aka Cannibal; Jungle Holocaust
(Ultimo Mondo Cannibale)
Director – Ruggero Deodato, Screenplay – Tito Carpi, Gianfranco Clerici & Renzo Genta, Story – Renzo Genta & G.C. Rossi, Photography – Marcello Masiocchi, Music – Ubaldo Continiello, Special Effects – Paolo Ricci, Makeup – Marcello Di Paolo, Production Design – Walter Patriarca. Production Company – Erre Cinematografica
Massimo Foschi (Robert Harper), Me Me Lai (Pulan), Ivan Rassimov (Rolf), Sheik Razar Shikur (Charlie), Judy Rosly (Swan)
Robert Harper flies in to join the members of his expedition in the uncharted jungles on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. However, the plane crashes as they come into land. As they try to repair it, they find evidence that indicates the other members of the expedition have been killed by natives. In short time, the group of arrivals is attacked and killed. Harper is the only survivor and is taken prisoner by a native tribe. He realises that having seen him arrive in the plane, they are intending to eat him in the belief they can gain the power of flight. He manages to make an escape with a native girl as prisoner and attempts the perilous journey back to his plane.
The Italian cannibal film has a reputation as the most extreme and notorious genre ever to appear on the screen. This was a fad the lasted from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The genre was begun with Deep River Savages/Man from Deep River (1972), which purported to offer a quasi-anthropological depiction of the brutalities of a cannibal tribe as experienced by the first white man to live among them. This success of this was followed by the likes of Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), Slave of the Cannibal God/Prisoner of the Cannibal God (1978), Cannibal Apocalypse/Cannibals in the Streets (1980), Eaten Alive (1980) and Zombie Holocaust/Dr Butcher M.D. (1980). The genre reached its peak of notoriety with Cannibal Holocaust (1979), from this film’s director Ruggero Deodato, and Cannibal Ferox (1981), both of which featured scenes about as extreme as it was possible to get, including the portrayal of graphic torture and mutilation, as well as the on-screen slaughter of animals. Not unexpectedly, most of these films were been banned in multiple countries.
By my reckoning, Last Cannibal World was the second Italian cannibal film ever made, following Deep River Savages. This was still during the point when the films made some claim to being anthropological adventure films portraying life amongst savage tribes rather than horror films that were determined to push the boundary in terms of extremes, a change that began a couple of years later with Cannibal Holocaust. (It is worth noting that English-language distributors tried to repackage Last Cannibal World under the title Jungle Holocaust and create some kind of connection to that film. In actuality, Last Cannibal World started as a follow-up to Deep River Savages and also features Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai, the two stars of that film, albeit in different roles).
Given that it falls within a cod-anthropological vein as opposed to making no pretence about going for extremes, Last Cannibal World offsets the expectations you have of the Italian cannibal film. Most of it is simply an adventure about a man captured by a native tribe and trying to escape. The usual cannibal elements where we see people being gored, devoured and tortured in extreme ways do not turn up until around the last fifteen minutes and are largely only restricted to one scene. To this respect, the film is tamer than we expect of the genre. That said, Last Cannibal World is by no means an uninteresting film.
Last Cannibal World has clearly gone on location into a real jungle to shoot – the IMDB tells me that the film was shot in Malaysia and Mindanao in the Philippines where it claims to be set. This shows up impressively on screen from the opening shots flying in across the terrain. Ruggero Deodato directs with a strong cinematic flourish. Particularly good is one scene where the natives mob Massimo Foschi and tie him to a rock, stripping his clothes, fondling his privates and then suspending him in mid-air on a vine to try and make him fly. It is, you realise, a scene that makes the Italian cannibal film work as impressive cinema.
There are the alarming scenes of animals being killed in unpleasant detail that these cannibal films liked to serve up – shots of pythons crushing bats, of the natives seemingly killing snakes and birds, and an especially nasty scene where they kill and gut a crocodile. There is even one shock scene where a native woman gives birth by the riverside, bites through the umbilical cord and then tosses the child into the water where it is devoured by a crocodile. On the other hand, we have to wait almost entirely to the end to get any of the film’s promised cannibal scenes – and even then some of the footage of Me Me Lei’s killing has been recycled from Deep River Savages. This is however a joltingly nasty scene where we see her carved up, her ribcage torn open and stones placed inside, followed by the tribespeople sitting around eating her flesh. There is also the subsequent scene where the pursued Massimo Foschi kills the tribal chief in hand-to-hand combat and then stands up in defiance and eats his heart.
Despite the film’s stringent claims on both the opening and end credits that it is based on a true story and that Robert Harper was a real person, I am unable to find any evidence of reported cannibal tribes living in Mindanao. The only internet references to ‘Mindanao cannibals’ all come back to this film. Mindedly, the Italian cannibal film, which was operating well before the whole mockumentary/Found Footage fad, had no qualms making up bogus claims that everything that happened was real.
Ruggero Deodato’s other films of genre interest are:- the masked superhero film Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen (1968); Cannibal Holocaust (1979); the sadism and torture film House on the Edge of the Park (1980); the sf adventure Atlantis Interceptors (1983); another savage jungle adventure Cut and Run (1985); the slasher film Body Count (1986); the sword-and-sorcery film The Barbarians (1987); Dial Help (1988) about ghostly phone calls; Phantom of Death (1988) about a man who needs to kill to rejuvenate; and an episode of the anthology The Profane Exhibit (2013).