Jess Franco was a genius, his work a perpetual expose on the human psyche and its conspicuous yet oft-denied desires, and when I first became aware of Blood Jungle, it was submitted to me by an acquaintance who was involved in the production of the film as a Jess-Franco-esque satire of Catholicism, or something; to be honest, I haven’t the enthusiasm for the film to go digging for that initial description with which I was met when I was introduced to the film. I will go right ahead and say it, though I tried to find other ways to say it but ultimately decided that integrity is more important than kindness: Blood Jungle was very bad. Maybe that was the point, though if it was the point was lost on me. As a de facto student of the B-Movie/Grindhouse/Exploitation film genre, I am loath to condemn a film for its detours from mainstream “quality”, and I often seek out such anti-mainstream films for the exact reasons many tend to dislike them: the poor quality, the bad writing, the cliches, the impossible plots, the use of caricatures rather than characters, yet in the end, Blood Jungle was just plain bad. But before you take my word for it, maybe I’m missing something and perhaps you, the reader, ought to hear me out in case you are of the type of audience that enjoys the kind of film I dislike. Allow me to explain…
Blood Jungle was written and directed by Thomas Nöla, undoubtedly made to look like a 1970s-era Jess Franco film, and that aspect drew me in quickly, and the cinematography continued to resemble that of a Franco film throughout, complete with the overuse of the zoom lens. The first technical disaster I noticed, however, was the audio. The audio would cut in, cut out, drop off, change in level or character drastically mid-scene, and even at its best moments would be difficult to swallow without a general taste of dread and anxiety for its disenchanting low quality; not once did I find myself lost in the story of the film, for the disastrous audio kept me at arm’s length from the film at all times. But that is not uncommon in independent film, and I often find myself plagued by the same woes in my own independent film exploits. So, had it just been poor audio, I would have given Blood Jungle a rave review.
The second thing I noticed was the writing in general. It was deplorable. At times I wondered if it was intentional, and I still think it partially was; the satire, absurdism, and nihilism that pervades the entirety of the film would be a cause for purposefully bland and cliche writing, a friendly technique that can, with little effort, be used to mock the speaker of the terrible dialogue. But it went beyond that, and I would find it hard to believe that the degree of bad writing was intentional. And, to find the proof in the pudding, one need only to watch the film and decide if the plot or even the point of the film was decipherable through the dialogue; the answer is that it is not. So, if bad writing was the intention, then the writer succeeded; but if the writer also wished to make a watchable film, the writer failed. And if nobody watches a film full of bad writing, then the writing is a complete failure. Catch my drift?
Finally, the humor. It was not until the character appeared whose head had been removed and then reattached that I understood that most of what I had thought was the result of stupidity was actually humor. It shouldn’t take that long for satire, mockery, or dark humor to become apparent, especially if it isn’t actually humorous and is just a poor attempt at humor. Then, of course, there is the question of: If the humor isn’t funny, is there something else carrying the audience along to the end of the film? The answer, of course, is no. So we’re left with an unfunny dark comedy satire of… Catholicism, maybe? (still not sure what the subject of the film was)… with no comprehensible plot, no intrigue, no worthwhile cinematography, and Blood Jungle quickly devolves into 90 minutes of noise and characters dressed in some arbitrary era in time’s wardrobe running about the screen cracking bad nihilistic jokes. And are the actors any good? No. They’re pretty bad. If they had any talent at cracking the jokes of campy, satirical dark comedy, it went unnoticed because they did so in a 90-minute plotless void. And sometimes I find myself wondering during certain especially slow scenes what the writer was thinking, if perhaps he sat in front of his computer screen, typewriter, or pad of paper, scribbling or typing away a series of unfunny jeers he jotted down over the course of several years as the manifestation of an ongoing condemnation of the Catholic Church.
Some less-terrible elements of the film: The actor playing the protagonist Agostino, Jim Ether, was half-decent and probably would do well in a better film; there was plenty of sexual humor, though none of it was particularly provocative or funny; some of the set design was impressive though minimalist, so perhaps the production team simply had access to some cool spots.
And then the biggest disappointment: in a film that features castration and is undeniably influenced by Jess Franco, there was no nudity whatsoever: no male nudity, no female nudity, only a prude attempt to convey severed testicles in a character’s hand, though only for twenty frames or so of the entire film. Oh, and the color-grading was embarrassing.
The film ends with a scene that, just maybe, is an attempt to salvage the utter crap that Blood Jungle is, with one character even going as far to say, “…they could focus on what was right in front of their faces but they couldn’t see a thing, and now they’re ashes and dirt and dust under piles of other ashes and dirt and dust, and so be it. Maybe they’ll have dreams now. I need to remind you Agostino, stop looking for the plot or how one experience matches up to another into some sort of purpose or reason, cause until you drop all that nonsense, I could show you the mysteries of the world and it wouldn’t mean a thing and your brain would still be stuck in that quicksand. There is no why, or how, or somebody arranging all the different characters and plot together to form some sort of conclusion, there is just the universe. Random dreams bouncing off one another.” If this was an apology for the preceding 90 minutes, it was certainly not accepted by me.
Paul is an alumnus of the UMASS Amherst and Boston Sociology undergraduate program. While not writing local independent film reviews, Paul is a writer of novels, theater, and the screen, as well as a film director, podcast co-host, entrepreneur, and vacuum cleaner salesperson. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.