As huge fans of late 70s and early 80s Italian Cannibal mania, it was only a matter of time before we talked about Eli Roth’s love letter to genre. The Green Inferno (2013) puts a modern spin on the old formula that misplaces a groups of idealized first world students in a forest full of a hungry cannibals. With his film, Eli Roth attempts to show respect to his progenitors, while also refreshing the tale for modern audiences. As usual, Roth’s formula includes a few buckets of blood and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor.
Bring on the Meat
Eli Roth rises to the Mondo Cannibal occasion by creating a band of characters that as a whole come off abhorrently audacious and incredibly reckless. Yet, individually, he also manages to create characters that have some values and integrity when considered in isolation. Roth’s vehicle for carrying the plot concerns a group of privileged first-world college students looking to “change” the world by tying themselves to trees in the rainforests of Peru. After a near fatal experience with a private militia, the troupe manages to get some social media exposure and claim victory.
As they celebrate in the plane, the engine inexplicably explodes, plunging the group into the heart of The Green Inferno.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) used a similar technique by assembling a legion of unlikable characters. The payoff comes when the audience witnesses them ground in to hamburger. Truth be know, we’ll take unlikeable characters over irrelevant characters at our BBQ any day of the week.
On The Menu
Of this group, a couple of notable characters deserve mention. The lead character of Justine (Lorenza Izzo) gets involved with this group of wide-eyed students wanting to change the world. She seems ready to sacrifice it all for her cause. Something leads her to believe that she can play this game without experiencing real danger. The groups leader, a man named Alejandro (Ariel Levy) comes off as highly principled, but as time goes on his cowardice and charlatanism becomes clearly apparent to both the audience, and the other characters in the film.
From here the plot moves both swiftly and predictably. With nary a fight, the cannibals subdue the survivors of the plane crash and swiftly locked them up. With little fanfare, the tribal priestess makes an appearance and prepares her first victim. The tribe lays a man named Jonah (Aaron Burns) on a flat rock and gouges his eyes out. Before the audience can get a breath, a man clad in black paint and sporting a giant rib-bone through his nose dismembers Jonah with impressive speed and skill. As the rest of the group watches in horror, they begin devolving into their true personalities. Some people step-up while other become slimier.
Paying Respect To Genre Masters
In his Mondo Cannibal classic film, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) Ruggero Deodato famously created a film so unsettling and real that he and the production crew were charged with making a snuff film. Additionally, he leveraged the live dissection of living animals to foster this sense of realism. Roth’s first wink and nod to Deodato came in his 2007 torture-porn fest Hostel II, where Deodato makes a cameo appearance.
Editors Note: Ruggero Deodato passed away on December 29, 2022. Rest in Peace.
Furthermore, in his role in Inglorious Bastards, likely in conjunction with exploitation fan-boy Quentin Tarantino elicited the names of Giorlami and Marghereti. Both of these names are inextricably ties to the Italian Cannibal world (both zombified and non-zombified).
Additionally, The Green Inferno’s credit rolls offer a literal bibliography of some of the best Mondo Cannibal films. As a fan of this obscure category of films, I certainly appreciate what Roth is trying to do.
However, it seems that his plane full of college students lands far from the The Green Inferno he dreamed of. Eli Roth left a lot on the proverbial table and overall the film fails to cement itself into Mondo Cannibal greatness.
Eli Roth misses the mark by taking a multi-dimensional art-form and processing it through a one-dimensional lens. Through that limited lens, he misses the opportunity to really highlight the nuance of the higher art of cannibal films. Starting with the wanton gore and violence, Roth doesn’t come close to Umbeto Lenzi’s infamous breast hooks in Cannibal Ferox (1981). Roth fails to approach the cringe-inducing anus-to-mouth impalement of Cannibal Holocaust. For a guy that likes to knock the ball out of the park with gore, it seems like a challenge that he should have risen too.
While he fills his meat wagon with politically motivated wing-nuts, Roth doesn’t really offer a compelling political statement with his work. To be fair, not all mondo films did either. Nobody will ever accuse Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive (1980) of being especially profound. Still, knowing Roth’s appreciation of Deodato, I would have anticipated some sort of philosophical twist to make his film more intellectually satisfying.
Finally, Italian horror cinema always shows best with a killer Euro-synth driven soundtrack. Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack on Cannibal Holocaust elevates that films head-and-shoulders above the competition. I would have loved to see Roth add a bit more of that spice to his otherwise single-dimension gore-fest.
Escaping the Green Inferno
Being totally transparent, I wanted to like this film more, but remained skeptical until the final frames rolled. At the end of the day, I wholly respect Eli Roth for what he intended to do, but ultimately I didn’t fully enjoy the final product. I do feel a sense of allegiance with Roth in that we both are in love with the source material that he pulled from. Still, I really can’t imagine watching this one again. At the end of the day it simply doesn’t offer anything that would sway me from going straight to the classics from the 70s and 80s.
In the end, it feels like a pair of Chinese knock-off Air Jordans. I found the The Green Inferno to be lackluster and somewhat uninspired. Even as a pure gore offering, other films scratch that itch better.