Jess Franco: A name that inspires awe in some, revulsion in others, and eye rolling from those who see the sheer quantity of his output and are immediately dismissive. Making close to 200 films will tend to put one in that kind of light, as quality control would seem nigh impossible. And it was, for the most part; as someone fairly new to the sordid and sweaty oeuvre of Franco, I am choosing to highlight what I think are interesting, or at least enjoyable films from his catalogue. So it was with slight trepidation that I threw on 88 Films’ excellent restored Blu-ray of Devil Hunter (1980). Where would it land on the Franco Scale? As it turns out, a fun Indiana Jones meets Cannibal Island Monster jaunt is where he lands, and I’m more than happy to follow.
A little perspective perhaps; of the Francos I’ve seen, this comes across as the least personal, and seems to have been made to capitalize on the success of Cannibal Holocaust (1980). He also made another cannibal film at the same time as this with most of the same cast, known in the US as White Cannibal Queen. (Why shoot one film when you can do two? C’mon, slackers!) Like I said, this doesn’t seem like a passion project for him, but rather a capitalization; but the funny thing is, so much of his personality (and aesthetic) as a filmmaker shines through anyway.
Which means this: you get tons of female nudity, crash zooms, and more female nudity. (There’s also a continuous swinging peen owned by the cannibal monster god as well, before we bring equality and fairness into the mix.) One is also treated to a smattering of gore, although nothing compared to similar gut munchers of the era. (That didn’t stop it from landing on the U.K.’s Video Nasty list, however.)
So what kind of story is Franco offering up to the masses? This won’t take long, I promise: Beautiful blonde actress Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner – Hellhole Women) is promoting her latest film abroad when she is kidnapped and held for ransom by a group of moneygrubbers. Go-to man of action Peter Weston (Al Cliver – Zombie) and his Vietnam vet sidekick Jack (Antonio Mayans – Cannibal Terror) are hired by the studio head to retrieve Laura and hand over the ransom. If Peter comes back with Laura and the huge ransom, even better.
The kidnappers hide out in the jungle to wait for their money; little do they know that a cannibal tribe lives there, and their bloody, bug-eyed cannibal god waits, too, to be appeased with white flesh. Will Peter be able to save Laura, keep the money, and avoid a dinner date with death?
That’s the story, and don’t count on any stupid side plots or social commentary to stroke your chin over; Devil Hunter simply isn’t interested. Franco boils the cannibal film down to what he sees are its true assets: nudity + gore, and plenty of it. And really, outside of Holocaust with its trenchant social messaging, I don’t think he’s completely wrong, or at most other films try to echo the sentiment of civilization’s encroachment on nature and exploitation thereof. I mean, it’s kind of built in with the simplest of plot machinations, and Franco isn’t even interested in that.
No, here you get a simple adventure story dipped in sleaze and coated with slime so as to keep the sticky fingered younger crowds at bay. Devil Hunter is exploitation, pure and dripping with intent to merely entertain. A modest goal to be sure, but something Franco doesn’t always achieve—provoke, yes; appall, certainly; question, definitely. Devil Hunter is a Saturday matinee for grown-ups, and that in itself seems subversive.
Well, that’s the film, so let’s see what 88 Films brings to the table:
Devil Hunter does look and sound great; I’ve heard reports of darkened prints of past obscuring the enormous splashes of red paint and colorful jungle décor, but no longer. Plus, it’s region free for those not in the UK. The big selling point other than the transfer is Franco-Philes: Musings on Madrid’s B-Movie Maverick, a full-length doc that goes deep into Francoland and sheds some light on his methods, his particular madness, and the singular impression he left on the world of cinema. The format is standard, but the topic is engrossing.
What can you say? We live in an age where obscurities are dug up and dusted off for genre fans eager to show their appreciation for all kinds of relics; Devil Hunter is solid fun for those looking to fill out their cannibal shelves, and for those interested in the whirling dervish that was Jess Franco.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5