Friday, September 15, 2023

Nudo e selvaggio (1985)

... aka: Amazonas (Amazon)
... aka: Cannibal Ferox II
... aka: Cannibal Inferno
... aka: Dinosauruslaakson tuho (Destruction of Dinosaur Valley)
... aka: Massacre in Dinosaur Valley
... aka: Naked and Wild
... aka: Prisonnières de la vallée des dinosaures (Prisoners of Dinosaur Valley)
... aka: Stranded in Dinosaur Valley
... aka: Valle sangriento (Bloody Valley)
... aka: Zagubieni w dolinie dinozaurów (Lost in the Valley of Dinosaurs)

Directed by:
"Michael E. Lemick" (Michele Massimo Tarantini)

Part of the problem with trying to watch, label and file away films into certain subgenres is that we have a tendency to take a minor trend or faint blip on the horror radar and expand it into something much larger than what it actually is. A good example of this is the Italian giallo. There are supposedly specific qualifiers a film has to meet to even be considered a giallo, yet if you look at a list of these films from genre "experts" you'll find tons of entries that don't fit the established criteria at all. Stretching too far beyond the parameters of a defined term, or ignoring them altogether, in an effort to exaggerate the relevance of something only succeeds in making the term lose all meaning. Some subgenres really are just small!

As a result of the above, we now have endless people running around calling every single Italian film that has mystery, thriller, crime and / or horror elements a giallo. If that's not annoying enough already, these same folks have expanded their scope to include basically all of Europe, and sometimes even North America and Asia, in a never ending quest to broaden that small subgenre. The major issue I have with this is that it can be a huge disservice to certain films, which are frequently panned not because they're bad but because they fail to meet viewer expectations due to being improperly categorized.

Another example is the zombie film. Just like Mario Bava had laid down the template for giallo back in the early 60s, George Romero did the same for the modern zombie film. I don't know about you, but when I sit down to watch one of these types of films, I want to see multiple flesh-eating revived corpses; preferably a large, threatening mob of them, and I want primary focus to be put on them. I don't want to pluck a title off a list only for it have one zombie featured in a scene or two. Movies like that should not be grouped together with the likes of DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. It's not the same thing!

And that brings us back around to the, again mostly Italian, jungle cannibal film. This was a tiny little subgenre that emerged in the 70s and extended into the 80s (there have also been a handful of more recent revival attempts) that became popular due to their high levels of exploitative nudity, gore and real animal killings. To be considered, these films should, at the very least, prominently feature jungle cannibal tribes. In other words, a film concerning a family of human-meat consumers living in the suburbs doesn't count. Nor does a film like Massacre at Dinosaur Valley, which features a jungle tribe for all of 20 minutes and, here's the real kicker, has no scenes of cannibalism in it unless one counts a single brief shot of a native biting into a human heart.

Despite a few similarities, Massacre really shouldn't be in the same company as Italian gut-munchers like Cannibal Holocaust and Eaten Alive. The fact it usually is creates expectations that the film doesn't, and shouldn't have to (it didn't mis-categorize itself), meet. Distributors certainly haven't helped matters in this regard either, releasing this under numerous alternate titles like Cannibal Inferno and Cannibal Ferox II.

What we really have here is a mishmash of genres and tropes popular at this time, only done in a breezy, trashy, bloody and ultra-exploitative way. There's a little Indiana Jones, a little Romancing the Stone and a little surviving-the-elements adventure, with pinches of crime, prison and animal attack movies and, yes, a little bit of jungle tribe terror. Usually, the tone is lighthearted and campy, and there's plenty of goofy, good-natured humor. At other times it's incredibly sleazy, brutal, violent and mean-spirited. Don't ask me how, but it works if we're just talking pure brainless entertainment. It's also refreshing to see a movie with "massacre" in the title that, ya know, actually has a massacre and a high body count.

Things open at a hotel / bar in São Sebastião, Brazil where various characters arrive hoping to catch a small plane headed toward Manaus the following morning. There's paleontology professor and author Pedro Ibañez (Leonidas Bayer) and his lovely, strong-willed daughter, Eva (Suzane Carvalho), who are hoping to check out the famed "Valley of the Dinosaurs" while they're in the area. And then there's glamour photographer Robert (Andy Silas) and his two models; the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Belinda, played by Naomi Watts look-a-like Susan Hahn, and the brunette, dark-skinned beauty Monica, played by Mary Reis, in apparently her only film role - a shame!

Adding some hilarious moments to the mix are a miserable, always-bickering middle-aged couple who hate each other's guts. Captain John Heinz (Milton "Morris" / Rodríguez) is a 'Nam vet whose impotency has turned him into a volatile, controlling, hot-tempered asshole. His boozy wife, Betty (Marta Anderson), runs around dressed like Marilyn Monroe and doesn't help her husband's mental state any by constantly picking at his scabs, publicly humiliating him and brazenly flirting with other men. And what would our movie be without an intrepid, resourceful hero? We get one, a pretty good one at that, in Kevin Hall (Michael Sopkiw - AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK), a broke, unshaven "gringo" paleontologist and fossil hunter there to collect and study dinosaur bones. Though amiable, Kevin's the type whose smart mouth always gets him into trouble. He's even black and blue from a bar fight before facing any of this film's myriad horrors!

While flying over the Amazon jungle, where a vicious tribe called the Acuara are said to live, there's engine trouble and the plane is forced to crash land. Everyone is killed except for Kevin, Eva, John, Betty, Belinda and Rob, who are then forced to make their way by foot through the dangerous jungle. Perils they face along the way include leeches, snakes, piranha, crocodiles, quicksand, broken high heels and John's increasingly unhinged behavior. And yes, also the Acuaras, who eventually show up to slaughter some of the group (blowgun darts, arrows, heart cut out), and then kidnap Eva and Belinda, drag them back to their village, drug them, strip them and dress them in beaded loincloths and headbands. A witch doctor then perform a ceremony to summon their God, who shows up with a brontosaurus skull head and green clawed hands! Using gunpowder from shotgun shells as a distraction, Kevin manages to rescue the ladies before they can be sacrificed.

You'd think having to deal with a jungle full of deadly critters, a psycho war vet desperate to relive the good ole days of blastin' "gooks," a bloodthirsty tribe and some monstrous demigod would be enough for one film, but not this one! Kevin, Eva and Belinda are then discovered by China (Carlos Imperial), who lures them back to his emerald mining camp and then holds them hostage. They're beaten, tortured and tied up, but China promises if they behave themselves, he might show them mercy and put them to work as slaves. In the meantime, Kevin is tied up in a pig pen and the ladies are constantly threatened with rape, by both China and his sadistic lesbian henchwoman, Mayara (Gloria Cristal). Can Kevin mastermind a way to get them out of this predicament? And, if he does, will flying saucers then suddenly emerge from the sky and abduct he and his companions?

I've seen this a couple of times now and have always enjoyed it. It's not intended to change the world, it's intended to entertain with briskly-paced action, blood, gore, laughs and copious amount of female flesh. It provides all of that and does so with a knowing wink, while also having acceptable production values (nice locations, sets, props, costumes, etc.), decent cinematography, an enthusiastic cast and a rousing score, some of which was ported over from the previous year's Blastfighter. All of that makes this one of the better Italian trash flicks from this time.

I didn't find any evidence of a U.S. theatrical release, so most people probably first saw this when it popped up on VHS, courtesy of Lightning Video, in 1986. Its U. S. DVD debut came in 2004 via Media Blasters, who included an interview with, and a commentary track by, Sopkiw, as well as an interview with the director. The 2020 Blu-ray from Severin includes new interviews with Sopkiw and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, as well as roughly ten minutes of deleted scenes. 88 Films out of the UK have also released it on Blu-ray, though their release is slightly cut. Though not credited, the busy Luciano Martino was one of the producers.

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