Back in the day, during the advent of the internet message board, I once had the balls to jump into a culty horror discussion about “director” Jess Franco and declare the man a hack and some kind of grifter. Those who didn’t outright flame me out of the forum calmly explained that the man has scores of movies under his belt and I just hadn’t seen the right ones. Well here it is 14 years later and I’m still looking for the right movie. After all these years, the only thing I can definitively say about the films of Jess Franco is that I am in favor of Lina Romay over Soledad Miranda as controversial as that may be among fans of euro-trash, but I think the real issue is that I’ve never really been a fan of trashy sexploitation movies. I just don’t get the appeal. As far as I’m concerned, the only guy who could ever really cross soft-porn and the genres and come out with a quality product is Jean Rollin and that’s being generous.
Severin recently released two of Franco’s flicks, formerly occupying the UK Video Nasties list and in the spirit of second chances, I decided to give both a fair shake and some press on Cinema Suicide. My mind still hasn’t changed about Franco but I’m hoping that one of these days, I’ll find that movie that the dudes on that message board talked about. Maybe I need to see Sadomania.
I always start the synopsis here after the break but I’m at a loss to explain what Devil Hunter is actually about. It may have something to do with a super cannibal monster god thing running around the jungle, fondling and then eating the ladies that the local tribe of multi-ethnic dudes lay out for it. It might also be about a pair of idiotic vietnam vets turned mercenaries sent to the same jungle to rescue a kidnapped actress. Mostly, though, Devil Hunter is about a bunch of nude women on an island who spend most of their screen time on their backs, screaming at the top of their lungs amidst POV shots while pumping their huge hairy bushes into the air.
Yes. This is a Jess Franco movie and if you were expecting anything other than sustained shots of marginally attractive women, perpetually naked, you need to lower your expectations. Like Female Vampire, this movie features near constant nudity. Nary a minute goes by without exposing someone’s boobs, ass or bush. And just in case you forgot what kind of movie this was or who was in charge of the camera, the lens will often zoom in on said exposed pieces and parts while dialog is in process ignoring the meaty parts of the “story” in favor of the delicious treat of bare female skin. But aside from full frontal nudity, it never goes much further than that, thank god. Franco’s portrayal of nudity is a leering, sleazy approach that backs up the man’s reputation.
It’s also a shocker, though. At least it’s supposed to be. Devil Hunter apes a lot of themes popular in exploitation at this time, namely cannibals. There’s a subplot about a bug-eyed cannibalistic creature in the jungle, easily the high point of the movie. Unfortunately, the monster looks like most Franco make-up monsters where the eye appliances look as though they have been applied with Play Doh and the blood looks like extremely thin spaghetti sauce. Violence is fleeting and the resulting gore is downright awful. There’s just not a whole lot to like about this movie.
By Franco standards, Devil Hunter is extremely amateurish and inept. There’s no tongue in cheek quality, no irony to be had, nothing, a straight faced turd is snuck in in its place. No one ever seems to know what they’re doing. Genre vet, Al Cliver, always looks a little lost in each scene, struggling to find some kind of motivation or direction. His facial expression range is strictly monotone as well, as if afraid to mess up his sweet ‘stache. On the opposite end, the movie is stacked high with overactors. One villain throws himself around each set, cursing loudly, looking as though he’s suffering from the DT’s while his accomplices casually address his erratic freak outs. There’s even a rape scene where the bad guys stand around watching, smirking occasionally, clearly aware of what’s happening until they’re swept away from the scene only to ask, “Hey, what’s going on over there?”
Where most people defend this kind of movie as “surreal” or “dream-like”, I’m calling them out. I’ve put up with that sort of permission of weird camera work, editing or scripting when it comes to Lucio Fulci because his movies, as muddled and strange as they are, walk the thin line between being a completely embarassing waste of film and pure delirium. Devil Hunter, on the other hand, just sucks. I was prepared to come into this and talk about the crossed over eroticism and violence where neither occupies the screen independently. Where someone like Joe D’Amato would have kept them separate, blurring the line when appropriate, Franco often jams them together as the demented cannibal monster fondles a naked woman before, during and after pretending to tear her guts out. Had their been a foundation of at least decent special effects, the genuinely alarming quality of that portrayal would have had some weight to it, but hey, this is Jess Franco we’re talking about here.
No amount of beer is going to make Devil Hunter a decent watch. It’s inclusion on the Video Nasties list only goes to properly illustrate exactly how arbitrary that list actually was when selecting titles to be banned in the UK (for example, Evil Dead). It wears its Video Nasty status on its sleeve much like Cannibal Holocaust proudly proclaiming it banned in XX countries but it’s completely terrible. I can think of far worse Franco movies that genuinely deserve to be banned were I some kind of conservative christian lunatic trying to protect “the childrens”. On the upside, Severin does a great job presenting the movie. It’s a good looking transfer but did this movie really need a DVD release?