An unapologetic violator of cultural taboos, Jess Franco worked fast and hard, churning out movie after movie with stylistic fever and a charnel house parade of bad make-up, sweaty breasts, and prolific zoom lens shots of his favorite object d' arte, the female pubic area. What is surprising when once stops to consider it isn't the man's several pieces of hack work and disregard able failures but his many successes. Despite the slew of lame turkeys this macabre maverick has churned out in a career that has seen more changes that Rosie O'Donell's sexual orientation (brrr!), Franco has reached cinematic levels of artistry startling in their excess and -- more often than not -- shocking in their dark, hash-hish smoking beauty. While Cannibals doesn't belong to the list of Franco films that one could call popular pulp fests or even -- gasp!-- art, neither is it among his worst. Rather, this newest dark sensation unearthed by Blue Underground is an uneasy yet sensationalistic orgy of pulp sensibility and gut-munching showmanship that manages to walk the fine line between crass exploitation and idiotic genre posturing. Clearly a made-on-the quick addition to the already stale cycle of third world cannibal gut-munchers finding success in the wake of such rabid classics of underground entertainment as Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox, Franco's shot at intestine dinning manages somehow to be fun despite itself.

Produced by Daniel Lesoeur for sleaze and horror merchants EurocinÚ, Cannibals was clearly meant to capitalize on the efforts of Lenzi and Deodata. Known for his disdain for these jungle pictures, Franco nevertheless added another one to his resume, never one to turn down a shot to get some film in the can. The results are unintentionally hilarious. Al Cliver is as inept but loveable as Professor Jeremy Taylor. Exploring the Amazon with wife Elisabeth (Pamela Stanford) and his daughter Lana, the three have a bad hair day when their boat is ambushed by -- you guessed it -- cannibals! Elizabeth is eaten while Lana is captured. Jeremy flees minus one half an arm (yum), and returns to New York traumatized. Treated by Ana (Lina Romay billed as "Candy Coster"), he finally returns to the jungles with an expedition (years later!), financed by a tiresome rich couple. They soon discover that Lana, now an adult, has became the "White Goddess," following the leader Yakake. One by bloody one, they serve up the sloppy chow!

Summarized primarily as a pop artist using sex and violence to convey raw emotion, celebrating style over narrative integrity, Franco simply isn't trying too hard with Cannibals. This lack of interest is apparent, and rubs off on the audience. While Franco has devoted much of his career to fetishistic imagery, painting the screen in decadence with a camera valuing feverish imagery over traditional linear storytelling, none of his true obsessions with carnality or liberation, decadence or psychology is on display here. Even more offensive to devotees of shock cinema is the lack of any truly disturbing cannibal footage or graphic viscera. While some moments of gleeful dismemberment are on hand, they are clearly faked and non-spectacular, lacking the dramatic zeal that made the Italian films so enthusiastic in their butchery. Despite such a lack of believability or passion, this insipid jungle pot-boiler manages to entertain in a manner similar to the Saturday afternoon theatrics of any other cliff hanger. While the silly plot and unconvincing actors (many in the worst pancake make-up seen this side of Zombie Lake) do no favors for the slow-mo script, and the director's lazy approach repeatedly unhinges suspense, this is one of those -so bad its good goodies treasured by fans of the bad.

While the mainstream critical establishment often ignores him, devotees of dark and fantastic cinema regard Franco's movies with awe, wonder, and oftentimes confusion. Love him or hate him (and there are plenty who do both!), one thing you simply can't do with Franco is ignore him. This is proved true again here, where little marks of his unabashed glee are seen despite his apparent disinterest in the material. Who else but Franco could have the BALLS to shoot some of the more unrealistic scenes, all the while doing nothing to disguise his limitations? This alone makes it worthwhile viewing, particularly for Franco completists.

The first time that this beastie has seen DVD release, Blue Underground has scored another underground hit with Cannibals. Presented with care and affection, the 1.66:1 transfer is clean and vivid. Colors are clear with crisp detail. Minor grain does little to distract from this wonderful transfer. Audio is featured in mono, playing the English-dubbed track.

Extras for this wonderfully inept treasure of unintentionally comic acting and Ed Wood-like gut-slinging are scarce but worthwhile. The main attraction is a daringly blunt interview with writer/director Franco. "Franco Holocaust" features the man in rowdy form, speaking in English with helpful subs. Included in his rant is his distaste for the Italian cannibal sub-genre and his blasÚ attitude towards the material. Well worth the time spent, this is supplemented by a Trailer.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Blue Underground
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review