Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

          Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Exploitive, grotesque, profane, and racist, The Mountain of the Cannibal God is among the most extreme movies featuring internationally famous actors, so it’s morbidly fascinating in the manner of, say, Caligula (1979), though it pales next to that infamous film’s excesses. Still, it’s impossible to classify The Mountain of the Cannibal God as restrained, seeing as how the picture includes shots of real animals getting slaughtered, as well as abundant over-the-top gore, a simulated scene of bestiality, and, for no particular reason, an unsimulated scene of a young woman—well, let’s just say she looks as if she’s enjoying herself. While it’s not a great shock to see Ursula Andress mixed up in a production like this one, since she spent much of the ’70s adding brazen sex appeal to dubious European productions, it’s jaw-dropping to watch Stacy Keach give a credible performance in between gory kills and nauseating shots of animal carnage.
            Yet perhaps the most surprising thing about The Mountain of the Cannibal God—released in the U.S. as Slave of the Cannibal God—is that it’s entertaining. Telling a simple story in a propulsive way, The Mountain of the Cannibal God is lean and suspenseful, and the score by Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis is imaginatively terrifying. If the goal of pulpy cinema is to evoke visceral reactions, then The Mountain of the Cannibal God succeeds, shamelessly.
          The narrative is simple, a throwback to xenophobic jungle adventures of the 1930s. When her husband goes missing somewhere in the primitive wilds of New Guinea, Susan Stevenson (Andress) and her brother, Arthur (Antonio Marsina), hire scientist Professor Edward Foster (Keach) to lead a rescue expedition. Edward warns that the area where Susan’s husband disappeared is home to a tribe of cannibals, but Susan dismisses the admonition as silly superstition. Venturing into the jungle with native bearers, the searchers soon learn Edward was right, as cannibals kill the bearers one by one, often absconding with all or part of the bodies. Along the way, the searchers see horrific things, like a python devouring a cute little monkey or natives gutting a monitor lizard while it’s still alive. These scenes are real, and the camera lingers on every disgusting detail. Once the searchers reach the cannibals’ lair, the filmmakers crank up the cinematic volume, bombarding viewers with startling images of ritual sex and violence. Andress getting stripped naked and slathered with body paint is the least alarming of these visuals.
          On the most primal level, The Mountain of the Cannibal God is exciting, because it’s loaded with action sequences and sensationalistic visions, and the film’s technical polish is fairly impressive. On every other level, The Mountain of the Cannibal God is vile. Every nonwhite character in the movie is either a childlike idiot or a vicious monster, and seeing a white woman drives the entire cannibal tribe wild. In the picture’s wildest scene, cannibals mutilate and devour a dude, then celebrate with an orgy. Virtually every racist fear of indigenous peoples finds its way into the storyline, and the kicker is that we’re asked to root for a central character even after it is revealed that the character personifies the worst aspects of white entitlement. An entire Ph.D. thesis could be written about this film’s messaging related to gender and race, but for now, one word shall suffice. Odious.

The Mountain of the Cannibal God: FREAKY

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