Man from the Deep River (1972)
By: Julian on July 29, 2010  | 
Shriek Show | Region 1, NTSC | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 1.0 | 93 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai, Pratitsak Singhara, Org Ard
Screenplay: Francesco Barilli, Massimo D'Avak
Country: Italy
External Links
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The Italian cannibal film is a curious thing because it is one of the few sub-genres in the prodigious Italian exploitation market that is completely original to that country. The Italo-cannibal cycle evolved when Umberto Lenzi directed Man from Deep River, an effortless amalgam of mondo shockumentary realism (a feel the director callously augmented with a gratuitous series of animal killings) and the graphic, gory violence of gialli. Although this was the film that started the craze, Man from Deep River has fallen by the wayside as the leaner, smarter and, well, more cannibal flagships of the genre sailed into grindhouses and, later, living rooms – Deodato's pair of entries and Lenzi's own Cannibal Ferox are surely the three entries heading the flotilla.

Man from Deep River isn't a bad film, but it's a lesser entry to the genre. It holds nothing against Deodato's films or Lenzi's later films in the cannibal stakes (there's only a 30 or 40 second scene of cannibalism present in Man from Deep River's 93 minute duration, and it's fair to say that cannibalism is not exactly the point of the film, its presence is just another attempt at introducing a mondo device) but it is highly successful as a fictitious adaptation of the themes, particularly the ignorantly framed barbarianism of tribal people, that were central to the mondo film, especially Jacopetti and Prosperi's entries.

He dared the forbidden river! Where adventure ends... and hell begins!

Arrogant British photographer John Bradley (a Nordic looking Ivan Rassimov) takes a river cruise towards the Thai-Burmese border, only to have one glass too many of J&B and fall asleep. When he wakes, he discovers that his tour guide has fallen overboard and drowned, and he is now in the clutches of a tribe who keep him captive for one of the tribal leader's daughters Marayà (Me Me Lai). When John is taken out of the village to go hunting with some tribesmen, he attempts to escape by spearing one to death. Inexplicably, the tribe see this as an opportunity to take the Westerner into their fold, and they subject him to a series of barbaric, humiliating tests of endurance. Finally, John is completely assimilated into the tribe and, with Me Me Lai as his pregnant bride, he attempts to save the village from an attack by a nearby cannibal clan.

Man from Deep River's mondo influence is blaringly clear in the film, but it's also obvious in the film's promotional material: a poster used to advertise the film during its 1977 run at the Deuce proclaimed: "SEE! The torture that makes a modern man defenceless. SEE! The ritual that frees a woman to love again. SEE! The barbaric punishment of a trapped betrayer! SEE! The love of a tribal girl for the man from outside." This gimmick, an attempt to foreground the purported authenticity of the film, was replicated in the promotional material for many cannibal movies. A title card proclaiming the adaptation to be fictitious but the events themselves to be genuine might not incite a great deal of confidence in a discerning viewer, but it's further evidence that Lenzi was trying for a mondo flick with some narrative flow.

What is irrefutably genuine is the animal death, which I've mentioned in brief above. It's a staple of the cannibal genre, and Man from Deep River has it all – a fight between a mongoose and a snake, the sacrifice of a goat in celebrations, the vivisection of a crocodile and a cute widdle monkey placed in a device that shears off the top of its skull so the natives can chow on its brains (a scene Lenzi decided to emulate in a more extreme incarnation in Cannibal Ferox). This sort of imagery is clearly repugnant and that's its purpose – presumably these scenes also designed to lazily lend a certain veracity to the proceedings that cheap effects on humans would be incapable of doing. Indeed, this reviewer would assess most of the punch that cannibal films pack is because of the manner in which simulated human violence operates when married to real animal violence. Lenzi's ploy, later repeated to almost perfect effect by Ruggero Deodato in Cannibal Holocaust, is cynical, unnecessary and utterly misanthropic – but there's no denying its power.

Deodato used Man from Deep River as his template and took it up a notch in 1977 with Jungle Holocaust, then topped himself spectacularly two years later with Cannibal Holocaust. Those films are both superior to this one, but it's worth remembering that, in 1973, the cannibal sub-genre was firmly in its infancy and still more closely resembled fictionalised mondo films than unique horror movies unto themselves. Man from Deep River is a decent picture, preceded by a puzzlingly grislier reputation than the film itself and bolstered by a far grislier legacy of imitators. Although he's made a fair canon of films in which he apes others and himself, I rate Umberto Lenzi highly as a director and his talent shows here. Rassimov turns in a surprisingly adequate performance as our hero (although he is better as a more polycentric character in Jungle Holocaust, where he reunites with Me Me Lai). I've stressed that this is not strictly a cannibal film when judged against those pictures that followed it, nor is it anywhere near as gruelling, but it's paced well and contains a few scenes of interest – all in all, a success – and a groundbreaker – for Lenzi.
The film is presented in 2.35:1, but for an Italian exploitation film that's pushing forty, it's not a bad transfer.
Happily, Shriek Show has provided us with an English and Italian audio track in Dolby Digital mono. Both tracks are of acceptable quality. English subtitles are provided, but don't expect them to match up with the English audio track. The subtitles are optional with English audio, and forced with Italian audio.
Extra Features
A 10-minute interview with Lenzi, an image gallery with production photos and promotional material and trailers for this film and other Shriek Show releases.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Almost forty years has passed since Man from Deep River opened the floodgates to a juggernaut of similar Italian exploitation films. While the original film shows its age and immaturity, Man from Deep River is a decent effort by Lenzi, who would hone his craft in the early eighties with the positively nasty Cannibal Ferox. Worth picking up, but those bred on the excesses of Man from Deep River's progeny may be disappointed.

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