Mondo Cannibal (2004)
Release date: November 11th, 2014
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Bruno Mattei probably wouldn’t make the Mount Rushmore for Italian Eurohorror filmmakers, but that’s okay—he’d just carve his own knock-off of the monument and include himself anyway. Quite possibly his homeland’s most notorious director, Mattei is of course infamous for his liberal borrowing of famous films, which are re-imagined with less talent and meager budgets. Both the sheer volume and the brazenness of these efforts are so fascinating that they feel like experimental hackwork—just how shameless can they be? By 2004, that answer was a resounding “pretty fucking shameless,” as Mattei helmed both In the Land of the Cannibals (a Cannibal Holocaust/Predator smash-up) and Mondo Cannibal, the latter of which only rips off Ruggero Deodato’s masterpiece.
Not that Mattei leaves it at that, naturally. Mondo Cannibal is for folks who found Cannibal Holocaust—a film in which a character wonders aloud who the real cannibals are—too subtle. Mattei leaves no room for doubt when answering this question by opening on a sordid scene: in an unidentified jungle, a pregnant woman is tied up and gutted to death, with her still unborn fetus spilling onto the ground, kind of like that one scene in Orca, only it’s unfolding to the delight of a white documentary crew. Once viewers collect their jaws from the floor, they’re shuttled back to “Hong Kong some mouths before,” per the poorly-spelled subtitles. Some context for the opening massacre is provided: when cable news station TVN’s ratings begin to dwindle, intrepid reporter Grace Forsythe (Helena Wagner) proposes to team up with renowned explorer Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) and travel into the untamed jungles, where “stone age” civilizations still flourish.
From that rote setup arises one screwy trip into the jungle, as Mattei continues to mold Deodato’s already obvious text into an underlined, bolded, italicized, size-32 font super-text. There’s no missing the film’s point: white people are goddamn horrible (a tough but fair assessment). Forsythe and her crew don’t just report the news—they start to have an active hand in stirring up the natives by burning their villages to the ground and sending the resulting carnage back to be aired for a bloodthirsty audience (at one point, the high ratings for the Iraq War are cited as an inspiration, in case you were wondering if Mondo Cannibal featured any clumsy political commentary). Despite the protests of a lone board member, the network continues to air the awful footage because blood and guts attracts eyeballs—“if it bleeds, it leads,” to borrow a phrase from the recently-released Nightcrawler, a film that treads some similar thematic ground, albeit with much more grace and competence.
In that respect, I guess Mondo Cannibal is almost prescient; certainly by 2004, our media landscape had already begun to trend towards sensationalism (I mean, shit, Network was almost thirty years old that that point), but it feels like it’s spiraled out of control in the wake of Shock and Awe. Ten years ago, Mondo Cannibal must have felt like thinly-veiled satire; these days, you wouldn’t be all that surprised to see this kind of programming on CNN or maybe on the nether-regions of cable, right after the latest episode of Mountain Monsters or something. The Forsythe character is essentially Nancy Grace before there ever was a Nancy Grace: a catty personality who considers herself the story and then has the gall to be outraged when it eventually blows up in her face. When she unwittingly becomes part of the news, it’s an ironic twist of fate.
But as heady as Mondo Cannibal can be, it’s about as clever and eloquent as a freshman term paper. Kudos to Mattei for having something on his mind (even if he’s just, you know, kind of mind-melding with Deodato twenty-five years after the fact), but he struggles to transcend the fact that he’s Bruno Mattei. It’s a complicated situation. In many ways, it must be this way, though—if Mondo Cannibal were just a low-rent Cannibal Holocaust imitator, it wouldn’t be nearly as worthwhile. The abject badness of the goofy dub jobs, cheap production values, and the overall crudeness of the proceedings clashes wildly with the film’s thematic preoccupations, so much so that you can’t take it too seriously on either front: even as it’s flirting with various taboos, it’s never disturbing, nor does it work as a smart satire (how can it when it literally recreates the aforementioned dialogue from Cannibal Holocaust, only Mattei dramatically zooms in and has his actor demolish the fourth wall?)
You can imagine the defense of Mondo Cannibal: “actually, it’s about ethics in news journalism.” Well, that’s bullshit—it’s more about staging sequences where people are shot, raped, torched, and ripped limb-from-limb. It’s a pretty effective schlock-fest, as most Mattei movies are: the gore is outrageous, savage, and plentiful, and many key Cannibal Holocaust sequences are dutifully restaged. Again, this Xerox creates an odd effect: it’s so shameless that you’re compelled to think Mattei is up to something here beyond blatantly ripping off another film, but this is ultimately just a louder version of Cannibal Holocaust that’s been amplified with cheap equipment, so the whole thing feels like a garage band screeching feedback into your ears. You can’t ignore it, at least; if nothing else, Mattei was still quite a provocateur at the age of 70. It’s like Joyce said: “better to pass boldly into that other world, in the fully glory of passion, than wither and fade dismally with age,” even if you’re just raising hell in a Philippine jungle.
As is the case with In the Land of the Cannibals, Intervision’s DVD release of Mondo Cannibal arrives with only a theatrical trailer in tow, though the film’s presentation is fine. Given the film’s obscurity (this is the first time it’s been released in America), we should be thankful just to have it uncut on DVD. Remember that in a couple of weeks during Thanksgiving because I’m sure cannibalism and the savage annihilation of native cultures are exactly what you want on your mind at that point. Well, you probably should be thinking about the latter. White people are the worst. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: