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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cannibal Girls DVD Review

Cannibal Girls is a strange early-1970s horror film about three women and a reverend who enjoy a rather specific diet. When it played in movie theaters, this film employed the gimmick of having a warning bell sound before scary moments. The DVD includes the option of having the movie play with the warning bell. And that, of course, is what I did, in order to get as close as I could to the original theatrical experience. A voice-over at the beginning tells us: “During the showing of Cannibal Girls, in consideration of those of you with delicate sensibilities, a special warning bell has been installed. It will signal you when to close your eyes to avoid certain scenes of a shocking nature. A musical chime will indicate when you may safely open them again.”

The opening scene shows a couple fooling around playfully, and though there’s snow on the ground, they put down a blanket to make love. And sure enough, within seconds, the warning alarm goes off. We get horror and nudity all within the first two minutes of the film, before the opening credits. And that is exactly what you want from a film like this. Welcome to Farnhamville, “The Friendly City,” where vans deliver special meat.

After the opening credits, we are introduced to our two lead characters - Cliff and Gloria – who are taking a vacation in Farnhamville. But, as is demanded in horror films, they are lost. So they stop at the side of the road; and then they have trouble getting the car started again. It would be typical horror movie stuff, except that this couple is played by Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin (this is before their work with SCTV). So you know this is not going to be a completely straight horror film. Also, they are both wearing great fur coats.

They stop at the town’s sole motel, and are its only guests. The woman who owns it is happy they’re there, and tells them that people are scared off because of the legend of the three girls who coaxed men to their farm and killed them.

We’re then treated to a flashback of the three girls – a blonde, brunette, and redhead – toying with three men at their farmhouse. The redhead undresses in front of one of the guys, and then kills him (after the warning bell sounds). I’m guessing he might say it was worth it. The blonde handcuffs a guy to her bed, and the three girls then pour some blood on him and lick it off. He’s into it, of course, until they bite him, the blood clearly being just a sauce for the meal. It’s a wonderful moment.

Back in the present, the motel owner tells the couple the house is still there. It’s a restaurant now. “They say the food is very good,” she tells them. That’s typical of the humor of this movie, which is at times really funny.

They go to the restaurant. The Reverend, who greets them, comments “Lovely furs” as he takes their coats, and they both thank him. He shows them around, giving them interesting bits of information. About his distant cousin, he tells them, “It’s rumored that he liked men, sometimes exceedingly well. He did produce some very fine children. Though to be honest, none of them resemble him in the slightest.” He also tells them that their wine is made from grapes grown on his grandfather’s grave, as human remains add an earthy quality to wine. A lot of people aren’t aware of that.

The film is a good combination of horror and comedy, though a large part of the enjoyment comes from watching these early performances by Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin. The scene where Eugene Levy plays guitar in the motel room is particularly good.

Cannibal Girls was directed by Ivan Reitman, who went on to direct such films as Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters.

Bonus Features

This DVD has several bonus features. The first, Cannibal Guys, is a truly interesting conversation with director Ivan Reitman and producer Daniel Goldberg, and is approximately twenty-seven minutes. Ivan says that Sam Arkoff told him, “This movie is so terrible that it might make some money.” They talk about how they went about getting the equipment and securing the location, and about their short shooting schedule, only nine days. They talk about the guitar scene that I love, and say a lot of the film, including that scene, was improvised. There wasn’t a script, only a 13-page outline. Ivan Reitman tells us, “The great lesson that was learned on this movie is that screenplays are good, and it’s good to work on them for a long time.” The movie originally clocked in at only sixty-five minutes, so they had to shoot more, to make it funnier and scarier. The opening sequence with the couple is an example of a scene that was shot later. This is an excellent special feature.

The second bonus feature is Meat Eugene!  This is an interview that Richard Crouse conducted with Eugene Levy, and is approximately twenty minutes. It was shot at a meat market, which is kind of stupid, but the actual conversation is interesting. Eugene Levy talks about his early days, doing theatre. He’s quite candid about his inexperience in front of the camera when making Cannibal Girls. By the way, the fur coat he wore in the film was Dan Goldberg’s actual coat, and he says it didn’t quite fit him.

In neither of these features do they talk about the warning bell, which is a shame. I’d like to know whose idea it was, and when exactly it was introduced.

The DVD also includes the film’s theatrical trailer, with that great serious voice saying, “Strangers who stopped for lunch ended up staying for dinner.” There is also a television ad. Both the trailer and the commercial mention the warning bell. And there are two radio spots, advertising a double feature of Cannibal Girls and Raw Meat.

Cannibal Girls was released on DVD through Shout! Factory.

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