It was 1980, there was a demand in the international exploitation flick marketplace for cannibal horror flicks and Jesus Franco got the assignment to knock out a few. Devil Hunter was one of those films and it offers a singularly disinterested take on this subgenre. Franco has subsequently admitted he didn’t go for cannibal horror and the amusement/interest that can be drawn from Devil Hunter involves seeing how he could use the assignment as an excuse to indulge in his usual stylistic tics.
The premise is unusually involved in its setup: bombshell model (Ursula Buchfellner) is kidnapped on a foreign trip with the help of a duplicitous assistant (Gisela Hahn) by a group of kidnappers that includes Werner Pochath and Franco regular Antonio Mayans. When a demand for a ransom comes in, Laura’s boss dispatches Peter Weston (Al Cliver) to rescue her. None of the above know that the jungle Laura is being hidden is also home to a tribe that regularly sacrifices nubile women to a bug-eyed cannibal god that they worship. Slow-paced cat and mouse shenanigans ensue, with a few dollops of butcher-shop gore and a torrent of male and female frontal nudity.
Anyone expecting a Cannibal Ferox-style romp from Devil Hunter should look elsewhere. Franco seems perversely defiant in how he handles his chosen assignment: the gore is kept to a minimum and the “chase” sequences move like a turtle with a broken leg. The tribe at the heart of the story isn’t a cannibal tribe per se but instead a tribe that makes sacrifices to a cannibalistic, quasi-supernatural man with bugged-out eyes made from ping-pong balls(!). Franco has an interesting European exploitation-flick cast but no one gets a chance to make any impression outside the confines of the threadbare plot (and Cliver always looks/acts like he was just woken up from a nap).
That said, Devil Hunter is likely to arouse a perverse interest for Franco fans when the director finds a place in the material to remake it in his own sex-and-death-obsessed image. For instance, there’s a lively opening act that intercuts the kidnapping of the model with one of the jungle cannibal sacrifices, edited in that sensation-driven “filmmaking as jazz” Franco style where plot and character are abstractions that set up the carnal chaos.
Franco seems most interested in the ogling/manhandling of European Playboy Playmate Buchfellner: she can’t act but she’s a trooper in all the physical abuse she takes here, much of it naked. It’s telling that the sequence that is the most carefully filmed in the entire movie is the one where Buchfellner is ritually stripped of her clothes and massaged by a variety of native hands as the camera glides up and down her bare flesh. On a similar note, Franco gets to do several of his beloved “zoom into naked female groin” shots when the tribe’s witch strips down and writhes her way through a spell, frantically thrusting her crotch up as Franco greedily zooms in for a closeup.
In short, Devil Hunter is a wash as a cannibal horror film but Franco addicts might be amused by the camp value of the director/genre mismatch and particularly the moments where he gets to deploy his trademark kinky quirks.
Blu-Ray Notes: Severin recently released this film on blu-ray as part of a 2-for-1 disc with Cannibal Terror. The transfer for Devil Hunter does the best it can with an indifferently shot film: the hit-and-miss filming results in an image where the color timing shifts frequently but the well-shot scenes show impressive color and detail. Fans will be happy to know this is the longest version at 102 minutes. Both English and Spanish sound options are offered in LPCM form: there is one brief snippet of dialogue that was never dubbed on the English track that is presented on the Spanish track but otherwise it sounds as good as a goofy vintage dub can sound. The Spanish track does not have subtitles.
A few extras are also thrown in on this part of the blu-ray. The first is a 16 and a half minute chat with Franco, who is in funny form as he admits his misgivings about cannibal movies, the challenges and pleasures of working with untrained actors and even some thoughts on the cannibal movie king Ruggero Deodato. There is also a chat with actor Bertrand Allmann that focuses on his role in Cannibal Terror, which allowed him to shift from stuntwork to acting and also involves a bit of chat about Zombie Lake.
All in all, it’s a good deal for Eurotrash diehards, particularly when you consider the inclusion of Cannibal Terror and its own film-specific extras.