28 August, 2015


OK, here's the story. A sleazy Hollywood producer hires a mercenary (Al Cliver) to find a missing blond starlet whom he has heavily invested in.... Stop right there! This could be the story of the latter part of Jess Franco's career, after he was a "promising" young talent with a hit under his belt, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1961) and had parted ways with enterprising producer Harry Alan Towers after EL CONDE DRACULA (1969). Jess Franco was always seeking producers and producers were always seeking him to make cheap, sexy thrillers/comedies/adventures/horror films with alluring international sex starlets. He made them with dispatch and delivered them on demand. In this case the starlet was German and she was playing the victim of a kidnapping. By the time DEVIL HUNTER [onscreen title: EL CANIBAL] came to his table in 1980, a Eurocine-Lisa Films-JE Films coproduction with Italian genre icon Al Cliver in the lead, Franco was back in Spain and looking to keep steadily employed.

The first time I saw SEXO CANIBAL/JUNGFRAU UNTER KANNIBALEN it was the poorly dubbed English language version on the vintage Trans World Entertainment VHS, THE MAN HUNTER, a literal translation of its Italian release title, IL CACCIATORE DI UOMINI... It seemed like a completely impersonal, poorly/quickly made cannibal-sleaze-gore knock-off with a repellent racist subtext and a misogynist tone illustrated by the continuous torment, bondage and rape Ms. Buchfellner suffers. Cut to 90 minutes, in full screen and with a unstable image it wasn't a good introduction to the work of Jess Franco, who eventually vocalized his disdain for the cannibal genre (i.e. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST). Basically, he saw this paycheck as a way to make a "monster movie" and that's exactly what it is. Except that the "monster" is a towering black man who walks around the tropical locations nude, seemingly drugged out (the out-of-focus/smeared POV shots suggest a starved-for-tender-flesh delirium) and in search of fresh human meat. Then there's the budget VIDEO ASIA [Terror Tales Vol.4] DVD release, as THE DEVIL HUNTER, on a double bill with another Spanish horror co production, Manuel Cano's zombie-gore 1972 VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST, the English language version of a slightly different Spanish version. It seems to be a slam from VHS. The problem with this DEVIL HUNTER release is that it cuts the entire opening credits sequence and features a print from a digitally censored Japanese source. The bottom quarter of the frame is cut off to block out the Japanese subtitles. The audio track is English. Given the digital censoring, the cut-off framing and inferior dubbing it's barely watchable but acceptable as is the TWE tape. Severin's DVD also had its problems with a color drained image which at times improved and a some scenes had a fogged look. On the plus side it was the longest (102m) release about 12 minutes longer than the previous videos and DVDs. A German DVD from X RATED KULT also exists which I haven't been able to screen but it is also reportedly in the 90s minute range. The new Blu-ray is a 1080p Full HD Resolution upgrade of the Spanish print previously released by Severin, featuring the Spanish language track as an extra, replacing the additional French track on the DVD.

DEVIL HUNTER is not Jess Franco at his worst and it is far from his tier one efforts but it does have the "Jess Franco" feel, aesthetic and thematic unity. I find it a kind of fascinating self portrait if one can see the mercenary played by Cliver as Jess Franco in the new 1980 film market place, back in Spain, trying to make films, but having to depend on Eurocine, Spanish producer Julian Esteban and the German Lisa Films company for material, financing, actors and locations. Having to hunt for a job of directing, dealing the the Devil (producers) for the sake of the joy of making cinema and a bag full of loot. The deliberately out of focus shots from the "monster's" POV were a good idea, unfortunately many other shots are also similarly "out-of-focus"--as if the monster's consciousness had somehow taken control of the mise-en-scene. This is the kind of fascinating accident which can only happen on a Jess Franco shoot.  There are also striking shots of the flora around Puerto Santo and the film opens with a colorful plant bud, zooming back to an array of jungle greenery flecked with red growth. Then we cut to the native woman being pursued by the local cannibal tribe, which is intercut with American starlet Laura Crawford (Playboy Playmate Ursula Buchfellner) being pursued by the international press for a photo shoot.* As in Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979), the press are also the cannibals.

Adding to the primitive atmosphere are the occasional guttings and the vocal delirium of Carloto Perla's voodoo style moaning of cues credited to Jess Franco and Daniel J. White. Al Cliver is a reliable actor when it comes to playing stoic adventure protagonists (Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE) and Franco associate Antonio De Cabo makes for a suitably loathsome lead villain, as the head kidnapper who spends his idle time raping his chained up victim. Unpleasant stuff, for sure, Franco made sure to hit all the exploitation angles. Everything appears to have been shot in one take by the usually more stylish DP Juan Soler Cozar (GEMIDOS DE PLACER). The KING KONG finale, with the nude devil fighting our white hero Cliver for the possession of the almost always nude Buchfeller, combines the most racist/misogynist tendencies of this sub genre and Franco serves it up without art or hesitation. It's almost cowboys and Indians, or white Vietnam vet tough guys vs people of color, or white extras in black face. The 7 foot tall cannibal has ping-pong balls welded over his eye sockets and drools blood to make him more disgusting. In the cannibal attacks he munches on what looks like lunch meat bits smeared with ketchup while the "cannibals" in CANNIBAL TERROR seem to be pigging out on a slaughtered hog smeared with hot sauce.

Both films on this set seem to have come directly from the pen of Eurocine, which in one case is confirmed by Alain Deruelle in his CANNIBAL TERROR interview. Eurocine founder Marius Lesoeur wrote the story, according to the director, and let him sink into the blood and mud of a cheap production on unsanitary locations. Both films open with kidnappings carried out by sleazy criminals who rush into the bush with their hostages until the victims are released as the criminals are either killed by the heroes or devoured by the cannibals. At least the villains in DEVIL HUNTER are played by interesting actors (Antonio De Cabo and Werner Pochath). The only interesting players in CANNIBAL TERROR are the legendary Pamela Stanford (LORNA, THE EXORCIST) and Olivier Mathot, another Jess Franco regular. The capable Antonio Mayans is wasted in both features. The screenplay for DEVIL HUNTER is credited to Franco and producer Julian Esteban, but it could well have been an outline set by Eurocine in advance which was shot on the fly.

Speaking of the totally unwatchable CANNIBAL TERROR, it manages to look more colorful and sharp in  a 1080p Full HD resolution transfer than DEVIL HUNTER and its previous Severin DVD, although one wonders if this scraping-bottom bottom-feeder deserves the Blu-ray treatment. The plot, acting, music, direction are all abysmal, the cannibals sport 1970s sideburns and were left overs, as are the locations, from Jess Franco's slightly better (anything would be) WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN/CANNIBALS/MANGUERS DE HOMMES (1980), also featuring Cliver, who is sorely missed in CANNIBAL TERROR. A new bonus on the Blu-ray in a 20m interview with director Alain Deruelle who reveals why he changed his name to Allan W. Steeve, how badly he was treated by producer Marius Lesoeur during and after the production, and how he deliberately shot everything "flatly" (it looks like it).  Too bad the superior 2.0 French track for CANNIBAL TERROR and 2.0 Spanish track for DEVIL HUNTER weren't provided with English subtitles. But both films still should be watched with those tracks since there's not much dialogue anyway, they are easy to follow and they play much better that way.

It should be noted that the Spanish track for DEVIL HUNTER seems to have been the "mother track" according to my colleague, Spanish dubbing expert Nzoog, which was then replaced by the gratingly inferior English dubbing for export. The original Spanish dialogues are sometimes quite different. For instance, the scene set in the boat's hold Mayans and Cliver are discussing the producer, women and Hollywood in Spanish which is replaced with something totally inane in English. The Spanish dubbing voices are much more appropriately cast and deliver their lines with professional skill.

Also in the CANNIBAL TERROR extra menu is an Easter Egg interview with Jess Franco, mainly about how he didn't direct any of Eurocine's ZOMBIE LAKE or CT, the complete DEVIL HUNTER interview with him carried over from the DVD is featured on DEVIL HUNTER along with an interview with actor "Burt Altman" [Bertrand Altman] about his work for Eurocine. On the CANNIBAL TERROR special features menu there's also a "Spicy Deleted Scene" from CANNIBAL TERROR showing Pamela Stanford stripping and dancing provocatively for the edification of the kidnappers. Poor Pamela also has to act out getting tied and raped by kidnapper "Robert Foster" [Jess Franco regular Antonio Mayans] The original theatrical trailer for CANNIBAL TERROR is also included.

Pure European Trash Cinema at its most raw and unpalatable. All told it's a good package, two certified "Video Nasties" in HD, and a recommended upgrade for both films, if you can stomach them. CANNIBAL FEROX and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST these are not! And if you want much more interesting, well made Jess Franco cannibal films then make sure to see his 1973 LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, aka COUNTESS PERVERSE (please release this on Blu-ray, Mondo Macabro) and his mid 1990s US co-production, TENDER FLESH.

*Most of this footage is blocked out with English language title cards on the TWE tape and is totally cut from the Video Asia DVD.

NOTE: Some reviews claim both films on this HD double feature are 1.66:1, others say 1.85:1. Go figure. 

Thanks to Nzoog.

(C) Robert Monell, 2015

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