Friday, May 4, 2012

Devil Hunter (Jess Franco, 1980)

One woman is chased through the jungle by a furious throng in furry thongs, while another is pursued through the streets by hordes of photographers in tan slacks. The people chasing the former want to feed the woman's still beating heart to their scantily clad god, while the one's pursuing the latter want to sell her image to the highest bidder. What's the difference, you ask? In a way, it's cultural. However, writer-director Jess Franco (Eugénie de Sade) and writer Julián Esteban go one step further in Devil Hunter (a.k.a. Sexo Caníbal), a cannibal movie with brains and little else. On the surface, the film seems like yet another attempt to cash in on the whole cannibal craze that was sweeping Europe during the disco era. Yet bubbling underneath all that gut-munching nonsense lies a blistering satire, one that takes a sharp look at the wonky state of white supremacy in the late twentieth century. Judging by the frantic screams coming from the woman being chased through the tropical undergrowth, it was obvious that she didn't want the bug-eyed deity, the one currently growling menacingly in her presence (and in desperate need of some Visine®), to eat her heart out. In other words, the fact that she resisted was all the information I needed to tell me that the practice of eating the hearts of women who are still using them is morally repugnant. (Eating the organs of the recently deceased is on the cusp of being acceptable, but eating the organs of the living crosses the line as far as I'm concerned.) As her now heartless body hung there naked from a tree, I couldn't help but wonder why no-one had tried to help her. It would seem that the life of a black woman with no connections to show business doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Whereas, a white, skinny, blonde woman with no personality whatsoever has dozens of her fellow white people bending over backwards to save her heart from being the next meal of a clothes optional cannibal god.

 
The way the opening scene captured the nonexistent dichotomy between so-called civilized and uncivilized cultures was a stroke of genius. The skimpily-attired tribesmen running after the unnamed woman, who, from now on, will be known as "Rahmatulah" (Ana Paula from Cecilia), want something from her, and so do the pantyhose clad kidnappers who are after Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner), a well-known untalented actress. They both want to exploit their victim's femininity in order to gain power: the tribesmen want to appease their god, while the kidnappers want to appease their bank accounts.

 
Why do white people always act surprised when the non-white locals indigenous to the far-off lands they insist on travelling to on a regular basis try to kill them? It's a question that has not plagued white people since the beginning of time. 

 
The majority of white people lose their lives at the hands of non-white locals for a number of different reasons. The most common reason being greed. While the blood that once flowed through Rahmatulah's heart is about to start running down the cannibal god's chin, Laura Crawford, her white counterpart, is being showered with praise; well, at least she thinks she is. Wearing a pink one piece bathing suit, Laura waves at the passersby as her convertible rolls through a bustling, unnamed beachfront community. Do they know who she is? It doesn't matter, she seems to think they do, and, from the perspective of a mind that's been properly deluded, that's all that really matters.

 
Purportedly in town to check out locations for her next film, Laura is unaware that she is being stalked by a blonde woman named Jane (Gisela Hahn), or is she? You see, moments after we see Jane behaving oddly near the beach where Laura is frolicking with her dog, we see them sitting together. I'm confused, why would Jane need to spy on someone she's clearly acquainted with? I don't know, but it would seem that Jane is Laura's assistant, and they're busy watching a private bathing suit fashion show together.  

 
While the sound of bongos and flesh tearing are the soundtrack to Rahmatulah's gruesome demise, the sound of chloroform being sprayed and splashing water are the last things Laura hears as she comes face-to-face with her worst nightmare: a greedy, two timing assistant with bills to pay. As she is taking a bath, Jane and two men wearing pantyhose on their heads swoop into Laura's bathroom. Knocking her out with the aforementioned chloroform (now available in an easy to use spray bottle), the men drag her naked body out of the tub.  

 
Waking up chained to a wall in a dilapidated building in the jungle, Laura Crawford is probably thinking to herself: why were the men wearing pantyhose on their heads? I mean, they're not wearing them now. Actually, the chances that Laura would think anything, let alone the reasoning behind her kidnappers lack of disguises in the post-bathroom abduction phase of their criminal undertaking, are pretty remote. I'll be blunt, Laura is profoundly stupid. She doesn't seem to have a clue about anything whatsoever.

 
Anyway, Laura hasn't got time to worry about that, because Chris (Werner Pochath), one of the kidnappers, is starting to lose it. Unaccustomed to the jungle way of life, Chris rants against what he calls, "a fucking awful place." This scene manages to be comedic and sexy simultaneously. How so, you ask? Well, the frazzled kidnapper provides the funny, as his delivery while uttering the following, "This wild vegetation gives me the creeps," "Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it," and, my personal favourite, "Flowers shit!" was outstanding. And the alluring Ursula Buchfellner brings the sexy as she hang there in her pink, thigh-friendly, strategically torn, jungle captive-wear. In order to help sell the sizzle, Jess Franco pans up Ursula's unpretentious frame in a slow, deliberate fashion.
 
 
Desperate to find an activity that will take his mind off the jungle, Chris decides to threaten Laura with a nasty-looking knife with a curved blade, while a fellow kidnapper named Pablito (Melo Costa) laughs in the background.

 
Hired by Laura's agent, the rugged Peter Weston (Al Cliver) is told to bring the kidnappers six million dollars in exchange for the blonde's safe return. He's been given 200,000 dollars for expenses, but he's informed on the way out that if he brings back Laura and the six million, he'll get 10%. Now, I'm no math whiz, but that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Chris is still ranting and raving. While I can't say that I really blame him (the bird noises alone are enough to drive even the most hardened of kidnappers up the wall), someone should tell him to get his shit together, or, at the very least, give him a good slap in the nuts.

 
Luckily for the kidnappers, Thomas (Antonio de Cabo) is there to give the criminal undertaking an air of dignity and class. Okay, maybe that's pushing it, after all, he does rape Laura while she's chained to a wall (a vile act a poncho-wearing Jane tries to watch from the comfort of a hammock, but she is quickly told to beat it). But there's no denying that Thomas is clearly the brains of the operation. 
 
 
After being given a message at a hotel by a mysterious woman wearing white cowboy boots, a woman who is credited as "Girl on Yacht" (Cecilia's Muriel Montossé), Peter hops aboard a helicopter, piloted by a Vietnam vet named Jack (Antonio Mayans), and heads to Santos Island. You would think that Jack, being a veteran of a war that took place mainly in the jungle, would be used to the tropical climate. But that's where you would be wrong. Traumatized by the experience, Jack is complaining, in a ridiculous-sounding southern accent, about the humidity no less than five seconds after landing on the island.  

 
The prospect of earning 10% of six million dollars was obviously in the back of his mind, as Peter tries to pull one over on the kidnappers (the bag containing the money was filled with blank sheets of paper). However, in his defense, Thomas does try to screw over Peter as well (his lackies hiding up on a cliff open fire on Peter and Jack during the botched exchange), so it was only fair that Peter give duplicity a go. Either way, both their plans end up backfiring, as Laura runs off into the jungle during the commotion. Without Laura, the kidnappers have nothing to bargain with. It's not all fun and games for her so-called rescuers, as they have nothing to show for their effort, either.
 
 
As the two sides fall into disarray (some nursing bullet wounds), and Laura is busy stumbling mindlessly through the jungle, a murderous fiend has quietly gained the upper hand. They don't realize it yet, but their all being stalked by a naked man with bloodshot eyes. If you thought the sound of birds chirping was creepy, wait until you hear the sound of a cannibal with bronchitis, it will rob you of at least four drops of your semi-precious pee ("semi-"precious because it's just pee).
 
 
The rescuers do manage to gain a bit of an advantage when they stumble upon the kidnapper's yacht, a yacht that features–you guessed it–Muriel Montossé's "Girl on Yacht." She may only be "Girl on Yacht," but this is one yacht-based woman who knows a thing or two about the locals. Even though she's working for the kidnappers, she doesn't seem to mind giving Peter and Jack the skinny on the cannibals. Speaking of skinny, or not skinny in this case, Muriel Montossé's trademark big French booty is fuller than ever in Devil Hunter, as we see it briefly as it struggles hang onto a skimpy pair of bikini bottoms (five, count 'em, five coin slot's worth of ass crack are on display for your corporeal enjoyment).

 
Even though I repeatedly mocked her lack of intelligence, Ursula Buchfellner should be commended for her fearless performance as Laura Crawford, the poster girl for vacuous hose-beasts. Raped, drugged, tortured, carried down cliffs, bathed against her will (hell, the gorgeous Aline Mess even massages her with flowers at one point), and shackled to just about everything you can imagine, Ursula may not have much to say in terms of dialogue (her verbal output in this film is limited to whimpering softly and screaming loudly). But she more than makes up for it with sheer moxie, which is what ended up making Devil Hunter the passable slab of untoward entertainment that is ultimately is.


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8 comments:

  1. Being straight, male, and oriented toward socially unacceptable thought patterns (probably has something to do with being a preacher's kid), I rather like the sacrifice scene with the nude gyrations.

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  2. I love the way you found clean pictures to take from this movie. Nice write-up too!

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  3. @Nine-Fingered Menace: Socially unacceptable thought patterns, notwithstanding, I'm a big fan of nude gyrations no matter what the occasion.

    @Mr. Xploit, Esquire: Thanks. The sheer of amount of nude gyrating in this film didn't exactly make the search for "clean pictures" any easier.

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  4. Take a look at the worshippers of the Giant Naked Cannibal; isn't that the most ethnically diverse tribe you've ever seen?

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  5. *takes a quick look at the worshiper-centric screen caps I have lying around*

    Holy crap! You really know your Devil Hunter. They're like the Benetton ad of cannibalistic jungle dwellers. I see black people, I see white people, I see Latinos, and I even see baldies (they're follically diverse as well).

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  6. Do you think the undercurrent of socio-racial critique in the film is intentional or a coincidence? I'm no expert of Franco's films, but personally I think his main interests were to show female nudity, wonky camera angles/editing, and (if possible) nightclub routines.

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  7. I'm no expert, either, but it has to be intentional. I mean, how else can you explain the fact that he uses the same trope (white people are greedy bastards) in a quite few of his 80s era jungle movies?

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  8. Among other things, Franco had a rep for making movies on a shoestring budget. I suspect that it was cheaper to just gather up whatever actors were at hand than it was to try and insure they all looked like they would be part of one ethnic group. And ido, this is just my humble opinion but I think you're right on the money in regards to Franco's main interests.

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