Monday, February 25, 2008


It wasn't under the best of circumstances that I saw DEVIL HUNTER, Jess Franco's 1980 grungy attempt to cash in on the burgeoning jungle/cannibal genre. The print that I viewed was not only edited, with the copious frontal nudity pixellated out (what, are we in Japan all of a sudden?) and an unfortunate "letterboxed" transfer consisting of a troublesome black matte across the lower third of the picture. So it's no surprise I didn't enjoy it, though with such a tedious and lackluster movie, I doubt a pristine Criterion Collection presentation would've fared much better.

After a brief introductory scene DEVIL HUNTER morphs into a silent, almost surreal montage of images and distorted electronic music that, as it's used for padding rather than artistic purposes, ends with no payoff; in fact, the film is largely made up of quick, repetitive shots (of bloody breasts, a close-up of teeth chewing flesh, endless tribal dances) without context that make it hard to determine just what the hell is going on. The wafer-thin plot concerns an actress (Ursula Fellner) on location in the African jungle who gets kidnapped and the Vietnam veteran (ZOMBIE's Al Cliver) who rescues her; but the real "star," if that's the right word, is the bug-eyed cannibal-zombie-whatsit who roams the scenery, chomping on the hearts of sacrificial victims.

For much of its running time, DEVIL HUNTER plays like a softcore version of Joe D'Amato's PORNO HOLOCAUST. Only instead of unattractive Italians humping each other's brains out we're treated to drawn-out but ultimately tame scenes of sexual sadism as Fellner is tormented by her captors. It's a long, slow ride, the kind of film that feels as if half an hour's elapsed when in reality it's been only five minutes; a lot of Franco's movies are uneventful, but they usually cast a stylish hypnotic spell that makes up for a lack of action--here, we get Franco at his hackiest, so no such luck.

The only real action occurs at the climax, when Cliver battles the cannibal-zombie dude (who belongs more in an alien-invasion flick with his red-rimmed golfball-eyes) at the top of a cliff, though thanks to the miniscule budget it fails to convey much immediacy. We simply see Cliver fighting the zombie--the latter's pixellated member wagging away, until Franco cuts to the bottom on the cliff, the creature lying in a tiny pool of blood.

If you really must see this, exert a little effort into tracking down an uncut print; the movie still won't be great, but at least you can see more of what's going on (such as Franco's lecherous camera angles--hey, if he's gonna linger on female genitalia, we might as well be able to see it). Insomniacs, your version awaits you via Netflix.

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