Saturday, April 30, 2022

Primitif (1980) [filmed in 1978]

... aka: Apodrasi ap' tous kannivalous (Escape from the Cannibals)
... aka: Death Cry of the Cannibals, The
... aka: Der Todesschrei der Kannibalen (Death Scream of the Cannibals)
... aka: L'île de l'enfer-cannibales (The Island of Hell - Cannibals)
... aka: Primitiv
... aka: Primitives
... aka: Savage Terror

Directed by:
Sisworo Gautama (Putra)

Working on their thesis, college ethnology students Robert (Barry Prima, in one of his very first roles), Rita (Enny Haryono) and Tommy (Johann Mardjono) hire seasoned guide Bisma (Rukman Herman) to take them deep into the Indonesian jungle to visit the Pangayan tribe. The tribe, who are primitive yet friendly to visitors (granted you bring them gifts!), introduce the students to their daily lives, customs and rituals. A village doctor sucks puss directly out of wounds (mmm!) and pops boils with a fire-roasted blade. There's face-painting, ritual dancing and gyrations around a fire, crawling through the mud between native women's legs and, finally, drinking a tasty little concoction made from the village witch doctor's blood. Not content with just that experience and needing something new and "mind blowing" (apparently there's already a lot of research available for the Pangayan tribe), Robert proposes the idea for them to venture even deeper into the jungle so they can meet some "real primitives." Knowing the dangers of the area, Bisma refuses at first, but it's an issue waving a wad of cash in front of his face can easily remedy.

The following morning, the students, their guide and superstitious local Lahang (Jafar Pree York), a former Pangaya tribe member himself, set out on their raft. They unexpectedly hit some rapids and everyone is thrown overboard after their raft breaks apart. Robert, Rita and Lahang manage to make it to shore, but Tommy, who hits his head on a rock, and Bisma are washed far downstream. After some mismatched stock footage of a python eating a Komodo dragon, a search for the missing two members of the group on land uncovers an abandoned, ravaged camp belonging to a professor and his colleagues, who all disappeared there a year earlier. Seeing how night is fast approaching, Robert, Rita and Lahang camp out there for the night. Meanwhile, Tommy (who has a head and leg injury) has reached shore somewhere else. He stumbles upon human skeletal remains and a man's diary detailing his capture and escape from a tribe of nearby cannibals.

Robert, Rita and Lahang make it through the night but are stalked around the jungle by the cannibal tribe as they venture on the following day. After finding a bunch of skeletons and maggoty corpses in a cave, a panicked Lahang runs off and gets killed when he hits a trip wire, which sends a tree branch smashing into his stomach, knocks him into a bunch of wooden spikes and then hangs him upside down. Robert and Rita (whose industrial-strength drawn-on eyebrows, eyeliner and eye shadow manage to stay in place for the entire film) are then captured and dragged back off to the tribe's bat-filled cave home. There, they're tied to a giant rock and natives poke at them, grab them, sniff them, try to eat a necklace, smash a portable radio and start ripping their clothes off. Prima's entire outfit is stripped off save for his black briefs while the well-endowed female star has her long sleeve shirt and pants reduced to a tattered crop top and shorts. Robert is further humiliated whenever he's untied, forced onto all fours and rode around like an animal by naked kids and a fat guy.

Over the next few days, both Robert and Rita face numerous indignities. He's thrown into a cage and gets pissed on by some of the kids. She's kept tied to the rock and almost gets raped by a pervy old tribesman, who promptly gets his genitals smashed with a rock for this transgression. As for dinner, well, I hope they enjoy globs of raw, bloody entrails and decomposing snake filled with maggots and worms! Nom nom. Eventually, Rita gets to join Robert in the cage where they witness such lovely sights as an orangutan getting clubbed over the head with a stone age axe (which is fortunately faked) and alligators being speared in the head, sliced open, gutted and skinned alive (which is unfortunately not).

We occasionally cut back to the jungle to check on the other two guys and random some natives. Bisma is unharmed and hiding out in the trees. Even though he's supposedly this expert survivalist, he runs around in the jungle shooting his rifle into the air and screaming at the top of his lungs ("Come on ouuuuut! I'm not afraid of yaaaa!") Not fairing nearly as well, a delirious and starved Tommy stumbles upon a tree covered in apple-like fruit. He chows down, but the fruit turns out to be poisonous, which causes him to puke up blood and pass out. Amazingly, he does manage to out-survive Bisma, though, after the guide gets eaten by an alligator. After witnessing a native woman giving birth in the woods (she bites through the umbilical cord then licks the bloody baby clean), Tommy follows her back to the cave and tries to help his friends escape.

Though the on-location jungle filming does give this an air of authenticity, other elements are pretty preposterous... and I'm not even talking about opening the film with Kraftwerk's electro-disco classic The Robots, either! The most egregious of its faults, which has some real competition considering there's a heavy stone axe that defies every known law of science by acting as a boomerang (!!), is its silly portrayal of the cannibal tribe. They've all been instructed to ooh, ahh, hoot, holla, grunt and make animal noises, hop up and down like 5-year-old's with some severe hyperactivity disorder, scowl and grit their teeth, bug their eyes out constantly, fight over raw meat scraps and act like demented escapees from some maximum security mental asylum. 

And yet the laughs don't really sit all that well with all of the graphic, real animal slaughter, which includes alligators killing a tiger (more stock footage), snakes getting killed, a live lizard being eaten, scorpions being stomped on and more. There's also a quicksand pit, a mud wrestling match between a native and a constrictor, a "Danger Is My Bussiness" (that's not my spelling) t-shirt, near death water park hallucinations and tons of fish eye lens (and even some accidentally out of focus) shots.

According to the people who worked on it themselves, this was specifically made to try to cash in on the success of several hit Italian cannibal films, which were extremely popular in Asia at the time. It borrows heavily (right down to copying exact scenes) from Deodato's JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977), features less nudity and gore than most similar films (though still plenty of each) and is pretty mediocre overall, though far from the worst of this type. Don't forget that Jess Franco (WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN) and Eurociné (CANNIBAL TERROR) also dipped their toes into this particular pool!

Primitif was given one of the widest global releases of any Indonesian genre film of the 70s and 80s. Not including Asian territories, it was released theatrically in Australia and throughout Europe and made its way onto VHS in the UK (a 1981 pre-cert release under the new title Savage Terror; it was later included on the Section 3 Video Nasty list), Mexico, Greece, France, Germany and in many other countries. However, here in the U. S., it doesn't appear to have received any release until 2005 when hack company Videoasia included a lousy VHS quality print of it on their second Tales of Voodoo DVD set, along with Godfrey Ho's Ghost Ninja, a re-title of DIAMOND NINJA FORCE (1988).

Those Videoasia discs can now be tossed into the garbage where they belong since this has recently received the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Severin. Their release comes with interviews with executive producer Gope T. Samtani and writer Imam Tantowi. English-dubbed (which changes some of the character names) or English subbed versions in its original language are both available.

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