Devil Hunter

Devil Hunter (Jess Franco, 1980)

aka Sexo canibal / El cannibal

Scouting locations for her new film, actress/model Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner, LINDA, HELLHOLE WOMEN) is kidnapped from her bubble-bath and carried off into the jungle to be held for ransom by her former assistant (Gisela Hahn, CONTAMINATION, MR. SCARFACE), suave Thomas (Antonio de Cabo, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, CECILIA) and unstable Chris (Werner Pochath, MOSQUITO). While Laura spends most of the time chained up naked and under threat of sexual violation, Vietnam vets Peter (Al Cliver/Pier Luigi Conti, ZOMBI 2, LAURE) and pal Jack (Robert Foster/Antonio Mayans, MACUMBA SEXUAL, CECILIA) are dispatched to rescue her. Complicating matters is a seven foot, bulging-eyed, buck naked, cannibal revered by the locals as a god (cue zoom into hilariously fake totem pole) and regularly supplied with fresh, nubile – though not necessarily virgin – sacrifices and Laura seems like the likely next candidate after the requisite number of second-string good and bad guys are picked off by cannibal or gunfire.

Criticized as another racist cannibal film (probably mostly on the basis of its alternate title MANDINGO MANHUNTER and its “Video Nasty” status in the UK), Franco’s DEVIL HUNTER aka EL CANNIBAL is really too ridiculous to take seriously; even in a politically correct context. Like Franco’s other cannibal films of the period, it’s more of a throwback to the jungle epics of thirties and forties (even Sergio Martino’s better-budgeted, khaki-and-pith-helmeted throwback MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD has more in common with the more exploitative and casually racist MONDO CANE-influenced Italian cannibal sub-genre). A co-production between Eurocine and Julian Esteban’s JE Films – producer of Franco’s superior EROTISMO and another Eurocine co-production SEXUAL ABBERATIONS OF A HOUSEWIFE (the longer French Eurocine revision of which is available from Blue Underground as CECILIA) – and Germany’s Lisa Film, it seems to be generally agreed that this is the better of Franco’s cannibal films and having seen WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN (on DVD from Blue Underground in an undeservedly flawless transfer as CANNIBALS) I’m inclined to agree.

In addition to Cliver, who had also starred in Franco’s other cannibal film, the film features a higher profile cast including Playmate Buchfellner and German actor Pochath. The cast also includes infrequent Franco collaborator Muriel Montrosse/Vicky Adams (CECILIA, INCONFESSIBLE ORGIES OF EMANUELLE) and Franco regulars (both in front and behind the camera) De Cabo and Mayans. The gore is nowhere near as “accomplished” as DEVIL HUNTER’s Italian competitors and even the raison d’etre sex scenes seem more gratuitous than usual (Montrosse and Mayans seem to have been cast simply to couple and be killed). What positive qualities the film possesses lie with such familiar presences and the attractive cinematography of Juan Soler (hampered as it is at times by that ridiculous monster POV smeared lens that even extends to shots preceding the monster’s appearance in the scene and shots including him) whose talents are better served in some of Franco’s more personal eighties works. Franco and longtime musical collaborator Daniel White provides an undistinguished electronic score all-too-typical of their eighties’ work.

Although licensed from Eurocine, the Spanish-language credits suggest that this was at least partly sourced from Spanish elements (note the JE Films logo rather than the more familiar block-lettered “EUROCINE presents”). I cannot be entirely sure about this as my only other source of reference was Video Asia’s absolutely horrid bootleg disc – which paired a rip of the optically-fogged Japanese tape release with a ridiculously large bottom matte to cover up the subs – which cut off the opening credits but featured the Spanish end credits; Eurocine may penny-pinch with production costs but they always created French and English credits for their films (as well as creating new ones in preparation for video releases in the eighties and DVD in the nineties). As the film was shot in the early eighties so there are no concerns of alternate clothed takes which one usually runs into with Spanish films of the seventies.

On the other hand, DEVIL HUNTER has been available in a number of cuts over the years; none of which could be deemed integral nor apparently could they be described as butchered (save the Japanese fogging). With several versions to consult, Severin has utilized every single scrap Eurocine had available (as such, most of the rediscovered footage are lengthier views of writhing naked ceremonies. Letterboxed at 1.66:1 with anamorphic enhancement, Severin’s HD transfer does have some contrast issues with hazy shadows. Ghosting and saw-tooth artifacts suggest that the HD master was downconverted to PAL before standards conversion to NTSC (which is disappointing given that Severin’s LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH DVD was progressive and time-corrected unlike the previous Japanese NTSC release). English and French audio tracks are included along with English subtitled. No theatrical trailer seems to have been available but Franco contributes another typically engaging interview in English with helpful English subtitles.

(Eric Cotenas)