Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Picture With The Warning Bell

Just over a week ago I expressed my desire to see Ivan Reitman's low budget 1973 Canadian production, CANNIBAL GIRLS. Thanks to a very kind reader here, I now have a copy and here are some thoughts on this deliciously Canadian production.
CANNIBAL GIRLS starts out great with a fantastic wide opening shot of a Canadian coast where we pan in to find young couple making out. A mysterious figure suddenly appears and the couple is killed. The audience is then treated to a series of effectively creepy dissolves that quickly flash forward to the coldest of Ontario winters. It is a fine way to start out the film, and it immediately gives the work a nice 'urban legend' type feel. You can also feel the hunger in the lens of Reitman's camera in these opening moments, even though it lessens as the film plays out.
CANNIBAL GIRLS wasn't the future STRIPES (1980) and GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) director's first full length film, as a title called FOXY LADY (1971) holds that position. It was the one that really begin to put his name on the map, as it garnered quite a bit of attention in Canada when it was released in 1973. A bit later it would be picked up by Roger Corman for A.I.P. where it was a small Drive-In hit.

The film features many of Reitman's trademark humorous touches. One of the first things we see is a delivery truck with a delightful sign on its side that proclaims, "Meat, We Deliver!" and the film is filled with funny little asides alerting everyone that it shouldn't be taken too seriously. This is both effective and harmful to the production, as it almost works as a straight horror film at time but it never fully develops into one. Also the humor isn't sharp enough to transform the film into any kind of clever satire, so it is kind of a hanging production. One that is at times sharp and then oddly flat.
Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy CANNIBAL GIRLS, as overall I found it a fairly effective little exploitation film. Reitman manages to keep things interesting with his young cast, including future SCTV alumni Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin. The Cannibal Girls themselves are all lovely and they bring a real zest and energy to their parts. I was especially taken with Mira Pawluk, who unfortunately apparently never made another film after this. The two other girls of the title, Bonnie Neilson and Randall Carpenter, also have relatively small resumes which is a shame as they are all real charismatic and fun to watch.
Session musician Doug Riley contributes a nice low key score to the film, that works especially well in the more horrific moments. The cinematography by future Cronenberg D.P., Robert Saad, is solid if not overly memorable (this might have more to do with the darkness of my copy) and the film's pacing is good throughout.
A.I.P.'s original promotional campaign promised a bell in the theater that would ring every time a particular horrific or erotic situation was approaching, and the trailer itself is fantastic and can be viewed here.

My copy of the film runs just around 81 minutes and it is listed at IMDB at 84 but the print I watched looks uncut as it contains several instances of bloodletting and nudity. Outside of being important as one of the first breakthrough Canadian horror films, it would also inspire Rob Zombie's delightfully titled song "Ratfinks, Suicide Tanks, and Cannibal Girls". Also, one scene in the film reminded me of Eli Roth's astonishing trailer THANKSGIVING from GRINDHOUSE, so it seems Reitman's film has had a pretty good shelf life.
Reitman would of course soon be producing David Cronenbergs early work and would make a name for himself as a director with 1979's MEATBALLS. CANNIBAL GIRLS is a flawed but at times effective little feature that is worth tracking down for fans of seventies exploitation pictures.

For much more information on its production, may I recommend the fine and informative book "They Came From Within: A History Of The Canadia Horror Film by Caelum Vatnsdal. In this book there are several other features that I have been tracking down lately, including THE REINCARNATE and THE PYX, and I will be covering them here as well in the future.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

Great review. I've never seen this movie, so it was nice to learn more about it from you.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith...I was glad I was able to get a is an interesting little film.

Anonymous said...

Damn you're fast and prolific. Loved the review. - Damian P.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Damien...and I really appreciate the copy of it..