Oh, Jess Franco, bless your little cotton socks. Here’s a filmmaker who, despite subjecting me to dozens of truly horrible films, has won my affection for simply being the most prolific purveyor of sleaze ever to pick up a camera. This is a guy who’s tried it all. From comedy to horror to mystery to outright porno, Jess Franco has tackled every conceivable genre and has failed miserably about 90% of the time. Still, Franco’s had his share of successes, and Cannibals…well…it ain’t one of ‘em.
Al Cliver stars as Jeremy Taylor, some sort of tropical disease expert who is on a field assignment with his family en route to some sort of jungle hospital to further his research. Taylor’s boat is attacked by a group of cannibal natives who eat his wife, kidnap him and his daughter, and carry them back to their camp. Taylor narrowly escapes (sans his arm), and, when we next see him, he’s in a hospital in New York, recovering from severe mental trauma. Many years pass, and Jeremy, with the help of his nurse, Ana (Lina Romay), has confronted his fears and wants to return to the jungle to find his daughter, who he is convinced is still alive. The corporate types who funded his first trip decide to foot the bill for this next excursion, so long as they can accompany him (along with a dozen or so of their closest friends). When Taylor, Ana, and their gaggle of rich, disco-dancing tagalongs arrive in the jungle, they are immediately attacked by the very same cannibals, and Taylor discovers that his daughter (Sabrina Siani) has grown up to become some sort of mystical “white queen”, with a very flattering thong and perfectly conditioned bleached blonde hair. Now Taylor must battle through countless cannibals if he is to take his daughter home, providing that she wants to leave her tribe at all.
Jess Franco was pretty much forced to make a cannibal picture because, at the time, everyone else was. The thing is, Franco’s “strengths” were, are, and will always be in softcore porn. Asking the man who made such classics as “Barbed Wire Dolls” and “Lady Porno” to make an effective cannibal movie is like asking a mime to remove your appendix. One would think Franco would have played to his strengths, and filled Cannibals with loads of lesbian sex and full-frontal nudity, but, sadly, the director did no such thing. Instead, Franco opted to make his version of a cannibal film, substituting a Spanish palm forest for jungle, casting gypsies as his cannibal tribe, and shooting all of the feasting sequences in such blurry, super zoomed-in slow motion that one can’t make heads or tails of what’s going on. It’s a huge mess, and that’s before one even considers the lapses in logic (why does a one-armed man venture into a dangerous jungle with a rifle as his only weapon?), horrendous dubbing, wooden acting, and just plain ugly cinematography.
Blue Underground presents Cannibal in its uncut, unedited form, with a solid 1.66:1 widescreen transfer that’s remarkably crisp and low on grain, marred only by the occasional scratches and speckles one would expect from a film this low on the cinematic totem pole. Extras include a French trailer for the film, and a very entertaining interview with Franco that shows why he’s so successful at what he does; he simply doesn’t care. He knows Cannibals is a lousy film, and he knows we know that. The bottom line is that it made him some money, and allowed him to make more films, some better, and some much, much worse. What’s really funny about the interview is how Franco remembers the actors and actresses he worked with on this particular feature, especially Siani, who he describes as “the stupidest actress” he’s ever worked with. Franco then pauses thoughtfully and shakes his head, correcting himself. “No, the second stupidest,” he says. This interview is far more entertaining than the film it accompanies; I only wish it were longer.
Cannibals is easily amongst the worst offerings its sub-genre has ever produced, but I laughed too hard to consider it a total waste of time. Still, I couldn't possibly recommend this to any but the most ardent Francophile.