Monday, April 19, 2021

“It’s Fossilized. That’s Why It’s So Well Preserved." - Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985) - Film #202

Amid a plethora of films with the word "dinosaur" in the title aimed at children, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985) stands out by featuring gore, copious nudity, and rape -- not to mention an absence of actual dinosaurs. Michele Massimo Tarantini's Brazil-set film is sometimes described as an Italian cannibal film, but I detected no cannibalism. Rather, I found the film to be another charming, innovative blending of genres, something at which the Italian film industry excels.

Reviewer serenity3000 writes, "Don't waste your time watching this crap." Reviewer bombersflyup writes, "It's silly and stupid with woeful dialogue." And reviewer BA_Harrison writes, "With a fraction of the gore that fans have come to expect from the genre...particularly dreadful acting, and a group of unlikeable characters you actually look forward to seeing being eaten alive, I found Tarantini's movie to be one of the weakest Italian cannibal films I have seen."

Read on for the truth about Massacre in Dinosaur Valley...

A bus carrying a diverse group of people drives along a Brazilian highway to jaunty music, finally reaching the two of San Sebastiao. Professor Ibanez and his daughter/assistant Eva are greeted by a man and about a million screaming children before they reach the town hotel, which is full of American tourists as well as a fashion photographer (Robby) and two beautiful models from San Paalo. The hotelier explains, “They came down here on a photo assignment. He says he works for a fashion magazine. If you ask me, I bet it’s a sex one.”

The jaunty music continues as the film introduces its hero, Kevin, a typically penniless American hitching a ride on a banana truck with his shotgun and crate full of fossils. 

The film cuts to a cockfighting bar where a Marilyn Monroe impersonator checks out Kevin while sitting with her ex, whom she describes as “My ex-lover and ex-husband. Yeah, that’s you!”

Kevin overhears the pilot of a plane telling the Marilyn impersonator’s ex-husband that he will be flying to the Valley of the Dinosaurs (not the 1974 Saturday morning cartoon for Professor Ibanez, so Kevin talks his way onto the flight. Kevin also has a comical fight with two shirtless men wearing body oil, after which he sleeps with one of the models to the same jaunty music that played during the bus ride.

The plane takes off the next morning with the pilot, Kevin, Professor Ibanez and Eva, Marilyn Monroe and her ex-soldier ex-husband, and the modeling group. Over the Valley of the Dinosaurs, they experience some turbulence. The alcoholic Ms. Monroe says, “I bet the curse of the Valley of the Dinosaurs is doing it. That’s what it is. Yeah, I’ll drink to it.”

The plane crashes in some mud, skidding into trees.

In the crash, the pilot and the model Kevin slept with die, and the professor is injured. The survivors realize quickly that nobody will look for them because they were flying illegally off course to reach the Valley of the Dinosaurs. Marilyn Monroe’s husband, a Vietnam veteran, immediately takes charge, offering to go find help, while Kevin and Eva volunteer to stay in the plane to watch Professor Ibanez. “We’ll stay here,” Kevin says, humanely.

“There’s no reason to now,” says Ms. Monroe’s husband as the professor looks on with his eyes staring and his tongue sticking out. “The professor just died.”

As if on cue, the professor falls over, dead.

All the survivors, who are remarkably uninjured from the plane coach, trek through the jungle, leaving the bodies behind. When Kevin finds a leech on his arm, he for unknown reasons slurps it up with his mouth, spitting part of it out.

Soon, the survivors hear a group of natives yelling at the top of their lungs and running through the brush. At the same time, Ms. Monroe finds her arm covered in leeches, which her husband refuses to pull off due to the possibility of infection. (Oddly, Kevin does not offer to eat the leeches.)

At dusk, they make a fire, but not before Ms. Monroe’s husband destroys the photographers cameras because they are slowing everyone down somehow. Her husband shoves Ms. Monroe’s arm into the fire, which effectively destroys the leeches, and allows the husband to, like Kevin, eat one of the leeches.

Unfortunately, the traditional jungle drums stop beating after a few minutes. Ms. Monroe’s husband blames the probable attention of the locals on Eva, who screamed when she saw a six-foot snake, though the natives might have noticed the profuse smoke rising from the fire the husband built (a signal that nobody mentions). The survivors continue their search for a river, believing the natives will not hunt near dark due to their fear of night spirits. 

The survivors quickly find a stream and start drinking the water. Ms. Monroe’s husband uses the opportunity to ogle Eva’s and the model’s wet shirts, an activity the filmmakers emphasize (arguably tastelessly) via extensive camera zooms.

Kevin tenses and grabs his gun when he hears the traditional “ooh-ooh-aah-aah” sounds of natives imitating monkey sounds. This leads to an argument and a stand-off with Ms. Monroe’s husband, resolved when the group decides to follow the stream to find a larger river. In a tense scene, the photographer is bitten by a persistent piranha, leading Ms. Monroe’s husband to murder him with a machete and then to attack Kevin with the machete.

After a fight in the same water, where the piranha have apparently disappeared, Kevin is separated from the others when he slides down a waterfall into a pond full of alligators. 

Meanwhile, Eva and the model are taken by headhunters while Ms. Monroe steps into quicksand (she dies but her red makeup case survives), and her husband is killed by arrows and blow darts.

The native leader rips the man’s heart out and eats it to the cheers of his followers.

In a thrilling set piece, Kevin attempts to rescue Eva and the model from the native camp by pushing all their canoes into the river and then watching the topless native women undress the survivors. The women are then presented on an altar to a man dressed as a spirit who appears in a puff of magician’s smoke — a spirit with a triceratops-like helmet and a green dinosaur-like claw that rips through the model’s right breast.

Fortunately, Kevin is able to interrupt the savage ceremony by creating a makeshift grenade from a shotgun shell, and then blasting away with the shotgun itself. He rescues the women and they run through the jungle while the natives give chase. The survivors reach the last remaining canoe and paddle away into the river. “We’re all right,” Kevin says before graciously covering their nudity with his shirt and vest. “It’s all over now.”

Of course, it is not all over now, and they are nearly trapped by a series of nets erected across the river, though they escape in the boat when Kevin shoots their chief. 

When they reach a shore where no natives are visible, the model asks offhandedly, “Say, do you think we’ll ever get out of here alive, Kevin?”

“I really don’t know,” he reassures them. Then he pulls his knife out of his belt. “I’m gonna get us something to eat.”

As he hunts, he also arranges some alone time with Eva with the pickup line “You know, I’m beginning to fall in love.” Of course, the two begin to make love in the jungle — right on top of a dinosaur footprint. “It’s fossilized. That’s why it’s so well preserved. That’s prehistory right there,” he explains.

The film shifts gears for its final act when Kevin and Eva stumble upon two slaves with leprosy trying to escape an English-speaking slave owner named China who points a handgun at them. China treats the survivors as guests, though that means prostituting the two women and knocking out Kevin to toss him in a pigsty. The model is killed by China after being lured into an escape attempt by a local woman who first raped her, leaving only Kevin and Eva. 

Fortunately, Kevin is able to escape with the help of a pig chewing through the rope binding his hands, though unfortunately he escapes after China’s extended rape of Eva. Eventually, Kevin returns to China’s camp and kills China using both a spear and a rattlesnake. He also frees the slaves, blows up some workers, and steals a helicopter. Kevin and Eva fly away after he a makes a racist joke about his inability to fly in a straight line (“It’s a Brazilian helicopter. It’s got built-in rhythym”).

The End 

Among its many innovations (I'm afraid the racism cannot be considered an innovation for Italian jungle films), Massacre in Dinosaur Valley follows an Indiana Jones-style hero named Kevin who is incapable of doing anything heroic. He is beaten up in the hotel, then beaten up several times by the husband of the Marilyn Monroe character. He allows every other character to die except for two beautiful women, whom he allows to be captured and nearly sacrificed by natives and then raped repeatedly by the villains. In the final confrontation with the main villain, he is shot and wins through sheer luck. And his helicopter piloting might get him and the only other survivor killed. The film is not just a deconstruction of the Italian cannibal film (boiling it down, so to speak, to its essential elements, which surprisingly do not include cannibalism), but also a deconstruction of the traditional adventure hero. How could anybody, outside the simple-minded film critics of your universe, fail to appreciate this film's genius?