Jungle Holocaust (1977)

(aka: Last Cannibal World)

Jungle Holocaust

Oil mining entrepreneur Robert Harper (Foschi), while holidaying in Malaysia with business partner Ralph (Rassimov), finds himself stranded in the jungles of Mindanao when the light aircraft he has commissioned is damaged whilst setting down on a mountain top landing strip. Once his pilot Charlie (Shikur) sets about repairing the minor damage so that they may return with haste to civilisation, Harper uncovers an abandoned camp pitched by one of his company's scouting parties. It is quite deserted, although there appears to be signs that the party might have fallen foul of the local natives. A quick reconnaissance of the area turns up no leads, but leaves the trio of men, and their fourth passenger, Swan (Rosly) with little recourse but to stay the night, departing at dawn. During the course of the night, Swan's call of nature leaves no trace of her bar the echo of her screams in the darkness.

Come morning, before they depart, the three men set out to ascertain her fate, but Charlie quickly falls victim to a camouflaged native booby-trap, leaving Robert and Ralph hopelessly lost in the depths of the jungle. Stripping together a makeshift raft, the pair attempt to navigate back to the landing strip, only to fall victim to unexpected rapids. With Ralph lost to the white waters, Harper stumbles deeper and deeper into the alien terrain until his undernourished survival skills overwhelm him. But things have not ended for Harper, in fact, they have only just begun. When he is found unconscious by members of a primitive, cannibalistic tribe his ordeal stretches into one that will test the limits of his endurance, his sanity, and most telling of all, the very soul of his civilised identity.

Coming five years after the film that kicked off the whole cannibal sub-cycle of Italian genre cinema, Umberto Lenzi's "Man From Deep River" (1972), Deodato's first entry in the sub-genre sets itself up as the clear template for his later "Cannibal Holocaust" (1979) as well as the successive entries in the cycle itself. Shot in glorious widescreen Techniscope like its predecessor "Man", "Last Cannibal World" not only hints at what was to come, but also rather indelibly differentiates Deodato from his countryman Lenzi, perhaps by his willingness to document a spiralling descent into a madness over clearly punctuating a threadbare plot with crudely exploitative elements. "World" certainly has its share of these elements, however the manner in which they are employed and executed by Deodato only serves to accentuate his superiority as a filmmaker over Lenzi within the idiom. As with other entries within the cannibal cycle, "World" is most definitely NOT a film for viewers of either a sensitive, or squeamish, disposition as it is wholly accomplished in setting out to achieve the message it so clearly establishes as its goal.

"World's" 'back to Eden' motif shows that Deodato largely intended to take his protagonist, Foschi's Robert Harper, a civilised and affluently successful model of his society, then literally strip away all of his accepted conventions to ultimately leave him as primitive as his aggressors. This Deodato does without reproach, recounting Harper's own "last road to Hell" where he must de-evolve to the level of his captors should he wish to survive his ordeal. Although he scarcely survives his ordeal unscathed, he is presented no more civilised than those that surround him. Even though post-dubbed by another voice actor, Foschi delivers an engaging and strong performance that is the nucleus of retaining the viewer throughout the catalogue of horrors that is paraded before him/her. Rassimov plays off Foschi exceptionally well, in the brief screen time they share, and cannibal veteran Me Me Lai returns to endure the usual rigors that her roles entailed going on to elicit both sympathy and (mild) wonderment with her muted performance.

Gore freaks may find that, although "World" delivers on its many promises, its central 'man against nature' theme may be somewhat hard to swallow without critical dissention, whilst the casual viewer unfamiliar with the sub-genre may find the sometimes gruelling imagery more than tolerable. In retrospect, Deodato's film is perhaps more stridently intelligent in its approach to its subject matter than its drive-in/grind-house origins might first imply, and it is for this reason that I found its oft questionable visuals, and askew narrative diversions, remarkably tolerable within context as well as borne of deeper motivations. Along with its stark, barbarous visuals, is an underlying study of what happens once civilised man is pushed to the brink, and centuries of conditioning gives way to primordial "survival of the fittest". A jarring film that revels in its widescreen horrors, albeit with an ulterior motive and, as the true initiator of a cycle, worthy of revisitation on that count alone.

But what of Media Blasters DVD release of Deodato's maiden voyage into the cannibal genre so unique to Italian cinema? By personal evaluation it is certainly a worthwhile venture into the genre, as well as packed to the eyeballs with enough extra material to keep even the most hardened fan of the sub-genre exceedingly entertained. The feature is letterboxed at its original Techniscope ratio and anamorphically enhanced. The minor hiccup herein in that the transfer has been prepared from a PAL source, then mastered in NTSC giving rise to the obvious limitations of such a transfer. Colours are relatively good, if a little understated, and detail levels are good within the confines of the aforementioned limits. Audio is fair and clear, although gives in to infrequent distortion per the apparent deterioration of the original analogue track. There was also a smattering of print damage present, but overall I was more than pleased with the presentation as a whole.

Extra features consist of a full length audio commentary by Deodato, in his native tongue with optional subtitles that covers just about every facet of the production one could hope for, and more. Deodato also pops up to introduce the film, which is a welcome addition. "Memoirs from the Jungle" consists of four featurettes, comprising interviews with both Massimo Foschi and Ivan Rassimov, a lengthy stills, artwork and promotional gallery, and a selection of photographs from Foschi's personal collection taken on set. These can be either watched separately, or played as one collective featurette. The lengthy US theatrical trailer also gets a look-in, and fans will be pleasantly surprised to witness how the film was marketed in its day. Rounding out the already bonus heavy disc are trailers for other Shriek Show titles "Beyond The Darkness", "Zombi Holocaust", "Nights Of Terror" and "Eaten Alive!". But before I forget, included with the disc are reproductions of ten lobby cards, which is really a nice added touch that caps of the package perfectly. To be honest, this is probably THE most impressive presentation of an Italian cannibal film yet to hit the digital medium, and one that has been a decider for this reviewer to upgrade a number of his European Spaghetti horror discs to Shriek Show replacements in the very near future.

Footnote: There is, however, ONE glaring gaffe that manages to take the disc down a slight notch, and that is the presence of a mastering flaw within the feature itself. As a word of warning, come the end credits, the opening title card pops up again without warning, immediately drawing attention to itself, as well as being conspicuous by its presence. I'm uncertain if this glaring flaw has been rectified in successive pressings, but it was most certainly present in the copy I have in my possession.

Review by Mike Thomason

Released by Shriek Show/Media Blasters
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Ratio - Widescreen 2.35 (16:9)
Extras :
Audio commentary by Ruggero Deodato, Director's introduction, Interviews with Massimo Foschi & Ivan Rassimov, Stills & Poster gallery, Theatrical trailer, Attractions trailers, Lobby card reproductions (10)