Ivan Reitman is one of the great suc­cess sto­ries of Canadian film­mak­ing.  He had a hand in pro­duc­ing many a clas­sic Canadian schlock­er (includ­ing David Cronenberg’s first fea­ture film, They Came From Within) and lat­er grad­u­at­ed to Hollywood, where he pro­duced Animal House and direct­ed megahits like Stripes and Ghostbusters.  His suc­cess is all the more impres­sive when you real­ize he tru­ly is a self-made mogul who worked his way up from hum­ble begin­nings.

And begin­nings don’t get more hum­ble than Cannibal Girls.  It was Reitman’s sec­ond film and the first to attract notice out­side of Canada’s bor­ders because he man­aged to get it released via American International Pictures.  They paired it with English ter­ror-flick Raw Meat to cre­ate a can­ni­bal-themed dou­ble bill and also added a “warn­ing bell” gim­mick where a loud bell rings on the sound­track before any shock­ing moment unfurls on the screen.  Its mod­est suc­cess gave him a name in the busi­ness, allow­ing him to join up with oth­er pro­duc­ers in a suc­cess­ful pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny called Cinepix.

But what about the film itself?  Let’s just say it is more inter­est­ing as a piece of his­to­ry than as a piece of cin­e­ma.  The extreme­ly loose plot­line involves new cou­ple Clifford (Eugene Levy) and Gloria (Andrea Martin) tak­ing a roman­tic trip down Canada’s back roads that leads them into the win­try envi­rons of Farnhamville.  They are told a leg­end about a trio of young ladies who lured men into bed so they could kill and then eat them.  The house they once lived in has been con­vert­ed into a restau­rant so the cou­ple decides to pay it a vis­it — cue the warn­ing bell, a light dol­lop of cheap ear­ly 1970’s gore and lots of bad jokes…

You know you’re in trou­ble when a film begins with a cred­it in which the cast is described as devel­op­ing their dia­logue from a sto­ry by the film­mak­ers.  Said cred­it should have read: “WARNING: This Film Contains Gratuitous Amateur Improvisations.” Reitman shot the film with­out a fin­ished script so the cast was required to fill long sec­tions of the run­ning time with awk­ward, aim­less impro­vi­sa­tions that more often than not just die a death onscreen.  It would be nice to say that future SCTV reg­u­lars Levy and Martin show ear­ly promise here but this was shot before they got their Second City train­ing — and their per­for­mances end up either list­less (Levy) and annoy­ing (Martin).

Things perk up a bit in the sec­ond half, when Ronald Ulrich joins the fray as a mys­te­ri­ous “Reverend” who runs the restau­rant — his per­for­mance is the most assured in the film and has a dry wit that the rest of the film reach­es for but sel­dom achieves.  It also helps that the plot­ting gets a lit­tle stronger in the sec­ond half, cul­mi­nat­ing in a few decent shocks and a fair­ly amus­ing E.C. Comics-styled end­ing.  It’s also worth not­ing that the film is skill­ful­ly shot by Robert Saad, a Canadian exploita­tion reg­u­lar whose cred­its also include They Came From Within and Death Weekend.

That said, Cannibal Girls is pret­ty rough going.  The reliance on impro­vi­sa­tion makes the first half a dis­mal slog, the sec­ond half is fair­ly slap­dash despite being more event­ful than the first half and the film’s mix­ture of black humor and hor­ror nev­er quite coa­lesces into a coher­ent approach.  As such, Cannibal Girls is more a foot­note in Canuxploitation his­to­ry than a wor­thy entry.  Schlock schol­ars may find it inter­est­ing but every­one else is like­ly to find the­se can­ni­bals a lit­tle too gab­by and direc­tion­less for their lik­ing.

Cannibal Girls

Cannibal Girls

A young cou­ple spends the night in a restau­rant only to find out that it is occu­pied by three wom­en who hunger for human flesh in this this hor­ror film from the direc­tor of clas­sic com­e­dy, Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs). This 1973 long sought-after cult movie was known for a “warn­ing bell” gim­mick, which rang in the­atres to warn the more squea­mish mem­bers of the audi­ence for impend­ing gory or erotic scenes.Stars: Eugene Levy (American Pie, Splash), Andrea Martin (SCTV, Black Christmas)Bonus Features:“Cannibal Guys” — A Conversation with Ivan Reitman and Daniel Goldberg“Meat Eugene!” – Richard Crouse Talks With Eugene LevyOriginal Trailers and Radio SpotsAlternate Audio Track Featuring “The Warning Bell”