Title: MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD
Other Titles: SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD; PRISONER OF THE CANNIBAL GOD
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Claudio Cassinelli, Antonio Marsina
Death by crocodile
Death by spikes
Death by spear
Exposed brain matter
Cannibalism is one of society’s longstanding taboos, and has infused itself into everything from Tarzan comics to Bugs Bunny cartoons to motion pictures. Often taking the framework of a white hunter or explorer captured by natives and served up for dinner, the illicit subject matter spiked in the 1970s with UK/US grindhouse fare like DEATH LINE and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. These films did feature cannibalism, but only in the periphery of narrative; specific consumption of human flesh was either implied or alluded to. But the Italians, as always, were at the forefront of boundary-pushing cinema. The 1960s brought forth the advent of Mondo (from the Italian for world) films and among their shocking elements was the explicit depiction of flesh-eating cannibals. While most 42nd Street aficionados are at least familiar with the most repulsive films of the genre like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, one film that has largely escaped the infamy of its spear-wielding cohorts is Sergio Martino’s 1978 film MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD.
A jungle adventure at its core, MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD follows Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress, of DR. NO fame) and her brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) as they employ the aid of Professor Edward Foster (Stacy Keach) to locate Susan’s missing anthropologist husband in the jungles of New Guinea. Director Sergio Martino (TORSO, YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY) is known for his contributions to giallo, but he collaborated with his producer brother Luciano to try his hand at a true-blue cannibal movie.
By today’s standards, the film (as most exploitation films are) is problematic. Not only does the film rest on the requisite genre foundations of imperialist attitudes towards indigenous populations, but MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD makes liberal use of real footage of animal slaughter, often considered the least defensible aspect of the Mondo film. It could be (and has been, with other films) argued that there’s no waste if the filmmakers and local extras consume the slaughtered animals, but the exceedingly poor taste of onscreen butchery for entertainment purposes cannot be dismissed. Martino worked with Cesare Frugoni (SCREAMERS, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR) to hammer out a screenplay that makes the modern moviegoer cringe at its wonky moral compass.
With that said, this is an exploitation film of the 1970s, and it is an especially lazy form of cinematic engagement to apply today’s woke standards to yesterday’s envelope-pushing grindhouse film. While the more offensive parts of MOUNTAIN have been noted, they, like the fetishization of SS uniforms in Nazi-sploitation, are not evaluated. The aim is to, as Roger Ebert once said, “give the film its day in court.”
The actual cannibalism doesn’t occur until about an hour and fifteen minutes into the film, but it is preceded by a surprisingly satisfying trek through the jungles of New Guinea, complete with fully-dimensional characters and steadily increasing tension. The Indiana Jones-lite Professor Foster is portrayed with quiet intensity, as is Stacy Keach’s modus operandi. Bond fans will be happy to see DR. NO’s Ursula Andress in the starring role, though her arc is incoherent at times (the beginning of the film has her recoiling from a spider and the third act has her seemingly cool with being stripped, tied up, and slathered with honey by natives). Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography supplies the occasional beautifully-staged shot of an expansive, unforgiving jungle, but the DP’s eye for composition really shines in the final 30 minutes of the film with some stunning pans of the cave interior where the cannibal tribe dwells. Plot-wise, MOUNTAIN is one of the more cohesive cannibal films, that utilizes the flesh feast as more of a flourish than a crutch. It’s all too easy for the jaded Deodato or Fulci fan to yawn at the ROMANCING THE STONE-for-deviants vibe that this film gives off, but it entertains and has serious replay value.
Hoo, boy. Those watching the uncut European print of MOUNTAIN are hit with multiple scenes of onscreen animal violence. Among other scenes, a monitor lizard is fully gutted and ripped open, live snakes are skinned and eaten, and a monkey is slowly eaten alive by a large snake. Martino has stated that he added these gratuitous moments at the insistence of the distributor. The uncut version also features extended footage of Susan’s nude body worship and the ensuing cannibal frenzy, which shows an especially zealous native masturbating explicitly on camera and a tribesman simulating intercourse with a wild pig. The film also inserts a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it castration scene, though it’s nothing that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL FEROX hadn’t already done (and done better). A gory highlight of the film has a native little person brained against a rock wall, with a nice, lingering look at the exposed brain matter. Overall, the film is violent to the average vanilla moviegoer but nothing that the most titillating cannibal films hadn’t already covered.
Though the movie had originally been passed for theatrical release with cuts, the excessive violence and cruelty on display in MOUNTAIN did not sit kindly with the British Board of Film Censors, earning it a spot under Section 2 (Non-prosecuted films, but still denied video certification) of the Obscene Publications Act until 2001. That year, the censored DVD contained a whopping two minutes and six seconds of cuts, mostly to ease up on the copious amounts of animal cruelty.
MOUNTAIN fails to offer anything more challenging than its genre contemporaries, but it does offer a sleazy, engaging adventure tale with a healthy dose of genre excess, and it did spur at least one imitator in its time (1980’s ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST also showcases a buxom blonde woman, anointed as a deity). The cast delivers solid performances and the shocks competently stick the landing, though the film won’t be endorsed by the ASPCA anytime soon. Completists of the cannibal subgenre will find a decent effort in MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD.
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Tags: Antonio Marsina, cannibals, Cesare Frugoni, Claudio Cassinelli, Columns, Crocodiles, Giancarlo Ferrando, Guido De Angelis, Honey, Luciano Martino, Maurizio De Angelis, Nudity, Sergio Martino, Spiders, Stacy Keach, The 1970s, Ursula Andress, VHS, Video Nasties