Sunday, 14 December 2008

Mondo Cannibale / Cannibal Holocaust 2

A group of film makers go missing in the jungle where they were working on a documentary about some of the last remaining cannibal tribes. Some time later the footage they shot is screened before the excited and shocked group of television executives who commissioned the film.

It could be Cannibal Holocaust, but it is actually Bruno Mattei's 2003 digital reboot, alternately known as Cannibal World and, arguably more honestly, Cannibal Holocaust 2. This said, it would perhaps be better thought of as Cannibal Xerox, both for a nod to Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox in the form of a penis-ectomy scene and on account of the way in which Mattei and his co-scenarist Giovanni Paolucci all but plagiarise numerous scenes and lines from Ruggero Deodato's film in lieu of writing their own script from scratch.

Maybe Cannibal World gets away with it on being less a remake of Cannibal Holocaust than a contemporary re-interpretation or maybe Deodato was simply disinclined to engage with the subject matter again at this time, here remembering both the reaction his film had provoked and the alternative approach to primitive world ultra-violence seen in Cut and Run compared to its two predecessors in Cannibal Holocaust and Last Cannibal World. (As of August 2008, Deodato was however working on a new Cannibal themed film.)

Whatever the case, with the notably old-school exception of gutting a lizard on camera, the departures from the original source are where Mattei's film tends to get things more wrong than right.

The two key differences are in structure of the narrative and, following on from with this, the composition and dynamics of the film-making team. Though the bulk of the film comprises flashbacks to the documentary film-makers at work and the results, the film within the film structure of Cannibal Holocaust, wherein the first half of the film concentrates on the rescue mission and the second on an exploration of their what they found of the missing film-makers, is not really in evidence.

In particular, the Professor Monroe character, as the one who provided a more moral, anthropological voice on the mondo film-maker's excesses, is here positioned as one of the documentary team, Bob Manson. While he initially serves as something of a counterpoint to his Alan Yates like counterpart, in professing to be more concerned about the wider environment than with viewer ratings – or at least can justify his excesses if they help spread his message more widely – he soon succumbs to an ecofascistic / survival of the fittest / law of the jungle type amorality.

Reference to Cannibal Holocaust's Yates brings us on to the film's second major departure in terms of the group's composition. Their leader, the one who recruits the initially reluctant rival Manson as best man for the job, is actually a woman, Grace Forstye [sic]. The rest of the team is rounded out with Cindy Blair, whose role in the proceedings generally proves to be similar to that of Faye Daniels in Deodato's film, and the less noteworthy pairing of men analogous to Jack Anders and Mark Tomaso.

While the team also have two cameras like their Cannibal Holocaust counterparts, Mattei fails to satisfactorily introduce this detail nor to make use of the apparently different properties of the two cameras within his actual mise-en-scene. Rather there are too many images that do not accord with either camera-person's point of view and instead come across as being staged for the benefit of and recorded by an external, non-diegetic, camera. The impact of this is particularly significant when it comes to the gore scenes: whereas Deodato made impressive use of pseudo-documentary techniques and downright 'mistakes' to prevent us from noticing how unconvincing a given effect might have been, Mattei's comparatively conventional approach makes such shortcomings all too apparent.

Connected to this is Mattei's decision not to use stock footage and the Grace's comments within the film as to the datedness of such practice, that today's more sophisticated audience are sure to notice it. If the distancing from Mattei's own practice within the likes of Hell of the Living Dead is ironic, it is also a strategy that proves less effective than Deodato's admittedly morally problematic re-contextualisation of real atrocity footage as being a put-on for the camera in the infamous 'Road to Hell' sequence of his film. Similarly and paradoxically, Mattei's approach makes it that bit harder to suspend our disbelief that we are watching anything other than a film here.

In a similar vein, the film also lacks that palpable sense of psychosis one gets from its model, of not knowing just how far the film-maker was willing to go in his pursuit of authenticity. Instead, it comes across as a more calculated product, as the work of someone intent on giving his target audience what they wanted, but in a no more and no less manner. If this is no such bad thing in itself, as demonstrated by Deodato's Cut and Run, the issue is that Mattei is not quite as good a film-maker as Deodato and does not have the same resources at his disposal here.

As already mentioned in reference to the figure of Manson, Mattei's characters are also less satisfactorily drawn. Alternatively, however, we might also see this as one of the film's developments / departures from its model, in terms of emphasising that today it is less viable to hold Monroe's doctrine – i.e. that academic would-be detachment from the rest of the corrupt world / system – than it is to succumb to the inevitable.

Cannibal World's rape scene is also of interest in this regard because of its dynamics. While Grace expresses her displeasure at the scene, framing it as wasting film on a porno in a reprise of Faye's critique of the analogous scene in Cannibal Holocaust, Cindy encourages the men. The conflict within the group seems here more about power directly and less about power in relation to gender, of Cindy temporarily asserting her position with the men against Grace in decidedly un-feminist manner perfectly in keeping with the film-makers' we-are-all-complicit post-reality-TV world-view.

Or, maybe not, insofar as it is the TV network executive who emerges as the film's admittedly muffled moral voice, as he asks the inevitably “who are the real cannibals” question to the camera and the spectator...

Longer term fans will want to note that amongst the English dubbing voices can be heard Ted Russoff and Susan Spafford, two voice artists whose careers dated back to the glory days of the filone cinema and can be heard on the likes of The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh, while newcomers may want to check out actress and model Cindy Matic's portfolio.


Anonymous said...

I don't think Mattei spent much thought on suspension of disbelief or whether his narrative structure is all that believable, but I think generally speaking the decision to no longer pretend that we're watching "real" footage is a sound one - the whole "footage found in the jungle/woods/by the police" idea is simply no longer believable (Blair Witch got away with it largely because the makers utilised the internet in a never done before way and even then the eventual backlash was quite strong) and seems to have been replaced by the "based on a true story" angle lately.
I think this is also how a Cannibal Holocaust remake could work - follow a film crew doing a movie based on true events (e.g. the first film).

Btw.: I noticed krimi-corner is down, hope you haven't given up on your project.

K H Brown said...

Have you seen the Spanish film [Rec]? It uses the single camera, you are there approach really well, and gets away with it.

I do agree, however, that Blair Witch has largely ruined it for everyone - I could well imagine more mainstream viewers thinking a Cannibal Holocaust remake in this style was a Blair Witch rip-off rather than a new film from one of the guys Blair Witch had borrowed from.

I renamed krimi corner to krimi-nality to avoid confusion with the pre-existing krimi corner pages on Latarnia. I just hadn't changed the side menu link, nor edited the post in which I announced it.

I haven't given up on it.

Anonymous said...

Forgot about rec and you're right - the single camera approach worked exceptionally well there, but -just like Cloverfield- there was no pretense that film consisted of "real" footage and to me that's the key difference -nowadays the single camera has become just another tool or style and that in itself already negates what Deodato had in mind when he did Cannibal Holocaust.
It's strange though - there seems to be a real demand for atrocities these days and people almost seem to want to believe that what they see on and similar sites is real (and that Ils etc. are based o real events).