Saturday, 15 August 2009

Schiave bianche: violenza in Amazzonia / Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Catherine Miles Story / Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story

Let's get straight to it: The Cannibal Holocaust 2 title is misleading in a number of ways.

More the subtitle than the title

First and most obvious, Roy Garrett/Mario Gariazzo’s film has no actual relationship to Ruggero Deodato's 1979 classic, despite the connotations of Franco Campanino’s Riz Ortolani styled theme and the panoramic aerial shots of the jungle that open the film.

Second, the actual story is more like a cross between Umberto Lenzi's Deep River Savages and Deodato's earlier Lost Cannibal World, albeit told from a female rather than a male perspective.

Third, the main Amazonian tribe featured are headhunters rather than cannibals, with anthropophagous activity the province of their white-faced rivals.

As such, the film is better considered in its own right, in terms of its subtitle, The Catherine Miles Story.

Purporting to be a faithful reconstruction of Miles's experiences, based upon her own account and the records of her trial for murdering her aunt and uncle - an awkwardly presented complication that punctuates the rest of the narrative - the story begins in London.

Animal lovers may want to look away now...

With the school term having ended, Catherine (Elvire Audray) jets out to South America to join her parents on their rubber plantation for the holidays.

We learn that her aunt and uncle, the Vegas, are the poor relations, who lost their own money in some ill-advised speculation and thus now work for Catherine's parents managing the plantation - pretty well, it has to be said.

Aunt and uncle propose a trip into the interior, which leads to an attack by some natives. They shoot Catherine and her parents with curare tipped darts, paralysing them. It's here that the second awkward complication emerges, with the introduction of what will eventually prove a romantic subplot involving a tribesman, Umakai (Will Gonzales).

Catherine comes to finding Umukai crouched over her, his mouth all bloodied. He then proceeds to decapitate her parents...

The viewer is privy to the fact that Umukai has just sucked the poison from Catherine's wound (which he will continue to treat later, with a paste of masticated tree grubs) but are positioned with Catherine in not seeing the attacking tribesmen, who were in fact members of the bad tribe in the service of the now-absent Vegas.

In other words, we're in a confusing situation with regard to Catherine, as our point of identification in the narrative: We know more than she does at this point, but she, via her surrogates behind the camera, has withheld vital information from us.

While not a complete show-stopper, it is a basic structural flaw that suggests an uncertainty on the part of the film-makers as to the kind of film they wanted to make and how to mix the ingredients of survivalist account, courtroom drama and unlikely romance.

On the basis that most potential viewers are likely to approach something entitled Cannibal Holocaust 2 as an exercise in survivalist horror, the film must be considered a failure.

Although there's a decent amount of gore, it's never particularly convincing. Gratuitous human on animal violence is also (arguably thankfully) conspicuously absent. Though we get some stock footage of a big cat killing a hapless herbivore, it doesn't look like the actor playing Umukai, actually chewed real grubs, never mind he or anyone else beheading and gutting an unfortunate turtle or suchlike.

Compare this settlement to those of other Italian cannibal entries

Indeed, the tribespeople as a whole are remarkably clean and civilised looking, with their settlement being a large circular hut around a flat field rather than some huts, trees or caves as seen elsewhere.

While it is true that both Deep River Savages and Lost Cannibal World went some way to representing the cannibal women played by Me Me Lai as being more 'civilised' or 'evolved' than the other cannibals - hence her relative suitability for the western hero but inability to survive to leave with him, one suspects - what we have here are a whole village of such types. Hell, one even conveniently speaks English as a result of having spent much of her childhood with missionaries…

The issue is again one of falling between poles, of their neither appearing as abject-ified others, nor as western extras in bad wigs as in Jess Franco's impossible to take seriously entries.

All told, a failure, but one with a certain inherent curiosity value.

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