Friday, June 3, 2016

Retro Review: CUT AND RUN (1985)

(Italy - 1985; US release 1986)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Written by Cesare Frugoni and Dardano Sacchetti. Cast: Lisa Blount, Leonard Mann, Willie Aames, Richard Lynch, Richard Bright, Michael Berryman, Karen Black, John Steiner, Valentina Forte, Eriq La Salle, Gabriele Tinti, Barbara Magnolfi, Luca Barbareschi, Penny Brown, Carlos De Carvalho, Edward Farrelly, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua. (Unrated, 91 mins)

Often erroneously lumped in with his controversial cannibal films, CUT AND RUN is a fairly straightforward and infrequently tacky '80s Italian jungle actioner from the infamous Ruggero Deodato. Unlike his JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977) and the legendary CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), CUT AND RUN has absolutely no cannibal gut-munching, so it's surprising that so many people consider it the final chapter of a non-existent Deodato "cannibal trilogy" or some such nonsense. Sure, it takes place in the Amazon and has some savage tribes who engage in shooting poisoned blowdarts, decapitations, and rape, but even it in its uncensored, hard-edged European form that features one poor bastard being split in half up the middle--softer kill scenes and alternate takes were used for the export version handled by New World, which hit US theaters in May 1986--there's nothing here that equals the disturbing savagery seen in any Italian cannibal outing. No flesh-eating. No on-camera animal deaths. It's not a cannibal movie. It's a distant cousin at best.

Deodato nevertheless finds other ways to be tactless, like using actual footage of Jonestown cult leader and Kool-Aid aficionado Jim Jones being interviewed by NBC reporter Don Harris, who would be one of the people ambushed and killed on a Guyana airstrip by Jones' "People's Temple" disciples when he and other members of Congressman Leo Ryan's entourage tried to help people escape from Jonestown in 1978. CUT AND RUN's chief villain is the fictional Col. Brian Horne (Richard Lynch), a disgraced and dishonorably discharged ex-Green Beret purported to be Jones' right-hand man and the mastermind behind the Jonestown massacre. Horne escaped from Jonestown and has secretly built a powerful drug operation in South America with a few Jonestown latecomers and some Amazon tribesmen he uses to eliminate the competition. He's more or less what might happen if APOCALYPSE NOW's Col. Kurtz ran a drug cartel. Horne has been believed dead, but when intrepid Cable Video News reporter Fran Hudson (Lisa Blount) and her cameraman Mark Ludman (Leonard Mann) beat the police to a bloody crime scene and find a recent picture of Horne with runaway Tommy Allo (Willie Aames), the son of their boss Bob (Richard Bright), they head down to the Amazon to find Tommy and get an exclusive interview with Horne. Obviously, mayhem and over-the-top violence ensue.

Shot in Florida and Venezuela, CUT AND RUN began life, oddly enough, as an unmade Wes Craven script titled MARIMBA. Written around 1980, MARIMBA got as far as pre-production when Craven made the acquaintance of Alessandro Fracassi, a wealthy Italian Formula One racing enthusiast looking to break into film production. Craven had scouted locations in South America and went so far as casting Dirk Benedict, Chris Mitchum, and Tim McIntire in starring roles before the project fell apart. Fracassi hung on to Craven's script and it was eventually completely reworked for Deodato by veteran Italian genre screenwriters Cesare Frugoni (MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR), frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE NEW YORK RIPPER), and an uncredited Luciano Vincenzoni (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY). None of Craven's MARIMBA script was used, and he remains uncredited even in a courtesy "Story by" capacity on CUT AND RUN. The closest one gets to any sense of Craven's at-most peripheral involvement in what was eventually made is the presence of THE HILLS HAVE EYES' Michael Berryman as a machete-wielding madman working for Horne. He disembowels a few people and chops off a few heads, but other than that, his primary job is to be Michael Berryman.

1980 Variety ad announcing Wes Craven's never-made MARIMBA

Fracassi managed to corral an impressive cast for Deodato, certainly one with more recognizable names and faces than most junky Italian exploitation movies of the time. The appealing Blount was one of the few stars of AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN who didn't get a career bump from it, possibly because her shallow, scheming Lynette was so unlikable, duping David Keith's Sid, faking a pregnancy, and ultimately driving him to suicide. On Anchor Bay's 2001 DVD release, Deodato praised Blount as "completely professional," but he got the sense that she "didn't really want to be there." The cast also included small roles for a shrieking Karen Black as a Cable Video News exec; John Steiner as a rival cartel boss and recipient of the truly disgusting "split up the middle" death, which was cut from the US release (he just gets put out of his misery by being shot instead); Gabriele Tinti as a drug-running pilot who gets a particularly gushing decapitation courtesy of Steve (David Warbeck lookalike Edward Farrelly), another Horne henchman; and future ER star Eriq La Salle, of all people, turns up as Vargas, a Huggy Bear-like Miami pimp and informant who keeps Fran in the loop about what's going on in the cartel. Of his stars, Deodato had the most trouble with two American actors. Bright (best known as Michael Corleone's chief enforcer Al Neri in the GODFATHER trilogy) was drinking heavily but, according to the director, got his act together after being kicked off the set for a day and set straight by an intervening Karen Black. EIGHT IS ENOUGH's Aames had just started both CHARLES IN CHARGE and a serious cocaine addiction around the time CUT AND RUN was made. By his own admission in his later memoir, Aames was on a massive coke binge during the entire shoot and, as required in such circumstances, destroyed a hotel room. He would eventually get clean and become a born-again Christian, producing and starring in the inspirational kids video series BIBLEMAN. Aames now works as a celebrity cruise director for Oceania Cruises, and other than a pair of EIGHT IS ENOUGH reunion movies in the late '80s, has acted very sparingly, most recently appearing in a couple of Hallmark Channel original movies.

Anchor Bay's uncut and uncensored DVD release was a welcome offering at the time, but it's in serious need of an upgrade. It's a composite assembling of the New World US cut (opening with the company's logo) with a few scattered scenes in Italian with English subtitles, usually whenever there's violent imagery exclusive to the European version. In the first issue of Video Watchdog, Stephen R. Bissette's article "Uncut and Run" details the differences between the European and American versions, with several scenes completely reshot for the softer US version or, in the case of Steiner's death scene, drastically edited to make it appear that he dies a different way (the same with Tinti's decapitation after getting shot with a poisoned dart; the US cut just shows him getting shot with the dart). The decline in quality of some of the footage is noticeable, with Steiner's big scene looking like a subpar bootleg.

There's enough of a minor cult following around CUT AND RUN and a major one around Deodato himself to warrant a Blu-ray upgrade to the acceptable but problematic 15-year-old DVD. CUT AND RUN suffers from some dumb plotting that relies too much on convenience and contrivance (no way the lady with the fake baby is making it through customs), but it's extremely fast-paced, loaded with action and splatter, has a killer score by Goblin's Claudio Simonetti, and has the kind of bizarre cast (Lisa Blount, Willie Aames, and Eriq La Salle in a Ruggero Deodato movie?) that makes it a must-see for followers of strange cinema. Deodato and Fracassi reteamed for the 1986 slasher BODY COUNT, which was never officially released in the US, and Fracassi continued to sporadically work in the Italian and Romanian film industry. Fracassi now makes his living in the financial industry, his last major credit being a co-producer of the 2006 Donald Sutherland-Sissy Spacek horror film AN AMERICAN HAUNTING.

CUT AND RUN and the Dario Argento-produced DEMONS
opening in Toledo, OH on May 30, 1986

Visual proof of a Ruggero Deodato movie opening
at three Toledo malls in the summer of 1986. 

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