Kleenex Ferox… Eli Roth’s Seminal THE GREEN INFERNO Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. eOne. 18.

That well-known “twisted director” Eli Roth is representative of a film making generation (most notably / notoriously represented, of course, by Tarantino) who grew up watching VHS of the kind commonly characterised as “nasty” by our moronic British press. Taking his cue from QT, he’s paid his dues. Cabin Fever (2002) melded elements of the Evil Dead franchise with suggestions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre / Deliverance / 2000 Maniacs et al. His Hostel films (2005-7), while helping to establish the dubious “torture porn” trend, also found time to offer thanks to the likes of  Fulci, Martino and Lado, plus room in their casts for spaghetti exploitation icons Luc Merenda, Edwige Fenech and Ruggero Deodato. The Green Inferno (2013) which is actually dedicated to Deodato, is mounted as a post modern tribute / reboot / critique of the cannibal genre that Deodato co-founded with Umberto Lenzi (here is not the place to get into the ongoing, hoary “who came first” argument.)

TGI’s first quarter unfolds on an NYU campus where Lorenza Izzo’s Justine (those who know their de Sade will be able to predict with some confidence that lots of bad stuff is going to befall this character) falls for the charismatic Alejandro (Ariel Levy), who’s trying to raise the consciousness of students and recruit them as volunteers for a trip to Peru where they’ll confront the corporate interests hacking down the the rain forest and endangering indigenous communities. Good luck with that… having recently suffered the misfortune of working on a British university campus, I’d have to say the only causes that might feasibly raise these trainee Clem Fandangos from their self-regarding torpor would be, like, shortages of beard styling wax or a ban on wearing, like, drainpipe jeans with, like, stupid rips in their knees. Justine, however, is so hot for Alejandro and so indignant about female genital mutilation (hang on, that doesn’t really make sense… but no prizes for guessing where this plot strand is leading) she signs up for the expedition.

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The second quarter introduces the other significant characters, confronts them with the expected jungle perils (up to and including “dick-biting tarantulas”) and pits them against the mercenary militia who are clearing the forest. Although the idea is that their mobile phones, hooked up to a satellite transmitter, will simultaneously expose corporate misdeeds and protect them from the vengeful excesses of the goon squad (Roth’s 21st Century upgrade of Deodato’s influential “found footage” device), it becomes apparent that Alejandro and his snotty girlfriend had factored in the possibility of Justine’s murder acting as a potential game changer for their cause.

Fortunately, our eco warriors manage to register a significant propaganda coup without that happening. Packed on the first light aircraft out of the country by the Peruvian authorities, they’re celebrating (and Justine’s attempting to come to terms with her disillusionment) when an engine catches fire and they plummet into that green inferno. Those that end up messily decapitated or impaled on trees are probably the lucky ones, as the survivors promptly fall into the hands of the fearsome Yajes tribe, who take them for developers on account of the corporate duds in which they were disguised. The Yajes have very definite ideas of their own on how to discourage the encroachments of rapacious transnational capitalism… they’re rather peckish, too!

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The balance of the picture unfurls as an orgy of yuppy dismemberment, courtesy of gore FX aces Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, in collaboration with cast member / “senior visual effects generalist” Aaron Burns. Heads are limbs are lopped off with gay abandon… eyes and tongues are pulled and cut out then scarfed down… body parts are flayed, salted and cooked… dudes are impaled over mounds of flesh eating ants (see above)… if anything these outrages are more convincingly rendered than anything perpetrated by the de Rossis for Deoadato, Lenzi and Marghereti. Given the director’s clear penchant for explicit bodily horror, I can only imagine that if he ever finds himself suffering from piles, he’ll treat us to an in-your-face autobiographical documentary about it… The Grapes Of Roth, anyone?

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While Izzo gurns up a storm in contemplation of the unfolding horrors, her friends struggle to bolster each other’s courage and contrive an escape from the holding pen in which they’ve been left to contemplate their collective fate (no choruses of Red River Valley, though) … all except Alejandro who’s busy, definitively revealing his true colours. He cracks jokes about the first guy to be eaten, tries every trick in the book to bump his recruits up the menu list ahead of him, cheerfully announces that the whole trip was actually designed to aid a rival corporation who were paying him to obstruct their competitors… and as if all this weren’t bad enough, he then starts unselfconsciously masturbating in the death cage… no, I am not making this up! In a parallel universe where the grind house and drive-in circuits still exist, I’d like to think that Green Inferno will one day get re-released under the title Make Them Die Wanking. There’s also a misfiring gag (complete with explicit Scooby Doo reference) about the natives getting stoned and developing a bad collective case of the munchies, with predictable results… there’s only one thing worse than a tasteless joke and that’s one which isn’t funny!

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Presiding over the cannibals is a fearsome witchy alpha female (Antonieta Pari) who seems to have wandered in out of Robert Stevenson’s 1937 version of King Solomon’s Mines to “sniff out the evil doers”… and virgins. She’s Hymen Hunter General and no prizes for guessing what she has in mind for our Justine (would FGM really be on the agenda in such a blatantly matriarchal society? Just wondering…)

The tribe’s special regard for Justine and her virginity (which they intend to express with a distinctly back handed compliment) smacks of the “white cannibal queen” cliche from so many Italian (and other) anthropophagous epics. Further familiar tropes that get trotted out include the sympathetic native (a child in this case) who assists the heroine in her escape and the closing scene (explicitly referred to by Roth as Izzo’s “Lorraine De Selle moment”) in which Justine reassures the assembled representatives of academe and the media that she encountered no cannibalism, that her experiences among Amazonian natives were completely benign and that the developers are the bad guys (regrettably, she resists the opportunity to wonder “who are the real cannibals?” aloud.)

Why exactly would she do such a thing, though? Is she that keen to stop the bulldozers going in until the natives have eaten ol’ Wanky Pants (served up in his special white sauce)?  That would be understandable. It’s also suggested (rather unconvincingly in view of the ordeal she’s just undergone) that Justine has somehow come to view the natives as noble savages… FGM notwithstanding.

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Maybe the wider philosophical issues will be addressed in the bonus materials of this “director’s cut” edition? Unfortunately they’re virtually non-existent (though I did enjoy the way the 5.1 soundtrack option put me right there among the squawking macaws.)  It’s difficult to glean Roth’s philosophical take from the audio commentary that he undertakes with several cast and crew members, which rapidly degenerates into a rowdy “what we did on our Amazonian holiday” free-for-all. Our Eli is clearly an intelligent guy and a competent writer, director and producer (the making of TGI was obviously some kind of logistical feat) with serious potential. Given his film’s ambiguous title, it would have been interesting to hear him clarify his thoughts on it’s place in the cannibal movie canon and reflections on the ethical status of this particularly controversial screen tradition. He does state that as a PETA supporter he was never going to include any of the animal abuse which even Deodato, Lenzi and Martino have subsequently disowned and which still haunts the genre (88’s current release of Lenzi’s seminal The Man From Deep River, for example, has had three minutes of animal cruelty excised from it for certification) and, as mentioned, Roth spares us the threatened beaver mutilation.

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The most interesting revelation to emerge from this commentary track is that to get the villagers of Callanayacu up to speed, Roth and co treated them to their first ever film screening which was, appropriately enough, Cannibal Holocaust. Apparently  they received Deodato’s notorious endurance tester very much as a comedy! But were they still laughing when the news sank in, if it ever did, that the film makers were presenting them to the world as cannibals and genital mutilators… and that these were their good points?

The Green Inferno is the fruit of a long line of  Italian Cannibal films, most of them listed in a selective filmography that appears in its end credits (which omits, among others, Antonio Climati’s original The Green Inferno from 1988!) Like the best of those, it raises  more questions about cultural imperialism and film making ethics than it actually answers.

One unresolved question above all others, though continues to torment me… “Who are the real wankers?”

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Thinks: “Hmm, wonder if I could knock out a quick one before dinner time…”

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