Color, 1972, 93/90m.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai
88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Raro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Color, 1972, 93/90m.
Usually cited as the first bona fide Italian cannibal film thanks to one gory two-minute scene, this lush and sometimes shocking adventure film from action and giallo specialist Umberto Lenzi usually gets classified as a horror film. There's definitely some shocking content in here, but it's more of a bridge between the popular, morally questionable mondo movies churned out by Italy in the '60s and early '70s and the much more ferocious, extreme cannibal films that would ultimately climax with Cannibal Holocaust and Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox. Also drawing more than a little inspiration from the American hit A Man Called Horse, it remains a fascinating transitional film for the industry and perhaps the director's most beautifully photographed achievement.
While off on assignment in Thailand, John Bradley (Rassimov) encounters numerous adventures including brawls and strange local customs. One nasty fight puts him in the clutches of a Burmese tribe, and when he kills one of them and undergoes a bizarre rite of passage involving a wooden pole and some extracted snake venom, he's proven himself worthy of both respect and the hand of the chief's daughter (Me Me Lai, who made this in between the sex comedy Au Pair Girls and this film's sort-of sequel with Rassimov, Jungle Holocaust). A much more barbaric nearby tribe starts to move in and poses a threat to John and his pregnant wife, which means he might have go completely primitive himself.
Sporting a catchy easy listening-style score by Daniele Patucchi and a surprisingly effective emotional core between Rassimov and Lai, this is actually not a bad place to start if you're curious about the whole Italian cannibal subgenre. As mentioned above, there's really only one sequence that fully qualifies and it's shot in a distanced way that actually makes it more disturbing than you'd expect. It's hard to believe this fairly opulent, effective thriller would lead to Lenzi's other, far more grotesque cannibal film a decade later, which goes to show how much commercial demands evolved in that period of time.
Also known as Sacrifice! and Deep River Savages, Man from Deep River first turned up on DVD from Media Blasters in a colorful and pretty decent widescreen transfer and the standard English language track, with extras consisting of the trailer, a photo gallery, and a 10-minute Lenzi interview about being hired for this "anthropological" project originally suggested by an idea by Emmanuelle Arsan(!). In the UK it encountered far more trouble since its inception, denied a BBFC certificate for its animal killing footage and eventually ending up branded a video nasty in the '80s. In 2016, 88 Films brought the film to UK Blu-ray with all the controversy you would expect. Despite best efforts, the film's animal violence still had to be trimmed; however, it accounts for less of the running time than some of the later films (losing about 2 1/2 minutes), so at least the damage is fairly minimal. Oddly, the most upsetting scene involving a monkey is left intact... go figure. The transfer looks much, much more detailed than past DVDs, and while the color schemes still have that bright, lurid quality, they're better resolved here without any bleeding or smearing (especially those once problematic J&B bottle caps and red blood). It's still pretty gritty looking and grainy, which may be part of the original design. Audio options include English and Italian LPCM mono tracks, both pristine, with optional English subtitles (not dubtitles). The English is the better default one if you're seeing the film for the first time; it's dubbed either way, but the English track is the one designed for the film to make it easier to market overseas. On the third track, Calum Waddell continues his exploration of Italian cannibal films after contributions on past releases with an audio commentary that goes in some very unexpected directions. He starts off with a useful primer on the various Thai locations seen throughout the film and chats about the country's unique status in the region as one never colonialized (sort of), and there's a lot of info about the cast, crew, and nature of Italian productions at the time. There's a lengthy and sometimes puzzling tangent around the half-hour mark involving Hitler, Marxism, communism, and reactions to "trolls" about his past disparaging remarks about Cannibal Holocaust, but he does get back on course to the film again for smooth sailing after that point.
Always an amusing interview subject, Lenzi covers his filmmaking origins and touches a bit on his intentions behind this film in the 13-minute "Deep River Memories," essentially an expanded standalone edit of his comments on the topic from the Eaten Alive! doc seen on Cannibal Ferox. His defense of the animal killings is a bit iffy as usual, but otherwise it's a fun trip through his cannibal glory days. The 80-minute "Me Me Lai Bites Back" takes a lengthy look at the actress's career and her role in the development of the Italian cannibal film, largely comprised of interview footage with her and occasional contributions from Sitges's Mike Hostench, writer Shelagh Rowan-Leg, and Eli Roth, much apparently shot at the 2015 Sitges Film Festival with bits thrown in from some other Q&As including one with Ruggero Deodato. She has a very clear memory of her films, including recollections of Lenzi (who shouted all the time), her discomfort with shooting the monkey scene in this film, picking up Italian profanity from the crew, and working with Deodato on Jungle Holocaust, among many other subjects. Aside from some content repetition (we hear her "eaten for breakfast" line a few different times for example), it gets the job done with a thorough portrait of an actress whose impact on Italian films has only recently been fully grasped. Roth pops up solo (from the same interview session in the doc) for the 13-minute "Inferno of Innards," which starts off with some nice observations about the unique Thailand setting before turning into an extended plug for a certain neo-cannibal film of his own. Along with the original trailer, the release also features a liner notes booklet with a "Bite Size" guide to key cannibal films and themes, plus an additional Me Me Lai text interview touching on all of her films and extending into what she's been doing since her last major appearance in Lars Von Trier's The Element of Crime. The film has also been released uncut on US Blu-ray from Raro under the title Sacrifice! in a far less elaborate edition (including one featurette, "Mondo Cannibale"), which is not available for review as of this writing.