Devin from CHUD here. You might remember exchanging a couple of emails when Ryan Rotten saw your film Welcome to the Jungle at the American Film Market last year and said it was a remake of Cannibal Holocaust. You seemed like a nice guy, and I was really looking forward to your film. I’m a big fan of the cannibal genre, and we haven’t had a good cannibal movie in a long, long time (and of course I mean cannibal tribe movies – Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning doesn’t count), so I was pretty excited to see that Welcome to the Jungle was finally getting a release, even if only on DVD thanks to Dimension Extreme.
Yesterday I was hanging out with my friend Brian, the guy who writes the Horror Movie a Day blog, and we got a call from Ryan Rotten (that guy again!). He was going to be heading to The Griffin in Los Feliz, and asked us to come. The Griffin is, of course, the bar you own; Brian had Welcome to the Jungle lined up as his horror movie for the day, and the whole thing seemed like a perfect synchronicity of events. We’d watch your movie and then visit your bar. It would be Hensleigh Day.
Well, Jonathan, one of the two aspects of Hensleigh Day was great. Let’s just say that as a filmmaker you’re a terrific bar owner. Welcome to the Jungle is a truly awful movie, one that was actually a chore to sit through. It’s the single worst cannibal movie I have ever seen, and that’s saying something, since the majority of cannibal movies are shoddy cheapies from Italy. There’s a lot that’s wrong with the film, ranging from the annoying cast and the annoying dialogue to the annoying lack of action, suspense, nudity, events, interesting incidents and especially and most annoying, the lack of cannibalism. Wait, actually there’s one other thing that’s more annoying than any of this – the film’s shocking lack of originality.
After having seen Welcome to the Jungle I fully believe you when you say it’s not ‘based on’ Cannibal Holocaust. If it were, something interesting would have happened in the movie before the final reels (although I guess ‘reel’ is an obsolete term for a movie I am assuming was shot on HD video and released right to DVD). It’s obvious that the movie you’re aping the most is The Blair Witch Project, which is also a film that has a bunch of extraordinarily unlikable people in the woods filming themselves doing nothing for most of the running time before finally fizzling out in a bullshit ending (and which was actually ripping off Cannibal Holocaust anyway). To give you credit, Welcome to the Jungle shows some violence at the end while The Blair Witch Project had a guy standing in the fucking corner – seriously, how is that scary? The fact that people were freaked out by that film makes me despair.
It’s also worth noting that you didn’t rip off The Blair Witch Project‘s camera work, and for that I thank you. Sure, it’s sort of unbelievable that these knuckleheads would be doing such good camera work, but I’ll suspend my disbelief in order to not get motion sick. What you should have stolen from Blair Witch was a solid reason for these kids to be filming themselves. In your movie they’re a bunch of slack-ass motherfuckers living in paradise, getting drunk and laid, when they suddenly decide to go search for Michael Rockefeller, who went missing in New Guinea back in 1961. You give them a basic profit motivation, and they have heard that a local pilot saw an old white man in the jungle, although this all seems like you’re stretching it. What breaks it is that they just keep filming everything. These kids don’t seem to be filmmakers, like they were in Blair Witch, so I just kept finding myself wondering why the damn camera was on ALL THE TIME. The ‘This is the last known footage’ schtick isn’t one that should be just trotted out whenever you feel like it – you need to create a realistic reason for all this filming. You and George Romero may want to compare notes, since he fucked up this same element in Diary of the Dead, but he at least made the fact that the kid was filming a focal thematic point of the movie.
By the way, let’s take a moment to examine this movie as an exploitation film, which is what it is trying to be. These kids have a camera and they film EVERYTHING they do – except bathing or screwing. You have two attractive women in your film and neither one gets naked, at least until they’re dead, and even then you don’t get to see anything*. I’m not trying to come across like a bigger horndog creep than I usually do, and I was watching this movie with a buddy and his wife, so it wasn’t like I was going to whip it out while watching Welcome to the Jungle, but it seems to me that having women be naked is an essential part of the cannibal movie. Like cannibals, which this movie also barely features.
Anyway, you have these four kids, these two couples, totally fucking around doing nothing of any interest for the first 15, 20 minutes, and then they go to New Guinea, where they also do nothing of any interest for a long, long time. You make two of the kids deeply unlikable and the other two kids mildly unlikable, but you don’t make any of them really awful. You have the deeply unlikable boy (who was my favorite, by the way, if just because the actor playing him, Nick Richey, seemed to approach the character as if he was an ADD-afflicted wigger who had suffered major head trauma at some point in the past) steal a skull from a sacred burial site, but big whoop. Did you see what they did in Cannibal Holocaust? They torched a bunch of villagers in a hut and then fucked on the wreckage! You seemed unwilling to commit to making these characters real assholes, so they just come across like the kind of people you would walk away from in a bar (like The Griffin! More on that later). I think you may have been too influenced by Hostel, where Eli Roth gives us these jerk-off characters and has them not do much for half the movie and then everything goes to hell. Note that Roth gave us nudity, though. And when he got to the action, it was worth it for the sick fucks like me in the audience who like to see insane things happen on screen.
Well, after about seventy minutes of life-hating nonsense, you finally have the cannibals show up. I figured this was where all the boredom paid off – I’ve been a lifelong fan of exploitation cinema, and I understand the basic compact between filmmaker and film viewer: I will bore the shit out of you for over an hour, but you will be paid off with extraordinary violence/sadism/perversion/general fucked uppery. Jonathan, you broke that compact. You smashed it to pieces before peeing all over it.
You threw me a bone or two. That annoying blonde gets killed off camera, but she shows up hanging from a rod that has been shoved through her mouth and the back of her head. For some reason her friend films the gaping wound at the back of her head – I don’t know why, but it was pretty cool. Even if it was an obvious rip-off of the much more extreme pole through the crotch, out the mouth bit from Cannibal Holocaust.
That was pretty much the best bit in the film. After that the kids discover body parts strewn in the jungle; it looks like someone dumped the left overs from a Halloween store out there. They come upon the butchered remains of some missionaries, and it seems like it might have been cool, but we barely get to see anything. I don’t get it – were you going for a PG-13 when you were shooting? Why not film some really hideous carnage? I am sure you didn’t want this movie to be direct to DVD, but you had to have the DVD release in mind – surely adding gore to an unrated edition would only be a selling point, right?
Anyway, the kids also come across their other friend, who has been kept alive so he can be eaten piece by piece. He’s laying under a blanket so that his friend can dramatically reveal his bloody stumps. Honestly, this looked like a Monty Python skit, Jonathan. It was silly.
Eventually the two surviving kids wander into a village, where they think they’re safe. Except they’re not! They get eaten up by the cannibals, all of it happening offscreen or obscured by bodies. Eventually one of the cannibals picks up the camera and films the resulting carnage, which again is not all that impressive. And then the movie blissfully ends, although you do have that big twisterooni that I called about seven minutes into the film.
Jonathan, I hate to be so blunt, but your movie sucks. I know that you’re proud of having shot it ‘under the radar,’ but that’s probably because it features no-name actors and feels completely watered down. If you had released this movie on the grindhouse circuit in the 80s, even the nodding-out junkies would have walked out of the theater. Your movie is excruciating – in fact, Dimension Extreme should use that in their promo materials: "We dare you to sit through this entire motion picture!" See, it sounds like it’s really intense, but it’s really just intensely boring.
Don’t feel too bad, Jonathan – I think this is exactly what Cloverfield will be like, filled with paper thin characters yammering amongst themselves for the whole running time and almost no monsters. Or maybe you should feel bad, since that movie is getting a theatrical release and you ended up on Dimension’s "If it’s terrible we’ll release it!" new direct to DVD division.
I will tell you what I was hoping for the whole movie: the kids would go to sleep at night and when they woke up they would find that the cannibals had planted a fire hydrant right in front of their tents. I don’t think two films is too early to think about what kind of unifying factors you should have in your oeuvre.
After suffering through Welcome to the Jungle, I really needed a fucking drink. You almost made up for torturing me with your home videos from New Guinea with The Griffin. It’s a good sized space, and I dig the look of it. The place looks almost medievel or gothic, but not that kind of shitty "Look at me in my velour cape and white pancake make-up" goth. It’s like you’re drinking in a castle, but that sounds lamer than it actually is in reality. The drinks were good, but I did have to keep specifying that I wanted well liquor, which is weird. If I ask for a rum and Coke, I don’t mean Bacardi and Coke. If I want a Bacardi and Coke, I’ll ask for a Bacardi and Coke. Now, I know there’s just a one dollar difference, but when the well drinks cost six bucks, that means a one drink savings over the course of an evening. And since LA bartenders never heard of buybacks, that’s got some meaning.
I especially liked that there are two bars in there – it helps when things get crowded. And like I said, your bartenders made fine drinks – I got shitfaced enough to go the Bigfoot Lodge next door and humiliate myself by hitting on a lesbian. A big ugly lesbian, no less. I haven’t gotten that utterly inebriated in LA very often, so it was exciting. And I thank you and The Griffin for that.
By the way, your jukebox is killer. That’s really the only way to judge a bar anymore, in my opinion (well, besides drink prices, but I think how much you’re willing to pay for booze is going to depend on a lot of mitigating factors, including the jukebox). And it’s a testament to your clientele that the song selection was as good as it was all night. A bad song or two crept in, and a couple of awful hipster bands got some play, but mostly it was solid rock music. You have Squeeze on that jukebox, and I think that says a lot about you and the establishment you’re running.
Jonathan, I hope you don’t take this missive too harshly. After all, I didn’t give your film a ‘Fuck You Out of 10,’ although it may well deserve such harsh judgment. If this was a regular review I would probably give the film a 0 or a 1 out of 10, because it is just a miserable excuse for entertainment. It’s interesting – I think you made the same sort of mistake here that you made with The Punisher, taking a strong concept and weakening it into oblivion. I mean, I love that you decided to make a cannibal movie, but I just don’t get how you could make one as devoid of horror, violence or gore as this one. It’s like how I couldn’t understand why you’d make a Punisher movie where the Punisher spends most of the running time not punishing anybody at all. I still have hope that your career will come together in such a way where you’ll make a movie I actually like. Hell, I thought they should have let you do Live Free or Die Hard, since I love the shit out of Die Hard With A Vengeance. Are you in the running to direct Gemini Man? The concept sounds nutty, exactly the kind of thing I expect from Bruckheimer. Maybe having him as your producer would make all the difference; I love Gale Ann Hurd, but the films you’ve made with her have not turned out as well as they could have.
So listen, Jonathan, I hate your movie but like your bar. I’ll be coming to your next film with an open mind, but if you’re going to keep tackling projects that should be kick ass, please make them kick ass. Don’t be afraid of being a kick ass filmmaker, Jonathan.
* Remember Patrick Stewart guesting on Extras? "I’m riding my bike in the park, and this policewoman says "Oi! You can’t ride your bike on the grass!" and I go "Oh no?" And her uniform falls off, and she goes "Ahh!" and she’s trying to cover up, but I’ve seen everything anyway. And I get on my bike and I ride off. On the grass." Well, Patrick Stewart would have been very disappointed in Welcome to the Jungle.