Devil Hunter (1980)
By: Mr Intolerance on November 17, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Severin (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono, French DD 2.0 Mono. English Subtitles. 102 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Al Cliver, Ursula Fellner, Robert Foster, Antonio de Cabo, Gisella Hahn
Screenplay: Julius Valery, Clifford Brown
Country: Italy/Spain/France
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Ahhhhh!!! My eyes! My eyes! I've just watched one of the crappest films of all time, and I'm wondering if my eyes will ever see goodness again. I'm thinking not. Look, I'm quite a fan of Jess Franco's work, having sat through better than 40 or so of his films (which I realise is only a fraction of this director's 200+ films – and he's still making them, even into his dotage, which I salute – if there's medal for services to the exploitation industry, this guy deserves the highest accolade possible), from the truly awful, like this one, or Jack the Ripper, to the absolutely stellar, like Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, or Vampyros Lesbos, possibly the Citizen Kane of sexploitation films. But this was truly a terrible film. Why? Franco didn't give a shit about it; he was a merely a jobbing director on Devil Hunter, and it shows. It's riding on the coat-tails of the Italian cannibal movie craze of the late 70s, a genre that Franco by his own admission had zero interest in – this film is the definition of the "I did it 'cos they paid me" school of film-making. If you have no interest in what you're doing, regardless of occupation, you won't do a good job; you'll be mediocre at best, and this is less than mediocre.

Laura (Fellner) is an actress (and not a very good one, either in this film, or within the interior logic of the film itself) and model (in real life Fellner was a Playmate of the Year – personally, I prefer more the more voluptuous figure, but that's just me), and a pain in the arse. She is on location helping her director scout out locations for her next film – do actors really get that kind of creative input in real life? I think not. Scenes of her at the start mixing with the paparazzi are mixed with a cannibal tribe non-graphically eating the heart of a woman on a hunt (all butt-nekkid, and with the eponymous devil hunter wearing half a ping-pong ball – no, really; Franco says as much in an interview on the disc – over each eye, you really can't hope for too much. Personally, I couldn't but help of thinking of the aliens from Killers From Space, but anyhow) – satire? Yes, but in a rather "special" way… As in, "have their own bus" kind of "special".

Laura gets kidnapped, while naked and soapy in a bath – and it's about here we see two different angles on the Franco take on the whole Sadean vibe. People watching on while bad shit happens to others, in a prurient fashion. She's quite pretty, but every time she's on shot, I kept thinking to myself, "Get this woman some cheeseburgers, now!" She's easily as scrawny as Laura Gemser, and that ain't a good thing. Women need curves.

It's actually just struck me that there's no reason why Laura should have been kidnapped – kind of like Alexandra Della Colli's character in Zombie Holocaust suddenly going from imminent sacrifice to queen of the cannibals, the whole thing is inexplicably random, a real "huh?" moment. Our kidnappers are of course tetchy with each other (these kinda cats never get along in any film), and we don't even know what their cause is, and there does appear to be one besides simply getting the cash – do we support them or hate them? Who can tell? And even if they do intend returning Laura, why rape her first, thus exacerbating their crimes? Do they think the police aren't going to be tracking them down afterwards? Oh, so many questions, and never any answers…

Anyway, so Peter (Al Cliver, that perennially un-Italian-looking Italian actor, yes, from Zombi fame) an ex-Vietnam vet is sent off with the ransom money, and this still fails to raise any interest. Even when he's told that if he brings her back alive with the loot, he gets ten percent of the 6 million dollars asked for by her captors – you think it might up the pace somewhat, but you'd be wrong. The natives tend to react in a different way to the appearance of a helicopter by her potential hero, than the villains, who react to it as though it's a bank opening for business. The locals over-act like they've never seen one before. Therefore, the following equation must be made: helicopter + no prior knowledge = Al Cliver is God. Stands to reason, huh? Okay, that's a little harsh, as this is not the first time that kind of logic has been used in a film, but man, it's hard to like this film, or even agree with it in any way, shape or form. And when you watch this scene of the chopper landing, compare and contrast the exterior chopper shots (night) with the close up shots (day) – yes, it's that clumsy. It's weird to watch a director deliberately sabotage his own work.

The Vietnam vets are experiencing a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well. Particularly Peter's pilot, Jack. Basically, he's barking mad ("My head's a jungle!"). He's a pill-popping fool, and he's also carrying a gun – psycho-active drugs and high calibre pistols, now there's a winning combination.

So there's the exchange of girl and money, and Peter's quite blasé about whether or not Laura survives, which is highly unlikely, given that he's substituted a bunch of blank papers for the actual cash. And of course there's a trap involved, a highly unlikely one given the range of an automatic hand-held sub-machine gun, but I digress…

Anyway, events conspire so that our heroes, Laura, and the bad guys, who have now been split up, are all in different parts of the jungle, wandering around like a right bunch of twats, being stalked by our ocularly-challenged mate with his big black cock out. Franco points out in the interview accompanying the film that this guy had no problems with strutting about, tackle out. I can't think of anything worse, personally – imagine if you were caught on film and had a bit of a cold weather shrinkage malfunction. The most embarrassing moment in the world. This fella, who admittedly has nothing to worry about in that regard, obviously didn't give a shit. His gear's out there, swingin' in the breeze – to quote Kramer from Seinfeld in a similar scenario, "I'm out there Jerry, and I'm lovin' every minute of it!"

There is zero tension in this stalk and kill sequence. Much of the violence happens off-screen – we only get to see the after-effects, and the results are completely underwhelming. Plus, the confusion as to whether it's day or night in between shots continues – that day-for-night filter certainly got a workout here, often in wildly inappropriate places.

I realise that Franco is not an action director, in fact some of you Franco-hating wags might actually refer to him as an inaction director, but this is a new low, even for Uncle Jesus. His strength is actually in character studies (when he's given a decent script) and mood (which he evokes well, especially in his late 60s and early 70s films); given that, this jungle-action adventure was always going to be a bit of a test of his powers, seeing as how the characters are terribly under-written, an outline of the plot could fit on the back of a postage stamp and the fact that the whole script seems to be little more than a racist ("ooh, black people are savages" would appear to be the mindset at work here) and exploitative attempt to cash in on a fleetingly popular genre that a) had already started to burn itself out due its obvious limitations, and b) the director abhorred.     

Laura gets captured by the tribe of natives, and is likely to wind up as a bit of a sacrifice to the bug-eyed balls-out freak who's having all of the cannibal fun, and who, as it turns out, is worshipped as a God by the tribe. No, seriously. Can I point out at this juncture the amount of pointless zoom-ins on female crotches we get in this film, and equally gratuitous boob shots – this is the cinematic equivalent of a twelve year old looking up naughty words in the dictionary – "ah, I'm bored, let's do something lewd." Even this, and I'm a big fan of nice boobs, fails to raise the interest level. Franco is really directing by –the-numbers here.

Laura's prepped for the sacrifice with a bit of tribal dancing and music featuring much in the way of nekkid tribeswomen, as well as Laura herself being bare-arsed, with much of the cinematography being highly reminiscent of Rod Stewart's video for the song "Hot Legs", although in this case being shot between the legs of the tribe's high priest, and dear God I hope that what's hanging down between his legs is his furry lap-lap and not his scrotum.

Anyway, as we move into the final act – Laura is tied to the sacrificial tree (and believe me, the ping-pong dude has already got a taste for white meat), Al Cliver is still trying to be a hero, the bad-guys are still trying to get the cash – who will win? Who cares? This film isn't worth your time and effort, unless in the final act of a film you want to see Al Cliver wrestle a naked black man with bad prosthetic appliance make-up.   

Somehow, this was one of the BBFC's original "Video Nasties" – i.e.: my shopping list. I honestly can't see how this film made it onto that list, if it was for guts and gore. This is an awful film, with nothing to recommend it to the common and/or garden variety horror fan. Even in the realm of the exploitative, this has bollocks to offer – the violence is sub-par (props to Franco for not including any of the animal cruelty inherent to the genre). What, boobs? Can see those in the average Verhoeven flick. Sexual violence? Well, it's hardly D'Amato. The special effects? I could knock up better in my kitchen – I actually know a fella who made a more disturbing cannibal short flick with better special effects for less than fifty bucks. A dreadfully terrible film.       
Was the whole thing shot in day-for-night? It certainly seems it – a very dark print, and while clear (and I do mean very fucking clear indeed – some masochist must have spent a very long time with the original negative to get the picture this sharp), the lack of light does tend to prohibit what little entertainment might be had. There's also quite a few flaws in the picture, which doesn't tend to warm the cockles of the fussy video consumer. Plus there are many scenes from the cannibals POV which are deliberately smeared with vasoline or some such, and obscure the shot, basically. And it didn't help that with many of the shots of the titular cannibal, he had his cock out. Didn't need to see it, basically. No, it had nothing to do with inadequacy.

The film is presented in a 16:9 enhanced 1.66:1 aspect ratio, not 1.85:1 as the slick claims.
Dolby Digital mono, in both dubbed English and French. The audio tends to distort during the admittedly quite creepy soundtrack, and after the 3 disc Explosive edition of The Inglorious Bastards I do expect better from Severin.
Extra Features
An interview with Jess Franco called Sexo Cannibal – tastefully titled? You bet! Also one of this film's many alternate titles. What's really embarrassing about this feature is that Franco is speaking in perfectly legible English, and he's still being subtitled. Uncool. Uncool to the max. What's interesting about the doco, brief as it is, is that he didn't really want to make the film, but being that as we all know Italian cannibal films were running at a premium at the time, that's what was on offer to him. Another reviewer on this site has pointed out that when Franco's heart isn't in something it shows, and he's right. Given this nugget of information, the end result of this film becomes readily apparent. It's actually an interesting document into how he works.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
If this film were a person, I'd punch it in the throat. I mean, by and large I'd consider myself a Jess Franco fan, but man, here he's betrayed me. This is terrible and no mistake. By minute 15, I was looking for knives to head-butt. Big ones, too. The disc gets a 3 for presentation because of the sharp picture and the rather enlightening Franco interview only. Leaden, if not actually plodding, direction, bad acting and an almost incoherent script do not add up to a good movie. Colour me unimpressed.

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