Cannibal Girls

Year: 1973  Company: Scary Pictures   Runtime: 83′
Director: Ivan Reitman   Writers: Ivan Reitman, Daniel Goldberg, Robert Sandler
Cinematography: Robert Saad   Music: Doug Riley   Cast: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Ronald Ulrich,
Randall Carpenter, Bonnie Neilson, Mira Pawluk, Bob McHeady, Alan Gordon, Allan Price, Earl Pomerantz
Disc company: Filmswelike, Warner Music Canada   Video: 1080p 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 2.0 monophonic English   Subtitles: None   Disc: BD25 (Region A)
Release Date: 10/26/2010   Available for purchase through Amazon.ca and Amazon.com

“Gloria, do whatever makes you happy, and I’ll do whatever makes me happy.  And you know what’s going to make me really happy right now?  A big chocolate milkshake.”

Produced for a pittance in 1971 and released by exploitation megalith A.I.P. in 1973 with the classic tagline “These girls do exactly what you think they do!”, Ivan Reitman and Daniel Goldberg’s Cannibal Girls plays like Canada’s answer to the Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman gore fantasies of a decade past.  Featuring SCTV regulars Eugene Levy (Best in Show) and Andrea Martin (Black Christmas) and largely improvised from a 13-page treatment, the film blends overt comedy with exploitation staples and throws in a hefty dollop of the just plain weird for good measure.  The results won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those with a soft spot for genre oddballs are in for a real treat.

The story, such as it is, follows young couple Cliff and Gloria as they head off for a bit of rest and relaxation in small-town Canada.  After a bit of car trouble they settle in quaint little Framhamville, a place where people – especially woman – have a habit of disappearing.  While checking in at the local motel Cliff and Gloria here the legend of the cannibal girls, three devilish young ladies who lured men to their country home with the promise of sexual delights, only to feast on them instead.  As luck would have it their country estate has since become the town’s must-visit tourist destination – a bizarre bed and breakfast run by a demented reverend (Ronald Ulrich) that’s just dying to have Cliff and Gloria over for dinner.  Soon the cannibal legend is looking more like a lesson in recent history, and the entire town seems to be in on the man-eating conspiracy!

Though it reminds heavily of Friedman and Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs, in which a village of cannibal Confederates conspires against a carload of Yankee passers by, Cannibal Girls offers more than enough of its own brand of the schlocky and strange to stand apart.  Case in point is the good reverend Alex St. John, Farmhamville’s resident cannibal guru and hypnotist extraordinaire, and leader of the eponymous pack of man-eating nymphets.  As played by Ronald Ulrich the character is hilariously bizarre, a tuxedo-donning Shakespeare-reciting weirdo who leads his girls in hymns and is prone to mumbling about the “rich, red, warm blood of life”.  Ulrich takes to the role with a deadly earnest that makes it all the more hysterical, leaving it unclear as to whether he was actually in on the gag or just doing his best by the material.


Ouch.

More transparent in their roles are Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin as bickering young lovers whose relationship is imperiled by their stopover in Farmhamville.  Levy and Martin play mostly as two archetypes – the man who just wants to get laid, and the woman who takes things much more seriously – but become quite endearing as time wears on.  Levy, though more than adept at delivering both scripted lines and improvisation, is here best remembered for his numerous crimes against good fashion sense.  From his bulky furs to a knitted tie (these exist??) there’s little he wears that isn’t cringe-worthy, though it’s his hair that really takes the prize – the actor is all but unrecognizable beneath his sideburns, Bollywood-villain mustache, and monstrous bobbling mane.  Martin may be the only member of the cast whose performance speaks for genuine talent, and while she carries the lighter early drama well it’s her believable late-film paranoia that really makes an impression.  It also builds perfectly to the film’s ludicrous step-frame twist ending, a stupefying turn of events I’ll not spoil here.

Though its trappings are largely comedic Cannibal Girls still works as bread-and-butter exploitation, offering up plenty of exposed flesh and stage blood (and some combinations thereof as well) before its 83 minutes are up.  Reitman and Goldberg offer up a cannibal girl for every taste here – blonde, brunette and red-head – each of whom are given their own dim-witted beau to attend to.  The majority of the more salacious material is limited to a lengthy pseudo flashback early on in the film, in which the girls are given ample opportunity to do “exactly what you think they do”, though there are lovingly tasteless flourishes to be found throughout.  The uber-exploitative opening is a prime example, dishing out a helping of gratuitous nudity, blood, and hypnotic weirdness before the credits even roll.  There’s little in the way of overt gore to be had, separating Cannibal Girls still further from its inspirations, but the shocks are handled pretty well given the paucity of the production and the limited experience of its crew.  The appearance of a pair of bloodied scissors still gives me a jolt, particularly when a bit of well-conceived phallic imagery hints further at what they had been used for…

Cannibal Girls never quite decides whether it wants to be outright exploitation or a spoof of the same, but it works well enough on both levels to keep this reviewer happy.  Silly and sexy and just violent enough to pack a punch, Cannibal Girls grows on me a little more each time I see it – it’s quickly becoming a personal favorite!  The long list of familiar names attached to it will give Cannibal Girls plenty of niche appeal, but it’s really best appreciated on its own strange terms.  Schlock aficionados, trash connoisseurs, and fans of the generally bizarre owe it to themselves to give this oddball genre flunky a run – they just might like it.


If I can’t convince you to give this film a chance, perhaps Bonnie Neilson can…

Just how well you take to Filmswelike and Warner Music Canada’s Blu-ray edition of Cannibal Girls will largely depend on how well you take to the film itself – I happen to adore it, in no uncertain terms, which has put me in a more forgiving mood than the usual with regards to this review.  Released day and date with Shout! Factory’s domestic DVD edition, this hi-def sister package from north of the border is sourced from the same transfer and features much of the same supplemental content.  The difference, as ever, is in the details, and while this Blu-ray package is inarguably imperfect fans of the film and its famous progenitors should still find plenty to love therein.

Though listed as 1.85:1, Filmswelike and Warner Music Canada present Cannibal Girls at the marginally more open aspect ratio of 1.78:1 via a freshly minted 1080p transfer from the “newly restored original film elements”.  Restored or no, the film elements in question have clearly seen better days, though that’s far from unexpected given the nature of the film in question.  Cannibal Girls is an overflowing font of visual imperfections from start to finish, with a host of white flecks and blemishes, persistent scratches and baked-in black specks that will warm the hearts of those who, like myself, enjoy this sort of patina in their grindhouse entertainment.  Your mileage may vary.  There’s also a good deal of grain on display, though it’s honestly not so intense as I was anticipating.  This aspect of the image tightens up nicely compared to the DVD, and help it to export a more faithfully film-like aesthetic.

Otherwise Cannibal Girls improves only modestly, when at all, and I suspect which image is preferred will honestly be a matter of personal taste.  The Blu-ray presents with a broader range of black levels than the comparatively boosted DVD, and they can appear strong during some sequences and a bit milky in others – I’d say that the Blu-ray is just less forgiving of the source elements’ inconsistencies in this regard.  Colors vary only slightly, most notably in red shades, while detail can actually appear less pronounced, a product of the minor edge enhancement and contrast boosting applied to the DVD.  Be it because of Cannibal Girls‘ so-so original photography or weaknesses inherent in the sourced elements the differences in real-world detail are negligible for the most part, though the Blu-ray appears more accurate overall.

All of the above is honestly fine with this reviewer, who had minimal expectations for this presentation going in – Cannibal Girls was never going to be the kind of thing you throw in to show off your home theater anyway, and those expecting otherwise may well have lost all touch with reality.  More problematic are the technical limitations imposed on the product, which has been relegated to a single-layer BD25.  The feature takes up just 10.5 GB of space on-disc, with the AVC-encoded video suffering from a low average bitrate of 15.7 Mbps.  The deficiencies show up as blocking artifacts and inconsistent support of the film’s  natural grain structure, which can appear quite digital and noisy on close inspection.  In motion I didn’t find the issues to be too distracting, and the disc definitely has its stronger moments, but the specter of poor encoding is lurking all the while, and could well have been exorcised had this disc been bumped into dual layered territory.

For the sake of full disclosure, HD screenshots were captured as .png at full resolution in MPlayer and compressed to .jpg using the ImageMagick command-line tool.  After comparing to the original .png files the results appeared quite transparent to these eyes, even when zooming in 2-3x.  The sample DVD snapshots in comparison sets one through four were captured in .png format in VLC, upscaled to 1080 resolution from their native resolution and exported as .png in GIMP. These captures were then also compressed to .jpg using the ImageMagick command-line tool.
In the first four sets of captures the Shout! Factory DVD is represented first, followed by the Filmswelike / Warner Music Canada Blu-ray.

More Blu-ray Screenshots:

The audio, whether you choose to go with or without the “warning bell” gimmick, fares much better.  Both tracks receive Dolby TrueHD 2.0 monophonic encodes in the original English with results that are perfectly satisfactory.  Dialogue sounds as flat as it always has, as do many of the canned sound effects, but it’s all perfectly intelligible.  The original score by Doug Riley (alumnus of Reitman’s earlier Foxy Lady) offers a bit more opportunity for expansion, and presents with some modest depth.  Both tracks stay true to their bottom-dollar roots, and remain free of unnecessary modern remixing, which is all I really ask of them.  As is the case with the Shout! Factory DVD, there are no subtitles.

Supplements duplicate the Shout! Factory package for the most part, but all benefit from a bump to HD video (more so than the film itself!) and Dolby TrueHD audio.  Included are two substantial interview featurettes – Cannibal Guys (26′) with director Ivan Reitman and producer Daniel Goldberg, and Meat Eugene (19′) with star Eugene Levy – and the original theatrical trailer, which I’d say is sourced from better elements than the feature it advertises.  Lost from the Shout! Factory package are a 60 second television spot and two radio spots (30 and 60 seconds) and a nice reversible cover.  Gained, however, is the 22 minute Reitman and Goldberg short film Orientation, an amusing artifact from their days at McMaster University presented in 1080p in its original 4:3 aspect ratio.  Though most definitely not a horror film (beyond the horrors of starting college, I suppose) it does make for an excellent companion piece, and the score is pretty groovy too!  Cannibal Girls also exemplifies one of the unsung benefits of the Blu-ray format, in that all of the disc’s content is accessible at any point in playback, even during the supplements, via a simple pop-up menu.  While it may not be a big deal to some it makes my job that much easier, and I heartily approve.

Unless you’re the kind of person for whom the simple act of owning Cannibal Girls on Blu-ray is its own reward (guilty!), this really isn’t must-buy material.  The biggest benefit over the Shout! Factory DVD edition is in the high definition supplements and the addition of the short student film Orientation, but the feature presentation is pretty much a wash.  Both have their downsides, be it the DVD’s limited resolution and digital boosting or the Blu-ray’s paltry encoding, and with the difference in retail price so minor ($22.97 DVD, or CDN$24.99 Blu-ray) it’s impossible for me to recommend one over the other.  I’m perfectly happy to have both sitting on my shelf, but anything beyond that is down to personal preference.

in conclusion
Film: One of a kind  Video: Good  Audio: Excellent   Supplements: Excellent
Harrumphs: No subtitles, iffy video encode for the feature.
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case.

The Horrible Sexy Vampire

a.k.a. El Vampiro de la Autopista / Le Mania di Mr. Winninger Omicida Sessuale
Year: 1970   Company: Cinefilms / Fida Cinematografica   Runtime: 90′
Director: Jose Luis Madrid   Writer: Jose Luis Madrid   Cinematography: Francisco J. Madurga
Music: Angel Arteaga   Cast: Val Davis (as Waldemar Wohlfahrt),  Barta Barri, Anastasio Campoy,
Susan Carvasal, Victor Davis, Kurt Esteban, Luis Induni, Patricia Loran, Jose Marco, Luis Marugan
Available in the Undead: The Vampire Collection bargain-bin DVD set from Mill Creek Entertainment.

As a prime example of the boring and under-achieving co-produced European horror cinema of four decades past, 1970′s The Horrible Sexy Vampire is, well, boring and under-achieving.  Funded with pocket change forked forth by Spain’s Cinefilms and Italy’s Fida Cinematografica and filmed in Germany, Vampire is a pulse-free skin flick that tries to excuse itself with a tiresome Gothic horror framework.  The only noteworthy aspect of the production is its own inherent awfulness, for which the title gets things at least partly right – it’s certainly horrible.

The story, credited to director Jose Luis Madrid (7 Murders for Scotland Yard), is as generic as they come.  Bleached Count Oblensky (Val Davis, The Lustful Amazons) inherits a spooky German mansion around which a series of strange murders have been taking place, and begins to suspect that his ancestor Baron Winninger, long thought dead, may be responsible.  A crusty old inspector investigates the murders, badly, while Oblensky tries to save his similarly bleached lover from becoming a footnote in a case file.

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Piranha 3D

film rating:
company: Dimension Films
and The Weinstein Company
year: 2010
runtime: 88′
director: Alexandre Aja
cast: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen,
Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames,
Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss,
Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth
writers: Pete Goldfinger
and Josh Stolberg
cinematography: John R. Leonetti
music: Michael Wandmacher
Out in wide release now

Plot: Spring break festivities at a lakeside resort come to a relentlessly bloody end after a species of piranha thought extinct for millions of years unexpectedly resurfaces.

It’s worth repeating before going too much into things that I’m a huge fan of the original Piranha, the Joe Dante-directed John Sayles-penned Roger Corman-produced cult classic that took drive-in audiences by storm in the summer of 1978. After a dreadful official sequel produced by Ovidio G. Assontis and a limp mid-90s Corman remake, I was necessarily underwhelmed when news of yet another retread came across the wire. But contemporary cult powerhouses Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company have done more than just repeat that tired history, they’ve set out to unleash an indelible exploitation experience for the ages. I plunked down a hard-earned $13 and saw their film last night in all the gimmicky glory RealD stereoscopic projection has to offer and have to confess – it was one hell of a show.

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