The Nasty File Devil Hunter
Of the seventy-two films which appeared on the Department of Public Prosecutions’ list of films deemed liable to “deprave and corrupt,” all but one came from countries outside of the United Kingdom. The majority came from the United States; however, a large proportion were European horror films, many of which have since been recognised as classics in the genre.
This regular series sees subtitledonline.com take a look at the continental ‘video nasties’ which brought so much offence and uproar to an island on the fringes of Europe, nearly thirty years ago. In this entry, we look at Jesus Franco’s Devil Hunter.
European Horror in the ‘Video Nasty’ Era
Ursula Fellner plays Laura Crawford, a famous supermodel who is kidnapped by a gang of crooks and brought deep into the South American jungle for ransom. Peter Weston, played by Al Cliver, is a former Vietnam veteran sent in to eliminate the kidnappers and return both Laura, and the ransom money, to her agent.
Unfortunately for all parties concerned, the jungle is inhabited by a tribe of cannibals who sacrifice young women to their devil-god, depicted by the towering presence of Burt Altman.
When the plan goes awry, Weston finds himself stranded in a tropical wilderness with a threefold mission: rescue the girl, confront the monster and make it back home in one piece.
Devil Hunter was issued in a cut form on VHS by Cinehollywood in November 1981 and received more than adequate coverage through being advertised on the front pages of industry magazines. Despite this, it seems to have done rather poorly; perhaps as a result of the ambiguous sleeve design which unhelpfully makes it look like a Vietnam action movie. In any case, Devil Hunter certainly attracted the attention of the DPP, who placed it on their list of titles deemed ‘liable to deprave and corrupt’ in early August, 1984. It remained there, was prosecuted and subsequently banned.
There was no attempt to get the film a release in the UK over the preceding years, despite the growing popularity of Franco’s other Grindhouse and exploitation titles. It was November 2008 before Devil Hunter received a classification from the BBFC, who passed it uncut under its alternative title El Canibal. This version is now available under its more common name as a multi-region DVD on Severin Films. The pre-VRA cassette, interestingly, is now one of the most sought-after on the DPP’s list, often passing between collectors for hundreds of pounds.
Franco had never been a fan of the cannibal genre, openly criticising Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and claiming that his Mondo Cannibale, released the same year, was infinitely better.
Franco had never been a fan of the cannibal genre, openly criticising Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and claiming that his Mondo Cannibale, released the same year, was infinitely better. The director has always seemed more interested in the Euro-sleaze and soft-core porn films for which he is generally better known, but, just as Bloody Moon (1981) was a perfunctory foray into the slasher/giallo genre, Mondo Cannibale and Devil Hunter were made to satisfy the cannibal-film market which had been opened up by Deodato and his Italian contemporary Umberto Lenzi.
Devil Hunter goes by many titles, most of which contain the word ‘cannibal’ in some shape or form; however, it is by no means a typical example of the sub-genre. In fact, it plays more like a monster movie: a masculine, American hero rescuing a beautiful woman from the clutches of a savage beast. It only fits into cannibal genre as a result of the typical, ethno-centric depictions of indigenous tribesmen and close-ups of mouths chewing flesh and guts.
Despite the setting being South America, however, the tribe members are clearly of African descent, and this is a perfect example of one of the main problems with the film: its haphazardness in creating a realistic depiction of the world in any way. So often with Franco’s films, any faithfulness to realism is completely abandoned; as a result, his films can often appear trite and badly made. A positive view of his work would suggest he was a symbolic, expressionist filmmaker, while a more negative analysis would simply conclude that he was too lazy or indifferent to give his films the attention to detail which they deserved.
Devil Hunter, for all its deficiencies, had the potential, at least, to be a decent exploitation picture. Despite the crummy makeup, the titular devil is at least menacing and overbearing, while the simple plot could have paved the way for a good, old-fashioned horror-thriller with plenty of blood and guts to keep exploitation fans happy.
As it turns out, the film lets its audience down on all these levels. The gore and cannibal scenes are unfulfilling; one of the worst examples being a close-up of the monster’s mouth chewing on a piece of pale-red coloured elastic. The film also generally fails to create or sustain any sort of suspense, which is compounded by the fact that its subjects are never really explored in any depth. As a result, audiences will find it genuinely difficult to care for characters which they essentially know nothing about.
The soundtrack is dissonant and echoic, consisting of atonal groans, bangs and scrapings, and certainly adds to the film’s atmospheric quality. This music usually signals the monster’s arrival and the switch to a blurred, POV perspective. Oddly enough, the picture often remains blurry, even when filming the monster directly, but inconsistencies like these in Franco’s work always seem to indicate laziness and indifference rather than incompetence.
In general, Devil Hunter is actually quite violent; particularly regarding the fates of the kidnappers who are eventually either taken out by Weston or made victims of the savage monster and his hazardous domain. These scenes are certainly the type of material that would have done Devil Hunter no favours when it was brought before the courts.
The BBFC and DPP’s main grief with Devil Hunter, however, would have probably been sexualised violence and gore.
The BBFC and DPP’s main grief with Devil Hunter, however, would have probably been sexualised violence and gore. In order to make sacrifices to the monster, the film’s tribesmen shackle young, naked women to trees as an offering. This image of eroticised restraint, emphasised by the characters’ screams and attempts to escape, would have caused problems for censors when the film was being investigated. There is also a rape scene, albeit relatively inexplicit and tame when compared with scenes from other titles on The Nasty List.
Devil Hunter was submitted for classification in 2008; the year the BBFC would also pass two rape-revenge video-nasties completely uncut, namely Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders (1975) and Wes Craven’s infamous Last House On The Left (1972). All three films were passed without trimmings, despite each containing scenes of sexualised violence which had previously made the Board squirm.
The BBFC explained the decision in their report that year: “The development of media awareness and public knowledge of film styles were felt to have reduced the impact and potential for harm of the scenes of sexual assault…which seem particularly dated now. “
Severin’s latest DVD is, indeed, fully uncut and includes extended scenes of gore and nudity, which help somewhat in bringing it closer to the exploitation picture it was intended to be. It is also a much improved print, and the quality of the picture makes for a more enjoyable film than the grainy, pre-cert VHS versions. Devil Hunter will certainly please Franco fans and purists aiming to see all seventy-two titles on the list, but other than that, it won’t ever really command the attention of the general public. Then again, Jess Franco never has.
Read each entry in The Nasty File series here.
Recent World Cinema Features
Ryan Andrews. Failed vampire hunter-turned-director Ryan Andrews speaks
to the masses just days before the UK premiere of his new horror film, Elfie…
Five Underrated Movies You Need To See. Sometimes a film goes unnoticed, perhaps…
Top 5 Films To Win Over World Cinema Sceptics. Despite the joys that world…
Animating Reality. By definition an animated documentary shouldn’t really work.…
Gael García Bernal – Spanish Language Cinema As Social Message. Much more than an…
Leave a Comment
No comments yet