Oh hey, a cannibal movie review.
If you are of a certain age – OLD – then you recall that cannibal movies were a, well, a thing. There was a sort of a fad in horror with cannibals running wild. It seems like an offshoot or answer to the American grindhouse horror of the ‘70’s that saw movies getting grittier and more violent. If you have seen any of the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s Italian horror you know that they were more than happy to up the ante on their violence. And weirdness.
In come the cannibals.
Cannibals were not new to stories of horror and adventure, they were, in fact, old tropes that had littered adventure stories and Men’s magazines in tales of daring and treasure. Cannibals were a convenient way to de-humanize people of color from other countries that we knew very little about. Yeah, yeah, there were cannibal tribes around the world, but it’s not like you walked into any random jungle in a foreign, tropical, land and were eaten up. That didn’t stop them from being very convenient boogeymen for white folks looking to hit up some exotic locales and get into trouble in movies.
There really aren’t any ‘great’ cannibal movies.
Let’s be really honest.
Not of the ‘jungle boogeymen’ variety. Even the modern-day GREEN INFERNO, as well made as it was, traded misogyny and bigotry for gross out humor and pot jokes. For me, the only ‘good’ one of the bunch is CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the movie that was among the first to really light the fuse for the found footage subgenre. It is still a movie gross for reasons beyond the blood and guts – man do these movies love to kill animals on film! – but it has a really good story to tell, and the ending feels deserved. Not a movie for everyone, but if you’re going to watch one that’s the one, just watch the cut that trims out the animal death.
Which brings us to EATEN ALIVE.
EATEN ALIVE begins with several big city murders with an unknown man killing well off looking white men on the streets of New York with a blow gun. We never get a reason for this, it’s just, well, something that happens. That there’s no logic in it at all really sets the table for a movie that wants to have big ideas but would rather be lurid instead. We pick up the plot with a young woman who has been called to the police department to discuss her missing sister, who is thought to have run off with a group of people who fancy themselves a nature cult. The cult follows a charismatic leader who preaches the Bible and the End Times and has his way with the drugged women of the group. The man has moved his people to the far-off jungles and has seemingly disappeared. Or so it seems. Footage turns up of the young woman’s sister near some Buddhist monuments as well as images of a ‘purification ritual’. The woman heads out to where she believes her sister is and enlists the help of a rough and tumble Vietnam war vet that went AWOL and the two head into the jungles to look for the cult. The man and woman survive their dangerous jungle journey and discover the cult and find that the sister appears heavily drugged. The group of people follow whatever their charismatic leader’s demands and are vigilant about the nearby tribe of cannibals that stalk the jungles. It is immediately clear that if they are to get the sister out of there, they need a boat and a guide to get them to the river and to safety. The problem though is that the guru has both sisters under his spell and the chances of escape are dwindling as the madman begins to foresee that they all may need to die in order to be free of bonds of danger from the nearby tribe. Time is running out.
I have to say that making this about a Jim Jones type of cult is real, real gutsy considering that wasn’t that exactly ancient history when they made this film. That is a really great ‘in’ to the plot though. The idea of this group of white folks that decide to get away from it all…and essentially invade the jungles of another country is a great replacement for the usual colonizer plot device. These people CHOSE to move to an area near cannibals. Great.
If you came for the gore, you’ll be please, though, it doesn’t really get going until late in the show. Frankly, there are much better gorefests out there, but hey, it’s gory. People get chopped up and eaten. It’s gross.
Here’s the thing though, this movie is gross for other reasons.
Rape and sexual assault are sort of a go-to in this film where we linger on women who are nude for no reason other than to be naked, and who are sexually assaulted because that’s what one does in the jungles. None of this moves the story forward or adds anything but the lurid and it’s gross. The many needless killings of snakes and other reptiles is also really repulsive. Being that your makeup fx crew could make gnarly severed heads and could make it look as if a wiener was chopped off and that people are being eaten alive, I THINK you could dummy up some fake critters to ‘kill’. It says something about the filmmaker that feels like it’s no big deal to just kill – or harm – animals for their movie. I don’t like snakes but there’s no need in killing them like this, and don’t give me the – oh, the tribes people ate them after. Girl, please.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about yet another bigoted film about people of color as the ‘other’ and either henchmen or cannibals. They cannibals are shown to be barbaric and without much visible culture and without any language, they just grunt and run around shaking Stone Age weapons. Worse than being just cannibals, they are shown as rapists because, I guess that’s just what people in tribes like this do?
There’s a gross-out glory to cannibal movies. As a younger movie geek, I sought them out because they seemed so off the chart and off the rails. They are lurid, they are gory, and they are disgusting in almost every way. These movies were a sort of rite of passage. You were trying to go further, and further, and further out without falling through the proverbial ice. I didn’t want to watch the ‘true gore’ movies, no, but I wanted to watch GORY movies. The freewheeling nature of the films, that these are about sketchy people and were made out of the light of Hollywood, added to the mythologies of these movies and made them bigger than life. They were dangerous and had to be seen. I thankfully reached a point where, after seeing a few of them, I realized that the grossest thing about the cannibal films was that they are just deplorable films with little to redeem them. While they will often paint the white people as deserving of their fates, usually, the cannibals are rarely shown as anything but monsters wearing humanity as a mask.
There’s nothing I can offer to redeem EATEN ALIVE and there’s not a lot of reason to watch it. There are far better ‘bad’ cannibal movies and gorier ones out there. I may not like GREEN INFERNO but when it comes to hitting the high notes and avoiding the deplorable stuff that’s about as close as you’ll come. It’s treading out into the wilder lands without getting anything on your shoes.
EATEN ALIVE you can just skip outright.
1 out of 5
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