A Spanish lobby card featuring an image of actress Mira Pawluk who played the ax-wielding Leona in Ivan Reitman’s 1973 film ‘Cannibal Girls.’
Shot on a shoestring budget of $12,000, Cannibal Girls was one of the first films made by producer/director Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Animal House, Meatballs). It has also been heralded as one of the sleaziest B-movies ever to come out of Canada, an honor that was only enhanced by the film’s use of a “warning bell” that was sounded to alert moviegoers that something gross was about to happen so they could avert their eyes. But since the name of this film is Cannibal Girls, it really should have been a safe bet to assume that your eyes would probably be treated to some good old-fashioned gore and hot, flesh-eating chicks. Also, since this is Ivan Reitman we’re talking about, the flick features moments of comic relief, many thanks to the film’s stars, Eugene Levy—the brilliantly funny Canadian actor, SCTV alumni, and long-time collaborator of Christopher Guest—and SCTV’s Andrea Martin. What could go wrong? Well, just like any other movie, a lot of things. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to Cannibal Girls being a bad film in the conventional sense of the word. In fact, it is a much-loved example of classic “Canuxploitation” films that started making their way to the big screen in the early 1970s. The word was used to help classify Canadian films that fell into the category, such as a couple of classic slashers from 1981, My Bloody Valentine, and Happy Birthday To Me.
In the spirit of the future films of Christopher Guest, much of the dialog in Cannibal Girls was improvised. There are also numerous blood-soaked scenes, many of which feature topless flesh-eating females performing weird rituals or gorging on some unfortunate ice cream salesman who one of the girls shacked up with the night before. Then there’s the nutty, Svengoolie-looking character of “Rev. Alex St. John” played by actor Ronald Ulrich who would not-so-unbelievably go on to do little else when it came to acting after Cannibal Girls. Another plus for the film is that it possesses the distinct feel of a Hammer-style horror film at times—though the mood is hard to maintain due to its lack of plot continuity and the occasional random scene juxtaposition. According to others that are well acquainted with Cannibal Girls that kind of makes sense, as Reitman’s screenplay (which he wrote with Daniel Goldberg and Robert Sandler) was ambiguous at best, to begin with. A major factor to the success of any horror flick is the ability of the film to instill a sense of isolation or desolation—and Cannibal Girls does that well. Reitman chose remote areas surrounding snowy Toronto like Richmond Hill (which was called “Farnhamville” in the film) where activities in 1973 included a “beard growing” contest. At times when Levy (who looks exactly like “Phineas Freak” from The Fabulous Fury Freak Brothers comics come to life) and his “broad” Martin are traipsing through the snow-covered streets, you wonder if the town is inhabited at all. And the feeling that all has already been lost helps keep you engaged, even when you want to laugh during some of the hilariously cringey improvised scenes between the actors.
Reitman would end up selling the rights to Cannibal Girls to B-movie impresario Roger Corman and the movie actually did pretty well when it was released in the U.S. where it hugely popular with the heavy neckers who frequented the drive-in. Corman was also responsible for the goofy “warning bell” idea. The soundtrack for the film, which appears to involve a synthesizer mostly (because this is a horror movie after all) was composed by Canadian musician Doug Riley aka “Dr. Music” who had previously played with Ray Charles, even turning down Charles’ offer to join his band back in the day.
The film is a degenerate’s dream—strangely appealing in all the right ways and an utterly epic mess of awkwardness, all while being a compelling historical document from a man who would go on to make some of Hollywood’s most memorable and endearing films. Cannibal Girls even makes a cameo appearance in Reitman’s Ghostbusters II in a montage scene of New York being overrun by ghosts. The film can be seen at a cinema where movie-goers are chased out by a winged ghost.
I’ve posted some awesome ephemera from Cannibal Girls below such as the grindhouse-looking lobby cards (one of which featuring Levy in all his freaky-haired hippie glory) and a few movie posters to hopefully get you into the mood for seeking this bizarro gem I’ve also included a beautiful looking trailer for Cannibal Girls that reads like a horror film you need to see. On that note, Cannibal Girls got a proper Blu-Ray release a few years back which includes an option to watch the movie with the “warning bell” effect turned on. Nice.
A lobby card for ‘Cannibal Girls’ featuring Andrea Martin.
A German movie poster for ‘Cannibal Girls.’
A beautiful trailer for ‘Cannibal Girls’ that was used to promote the film’s appearnace at SWSX in 2010.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Female Convict Scorpion’: The Japanese women-in-prison movie that elevated exploitation to high art
Master of Mischief: The brutal horror and cheesy sexploitation movies of Pete Walker
Sex, Sadism & Swastikas: Psycho ‘70s Nazi sexploitation cinema cycle
Trick or Treat Mix: Psychotic rock ‘n’ roll vs raunchy exploitation movie trailers (NSFW)