Since I’m recovering from post-convention fever (that is, laziness), I felt like rewatching some old favorites. Pre-Code films are awesome, because they are just as fixated on torture, mutilation, and sexual deviance as so-called “torture porn” and “hardcore horror” films.
Animal cruelty and sexual perversion collide in The Most Dangerous Game (1932), when big game hunter Rainsford and his lover Eve (Fay Wray) are shipwrecked on an island owned by a wealthy foreigner. The antagonist, Count Zaroff, is himself a big game hunter who has become bored with hunting animals, and and is now a hunter of humans. This film, based on the novella by Richard Connell is still relevant today given the connections between big game trophy hunting and serial murder. This psychological connection was also recognized by Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness in his brief discussion of “elite hunting” (note this phrase was borrowed by Eli Roth in the Hostel franchise), which is differentiated from hunting in which the objective is to consume the animal’s meat.
A glimpse of Count Zaroff’s…unique collection.
In true serial killer fashion, Zaroff keeps a trophy room fillled with the heads of his victims, and confesses that a successful “hunt” makes him desire physical “love.” Following the “hunt,” he believes the Rainsford to be dead, he plans to rape Eve as a means to celebrate his conquest. Rainsford saves her and kills the Zaroff, who is then torn apart by his own dogs. Having survived the ordeal, the protagonist is able to empathize with the animals he himself hunted, and renounces his hobby.
Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno finally got a theatrical release today. As a fan of Roth’s earlier films Cabin Fever and Hostel, I felt he was long overdue to direct another feature film. As in Hostel, Roth once again explores themes of entitled Americans traveling abroad without a proper understanding of the culture or of the risks involved. This time, a group of student activists are captured and brutalized by the same South American tribe they wanted to save.
Those who have followed prerelease news about The Green Inferno know that it’s inspired by films such as Cannibal Holocaust, and that influence is apparent with some modifications. Most notably, Roth eschewed scenes of rape and onscreen animal abuse (real or simulated). I found the non-simulated killing of animals in Cannibal Holocaust to be that film’s biggest flaw, so didn’t find its absence in The Green Inferno to be a loss. Roth’s redux of the sub-genre still has plenty of cringe-inducing moments, including a scene in which a screaming activist has his eyes gouged out onscreen, and is then dismembered alive before finally being decapitated. Subsequent scenes of the cannibals flaying and preparing his flesh to eat also prove to be sufficiently nauseating.
Like its predecessors, The Green Inferno depicts the the culture of the first-world colonialists to be just as barbaric as that of the cannibal tribe. But where Roth’s re-interpretation truly shines is in his caustic commentary on modern activism. And it’s one that has personal relevance to me. Had I not spent 15 years of professional and volunteer work in various activist groups and non-profits, I would have found this film to be far too cynical. I’ve seen truly amazing work by people who have a genuine passion to make a difference. And I’ve also met a handful of…the other type. While a detailed description of these experiences would merit a separate post, suffice it to say that I’ve worked with racist “feminists” and smug faux-hippies who took home six-figure incomes while paying full-time direct service staff $17K per year. I’m convinced that most of these activists just wanted the PR or to reassure themselves of their own worth. Some of these unwholesome exploited workers who were sincere about making a difference, sometime putting those workers’ lives at risk, sometimes endangering the people they purported to serve, and in the process perpetuating the original problem in the process.
Roth created two particularly rotten pseudo-activists, and if there is one complaint I have about this film, it’s the fact that these two characters didn’t receive an appropriate onscreen comeuppance. (Some of my favorite aspects of Hostel were its gleeful revenge scenes and general philosophy of instinct karma.) It’s an interesting choice given the graphic deaths of some of the more likable characters. The Green Inferno is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of Roth’s earlier work.
The Green Inferno is now available on Blu-ray and DVD: