PRIMITIVES (1978) reviews and Severin Films Blu-ray and DVD details


‘Captured by flesh-eating savages..!’

Primitives is a 1978 Indonesian horror feature film about three anthropology students that venture into the jungle to study tribespeople. The original title is Primitiv

Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra (Malam Jumat KliwonThe Hungry Snake Woman; Sundelbolong; Satan’s Slave) from a screenplay co-written by Imam Tantoni (Pelet; The Devil’s Sword; Satan’s Slave) and [uncredited] Rukman Lukito. Produced by Gope T. Samtani.

The Rapi Films production stars Enny Haryono, Barry Prima (The Devil’s Sword; Revenge of the Ninja; The Warrior), Johann Mardjono and Rukman Herman (The Warrior and the Blind Swordsman; Nyi Blorong; Sundelbolong).

Blu-ray release:

On September 29th 2020, Severin Film is releasing Primitives on Blu-ray and DVD, scanned in high-definition from the Jakarta vault negative for the first time ever.

Special features:

Producing Primitives – Interview with producer Gope T. Samtani
Way Down in the Jungle Deep – Interview with screenwriter Imam Tantowi
Alternative title sequence as Savage Terror
89 minutes in English and Indonesian with English subtitles
Anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1

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‘This is a true adventure. Filmed on location in the jungle where the events portrayed actually took place. The production thanks the Indonesian Government for allowing this story to be brought to the screen.’

So, it’s another alleged true story, a gambit that canny producers love to add at the beginning of their movies – usually to feeble found-footage films nowadays – in an attempt to add authenticity for anyone gullible enough to believe such hokum.

Primitives is an Indonesian take on the jungle cannibal horror sub-genre popularised by Italian productions such as The Man from Deep River (Umberto Lenzi, 1972) and Last Cannibal World  (Ruggero Deodato, 1976) that drew audience around the world. The success of these movies apparently inspired first-time director Sisworo Gautama Putra, to make his own version in 1978.

After an opening chase and the killing of an unnamed victim by cannibals (he gets a stone axe to the chest), we follow three students who “want to make ethnological history”. Meanwhile, Kraftwerk’s disco-friendly song ‘We are the Robots’ pulses away incongruously on the soundtrack.

Having been introduced to the friendly Panyang tribe and witnessed the local witchdoctor perform his bizarre form of medicine, Rita (Enny Haryono), Robert (future action star Barry Prima) and Tommy (Johann Mardjono) still aren’t satisfied they have found the real primitive deal.

The trio wants anthropological glory so they persuade their initially-reluctant guide Bisma (Rukman Herman) to take them upriver deeper into the jungle. Typically, their raft soon hits a large rock and breaks up which leaves them stranded and at the mercy of the local wildlife: cue stock footage of a large lizard being eaten by an even larger python.

They come across the abandoned camp of missing Professor Marcus, presumably the character seen being killed at the start of the movie, and fear begins to set in. Despite Rita’s assertive t-shirt that’s emblazoned with ‘Danger is My Business’ she’s soon screaming her head off when menaced by a scorpion and then a very obviously fake snake on a string (the latter is hilarious).

Of course, it’s not long before the intrepid anthropologists encounter a more primitive tribe wearing some very unconvincing wigs and Rita and Robert are captured, caged and humiliated in an impressively lit cave-dwelling that recalls similar scenes in Last Cannibal World. And as in that movie, this is where the pace begins to slow. We get to witness much tribal rivalry accompanied by the almost constant whoop, whoop, whooping by the excited and confused natives.

Unfortunately, the vocal vexation delivered is more likely to induce mirth in most viewers rather than terror. The would-be bewildered expressions on some of the tribespeople’s faces are pretty amusing too. More laughs are provided by another rubber snake (although this one’s huge) which seemingly wraps itself around a cannibal who thrashes around in the mud in unconvincing peril. A genuine whopper snake is then carried into the cave and bashed on the head before being dropped in a hole, presumably for dinner later.

Meanwhile, Tommy wanders around in the jungle, eats poisonous fruit and goes into delirium while snatches of pilfered Jean-Michel Jarre plays on the soundtrack. He also witnesses stock footage of crocodiles munching on a leopard foolhardy enough to venture into a river. Bisma the guide shows a similar lack of respect for the potentially fatal waters when he also gets eaten by a crocodile. Eventually, Tommy discovers his compatriots in the cave and the trio escape to jubilantly laugh about their travails and nonchalantly ponder about the zero chances of civilizing the tribe.

However, their haughty superiority doesn’t last long. The cannibals are on their trail and that old jungle hazard standby, quicksand inevitably beckons before a speedy escape. Demonstrating why he would soon become an action hero, Barry Prima’s character fights off the whole tribe and then faces off against the chief whose own boomerang (?) stone axe comes back to bash him in the face! This part is particularly silly and sure to provide some laughs. It should also be added that the typically hokey English dubbing throughout the movie ensures a few guffaws.

Released in the UK on VHS by the legendary Go Video company as Savage Terror, the film was seized by some police forces (should that be farces?) as a potential ‘video nasty’ (doubtless because the same company also released Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp) but never prosecuted. This is no surprise as aside for bamboo impalement in which the spikes are as rubbery as the aforementioned snakes, there is hardly any gore.

And this being Indonesian exploitation instead of the Italian anything-goes variety, the rampant female nudity that’s normally on display in such jungle japes is restricted to just one barely glimpsed shot of a native woman breastfeeding. More significantly, despite being described as cannibals we don’t even get to see anyone being eaten (alive or otherwise). Contrary to some reviews, there isn’t a great deal of the reprehensible animal carnage that mars many Italian movies of this ilk. We witness a hapless tiny lizard’s head being bitten off and devoured and a small crocodile is cruelly cut open alive while its insides are yanked out, however, the rest of the wildlife kills are clearly stock footage.

Primitives is a politically-incorrect curio and an example of how the golden age of exploitation cinema knew no national boundaries. It’s an early example of Indonesian horror – Sisworo Gautama Putra would make the great Satan’s Slave four years later – which fails to deliver on the outrageously shocking material that characterised its Italian antecedents yet does provide a few repugnant sights and some amusing jungle thrills along the way.

Adrian J Smith, MOVIES and MANIA (reviewed via a grubby VHS version)

Other reviews:

“Yes, the natives are revolting – and it’s this kind of cultural revolution that makes for some very jarring viewing, and not just because of the completely out of place Jarre-like soundscapes and robotic disco. We ask ourselves “who are the real savages” and – holy crap – it turns out to be us, as we chow down on the 1978 Indonesian cannibal flick Primitives.” Barang Terlarang!

“Although this so-called “video nasty” gained a notorious reputation as a terrible film — mainly for the acting, writing or directing — it’s still mind-munchingly entertaining. Filled with plenty of stock footage […] Primitives is a tummy-troubling entry in the celluloid cannibal phase.” Flick Attack

” …a more hammy group of overacting cannibals (who do very little flesh-eating it should be said… they leave most of that to their crocodile buddies) you will never find. While the Italian flicks of this ilk played their cannibals in a more realistic manner, these folks are just completely over-the-top which makes for added entertainment value for sure […] Tacky, trashy, and definitely tasty; Primitives will make a fine meal for cannibal connoisseurs!” Horror Fuel

Primitives (1980) is certainly not the most original cannibal film you will ever watch, it plugs along ticking off what needs to be seen in a film of this ilk, minus the extreme gore aside from the animal-cruelty, but it comes off as silly and half-hearted, but it is still an entertaining watch. The Severin Blu-ray looks and sounds good and the extras are entertaining” McBastard’s Mausoleum

“There’s a crocodile attack that might raise a chuckle or two, and then the ending where the action finally kicks in and we get StrawBerry Prima kung-fu fighting the cannibal chief who’s armed with a boomerang axe, perhaps the most useless weapon in the history of warfare. It’s too little, too late.” Paperbacks and Pugs

Choice dialogue:

Robert (Barry Prima): “We found it! The primitive tribe!”

Rita (Enny Haryono): “This is one experience I hope I never have to repeat.”

Tommy (Johann Mardjono): “A good body’s one thing but when it comes to jumping into bed I like to be the savage.”

Cast and characters:

Enny Haryono … Rika/Rita
Barry Prima … Amri/Robert (as Berry Prima)
Johann Mardjono … Tommy
Rukman Herman … Bisma
Jafarpree York … Lahang
Novita Rully
Youstine Rais … (as Yostienne S. Rais)
Michael Kelly
Rengga Takengon … (as Ringga Takengow)
Eva Arnaz
Yayuk Suseno