God bless Italian horror cinema for giving us a genre so sleazy that it can offend even the most jaded exploitation fan – the cannibal film. Sure, cannibalism had existed in film before Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi kick started things with The Man From Deep River and Jungle Holocaust but the Italian really knew how to do it properly, animal rights be damned.
This later and lesser known entry in the Italian cannibal film genre, Amazonia, comes from director Mario Gariazzo, best known for The Bloody Hands Of The Law starring Klaus Kinski and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. Interestingly enough, it happens to have been written by the one and only Franco Prosperi of Mondo Cane infamy, so Mario was in good company with this film, supposedly based on the true story of a female named Catherine Miles (hence the subtitle of The Catharine Miles Story).
At any rate, the movie begins when Catharine (the lovely Elvire Audray) decides she wants to head back to the family plantation to visit her folks for a bit and celebrate her eighteenth birthday – after all, since moving to the big city she hasn't seen mom and dad for awhile and it'd be nice to find out how they're holding up. So she flies into the thick of the jungle where they live to see how it's all going.
Once she arrives, they truck around the area by boat to see what's going down and while poking their heads around the scenic river fauna, one of the crew members is struck by an arrow. Soon enough the vicious natives of the area have taken everyone down, decapitated her parents, and kidnapped poor Catharine! They take her back into the jungle where they live and soon tensions arise among the tribesmen, all of whom want a piece of her. One decapitation later and that matter is solved once and for all…
Luckily for Catherine, a search party has started checking out the area by plane and the come across the dead bodies of her parents and friends. They ascertain that she's missing and decide to start looking around for her. Will the search party be able to find Catharine before the crazed tribe of headhunters inducts her into their fold and make her one of their own?
Plenty of gorgeous jungle scenery, bad dialogue, cheap gore effects and stock footage animal on animal carnage inserts place this one firmly in the realm of exploitation cinema – bio pic or not. I've no idea as to the accuracy of the story and how it relates to the real Catharine Miles if she ever even existed but what I do know is that this is an enjoyable and sleazy jungle romp even if it is about as intelligent as a rock. Audray isn't going to win any award for her performance here and rather than get by on her acting ability she instead wisely chooses to run around naked for a good portion of the film, so in addition to the other elements we've also got the gratuitous nudity factor working in this film's favor as well.
Is it a good movie? No, not at all and it does regrettably feature the animal violence that the genre is known for but if that doesn't bother you or you won't let it stop you from getting into a trashy jungle adventure gore film, you'll probably find Amazonia as a decent slice of dumbed down exploitainment.
Amazonia comes to Region One DVD in a rather decent 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While this likely wasn't given much of a restoration, the elements used look to have been in pretty good shape and while there is a bit of mild print damage here and there, there's nothing so serious as to ruin the film for you in that regard. Colors look decent enough, flesh tones appear reasonably accurate and lifelike, and there's a good level of both foreground and background detail present in the picture. Some mild edge enhancement is present as well as some mild line shimmering but there aren't any compression artifacts to complain about.
Now for the bad news, and this is IMPORTANT TO MANY OF YOU OUT THERE. For some strange reason, likely due to an authoring glitch of some kind, this disc plays in fullscreen mode on standard 4x3 television sets. If you put it in your computer's DVD-Rom or watch it on a widescreen set, you're fine, but should you decide to pop this puppy in and watch it on a regular 4x3 set you will be seeing an very cropped version of the film. This is not a result of having your 4x3 display settings off or your player settings off, this is a legitimate problem. This is a pretty ridiculous mistake to make and shows an utter lack of concern over quality control – something that Shriek Show might want to get together before they disappoint even more genre fans than they already have with a few other botched releases they've put out lately…
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is acceptable if unremarkable. Dialogue is clean and clear and while there are a couple of notable instances where some background hiss makes its way into the scene, it's not too distracting. The score sounds nice and lively and there aren't any serious issues with the sound on this release. There are no alternate language subtitles or closed captioning options included on this release to speak of.
There isn't a whole lot here in the way of extra features but Shriek Show has cobbled together a still gallery, a handful of trailers for other Shriek Show releases, and a hidden Easter Egg that presents the original alternate English opening credits sequence.
Well, major authoring problem that'll affect the majority of home video buyers out there aside, this isn't a bad release. If you're able to watch the film properly it proves to be a decent Italian exploitation film with plenty of fun, low budget thrills. Gore, nudity, racial stereotypes and a wonky score all add up to a pretty good time in the grand eurocult tradition. If there weren't the problem with the disc, I could recommend it but there is, so this one gets slapped with the 'rent it' stamp.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.