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To be perfectly honest, and this might solely be my own opinion, there is a certain quaintness to these pictures that could have only been established during the prime years of the Italian film industry. When you pop in Massacre in Dinosaur Valley, Cannibal Terror or Cannibal Ferox for that matter, you know precisely what you are going to get. This is a movie made entirely for the exploitation of one facet of a cultural obsession. Starting with the craze of Mondo Movies created by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi (Mondo Cane, Goodbye Uncle Tom, Africa Addio), the obsession that Italy had with native inhabitants and their bizarre rituals seemed to last throughout the 1960s all the way up until the early half of the 1980′s. Within these two genres, the Mondo documentary and the Cannibal exploitation world, this fascination lasted for roughly twenty years. So, with so much attention to this genre, you begin to know what to expect. That familiarity is part of what keeps me coming back as a viewer. Despite the nature of these movies to be threatening to the audience, in delivering shocks that they normally wouldn’t see outside of these particular movies, there comes a certain sense of expectation within them that a select few audience members come to find solace in. Sound crazy? Well, we probably are.
With any given piece of Italian cannibal sleaze, we know to expect a select number of reoccurring items. We have natives, we have nudity, we have a very poor English dub, we have gore and we have very simple plots with no need for any actual interesting narrative devices. However, when we see one of these films actually delve outside of their safety net, interesting things can happen. While Massacre in Dinosaur Valley has universally been panned (and rightfully so) as one of the weaker entries in the Cannibal subgenre, I have to congratulate it for a few very different exceptions to the genre stereotypes. The very first thing that stands out as being different and/or interesting about the movie is the sense of humor that it carries. Not that Massacre in Dinosaur Valley could ever be construed to be a comedy, nor even a darker version of one, it does have a healthy sense of comedic timing that borders between chuckle-worthy and blatant cheese. The mix of comedy and legitimate human horror however is mangled throughout and the first half of the movies comes far lighter than the second half which takes on the premise of a generic jungle survival movie.
Michael Sopkiw surprisingly did not have a massive career in the number of projects he was associated with. However, he was very lucky to have been a part of several movies that would later turn up as Cult Classics within the realm of Eurocult cinema. He last graced the pages of Varied Celluloid in my review for Lamberto Bava’s less than classic Rambo knockoff Blastfighter and he returns here in an equally obscure title only this time he plays the role of a Indiana Jones knockoff. A archeologist tough guy, who wears a brown jacket and gets into an adventure while searching out priceless treasures and uses comedy in order to fend off danger? This seems familiar! However, much like the humorous element that dissipates slightly in the second half of the movie, the allusions to the Harrison Ford character become invisible the longer the movie goes along and Sopkiw manages to deliver an interesting performance if nothing else. Also, he traded in Indiana’s whip for a shotgun, so who is to say who would win if the two characters did battle!
Sopkiw and his charisma, which I didn’t see much of in Blastfighter, actually carry the movie for the most part. His antics are the main reason that this movie is actually getting the score that it is. Whether it be his overwhelming sense of self worth or his tendencies to play the part of the playboy, I was sucked in by his ridiculous charm. The rest of the cast are generally serviceable and serve as fodder for random death scenes that pop up throughout. The body count is relatively high, but the actual level of violence that the movie provides is relatively tame. I dare say it may be the least blood Italian cannibal movie I have seen up until this point – and I believe I am only a few titles away from having seen them all. If you’re looking for exploitation however, there is still plenty of nudity to be had. Including a Cinemax-worth sequence where Sopkiw is “thanked” by one of the models mentioned in the plot synopsis. Apparently one night stands are a customary form of gratitude in Italy. That works for me!