The Mountain of the Cannibal God
The chances are that you’ve heard of the video nasties panic that gripped the UK during the 1980’s. 72 films were prosecuted by the British government for corrupting public morals, because one of the principal causes of violence and perversion in society are films. At least, that was the theory. I must say that after watching quite a few of them uncut, I don’t really feel any more violent or perverted than before, and it turned out that neither did anyone else. The video nasties panic was just that: a panic without a rational basis. Some of the films on the list are admittedly revolting, but the truth is that if you watch something like Cannibal Holocaust and then murder someone, you probably had serious problems long before you put the film in your VHS player.
Oddly, the video nasties list had little consistency. You’d expect that every film on it was graphically violent beyond measure, but when you watch films like Frozen Scream, you start wondering how on earth anyone thought they should be banned. Neither did the list say anything about a film’s quality. Some of the films are hilariously awful, whilst others range from good to occasionally great. I admit I’m in a minority, but for my money Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, which was successfully prosecuted, is one of the best thrillers ever made. There is really very little to link all the films on the video nasties list, other than that someone tried to ban them. This means that there are some films on the list that everyone would have forgotten had the list never existed.
It’s possible that The Mountain of the Cannibal God might still be a bit of a cult film if it hadn’t been a video nasty. It was directed by Sergio Martino, who is well-known to fans of 1970’s Italian cult cinema. But it’s a pretty lacklustre affair as a film, and as a video nasty it is far tamer than other cannibal films on the list. The story concerns Susan Stevenson (played by Ursula Andress, and no, I don’t know what she’s doing here), who has arrived in New Guinea to find her missing husband. Stevenson had gone on an anthropological expedition to the jungle, but for some reason he hadn’t bothered to clear it with the authorities, meaning that nobody knows where he went. However, Prof Edward Foster (Stacy Keach, and no, I don’t know what he’s doing here) has a pretty good idea. Stevenson was likely trying to get to the mountain Ra Ra Mi, and the authorities don’t give permission to anyone to go there. So Susan, Edward and Susan’s brother, Arthur, set off to find him, along with a group of helpers who will of course be cannon fodder, because this is a cannibal film – although actually the cannibalism comes in fairly late. Really, this is more a jungle adventure, as the explorers make their way to the mountain whilst fending off crocodiles, natives and lethal booby traps. There are also a few plot twists along the way to keep things interesting; it turns out that nobody has been entirely honest about their reasons for joining the expedition, and which leads to a rather large shock at an unexpected point.
The Mountain of the Cannibal God is a film that doesn’t require a lot of effort to watch, because it’s not here to make you think. It doesn’t have any profound philosophy or any messages more complex than ‘Don’t be jerk or you’ll get a spear in the stomach’. It’s here simply to excite the audience, with its heroes trying not to fall off waterfalls or get eaten by cannibals. Consequently, the strength of the film should lie in its style rather than its ideas. Unfortunately, whilst it can be engaging, it never fires on all cylinders. It’s a workman-like effort, in which there is little that stands out as either good or bad. The film wastes little time getting to the jungle and to the dangers that attack the explorers, and it becomes more entertaining as the expedition gets closer to its destination (partially because the expedition gets disturbingly smaller as it gets closer to its destination). However, Sergio Martino isn’t a great action director. The ideas for the set-pieces tend to be better than the execution, because Martino isn’t always able to draw the viewer in. For example, when a major character dies late in the story, Martino appears to think that the shock value alone can carry the scene, but this ensures that it’s uninvolving. The ending is also surprisingly perfunctory, given its set-up; one would think that escaping from an entire cannibal tribe when you’re tied up and trapped inside a cave would be harder than it is in the film. The violence can be fairly graphic, which must be one of the reasons why the film became a video nasty, but there are more explicit video nasties out there.
In the end, the film feels rather hollow, as it doesn’t contain anything that would bring you back to rewatch it. It’s a film that’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood for some adventure, but it is not something that will stick with you. If you know anything about Italian cannibal films, you’ll know that they are notorious for showing genuine animal cruelty.
I’ll end by noting that whilst the uncut version of The Mountain of the Cannibal God contains quite a bit of it, the Shameless edition has been cut. The BBFC always comes down hard on animal cruelty, and it has made over two minutes of cuts.