REVIEW: CANNIBAL WOMEN in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989) SOME SPOILERS

Figure 1 – Cannibal Women poster

When I first saw this film title, I said to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding. Is this a Roger Corman film?” But no, it’s not Corman, nor is it a Troma extravaganza. It’s a perfectly serious genre film from Full Moon Video. (Okay, it’s not serious at all. It’s a comedy genre-type film starring Shannon Tweed, Adrienne Barbeau, and Bill Maher.) Wait—

BILL MAHER?! Yep, the host of Bill Maher Tonight and Politically Incorrect actually costarred in an hour-and-a-half-long “feature film” about cannibal women in California. Alongside Shannon Tweed (now Mrs. Gene Simmons) and Adrienne Barbeau, whom genre filmgoers know well from such films as Swamp Thing, Creepshow, and Escape From New York. Sharing the screen in this “epic” movie is an actress previously unknown to me, Karen Mistal (now Karen Waldron). It’s a total spoof, extremely loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and written by J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman, Blankman, Under Siege, Under Siege 2, etc.) under a pseudonym, J. D. Athens.

There are a few bare boobs in the opening sequence, set in the “Avocado Jungle,” which might lead one to think this is a typical sexploitation movie, but those are put in merely to mislead the viewer. It’s actually a pretty funny film. The premise is this: The U.S. Government hires a Professor of Feminist Studies and professional ethnologist, Margo Hunt (Tweed), at Spitzer College, to track down the legendary Piranha tribe of cannibal women, who live in the fabled Avocado Jungle of California, where 95% of the U.S.’s avocados come from. (Starting at Bakersfield and covering approximately 1/3 of California down to the Mexican border, the Avocado Jungle is largely uncharted and unexplored; most of the avocados come from the fringes of the Jungle. Those who attempt to penetrate the interior—including the U.S. Army at one point—never come back!) A well-known feminist lecturer, Professor Kurtz (Barbeau) went in some years ago but never came out. She is accompanied by Bunny (Waldron), who is thinking of switching her major from Home Economics to Feminist Studies (if there are any feminist cooking classes). Bunny is not put off by the idea that the Piranha Women eat their men—“There was this guy,” she says, but Hunt tells her that’s not what they’re talking about.

Figure 2 – Hunt (Tweed), Jim (Maher), and Bunny (Waldron)

At San Bernadino, a run-down outpost on the fringe of the Jungle, they meet Jim (Maher), a somewhat klutzy male chauvinist who claims to be able to lead them into the jungle to the lair of the Piranha Women. (He’s never been there, but he has a book with a map in it. Hunt tells him she’ll buy her own copy, but he triumphantly tells her it’s out of print! Defeated, she hires him as guide.)

They find a wrecked boat—Jim was the sole survivor of that expedition—and Hunt repairs it so that they can enter the Jungle via the river; they are hoping to be unnoticed by the Piranha women. On the way, Jim and Professor Hunt have several arguments about how men and women interact;she is from the moderate side of feminism, while he is an unrepentant chauvinist who believes all the usual b.s. spouted by typical chauvinists. Along the way they meet the Donahue tribe (as in Phil Donahue), who survive by kowtowing to, and knitting tea cosies and the like for the Piranha women. In a deliberate nod to the film 2001, Jim teaches them to stand erect and to drink beer! (You’ll know the scene when you see it.)

Tweed is very good in what is basically an extended joke; Waldron is able to maintain that wide-eyed Valley Girl persona, and Maher is very… adequate as an actor. He’s not really asked to do a whole lot of actual acting anyway. Eventually they are taken prisoner by the Piranha Women, and find that Professor Kurtz is now the leader, participating fully in their lives and customs, like eating men (they are raising a bunch of, apparently, French men as slaves and menu items, like Jean-Pierre [Brett Stimely]). She remarks that she found the army men “delicious.” Kurtz tells Hunt and Bunny that they must become Piranha women or die. In any case, Jim is destined for the dinner plate. Not terribly bright at the best of times, Jim enthusiastically gets into the marinating dish, exclaiming “Hot tub!”

Figure 3 – Adrienne Barbeau as Kurtz

Bunny is okay with becoming a Piranha woman: “You mean I just have to have sex with him then kill him [Jean-Pierre]? Okay! I’ve done worse at frat parties!” But Hunt is, after all, a moderate feminist and believes that men and women can co-exist equally and fairly; she manages to escape the Piranha Women but is captured by the Barracuda Women—rivals and enemies of the Piranha Woman. (They share the same views on men, but the big argument is over what dip to serve the men with: Piranha Women like guacamole, while Barracuda Women like Clam Dip.)

It’s all very silly; I found Waldron delightful in her wide-eyed, smiling acceptance of whatever came her way, while Tweed and Barbeau were workmanlike actors (Barbeau has always been kind of a one-note-Johnny in my opinion, but in movies like Creepshow and this one, it works); and as I’ve said, Maher is okay. (I particularly liked Bunny’s pink expedition outfit and Indiana Jones lunchbox, by the way.) The film was previously rereleased as an Elvira-hosted movie, but I’ve been unable to track down that version. If you wish to see it, it’s available on Tubi TV.

All in all, I thought it was great fun, if about half an hour too long for what it was.

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1 Comment

  1. Oh yeah! Gotta watch that one. Have you seen Slave Women of the White Rhinoceros? Its climax features a deadly through-the-jungle charge that is (sorta-spoiler) clearly a Rhino statue being dragged.

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