A Short History of Cannibal Films
January 23, 2006
Il paese del sesso selvaggio / Mondo Cannibale 1
Umberto Lenzi, 1972
Story: Reporter flees to an outback area in Thailand, first
gets taken prisoner and tortured by the village tribe, then becomes a
member of it, marries a tribal woman and ends up as the chief of the
Riff on adventure movies, Robinson Crusoe topic
Not yet a cannibal film in the strict sense.
Elements of every cannibal movie:
- fake authenticity
(German dubbing and text contradict each other)
- white people come to a tribal area
- ritual rape
- tribal female nudity
- animal slaughter
- eating guts
White male character as the observer, camera, alter ego of the
audience: Duplication of camera perspective and character
Only the enemy tribe consists of cannibals. Racism: Cannibals
have darker skin. His wife is the most Western-looking woman in the
Sex touristic fantasy, man on the search for an obedient wife -
as evident in the title "the country of savage sex".
Me Me Lai: TV game show host in England, later actress in Lars
von Trier's "Element of Crime"
Classical "exploitation movie"
Mondo Cane, 1962
Shock documentary film, the first of its kind. Juxtaposition of
strange or disgusting cultural habits both in Western and in
indigenous cultures, combined with a dark sarcastic commentary and a
sweet Muzak-like film score (by Riz Ortolani). Most of the footage
Catholic "vanity" mood of the film: "It's a
Its formula has been used by countless other shock
documentaries - like Faces of Death -
Precursor of the cannibal movies in several respects:
- branding: movies were marketed as "Mondo Cannibale"
in most of Europe.
- topic of savage rites and cruelty, both in Western and tribal
- common themes: animal slaughter, digusting food, tribal nudity,
indigenous "savage" cultures
Cannibal movies replace outward perspective with an inward
(character-based) perspective. Relation between "document"
and "fiction" becomes more openly doubtful and speculative.
"Mondo" title gets synonymous with taboo-breaking
films, including underground movies and porn.
Ultimo mondo cannibale, 1977
Second cannibal film by Ruggero Deodato. A man has an airplane
crash in the jungle, ends up as a prisoner of a cannibal tribe and in
the end manages to flee.
Mindanao: Island of the Philippines. Anthropological literature
says that cannibalism does exist there, but only as ritual
cannibalism performed by the priest-leader of a tribe who has to eat
killed enemies. Depiction of cannibalism in the film is therefore
entirely fictitious and a Western fantasy.
In first Mondo Cannibale film: Ripping out tongues: ripping out
Second Mondo Cannibale film by Ruggero Deodato: Almost a silent
First: Classical iconography of the white man voyeuristically
observing cannibals, and being both fascinated and disgusted.
Same topic of captivity and exotic sex attraction. Same actress
Me Me Lai.
Role of the observer and the observed do switch: The cannibals
observe the white man.
Flying: Allusion to cargo cults - as depicted in Mondo Cane.
Stereotype of animal cruelty.
Crocodile "abortion". Tenor: It's a cruel and
But: Westerner turns into the rapist.
The Westerner doesn't turn into savage chief like in
Umberto Lenzi's film (who rips out tongues), but actually into a
Similarity to Icarus and Goya: Mythology inscribed into
Ambivalence of the film: Is the rape scene pornographic and
voyeuristic, or is it an unembellished depiction of colonialism, or
Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
Cross-over of cannibal and softporn movie.
Joe d'Amato, director of horror, softporn and hardcore porn
movies such as "Man-Eater". Creator of the "Black
Emanuelle" series, a rip-off of the French "Emanuelle"
softporn movies. This film is part of the series and combines it with
the cannibal genre.
Cannibals move from the tribal into the Western urban space
But the roots of cannibalism are still in the outbacks and have
to be "investigated" there.
Topic of diamond smuggling: Recurs in Jess Franco's Mondo
Cannibale 4. Punishment of the white perpetrators: The
jungle/cannibals as a purgatory, catholic themes. Cannibalism as
exorcism and punishment of sins.
In fact, the woman who gets rescued in the end is a virgin who
grew up in a catholic mission in the jungle.
None of the cannibal movies tell of expeditions to fight
cannibalism, but they always are "research",
"journalism", filmmaking: Duplication of the cannibal movie
watching into the cannibal movies themselves, self-referential
Cross-over of action and cannibal film.
Rip-off of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now":
"Apocalypse domani", "apocalypse tomorrow".
Contains elements of Romero's zombie movies, too.
U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam catch a virus that turns them
into cannibals. Back in the U.S., they infect the whole population.
Revenge movie: Napalm bombing of Vietnam results in cannibal
bombing of New York. Revenge of cruel nature against cruel culture.
Cannibal movies: Sleaze version of the "dialectics of
Cannibal moves almost entirely into the Western urban space.
Self-referentiality of the moviegoer: The moviegoers is not
metaphorical any more, but literal. And he even watches his own film,
i.e. a war action movie just like "Cannibal Apocalypse".
Repetition of the theme of ripping out one's tongue.
New York: mythical city of Cannibal movies, as the
"other" of the tribal outbacks. Almost all Italian cannibal
movies start from New York. Here, NY turns into the jungle. Jungle as
self-image of Western civilization.
Dialectics is perfectly reversed here: Cannibals move from the
outbacks into the urban space and take over civilization. There is
still the exotic and primitive "other" of the virus.
Tasteless - for sure.
Genre of Italian "Holocaust" movies in the late
1970s/early 1980s (Released under different titles in Germany.)
Cross-over of zombie and cannibal film.
Classical horror b movie plot: Mad scientist operates people
into zombies on an island that is populated by cannibals. In the end,
the cannibals overthrow the mad scientist.
Zombie / porn movie cross-over by Joe d'Amato, director of
"Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals".
Rhetoric of sensationalism and taboo-breaking. B cinema of
"Holocaust" title becomes ambivalent: (a)
sensationalist like in "Zombi Holocaust" and "Porno
Holocaust", (b) subversion of that sensationalism because it
actually turns out that it is a film about a genocide - but it's
a genocide of Westerners against indigenous tribes.
Ambivalence visible in the opening credits: Combination of film
title and music. Title gets even more obscene through the sweet
music. Music is by Riz Ortolani, composer of the Mondo Cane score.
Film uses it as a citation: And it turns out that it is actually a
reflection of Mondo movies. It manages to be a Mondo-style
sensationalist exploitation movie and a critical reflection of Mondo
movies at the same time.
"Citizen Kane of the cannibal movies". Complex,
multilayered film-in-film plot, excellent camera work, excellent
realism in the acting
Film was cast with porn actors.
"Blair Witch Project" is a rip-off of Cannibal
- TV reporter
- TV reporter
- Footage found in Yates' camera
Includes all themes of a cannibal film. Even tops them all:
Three rapes, one impaling, cannibal orgies. One of the most violent
films ever made.
Ambivalent depiction of both Westerners and cannibals, with the
exception of the anthropologist as the audience alter ego/observer.
Massacre in the village: Probably influenced by
Exploitation movies about exploitation movies, adressing the
topic of exploitation on multiple layers - both performative and
Manages to be both sleaze and reflection of sleaze
Cannibal Holocaust - Pasolini, Salo. I personally prefer it to
Salo because it's not an "art" movie and thus
doesn't provide a reassurance that it's all just a critical
Destruction of the film material: Another self-reflexive point.
Anticipates censorship of the film itself. Film was banned in almost
60 countries, according to IMDB the world record.
Mondo Cannibale 3
Last official film of the Mondo Cannibale series. Shot by
Spanish trash cult director Jess Franco, with Italian actors.
Story: A researcher and his family make an expedition to
cannibal territory. The mother gets killed, the father escapes with
an arm chopped off, but the daughter is made the new goddess and
queen of the cannibal tribe.
Picked two longer scenes: The family being attacked on its
boat, and a speech of the tribal chief.
Cannibal genre turns into camp. Cannibals are white Italian
actors in fantasy makeup.
Psychedelic/experimental gore scene.
Compare to Kurt Kren's 1964 experimental film of a
performance by Vienna Actionist Otto Muehl.
Speech of the tribal chief: Dada Sound poetry.
Remarkable in two respects: Cannibal film as the heir of
transgressive underground aesthetics, experimentalism and weirdness
in a genre film.
On the other hand: Demasks the colonial stereotyping in the
experimental arts. I.e. sound poetry and body art as colonial
projections of a primitive other, liberation from Western
civilization through approaching one's one exoticist stereotype.
Common pattern of both transgressive art and cannibal movies.
The film shows that you end up always being yourself: There are
Italians, and Italians with paint in their faces. Franco's film,
in its trashiness, exposes the full stereotypical logic of the genre.
The Treasure of the White Goddess
Marketed as "Mondo Cannibale 4", this film is not a
cannibal film strictly speaking. There are no cannibals and no
cannibalism in it. But at the same time, it's like a sequel to
the previous film which shoes what happened after the arrival of the
white goddess of the non-white tribe.
Story: Liana and her father live in the djungle as gods of a
local tribe. The tribe hoards a big diamond treasure. This is why
they have to repeatedly fight off Westerners who invade their
territory in search of the diamonds. One expedition is sent by
Liana's mother, and she falls in love with one the expedition
members. This creates troubles with the tribe, but in the end, the
whites get expelled.
(Very tame) soft sex movie, with nude Katja Bienert as its main
attraction. Riff on Tarzan movies, too.
Comparison: German "Liane" soft sex movies from the
Interesting plot twist in the end: Film subverts the whole
colonialist pattern of the white goddess.
Jess Franco Schlussdialog: Cargo-Kult.