The Man From Deep River (1972)


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Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Written by: Francesco Barilli/Massimo D’Avak

Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox) brings us a movie for folks who thought that A Man Called Horse wasn’t racist and savage enough.

An English man named John Braley (Ivan Rassimov) and his Thai guide are sailing on the river between Thailand and Burma when the guide is killed and John is captured and forced into slavery. The tribe who caught him have possibly never seen a white man before. But when he says, “They must think I’m some kind of fish because of the wetsuit I had on” you figure that he’s never been around anyone outside of his own house before.

Soon enough, a young native named Maraya (the beautiful Me Me Lai) falls for him (of course) and her mother, who speaks English, is revealed to have been found by the tribe. The old woman tries to help him escape to no avail. But after his escape attempt, he is made a member of the tribe through a rather brutal ceremony.

This film is meant to show these people as they “really are.” It unflinchingly shows all of the tribal customs, no matter how violent they seem to us, whether it be shooting John with small darts to make him a member of the tribe, cutting traitor’s tongues out or cutting the top of a monkey’s head off to eat its brain. Of course, it’s just another racist “savage movie.” By the time we are shown every man in the village fuck the wife of a fallen comrade, we figure out that this is just as exploitive as any of Lenzi’s films. It’s not meant as education. It’s meant to disgust, titillate and disturb because racism. Sure, John eventually learns to love the tribe and even marries the beautiful young lady who tried to help him in the beginning. (She chooses her man by sitting naked against a wall. Each tribesman puts his hand through the wall and is allowed to feel her up. She gives a garland to the one she wants to marry.) But you still get a feeling that he thinks these people are savages. (“No, Maraya, you think you love me. But you haven’t yet learned what love really means.” Fuck you, dude.) He remains a condescending bastard throughout the movie.

And, in turn, we are allowed to be condescending towards the natives. We see them as only savages without full use of their brains. They can only understand things that they instinctively know, like violence and sex. And eventually, he “devolves” into one of them, cutting the tongue out of an enemy.

I’ve never liked the word “savage.” It’s a word to describe animals, not humans. “Savage” connotes no brain power. But that’s how Lenzi saw these natives. What they are is a complex society with rituals and practices that we, as white people, will never understand. We are not better or worse than them. Only different. And Lenzi and his lead character obviously had no idea that this was true. He made a film that exploits only the violent aspects of this particular culture.

Five years later, Lenzi was asked to make a sequel of sorts to this film. He was busy on another film, so Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) took over. The movie ended up being Jungle Holocaust and starred both of the stars of Man From Deep River. With that film, Deodato was called the father of the cannibal film. But Lenzi takes exception to this because there is a very definite theme of cannibalism in THIS film, although it’s only in one scene.

Whatever. Night Of The Living Dead beat both of them to it.

LOW POINT: Right after John finds out that Maraya is pregnant he says, “It’ll be a boy! My little black, savage!” Asshole.

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