In this series I’m taking a look back at the films that, in the early 1980’s, were caught up in the Video Nasties moral panic in the UK. When video first arrived in the UK it was not covered by our censorship laws, and that, combined with the reluctance of the studios to embrace the technology, meant that many of the early releases were lurid, uncensored, horror films.
The tabloid press mounted a campaign against the films, and with a new right wing government in power and the growing influence of pro-censorship campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the Director of Public Prosecutions was instructed to draw up a list of films liable to prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act. I’ll be looking at every one of the 74 films that made this list, giving you a snapshot of the controversy around each film before watching and reviewing it.
There was an arbitrary feel to the decisions of the DPP when it came to which films should be subject to seizure. For instance, take the cases of the list’s many cannibal films: Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Ferox, The Cannibal Man and Cannibal Terror were all seized, which would lead you to think that the mere mention of the word in a title was enough, but Jesus Franco’s Cannibals was never listed. Still, Cannibal Terror‘s title was likely the thing most to blame for its banning, because it’s hard to believe anyone who saw it could consider it a threat.
Released by Modern Films in 1981, Cannibal Terror went on the DPP list and was, in effect, banned in July 1983, but it was removed from the list by September 1985. It’s one of the less problematic cannibal films and, almost uniquely among the genre, contains no animal cruelty, which is probably why the BBFC had no trouble in passing it uncut at 18 when it came to them in 2003.
Whether you’ll enjoy Cannibal Terror is likely down less to your tolerance for gore than it is your tolerance for violently shitty movies. This French/Spanish co-production was long suspected to be the work of inept auteur Jesus Franco (who made the list himself with Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter) as it features both in front and behind camera many people he’d worked with, shares a setting and stock footage with Cannibals, and the direction exhibits many of his trademarks. While the name Allan W. Steeve appears on screen, directorial credit [blame] has proved almost impossible to assign. The best guess appears to be that French porno director Alain Durelle, is behind the pseudonym, but writer Julio Lopez Taberno and Franco may also have done some work here.
Whatever the behind the scenes story it is likely far more interesting than Cannibal Terror, which is about a group of criminals who kidnap a little girl and hide in cannibal infested jungle (well, a forest… well, a wooded area) to avoid being captured while awaiting the ransom (and also because they are idiots). The ‘Cannibal’ portion of the title is explained by two scenes of hilarious anthropophagy (and if anyone can point out to me an instance in this film where the second half of the title is appropriate I’ll send them a small prize). The ‘cannibals’ are quite clearly composed of whatever friends or passers by the crew could wrangle in to silly make up for the day. Many look like tubby businessmen on a break from the office, confused when a plastic skull on the end of a stick was thrust into their hands, others are young people who have just walked in off the street; Elvis style sideburns and all, there’s no sense of a tribe here, because everyone looks different. Of course, it doesn’t help that, as they dance around and cut into a pig’s carcass in clothes, the can’t stop laughing for a second, and as they tuck into their meal they all start making ‘nyam nyam nyam’ noises.
The cannibal scenes account for perhaps ten of Cannibal Terror‘s 89 minutes, and the rest is a real chore. It takes half an hour before we even get to the ‘jungle’ (by the way, towards the end of the film we see a car pass in he distance behind the cannibal’s ‘isolated’ village), and before that happens we thrill to such scenes as Laurence (the little girl who will soon be kidnapped) being made to guess over the phone what sort of origami animal her Father has made her as a present. This goes on for a full minute. Boring scenes of the eventual kidnappers making their plans follow, as do boring scenes of them hiding out with various criminals (one of whom appears for about three minutes, then is taken and eaten by cannibals in an utterly gratuitous scene). All of this is scored to a soundtrack which seems to be the result of a contest to find the most inappropriate music to score every scene.
At a technical level, Cannibal Terror is hideously bad; it’s clearly been thrown together as a cash in on Deodato’s brilliant film with no care for whether it’s actually either fun or frightening. When the film finally springs into something like action in the last twenty minutes it is so insultingly badly edited (with many shots and many sound effects repeated over and over again) that it is utterly confusing. Somewhere in the general ineptitude there is probably the opportunity to have a giggle at just how terrible this film is, but it’s more likely that it will simply irritate you, as it did me.
2 / 10