Cannibal Girls (1973)

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*. There’s something mysterious about this film.
*. Of course it’s not very good. In fact it’s terrible. But what I find mysterious about it is what it wanted to be in the first place.
*. It’s usually described today as a horror-comedy. I think a lot of that is due to the comic talent involved: director Ivan Reitman, producer-editor Daniel Goldberg, and leads Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin. All would go on to long, successful careers in comedy. More immediately, however, they would stay involved with horror. Martin would appear next as a victim of the slasher in Black Christmas (1974) while Reitman and Goldberg would both work on Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975).
*. Was comedy the intention here, or did they just stumble into it? Is this a case of a movie that’s so bad it’s funny by accident? A horror film lightened with some feeble attempts at comic relief? Or were they going for satire all along?
*. What adds to the mystery is the way the people involved aren’t really sure either. Included with the DVD are lengthy interviews with Reitman, Goldberg, and Levy. But none of them are clear about what the plan was.
*. As far as I can tell, that plan was to make a very, very cheap exploitation film — something in the vein of one of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s sleazy efforts. I don’t know if they were direct influences, but I sense a real connection to films like Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!
*. Beyond that, intent is hard to judge. This is because so little thought seems to have been put into it. There was no proper screenplay but only an outline of the plot, with the actors left to improvise most of their lines. After the majority of the film was shot a bunch of extra stuff was included to fix some plot holes and pad out the film’s length. The opening murder, for example, which seems to have no connection to anything in the rest of the film, was one such late addition.
*. As they re-worked it, Reitman found the film occupying an uncomfortable “middling” ground between horror and comedy, but he doesn’t mention how inadvertent this was. Goldberg saw early versions as faltering because they weren’t horrible enough or funny enough, but again it’s not clear what they were aiming for.

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*. It’s easy to see it today as a comedy due to the presence of Levy and Martin, but at the time they weren’t known as comic actors. My first feeling was that there was no way we were meant to take Levy’s Gene Shalit appearance seriously, but in his interview he says that’s how he really looked at the time. And that crazy woolen tie he wears to dinner? Well, it was 1973.
*. The main problem I have with seeing it as a horror-comedy is that there’s nothing funny about it. There are little touches (the Monopoly game played by the three weirdoes who have been selected as victims; Levy trying to make out with Martin while keeping a smoke going), but this is no more than you’d expect as comic relief in any cheap horror film.
*. The final credit roll stating that the character of Bunker (the grotesque monster who chops wood and draws water for the Reverend and his girls) was played by “himself” is a little in-joke. I believe he was played by Goldberg.
*. It’s too bad they had to include the character of the Reverend. He comes out of nowhere and upsets the whole bad-feminist vibe the film had going. From castrating harpies the girls turn into zombie window-dressing.
*. Given that they didn’t have a script, didn’t have any money, and really didn’t know what they were doing, it’s amazing they wound up with something that’s still watchable more than forty years later. Some credit is due. And all the principals survived!

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