of mass hysteria as the Video Nasties and Sergio Martino’s The Mountain (Slave, Prisoner) Of The Cannibal God released back in 1978. The Italian cannibal genre may have been short lived but it certainly proved incredibly contentious and not without reason. Accusations of everything from exploitation of indigenous people and misogyny are a couple of them but it is the serious animal cruelty that the films relished in that is the prime proponent causing the wrath of the censor and indeed anyone in their right mind. Let’s get this elephant in the jungle out the way first. Despite the likes of the infamous Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato 1980), & Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi 1981), the film in question and others gaining UK releases, they are never going to be completely uncut in this country. This is due to law regarding animals in cinematography and whereby scenes are “organised or directed in such a way as to involve the cruel infliction of pain or terror on any animal or the cruel goading of any animal to fury.” Unfortunately many of these films were guilty of this, often it is claimed now by directors and cast, at the insistence of producers wanting to sensationalise the films and push them as far as they could go. Mountain Of The Cannibal God suffers from 2m1s of cuts due to this with 6 scenes affected. There is the argument from film fans, sensible ones at that, vegetarians and vegans even who hate animal cruelty that they will not buy any film with cuts applied to them. It is a difficult situation but is it a necessary one now, after all these films are all hitting their 40 year anniversary and beyond? Perhaps the worry is if they are put through it might encourage new film makers to think they could get away with it which is something we really do not ever want to see again. Even though Mountain has been “softened” of these scenes there is still a surprising amount of cruelty in it, a black widow is speared with a machete, an iguana is cut open alive, cooked and eaten as are various snakes. Perhaps they were not unduly considered to suffer but still…. The very good news is however that this extended version also features an extra previously unseen (non-animal related) 4 minutes of footage sourced from the director’s private collection making this the longest of many versions of the film so far.
The Italian cannibal film may have seemed to come out of nowhere courtesy of Ruggero Deodata’s Ultimo Mondo Cannibale AKA Jungle Holocaust AKA The Last Cannibal World (1977). One can wonder what its inspiration was and go right back to literary classics such as adventure stories by the likes of H Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Italian mondo movie authored by Jacopetti and Prosperi had paved the way and certainly pushed things to the very limits but the template and inspiration in many ways is Elliot Silverstein’s 1970 critically acclaimed Western A Man Called Horse. Although a tribe of Sioux Indians captured Richard Harris and indoctrinated him into their rites and rituals this was very much the narrative for many of the cannibal films to follow.
The plot of Mountain is pretty simple and formulaic. A scientist has gone missing in the undiscovered regions of Papua New Guinea and his wife Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) along with an enlisted Professor Edward Foster (Stacy Keach) head off to the remote jungle to find him. They take the normal requisite native servants to help carry provisions naturally and they have victims written all over them, falling prey to booby traps and flesh eaters, the words “head off” have two meanings here. Then there is the wildlife and although it does get victimised it also strikes back. If you don’t like snakes, scenes with King Cobra and massive boa constrictor are really going to rattle you. I wouldn’t rue the passing of a crocodile though its tears are distinctly as rubber as its victims arm. Luckily there is a friendly mission nearby with some nice natives so the crew can rest up. Unfortunately as they talk about the cursed magical mountain they are trying to reach, chill out with foul looking home-made hooch and get down with the natives they are attacked from one of a tribe who was thought extinct. They may have a daft name The Pookas but it is into their territory along with newly acquainted explorer Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli) they traverse via dangerous rapids and climbing up a breath-taking waterfall. Once they arrive in the cannibals cave lair and ulterior motives are discovered they are invited to a party they will never forget. This is where many of the extra scenes come in and things go far beyond the supposed uncut Dutch EC Entertainment DVD that many fans of the film and genre will already own. I think it is fair to say that a grizzly fight between a snake and bird are not missed but scenes of the natives enjoying or maybe enduring sex with each other and a pig (bestiality not a BBFC problem here although to be fair it looks simulated) and female masturbation are real eye openers and definitely caught me by surprise. The staple penis chopping off has also been allowed back in by the censor in all its glory too. It has to be said that compared to many of the aforementioned films the actual cooking and eating of humans is quite restrained, I guess it would have helped if Me Me Lai had been available here but as far as the native cannibals themselves are concerned they are certainly one of the most prehistoric tribes seen in these sort of films with their masks, rituals and decrepit appearance. As for whether our adventurers survive and whether Ms Andress does so undressed or not, well you will have to watch the film to find out.
Mountain Of The Cannibal God is a right old romp and a half, a real (as they are described in non PC terms) boy’s own adventure. Despite being told she will never manage to embark the expedition as she is a woman and it’s difficult enough for a man, one has to side with Susan Stevenson and she turns out to be the strongest character of them all and far from a pathetic women to scream all the way through the film; although to be fair she does a fair bit of that too. The film looks wonderful here in a crisply savage 2K Blu-ray presentation and the scenery really sparkles. This also helps the film as it is far from insular in location as we travel from gorgeous beach, through thick jungle, over dangerous rivers and rapids, up the stunning waterfall and into the twilight Neolithic world of the cannibal caves. Filmed mainly in Sri-Lanka the beauty of the region is really a key feature of the film and it does give the impression that this could well be uncharted territory that has never been explored apart from by various actors and a film crews that is. It may strike as a bit of a surprise seeing renowned actors like Bond girl Andress and Keach in this but hell they needed a pay check as much as anyone and are convincing in their parts, although I would be surprised if either are particularly keen to reminisce over this particular movie out of all their roles. The music by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis with its wild crazy pulses and discomforting vibe also deserves mention. Naturally the score of any film in the genre fades to a mere nod after Riz Ortolani’s fantastically evocative themes encompassing Cannibal Holocaust but…
Director Sergio Martino who is thankfully still very much with us, like many Italian directors of the period worked cross genre and a lot of his films have recently been getting hi-definition releases and his work is very much up for reappraisal. Giallos such as the Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971) All The Colours Of The Dark (1972) Torso (1973) are the types of film he really made his mark on early on but he was also involved in Westerns, violent Poliziotteschi films, action adventures and futuristic post apocalypse films. This takes us on nicely to the main extra here the 46 minute “Cannibal Nightmare: Return to the Mountain of the Cannibal God” documentary. Licensed from No Shame this is a fascinating piece with archive footage from the filming of Cannibal God and plenty of facts from Martino. Apparently one of the main inspirations for the adventure film was Hemingway’s The Snows Of Kilimanjaro and we are told what an arduous shoot it was and how nearly everyone was ill at some point. Apparently the cave scenes were shot in Malaysia and were especially difficult. He calls Andress completely fearless as far as handling that mighty boa constrictor was concerned and tells us the biggest threats in the jungle was actually wasps nests and that leeches were also a big problem. There are some great stories and anecdotes here and it sounds like a complete adventure was had both on and off screen. Cinematographer and set designer Massimo Antonello Geleng and Giancarlo Ferrando are also are on hand to reminisce and remember what they can too and also have some interesting tales. Yes as suspected the natives actually ate live snakes so they would have been consumed whether filmed or not. Apparently Ursula was disgusted. As far as cruelty to animals is concerned Shameless grab a short chat with the director who seems genuinely contrite especially concerning a scene with a python and a monkey which although set up was not expected to result in an attack as the snake had recently eaten. Alas things did not go to plan and the director guiltily says that it is only right that this scene has been excised from this cut of the film.
It’s always a risk putting out any film with cuts to it but at least unlike the days of companies like Vipco who released a shredded version of this on DVD you now know exactly what you are getting. It probably doesn’t help when even a major UK retailer insists that even the sleeve art is slightly censored to stock it in their stores! Seasoned jungle explorers should be assured this worldwide Blu-Ray premiere definitely delivers the best version of the film available and it looks fantastic. If you are new to the genre perhaps stumbling across it after seeing Eli Roth’s Green Inferno (2013) homage consider it an appetiser; the main course, the infamous Cannibal Ferox from Umberto Lenzi is due its UK hi def debut release in a few weeks. We will tuck in to that once the preview disc arrives.