Tuesday, August 28, 2018

AMAZONIA: THE CATHERINE MILES STORY (1985) (88 Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: 88 Films 
Region Code: Region-FREE 
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD MA with Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Cast:  Elvire Audray, Will Gonzales, Dick Campbell 
Director: Mario Gariazzo

No other cycle of films turned stomachs the way that the vintage Italian cannibal film did during their heyday, all other horrors pale in comparison in my mind, they were a sleazy mix of gratuitous nudity, primal savagery, heinous gore and - the worst offender of all - oftentimes real scenes of animal cruelty caught on camera. Films like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981) are the iconic films of the era, I still find both of these films to be lunch-losers, but there were later 80's entries that also offered somewhat toned down jungle-savage horror, and one such film is Amazonia - The Catherine Miles Story (1985), (aka White Slave, aka Cannibal Holocaust 2) which is based on a true story, yeah right! The story opens up as a true series of events told in flashback by the titular character years after her ordeal has ended. It comes from director Mario Gariazzo (Eerie Midnight Horror Show) and is written by Franco Prosperi (of Mondo Cane infamy), the pair offering a mix of sick and schlock that come together like bloody peanut butter seeping from a chocolate wound. The film stars platinum blonde looker Elvire Audray (Ironmaster) who after graduating from her London school travels to the Amazon to visit her parents on their rubber plantation. There they celebrate her eighteenth birthday with a cruise down the Amazon with her parents and aunt and uncle. Stopping for a rest they are attacked by a tribe of indigenous headhunters who blow-dart them with paralyzing toxin before decapitating her parents, she is only wounded and is brought back to their village.

While this is lumped in with the cannibal cycle this is actually not a true cannibal film, the indigenous people are headhunter warriors, not and not of the human-flesh eating variety. In a way that largely recalls the seminal Man From Deep River Catherine is made to adopt the ways of the locals to survive, becoming the possession of young warrior Umukai (Will Gonzales), who treats her with kindness.

In typical cannibal-tropiness the film paints the the civilized people (and not the primatives) as the real savages as the film plays along, highlighted  by a pair mercenaries hunting the tribesmen from a helicopter and taking their hands as trophies, in addition to a tasty reveal towards the end of the film the re-frames what we thought we knew, allowing for a fun bit of bloody revenge. The film is nicely lensed by Silvano Ippoliti (Caligula), capturing the lush jungle scenery with a keen eye, providing some not too leering nudity, but there is loads of it. The gore is largely not overly-glorified, such as a scene wherein Catherine is de-virgined by the women of the tribe using a phalic bamboo shoot, we see it happen but it's done by focusing on her anguished face, then the camera pans to a bloody tipped shoot of bamboo, gross for sure, but not lingering on it the way something like Cannibal Ferox would have. 

Blonde looker Elvire Audray doesn't seem to have done a whole lot of films but she does alright here in a film that posits her in several precarious and vulnerable scenarios, she's not given any great dialogie to chew on, but she does "go native" by way of being topless and more for much of the film (thank you), and she's a sympathetic character so she's easy to get behind. As mentioned this is not really a cannibal film, but the tribe are not opposed to lopping off the heads of victims, as they sort of do with her parents, their heads hang on display in the village throughout the film, with Catherine being increasiingly unnerved by their presence which I thought was a nice touch, one of several, that make this a more than average primitive nasty a fun watch.

Audio/Video: Amazonia - The Catherine Miles Story (1985) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from 88 Films as part of The Italian Collection. The film is presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, advertised as being sourced from a new 2K scan from original camera negative. The source shows some age by way of white speckling and occasional print damage but overall looks pretty great for a grindhouse jungle-film, the grain is nicely managed and colors look very good. The film looks a bit soft at times but this looks to be a limitation of the cinematography more so than any issue with the transfer. Skintones which are viewed in abundance throughout looks natural and warm, black levels are adequate. Note: All screen grabs in this review are pulled straight from the 88 Films Blu-ray of the film sent for review. 

The presentation has two audio options, English and Italian DTS-HD 2.0 Mono, both are a bit narrow but export the dialogue and Franco Campanino score sound very good throughout, optional English subtitles are provided, I give the fidelity edge to to the Italian track but chose to watch it in English.

Onto the extras the main course is a brand-new 51-minute documentary, 'The Last Supper - The Finals Days of the Italian Cannibal Film' directed by Dr. Calum Waddell, a nice bookend to his other cannibal doc 'Eaten Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Film' that shows up on the Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray of Umberto Lemzi's Cannibal Ferox. The doc features interviews with writer John Martin, actor Michael Sopkiw (Massacre in Dinosaur Valley), directors Ed Sanchez (Blair Witch Project) and Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) and Mikel Koven and Calum Waddell and writer John Martin. It's a great exploration and discussion of the late-era Italian cannibal films like Ruggero Deodato's hybrid Cut and Run, with talk of the genres notoriety on the tape tarding circuit as recalled by Ed Sanchez, and Sopkiw tells a fun story about picking trippy mushrooms in the jungle and how that went awry.  

The only other video extras are a trailer for the film and an interview with camera operator Federico Del Zoppo who speaks about his career, not talking about this film in particular but touching on various directors and cast he got along with and did not, disagreements with vain actresses and crossing Burt Lancaster, working with Lucio Fulci, and touching a bit on Leviathan and Alien 2 on Earth (1980).  This is in Italian with English subtitles provided. 

The single-disc release comes housed in a clear oversized Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork, plus a limited edition slipcover with hboth the Amazonia art and title and the alternate Schiave Bianche - Il Sesso E La Violenza artwork and title on the other side, the spine of the slipcover features the Italian title and is not numbered like the wrap. We also get a first pressing booklet with liner notes detailing the mysterious life and times of star Elvire Audray, covering her flirtation in the music industry, Italian films and obscurity and probable suicide, this all written by Dr. Calum Waddell. 

Special Features: 
- Limited Edition Slipcase - Only 500 (EXCLUSIVE) 
- Limited Edition First Pressing Booklet - The Life and Times of Elvire Audray - By Dr Calum Waddell
- Brand New 2K Transfer of the Film From the Original Camera Negative
- Original Lossless Mono English and Italian Soundtracks
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian sountrack
- An Italian in Amazonia: Interview with Cameraman Federico Del Zoppo (14 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min) 
- Collector's booklet on the life and times of AMAZONIA actress Elvire Audray
- Reversible sleeve featuring 2 alternative original artworks

Amazonia - The Catherina Miles Story (1985) was a fun watch, a cannibal-esque slice of jungle-savage exploitation that is a bit more palatable than a few of it's more notorious predecessors, and easy in the eyes via starlet Elvire Audray. The region-free Blu-ray from 88 Films looks fantastic and the extras are wonderful, plus the limited edition packaging is a knockout!