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Synapse Films presents
Brutes and Savages (1977)

"The stalking of deer, the hunting of foxes, the fisherman. We have promiscuous hunting, all over the world, in the name of sport, where the killer never eats the meat. Who are the real brutes and who are the real savages?"
- Narrator Richard Johnson

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 29, 2004

Stars: Richard Johnson, Arthur Davis
Director: Arthur Davis

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (onscreen animal deaths, nudity, sexuality, gore, bestiality)
Run Time: 01h:47m:19s
Release Date: September 09, 2003
UPC: 654930302897
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

By the late 1970s, the exploitation genre of the "mondo" movie, featuring documentaries of repulsive and bizarre real-life activities (though often faked for onscreen purposes) had begun to peter out. That went unnoticed by film distributor Arthur Davis, who, wanting to get into film production, decided that such a film would be highly profitable since there would be no expensive stars or budgets, making the picture pure profit. Unfortunately for Davis, the picture got shelved for years, and even then didn't do as well as expected.

As indicated by the title, this picture consists of footage of the "uncivilized" world. The opening segments, set in Africa, involves worship of the human body, a battle for a chief's daughter, and a manhood ritual involving a crocodile-infested river. The last of these ends with some extreme gore. The scene then shifts to South America, particularly focusing on Incan culture. Most depressing is a "Death Village" of displaced indios living in extreme poverty and completely disconnected from the land by government intervention. A sacrifice of a llama on Lake Titicaca is a celebration of the sun god, while a sacrifice of a large turtle commemorates a wedding. Interspersed is typical Wild Kingdom animal combat footage involving snakes, crocs, an eagle, and a jaguar. There's also a brief bit in a Peruvian museum of erotic pottery, onscreen brain surgery, a boring section looking at the coca farmers, and, the grand finale, mating of llamas with both each other and their keepers.

While the South American footage (other than a softcore sex scene that seems calculated for grindhouse audiences) appears to be more or less genuine, and Davis is at least known to have gone to South America, the African footage all appears to be phony. Dramatic moments in the fight scene are covered in a dizzying variety of camera angles that seems highly improbable. More revealing is the substitution of a rubber alligator for the crocodiles supposedly attacking the young man in the river. The native village also is suspiciously lacking in both youngsters and old people, and the men all seem to be bodybuilders. But the South American footage, while dull in long stretches, does have its memorable moments, including a fair amount of onscreen animal throat-slitting and disembowelment. If you ever wanted a film to enrage your PETA friends, this would be a good place to start.

The film is nonetheless unintentionally laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, even putting aside the utterly fake crocodile. Davis appears onscreen in a few places, with a whiny voice and what appears to be a very bad toupee. The African sequences find him decked out in a pink pimp suit that surely had to be horrifying even back in 1977. The stentorian and self-important narration by British actor Richard Johnson also makes for some comic moments as he intones supposedly weighty comments over the more transparently fake footage.

Brutes and Savages nonetheless is a fine example of this exploitation genre, and cult fans will certainly want to see it. Synapse has unearthed an original reverse color interpositive that includes 17 minutes of never-before-seen footage; this added footage also puts the events into an order that makes sense, unlike the shorter release version.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although it may well have been shown widescreen, Synapse has wisely used the full-frame aperture that was the shooting ratio for this 16mm film; much important visual information would be lost by any significant cropping. Even then, it's thoughtfully windowboxed to allow the viewer to see the entire frame. Since it does come from early generation elements, the picture is excellent, with superb color and no visible ringing or edge enhancement. It's a little soft, but that's more due to the limitations of 16mm than anything else. A few spots are marred by speckles and scratches, but on the whole this looks fabulous.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono soundtrack is similarly surprisingly clean. The score by Riz Ortolani (who composed for Mondo Cane, winning an Oscar for the theme song More), is mostly weird pseudo-disco and syrupy strings, but it comes through fine, if a bit lacking in bass content. Johnson's narration is very clear, and hiss and noise are absent. This makes for a very serviceable mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:11m:18s

Extra Extras:
  1. Excerpts from Arthur Davis' writings
Extras Review: In addition to a somewhat beaten-up trailer, which shows off just how good the feature looks, there are 20 onscreen pages of notes and excerpts from Davis' writings, as well as a lengthy set of appreciative liner notes. It's not exactly extensive supplementation, but it nicely puts Davis and his picture into perspective, including his efforts at showmanship, and frankly I've spent all the time in his company that I care to spend.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

An often absurd and sometimes boring example of the mondo movie, but it's restored and looks better than it has any right to be. Fans of the genre will definitely be pleased with this disc, but others will probably want to limit their exposure to a rental due to its content.


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