Why is this so surprising? Well, the director was Mental Hospital Test Case Umberto Lenzi, whose sensibilities are a psychological doctorate dissertation waiting to be written. For you fans of Lenzi, fear not, he and writers Francesco Barilli and Massimo D'Avak still pack Man from Deep River with all the marks of a Lenzi movie, many of which have been ripped off, in turn, by other flicks and have become Lenzi staples in other movies. Many of the flicks that have ripped off Man from Deep River were, in turn, ripped off again by Lenzi for later flicks. Just for good measure, Lenzi also ripped off other flicks that ripped him off while he was ripping off A Man Called Horse just for the hell of it! That guy!
Instead of the English Aristocrat John Morgan travelling to America that we meet in A Man Called Horse, Man from Deep River introduces us to American Photographer John Bradley (played by Croatian-descended Italian Ivan Rassimov) who travels to Thailand for some action, adventure and snorkeling. However, what he finds is a tribe of jungle savages who kidnap him and make him a slave of the tribe. He speculates that this is because they think he's a fish. It's more likely that they just think he's a dork and want to goof on him.
Things aren't so bad once he discovers that one of the native girls is sweet on him. The fact that this native girl, Marayň, is played by an almost always nude Me Me Lai (credited here as "Me Me Lay" in a case of Freudian typographical errors) pretty much means that he's going to be equally sweet on her. I mean, who wouldn't be... this woman is... just... wow!
Lenzi wants to make absolutely sure that the audience is well aware of this, and of the fact that Me Me Lai is not bashful. To this end she never wears much, when she's wearing anything at all. Ol' Umberto packs in appreciated, yet completely gratuitous scenes of sweet, sweet Me Me in all kinds of varied situations. One noteworthy and memorable example is the worth-the-whole-flick-just-for-this slow motion running scene. You know that Romance Movie cliche of people running toward each other in slow motion, then falling to the meadow floor in kisses? Me Me does that scene completely nude, bouncing all over the place and putting to shame even the most eye-popping scene from Baywatch!
In the immortal words of Lost's John Locke: "We're gonna have to watch that again!"
No wonder they call the wind Marayň! This explains in few uncertain terms why when John tries to escape the tribe, he doesn't try very hard. Does it hurt that Marayň's main suitor is a guy named Karen? Probably not. Sure actor Sullalewan Suxantat doesn't look like a "Karen", but hey, they couldn't call him "Stonn", because Bradley's no Spock!
Much of this film consists of scenes you're all too familiar with if you've seen A Man Called Horse or the films that were influenced by it. John finds that one of the tribe can speak English (Pratitsak Singhara's Taima) and slowly starts to understand and appreciate the Tribe's customs and ways. When the tribe is attacked by Cannibals and John shows his prowess and bravery he impresses Chief Lahuna (Ong Ard). This leads to a brutal initiation into the warrior ranks. Although it does look downright crappy, it's not nearly as bad as the blade suspension ol' Horse went through in this film's source material. Apparently Lenzi didn't have the budget to rip that off until 1981's Cannibal Ferox. Ick, by the way.
The main sub-plot that keeps this film interesting is the romance between Marayň and John, AKA, the luckiest man in the Jungle. The credit can be laid, for the most part, at the feet of Rassimov, who isn't a bad actor, and Lai, who is actually very good. Their evolution is credible and worth watching. Unfortunately, these are diamonds in a tapestry of rust.
To be fair, a certain level of exploitation was pretty much required to make this movie marketable outside of Italy. To be honest, the level that we get here is more than a lot. What landed this on the Video Nasty List wasn't the torture scenes that Rassimov's character goes through, or for the most part the nudity and wild, sometimes ritualistic, sex. In emulation of the Mondo Films, Man from Deep River breaks a whole lot of the BBFC's rules, most notably the depiction of actual animals being killed and staged to be killed. The human factor is pushed to Video Nasty limits as well, especially during the scene where a tribal girl is raped, then eaten, by cannibals.
In case you haven't gleaned it by now, this is NOT a Family Picture!
All the gratuities, coupled with the remarkably derivative nature of this film keep Man from Deep River from acheiving "Good Movie" status. That said, it should be noted that no matter what sources led to its creation, Man from Deep River ended up being a very influential film in its own right. Hot on its heels came Ultimo Mondo Canibale (featuring much of the same cast), which has the dubious and infamous distinction of having started the Cannibal Film craze. The Ovidio G. Assonitis-produced Man from Deep River was first, though, and it's the one that made the Video Nasty list. Well, one of many, actually. Lenzi was busy.
Two Stars out of Five for Man from Deep River, quite possibly Umberto Lenzi's best work and a great showcase for Me Me Lai. Originality is a virtue, however, and even Man from Deep River for all its influence missed a few branches on the originality tree. Regardless, Cheers to Me Me Lai, the lady who could make being stranded in the jungle and surrounded by flesh eating monsters sound like a desirable situation. Well, her and Margi! Wow. Imagine both! See you in the next reel.
The Country of the Wild Reviews
Is just a Link Click away!
But beware of A Man Called FISH!