Raro Video USA brings Umberto Lenzi into high definition with their Blu-ray of SACRIFICE! (better known as THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER).
British news photographer John Bradley (Ivan Rassimov, THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW) travels to Thailand in order to photograph some rare fluorescent fish. After getting into a bar fight and accidentally killing a man, Bradley takes off for the border between Thailand and Burma, encouraging his guide Chuan (Prapas Chindang) to take the boat off the main river into uncharted territories. Discovering his guide dead the next day, John is soon netted by a native tribe who mistake him in his diving suit as a large fishman. John is trussed up and tormented by the native children and then forced to dive for turtles and fish until he catches the eye of the chief Lahuna's (Ong Ard) beautiful daughter Maraya (Me Me Lei, THE ELEMENT OF CRIME) who insists that John is a man and that she wants him as her slave. John's favoritism provokes the jealousy of Maraya's scarred suitor Karen (Sulallewan Suxantat). Maraya's attendant Thai (Prasitsak Singhara), who speaks English since she was the child of missionaries, helps John escape but he is not fast enough but kills Karen in a spear fight. He soon finds himself inducted into the tribe, picked as suitor to Maraya, and helping them in their fight against the enemy cannibal tribe; but the couple's happiness is short-lived when John makes an enemy of the witch doctor (Song Suanhud) by showing him up with modern medicine and the cannibal tribe lays siege to the village.
Acknowledged by writer Francesco Barilli (THE PERFUME OF A LADY IN BLACK) – writing with Massimo D'Avack (WHO SAW HER DIE?) – and Lenzi as A MAN CALLED HORSE with a "fishman" and cannibals, THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER inadvertently jump-started the Italian cannibal genre with a single scene of an enemy cannibal tribe dismembering and eating a woman (Lenzi reveals that a prostitute was used since no Thai actress would agree to do the scene). The film was released in Italy under the ludicrous title THE COUNTRY OF WILD SEX and in Germany as MONDO CANNIBALE, and the German response had producers Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR) and Giorgio Carlo Rossi (THE LABYRINTH OF SEX) requesting another film with Lenzi, Rassimov, and Lei. Lenzi turned down the idea to do the crime film ALMOST HUMAN for Luciano Martino, and replacement director Ruggero Deodato's JUNGLE HOLOCAUST would mark him as the grandfather of the genre (Lenzi would borrow footage of Lei for his later cannibal film EATEN ALIVE! and his CANNIBAL FEROX would be released in some territories as WOMAN FROM DEEP RIVER). Instead of endless gut-chomping, we get the tests of endurance as Bradley goes from fishman to tribe member, romps nude with Lei, and then turns away from modern society. The photography of Riccardo Pallotini is not as hemmed-in by regular collaborator Antonio Margeriti's preference for multi-camera shooting, but only intermittently attractive or particularly inventive in terms of framing. The scoring of Daniele Patucchi (WILD BEASTS) at first sounds rather frothy and more suited to the travelogue aspect than the drama, but there is a certain mournful edge to even the jaunty title theme that suits both the revelry and the tragic aspects of the ill-fated love story subplot.
Theatrically released by Joseph Brenner Associates in an R-rated cut (losing its cannibal sequences rather than the animal violence) as SACRIFICE! in 1973 and then on VHS by Prism Entertainment in 1985 in the same cut under its better-known export title THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (it played in the UK under that title but was released on tape as DEEP RIVER SAVAGES) in a cropped transfer of the original Techniscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Shriek Show/Media Blasters released the film on DVD in an anamorphic transfer with English and Italian audio options as well as a short interview with Lenzi. The film made its high definition bow in the UK from 88 Films but that version of course suffered roughly three minutes of BBFC-mandated cuts to the animal violence scenes (although it does feature a feature-length documentary on Me Me Lai). Raro Video USA's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is uncut with the usual layer of scanner noise over a colorful if softish image (perhaps even more due to Pallotini's indifferent zoom-lensed photography than the usual Raro compression and encoding). Audio options include English and Italian tracks in both DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks (the former being louder and feeling more full-bodied) but the audio and subtitle options must be selected from the pop-up menu preventing toggling between the tracks (presumably because full English subtitles are provided for the Italian tracks while an English subtitle track is provided for the Thai audio on the English dubs). The MAN FROM DEEP RIVER title card has disappointingly been replaced with a computer generated SACRFICE: IL PAESE DEL SESSO SELVAGGIO card in a plain computer font. As with Raro's PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK, a competing international release may offer better authoring and compression (attractive menus here aside) but they will likely use the same master without whatever faults present baked in.
Manlio Gomarasca's and Davide Pulici's featurette "Cannibal World" (25:19) includes commentary from Lenzi, Barilli, and Lei. Lenzi reveals that the film was one of the he directed from another's work, cites PARANOIA (A QUITE PLACE TO KILL) as the favorite of his gialli (even though he notes that his fans prefer SPASMO), and that he chose Rassimov after proposed star Gianni Garko (COLD EYES OF FEAR) turned down the role because he felt he did not look good naked. Barilli speaks less favorably of Assonitis – the son of a film producer and nephew of a distributor who he charges made money selling black market cutlery – and pretty much took the money and ran after writing the script with D'Avack. Lei recalls being born in Burma, schooling in London, and getting into TV and film (she shot her last scene in AU PAIR GIRLS in the airport on the day she had to travel to Rome to start MAN FROM DEEP RIVER). She recalls the shooting conditions in Thailand, her fears of tigers and snakes, her warm working relationships with Rassimov, Rossi, and Assonitis (as well as Lenzi once she learned that he yells at everyone on the set), and how feeling typecast as a "cannibal queen" caused her to leave acting.
As interesting as the featurette is the booklet by Gomarasca and Pulici which discusses screenwriter Barilli's original concept that would morph into PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK's cannibalistic climax, his partnership with D'Avack and writing WHO SAW HER DIE? as his intended directorial debut before the producers went with the more experienced Aldo Lado (SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS), and the same producers Assonitis – who picked the Thailand setting at the suggestion of Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane, better known as Emmanuelle Arsan of the EMMANUELLE books (Assonitis and Rossi would produce an adaptation of Rollett-Andriane's LAURE) – and Rossi requesting that they write something like A MAN CALLED HORSE with cannibals. This too was supposed to be Barilli's debut but he thought the production circumstances were impossible and bowed out. Barilli hates what Lenzi did with the final product while Lenzi hates the imposed title IL PAESE DEL SESSO SELVAGGIO ("The Country of Wild Sex") since the original MAN FROM DEEP RIVER title would have capitalized on the film's debt to A MAN CALLED HORSE. Raro's back cover erroneously cites Rassimov as appearing in "Lamberto Bava's BLADE OF THE RIPPER" (he was in the film, but it was directed by Sergio Martino). (Eric Cotenas)
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