Let’s check back in with 70s horror exploitation, shall we?
But let’s mix it up a little bit too by going north of the border to Canada! But this isn’t just any ol’ Canadian filmmaker and cast, oh no, dear Enemaniacs… We’re getting director Ivan Reitman for this week’s movie, Cannibal Girls! Now, if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the producer of David Cronenberg’s fantastic Shivers and Rabid. And if that’s not enough for you, he was then a man of mighty hits in the 80s with Stripes, Twins, and a little movie called Ghostbusters (and its sequel). So, yeah, he’s a big freakin’ deal.
Not for nuthin’, he also produced Ilsa, The Tigress of Siberia.
But yeah, he got his start doing exploitation. But with Cannibal Girls, we kind of get some classic exploitation horror tropes that are almost uniquely 70s in its flavor. This is a type of situation where we have a young couple, or group of people, who are traveling and all of a sudden their car breaks down or they make a stop someplace out in the middle of nowhere, or at least in an unfamiliar place. There, they come across maniacs or… worse. Like cannibals! This is the sort of thing that mostly became popular post Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it wasn’t exactly new at the time of its release.
This would be something that repeats often in the 70s. I would say that maybe the start of this is really Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left the year before. That movie has two girls leaving their rural homes to go to the city to see a concert, but want to score some pot first. That puts them into the clutches of a group of crazy people. So yeah, this is an almost uniquely 70s horror thing. It also tends to lead to some pretty gross shit. I guess this means all roads lead to Bloodsucking Freaks that deals with weirdos doing weird shit to people out of their element and just everything getting gross and depraved.
Alright, so we know this is Canadian and from Ivan Reitman who made Ghostbusters. But you know who was another huge part of Ghostbusters? Harold Ramis. But where did he get his start on the rise to his fantastic movie-making career? A little comedy variety show in Canada called SCTV. Ever seen that show? It’s pretty great. In a lot of ways, it’s in the same vein as Saturday Night Live. However, it often went more in the way of short films in a lot of the shows in the series. The show featured greats like Rick Moranis, Ramis (who was the head writer at the onset), John Candy, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Catherine O’Hara, and the stars of Cannibal Girls, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin.
To say that there are lots of fun connections and tendrils that stretch out from a little 70s exploitation horror movie called Cannibal Girls is an understatement! So with that, let’s get into this bizarre little gem!
One of the things you’re going to see a lot of in the promotional materials for this movie is this little call out:
I love shit like this. First, this was right at the start of mainstream movies becoming more and more graphic with gore and violence, right? Next, it was also just after the age of William Castle who would turn the moviegoing experience into something more than just sitting in a dark auditorium staring at the screen. Movies were looking for a gimmick. Some movies did 3D. Some did audience plants. Some tried in-film gimmicks like stretching the image to even more widescreen than what movies shot in scope format would. Some even tried splitting screens to show extra perspectives, etc.
But this? This is a sure way to get buzz around your movie. When you flat out advertise that your movie is gross or not for the squeamish, then you’re likely going to get some people real excited to go see the movie, or you’re going to whip up some controversy that will eventually drive people to watch it when they maybe wouldn’t have naturally. It’s brilliant – even though it never makes an “appearance” in this movie whatsoever. It was only ever used on the poster and the trailer.
Also, the “Warning Bell” looks like a pair of tits.
The movie opens on something that I like but you don’t often see – a snowy beach. Here’ a couple are planning to ldo it on a blanket. In the snow. Next to very cold Canadian water. Suddenly they are attacked by an axe-wielding lady. While the guy is killed, we see the girl’s top torn open and a mark made on her chest with the dude’s blood.
The girl is taken to the small Ontario town named Farnhamville. Time passes, and we see the goings on at a farmhouse as three girls are just going about their regular business while a worker on the property buries some stuff and caries wood and generally acts like a real goober. This man, Bunker, is often chastised and beaten by the girls for being a weirdo.
Speaking of weirdos! The farm is owned by Reverend Alex St. John. And if you think he’s a bit Rasputin-y… Well, you ain’t too far off!
Anyway… It’s winter again. We meet Cliff (Levy) and Gloria (Martin). This new couple are on a little weekend getaway. However, they are a little lost. They are headed to Farnhamville, but they are also lost. They have stopped, presumably for Cliff to take a dump in the woods, before they try to sort out the map to get back on the road, but they don’t realize there’s a woman watching them in the trees.
When they get back tot he car, though, it won’t start.
Cliff fusses with the engine a little bit and they are able to get it to start, but the car only goes about 20 feet before it stops again. Cliff hits the steering wheel, and Gloria says she can’t treat the car like that. It has feelings and understands his frustration. After sweet talking the car a little bit, it starts right back up and they are on their way again. That’s a good thing, too, because that girl watching them in the trees? She was pulling out a dagger to attack.
They stop at a gas station. While Gloria is inside looking for postcards, Cliff asks about a place to stay the night as they pass through. As he approaches, we see the brother of the girl at the beginning. He’s looking for her but not getting any leads. We do learn from the gas attendant talking to the sheriff that they don’t like this guy poking around and asking about one of the “Reverend’s girls”. So the sheriff says they need to get rid of him.
As Cliff and Gloria get a room at a hotel run by the kindly Mrs. Wainwright, she tells the couple about how a legend of three farmgirls have started to scare off travelers. Sure enough, we then see a couple of the farmgirls approaching some guys in the area to lure them into a honey trap. Another guy, simply passing through (which I think is all that goes on in and around Farnhamville), is sent down a dirt road by the gas attendant where he’s run off the road by the visage of a sexy babe in the street.
So here’s the score. We have three sexy babes at this farm. A sexy blonde, Anthea, the oldest, a sexy redhead, Clarissa, the middle one, and a sexy brunette, Leona. They do lots of things around the farm. They tend to things. They cook things. They lure men back to the house. Speaking of men, we see the men who the redhead and the brunette gathered up the night before just hanging out playing Monopoly. The third guy is wanting to get out of there to get back on the road. However, the other two goofs convince him to stay or it will ruin their chances to score with the three babes. So he decides to stay and play Monopoly with these assholes.
Okay, I think it’s important to call out something about this movie. It really comes across as either – 1) a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, or 2) a satire on the genre like Woody Allen might make, or 3) just spinning its wheels until we get to the more “shocking” elements of the movie. Hell, it could be all of the above. I don’t know for sure. While I do appreciate that the three titular cannibal girls are all quite sexy, I find it odd that these three guys have been turned to mush over the attention they gave.
Okay, sure, one guy is an unattractive rich dude. One guy is an ice cream truck driver. One guy is a parade organizer. Sure. None of these are exactly sending off heat like a B-Movie blogger man does, but they are ALL only wanting to fuck. Again, possibly this is a satire. I did read a quote from Reitman that talked on this topic and that he did say he made this movie with a horror title but played like a comedy, so it really was more of a horror spoof. At the time, Woody Allen is making movies left and right that all have sex as a central part of the comedy, but I don’t like Woody Allen’s movies, but it does feel like that kind of comedy of the time.
Anyway, while I was trying to sound smart by evoking the name Woody Allen, Clarissa takes the rich dude upstairs, flops out dem tittaes, and he starts screaming as he is stabbed to death with scissors.
In another room, ice cream man is scoring with Leona. She thinks it is probably time for him to go back to his own room because the others will be waking up soon and, ya know… Not a great look for her to be hitching her sweet little wagon to his ice cream loser bumper.
She backs him up to the door where he’s axed by Anthea.
The next morning, Rick, the loan man brought to the house by the girls is still around while the other two have been killed and diced up. That night, we get to see a pretty decent close up of Anthea’s boobs as she screws Rick the Parade Man. He wakes up to find she has shackled him to the bed. This seems like a pretty cool thing, but, oh, it is not. Anthea comes in with a nice little smile, then her “sisters” come in behind her with a gravy boat.
I said exactly what I meant. They are carrying a gravy boat to, um… flavor Rick to their liking. Besides, running parades dries you out and makes you a little chewy. So it’s a good idea to always have gravy on hand when you are dating a smoke show cannibal and her equally saucy sisters.
And so ends the story Mrs. Wainwright was telling Cliff and Gloria. She says that those girls are no longer around, but legend has it they were never sick a day in their lives. While the girls may be gone, the house still stands. It’s no longer a farm, but a restaurant. She says the food is supposedly pretty good, so Cliff and Gloria decide that maybe that’s where they should get dinner.
Before then, Gloria is going to nap while Cliff goes to take the car to get fixed. Elsewhere, that one dude looking for his sister is getting jumped by the dudes hanging out at the gas station that the sheriff said needed to get rid of him. The guy gets stabbed to death and taken to the sheriff who sends the body to his wife who will “know what to do with him”.
Mrs. Wainwright leads Gloria and Cliff to where this “restaurant” is. They go inside and are greeted by Reverend Alex St. John. They think this is all very bizarre. Cliff says that he thinks he has seen the reverend before (but I’m not sure what he’s getting at other than planting a seed for a later thing), but as they are shown around the house, St. John tells a bunch of morbid stories.
As dinner is served, Leona comes in with wine. Things start to come to a head as Bunker and Leona get into a fight in another room over some gross remains. Clarissa slices the goon’s arm with a knife. Cliff and Gloria go to leave, but St. John is able to quickly subdue the servants with a simple gesture and the couple isn’t able to beat a retreat.
We soon learn that Reverend St. John has an interesting place in the community. Others in the town, including the sheriff and the goons who killed the dude earlier, have a spooky picture of St. John in the dining room as if he is some sort of Jesus figure. This town is full of cannibals and it seems to be almost religion. Or a way that St. John can control the people of the town. It’s not entirely clear, but we get a little more indication of what’s going on around here soon.
But first, uncomfortable chit chat while three hotties just kind of watch!
The chit chat session doesn’t get any more comfortable when the three girls begin singing some sort of hymn or something, and St. John just kind of gazes at Gloria. Cliff and Gloria decide it is time for them to go back to the motel. The reverend offers them a room, but they decline. St. John tells the couple that if they hear a strange sound, they must run as fast as they can and don’t look back. As they leave, they hear a wolf and lightning. They decide to take the reverend up on the offer for a room.
Downstairs, the reverend and his girls talk about what they plan to have for dinner and how they will live forever from drinking blood.
During the night, there’s a weird blood ritual thing that the cannibal girls do before they enter the room with St. John and handcuff Cliff to the bed and collect Gloria.
St. John seemingly entrances Gloria and nearly convinces her to stab Cliff and drink his blood. When Cliff shouts her name, she snaps out of it and escapes into the night. She’s briefly attacked by Bunker but smashes his head with a rock. She gets to the street and is saved by a guy driving along the road. However, the guy was one of the local cannibals eating at the sheriff’s place. He takes her to his place and gives her a sedative.
She falls asleep. She wakes up to Cliff returning from dropping the car off to be fixed. They are back at the motel and she realizes it all must have been a dream. Cliff doesn’t believe anything that Gloria is saying and tells her it must just be a figment of some sort of psychological something or another – he even says it is probably some sort of deja vu, which ties back to earlier when he said he thought he’d seen the Reverend before. She wants to call her parents to tell them everything is okay, but the operator tells her that the phone lines are all messed up from a snowstorm.
Gloria wants to leave, but Cliff doesn’t which leads to a bit of an argument. She plans to get a bus back to Toronto. While she gets on the phone to try to figure out where the bus station is, we see Cliff talking to the sheriff in the background. She’s disappointed to find out there’s no busses out until tomorrow morning. She and Cliff end up making up and spend the day in town.
As they sit on the side of the road trying to figure out their next move, the sheriff picks them up and gives them some grief for being vagrants and weirdo out-of-towners. Cliff asks to have them taken to the restaurant instead of the motel even though Gloria is not hungry. As they approach the door, Gloria tries to say the restaurant is the same place she saw in her “dream” but Cliff doesn’t want to hear it.
When they get inside, it is dark. Bunker comes surprises the couple, and Reverend St. John and the cannibal girls come in and puts Gloria under his control again. As she picks up a morning star to hit Cliff with, he tries to explain that they made him bring her back to them. She hits him and he falls to the floor dead. Gloria joins hands with the girls and St. John and kneel next to his body. She then joins in on one of those creepy hymns with the girls and Bunker takes Cliff’s body to prepare it for dinner.
At dinner, Gloria doesn’t quite seem as excited as the rest of them to chow down on Cliff, but once she’s given a nod from St. John, she smile sand goes to town. Mrs. Wainwright is telling two new strandees about the legend of the “four cannibal girls” who live at the farmhouse that were never sick a day in their lives and had men, lots of men.
So here’s the thing about this movie. On its own, it’s not a badly made movie. It’s peculiar in the ways that you’d kind of expect from a movie in the 70s. It’s also peculiar in the sense that it was made by Ivan Reitman and starred comedians, but that’s not terribly unusual. Horror and comedy are opposites but also complimentary. You can find some people who end up making a career out of bouncing back and forth and pulling both genres off admirably (ahem, Jordan Peele). As this interesting little piece of exploitation horror from Canada, Cannibal Girls works.
Added interest comes from the concept of this horror spoof that ultimately kind of becomes neither. These are conflicting tones in the movie that may not work for some beyond the what was just written above. The problem is that it doesn’t end with a laugh. It ends on a slightly darker tone, even if it is a continuation of the quirky story the old lady at the motel tells. It doesn’t really do a great job balancing its tone. It starts with a girl murdering a boy and “marking” a girl on her bare chest. It then goes to this couple that has a guy who doesn’t take anything seriously (Levy) and a girl who is kind of dopey and a tad airheaded (Martin). We have these broad jokey sex angles with the guys that the girls have gone out and lured back to the farmhouse/restaurant. That can almost be dismissed by it being a story told that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality… but it does. Not being able to land the tone properly doesn’t help you settle into this movie very easily.
I could settle in because I had seen the movie before, but that doesn’t mean it will work for too many people in 2021.
Tomorrow! Be sure to get your weekly dose of B-Movie Enema: The Series at the B-Movie Enema YouTube Channel. This week’s feature will be Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe. We’re down to the final three episodes of season one so subscribe and do all that good stuff over at Facebook and Twitter so you know when the new episodes come out or circle back and catch up! I believe this is what you can call “binge worthy”.
Next week’s B-Movie Enema article does something that I can’t believe has taken me this long to do – Rudy Ray Moore. Oh yes, the Godfather of Rap makes his first appearance on B-Movie Enema with Disco Godfather! So, be sure to come back here in seven days’ time and PUT YO’ WEIGHT ON IT!
Yes, Rudy. I am.