Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death: The Official Nerfed Llamas Review – Yes Virginia, that is the actual title of the movie
Another day in May is another wonderful reason to continue the month long celebration of the robust catalog of films made by Full Moon Features! After dipping fairly heavy into the horror side of Full Moon recently, I felt that it would be a nice change of pace to try a pure comedy flick. Although not as well known for comedy as they are for horror and sci-fi, Full Moon has a handful of comedy titles available that are actually quite good. Not quite as mainstream as say an Adam Sandler comedy, the Full Moon version of the genre is as you would expect, twisted, bizarre, over the top, and oddly erotic. Which brings us to today’s 1989 classic that introduced many a person to the comedy stylings of Bill Maher: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death.
What is Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death: CWITAJOD (I believe this abbreviation is necessary, don’t you think?) is an outrageous comedy that follows a plot similar to Hearts of Darkness by about the discovery of a tribe of cannibal women that live in the uncharted Avocado Jungle of San Bernadino. In a bid to try and convince the tribe to move onto a reservation, the government hires a feminist professor at a local university to communicate with the Piranha Women. The professor hires a jungle guide, who unfortunately turns out to be a chauvinist pig. The two argue about a great many things on their way to finding the tribal women of the Avocado Jungle. Once there, it is up to the cunning Professor to try and understand the Piranha Women and then convince them to move to the reservation. Written and directed by J.F. Lawton under the pseudonym J.D. Athens (Pretty Woman, DOA: Dead or Alive), CWITAJOD stars Shannon Tweed (Indecent Behavior, Hard Vice), Bill Maher (Religulous, Real Time), Karen Waldron (Space Cowboys, Return of the Killer Tomatoes!), Brett Stimely (Watchmen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), and Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing, Escape From New York).
What I Liked: I was pleasantly surprised by how the three main characters were well portrayed by the Shannon Tweed, Bill Maher, and Karen Waldron. Shannon Tweed plays the straight laced, no-nonsense, middle-of-the-road feminist professor with effortless ease. Never delving into absurdity or breaking with her character’s core belief, Tweed somehow manages to keep a straight face throughout the entire film, even when all sorts of bizarre and wildly comic stuff is happening all around her. Bill Maher plays the chauvinist jungle guide, Jim, an affable guy who has an excuse for every short coming and has dived into a whiskey bottle and never climbed back out ever since. Maher is manic, inspired, and downright manly with his sternum bush on display at all times. Karen Waldron plays the bubbly home economics major turned possible feminist assistant to the professor. Waldron brings a level of fun that balances the more outrageous outbursts by Jim but is never anywhere near as dour as the jaded professor. Ultimately, Tweed, Maher, and Waldron bring a zen like balance to the film and make each scene they share a delight to watch.
The satire/social commentary was on point! Feminists came in all varieties, including the man-eating variety, and it played with themes of how a certain type of male hates/fears an empowered women. There are 2 tribes of cannibal feminists, which split because they couldn’t agree on which dipping sauce paired best with male flesh during chow time, showing how petty even the most altruistic politics can be. The government lies, manipulates and bullies people to do their evil bidding, which is how governing gets done, right? This is just scratching the surface. There are so many social commentary digs, to the point that you would likely be hard pressed to catch them in the first go-around.
Feminism is portrayed from both a militant point of view and a moderate point of view. Considering the satire like nature of this film, it was refreshing to see both sides of feminism tackled with such balance. The feminists are not evil, which again is pretty hip for the time period as well. The Piranha Women are so adamantly against men because the men from the government have lied to them and fearful of their empowering independence. They are self sustaining and highly capable of fending for themselves. Also, if they get hungry they can eat the errant men who occasionally show up in the jungle, which is a bonus for them. The moderate feminist wants a shared balance between men and women, including hot topics such as: equal pay, equal opportunity for high end employment positions, and equal respect. All in all, I was pleasantly pleased with how the different aspects of feminism were handled in this movie.
This film is a microcosm of the world circa 1989. This film came from the same time as Better Off Dead, Weird Science, and My Science Project, and in a way it is the last of that absurd style of comedy that was popular during that time. I, personally, would love to see this kind of film make a comeback to the silver screen. Comedies today are almost always a situation comedy, with either a wacky scenario or one wacky character. I want more over-the-top shenanigans. The closest we get to this anymore are the films of Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World). Trends in film are cyclical, so hopefully it’s time for the absurd comedy to return for a while.
What I Didn’t Like: It can’t all be rainbows and giant kitties, and as fun as this film is it falls a bit short here and there. The third act kind of goes pair shaped, and even though the conclusion is satisfactory, it limps a bit to the finish line. To be fair, it limps with laughs, but all the same it limps. The third act has two key issues, 1) it falls apart in multiple directions, while 2) everything seemingly wraps up with a neat bow anyway. I know it’s an outrageous kind of comedy, but a bit of extra planning would have made the ending a lot more rewarding for the viewer.
The action choreography was non existent in this film. The fight between Shannon Tweed and Adrienne Barbeau was just rough to watch. They battle with not one, but two separate sets of weapons, and neither fight is good… at all. It felt as if the director said, just bang the weapons around a bit while you say your dialogue. If so, then that’s exactly what we got. There was absolutely no danger during the fight, and you never felt as if either character was even actually trying. It takes you out of the experience, even in a goofy film such as this.
As much as this film tries to make a case for feminism, it never really commits to the idea. Jim is there to make it all seem like poppycock, and when he teaches a tribe of shy, hot chocolate making, clothing knitting men to be sexist pigs, They turn to try and sexually maul Waldron’s character. When the professor tells Jim that it is disgusting and that rape is bad, Jim just replies something to the effect of yeah, it’s bad, but I’m just proud of them for coming out of their shell for a woman. It’s half measures like this that really undercut the potential message. I realize this is a comedy, but that’s the burden of the writer, to balance the comedy with the message. Either you want to educate the audience on the merits of feminism (which can be done comedically without dismissively having a character continually write it off), or you do not. The writer should have picked his battles more wisely throughout the film.
The sound editing is highly suspect. I suppose this was a limitation of the budget, or possible reckless post production foley gone awry. Either way, the ambient noises (water running in the river, leaves rustling as the main characters walk through the jungle, etc.) tend to sound hollow or as if recorded with a handheld tape recorder and spliced into the sound mix after the fact. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the accompanying score sounds fine, so it definitely something to do with specifically with sound effects and ambient noises.
Bottom Line: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death is a rare beast of b-movie comedy greatness, the kind of movie that could only exist during the time in which it was made. That in and of itself is an indictment of the rampant political correctness and needless pandering that we are expected to do for all of the safe space needing special interest groups that are seemingly everywhere, but I digress. Sometimes the comedy misses the mark, or undercuts its own message, but overall it succeeds in being an entertaining flick. This is truly funny movie and in many ways similar to how other movies took an extreme comedic approach to subculture groups, like Revenge of the Nerds. It is absurd, goofy, and never tries to be anything other than a spot on spoof of circa 1989 male vs. female relations. Times, they were a changing, and the path to how fiercely independent women are today was being trail blazed by the bold women of the 80s and early 90s. This is a fun flick to watch with a group of friends and some social lubricant. CWITAJOD is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and through Full Moon’s streaming service. Check out the trailer for Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and see if you prefer your male flesh with guacamole or crab sauce, it’s tough to decide, isn’t it: