In the Land of the Cannibals is all about eating local.
While I’m a big fan of both horror and exploitation movies, I’ve never fully embraced the Italian cannibal films of the Seventies and Eighties. Not because I’m squeamish or anything, but it just feels like such an intimidatingly massive genre that it’s hard to dive into. I’ve seen a few, including Cannibal Holocaust and Eli Roth’s more recent homage, Green Inferno. But I’m very aware that there’s a large swathe of horrible, gory, racist, exploitative gems that I couldn’t even name. Any recommendations, throw ’em in the comments.
Luckily, a recent Severin Films order included a couple of Italian cannibal movie DVDs. Unluckily, In the Land of the Cannibals (also known as Cannibal Holocaust 3: Cannibals vs Commandos, a much better title I reckon) is from 2003.
In the Land of the Cannibals is directed by Bruno Mattei, who has been making schlock exploitation movies for years (including a movie I’ve heard of but never watched, Women’s Camp 119. My favourite title from his catalogue though is the minimalist yet descriptive Scalps). In the movie, a group of commandos are sent to the Amazon jungle (I think? It might just be Jungle X) to track down and locate a lost expedition. They find them all right — or at least their bones, picked clean. Yes, they’ve been eaten by some local cannibals. The commandos must save the last remaining expedition member, and get to da chopper before they’re overrun by screaming cannibals.
It’s so weird to watch a movie like this in 4:3 and with video production. Real film stock is a fantastic turd-polisher, and makes even the most horrifically shot trash seem somewhat artful, or at least “cult” worthy. Whereas on video, wandering through jungle just looks like an episode of The Pretender. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to recapture the feeling of those old grindhouse/cult exploitation movies. These days if you’re shooting cheap, you’re shooting on digital, which exposes your warts even more. It’s the same fate that the Phantasm series suffered.
The plus side is that the gore is fantastic. It feels like they were splattering the cast with real offal and viscera. Which sucks for the cast, but makes for great visuals. Even things like the hanging skinned skeletons look great. And when the cannibals are chowing down on “human” meat, it’s genuinely disgusting.
It’s also nice that this isn’t just another “we’re exploring the jungle and get captured by cannibals” movie. It mixes things up by introducing the commando angle. Which gives the movie kind of a Predator feel. Although I actually got more of an Aliens vibe. There’s even a character called Vasquez, who happens to be exactly the same as Vasquez from Aliens. In case we don’t understand that she’s a hardboiled woman who shows the men who’s boss, she directly tells a character “I’m a tough lady” later in the film.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good kind of ends. Another alternative title could be “Walking Through Jungle: The Movie”. There’s a lot of nothing and talking.
The natives’ cultural markings look like they’re drawn on with Sharpies. And maybe I’m the ignorant one here, but they don’t seem to have much of a language outside of snarls and screams. It’s also packed full of inappropriate nudity paired alongside violence. All excusable in a Seventies exploitation film, perhaps? But when you realise that In the Land of the Cannibals was made in 2003, it’s uncomfortable.
I’m very keen to watch more cannibal horror this year, but this feels like a bad way in. So I’m going to just pretend that I never watched In the Land of the Cannibals. Which isn’t hard to do.