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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Cannibal Girls (DVD)

Cannibal Girls
1973 (2010) - Shout! Factory
Released on DVD on October 26th, 2010

Ivan Reitman is well-known today as the producer and director of such wildly successful comedies as Ghostbusters and its sequel and Twins. But before he migrated south, Reitman was just another struggling Canadian filmmaker at a time when Canada was turning out some great horror movies. Early on, he hooked up with another young filmmaker named David Cronenberg and produced his first two films, Shivers (a.k.a. They Came from Within) and Rabid. But even before that, Reitman had gone deeply into debt with his friend and partner Dan Goldberg (most recently the producer of The Hangover) trying to make their own horror-comedy. They hired local actors gifted at improvisation, including Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin, and armed only with an outline, essentially made the movie up as they went along.

Eventually, they were able to sell the movie to legendary exploitation distributor American International Pictures and, in 1973, Cannibal Girls made the rounds of drive-ins and grindhouses everywhere.

Since then, Cannibal Girls has been extremely difficult to see, almost taking on the status of an urban legend among people interested in the early careers of Reitman, Levy and the rest. I suspect the first time many sharp-eyed fans learned of the film's existence was when the title appeared on a marquee in Ghostbusters II. Now that Shout! Factory has finally re-released Cannibal Girls on DVD, it'd be nice to say that it's an undiscovered gem, showcasing the raw talents of Reitman, Goldberg, Levy and Martin in nascent form. I could say that... but it would be a lie.

Levy and Martin star as a vacationing couple who decide to spend the night in a little one-horse town. The owner of their motel tells them a story about three girls (Randall Carpenter, Bonnie Neilson and Mira Pawluk) who used to live in an old house just outside of town where they'd seduce, kill and eat men passing through. The house has been turned into a gourmet restaurant presided over by the Reverend Alex St. John (Ronald Ulrich). Levy and Martin go there for dinner but surprise! Turns out the Cannibal Girls are still very much around and hungry.

There's really only one problem with Cannibal Girls: inexperience. The mere presence of Andrea Martin and a heavily ‘fro'd-out, mustached Eugene Levy makes you feel like you're watching an SCTV parody of horror movies. As you wait for a punchline that never comes, you begin to realize that no, this is actually supposed to be a horror movie, albeit one you're not supposed to take too seriously. The trouble is that the comedy isn't all that funny and the horror isn't all that scary. Reitman and Goldberg can't quite decide on a tone, so the movie just sits there. There are a few oddly amusing touches here and there, including Levy serenading Martin with a bizarre folk ballad, and the entire cast is pretty good, even those who didn't go on to fame and fortune. But really, Cannibal Girls is more of a curiosity than a satisfying movie experience.

Kudos to Shout! Factory, however, for trying to do something special with this flick. It's a surprisingly decent transfer for such a low-budget film. When AIP picked up the movie, they added a "Warning Bell" gimmick that would sound off whenever something gruesome was about to happen, allowing the shrinking violets in the crowd to avert their eyes. The disc offers two audio options (both in mono), either with or without the Warning Bell. I recommend the bell option, since it makes the movie far more amusing. Remarkably, the disc also provides new interviews with Ivan Reitman, Daniel Goldberg and Eugene Levy. Reitman and Goldberg chat about the movie from what appears to be a conference room in Reitman's office, while Levy is interviewed in a Toronto butcher shop. Both features are candid, funny and insightful and I have nothing but the utmost respect for these three extremely successful men agreeing to discuss this weird footnote to their careers. Finally, the disc provides the original theatrical trailer, TV spot and two radio spots advertising a classic AIP double bill of Cannibal Girls and Raw Meat.

I've known about Cannibal Girls for a long, long time, so I'm very glad I can finally cross it off my list, even if the movie itself is a bit of a let-down. It's worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of the stars, director or just Canadian exploitation movies, but honestly, the stories behind the movie are a lot more interesting than the movie itself. If you do rent or buy this one, you might want to consider watching the special features first.

Film Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B+

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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