Bruno Mattei’s genre cash-ins are amongst the sleaziest ripoffs in exploitation film history but you must give him credit for one thing: he kept the faith long after the rest of his fellow Italian exploiteers threw in the towel and went to work in television. Mattei hung in there as the budgets and opportunities shrank, switching to cheap video to pump out his sleazeball fare. A noteworthy example of his latter work is Mondo Cannibal, a shameless Cannibal Holocaust ripoff than transforms its inspiration’s gut-wrenching shocks into low-road camp.
Like Cannibal Holocaust, Mondo Cannibal begins with some unscrupulous media types plotting to exploit the “myth” of cannibalism to boost their television ratings. The leader of the pack is Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner) who ropes ex-war correspondent Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) and a crew of techs into prowling through the jungle for cannibal atrocities to film. They use vicious tactics to get the footage they want, including destroying a village, and receive their just desserts when they overplay their hand with the wrong tribe.
Simply put, Mondo Cannibal steals everything that isn’t nailed down from Cannibal Holocaust. The film often reenacts entire scenes from the original article: in addition to the aforementioned village inferno, there’s also the murder of a pregnant native, a gang-rape filmed by the camera team, the “I wonder who the real cannibals are” line and some real-life animal cruelty. However, the results come off more tacky than disturbing thanks to the way it’s made: the glossy video strips away the veneer of danger that the grainy film achieved in Cannibal Holocaust and Mattei’s goofy direction gives it the vibe of a backyard film made by low-I.Q. horror fans.
There’s also a dash of the demented accidental humor one often sees in Mattei’s work. For example, you’ll here plenty of bizarre dialogue, like when Grace refers to the execs who want to fire her as “snot fanciers,” and Bob suddenly shifts from a socially conscious type to a brutal exploiteer for reasons that are never explained. Performances range from somnambulistic to scenery-devouring, with Wagner taking top honors with a nostril-flaring turn as the main media villain.
In short, Mondo Cannibal is best left to those who can stomach the cheapest rotgut that Italian exploitation cinema has to offer. That said, those who answer to the singular call of such odd pleasures will get their fill of lunacy — and everyone else will get an object lesson in how the way one handles intense material determines whether it induces chills or laughs.
DVD Notes: This title was recently released on DVD in the U.S. by the InterVision Picture Corp sublabel of Severin Films. It presents a faithful representation of the film’s video cinematography and cheap dubbing. The one extra is a trailer for the film that is as daft as the full-length version.