Monday, December 28, 2009

Primitves (1978)


Indonesia 1978 colour

Fullscreen, dubbed into English

aka Primitif, Savage Terror

Director Sisworo Gautama Putra Writer Imam Tantowi

Cast Enny Haryono (Rita), “Berry”/Barry Prima (Robert), Johann Mardjono (Tommy), Rukman Herman (Bisma)

It’s hard to believe that a devoutly religious country such as Indonesia would have such a thriving film industry specializing in sex and horror. Well it does, and next to the Philippines, was one of the largest exporters of genre films. Rapi Films, still Indonesia’s largest film company, was founded in 1968 as an importer of American and European movies. In 1971 they branched into feature films and by the late 70s were successfully dubbing into English their more salacious fare – outrageous gore-soaked horrors, sexploitation and action films – and selling them all over the world. Rapi Films’ own bona fide superstar Barry Prima would feature in most of their exports, such as the 1978 feature Primitives… but more on that later.

Meanwhile the Italians were running around South East Asia creating their own Third World atrocities. The cannibal film, one of the most despicable of horror’s sub-genres, was in full swing, having emerged from the Italians’ own Mondo or Shockumentary genre, in which primitive rituals and nature’s inherent barbarism were packaged with snide narration and pompously ironic soundtracks for modern middle class audiences to be titillated by in the smug comfort of their multiplex. From the Mondo Cane films came Man From Deep River in 1972, a blatant reworking of A Man Called Horse, in which a white man becomes accepted into a cannibal tribe and experiences their savagery first hand. Italian director Ruggero Deodato subsequently delivered a pair of similarly-themed films which would define and dominate the relatively short-lived Cannibal Genre: The Last Cannibal World in 1976, and Cannibal Holocaust in 1979. For the next few years, natives chowing down on entrails would become a defining image for not only European but international horror.

The Indonesians decided to beat the Italians at their own game and rip THEIR ideas off for once. Rapi Films set to work to remake The Last Cannibal World on home turf and, for added measure, claimed the story was based on an actual incident (and seriously, from outside Indonesia, how could you ever prove it?). Four anthropology students bribe a guide against his better judgement to take them deep into cannibal territory to peer at the Pangayan tribe close up. Their boat crashes and they’re savaged by wild animals, only to find their hosts aren’t as welcoming as they’d hoped. And while sitting in bamboo cages waiting to be the tribal feast, altruistic thoughts of trying to civilize them turn a little sour…

Deodato’s plot is plundered mercilessly right down to identical scenes and you could almost swear certain shots. Without the director’s flair, however, the entire exercise is stripped back to its basest of elements, though shots of natives chewing the heads off lizards and a mother chewing through her own umbilical cord are made slightly less lurid by the film’s Third World context. Yes, the natives are revolting – and it’s this kind of cultural revolution that makes for some very jarring Schlock Treatment viewing, and not just because of the completely out of place Jarre-like soundscapes and robotic disco. We ask ourselves “who are the real savages” and – holy crap – it turns out to be us, as we chow down on the 1978 Indonesian cannibal flick Primitives. (Andrew Leavold)

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