As most conventional moviegoers probably don’t know, the director of such hits as MEATBALLS, STRIPES and GHOSTBUSTERS is also responsible for this independent gory satire shot in Canada during the early part of his career. Although Ivan Reitman would go on to produce a number of Canadian horror films during the 1970s (THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, DEATH WEEKEND, RABID), CANNIBAL GIRLS marked his first dabbling in the genre and his second full length feature, one that helped launch a highly successful resume due to its stateside distribution by American International Pictures (AIP). Starring two future SCTV comedy legends getting their feet wet in front of the cameras, CANNIBAL GIRLS make its long-awaited U.S. DVD debut (and U.S. home video debut for that matter) courtesy of cult cinema purveyors, Shout! Factory.
Self-proclaimed rock musician Clifford Sturges (Eugene Levy) and his new girlfriend Gloria (Andrea Martin) are traveling in their dilapidated old Cadillac to the small, snowy town of Farnhamville for a peaceful, romantic getaway. With their car barely making it, they check into a motel and are told by the proprietor (May Jarvis) about a local legend of horrific proportions. It seems that a trio of very attractive young ladies (Randall Carpenter, Bonnie Neilson, Mira Pawluk) lured three traveling (and apparently very horny) geeky males to their farmhouse, seduced and slaughtered them in a ritualistic blood rites fashion, and feasted on their flesh. That same night, Clifford and Gloria are lead to a restaurant which happens to be that very farmhouse, as they are greeted by the tuxedoed, bearded eccentric Reverend Alex (Ronald Ulrich). Their dinner-time visit is bestowed with the expected sinister and ultra weird attributes, and they end up spending the night at this less-than-inviting “bed and breakfast”, something they’ll surely regret in the morning.
It will be no surprise to anyone watching, or to anyone who has seen the film before, but CANNIBAL GIRLS’ script was comprised of a story treatment only a few pages long (concocted by producer Daniel Goldberg and Reitman, with a "screenplay" credited to Robert Sandler), with the cast pretty much improvising all the way through. This is where the casting of Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin plays out extremely well, and anybody familiar with their sketch work on SCTV (both were cast members from its 1976 launch to the show’s final 1983-84 Cinemax season) will appreciate their subtle comedic interplay and impeccable timing. As Cliff and Gloria, they play a rather square, likable young couple encountering every horror movie cliché from the guy's prankish scaring the bejesus out of his girl (which serves to trick the audience), their unorthodox way of dealing with their means of transportation, having to unexpectedly spend the night at a creepy residence, etc. The clichés are played out as send-ups, and just about no one can work off this kind of material better than Levy and Martin. Levy in particular brings dry wit to his character of the oddball, wannabe rock musician, with one of the funniest bits being his placement of a cigarette on an exaggeratedly overhanging guitar string before strumming a sappy folk ballad to impress his newfound lover.
With its satirical, improvisational approach carried throughout the film, CANNIBAL GIRLS not only evokes the more graphic independent drive-in horror flicks of the 1960s, but also the Manson cult murders, and it also predates such landmark works as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (it has at least one very similar nighttime chase sequence) and the later slasher films that would indeed become self parody, employing a number of plot devices found here. But the film’s comedy is not so much “in your face”, but rather a self-aware campiness (especially in some of the killings done by the titular girls in the buff on in sexy underthings) that works in its favor. With plenty of gore on display, as well as the presence of a monstrous mutated henchman (played by Goldberg, billed as “Bunker”), American International Pictures saw fit to distribute the film in the U.S., adding a William Castle-like gimmick of the “Warning Bell”, cautioning theatergoers of impending (albeit, brief) explicitness (“When it rings – close your eyes if you’re squeamish!”). Those who remember the obese, bald sidekick character of Igor on “The Hilarious House of Frigtenstein” kids’ show might recognize Fishka Rais (here billed as “Kingfish”) as an eager butcher, one of Farnhamville’s many menacing occupants.
Never receiving a VHS release in the States, previously, the only way to see CANNIBAL GIRLS was a Canadian VHS cassette from CIC Video, which presented the film in an OK full frame transfer (displaying an awkward amount of headroom and several overhead boom mics on display). Shout! Factory now presents CANNIBAL GIRLS uncut on DVD in an attractive anamorphic (1.78:1) transfer. There’s bit of dirt and some grain here and there, but for the most part, the film looks pretty damn good with very strong colors, and this will definitely please those used to the previous CIC transfer. The mono audio also comes off well, with no noticeable dilemmas, and an alternative track lets you experience the “Warning Bell”, which is basically what sounds like an old car horn before any gory scene, followed by a doorbell noise when the bloody frivolity has concluded.
Shout! Factory has furnished the disc with two excellent featurettes, the first featuring director/executive producer Ivan Reitman and producer/editor Daniel Goldberg (who most recently had a huge hit with THE HANGOVER): “Cannibal Guys” (26:47). Here, the two gentlemen sit down to chat about the trials and tribulations of getting the finances for the film (and how they went deep into debt, as it was made largely on credit), needing to shoot new scenes since the initial cut ran only 65 minutes, getting distribution (they were both elated at AIP coming in to the rescue), and more. Most interesting is Reitman’s description of meeting Sam Arkoff at Cannes, and the subsequent deal they made in the independent mogul’s expensive hotel suite. Levy remains standing for “Meat Eugene” (19:40), as he’s interviewed (appropriately enough) inside a Canadian butcher shop by film critic Richard Krause. Amusing as always, Levy discusses his role in the film, his approach to the character, and ultimately underestimates his performance. He seems perplexed that the film is still being discussed and given a DVD release, but is appreciative nevertheless. Rounding out the extras is the original AIP theatrical trailer, a TV spot, and two radio spots which market the film on a gut-munching double bill with Gary Sherman’s excellent RAW MEAT. A promo for the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Collection” series as well as a promo for the KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS Special Edition DVD, can also be found on the disc. The DVD’s cover is reversible, with the alternate side showcasing the front of the original AIP pressbook from 1973. (George R. Reis)
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