Film Review: THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972)

THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER *** Italy 1972 Dir: Umberto Lenzi. 93 mins

A trend-setting movie in the Italian cannibal cycle and a career-making picture for Lenzi, this operates as both a cash-in on the American hit A MAN CALLED HORSE and a fictionalised extension of the earlier “Mondo” movies. A title card at the start sets the tone for movies to come, highlighting the authenticity of what we’re about to see while announcing “only the story is imaginary” (!). The location filming is one of its strongest suits, with a marvellous sense of time and place as handsome ex-pat Brit photographer Ivan Rassimov has his casual J & B drinking session ruined by an altercation in a bar on the Thailand / Burma border, and ends up kidnapped by a tribe, captured in a net and forced to watch their tongue-slicing rituals before undergoing initiation.
A suspenseful, proficient white-man-in-peril story, this balances Rassimov’s torment with the amusing evolution of his romance with Me Me Lai, who enter into marriage following a tribal ritual that resembles a risqué Channel 4 dating show. Her pregnancy prompts Rassimov’s enthusiastic pre-PC response “It’ll be a boy! My little black savage!”. Much of the brutality is confined to the last half-hour, when Rassimov becomes one of the “savages” and the weepie-like drama of Lai’s slow-death and child-birth are juxtaposed with limb-severing gore. Heavily cut for animal cruelty throughout its British release history, DEEP RIVER’s 88 Films release in 2016 was its most complete release to date in the UK. The BBFC’s directive was “to remove scenes of unsimulated animal cruelty organised and directed for the purposes of the film”: although short moments of genuine animal butchery remain, the loss of the rest does the movie a favour, in truth.

Review by Steven West

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