LA SEMANA DEL ASESINO
WEEK OF THE KILLER
Director: Eloy de la Iglesia
In its day, CANNIBAL MAN was rarely seen, and unfortunate occurrence as this Spanish film from 1971 is one of the most intriguing and unique horror films to emerge from that decade, Spanish produced or not, though it doesn't succeed in all, and perhaps none, of its challenging intentions. The Spanish version was severely cut it seems, and I'm not aware of any notable theatrical showings in the United States, though I can see the film appearing as the lower part of some horror double-bill presented in a sleazy theater filled with half-asleep patrons. Thanks to Anchor Bay, however, the film has risen out of obscurity and is available as an uncut, widescreen DVD. Undoubtedly Anchor Bay picked up the film in a general package deal with Germany's Atlas International, a deal that included two de Ossorio Blind Dead films, three Jess Francos, and two Naschy werewolf films. I wouldn't be surprised if Anchor Bay really didn't know what they had with this particular acquisition.
CANNIBAL MAN promises much in the way of sharp social commentary, as it seers into the the life of the lower-class in the person of Marcos, a simplistic slaughter house worker. Unfortunately, actor Vincente Parra, playing Marcos, is too fleshy and well-fed to be an effective symbol of the poor struggling class, and the character's dread of police, whether emotional or intellectual, is not given proper breadth in exposition. His fear of prison and the authorities, is so great, in fact, that he quickly kills people close to him in order to stay away from any confrontations with the authorities, itself a sly comment on the Spain of that time. For director and scriptwriter Eloy de la Iglesia, a socialist, this angle perhaps did not need exposition, and possibly a Spanish audience, receptive to decades of fascist rule under Generalissimo Franco, would have been instantly primed to understanding the anxieties of someone facing an intransient judicial and police system. (Further exposition would also have probably doomed the film to complete censorship in Spain and made Iglesia an unwanted man.)
Aside from its marked social/political commentary, the novelty of this "horror" film lays in its depiction of homosexual yearning via a neighbor of Marcos, a wealthy and lonely gay man who lives in one of the expanding circle of high-rises that overlook, and threaten, the world inhabited by Marcos. Iglesia, a homosexual himself, shows his homoerotic hand early on. Our first at-home view of Marcos presents him in underwear, his exposed body gloated over by the camera, while at the same time likened to one of the pieces of meat being butchered in the slaughter house. But it is with the neighbor character, who is always within easy persistent distance from Marcos and brings him emotional relief and understanding when the world gets too much, that the topic of homosexuality is broached -- never in spoken lines, but in motivations, actions and glances. A nighttime swimming pool sequence, where both male characters share an exhilaration of unbridled fun, is cued to music so romantic and lush, and filmed in such a joyously "gushing" way, that the scene almost becomes a mockery of all similar scenes between men and women that have been around for so many years in the cinema. This scene of exhilaration must have come as quite a shock to the audiences of the day: the homosexuals in the audience must have felt a measure of freedom by its manifestation, while the heterosexuals may have been scratching their heads at what exactly was being meant here. I'm not aware of any horror film that dealt with homosexuality in such an upfront way previous to CANNIBAL MAN, though the popular film BOYS IN THE BAND made the subject matter cinematically accepted and widely known a year earlier. Oddly, many online reviewers of this film do not mention this very obvious and central current running through it and which ends the movie on a note of melancholic sadness and regret.
The Spanish title, LA SEMANO DE ASESINO (literally, THE WEEK OF THE MURDERER) is a telling choice for naming the movie. Perhaps de la Iglesia was mocking the typical horror film, which at that time was seeing a "boom" in Spain and elsewhere. Certainly the title, LA SEMANA DE ASESINO, is a sardonic comment on all the "La noche de" (The Night of...) films that started to appear in Spain after the success of the imported American film THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and Naschy's LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS( THE NIGHT OF WALPURGIS). These fellows can have their "night," Iglesia seems to say, but I'll have my "week"!
Incidentally, the English title, CANNIBAL MAN, is silly and inaccurate, as Marcos does not eat the human meat he kills, and in one scene gets overwhelmingly sick when he thinks he has accidentally wolfed down human meat mixed at the local eatery.
Actor Vicente Parra would later star in the Naschy-scripted EL TRANSEXUAL, another film that boldly entered hitherto unexplored sexual terrain.
Director Iglesia's made several films in the fantasy/horror/terror genres, among them: FANTASIA 3 (a 1966 trilogy of tales based on works by the Brothers Grimm, L. Frank Baum and Hans Christian Anderson), EL TECHO DE CRISTAL (THE GLASS CEILING), and UNA GOTA DE SANGRE PARA MORIR AMANDO (aka MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD, 1973). Later he abandoned those genres to delve exclusively into social and sexual commentary films, but returned in 1985 with a new take on Henry James' TURN OF THE SCREW. After years of absence due to heroin addiction, Iglesia is apparently back, eager to make new films. He is wished success.
-- Reviewed by Mirek
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