Learning about the world is a sad, sad thing. So I've grown another layer, calcified, if you will. Gotten more jaded, that's right. And clearly I should have known, as viewing Devil Hunter (AKA: Mandingo Manhunter) just reinforces that Jess Franco is a suck-hack, and this former 'video nasty' with the accurate-but-totally misleading lurid cover (that you've seen since time immemorial - er ... 1982) is one horrible, trying piece of dreck that should have remained legendary and lost. That said, it's pretty fun stuff.
How can a movie be so incendiary, taboo-busting, sleazy, bad and boring at the same time? Just ask Franco - a director who never met a subject that he couldn't drain of energy. This time, he's attempting to capitalize on the Italian cannibal cycle of the late '70s to early '80s. Of course it's all wrong. Some pathetic gangsters kidnap Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner) the 'next big thing' and an actress of uncompromising beauty, ransoming her for 6 million dollars. Their big mistake is hiding out on a remote tropical island, in the midst of a cannibal-god worshiping tribe. The even-bigger mistake comes when the star's manager hires Peter, ('Al Cliver' or Pierluigi Conti) a lethargic, possibly doped-out-of-his-gourd bounty hunter, to bring Crawford - and the ransom - back. This basic intrigue is complicated by the hideous, naked, mouth-breathing cannibal-god with grotesque bulging eyes (that are as disgusting as they are crude) who wanders around the jungle occasionally eating the breasts and innards of sacrificial virgins.
It sounds good, but keep in mind the thin film of slime, shocking scenarios, subcutaneous racism and plentiful nudity are all tempered by pathetic, woeful gore, and utter lack of tension, acres of tedium and cannibal-god action so grating you'll want to tear the DVD out of its player and slash your TV-screen to ribbons before doing the same thing to yourself.
In other words, this is vintage Franco, and possibly required viewing for 'fans' of his work - if only to disabuse you of the notion of ever watching another Franco movie. As for me, I'm going to seek out his only other cannibal film, (a genre he apparently despised) White Cannibal Queen - and I'm going to regret it. What's so bad about Devil Hunter? Pretty much all of it. Is there a racist subtext? Well, the Europeans do evil, vindictive, awful things, they're generally stupid and there's pretty much not a decent person among them (save Crawford). Then again, the oddly multi-racial tribe of about 13 people, and their virile, cannibalistic sex-native god do little more than bang big drums, sacrifice virgins and dance naked for hours at a time, so you be the judge. Who are the real savages, indeed?
It's all just a towering mess of enervating irritation. Franco (or his DP) pulls off a few clever bits of framing, but mostly the action is shot with out-of-focus palm fronds in the extreme foreground obscuring things. If not that, it's a delirious foggy haze, either from the ocularly impaired mutant or from who knows what. Second sight is implied - especially during the horrid climactic battle when the nude native girl with the plucked eyebrows, luxuriously long hair and fingernails writhes on the ground in sympathy with the monster - but it's never made explicit. That fight is a doozy, too, in this full length, 101-excruciating-minute version (previous US VHS versions clocked in at about 78 minutes) with far too many shots of the monster's schlong wagging in the face of poor Cliver as they tussle on a cliff. The monster's asthmatic, vomitous wheezing overwhelms the soundtrack in near constant cacophony, but pretty much all he ever does is stagger slowly through the jungle in extreme long shots.
What you'd expect in gore is weak - one overlong close-up scene of teeth gnawing what looks like a tempera paint-soaked piece of sashimi, a three-second shot of intestine fondling and the least convincing, laughable decapitation of all time. At least the pointless jungle stupor touts tons of jiggly, nude native dancing - with plenty more lingering crotch-shots than truncated versions. Buchfellner displays her wares in plentitude also, yet as she's generally being menaced, raped or carried around unconscious it's a mixed blessing.
I guess Franco wins again. IMDB lists 189 films to his credit - and almost as many pseudonyms - that's about 4 films a year for the last 50 years, and he's still working. The viewer is punished nearly every time, yet we still come back. I just can't figure it out.
A 1.85:1 ratio widescreen transfer looks pretty fabulous considering the age and station of this reeker. During the credits sequence some titles are slightly cropped at the bottom, so it looks like this isn't anamorphic, but by a certain standard the greater percentage of image lost the better. Compression artifacts don't pose a problem, but with a photographic ethos seemingly based on making everything out-of-focus, it's sort of hard to tell. Colors are nicely rendered, but Franco also seems to have chosen to shoot tons of footage in the shadows at twilight, so much of the film seems gray, lifeless and shadowy. It's a perfect fit!
Dolby Digital Mono Audio can be accessed either in French with English subtitles or English with no subtitle option (troubling when the kidnappers talk amongst themselves in Spanish). In both cases, screams of terror and the monster's horrible, reverb-laden breathing are terrifically loud and overbearing. They will make you want to pull your ears off. Overall it's a super-hot audio job - my volume hovered around '3' even though we usually watch broadcast TV at '16' - and there are other more amusing differences. For instance, Peter's guy-Friday comes across as affable and capable in French, but is dubbed as a Dogpatch hick in English. If you must make the effort, please go the extra mile and read the subtitles.
A 17 minute interview with Franco titled Sexo Canibal (one of the many alternate titles of the movie) is amusing and charming. Franco flops back in his rattan chair clutching his lighter and multiple cigarettes while expressing contempt for the cannibal genre, calling one of his previous actresses a 'piece of meat,' and saying other charming things that only aged European exploitation directors can get away with.
One of Franco's many, many lesser efforts, Devil Hunter fails on all counts, save being offensive and boasting tons of nudity. Grating, lethargic, aggravating and laughable, Devil Hunter deserves a special place in hell, and if you want to join me in the flames while watching, know that this one's probably better just checked off the list than cherished. Those craving the succor of cinematic salvation should treat this like a flat stone at the pond and Skip It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com