Director: Bruno Mattei
Intervision Picture Corp.

Severin off-shoot Intervision Picture Corp. is back with two DVD releases from Bruno Mattei's latter day direct-to-video career MONDO CANNIBAL and IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS.

While SHOCKING DARK or ZOMBI 3 might have seemed even to seasoned Italian exploitation fans to have been the last heard from Bruno Mattei, he continued to work throughout the early nineties in films of increasingly lower budget works including action, horror, and erotic thrillers. After an absence of five years or so during which he continued working in post-production, he and production manager-turned-producer Giovanni Paolucci (Argento's DRACULA 3D) teamed up for over a dozen string of direct-to-video exploitation features – under the production company name La Perla Nera – that have until now only been represented stateside by York Entertainment's DVD of THE TOMB (a horror film that makes heavy use of stock footage from ARMY OF DARKNESS). This back-to-back cannibal feast shot in the Philippines and sold in some territories (including Japan), respectively, as a prequel and sequel to Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. MONDO CANNIBAL – also known as CANNIBAL WORLD and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: THE BEGINNING – opens with ballsy Hong Kong-based sensationalist reporter Grace Forsythe (Helena Wagner) – who pronounces her own name "foresight" although she seems to have none – going on the warpath when she discovers that her show "Face to Face" has been "suspended" due to low ratings. When she catches a TV report by war correspondent turned holier-than-thou ecological spokesman Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) on native practices in the Amazon – including a reenactment of the abortion ritual from the Deodato film – Grace sells the idea of a filmed expedition into the jungle in search of cannibal tribes.

Grace heads down to the Amazon and tries to convince Bob to round up his old crew – camera persons Cindy Chandler (Cindy Matic), Rick Norton, and sound man Terry – but Bob is no longer interested in sensationalism and he does not believe that cannibals exist anymore. His interest, however, is peaked when Grace mentions the potential of a million dollar contract and the expedition of five is soon off into the jungle with their guide Garcia in search of "the invisible people." Bob at first thinks they can rely on the editors to punch up the trip to make it more exciting, but Grace tells him that today's audiences are more sophisticated. They cross paths with a platoon of Funai guards who have captured an Indio found eating flesh. Since his particular tribe is not known to be cannibalistic, Bob surmises that he was taking part in a ritual to cleanse the area of evil. Watching the reports via satellite, Grace's boss contacts her on the satellite phone and tells her that the ratings are rising and demands "stronger stuff" (he even mentions the possibility of a Pulitzer). As they move closer to the village of the Yacumos, Bob and Grace feel increasing pressure to deliver once sensational scoop after another. They decide to orchestrate some native-on-native violence for the camera but they fatally underestimate those "whose social level has not gone past that of the stone age."

While it doesn't hold a candle to Deodato's film, MONDO CANNIBAL is a more entertaining rip-off than WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (it remains to be seen about Eli Roth's THE GREEN INFERNO), and it at least feels like a lower-tier Italian exploitation film rather than what often passes for a direct-to-video feature stateside. For those who think that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST lacked subtlety in its commentary on "who the real cannibals are", similar scenes in MONDO CANNIBAL seem naïve in their attempts to merely emulate those arguments rather than enlarge upon them in a more sophisticated and blatant age of media manipulation and reality television. While the deplorable actions of the filmmakers were discovered posthumously in Deodato's films, the viewing of the raw footage by the producers as it is delivered here does prompt a moral debate by the producers, but the results of it allow for a more cynical ending. None of the film's violence against the innocents or the cynical filmmakers has anything like the impact of the Deodato film, which might make it more of a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST-lite rather than a more repellant cash-in.

The lensing by Luigi Ceccarese is flat and uninspired compared to his gauzy and clunky but occasionally stylish eighties work (including Fulci's DEMONIA and AENIGMA) and the effects of Giuseppe "Pino" Ferranti compare poorly to his sometimes laughable but enthusiastic contributions to HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD and RATS: NIGHTS OF TERROR or anything else he did for Fulci and Lamberto Bava during the eighties. Animal violence is fortunately kept to a minimum (although not completely absent), and nowhere near as repellent as the Deodato film (Grace even mentions that Bob had two sea turtles decapitated to demonstrate the cruelty of poachers in an early film, possibly a reference to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST's most disturbing moment of animal cruelty). Footage from HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD is used to illustrate some of Manson's past documentary work while bookending sequences have a news anchor (Chan Lee) referring to the supporting protagonists under different names and a flashback is preceded by the text "six mouths earlier". American ex-patriate actor Mike Monty (LIVING DEAD GIRL) appears briefly as a village priest who tells the expedition of the "invisible people".

Released in Japan as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST 3: CANNIBAL VS. COMMANDO although better known as LAND OF DEATH (the title under which it was released here in an unauthorized edition by Substance), the plot of IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS is less slavish in its imitation of the Deodato film, but it works in several more "homages" into a new storyline that owes as much to PREDATOR. A rescue squad lead by inexperienced Lt. Wilson (Lou Wilson) – commanding tough black guy (Silvio Jimenez), ball-breaker Vasquez (Ydalia Suarez, ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD), drunken Irish stereotype Kruger (Sanit Larrauri, ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION), and Smith (Kenny Krall, Mattei's THE TOMB) – parachute into the jungle in search of a missing expedition that included Sara Armstrong (Cindy Matic again), the daughter of a state senator. Local help comes in the form of badass guide Romero (Claudio Morales again), native Isaiah (the same guy who played Garcia in MONDO CANNIBAL) who has a sixth sense about the inhabitants of the jungle, and a captured cannibal to lead them back to his village. From the behavior of the chief in the village, Romero surmises that the previous expedition had passed through the village and something terrible went down. Following the villagers into battle, they make contact with the enemy tribe who possess a lighter belonging to one of the expedition. Romero applies a little "native psychology" (a la HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD with a bit of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) to gain their trust and they lead the soldiers to the remains of the previous expedition, but Sara is not among them. Indeed, because of her exotic blonde hair, Sara has been drugged up and made the tribe's "love goddess". Wilson wants to just grab Sara and shoot their way out, but Romero warns the team not to underestimate the intelligence and numbers of the local tribes just because they have superior firepower. They wait until nightfall before grabbing Sara and fleeing into the jungle. When they discover that the chopper cannot land in their area, they must make it out of the jungle on foot with the tribe in pursuit.

IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS is lower on both onscreen gore and T&A, but the film's attempt to pay homage to several bits from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST as well as PREDATOR and just about every eighties action movie cliché (including a dying character who lures the enemy in close before eating two grenades) keeps the film moving at a good clip. Romero is a combination of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST's guide Chaco and anthropologist Harold Monroe – although he forgoes the Full Monty during his swim with native girls – while Isiah is Sonny Landham's Native American character from PREDATOR before checking out by way of the guide in the Deodato film. Of the broad soldier characterizations, tough chick Vasquez is the most entertaining (particularly when she reacts to the native violence against women). The film re-enacts the discovery of the previous guide, the adulteress' punishment (less graphically), putting a character out of their misery after being hit by a curare dart, and the shrine made up of the expedition victims (less creatively arranged). The film features some common footage with MONDO CANNIBAL – it's just as well that the actors who plays Isaiah and Cameron wear the same clothes that they do in the former film – as well as some mismatched helicopter stock footage from what is probably another Italian/Filipino action film. Ceccarese's photography is generally slicker here, the library scoring more effective, and the Mattei's editing tighter, suggesting the filmmakers found this to be the more interesting of the pair; that said, one can't help wondering if IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS would have been more entertaining had it been made in the eighties with a bit more money and the likes of Reb Brown, David Warbeck, and Janet Agren.

Intervision's progressive, single-layer transfers of both films are fullscreen while the Japanese and French DVDs were 16:9 widescreen, but comparison with screen grabs for the French disc and the Japanese disc (thanks to David Zuzelo for the latter) reveal that the widescreen discs are cropped, and that the fullscreen cinematography was not always composed to accommodate wider framing. The encodes do what they can with SD video masters, which are colorful and reasonably sharp if sometimes flat-looking (so much so that a couple shots look green-screened only for reverse angles to reveal that the actors are indeed on location) and a little noisy but satisfactory given their limitations. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio tracks are technically fine, reasonably busy with jungle sounds and library music, and feature presence of some familiar dubbing actors (including Ted Rusoff voicing Morales in both films). Both transfers replace their original English titles, CANNIBAL WORLD and LAND OF DEATH respectively, with new title cards. There are no extras save for the films' trailers (1:31 and 1:43 respectively), but these two discs are a better value for casual viewers than those English-friendly but pricey Japanese and Russian import versions. (Eric Cotenas)