A long-lost relic of the 1970s, Cannibal Girls marks the directorial debut of Ivan Reitman, who would go on to direct Ghostbusters and Stripes. Sure to be a curiosity for fans of '70s horror and fans of Reitman's career, Shout! Factory has unearthed the movie and polished off for its DVD debut.
"SCTV" stars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin play Clifford and Gloria, a young couple on their first road trip, who stumble upon a sleepy seaside town and get wrapped up in the local spook story about three women who kill and eat innocent victims. While waiting for their car to get fixed, they head out to a restaurant, supposedly built inside the house where the cannibals lived. At first, the experience is like a goofy haunted house for adults, but as the night continues on, Gloria becomes afraid and tries to convince Clifford that they have to leave immediately.
The long and short of the matter is, Cannibal Girls is not a lost gem. The film was mostly improvised based on a short outline, and it shows. After stopping and rewinding several scenes to try and process the information in them again, I wondered if I was losing my mind, but the film frequently doesn't make a whole lot of sense. At one point, Gloria flees the cannibal house, only to be rescued by a devious doctor who gives her a sedative to help her sleep. You would expect she'd wake back up in the arms of her cannibalistic captors, but instead, she wakes up in a hotel room in a way that suggests the previous 20 minutes were a dream. Yet the movie continues from that point forward, eventually alluding to some sort of mind control to explain away the confusion.
One major reason the film fails is that the cannibal girls are not well defined. Played by newcomers Randall Carpenter, Bonnie Neilson and Mira Pawluk, the trio never really develop any personality, and thus, are not very threatening. They're just sort of there, despite a good chunk midway through the movie when they finally eat a few people. Reitman stages the gore surprisingly well, laying the blood on thick and cranking the sound effects up, which is stomach-churningly effective. Yet, during the more important second and third act scenes when Gloria and Clifford are around, most of the screen time is eaten up by their weird host Rev. Alex St. John (Ronald Ulrich) instead of the cannibal girls themselves. (I'm also just plain not sure what to think about the girls' soot-covered, bloody henchman, played by someone named Bunker.)
There are moments of dread in the movie, as well as a couple of chuckles, and the ending is suitably eerie, but Cannibal Girls is more valid from a historical standpoint than one of entertainment value. I got a kick out of seeing Levy and Martin's pre-historic performances, and some of the splatter has weight as well, but if you're looking for a genuinely creepy or genuinely funny movie, Cannibal Girls never lives up to the exploitative promise of its title.
Shout! Factory issues Cannibal Girls with spiffy reversible cover art that uses original poster designs, one vividly colored and the other more monochrome, with selective use of blood red. I like it. The case is a transparent Amaray, so you can see the alternate art on the inside, with an insert listing chapter stops and extra features, and other Shout! Factory titles.
The Video, and Audio
Presented in what appears to be 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Cannibal Girls has a few major issues. The most pervasive is harsh grain that looks like it may have taken on a distinctly digital edge, but it's hard to be sure. Edge enhancement is visible in the form of gross-looking haloes based on the background. There's also almost no contrast whatsoever during the dark scenes, rendering a few moments during Gloria's foot chase incomprehnsible. Everything else is mostly related to age: plenty of dirt, scratches, and the occasional vertical line appear throughout the feature presentation. Still, detail and color are still very strong despite all of these distractions, so don't think of it as a poor transfer; Cannibal Girls just strongly looks its age.
Dolby Digital 2.0 packs a limited amount of oomph. Dialogue sounds sort of tinny and flat, but the ominous score is well-represented. There is also a bonus audio track (also 2.0) featuring a gimmicky "warning bell" sound effect, to alert squeamish viewers that something terrifying is about to happen. No subtitles or captions are provided on the disc itself.
Two interviews are the major highlight here. The first, "'Cannibal Guys': A Conversation with Ivan Reitman and Dan Goldberg" (26:46), is a wonderful, candid recounting of the journey Reitman and Goldberg took towards getting the film released theatrically by Sam Arkoff and American International Pictures. Both Reitman and Goldberg (interviewed by their longtime friend and fellow producer Joe Medjuck) seem happpy and excited to reminisce about the experience. Topics include the lack of a completed script, mountains of debt piling up thanks to reshoots, threatening to drive the print over a cliff, and getting a contract in writing. The second interview, "'Meat Eugene': Richard Crouse Talks With Eugene Levy" (19:39), is a bit more strained, taking place inside a butcher shop, with Levy trying to hide his embarrassment over his amateur performance. The disc is rounded out with a theatrical trailer, a 60-second TV spot, and 60 and 30-second radio spots.
Trailers for "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" and Kingdom of the Spiders play when you put in the disc.
If you like Ivan Reitman, it might be worth a rental to see his interview with Medjuck and Goldberg, which is wonderful and funny. The movie itself, though, is a muddled mess, the distinctive work of a first-time filmmaker without enough preparation on his side. Skip it.
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