There are good Italian cannibal horror flicks, and there are bad Italian cannibal horror flicks. Besides the plot elements they all share and steal from one another, the other thing they have in common is that they are prime exploitation cinema. Massacre in Dinosaur Valley is one of the more exploitative of the bunch, and it has nothing to do with animal slaughter and mutilation, or graphic depictions of bodily injury. This flick is about the nudity. It’s right there in the Italian title of the movie.
“Nudo e selvaggio” translates into English as, “Naked and wild.” The English-language distributors must not have thought much about that title, which would probably have frightened off more than a few theater owners back when it was released, so they titled the film Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. It’s just as descriptive and accurate as the Italian title. There is a massacre, and it happens in some place called Dinosaur Valley, but I have to admit that, going into this film blind, I was disappointed that there weren’t any dinosaurs. Meanwhile, had the film just been called Naked and Wild, my expectations would have been satiated. Anyway…
From 1985, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley is a joint Italian/Brazilian production, written and directed by Michele Massimo Tarantini, with some uncredited script work by prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti. The film stars Michael Sopkiw as Kevin Hall, a mercenary paleontologist who roams all over South America in search of fossils.
This was the fourth, and last, in a string of Italian action and horror flicks that Sopkiw starred in beginning in 1983. He disappeared from film for the better part of thirty years after this flick wrapped, but he’ll always hold a special place here at Shitty Movie Sundays.
After crawling out of the jungle with a crate full of specimens, Kevin is ready to head home, but gets wind that another paleontologist, Pedro Ibañez (Leonidas Bayer), has commissioned a private flight to take a detour so he and his daughter, Eva (Suzane Carvalho), can visit the mysterious Dinosaur Valley, rumored home to so many dinosaur fossils that one can’t help but trip over them. The valley is normally off limits because it is the home to a tribe of aggressive cannibals.
Kevin wrangles a spot on the plane, audiences are introduced to the rest of the ensemble, and the plot is a go.
For reasons never made all that clear on film, the plane crashes in the jungle valley, killing the pilot, the professor, and another passenger, Monica (Maria Reis), who had already made her full frontal contribution to the film earlier.
The survivors must now make their way to safety on foot, as the flight deviated from its plan, and any rescuers will be looking in the wrong place. This suits passenger John Heinz (Milton Rodriguez) just fine. He’s a real gung-ho sort who claims to be an ex-green beret who served three tours in Vietnam. He’s wound real tight, and revels in the opportunity to play jungle warrior once again.
One by one the survivors of the crash meet their ends in typical jungle movie fashion. All the good tropes are there. Leeches, piranha, quicksand, women in awkward footwear, and, of course, cannibals. The middle act is all about the escape from the cannibals and winnowing down the cast. The surviving female characters, Eva and model Belinda (Susan Hahn), get the worst treatment. Tarantini couldn’t wait to get these two naked, and the film gets a little rapey.
By the third act, the string of set pieces is getting a little wearisome, so Tarantini introduces the evil China, who runs a secret slave mine in the valley, digging up gigantic emeralds from the rock. The credits are a little unclear about who plays China. It’s either Andy Silas or Carlos Imperial. Whoever it is, China is a nasty piece of work, carrying on this film’s central theme of placing the female cast in bodily peril. All that’s left is for Kevin to be the hero his character was always going to be, and wrap things up.
Of all the Italian cannibal flicks I’ve seen, this is the most scatterbrained. Cannibals were hot at the time, so Tarantini had cannibals in his flick. It’s clear that his true goal was exploitation, and if vampires or zombies had been the hot commodity when he made his film, that’s what the conceit would have been. The horror is peripheral to the flesh. That doesn’t make it any less worthy a shitty horror flick. Sleaze in film is not inherently a bad thing. Only the prudes want one to think so. The sleaze in this flick is pretty silly, though. It’s almost quaint in an age where one’s fetishes are only a few keystrokes away.
It also doesn’t have much else worth watching. The veneer of horror on top of the exploitation wasn’t bloody enough, frightening enough, or tense enough to keep me engaged. The lurch from set piece to set piece ticked boxes without ever trying to be original, or showing the ability to do so. It was like going to a jazz bar in Peoria — it’s jazz, but it ain’t Birdland.
Massacre in Dinosaur Valley takes over the #318 spot in the Watchability Index from Jack Frost. That’s not good.