This is a true story of what happened to the student Catherine Miles (Elvire Audray) and why she ended up standing trial for a crime that she would have believed unthinkable before she had gone on that trip up the Amazon river with her parents, aunt and uncle. She was brought up in England and America, educated in the former and with a home in the latter, and when she turned eighteen her parents suggested they take her to South America to celebrate with a break. The court records detail the events, and they make for grim reading, as not far up the river the family were attacked with blowdarts which paralysed them, killing Catherine's parents and leaving her to hear the awful sounds of their heads being severed from their bodies...
Except of course this is bullshit and nothing in Amazonia ever happened, which was fairly easy to work out in light of how the entire set-up here marked an indigestible combination of two genres: the violent cannibal flick, and the exotic romance. For the first, it wasn't actually a cannibal story at all seeing as how the tribe who capture Catherine do not eat human flesh, they merely collect heads, so that's all right then, not that our heroine particularly appreciates the difference, especially when the noggins of her folks are among the trophies the savages take home with them. But how savage are they? The script was conflicted at depicting them somewhere between raving lunatics and some kind of lost tribe of Eden.
Needless to say, these parts are never reconciled, resulting in crunching gear changes from scenes where Catherine is aghast at the horrors of the jungle, and scenes where we are asked to marvel at the wonder of nature and those individuals who are so very close to it, a note of ecology that was both very nineteen-eighties and clumsily building up Mother Nature as something not to be messed with. To that end director Mario Gariazzo (under his nom de guerre Roy Garrett) included brief shots of all that red in tooth and claw business, mostly a jaguar helping itself to a faun and a monkey in what is plainly footage from a wildlife documentary edited in to make this look a lot edgier than it would otherwise. Some fish are caught too, but nobody would be fooled by the demise of the rubber snake.
Catherine resembled a taller, more willowy Greta Scacchi, and once captured by the natives she is stripped and given naught but a grass skirt and an increasing amount of necklaces to wear, as if this was filmed in sequence and the actress was objecting ever more to the nudity demanded of her, so requested something to conceal her feminine charms - the female tribe members have long hair to do that. Meanwhile, the bloke who apparently murdered her parents makes do with a loincloth which he occasionally doffs, so there was something for everyone; that bloke being Umukai (Will Gonzales), Catherine's now unofficial husband, not that she's interested in pursuing a relationship at first. Ah, but give her time and she finds herself strangely drawn to the jungle hunk, with a big twist later on cementing the reluctant attraction.
For the most part this posed as an anthropological exercise, only one which revelled in sleazy gore and nudity, all shot in the least appetising region of the jungle they could find. Some observed this was much of a muchness with the screenwriter Franco Prosperi and his work on mondo movies such as the original benchmark Mondo Cane, only they'd be wrong, because there was more than one Franco Prosperi and this wasn't the pseudo-documentary guy, a fact that continues to confuse when they both worked in the exploitation field of Italian cinema. Nevertheless, the influence of the mondo movie was assuredly to be seen in the "Mercy me! These tribes can be so brutal!" style of adventure Amazonia belonged to, as if a window on man's inhumanity to man reaching down to the most primitive strata of life on Earth. This didn't pretend to be a documentary, but it did pretend to be an accurate rendition of a real case, which would leave you thinking ah, who are the real charlatans, the ones who make faux shock docs or the ones who make up their "facts"? Music by Franco Campanino.