In this column, cult columnist Saoirse takes you on a biweekly jaunt through the obscure annals of the cult film world. We’ll touch on everything from Giallo to J-Horror to Wakaliwood & so much more. If it’s a low budget genre film, or even a big-budget flop with a dogged audience, or even an undiscovered gem, it belongs here.
In our first Cult Corner since finishing the Jodorowsky season we wanted to run into pastures new and attack the world of Italian action cinema with Cut & Run.
Oh God, so the Jodorowsky season is over. Wow. I spent four months on that season. So many life events happened while the constant was Alejandro Jodorowsky. So many movies, so many books… Now I have to write a column that isn’t about him… I… I don’t know if I remember how… Well, I’m going to have to try.
Ruggero Deodato is a name that rings throughout Italian cinema like a tuning fork. His definitive 1980 masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust, a provocative if blunt statement on the nature of colonialism, is one of the most infamous titles to ever be named a video nasty. As I write this I’m watching his Giallo entry, Phantom of Death. If filmmakers like Argento & Martino defined Italian horror in the 70s, Bava & Freda the 60s, then it is filmmakers like Lucio Fulci & Ruggero Deodato who defined the 80s. The 60s were defined by gothic atmosphere, the 70s a modern sense of unfolding mystery and a nasty sense of visceral impact, the 80s focus on a sense of more mainstream horror & filones, zombies, cannibals, mysticism, with a much more gory, nasty edge. While Cannibal Holocaust is Daodato’s more famous, (and frankly better), entry into the cannibal filone that also included films like Martino’s Slave of the Cannibal God, D’amato’s Anthropophagus, & Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox, Cut & Run is also very worth a look as a tonally exceptional and culturally significant entry into the cannibal filone.
Side note for the uninitiated, ‘filone’ refers to a specific phenomenon in Italian cinema of different genres becoming movements all to themselves specific to Italian cinema, where one film makes a bunch of money and spawns many imitators trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle. A Fistful of Dollars inspires the Spaghetti Western filone of films like Day of Anger, If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death, & A Pistol for Ringo. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage spawns a wave of Gialli such as A Bay of Blood, Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eyes, & The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Joe D’amato’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals gives way to movies such as Slave of the Cannibal God, Eaten Alive, & Cannibal Ferox. If that makes sense. There are almost always previous entries in the genre made in Italy about the same time, but it takes one box office hit to spark a filone. Now to talk about Cut & Run itself.
Cut & Run has such a phenomenal premise. So, in the world of Cut & Run, it turns out that one of the leaders of Jonestown survived, which is basically a way to make the plot hunting Jim Jones without it literally being Jim Jones. A TV crew, a reporter and a cameraman, who we just see uncover a very badly gone drugs bust, complete with full gore, go on the hunt for an interview. Amazing right? Well there’s more. There’s other unspecified human captivity related activity happening in the forest and a band of indigenous people led by that guy from The Hills Have Eyes, (Michael Berryman, looking like he’s having a ball), going around brutalizing invasionist camps. How exciting!
So there’s a lot to like here. First of all the film does present Deodato’s pet themes of American colonialism, exoticism, and exceptionalism in a much more mainstream way. Yes, it does at times play like the first half of Cannibal Holocaust where it dehumanizes and reifies the monstrosity of the indigenous people’s without the second half of Cannibal Holocaust where it undercuts that but it does have themes of Americans bringing the monstrosity and being the first aggressors that are so present in Cannibal Holocaust. I mean hey, it’s hardly as stonkingly racist as Heart of Darkness and that’s a literary classic. It is interesting then that this at times, plays so much like Apocalypse Now, it even has its own scene that homages Brando’s “the horror, the horror” kind of improv. You have this central, authoritative symbol of American exceptionalism going mad in the forest and forming his own clan of locals around him as some kind of religious figure. Like, yes, that is slightly racist, I know, but it is very much a mixed bag in that respect, just like it’s also a very mixed bag in its gender politics, some great stuff and some… well, less than great stuff. There’s even the symbolism of going further downriver representing a descent into the evil central to man and the American quest. This movie came out six years after Apocalypse Now so that movie had the requisite time to percolate into the popular culture to the extent that calling it a clear influence makes sense, however, the film rings so clearly of Predator which came out two years after and it baffles me. Normally the Italian filone is defined by homage to American blockbuster cinema, Hitchcock with Giallo, and all that, but here we see one of the key texts in how Italian filones can influence American genres, Giallo with slashers and all that. Cut & Run’s bloody handprint can be seen over a lot of American cinema. There’s one particularly astonishing death that gets visibly homaged in Bone Tomahawk.
Deodato gets a lot of flack as a director for his willingness to viscerally confront us with his themes but I really like that about him. He’s also a great stylist and the way he treated characters is proper and better than a lot of schlock-meisters. In a way that’s what I always like about Italian trash more than American trash. Yes, it gives me the trash aesthetic I’m here for, but there’s an attention to good storytelling and stylistic innovation for the sake of story that I find unique and uniquely beguiling. This can be found in a lot of Deodato’s work as well, from the stylistically revolutionary elements of Cannibal Holocaust to the beautiful, sleek, and pointed editing of Phantom of Death, to the more mainstream but no less enjoyable and committed aesthetic of Cut & Run. It’s paced beautifully with a wonderful narrative structure, yes it plays much more like a Hollywood picture but find me an 80s Hollywood action film that goes this hard and is this committed to shocks and inventive action. The Bone Tomahawk style death especially trumps anything 80s Hollywood would go near. It’s just bolder and has fewer restrictions.
There’s also a great score from Claudio Simonetti, former member of Goblin & composer for films such as Tenebrae, Nightmare Beach, & Conquest.
Deodato has this fascination with American culture and politics that crops up frequently in his work. His work tends to follow Americans and Brits out of their comfortable habitat and trying to dominate it, falling down in the process. This film has one of the more affirmational aspects of that, but it’s still not comfortable. It’s not like it’s Deodato’s best work, (which might easily be Phantom of Death), but Cut & Run is well, a cut above the rest?
I’ll uh, I’ll see myself out for that.