Friday, 1 May 2009

CANNIBAL: The Most Sickening Consumer Guide Ever!

By John Martin
Introduction by Quentin Tarantino
162 pages, Full Colour.
Dimensions: H=29.8cm W=21.1cm
SRP: £19.99 (UK)
Now here's a book to get my teeth into...a lovingly in-depth exploration of the Cannibal genre courtesy of the good folks at The Dark Side and John Martin (Seduction Of The Gullible, Giallo Pages, etc.). The cover image is a suitably bastard hybrid comprised of iconic images from such flicks as Zombie Flesh Eaters, Last Cannibal World, and Cannibal Apocalypse. They say you can never judge a book by its' cover, but this one seems to buck the trend quite graphically!

The running order follows that of a menu, with 'courses' instead of chapters and 'hors d'oeuvre' standing in for the introduction, which is delivered in the characteristic, rambling and thoroughly enthusiastic style of one Quentin Tarantino (in full-on former video store clerk geek-out mode) as he reminisces about some of his favourite slices of Italian genre cinema, providing something of a thumbnail sketch for what lies ahead.

Martin begins by tracing the cinematic lineage and subsequent evolution of the cannibal film as we know it, from its' roots in the Mondo movies such as 'Mondo Cane' and 'Africa Addio'. What made the Italian Cannibal movies so shocking in their day was not the subject matter at hand, but the way in which it was presented, with a distinct onus upon replicating the realism of the Mondo movies, such as the inclusion of real-life animal slaughter. He also frames the cannibal genre in socio-cultural terms as well, being at first a comment on Western exploration and exploitation, and latterly a comment on Western consumerism in general when the cannibal movies 'came home', which is to say ditched the jungle as a location.

The meteoric rise and inevitable fall (precipitated by the decline in quality that usually follows when everybody and their Mother jumps on a particular genre bandwagon) of the Cannibal genre is charted thus, and just like the ancient Chinese proverb which says 'Even the fiercest Tiger must one day submit to the Worm', even the most exquisitely-prepared gourmet meal is inescapably destined to turn into shit. Such was the lamentable fate of Italian Cannibal cinema, as Martin deftly outlines in the sobering chapter 'Too Many Cooks...'

It's a really well-written book, but its' greatest strength may also be its' greatest weakness. I had to exercise a little self-discipline and pace myself lest I read through it one sitting. The phrase "An evening read" is one that often gets tossed around a little too readily for my liking, but this will very likely prove to be the real deal unless you set yourself some strict reading limits and adhere to them. Suffice to say, such is the quality of the prose within that I shall definitely be making it a point to check out some of Martin's other work as a matter of priority.

As the book progresses, it takes in other movies which may or may not pass your own personal acid test as to whether they constitute 'cannibal movies' or not, such as films featuring flesh-eating zombies. Some might complain that this is a somewhat tenuous link, explored only to further pad out what is already a slim volume. However, the author's assumption that fans of Italian cannibal cinema will also be fans of Italian zombie cinema (and indeed, by extension, Italian exploitation cinema in general) certainly holds true with this reviewer, and is probably true for you too...after all, you're here reading this, aren't you? Purists and pedants may wish to split hairs, but personally I am all for the inclusion of it.

After the main body of text is done, and the chronology completed, there's a whole host of goodies yet to come, including a feature-length interview with John Morghen ("The Perfect Victim") as well as a plethora of supplementary interviews with a literal "Who's Who?" of Italian genre cinema (...and when I say a literal "Who's Who?" of Italian genre cinema, I mean it: Fulci, D'Amato, De Angelis, Deodato, Lenzi, Margheriti, Martino, De Rossi), and a filmography.
Unfortunately, I don't have a full collection of The Dark Side or Giallo Pages, so I have no way of knowing whether these interviews have seen print before, although I would certainly suspect this to be the case given that some of the subjects are now sadly dead. Still, they're all new to me, and I enjoyed them greatly.

As you might expect, the text throughout is complimented by the usual stunning array of rare promo stills, candid behind-the-scenes shots, and obscure foreign one-sheets and lobby cards, the cumulative effect of which is a sensation somewhere between extreme envy, homicidal rage, and a burning desire to spend a lot of money on Ebay because you suddenly realise that you don't have enough rare genre movie collectable stuff in your life...or your spare room, garage, or attic.

If you have the merest inkling of an interest in this genre, then I'd say it's an essential purchase (although you're hardly spoilt for choice in this area...the only other book I am aware of is Jay Slater's 'Eaten Alive', which I shall be reviewing shortly). The question is weighing up your enthusiasm for the genre against the price you are willing to pay. Personally, I'd wouldn't pay £20 for this, as whilst I can appreciate that it's a highly specialist subject and thus one must pay a little over the odds for it, I still think it's slightly overpriced. If someone offers you a copy for around £15 or less, then bite their hand off!

I think the most telling verdict I can give you is this: It cost me nothing (obtained it by redeeming points on a supermarket loyalty card), I've already read it cover to cover, but I won't be putting my copy up on Ebay any time soon, even though I could no doubt turn a handsome profit on it.

In short, it's a bona fide keeper...I just wish there was more of it!

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