In recent years, both French and Spanish filmmakers have found considerable success within the horror community; anyone who hasn't heard of Inside, Martyrs (France) or REC (Spain) doesn't deserve to call themselves a fan of the genre. This isn't anything new either - both countries have a rich history with things that go bump in the night, whether it be Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), Vampyres (1974), or The Grapes of Death (1978).
Unfortunately for Cannibal Terror, a 1981 co-production involving both France and Spain, this film will not be joining such prestigious ranks. If the aforementioned movies are home runs, this one is somewhat of a foul ball.
What comes to mind when you think of the cannibal sub-genre? Graphic mutilations, castrations, gut-munching, deadly jungle traps and animal cruelty - in short, associations that make the movies incredibly deserving of their infamous reputation. You'd think this criteria would have been kept in mind during the making of Cannibal Terror, yet almost everything I've mentioned is absent from the film.
Don't get me wrong; for the most part I still found myself having a lot of fun, due largely in part to the first half proceedings. We are quickly introduced to a trio of bumbling crooks desperate to cash in on any big score they can find. When the opportunity presents itself to kidnap the young daughter of a wealthy family, the criminals commit the act and demand a ransom (although curiously enough, this abduction scene isn't even shown on-screen). A monkey wrench gets thrown into their poorly-conceived plan, however, and in an effort to evade the police, the gang catches a plane into the "jungle" to lay low in hiding (more on the "jungle" later).
Now in most cases, awful dubbing doesn't really bother nor distract me. Sure, I prefer subtitles whenever possible, but I won't completely discredit a film just because an actor's voice doesn't perfectly sync up with his or her mouth. To be honest, the majority of the time this just doesn't happen in foreign horror DVDs anyway. But not only does Cannibal Terror take this to a new extreme, they also hit a laughable low in quality of voice casting.
The little girl who gets kidnapped sounds like a grown man trying to impersonate a little girl, and if you can stifle laughter during the phone call in which the father meows incessantly to his daughter, you're a better man than I. One bit of dialogue with two men commenting on the features of an attractive woman almost had me in tears, not because of the lines themselves, but the utter indifference in which the voice actors' delivered them:
Man #1: Nice feet.
Man #2: Nice thighs.
Man #1: You can say that again.
Man #2: Nice thighs.
This is also one of the rare cases in which the film's pacing slows considerably once the movie shifts from the city to the "jungle." I continue to put "jungle" in quotations because I refuse to believe this was filmed within 500 miles of one - it has more similarities to my backyard than anything seen in Cannibal Ferox or Jungle Holocaust (I'm surrounded by dense New England forests, nothing at all tropical). One thing the midway point of the film had going for it though was it finally introduces the audience to the cannibals, which had me excited... for about 30 seconds.
Feast your eyes on the least-convincing cannibal portrayals of all time. This is probably an exaggeration, but Christ - it's an almost completely male tribe, and the majority of guys look like dudes straight off the street. Now this wouldn't be as insulting if they didn't have sideburns, mustaches and combovers, which Severin was also quick to point out on the back of the DVD. The cannibals themselves don't do much besides run, or hop up and down for 10 minutes, and in like two scenes, actually practice cannibalism. I suppose they walk around the forest (I'm not using "jungle" anymore) lazily hunting their human prey, but even then that's relegated to the final 15 minutes of the movie.
That's the only thing that really bothered me about Cannibal Terror; the cannibals sucked. It would be the equivalent of watching a Friday the 13th movie where Jason just kinda shoots the breeze at Camp Crystal Lake, not stalking or killing any teenagers. Who the hell wants to watch that? One scene at the end made me laugh though: someone decided it was a good idea to use the silliest eating sound effects ever committed to film; it actually sounds like "yum," "chomp," "slurp" and "smack" when the cannibals devour one of their victims. You can't hate on a movie that takes its cues from Tasmanian Devil cartoons.
But for all its failings as a cannibal film, at heart Cannibal Terror is a decent-enough exploitation outing. What it lacks in gore it more than makes up for in sleaziness; there is the obligatory voyeurism/rape scene (in which later that night the victim laughs, sings and strips for the others, as if nothing ever happened), as well as a moment where the female kidnapper walks up to some random guy playing the guitar and seduces him. The best part is, the musician doesn't even say a word, he acts as though it's perfectly normal for some strange woman to come over and start kissing him after he finishes his song. That's my kind of guy - act first, questions later.
Although I find it hard to believe this was labeled a "video nasty" back in the day, Cannibal Terror isn't without its redeeming qualities, and I would still cautiously recommend it to more than just completists. It's definitely closer to Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals than, say, Cannibal Holocaust, but that certainly isn't a bad thing. A word or two of advice though: if the cannibal subgenre is ever resurrected (however unlikely that may be), perhaps the French and Spanish should stick to what they know best, and leave the gut-munching savages to the Italians.