Statuesque blond beauties have been a hallmark of cinema over the years. From Jayne Mansfield to Marilyn Monroe, the camera has always loved a bombshell, but there’s one scene that stands out above the rest. When Ursula Andress emerges from the Caribbean waters in the first James Bond picture, Dr. No. , a sex symbol had been born. Andress had taken the part on a lark and assumed that no one would see the movie, but instead the vision of her in the iconic white bikini has been burned into the psyche of the world’s movie goers. Dr. No. was made in 1962, and by the late 1970’s, Ursula’s star had fallen a bit. She had yet to film her memorable 1981 performance in Clash of the Titans when she took a role in a Italian picture opposite a young Stacy Keach who himself was five years away from defining himself to the American public as Mike Hammer. Tonight we bring you that film at brought these past and future icons together.
The Mountain of the Cannibal God (Montagna del diocannibale) starring Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, and Claudio Cassinelli. Directed by Sergio Martino.
As the film opens we are introduced to Susan Stephenson (Andress), as she travels to New Guinea in search of her lost husband Henry. She is accompanied by her brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina who reminded me of Jude Law quite a lot in this film.). They are sent to Dr. Edward Foster (Keach) to enlist his help as a guide through the jungles. He thinks that her husband was headed for the island of Roka and the mountain of Ra Ra Mi. He agrees to guide them and they set off accompanied by some natives and Foster’s assistant Sura.
They make it through the jungle and onto the island. (Along the way there’s a scene of graphic animal violence that I will get into later.) Once they reach the island almost immediately one of their native helpers is killed in an animal trap, and they are attacked by masked islanders. Susan is cornered by and islander, but she is saved by Manolo (Cassinelli). They are taken to Father Moses’ mission on the island, and true motives for the expedition start to come to light. Edward was once a prisoner of the Puka tribe and forced to take part in their cannibalistic rituals. I loved the wild eyed look on Stacey Keach’s face as he intones “You never forget the taste of human flesh.” He is only interested in making sure the cannibal tribe has been wiped out. After being kicked out of the mission for bringing violence and lust among them, the party presses on toward the mountain. As they get to their destination, we learn of a plot of exploit the land for Uranium deposits and finally get a full glory and gory encounter with the Puka tribe.
I have to take a couple of minutes to talk about some specific parts of this film. The foremost thing on my mind are the scenes of animal violence. These are a running trait in the Italian cannibal films, but one particular bit of footage in this film sets it apart. A monkey is eaten by a very large python, and you see the helpless animal as it struggles to free itself from the overpowering jaws of the snake. The fear is very real and visceral in it’s eyes, and it made it a very tough scene for this hardened Bug to watch. To add insult to injury, I watched the interview footage of director Sergio Martino. Sergio seems to remember this animal snuff as being a happy accident caught spontaneously on film, but as the documentary shows (and it was pretty obvious even in viewing the movie), the monkey was pushed from off screen into the waiting python’s mouth. Sergio seems to have quite a selective memory of this film because he also claims there is no strong sexual content. In the course of the movie we see several topless island girls, and island girl masturbating, a man having sex with a giant boar, and several nude scenes from Miss Andress herself. The latter of these things is one reason I went out and tracked down this film. She was 43 when this movie was made, and there is no comparison between the plastic robots that are held up as beauty queens in this age and the natural beauty witnessed here.
To sum it all up, this movie was extremely well made. As with many of the Italian directors, the shots were set up beautifully and you can tell even though Martino was working in a low brow genre, he brought an artistic vision to the project. I enjoyed all the performances, and the plot was pretty well done with enough twists and turns in it to keep it interesting throughout. The score by Guido and Maruizio de Angelis really fits the film well and provide great atmosphere to the tenser moments. I recommend this film, but with the caveat that one needs to be aware of snake scene before you go into it. The cannibal gore itself is nothing special as compared to the modern age of special effects, but it’s that singular act of “nature” that will remain with me for years to come.