Ruggero Deodato's first outing in the Italian "Cannibal" sub-genre, Last Cannibal World is a dry run for what is probably still it's (and the director's) most infamous example: Cannibal Holocaust. The first true Italian Cannibal movie was probably Umberto Lenzi's Deep River Savages, and Deodato's first film in the cycle followed five years later -- containing many of the elements that would come to define the genre and would continue to be the cause of endless controversy many years later, such as the reliance on excessive animal cruelty (often staged for the cameras) and a huge amount of gore! Although obviously very much an exploitation movie, Last Cannibal World is beautifully filmed and often seems to be aiming at a more philosophical tone than one would expect from such a movie.
A plane containing oil prospector Robert Harper (Massimo Foshi), an anthropologist called Rolf (Ivan Rassimov), their pilot Charlie (Sheik Rasak Shikur) and a female member who barely even gets a line of dialogue, lands on the island of Mindanao in the south Pacific to meet up with a small advance team who are meant to have set up camp ahead of the group. The four find the camp abandoned and in a shambolic state and, later, come across some human remains and a stone-age style weapon that leads Rolf to the conclusion that the island is populated with one of the last stone-age cannibal tribes in existence!
The team spend the night in the plane and, in the one and only scene in the film that relies on any degree of suspense, it becomes apparent to the viewer that the craft is surrounded by cannibals! When the anonymous female member ventures outside to relieve herself she soon becomes a late-night snack for the island's hungry inhabitants! The next morning the remaining members of the group foolishly venture into the jungle to look for their colleague and Charlie the pilot ends up falling into a nasty booby-trap left by the cannibals, while Rolf is swept away in some rapids when the remaining two attempt to follow the river back to their plane. Clueless Robert Harper finds himself alone--and soon becomes a captive of the stone-age cannibal tribe, which turns out to consist of a bunch of very short men with goofy teeth and bad wigs ... and a future hostess of UK seventies game show The Golden Shot (Me Me Lai)!
Forced to endure being urinated on by cheeky cannibal children and having to fight an aggressive bird for scraps of food begins to toughen the westerner up -- and after witnessing an unpleasant ritual involving a dismembered crocodile, he escapes with the attractive tribal girl and goes on the run through the hostile jungle with cannibals in hot pursuit! To survive the ordeal Harper will have to lose the trappings and values of civilisation — until there no distinguishable difference between himself and his pursuers...
Although not made with the fake documentary feel of Cannibal Holocaust, the film does make some dubious claims of authenticity: a title-card at the beginning claims that the film is based on a true story and that all the tribal rituals depicted are accurate recreations of real ones. The first half of the film is pure action-adventure, with the members of the group struggling to survive in the jungle; but once the main protagonist is captured by the cannibal stone-age tribe, the film's middle section shifts gear, slowing down to dwell on the tribe's brutal customs and rituals from the viewpoint of the captured westerner. Massimo Foschi has to put up with having his genitals mauled by overcurious natives (apparently, a well-hung Italian is a great source of fascination to the average cannibal - who is not particularly well endowed!) and is forced to endure being kept in a pit and made to witness all sorts of unpleasant goings-on, such as a native who is punished by having ants placed in a wound on his arm which then eat their way down to the bone! During this period of the film we get most of the scenes of animal cruelty. Most of it seems to be documentary footage culled from wildlife films but some of it, like the crocodile killing, looks like it was staged for the film.
The last part of the film turns into a chase movie with Foschi and Me Me Lai (soon to become a veteran of this kind of film despite her stint on prime-time Saturday evening TV in the UK) being pursued by cannibals while coping with the harshness of the jungle. Here we get numerous other scenes presumably intended to signify the harshness of nature such as a woman giving birth to a baby which is then fed to a crocodile; but mainly, Deodato uses this last section of the film to imply (in a half-baked sort of fashion) that beneath his cultivated civilised exterior, western man is but a savage -- even more brutal and ruthless than the cannibal natives depicted in the film. This would pretty much be the theme of Cannibal Holocaust of course, but in this film it is portrayed by Foschi's struggle for survival pushing him to the edge of madness. He has to rape the tribal girl to get her to co-operate with him (a scene entirely missing from this UK disc thanks to the BBFC) and, eventually resorts to cannibalism himself. Foschi's decent into cannibalism is depicted as a nasty, squalid brutal affair, whereas a scene near the climax of the film, where a sympathetic character is shown being gutted and eaten in minute detail (with the head being thrown on a fire for good measure!) by the cannibal tribe, is filmed, with typical Deodato perverseness, as an almost loving ode to a lost culture — with beautiful acoustic music playing over images of the carcass being sliced open, the internal organs being removed and the rib cage being prized apart as hot rocks from the fire are placed inside the cavity, presumably to turn it into a makeshift oven for the cannibals' meat cuts! This, and Deodato's beautifully shot and composed scenes of the jungle environment suggests the view that the apparent brutality of stone-age existence is really much purer and closer to the true core of humanity, and that civilisation is really a suppression of it's true nature -- which has lead to a barely contained madness. How seriously one takes this thesis probably determines how much of a fan of the Italian cannibal genre one is.
This new release from Screen Entertainment offers a nice looking print of the movie, letterboxed in the correct 2.35:1 ratio. Extras include an image gallery, Ruggero Deodato filmography and several text-based reviews of the film.
The Italian cannibal genre still seems to be the one area that causes the most problems for the UK censorship body, the BBFC. This disc is no exception with 4 1/2 minutes of cuts imposed, with a rape scene missing in its entirety.