Color, 1977, 88 mins. / Directed by Ruggero Deodato / Starring Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov / Music by Ubaldo Continiello / Cinematography by Marcello Masciocchi / Produced by Giorgio Carlo Rossi / Media Blasters (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

After an inauspicious career directing Italian programmers in the '60s and early '70s, the now infamous Ruggero Deodato hit paydirt in 1977 with his first international hit, Ultimo mondo cannibale. Shown in the U.S. as The Last Survivor and also known under its more literal translation, The Last Cannibal World, the film gained far more notoriety among gorehounds as Jungle Holocaust to tie it in more closely with Deodato's second and far more ferocious gut-muncher outing, Cannibal Holocaust. More rooted in the pulp yarn tradition than its volatile companion feature, Jungle Holocaust is still extremely disreputable by most film standards as it rubs the viewer's nose in animal death scenes (a snake and alligator this time), gory dismemberment and flesh eating, a man's damaged limb consumed by ants, and other charming atrocities. At least this time there's the distance of a traditional narrative to keep the viewer relatively secure, even if the opening does claim the story is based on true events. Uh huh.

While searching for oil in the remote area of Mindanao, a quartet of explorers crashes their plane near an abandoned jungle camp and realize the area is inhabited by cannibalistic natives. Led by anthropologist Rolf (giallo regular Ivan Rassimov) and Robert Harper (Massimo Foschi), they find their number dwindling thanks to hungry locals and deadly booby traps. After a disastrous attempt to sail away to safety, Robert and Rolf are separated, leaving the latter in the hands of the primitive tribe who strip him naked, hoist him in the air by ropes so he can fly like a bird, and then toss him into a homemade underground cage so the cannibal kids can pee on his head. Really. The loveliest of the cannibal women (sexploitation favorite Me Me Lai) takes pit on Robert and helps him escape, but their flight to freedom contains several unexpected complications.

Though Umberto Lenzi's Man from Deep River is usually cited as the first real Italian cannibal film, this is the one that really kicked off the trend worldwide. Even in cut form it enjoyed a wide release and a decent gross-out reputation thanks to frequent reissues from AIP, and relatively speaking, it's still one of the best made of its ilk. The skillful scope photography, atmospheric score, and earnest performances make this a gripping study of survival, while exploitation fans should enjoy the high levels of gore effects (with the most unforgettable setpiece saved for the end, which was so effective Lenzi recycled it - along with much of this film's atrocity footage - for his ludicrous Eaten Alive). Thematically it's also less didactic than the '80s cannibal films; there isn't any two-faced moralizing along the lines of who the real savages are. More closely akin to survival epics like Cornel Wilde's underrated The Naked Prey, this is one of the more tolerable Italian cannibal films for those courageous enough to venture onto such morally treacherous grounds.

Though Jungle Holocaust has circulated on home video almost since the format's incarnation, uncut editions have been few and far between. Many store shelves contained copies of the notorious Lettuce VHS edition, titled Cannibal, which excised some of the more graphic imagery involving Foschi's manhood and a bunch of curious cannibal guys. Working with an infernally difficult title to reconstruct, Media Blasters' DVD can legitimately be considered the only complete, fully widescreen English edition on any home video format. The image quality has provoked wildly divergent reactions, mainly concerning the fairly dim black levels and some compatibility problems caused by the PAL master, but the film looks far better than any other version. The letterboxing adds a considerable amount of vital information to the sides, while the color fidelity are satisfying. It probably won't win any tech awards anytime soon, though one also needs to keep the original source material and shooting conditions into account; the relatively soft detail levels in some shots have always looked that way. In any case, cannibal movie fans will probably want to snap this up more for the content of the film rather than a ravishing viewing experience, though it looks fine in 16:9 playback. Subsequent Media Blasters/Shriek Show titles blow this one out of the water by comparison, though, so try not to watch this back to back with some of their other Euro horror titles. Extras are where this disc easily excels; Deodato contributes both a video interview and a commentary track (in Italian with optional English subtitles), while Foschi also appears for a frank video interview. Other goodies include an extensive video gallery of posters and lobbies, trailers for this and other Shriek Show titles, and a batch of international color lobby card reproductions (a la Suspiria). The trailer, under the Last Cannibal World title, is especially fascinating as it includes Deodato and crew (dubbed in English) pontificating about the making and importance of the film, intercut with cartoon teeth transitions. Bon appetit!

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