Welcome to the jungle – vast, savage, and clamorous with the din of life continuing its primeval cycle, far from the orderliness of civilization. And what a great place to introduce a little horrific mayhem!
Today we are going to be counting down the ten best horror films that take place (at least for the most part) in the jungle.
10. Jungle Holocaust (1977)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Stars: Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov, Sheik Razak Shikur
Jungle Holocaust tells the story of an oil prospector named Robert Harper who, along with a couple others, lands in the middle of the jungle. Before you can say “what’s cooking,” Robert runs afoul of a cannibal tribe that proceeds to capture and humiliate him, which ranges from being stripped naked to having his penis fondled (seriously) to witnessing the fine delicacies of cannibalism. There are also assorted moments of rape, animal death, and hilariously dubbed voices as well. This is a cannibal movie after all, what else would you expect?
Anyway, it isn’t long before a native girl frees Robert (and gives him a handjob…before he rapes her later on…which she seems totally okay with…because reasons) and they’re on the run, with the cannibals on their heels. All in all, this film feels like a trial run of some of the themes that would occur in Ruggero Deodato’s later, much sicker Cannibal Holocaust (which, of course, we’ll be getting to in a moment).
9. Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977)
Director: Joe D’Amato
Stars: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Nieves Navarro, Donald O’Brien
Investigative reporter Emanuelle is working undercover in a mental hospital, armed with a camera concealed in a doll. She finds nothing newsworthy until a patient attacks a nurse and bites her breast almost completely off. This situation resolves itself by Emanuelle booking a ticket to the jungle in order to get a scoop on cannibals. She is accompanied by an anthropologist, a hunter and his sex crazed wife, a nun and a random blonde chick whose purposes seems to be throwing off her clothes every two minutes.
Coming the same year as Jungle Holocaust, Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals can be seen as being both an innovator of the cannibal genre and a prime example of it, introducing many of the tropes of the genre – the assertion of truth, the untrustworthy companions, and others. Rather than juxtaposing the cannibal society against the civilized society to highlight the wickedness of the latter, the filmmakers choose to present the cannibals as true villains: wholly evil and in no way analogous to conventional society. But besides all that, for those who simply enjoy seedy exploitation, this is a flick that really delivers the goods.
8. Eaten Alive (1980)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Stars: Robert Kerman, Janet Agren, Me Me Lai, Paola Senatore, Mel Ferrer
A young woman teams up with an adventurer to find her missing sister in the jungles of New Guinea. They ultimately stumble upon a religious cult led by an unhinged preacher whom has located his commune in an area inhabited by cannibals.
While cannibalism takes center stage as the selling point of the film, Eaten Alive isn’t actually a cannibal movie at all. The cannibals are present merely to provide color, a sense of dread, and hopelessness for our protagonists. At its core this is a very loose re-telling of the classic Jonestown Massacre story, where in 1978 over 900 people committed mass suicide in the South American country of Guyana under the cult leadership of Jim Jones. Perhaps problematic to its purpose, Eaten Alive turns to be less re-telling and more exploitation by using the real life incidents as a basis to showcase some jungle sleaze. With that being said, if you love Italian splatter cinema, you won’t be disappointed.
7. Cannibal Ferox (1981)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Stars: John Morghen, Lorraine De Selle, Bryan Redford, Zora Kerowa, Walter Lloyd
As Umberto Lenzi’s follow-up to his cannibal classic, Eaten Alive, Cannibal Ferox (aka Make Them Die Slowly) takes the madness up a few thousand notches. In fact, upon its release, the film’s US distributor claimed it was “the most violent film ever made.”
Gloria Davis is a NYC university student writing her college thesis on cannibalism. Believing it a myth and desiring to debunk the practice as a byproduct of Western colonialism, Gloria travels to the Amazon jungle with her brother Rudy and friend Pat. Not long after losing their transportation, they set out on foot. Deep in the jungle, they run afoul of two men – Mike and Joe, who claim to be diamond hunters pursued by cannibals. Gloria and her brother quickly realize that something is not quite right with Mike and his story. Learning the truth too late, the innocent interlopers are captured by the vengeance seeking jungle savages. Making them pay along with the guilty, Gloria receives a shocking revelation regarding her ideas on the practice of anthropophagy. The lucky ones die first. As for the rest, well…
6. Anaconda (1997)
Director: Luis Llosa
Stars: Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson
A National Geographic film crew in the Amazon, shortly into their journey down the river, come upon grimacing poacher Paul Serone, who, based on his constant sneering, shifty glances, and the menacing music that plays to introduce him, is up to no good. It’s soon revealed that Serone isn’t interested in directing the crew to a hospital when a poisonous wasp stings one of them, or scavenging for fuel when they drift past a wrecked boat. His goal is to capture a monstrous anaconda alive – easily the largest one in existence. It’s a dangerous task, and the inexperienced filmmakers aren’t keen on aiding in his cause – so they’re taken as prisoners.
Don’t be fooled by the $40 million budget and the starry cast, because Anaconda is a SyFy movie by any other name, full of hilarious histrionics and an even funnier monster. In a movie with no shortage of show-stopping moments, the pick of the bunch has to be the death of Serone, in which he’s vomited up by the titular creature and manages to literally wink at the audience. It might just be one of thee greatest moments in cinema history.
5. The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Dey Young
In one of the more underappreciated films from the late-great Wes Craven, David Allen is an ethnobotanist who is sent to Haiti by a pharmaceutical corporation to investigate a powder drug used in Haitian voodoo rituals that turns people into zombies. Allen embarks in a violent and at times surreal journey to gain access to this drug, but what he discovers will change his life forever. He gets mixed up in a game where he is the pawn in the middle of voodoo priests, corrupt government officials and his own sanity. In the end, he must decipher what is science and what is black magic.
The Serpent And The Rainbow is one of those “based on a true story” horror films. This time, the source material is Wade Davis’ book The Serpent And The Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey Into The Secret Societies Of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies, And Magic, which posited a scientific basis for the legend of the undead. And while we can’t speak on the factualism of the book, we can definitely say that the film is quite disturbing indeed.
4. The Ruins (2008)
Director: Carter Smith
Stars: Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey
The Ruins surprises because it’s not a typically ideal message horror film laden with societal or political critiques, conducive to horror masters like John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and George A. Romero. Lacking any resonate meaning, the film simply aims to entertain with escapist horror thrills. Usually this indicates silly garbage waved off by critics and audiences alike. But here is a grueling film that, through shocking us, continues to keep us involved, either by substantial character development or unexpected and frightening situations.
Based on the second novel by two-time author Scott B. Smith, writer of A Simple Plan (which Sam Raimi adapted into a thoughtful film in 1998), the story follows a group of friends whose leisurely Mexican holiday takes a turn for the worse when they, along with a fellow tourist, embark on a remote archaeological dig in the jungle where something evil lives among the ruins. It’s silly at parts but what we ultimately get is an enjoyable, well made and genuinely creepy horror flick that transcends its ridiculous premise thanks to a strong script, some sure-handed direction and superb performances from a talented young cast.
3. The Green Inferno (2013)
Director: Eli Roth
Stars: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira
In the grand tradition of Eli Roth’s Hostel films, The Green Inferno follows a group of college kids who get in way over their heads while out of the country. In this case it’s a group of activists, college students who head to the Amazon to protest deforestation that threatens local stone age tribes. But when a plane crash strands them deep within the jungle the kids learn that maybe the tribe isn’t the idealized version of man living in harmony with nature that they thought. Their condescending liberalism never prepared them for a village of red-painted headhunters who don’t fit any of their primitive native as childlike innocent stereotypes.
This film feels like an extended middle finger to everyone begging for political correctness and activism regarding saving nature. That isn’t to be confused with saying anyone that cares will be set on a collision course with cannibals, but that maybe instead of crying and whining people should research what they themselves are interested in, rather than demanding the entire world come together for their cause. Of course, most of this ends up lost in translation thanks to people being eaten left and right, but the message stands.
2. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Stars: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
A New York anthropologist named Professor Harold Monroe travels to the wild, inhospitable jungles of South America to find out what happened to a documentary film crew that disappeared two months before while filming a documentary about primitive tribes deep in the rain forest. Well, not only does he discover what happened to them but it turns out they had a run-in with some natives who don’t mind indulging in rape, beheadings and some cannibalism.
Cannibal Holocaust is nasty, sometimes quite difficult to watch and is worthy of any depraved adjectives you could think of. It’s also a near masterpiece by its director Ruggero Deodato. It’s a horror film in the most literal sense. It isn’t necessarily scary, though it doesn’t try to be. Despite its scenes of horrendous violence it’s not simply a gross out movie like the torture porn films of today. What Deadato attempted with this film is to disturb the viewer, provoke a reaction and make that person think. Cannibal Holocaust truly stands in a league of its own – and its reputation is quite well-deserved.
1. Island Of Lost Souls (1932)
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Stars: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams
Island Of Lost Souls is the first feature film adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau, and it’s still the best – it captures the bleakness and unflinching cruelty at the center of Wells’s writing. With a relatively scant 38 years separating the film and the novel, it’s no surprise that audiences would be shaken by a picture that so accurately reflects man’s inhumanity. With the scars of World War 1 still fresh and seeds of political and economic turmoil blossoming all over the world, Island Of Lost Souls forced viewers to confront layers of Otherness in its foreign lands and untamed nature, both of which commingle with the tidy, hegemonic outlook that the Western world continued to value with the emergence of fierce nationalism.
The story follows our titular scientist as he conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations. Moreau is a classic mad scientist of the introverted type: not for him the posturing of world-conquering megalomaniacs, for the most part he merely wishes to be left alone to conduct his horrifying, unethical studies in peace. He’s not above using humans in his foul research should they interfere, however.
Are there any other films you’d like to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.