Devil Hunter (1980) – By Cary Conley

How 80-year-old Jess Franco has made 192 movies–and is still making them–is beyond me. Franco may be the quintessential cult director. His films have been cut, chopped, edited, re-released, and bootlegged so many times, it is difficult to figure out just what is the original version of many of his titles. Even Franco himself isn’t beyond recutting a film and adding a few deleted scenes so he can market it as a different film. Another reason for this is because Franco has consistently worked with miniscule budgets so that he has become a master at pulling money together from across Europe in order to get his films made. Often times, that money came with different stipulations. Due to various censorial requirements, one country would want a version with hardcore sex, one country might need a softcore version, and still another might want a version with extreme violence. A fourth might want all sex and violence removed, leaving an emasculated and incoherent version floating around. With the advent of video in the early eighties, Franco was "discovered" in America. Bootlegs flourished and many devotees of obscure cult and Eurosleaze films spent countless hours tracking down original or uncut versions of Franco’s films.

It stands to reason that if one makes nearly 200 films, a few of those might wind up actually being good. This is true of Franco. Some of his more popular titles managed to find release in the U.S. on video. But as DVD became the medium of choice for cinephiles, even Franco’s worst and most obscure offerings are now seeing the light of day. It doesn’t help that rock-bottom companies are slapping the words "uncut" or "special edition" on bare-bone releases of forgotten films. Many of these films are forgotten for good reason. Some popular companies are getting big-name cult/horror writers to pen liner note essays for some of Franco’s releases. These essays gush about how wonderful and transgressive the film is in an attempt to derive some secret sociopolitical meaning from the film, making it seem that some of these movies are more legitimate or important than they really are. I just have to roll my eyes at some of these pompous babblings. As a good and wise friend one expounded, "you can’t polish a turd."

But for some, the constant stream of releases of even Franco’s minor works is a wonderful thing. For others, it just makes it harder to wade through the crap to find an occasional gem. As a passing fan of Franco (I do own about a dozen titles of his) and a true fan of Eurosleaze, I often find myself wading through a large amount of crap in search of the real gems. Unfortunately, Devil Hunter is crap.

Variously titled Sexo Canibal, Mandingo Manhunter, and The Manhunter this Spanish/French/West German coproduction is about a Vietnam vet who is hired to track down and rescue a famous starlet who has been kidnapped and ransomed by a motley band of losers. Unfortunately, the kidnappers have chosen to hole up on an island filled with cannibals. Now both the group of kidnappers as well as the hunter have to not only navigate the tropical island, but they must also stay alive as the cannibals track them down.

Put simply, the movie is deadly boring. I lasted the first 20 minutes and then spent the rest of the movie fast-forwarding until it looked like something interesting might happen, which was rare. This production was so bare-bones that Franco could only afford one cannibal who must run around naked because apparently the production couldn’t afford a costume for him. The makeup consists of some greenish substance rubbed on the cannibal’s face as well as two ping-pong balls made up to look like huge, bulging, blood-shot eyes by using a red magic marker to draw veins on the ping-pong balls (I’m NOT kidding!). The rest of the effects consist of some very fake wounds (it looks like sculpting clay was used) covered in the brightest, fakest looking blood I’ve ever seen. There is a very brief shot of some animal innards being fondled by the cannibal at one point, but by that time, the viewer’s mind is sufficiently dulled enough that even this can’t be construed as gory or violent. And in a nod to total absurdity, the Vietnam vet (poor Al Cliver again being subjected to humiliation on film) must fight the giant naked cannibal with his bare hands. Franco has them rolling around on each other and cavorting so it looks more like some strange homosexual ritual than a fight. If I were Al Cliver, I’d be asking for combat pay if anyone asked me to roll around with a naked man with bloodshot ping pong balls for eyes. On second thought, forget the ping pong balls–it would be the other set of balls I’d be worrying about coming into contact with, because they are just hanging around and bouncing throughout the film, too.

The one possible plus for some viewers may be that Franco does use some very pretty girls who run around naked through most of the film. While even the natives are clean and well made-up (unlike many Italian cannibal/jungle films from the time period where the natives are just covered in mud), it stretches one’s imagination to see a close-up of a "primitive" native with such well-plucked eyebrows. But hey, they are all attractive so I am willing to overlook this one small item in a movie otherwise marred by terrible acting, terrible special effects, a horrendously noisy soundtrack, a totally lame script, and ploddingly dull action. To this an action/horror film is to horribly misuse the term "action."

If I can neatly summarize my recommendation for this film, allow me to say one last thing: stay away from it!