Mondo films are an enigmatic genre even in the world of cult film fandom – their look at odd, unseemly worlds is often too “real” and makes for uncomfortable viewing (both viscerally and morally) for even the more hardened shock film addict. The bawdy, lurid stepcousin to the traditional documentary, the best, and most easily available, example of the films comes in the form of Blue Underground’s excellent “Mondo Cane Collection,” a collection of films by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi first released in 2003. There’s no question that Jacopetti and Prosperi rank among the most notable of mondo filmmakers (along with FACES OF DEATH series director John Alan Schwartz, or “Conan Le Cilaire,” his nom de plume), but they were hardly the only ones documenting the world of the strange, sexy, and revolting to exploitation audiences of the era.
The Italian brother team of Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni may not be the names that Jacopetti and Prosperi are, but they certainly made an impact into the mondo genre as well even if their work hasn’t yet been grouped together into a dandy boxed set. The five Castiglioni Brothers’ efforts made between 1969 and 1982 focused on the natives of “primitive” cultures, primarily African, emphasizing the “shocking” nature of their rituals and lifestyles. Released with multiple titles and with varying running times, their films littered the shady “documentary” corners of video stores throughout the ‘80s, their illicit covers promising looks at cultures on other continents that will leave you scandalized.
1975’s MONDO MAGIC was one of these titles, released in a glorious clamshell by Magnum Entertainment in the mid-‘80s. Later released as SHOCKING CANNIBALS (even though the cannibalism depicted in the film is, at best, pretty tangential), the film has recently be released on DVD by Massacre Video, finally giving it a legitimate issue on a digital format in an uncut form. (Woodhaven Entertainment released a cut version of dubious legality in 2004.)
MONDO MAGIC is a relatively typical mondo film in terms of format, jumping from looks at one tribe to another with the vaguest of transitions. Sporting narration by a disinterested narrator who comments that the natives are “praying to the Gods who have forsaken them in the past,” we start out with a look at the Mundari tribe of Africa, who keep cattle on hand to utilize their urine as a means of showering. We also see natives stick their heads into a cow’s vagina to restore fertility and watch them take down an elephant and a giraffe, the latter of which will no doubt be a turn-off point for those whose animal cruelty triggers go off even if it’s just the filming of a hunt that would presumably happen even without the cameras present. The narrator intones that their actions are “like all primitive peoples” in that they hunt for food and sport – silly primitive peoples! Hunt animals for the sheer fun of it, like us!
The film continues with looks at various other tribes, focusing on their “magic” only as much as it can involve grotesque uses of bodily fluids – and man, does it ever. The “primitive” component ends up falling by the wayside after a bit, as we get glimpses of Hindi rituals involving hooks in the back and walking on a bed of thorns, and even the “magic” aspect seems suspect at times, as during a segment in Ethiopia, the narrator opines that the action on screen “must be for some magical reason,” offering no other insights as to why!
As a coherent film, MONDO MAGIC is a bit of a scattershot mess, and the complete product is so unrelenting in its focus on grotesquery that it becomes exhausting after a while, with “Mac Mauro Smith”’s somnambulistic narration does little to keep the energy level up, though the footage shot is certainly well-crafted. I can’t verify its “realism” one way or another, but there is nothing in the film that appears fake or overly-staged to my eyes, and the Castiglioni Brothers certainly deserve credit as photographers, visiting tribes that are little-seen by outside eyes – and that have no doubt become even fewer in number in the decades since the film’s release.
Massacre’s release of MONDO MAGIC is culled from a 35mm source, and while the print used has clearly seen better days, it’s a perfectly watchable transfer of the uncut, 100-minute version of the film. The DVD includes a still gallery and trailers for other Massacre Video releases, and the first 1000 copies of the film will also include an 11 x 17 poster replicating the original theatrical poster art. It’s certainly a recommended purchase for mondo film fans looking for an endurance test – where else are you going to get tons of body piercing, human skull recipes and the occasional turtle sex all in one movie?
Latest posts by Jon Abrams (see all)
- [THE BIG QUESTION] WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE ENSEMBLE IN MOVIES? - July 22, 2016
- [IN THEATERS NOW] THE BOY (2016) - January 24, 2016
- Cult Movie Mania Releases Lucio Fulci Limited Edition VHS Sets - January 5, 2016