In 15 years running the videostore I have seen many a title come through the shop. I have done my best to sample most of the cult classic genres over the years and one that I tackled at an early age was the seedy world of the Italian Cannibal Film that was created in the grindhoouse era of the 70s and early 80s.
Looking through the old videostores as a kid you could not help but be traumatized by certain covers on the racks. Any movie that said “Banned In 36 Countries” grabbed your attention. And even though it was THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER that really started the cannibal craze the one title we all needed to witness was 1980’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Back then most of us saw it on a grainy bootleg VHS tape so the thought of it being real was even more convincing. Well, I suppose the animal killings were real so believing the rest could be was not a strecth to a 12 year old at the time. Once getting through that infamous film the rest just followed. From FEROX to APOCALYPSE the cannibal films were something to be witnessed.
Now say what you will about ELI ROTH and his films the man knows his horror movies. And there is no denying that he is a huge fan of Cannibal Holocaust to the point of putting director Ruggero Deodato in the movie as a customer that loves eating human flesh. Nice touch!
So in 2013 it made sense for someone like ROTH to direct the ultimate tribute to the films of that era. Now in fairness overall I thought he did a decent job capturing the vibe and look. The location was outstanding and the tribe themselves were fantastic. The story goes that aside from the two leads of the tribe everyone else was an actual tribe member that had never seen a movie before so Roth had a screening of Cannibal Holocaust for them which made them all laugh pretty good. Honestly, I wish he would have filmed that and made it a bonus feature on the Blu Ray.
Now the downside of the film. Like most Eli Roth films the characters are simply unlikable. You honestly could care less if they live or die which gives me no emotional investment in them or their plight. Ironically in the original films this pays tribute to the white people are actually the worst humans you would ever meet. Like real pieces of shit so you can’t wait to see them die. But maybe that’s it. You hated them so much you cheered for the tribe to eat them where in Green Inferno you were just indifferent either way.
Now another issue with Green Inferno is any moment there is some real tension being built up a terrible line or scene dealing with weed, diarehha, or masterbaton just takes you right out of it. Come on man, this is not America Pie, it’s suppose to be a damn cannibal horror movie. And ofcourse the obvious thing that was missing and THANK GOD were scenes showing animal deaths that made the italian films so brutal to watch. The infamous turtle scene in Holocaust messed me up and rightfully so. Grateful this is a thing of the past but maybe that’s my issue with Green Inferno. Maybe, just maybe certain types of films simply can not be duplicated decades later because they can never recapture that feel. Try as they might the grainy, nasty, animal cruel, and simple uncomfortable vibe you got from Holocaust and Ferox can not be felt with a polished looking, slick KNB special effects, beautiful shot studio produced film.
Very similiar to the 1974 Texas Chainsaw compared to the 2003 Chainsaw only in the look and feel because I actually did not mind the remake. But not minding and having it stay with you for decades are two different things and just like the old cannibal films the original chainsaw is simply greasy and wrong when watching it because it almost feels like a documentary. Where the the remake, and again I enjoyed it, is like Green Inferno. Slick, polished, and dare I say shot too well? Basically it feels like you are watching a movie which you are obviously but it never let’s your mind travel to dark places like the grainy, uncomfortable looks of the older films. All that to say this brings me to a low budget 2008 straight to video movie…
The first question that comes to mind is how can a horror/parady/comedy/gorefest shot for 20,000 dollars in Maryland, USA be more satisfying than an actual studio bigger budget cannibal film shot on location? I can’t explain it but it truly is. I think the one example I can think of is BLACK DYNAMITE. What that movie did for the 70s blackploitation genre this one does for Italian cannibal flicks. The irony is both are actual “paradies” of their respective films they are talking about but yet come off so natural. You can tell the makers knew their source material and went for it regardless of how much money they had to play with.
So right from the start writer Mark Leake and director Mark Colegrove cleverly make up an entire backstory of who made ISLE OF THE DAMNED, when it first came out, and why it was so controversial. These guys committed to the fake backstory as much as the film they made.
The “director” was a man named Antonello GIallo who’s backstory could have been a movie on it’s own. Like I said, these guys commited. So basically Antonello was troubled young man who just wanted to become the greatest director ever. Growing up in juvenile detention centers in the 50s he started working on Italian films in the 60s but was always let go for really messed up behaviour on set. After making a few nasty films in the mid 70s he finally took a crew and camera to Argentina to film ISLE OF THE DAMNED. Soon after production ended police officials got a hold of the workprint and put him of trial as they were convinced he killed his actors. This ofcourse is a nice nod to Cannibal Holocaust were people were convinced Deodato killed his cast as well. But Giallo evaded police and disappeared only to be found dead on the streets of New York in 1985 as he was killed by a prostitute. And so the film lives on as part of his deranged legacy. Like I said, these guys really commited to the back story. Hell, even the credits on the movie itself are a love letter to the era. Look at some of the names. Brilliant.
So let’s get to the story of this film. The general plot is a combined effort of most cannibal film cliches rolled into one. We join the complete badass private investigator Jack Steele who has been hired by the shady as fuck treasure hunter to get to “Cannibal Island” to find the treasure of Marco Polo. Now along with Jack is his sexual confused stepson Billy played by a grown man in kid’s clothing. Ya, it’s weird. Earlier the film Thompson, the treasure hunter, tried to have his way with young Billy in a motel room and Billy was sorta going for it. Like I said, this movie is really playing the sleazy vibes from the 70s to the max. But it is also contradicted with some hilarious humour that takes the piss out of those same movies.
The minute the talking in this movie begins you have a feeling the exact tone they are setting. Right off the bat all the actors are badly and intentionally over dubbed with voices that do not match them at all. The best voice is indeed out badass hero Jack Steele, played an average looking white guy with wig, fake mustache, and 70s shades, but his voice is literally along the likes of John Shaft. Everytime he speaks I’m cracking up. The grainy look to the film is actually quite well done considering the budget and seeing them take their boat journey to Cannibal Island during the opening credits is just funny to me as you can tell they are literally sailing on lake somewhere in the States as other sailboats are around. Must have gotten some interesting looks with people having family vacation there at the time.
Now on the boat ride we meet the captain, SCURVY DAN! Now as always the captain knows what’s going on in these parts of the world and lays down the backstory of Cannibal Island and that hunting and finding a treasure is no good if you end up in the belly of YAMMA YAMMA tribe that live on the island. Ofcourse no one is gonna listen to old Scurvy so Steele, Billy, and Thompson go on the island exploring for the Marco Polo goodness.
No sooner do our adventures get on the island are they confronted by the tribe. All hell breaks loose as Steele and young Billy fight off the tribe with Steele’s amazing hand to hand combat skills and the power of his pistol. Now Thompson gets seperate and is a real piece of garbage, coming across a pregnant older lady whom he rapes and then leaves her to the cannibals as she is killed and eaten along with her unborn child. Now again, this sounds beyond offensive and at times it is but since it’s a parody of genre the extreme over the top gore is in line with something like Bad Taste.
Steele and Billy are almost overwhelmed by the Yamma Yamma tribe when Professor Alexis Kincaid and his manservant Cain come to the rescue and take them back to the Professor’s house. You see Kincaid has lived on the island for years studying the tribe. He tells the tale to Steele and warns them to get off the island now. Thompson at this point has been captured by the tribe but is unworthy to be eaten so he gets sodomized by the tribe instead. Like I said, this movie really wanted to set the raunchy tone brought by the forgotten era.
Also going on in the film are the crew of Survy Dan’s boat stuck on the island and fighting off the cannibals as well. They come across not just the cannibals but the natural dangers of the island like piranhas and man eating venice flytraps? Yup. That shit is in here too.
Later in the movie Steele and Kincaid rescue Thompson from the tribe but not before he does indeed get sodomized repeatedly by them. They take back the piece of shit treasure hunter to the Kincaid’s house but he’s still wanting the treasure and to rape young Billy regardless of what has just taken place to him earlier. Some people never learn.
What happens the rest of the way is more cannibal violence, betrayals from many of the characters all the name of treausre, and ofcourse some sweet hand to hand ass kicking by Jack Steele just trying to stay alive and get him and Billy off the god forsaken island.
And when it comes to violence regardless if the movie is paraody or not the red stuff flies everywhere. And let’s be honest, it would not be a true tribute without some genitles getting removed and eaten.
Trashy, politically incorrect, and offensive at times this movie is BUT that was the exact nature of the films from the 70s/80s and by adding some cheap laughs in there and ridiculous dialog it does a great job for any fan of the genre. But that is the key to this this film. If you are not a fan of the genre you probably will be shaking your head.
But if you appreciate a rough around the edges, low, low, low, budget DYI B-movie and are hoping to be slightly taken a back then ISLE OF THE DAMNED might be just perfect for you looking for something different.
This movie captures that certain feel of “I’m actually laughing my ass off” and then immediately turns to “oh dear god, I need a shower right now” as it runs it’s course.
Ofcourse I’m not gonna spoil certain plot points that you are all thinking. Will anyone get the treasure of Marco Polo? Will the greasy treasure hunter get his come uppings for trying to screw everyone over and trying to molest young Billy? Will Jack Steele get back to his wife when this is all over? Well, my friends you will have to watch and see yourself. But know this. The warning at the beginning of the film gives you the heads up to what to expect dear viewer. So take it seriously…the legendary Antonello Giallo would have wanted it that way…
So in the end if you are a fan of Eli Roth’s Green Inferno as a slick, nasty tribute to cannibal flicks that’s awesome. As a film it’s well made for what it is and for younger viewers who maybe were not familiar with the older movies this got them to check some out. Now, if you were a fan of all those old movies and know them well and wanna see a group of money strapped filmmakers make a bizarre yet loving tribute to all those movies with certain scenes and lines that will make you chuckle because it was literally taken from those films then I recommend a visit to CANNIBAL ISLAND in 2008’s “1979 made” ISLE OF THE DAMNED.
And remember videostore nerds, this “movie” was banned in 492 COUNTRIES! Think about it. Anyways, thanks for reading my thoughts as always and happy movie hunting in these days where we have plenty of time to watch the good, the bad, and the ugly of genre cinema. What catagory these films fall into is all about your personal tastes. Cheers and stay safe my friends!