Cannibal Women in the
Avocado Jungle of Death

directed by J.F. Lawton
(Paramount, 1989)

For all it's flaws, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death deserves mention in the annals of film history on the strength of its title alone.

But, after watching the 1989 cult movie on a whim, even my ready-to-be-offended and prepared-to-hate-it wife had to admit that Cannibal Women is pretty funny -- primarily because it knows full well what it is and never tries to be anything more.

Although there is a bit of gratuitous T&A in the throwaway opening scene, the beautiful women in this movie -- and there are a lot of them -- keep their clothing on. Sure, they're scantily dressed for much of the film, and you can't suggest well-endowed stars such as Adrienne Barbeau, Shannon Tweed and Karen Mistal were hired on the strength of their acting, but Cannibal Women isn't the soft-core frolic you might expect.

And, believe it or not, there's actually some worthwhile social commentary buried in its whimsical, mostly inane plot. (Perhaps it's noteworthy here that writer/director J.F. Lawton also penned the film Pretty Woman.)

The film was primarily shot in the avocado groves maintained by the University of California at Riverside; to its credit, it doesn't pretend to be set in the wilds of the Amazon or anywhere so exotic. The action takes place in the heretofore unexplored avocado jungle that makes Southern California a dangerous place to visit. San Bernardino is the seedy cantina town at its outskirts, where feminist ethnographer Margo Hunt (Tweed, a former Playboy playmate of the year), who has been sent by the U.S. government to foil a communist plot to corner the global avocado market, finds rough-and-ready jungle guide Jim (Bill Maher, of Politically Incorrect fame), who provides commentary for the chauvinist perspective. Perky home economics major and budding feminist-wannabe Bunny (Mistal, who made her mark with Return of the Killer Tomatoes) has come along for the expedition, for no other reason than to save her from the perils of a college fraternity party.

After numerous low-budget perils and a campful of sensitive men (a.k.a. Donahues) along the way, the party finally stumbles onto the hidden Piranha Women's temple which, like much of the jungle we've seen so far, has neatly mowed lawns and modern architecture. The primitive, well-groomed and manicured, French-speaking tribeswomen follow the commands of a former scientist gone native (Barbeau), who doesn't want the interlopers messing up a good thing. From there, it's anyone's guess who will win the day.

"This is a war! A war between men and women. Anything short of cannibalism is just beating around the bush."

Aside from some really pitiful stage combat skills, Cannibal Women is the epitome of a good B-movie. The low budget and campy dialogue works perfectly in this setting; A-level actors and a bigger expense account would have only loused up a good thing. Do yourself a favor and check this out on a low-key night -- and don't forget to bring the guacamole dip!

by Tom Knapp
28 October 2006

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