When it comes to Italian Cannibal films, many will point to Umberto Lenzi’s The Man From Deep River (1972) as the film that laid out the archetype. However, it is Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World (1977) that often gets credit for actually setting off the “Cannibal Craze”. Sometimes, timing is everything. Deodato also famously directed the magnum opus of the genre, Cannibal Holocaust (1981).
Also know as, Jungle Holocaust and Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, Last Cannibal World presents a much simpler formula than Deodato’s follow-up. However, it manages to get a lot of miles out of this formula.
Last Cannibal World stars Ivan Rassimov in a critical role. Those familiar with the genre recognize that Ivan Rassimov would later play the role of Jonas Melvin in Umberto Lenzi’s ridiculous but fun cannibal fiesta Eaten Alive (1980). Cannibal mainstay Me Me Lai who plays the role of Pulan also makes an appearance in Eaten Alive!
EDITORS NOTE: This review was actually written just prior to Deodato’s unfortunate passing on December 29, 2022.
A Plane Crash Into Minidanao
Deodato wastes no time launching his plot. Robert Harper (Massimo Foschi) and his partner Rolf (Ivan Rassimov) are flying to site on the jungle covered island of Mindanao in Southeast Asia. An alcoholic pilot names Charlie and a woman named Swan accompany them on the journey. After a botched landing, the plane is severely damaged. SPOILER ALERT: Thar be cannibals. The squad soon discovers that the cannibals ushered the prospecting camp to a grisly demise. When Swan gets separated from the group, the cannibal action begins.
That’s it, everything that you need to turn the crank on another Italian Cannibal film. Despite the threadbare plot, Last Cannibal World actually weaves quite a substantial tale on minimal raw materials. It’s a pretty meaty movie.
EDITORS NOTE: What did Maximus do the cannibal that ate his wife? Nothing, he’s GLADIATOR!!!
A Cannibal Adventure
Mondo films, specifically Mondo Cannibal films, present in a psuedo-documentary style. Ruggero Deodato would fully embrace this type of film in his cannibal masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust. Last Cannibal World takes a different path. Ruggero Deodato sets this film up more like an adventure film. A group of ill-equipped people find themselves thrust into a hostile world full of cannibals. They must claw and fight to survive the terrain, the natives and the wildlife. During the escape, the trials and tribulations of their environment alter the survivors at their core.
In the final frames Ruggero Deodato does wrap his film in the thin narrative shroud that says that the story as true and that the characters and events are real. It’s questionable that thin veneer establishes this as a “true” Mondo film.
A Well Made Cannibal Film
Sometimes its all too easy to dismiss a film due to the genre in which it resides. In the realm of Italian Cannibal films, several simply fail to exercise the care necessary to make a good film. Ruggero Deodato clearly took great care creating Last Cannibal World. This care becomes clearly evident through compelling photography by Marcello Masciocchi. In fact, some of the scenes in the cannibal cave transcend the typical production values associated with these films.
In the cave scenes, Deodato and Masciocchi use clever shot framing to immerse the audience in the sheer enormity of the cave. A shaft of blue light offers a ray of hope while also adding an interesting artistic detail to the bleak surrounding that Robert finds himself in. The cannibals hoist Robert to the ceiling of the cave as a metaphor for flying. During his ascension he appears impossibly small against the massive stone backdrop of the cave.
Deodato does a good job creating tension rather than going straight for the gore shot. When the tribe seizes Robert, they drag him through mobs of cannibals, each one tormenting him. With his hands bound and stripped of his clothes, he can not protect himself as members of the tribe aggressively tug and pull on his penis. Those familiar with the genre know that penile amputation often occurs in Italian cannibal films. Cannibals tugging on the ding-dong coil a terrifying spring.
Surprise, the gore shot never comes, Deodato deflates the tension and saves his gore for another day. Deodato demonstrates a nuanced tension building technique that gets the emotional result without resorting to cheap thrills too soon.
EDITORS NOTE: Why didn’t the cannibal eat the guys with no feet? He’s lack toes intolerant!
A Jungle Holocaust, for Animals
Those familiar with this genre are largely aware that the some directors unnecessarily slaughter live animals to make their point. Ruggero Deodato commits this crime more than once. The stock “National Geographic” footage of animals respecting the food chain are not we are talking about. It is senseless human violence against turtles, or in this case a crocodile in order to make a point. Deodato allows the cannibals to carve a living crocodile for consumption. Deodato would do something similar in Cannibal Holocaust. Cruelty to animals represents a nasty stain on an otherwise compelling genre of Italian cinema.
Sophisticated Men Turning to Savagery
One of the key themes of Ruggero Deodato’s film is that given appropriate circumstances, even the most refined men will devolve into savagery to protect their own lives. Interestingly, Wes Craven would explore a similar concept that very same year in The Hills Have Eyes (1977). In this case, Robert gives into his urges and violently rapes Mulan his cannibal companion. He would later eviscerate one of his attackers and prominently eat his raw liver as a warning to others.
Deodato offers an interesting glimpse into the nature of man and how easily he can regress to savagery.
The Sad Tale of Mulan
Played by Me Me Lai, the character Mulan makes the tragic mistake of escaping into the jungle with Robert, abandoning her tribe and committing an act of treachery. The climax of the film occurs when the tribe final catches Mulan, just before Robert and Rolf escape. This results in one of the most compelling gore scenes in the genre. The cannibals surgically split Mulan down the middle of her thorax and abdomen and decapitate her to the soothing sounds of composer Ubaldo Continello.
To execute this effect, Deodato and his team expertly switch back and forth between Mulan’s body and presumably the open carcass of some animal. The effect proves rather convincing. All in all, this film contains less gore than some, but when it reaches its pinnacle, it does so with extreme effectiveness. Here is the rub. Deodato literally lifted this scene frame-by-frame from Umberto Lenzi’s film Eaten Alive! It’s good to know that they recycle more than the actors in these Italian cannibal flicks!
The Last Word On “Last Cannibal World”
We really weren’t sure what to expect with this one. Considering that the great Ruggero Deodato directed it, it should come as no surprise that offers a quality example of the genre. Admittedly though, it came at quite a shock that this one immediately threatened to get into our Top 3 favorite films of this category. Last Cannibal World starts with a thin plot and little character development, but the film makes up for that deficit BIG TIME! What looks at first to be a cheap exploitation film eventually blossoms into an exciting adventure with a cannibal flair.