Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You know where you are? You're in a rip-off, baby! (Welcome to the Jungle, 2007)

It's become abundantly clear over the course of my life that I simply hate myself. Why else would I, an otherwise sane and rational individual, have added the 2007 film Welcome to the Jungle to my Netflix queue? No really, even the 2003 action movie The Rundown (which sometimes goes by the title Welcome to the Jungle outside the US) starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would have been bad enough, but something deep inside me said "Hey look, a no-budget remake of Cannibal Holocaust directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, who's only other directoral effort so far has been The Punisher in 2004, a film I had zero interest in. Why don't we waste that $6 per disc I'm paying on my monthly membership fee and see just how terrible it is?" I can only assume it's the same part of my brain that also says "hey, why don't you try pressing your balls in a hot waffle iron? Then you'd have non-stick nuts!", but thus far I've managed to recognize that non-stick nuts would just be silly. And how the fuck would I shave them after that?

For anyone who knows me but isn't into 1970s Italiano Cannibal Cinema Verite, which seems impossible but I'll assume one or two of you are just here for the hentai, here's the basic rundown: in 1980 Ruggero Deodato directed Cannibal Holocaust, the earliest "recovered footage" horror film in recorded history (think The Blair Witch Project with bloody money shots every few minutes). It was actually neither the first nor the last in a long line of jungle themed adventure/horror hybrids which rode on the back of the "Mondo" craze, and often featured plenty of sex, violence, and actual animal mutilation. Ironically the image of a monkey's face being chopped off was never the problem back in 1980: the issue was that the sound guys got mouthy and started claiming that the victims of cannibal attacks in the film were genuine, turning it into Italy's first snuff movie. These claims were thrown out of court in no time, but the film still carried with it plenty of infamy, and when the genuine coatimundi blood-letting looks just as authentic as a girl with a pole shoved down her throat and out her anus shot in psuedo-aged and scratched 16mm documentary film, it makes for a distinctly unsettling viewing experience. Plus Riz Ortolani gave the soundtrack of his life, elevating the horrific events to new heights with a sweeping score befitting any romantic epic.

Cannibal Holocaust was not a perfect film, despite being a gruesome, beautiful piece of the ol' grand guignol added into a larger and more interesting narrative. For a movie that tries to beat us over the head with the message that enjoying the suffering of real people is wrong and wicked of the media, Deodato had little problem with keeping the cameras rolling when an Amazon river turtle was decapitated or a live red tail boa was chopped in two (though, to his credit, it was at the request of the locals that these practices began). While I try not to use the word "pretentious" too often because at this point almost fucking using the very word is, in and of itself, an act of pretention, I do feel that when a film maker says "this is bad" in no uncertain terms and then does it himself endlessly, then yes, the film maker is pretentious. Ruggero Deodato is also a self important womanizing hate filled evil and man who eats babies and rapes school children, I'm sure, or at least that's what his leading man Jack Kerman (who, incidentally, actually did Debbie in Debbie Does Dallas) tells the world. The positive qualities - in my eyes, at least - outweigh the bad, and while a little more discression on Deodato's part would have made the whole thing a bit less hypocritical, it's still a fascinating and powerful film nearly 30 years later.

I wish I could say anything of the sort about Hensleigh's boring and insulting trainwreck. First of all, the setup is beyond jaw-droppingly down syndrome. Two friends and their new boy-toys are vacationing in Fiji, when one of the guys hears from his buddy that he's seen an old white man living in Papua New Guinea. They put two and two together, figuring out he may be John Rockefeller, the vice president's son who, in 1961, disappeared in cannibal country without a trace. Figuring an interview with a supposedly dead adventurer could be worth a fortune, the four of them trek off into the jungle to recover a man they don't even know exists.

Along the way they're attacked by locals with rifles who use children to set traps, one of them gets mouthy and gets his ass kicked by the border guard, and when they finally do reach cannibal territory the entire river is lined in human skulls. Not only do these four re-re's - two of whom are frat party stupid and lazy, the other two are just mental, I guess - keep the camera rolling bitching all the way, but they keep going deeper! At what point do you, with no guide, no window to the outside world, and no prayer of being recovered should something go horribly wrong, think "Gee, maybe I should go back to civilization before I'm raped and eaten alive out here?" Perhaps if the lot of them weren't so infuriatingly stupid (with most of their dialog ad-libbed... and not very well, I might add) we'd feel something akin to sympathy for their plight of being lost and hungry in uncharted jungle, but frankly I hated each and every character so much that I was demanding to see somebody get skinned or castrated some 35 minutes in.

The final reel (or "Tape #2" - a crappy plot device I'll get to in a minute) doesn't even deliver on the promised grue that everyone who's ever seen Mondo Jungle Cannibal Dinosaur Ferox Holocaust River Zombie* has come to expect! There's a brief moment of chunky gore left in the dark for the cast to find with a flash light like a boring stretch in playing Doom III, and the one genuinely interesting shot - a nude girl with a stick through her mouth and out her skull - literally ends up being a pale imitation of the infamous and iconic image of the impaled girl in the film's true inspiration.

*Mix and match pretty much any of those words and you'll wind up with an Italian flesh-eating film title. Go ahead, it's fun!

While I should post spoilers where applicable, I don't care and neither should you: the final shot blows. In it the remaining cast members are killed (out of the camera's view) and someone picks it up, looking over their dismembered corpses. He then puts the camera down and walks away, a hunched over man wearing khaki pants and limping as if he were an old man. If you pay attention you'll see that the masked assaliant who actually killed the two of them was him, and it all ends with JCR protecting his life in the jungle without saying a word. Fucking lame. No lengthy Apocalypse Now! monologues, even? Good god man, if you're going to rip off better movies at least do it right, will you? Also, there's no way in hell that fatso was 70-something, but whatever. I don't even care anymore.

If the cinema verite (by which I mean "you are there" factor) aspect were dramatically better then maybe the film wouldn't have been a total loss, but as it constantly cuts between shots in a manner that makes it look professionally edited, and an entire day's trek is literally compromised into a single 1 minute sequence, the whole thing just feels forced and fake, like Hensleigh was making a "best of" tape rather than an unedited and raw experience. Both Cloverfield and Document of the Dead have - to varying degrees - proven that cinema verite is a perfectly valid form of horror in the 21st century. While The Blair Witch Project is the film that made the concept known to a wider audience, the film is a one trick pony: there's absolutely nothing that a second viewing will give you. There's no deeper meaning or subtle hidden agenda cleverly woven into footage of trees rushing past and snot crawling down a girl's face, it's just a bunch of smoke and mirrors trying to add up to something and failing miserably. Welcome to the Jungle is exactly the same except it tries - in vain - to deliver on the promises of being an actual horror movie by throwing in some mostly uninspired gore. Unlike the Blair Witch Project, which at least has a natural progression from goofy kids in the woods that winds into inevitable madness and misery, Welcome to the Jungle just makes the characters progressively more irritating until we're on our knees, praying to some benevolent New Guinea Pagan god to save us by shooting a lightning bolt through our DVD player, and perhaps just a slight fizzle to our brains to make us forget the painful 82 minutes we've spent there.

As if to deny the only thing that could have amused me in this act of unending cinematic masochism, the flick doesn't even end with Slash playing over the credits while Axl Rose wails like he's lost his left testicle. "You know where you are?" If you're going to rip off the title to a fairly decent metal song as the title at least have the decency to stick it over the end credits, will you? I've heard festival screenings did, even, but the DVD ends with sounds of the jungle chirping and peeping as the credits roll over nothing. God, could this film get any more boring?

I wish I had some constructive criticism to give this turd, as I'd like to think that no film is without some artistic or thematic merit. Exploring John Rockefeller's disappearance could yet make an interesting film, but this was not it. The jungle it was shot in was gorgeous, and the (almost non-existent) set design for the local burial sites - or, more like "slap corpses up on a lookout" site - was pretty cool... but also TOTALLY FUCKING DERIVATIVE of the corpse-and-camera themed altar seen in, wait for it, Cannibal Holocaust. If I really wanted to stretch to find a positive quality I could point out that Sandy Gardiner has some awesome abs, but if the fap potential of Jessica Alba isn't enough to get me to watch Into the Blue you bet your ass miss Gardiner isn't enough to recommend anyone even try to sit through this uninspired dreck. I guess, if there's only one thing this film has a leg-up on next to Cannibal Holocaust - or slamming your face into a porcupine's back side repeatedly - it's that it isn't pretentious. Honestly, if Hensleigh had something to say that wasn't blatantly obvious and covered in every post-Hostel film about stupid teenagers fucking with the locals outside of the safety net of their homeland at least I'd have something to talk about.

I think after this pile I'm going to torment myself with D-WAR and HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD. If I really want to hurt myself at least I can make up for their stupidity with dragons and zombies. This didn't have nearly enough cannibal action to justify everything else involved.

Edit: God I fucking haet blogger not-reformatting everything properly.

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