Friday, 9 October 2009

Mountain of the Cannibal God

Director: Sergio Martino
Writer: Cesare Frugoni
Italy 1978

For the most part Mountain of the Cannibal God is an above average journey through jungle exploitation, using the simple premise of an expedition into deepest Papua New Guinea to give us naked natives, ritual animal slaughter, spliced footage of a monitor lizard regurgitating a snake (footage of a snake eating a live monkey is cut from the UK release) and other interesting mondo together with less convincing but nevertheless entertaining crocodile attacks, spiky jungle traps and spear-chucking indians. The setting is authentically rain forest, and although it fails to convey the vastness, isolation and danger of Papua New Guinea is nevertheless atmospheric and lush. Guido and Maurizio De Angelis superb score of squelching electronics, tribal drums and doomy strings will keep your interest piqued when the action flags, which thankfully doesn't happen as often as in most films of its ilk.

In the last twenty minutes we are introduced to the cannibals up in their mountain cave, in surprisingly well-handled scenes that reminded me of an ultra-low budget Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A cast of tens swarms round the explorers (who include a very charismatic Ursual Andress, coming into her own in these final scenes) and at last we see a bit of gore, though the worst fate reserved for them - death by schaphism (warning: nasty) - is only alluded to, an unusually restrained approach for the genre.

It's not really much to praise a film for making sense, but compared to its contemporaries Mountain of the Cannibal God, despite a simple plot and premise, is a surprisingly coherent film that uses subtle plot devices to build a colourful, believable whole, especially towards the end when we are introduced to the cleverly drawn god of the title. In this it is a cut above the many Italian jungle exploitation movies of its era, in possession of a certain maturity and class despite being filmed with similar budgetary constraints. A credit to director Sergio Martino, this is a film I'd happily watch again, preferably on the big screen where it belongs - albeit in a dingy, flea pit cinema.