Slave of the Cannibal God
1978/ 99 min.
Starring Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach
Cinematography by Giancarlo Ferrando
Directed by Sergio Martino
At the same moment the Korean War was ending and Eisenhower entered the White House, illustrator Samson Pollen found his niche; illuminating the fever dreams of suburban dads for action magazines from Man’s World to Stag. He enjoyed a long career and in 1978 he was handed an assignment right up his alley, a garish montage of anacondas, he-men and nearly-naked women. But his art for Slave of the Cannibal God turned out to be far from his best work. Blandly composed and indifferently executed, Pollen’s movie poster works best as a critique of the film itself.
Directed by Sergio Martino, this travelogue-cum-horror movie stars Ursula Andress, a paragon of beauty who built her brand on a supernatural physique and a come-hither gaze that might have inspired Melania Trump’s squinty-eyed dominatrix stare. A blood and guts take on King Solomon’s Mines, Martino’s gorefest features Andress as Susan Stevenson, a fashionista embarking on a search for her husband lost in the wilds of New Guinea. She’s joined by Stacy Keach playing a sad sack adventurer named Edward Foster, the glowering Antonio Marsina as her brother Arthur and Claudio Cassinelli as Andress’s main squeeze (besides the anaconda). Every one of them is, in the words of Matt Hooper, “lining up to be a hot lunch.”
Their trek, like a thousand and one other jungle thrillers, is predictably troubled by creepy critters and unruly natives and as they slog through the swamp the real motives of the crew come into focus; Susan and Arthur are more interested in a uranium mine than finding her husband, Foster is looking to avenge himself against a cannibal tribe and one of the guides turns out to be a corpse chewer himself (the film’s portrait of the indigenous is steeped in racism). Even with all that mishigas the so-called adventure is a snooze so Martino throws in a few bloodthirsty set pieces involving animal torture – revolting but not unexpected, such cruel displays were a mainstay of Italian horror films of the 70’s. From Umberto Lenzi to Ruggero Deodato, this was a gang of filmmakers who saw Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts – a near unwatchable documentary on slaughterhouses – and exclaimed “That’s entertainment!” It’s the same goonish mindset that drives Herschell Gordon Lewis’s films but the violence here is real (the film was one of Britain’s infamous “video nasties” and not released there till 2001).
Martino was never known for subtlety but he did have a certain style. His early work like The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key revealed a director capable of amusingly kinky thrillers with help from Euro-vamps like Edwige Fenech. Even with Andress along for the ride, Slave of the Cannibal God is a tedious trip into the dark heart of exploitation cinema.
The 60’s were a golden era for the Swiss actress – whether it was coming up from the ocean in Dr. No or down from the clouds in What’s New Pussycat, Andress could dominate a movie simply by showing up and stripping down. In 1965’s The 10th Victim she parodied her own killer looks by sporting a metal bra that fired bullets. In the 1970 crime caper Perfect Sunday, she showed comic range that went beyond her dazzling facade. Even by 1975 she was raising testosterone levels with her undressed hijinks in The Sensuous Nurse. She was 42 when she starred in Slave of the Cannibal God and she does not disappoint the audience that first saw her in the Playboy pictorial promoting 1965’s She. For Slave‘s titillating finale – in some respects the very reason the movie exists – Andress and crew are captured by the tribe of flesh eaters. While the cannibals make quick – and icky – work of most of the explorers, Andress is being readied for a ritual, effectively posing for Pollen’s movie poster as she’s trussed to a bamboo rack and slathered head to toe with some unknown goo. The naked actress doesn’t bat an eye – maybe she was dreaming of a spa treatment on Rodeo Drive.
Code Red, a home video company that specializes in disreputable film fare, has released Slave of the Cannibal God on Blu ray under its original Italian title La Montagna del dio Cannibale. They’ve done a bang-up job. All the scenes that were cut from the U.S. release (including some tepid masturbatory antics and a native frantically humping a giant pig) appear in this version and it looks phenomenal with richly textured detail and exquisite color – the gloriously green jungle gives Sherwood Forest a run for its money (Giancarlo Ferrando did the cinematography). What kind of world is it where The Flesh and the Fiends looks terrible on Blu ray and this dreck resembles a window at Tiffany’s? Just one more reason why 2020 sucks. The Blu ray includes an interview with the affable Keach who recalls the “fun” he had making the film. For completists Code Red has added the American release version of the movie featuring a dodgy print and dull colors – it’s somehow a more fitting presentation.