Tuesday 10 April 2018

Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (Michele Massimo Tarantini, 1985) DVD Review

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“It's the land of the Aquata, they're also head hunters, still practising. What's more, some of them are cannibals besides, but I hear the God they venerate is some kind of animal.” The Italian cannibal movie cycle seemingly died a spectacular death in 1981 with Umberto Lenzi's savage Cannibal Ferox, which was otherwise known in American under the particularly memorable title 'Make Them Die Slowly' when it was released stateside in 1983 to thunderous success (1980's Cannibal Holocaust didn't hit America until 1985). The noise of the box office kerchings rang all the way back to Italy and so, further bolstered by the warm reception afforded to jungle adventure romp Romancing The Stone, the Italians returned to the green inferno to deliver Massacre In Dinosaur Valley to the masses...

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“Just my luck, I found the first poor American.” In the sweaty wilds of rural Brazil, Professor Ibanez and his beautiful daughter Eva (Suzane Carvalho) meet roguish bone collector Kevin Hall (Michael Sopkiw, 2019: After The Fall Of New York) who inveigles his way onto their chartered plane that will be making an unscheduled – and illegal – stop in the reserved territory of local tribes that is well known for its incredible dinosaur artifacts. Joined by two fashion models, their photographer, as well as a Vietnam veteran and his booze-addled wife, they set off for the dangers of the jungle only for, you guessed it, their plane to crash land in hostile territory (dodgy model shots, ahoy!).

“Well, judging by the difference between all of you, your mother must have been mighty busy.” The six survivors set out into the steamy jungle to find a river to follow back to civilisation, encountering leeches, snakes, and deadly quicksand along the way, but most unluckily for them the hunters of the local cannibal tribe have returned home – so now on top of it all they're also on the menu! However, although they inevitably fall foul of the cannibals, far more sinister dangers await them downriver.

“Is the jungle giving you illusions of manhood, Johnny boy?” Despite being touted as part of the cannibal movie sub-genre, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley has very little flesh eating in it. In fact there's so little it only amounts to a single scene where a man's heart is cut out and messily devoured by the tribe's Chief. Indeed, some of the silliest aspects of the film centre around the tribe (played by off duty military men thrown into loin cloths and vaguely tribal-looking straw grass head dress), particularly their supposed God – played by a man wearing a Triceratops skull and what can only be described as a cheap, green halloween store monster glove. In fact, the movie is hardly interested in the cannibal tribe at all as it dispenses with them during Act II, exchanging them for China (Andy Silas), the Caucasian leader of a mining camp.

“You're just like a dog chasing a car. If you did catch it the best you could do is smell it and run.” China, as it turns out, is far from a friendly Western face turning up to rescue the civilised survivors of the plane crash, and is instead the film's greatest evil. Tarantini uses the character – whose secretive mining operation is stripping precious stones from the Brazilian jungle – to represent the evils of colonialism. With the use of imprisoned slaves, China – whose gaudy crucifix necklace is crafted from the very same precious stones they're mining – is greed incarnate. He has no interest in helping these hopeless individuals, least of all Kevin, and sees Eva and Belinda (Susan Hahn) as little more than flesh to be enjoyed. He assumes Eva for himself, casts Belinda over to his second-in-command Myara (Gloria Cristal) – who keeps the mining camp's selection of worn-out prostitutes in check – and tosses Kevin into the pig pen where the hungry swine nibble at his vulnerable body. Such dire representations of Westerners in cannibal films weren't new (think of the unscrupulous documentarians in Cannibal Holocaust, or Mike the coke-addled psycho in Cannibal Ferox), but rarely had they been so damning of an entire era – colonialism – and, indeed, poor countries are still to this day being exploited for their precious minerals. Suffice it to say, China – a bloated, boozed-up wretch who'll rape and kill according to any fleeting whim – is the true evil at work inside the green inferno.

“Oh, don't you try to be familiar with me just because you saw me naked in my shower.” Many exploitation movies had something to say, posed by screenwriters with the freedom to say it in no uncertain terms, but the graphic nature of these movies (and, perhaps, their cheap productions) tend to distract some viewers from the important points being made. Massacre In Dinosaur Valley is no different, and treads a rather indistinct line that sways towards shameless double standards. However, to be fair, this is an exploitation movie and a certain amount of blood (the mangled leg of a piranha attack victim) and boobies (Eva's shower scene, the tribal ceremony) is to be expected. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it, too?

“You're an insufferable, possibly male, definitely chauvinistic pig, you know that? I bet you're the kind that argues that a woman is only good for the bedroom and the kitchen.” Indeed, one of the film's most fascinating aspects is its sexual politics. Much like many of these kinds of films it features its fair share of gratuitous nudity and men leering at beautiful women – from the clownish buffoon that is Carlito (check out the deleted scenes for more of him) dumbfounded by Monica and Belinda's beauty during a fashion shoot, to mining camp madam Myara's pawing of captive women – the film has a complex approach to flesh. The most complex example is the character of John (Milton Rodriguez), a former Captain in the Vietnam war, who struts around with a camouflage vest and a machete giving alpha male orders while enduring the relentless, drunken hen-pecking of his miserable wife Betty (Marta Anderson, Bare Behind Bars). Throughout the film Betty berates John, from his potency to his perceived heroics in Vietnam, but Tarantini goes even further with the character, using him to destroy the contemporary American male of the time. John's ignorance ('all jungles are the same') is matched only by his psychologically unbalanced need to express his machismo – while Kevin wants everyone to escape the green inferno alive, John only cares about being the leader, happy to start a fight amongst themselves when they all have a common enemy that they need to flee.

Tarantini's assessment of John is brutal, from the way he callously leaves Betty behind in one scene to a handful of moments where he impotently gazes at Eva and Belinda – he's full of raging lust, but is utterly incapable of acting on his misplaced responses (luckily for them!). Even Kevin, the hero, doesn't get away from Tarantini and uncredited co-writer Dardano Sacchetti unscathed, as he is played for laughs as often as he is for heroism. In an early scene he does the chivalrous thing by defending Monica's honour when a perverted local attacks her, sending the man packing with ease only to be accosted by the perv's two gigantic brothers – their bodies like polished marble. – and yet Kevin still gets rewarded as Monica visits his room for a fling that same night. The film's sexual politics are complex and not always clear cut, but the casual chauvinism and nudity (the latter being one of the key 'exploitable elements' that exemplified grindhouse fare) are routinely subject to undercutting and lampooning.

“Stop pouring this stuff, you're bombed-out now.” While other films in the cannibal genre have a far higher profile, chief among them Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust and Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox, Tarantini's lesser-known Massacre In Dinosaur Valley proves to be a thoroughly entertaining ride, which somehow manages to balance its sex, violence, politics, and goofier moments with confidence – if not always finesse. Breezily paced, it's a solid adventure film with enough action, humour, and bared skin to satisfy genre fans.

“Oh shit, that's all I needed, the heel's broken!” 88 Films' 22nd entry in 'The Italian Collection', and the second part of their crowd-funded 'Italian Collection Restoration Project' proves to be a mixed affair. Picture quality is generally good, probably about as good as you could expect from a slightly more niche title as this (as opposed to the better known grind flicks), but it does shift around quite a bit throughout. Certain darker scenes appear quite grainy, while other sequences look lovely and sharp. Likewise, audio quality is generally good but does occasionally slip up – a few instances of harshly hissed “S” sounds stick out like a sore thumb, but as with many of these types of releases it's tricky to tell what is simply inherent to the film elements themselves or any shortcomings in the restoration process.

Extras wise the DVD features a selection of deleted scenes (10:32) – most of which are either silent (because no dub was ever created for them) or are in Italian (because no English dug exists), but to find such materials for one of these films is a rare treat, especially because they too have been restored – you even get some bonus T&A, you saucy puppies. Furthermore, there is the obligatory trailer, as well as a featurette (19:52) where Dr Calum Waddell provides some interesting social and cinematic context for the film, such as the influences on getting it made and the political situation in 1980s Brazil. He also discusses other areas such as racism and 'misrepresentation', although you do wonder if he'd be as unimpressed by the likes of Braveheart (Scottish history as told and performed by an Australian and filmed in Ireland) or various other films when it comes to 'misrepresentation'. The disc also features an Italian language version – but that comes with fixed subtitles, and most egregiously is missing more than a minute from the Myara/Belinda scene in Act III (which is present and correct in the English version). Indeed, missing footage seems to be a tricky area for this release.

While some hardcore fans stubbornly complain about animal cruelty footage being cut – in this instance two fighting cockerels (although the uncut sequence is nothing like the rather problematic scenes in Cannibal Holocaust) – I have personally never had a problem with such footage being editing out. Waddell does make an interesting argument in the extras regarding the BBFC 'washing out' the history and practices of other cultures to suit our own nation's tastes, but frankly you're not missing anything. Now, MovieCensorship.com have detailed the missing footage from this release and they point out that the love scene between Kevin and Monica is missing a few scraps here and there – though no individual shots in their entirety – but upon closer inspection I'm not so convinced. The one clear difference is that in the fully uncut version of the film (someone uploaded it to YouTube, last time I looked) the love scene is edited together with dissolves, whereas in the version of the print restored by 88 Films the love scene uses normal straight cuts from one shot to the next. Reviewing the two versions of the scene back-to-back I found it difficult to notice any actual missing footage. So, all said and done, the only thing you're really missing is a few seconds of fighting cockerels – oh, and apparently 9 random seconds of the group walking through the jungle – the latter is a silly oversight, but the former is absolutely fine with me.

The particularly fastidious members of the audience might find cause to gripe, but the complaints might seem a bit overblown all things considered. This is a solid Region 2/B release.

N.B. Screenshots are from the DVD release.

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