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El caníbal (Devil Hunter) (1980)

Alternate Titles
Barbarian Goddess
Die Blonde Göttin West Germany
Sexo caníbal
Cannibals Une Fille pour les cannibales France
Inferno der Kannibalen Germany, 2002, DVD title
Mondo cannibale
Mondo cannibale 3 – Die blonde Göttin West Germany, video box title White Cannibal Queen USA

A Vietnam veteran heads to an island inhabited by cannibals to save a kidnapped model not only from her kidnappers, but also from the cannibals’ lurking Devil god.

From GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961) to SNAKEWOMAN (2005) the search for an elusive woman forms the structure of the narrative. Women are at the center of Franco’s world and filmography, vampires like Irina in FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) or Soledad Miranda’s Countess in VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971), sadists like Eugenie in EUGENIE DE SADE (1970) or Martine in PLAISIR A TROIS (1973). Women as predators.

Sometimes, as in his numerous Women in Prison titles, the woman can be both the predator (the female wardens in 99 WOMEN (1969), BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1976), etc) and victims (the tortured inmates in those films (usually played by Lina Romay).

Two 1980 co-productions, SEXO CANIBAL aka DEVIL HUNTER and WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN (1980) aka MONDO CANNIBALE aka CANNIBALS, present the woman-as-pursued/victim side of the coin.

Watching both again recently allowed me to set aside the fact that they are hardly first tier Franco or even good cannibal films and take them for what they are: in the case of DEVIL HUNTER, a monster movie-adventure as the director points out in the Severin DVD interview; a personal statement of his position in the industry and a commentary on Italian cannibal films in CANNIBALS.

Given the availability of Al Cliver, who had already appeared in Fulci’s successful comback, ZOMBIE (1979), I take it that these were shot back-to-back. DEVIL HUNTER, a French-Spanish-German co production, CANNIBALS, a French-Spanish co production with the Italians as perhaps silent partners (A FILM BY FRANCO PROSPERI). Both deal with an adventurer-hunter (Cliver) who travels to a tropical region in search of an abducted by woman. They both end with Cliver having to fight a cannibal to get away with the woman. The fact that the woman is a lithe blond in both cases is not insignificant. White is civilized, Black is primitive in both. Ironically, in CANNIBALS, the cannibal tribe are played by Spanish gypsies (according to the director) who are not black but do wear colorful, stylized facial makeup.

When the Portuguese guide, Mr. Martin, shows up, played by Jess Franco himself, it’s difficult to not hear the character’s self defense as the director’s own self-summation. He complains that he’s just trying to keep body and soul together by dealing with both sides of the struggle. The sexual abuse of the abducted woman in DEVIL HUNTER, then, is a crude way to insert sexploitation (excuse the bad pun) into a gore-adventure scenario, while there’s no sex at all, but jaw-dropping slow motion cannibal feasts in CANNIBALS.

Jess is having fun with the genre he obviously has little respect for. He’s not really well-suited to either adventure films or cannibal-gore films. What he can do is have as much fun as possible, put in his own personal comments and self-critique, and run for cover. — Robert Monell