Cannibal Girls (1973)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-04-11 12:43

Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Ivan Reitman and Daniel Goldberg
Produced by: Daniel Goldberg

Reviewed by: Brett H.

“I notice you keep wearing the same kind of things, you girls. Are you sisters?”
“No, we share a lot of similar tastes.”

Years before Kevin Smith would put his balls on the line by making Clerks on credit, there was Ivan Reitman and Daniel Goldberg. After an unsuccessful film, the duo decided to crank out a totally commercial film made entirely on credit. After gathering up enough bucks to start shooting based on a tag line, “They eat men!” the two, along with a crew willing to work with a deferment clause, started their journey. The resulting film was shot in 9 days, virtually improvised as they went along. The filming went fine, but Reitman and Goldberg started doing re-shoots, which mounted up lab costs. Deals made with companies for cheaper equipment and processing went sour and the two wound up in the hole big time. They were threatened with physical violence should dollars promised not find their way into the desired pockets; cue the madness. Goldberg always made certain to keep a reel of film in his car as ransom should any business try to seize the movie. Nearly off his rocker, he laid down the law and said should anyone try to seize his film, essential parts of it would be destroyed and no one would make any money. While Goldberg was trying to finish the film and fend off threats, Reitman was at Cannes trying to sell a film that was not yet even completed. At the zero hour, a finished print made it overseas and a screening was put in place for American International Pictures. The story behind Cannibal Girls is crazier than the movie contained within the reels of film. Barely.

A young couple walks along the shoreline of a river and stops for a little love making session. Never mind the fact that there’s still snow on the ground and the river has barely thawed, this couple will make their own heat. As they begin to get down, eyes peer on them from the tall grasses. The young lovers sit down on their blanket and the guy kisses away with his eyes closed before hearing a scream. Quickly, he opens his eyes and turns his head, and just as quickly, a large pickaxe makes short work of his face. The killer drops the pickaxe and sets his attention on the cute blonde. A low shot of the pickaxe dropping tells a different story, the killer is not a man but a woman! As the blonde screams some more, the crazy bitch tears open her shirt and things get a bit nippley. The chilly weather makes a lot of sense now; her nipples could carve Mount Rushmore in ten seconds flat.

All is not going well with Clifford (Eugene Levy) and Gloria (Andrea Martin), either. Their junker is stalled in the middle of the woods in the Southern Ontario cold. With a little sweet-talking to the car, it finally starts and the two reach their small town vacation destination of Farnhamville. They find a place to stay, but are informed that not many stay where they’re about to. Legend has it that there’s a group of man eating vixens roaming around, but it’s no matter, because it was a long time ago. Foreshadowing and contradictions are plentiful and Clifford and Gloria end up dining at the local fine eatery, which just happens to be where the cannibal hotties carved up their prey years earlier. Soon things take a turn for the worse and the lovebirds have two options, end up alive… or end up in a stewing pot!

Cannibal Girls is a film that can be appreciated on its own, but the history of hell that Ivan Reitman and Daniel Goldberg went through to finish the film gives it an even greater charm. On the surface it’s a trashy, but magnificent horror comedy that serves up as much dark humor and hints as it does boobs and gore. On the inside, it’s much more juicy and tender, like the “soft, white meat of the thighs”. The heart of exploitation filmmaking is to make a profit, but Reitman and Goldberg’s natural artistic instincts got in the way of this and this caused most of the many problems the two were confronted with. New footage exploded the budget to epic proportions (for a film in which every penny had to scraped up from everyone from uncles to friends to a strip club owner). Well, almost a strip club owner. The owner of the exotic club was willing to pony up $15 000, but his lawyers intervened and wanted waivers from the cast, something implausible on short notice. While the new scenes went against the almighty law of the dollar, without a doubt the extra polish was worth it. The saving grace was a grand from Reitman’s father, which got him to Cannes and got the film sold. A.I.P. added a ringing gimmick (a bell would sound during an erotic or violent scene) and the film enjoyed moderate success, thanks in large part to the great tagline and trailer.

Sick humor plays a major role in the success of the film and there’s no shortage of cannibalistic puns and foreshadowing (and flesh chomping) and Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin are great as the lead characters. Afro-boasting Levy is the all around nice guy and Martin’s character comes across as sweet, needy, dumb and cute all at the same time. Of course, the film is unique as the cannibal girls themselves are downright hot and it’s cool to see sexy ladies wielding scissors, axes and knives (phallic when appropriate!) to take down unsuspecting males in gruesome fashion. Released in 1973, Cannibal Girls is a sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre without the chainsaw and the similarities in plot are undeniable. The tones of the films are on opposite ends of the spectrum and there’s no comparison as to which film is more terrifying. The entire population of Farnhamville are all in on the little cannibal operation, from the Reverend to the cop, all the way down to the lowly gas station attendants. Similar yet is the fact that everywhere in the town seemingly serves odd tasting meat. The alike but contrasting styles of Cannibal Girls and Texas Chainsaw Massacre would amount to an almost unbeatable double feature. The ladies aren’t shy to eat in front of you, they make quite the mess, and you’d think you were watching an Italian zombie flick with such gluttony.

As odd and dry as the humor is, the odd joke doesn’t work and the dialogue is a bit lame at times, but when the film is good, it’s good and it’s not until the final plot twist that one can fully appreciate the 84 minutes they’ve experienced. The ample amounts of nudity will keep the men smiling and the vixens slicing and dicing men will make the ladies squirm. It looks like a Canadian horror film, drabby and grey with a few decent shots (they didn’t exactly have time to or money to bring a crane in, if you know what I mean), but the drive-in goodness seeps through all the cracks and imperfections. Sure, there are thunderstorms in the middle of winter for some reason, but there are also hot, naked ladies who happen to eat men and kill violently. Suicide Girls, eat your hearts out before these Canadian flesh-eaters get to them first. As far as other characters go, the reverend is the Manson-like ringleader of the gut-munching cult and he has Dracula-like powers over the women and loves to sit back and sip on blood while everyone chows down.

So it’s not high art, but what drive-in film is? That’s the entire charm of the cheesy experience and its captured wonderfully in Cannibal Girls. When blood isn’t being drank and men devoured, even a drink of vintage house wine isn’t without disgust. The grapes used to make it were grown on the grave of the reverend’s grandfather, appropriately. “I don’t know, there’s something about human remains that add a certain, earthy quality to wine!” Seeing as the film was shot in the winter in Ontario, it’s Canadian and doesn’t try to hide it. Harry and Gloria are from Toronto and there’s a Canadian flag clearly on display, unlike the shunning of the Maple Leaf in Funeral Home. It’s hard to believe the CFDC denied funding to this stinking piece of tasty cheese because it wasn’t commercially viable. Ivan Reitman proved them wrong as he would many times in his career, from the controversial early Cronenberg films and plenty other genre effort he has been a part of during his ongoing career. Sadly, you won’t find this one of Ivan’s classics on DVD, but those who search hard for it will be blessed. Cannibal Girls is a must-see for Canadian horror enthusiasts, but there’s no need for a fork at this messy dinner party! Buy it!

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