The 1970’s were full of larger-than-life human monsters: Charles Manson, Jim Jones, the Zodiac Killer, etc. Their exploits seemed too sleazy to be true and tantalized public curiosity, thus inspiring exploitation film moguls to pump out grotty little exposes based on their evil deeds (Manson alone inspired an entire subgenre). Idi Amin Dada was one of the very worst – especially when you consider the genocidal reach of his crimes- and, though it was late in the game, he finally received his own exploitation mini-epic in 1982 with Amin: The Rise And Fall.
The film plays like a Cliff’s Notes version of Ugandan history, as if rewritten as an atrocity-minded mondo movie. Amin (Joseph Olita) takes over Uganda in a military coup and immediately begins indulging every demented whim he can dream up. He has dissidents and suspected traitors murdered by firing squad, tries to strong-arm other countries into supplying him with weapons or money and even bans all Asian peoples from the country. Since Amin: The Rise And Fall is an exploitation flick, we also get tabloid-worthy moments like Amin eating pieces of his enemies, Amin bringing schoolkids into a morgue to see a dismembered corpse, a freezer filled with severed heads and Amin seducing (sometimes forcibly) every woman in arm’s reach.
If you want to find fault with Amin: The Rise And Fall in terms of “respectable” filmmaking, it’s easy to do: Wade Huie’s script is merely a string of vignettes of Amin committing the same basic crimes again and again. The focus on Amin’s reign of terror is so intense that it barrels right over niceties like characterization and subplots. Director Sharad Patel lacks the visual flair or dark sense of humor filmmakers like Jacopetti and Prosperi might have brought to this sort of film. There’s also an abrupt non-ending, although this is sadly as much a reflection of history as it is the script’s problems.
That said, the makers of Amin: The Rise And Fall was exactly gunning for an Oscar – and the finished product offers plenty of trashy fun for patient sleazehounds. Amin: The Rise And Fall is never at a loss for morbid spectacle – in fact, there’s a killing or beating literally every five minutes. The acting is amusingly awful across the board – this is a blessing in disguise because the movie’s catalog of horrors would be tough to endure if the acting was convincing. As Amin, Joseph Olita is incapable of delivering a decent line reading but is so bombastically into his role that his badness has a perverse charm to it (“Nobody mess with me! Big daddy!”). Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Olita disco-dancing with some of his concubines.
It helps that the film has a nice level of technical polish for a quickie. Though Sharad Patel’s direction never rises above perfunctory quality, he maintains a breakneck pace and crams in an astonishing amount of production value (parades, huge war scenes, plenty of soldier extras) for this kind of exploitation flick. The photography was done by Harvey Harrison, who also shot the slasher favorite The Burning, and his work gives the film a slick, professional sheen that you wouldn’t expect. Bonus points for the amusingly overemphatic score by Christopher Gunning – the orchestral bombast fits in nicely with the film’s “beat you over the head” aesthetic.
In short, Amin: The Rise And Fall is a grindhouse-styled history epic that deserves its notoriety. If you want the real version of the story, check out Barbet Schroeder’s memorable documentary General Idi Amin Dada but for shock value and jaw-droppingly crass exploitation of one of history’s most shameful moments, this film is hard to beat. If you really want to overdose on tabloid trash, pair it with Guyana: Cult Of The Damned for an unforgettable sleaze-history double feature.