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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eli Roth's 'The Green Inferno' -- A Tribute to the Italian Cannibal Vomitoriums



Leave it to Eli Roth, the king of torture porn, to lovingly resurrect another disgusting genre — the cannibal vomitorium atrocities from the ’70s and ’80s — with his new film The Green Inferno.

Those original shockers, made by Italian directors such as Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato, included such titles as Man from Deep River, Cannibal Holocaust and Make Them Die Slowly (aka Cannibal Ferox). They all hewed closely to a specific plot — white westerners enter the jungle domain of primitive native peoples and are literally consumed in various shocking ways. Said group must consist of innocent young virgins, at least one naive idealist (male or female) and a double-crossing bastard whose actions provoke the tribe’s violent response.

Filled with explicit scenes of carnage (including actual animal slaughter, which isn’t cool), the cannibal vomitoriums literally dared the audience to watch all the way through. Admittedly, it can be tough going, even for die-hard gorehounds like me.

It’s a testament to Roth’s determination that he managed to cobble together the budget and secure theatrical distribution for The Green Inferno, a film that was certainly made for limited audiences. That said, he really did an an admirable job — if your tastes run to the really, really extreme. Thankfully, no animals were harmed, simulated or otherwise. But, man…do the humans get it!

The plot is on point for the genre. A naive college freshman, Justine (Lorenza Izzo, Roth’s wife), is attracted to Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the charismatic leader of a group of environmental activists that stages protests outside her dorm room, and she finds herself flying to the jungles of Peru to help the group prevent an unscrupulous corporation from decimating the habitat of indigenous tribes. Once there, they chain themselves to bulldozers and trees, warding off the attacks of mercenary soldiers with their cell phone cameras upon which they’re live-streaming their actions across the globe. Mission accomplished, they go back to their plane to return to civilization. Suddenly, an engine explodes, and they crash-land deep in the jungle where no GPS or cell phone signal can ever hope to penetrate.

Many die in the crash, but the survivors are captured by a primitive tribe whose members are characterized by red body paint, ornate piercings and an aggressive demeanor. They are quickly shunted to the village and forced into a bamboo cage except for the most corpulent one, who is immediately butchered for dinner — a staggeringly shocking setpiece featuring special effects by Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero. Thereafter, it’s a grueling struggle for survival as the remaining activists try to figure out a way to flee from the hungry natives.

Roth and co-writer Guillermo Amoedo pay homage to the narrow conventions of this genre while inserting some pointed commentary of their own. Without giving too much away, it can be said that this group of idealistic environmentalists become victims in more ways than one. And the film’s use of social media as a literal weapon is ironic, given that it’s being used that way now with the bullying and hatespeak that occurs online.

Typically, the original cannibal vomitorium films didn’t have any night scenes (most often due to budgetary constraints), and Roth wisely chooses to continue the tradition, alternating scenes of horrifying brutality with lush jungle beauty (well-captured by Antonio Quercia’s camera), all set in the unblinking light of day. And as the activists are being taken to the village, the tribes’ crimson pigment rubs off on them, making it appear at first that they’re being integrated into their society, but it’s Roth’s knife into the viewers’ ribs that a much grimmer fate awaits them.

If it sounds like I enjoyed this film, I did. I admire Roth’s full-blooded, un-PC approach to the subject. But as far as recommending that absolutely everyone rush out and buy a ticket, I’d have to say no. However, if you were one of those folks who scoured the Mom and Pop video stores back in the day in search of “big box” videos, or if you understand what I mean when I fondly reminisce about 42nd Street before its Disneyfication, this film is for you.

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