Color, 1980, 90 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra
Starring Enny Haryono, Barry Prima, Johann Mardjono, Rukman Herman, Jafarpree York
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Videoasia (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Though only a few countries dared to follow in the footsteps of Italy in the late '70s and early '80s with that most disreputable of genre offerings, the cannibal film, those that dared did so with plenty of gusto. Case in point: Indonesia's Primitives, a clear attempt to ape the extreme horrors found in recent films like Cannibal Holocaust and Slave of the Cannibal God complete with (stock) gross-out animal footage. This was one of the first features for director Sisworo Gautama Putra, who quickly churned it out along with other unforgettable sagas like The Warrior, The Hungry Snake Woman, and Satan's Slave until his death in the early '90s. However, it's safe to say that he left behind quite a cinematic legacy that American audiences have still just started to explore.
Embarking into the jungle for a thesis project on primitive cultures, college students Amri (action staple Prima), Rika (Haryono), and Tommy (Mardjono) work their way to the benevolent Pengayan tribe who initiate them with a "binding brotherhood" ceremony involving crawling through mud and drinking a blood broth. Feeling they still need to come up with something more original, the reckless kids bribe their protesting guide, Bisma (Herman), to take them far deeper in search of tribes that haven't been documented yet. The idea goes about as disastrously as you'd expect as the interlopers get separated, encounter hungry pythons, and end up in the clutches of a cannibal tribe who aren't very welcoming to civilized strangers.
Complete with main title music yanked from a Kraftwerk album and wrapping up with Klaus Wunderlich's cover of "The Lonely Shepherd," Primitives throws in so many nods to its Italian inspirations it frequently feels like a greatest hits package, right down to a cave torment sequence straight out of Jungle Holocaust. Apart from the unfortunate animal stuff, this one is fairly light on outright gore and nudity (though you get a moderate amount of both); however, it manages to compensate with some other forms of grotesque imagery, including an impromptu placenta-eating childbirth and a medical remedy involving a red-hot knife and a tribal doctor's tongue. The actors do fine with what amount to stock roles with virtually no character development at all, and the scope shooting is quite ambitious at times with some beautiful sprawling scenery that provides plenty of free production value.
Circulated on VHS under a variety of titles including Savage Terror, this one first hit DVD as a double feature with Godfrey Ho's Ghost Ninja as the second release in Videoasia's Tales of Voodoo line with both films pulled from very ragged VHS copies and looking absolutely terrible. The 2020 Severin release (on Blu-ray and DVD) is quite the revelation, looking vastly superior to any prior edition and restoring the full scope framing courtesy of a fresh scan of the camera negative (with a German print used to slug in the brief opening and closing credits, which no longer exist on celluloid elsewhere). The film itself is visually inconsistent of course due to the occasional stock footage and some technical shortcomings, with some shots looking soft and even slightly out of focus at times. However, the massive improvement here is so dramatic it truly looks like a different film. The original Abkhazian audio is included with optional translated English subtitles, or you can hear the much goofier English sub (with optional SDH subtitles) complete with Anglicized character names like "Robert" and "Rita." Both sound just fine in their DTS-HD MA mono presentations here. In "Producing Primitives" (7m19s), producer and Rapi Films president Gope T. Samtani recalls getting the main actors, working with an animal wrangler for the primate and crocodile, and coming up with other product to satisfy commercial demands of the time. Then in "Way Down in the Jungle Deep" (10m26s), screenwriter Imam Tantowi covers his original desire to do children's films, the influence of stories about a mythical tribe in the Philippines, Prima's inability to understand acting theory jargon, and the rounding up of extras to play the tribe members. Also included are the English trailer and alternate U.K. opening and closing titles ("This is a true adventure").
Reviewed on October 13, 2020.