Thursday, 6 October 2016

Halloween Horror: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989)


After watching Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, I was eager to watch the other epically titled movie that has been recently re-released: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Although billed as a comedy/horror, Cannibal Women is very light on the horror, exploiting more the idea of cannibal's and the glut of banned movies in the genre, like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust. The tone of J. F. Lawton's film is more akin to the Naked Gun movies, with cheesy parody mixed in with some surprisingly astute satire.

The story finds its basis within feminism, but is unique in that it never places its allegiance to either side of the argument. We see the future Mrs Gene Simmons and erotic actress Shannon Tweed play an ethnohistorian with a doctorate in cultural anthropology Dr Margo Hunt, who specialises in feminist studies, and who is called upon by the US military to recover fellow feminist author Dr Kurtz (Adrienne Barbeau) from the Avocado Jungle in southern California. Kidnapped by the Piranha Women, a vicious matriarchal tribe who eat their men, Kurtz may not be their main worry, as the Piranha Women are stopping the government from collecting all the avocados for their guacamole. Helped along with uber-femme wannabe-feminist Bunny (Karen Mistal) and an inept explorer with insecure masculinity Jim (Bill Maher), Margo makes her way through the jungle to the cannibals.


From the onset, the film is silly. Everything looks very, and knowingly, naff. Perhaps the scariest part of the film is a random arm which comes out the side of the screen to adjust a display. Maybe a mistake missed by the continuity editor, but startling nonetheless. While clearly embracing its low budget when it comes to the settings, the script has enough wit to keep you chuckling to yourself throughout.

As I mentioned earlier, Cannibal Women pokes fun at feminists, but in a way that still makes this film feminist (kind of). This is a world where feminists studies is respected, enough for the university's department to warrant a 4x4 vehicle, but still with the scything dichotomy of the sexes more likely to be found in the S.C.U.M. manifesto; Dr Kurtz latest book is called "Smart Women, Stupid Insensitive Men", and Jim complains through out of men being "castrated by the feminist school system". Still, the movie attempts at a message when we meet the Barracuda Women, another matriarchal tribe who are at war with the Piranha Women, but only because they think men should be eaten with clam dip. Dr Hunt tries to help each tribe to overcome their petty differences and work out a more equal (for them and the doomed men) system, where they can live harmoniously. While some feminists may be angry at being compared to cannibals arguing over condiments, the film doesn't dispel its message in place of an easy, woman-baiting joke, and the conclusion is decidedly satisfying.


As Mark Kermode said in his blog, "the best movies to remake are the ones that weren't very good the first time round", and Cannibal Women, as he states, is a perfect film to be remade. It looks frankly terrible, and that in itself, along with the dramatically convoluted title, is probably enough for some people to dismiss it out right. However, this is a smart movie that's constantly pretending its dumb. There's enough meta-commentary and allusions to keep it subversive, but just enough bouncing 80s bosoms and absurd humour to remind you that they're keeping it light. In this era of fourth wave feminism and the manosphere, maybe we need a remake of Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death to remind people of the ludicrousness of petty differences.

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