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  Taste of the Savage, The Bloodlust on the brain
Year: 1971
Director: Alberto Mariscal
Stars: Isela Vega, Helena Rojo, Jorge Luke, Cameron Mitchell, Rogelio Guerra, Mario Almada, Enrique Lucero, Carlos East, Nicholas Georgiade, Arthur Hansel, Roger Cudney
Genre: Western, Drama, SexBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: On a cattle ranch in the old west, young Judd Carson sees his Pa shot dead by three hired killers. His mother, Sara (Isela Vega) tries her best to console the poor, traumatised boy even as she swears to take revenge. Some years later, when Sara’s blouse-busting pulchritude proves too much for one horny ranch hand, the now grownup Judd (Jorge Luke) rides to her rescue, accompanied by his sharp-shooting mentor, Huck (Cameron Mitchell). It happens Sara hired the tough, worldweary cowboy to teach her son to be a hard-bitten gunfighter, only he did his job too well. Judd has become a stone-cold psychopath. When he isn’t hunting his father’s killers, he picks a fight with anyone who crosses his path.

Local bigwig, Sam Pittmann (Arthur Hansel) is less than pleased Judd is romancing his sister, Rena (Helena Rojo). When Pittman learns of Judd’s rampage of revenge, he threatens to report him to the local sheriff unless Judd serves as his hired gun, killing families that refuse to sell their land. Realising Judd is no better than the murderers he was after, Huck resolves to apprehend his own protégé despite Sara’s impassioned entreaties. None of this ends well for anybody.

As with most exploitation subgenres, some European westerns played by the rules, others aimed to subvert them and some said to heck with that and went all out for sleaze. The Taste of the Savage ticks all the boxes with a scattershot approach that unfortunately obscures its genuinely substantial themes. More salsa western than spaghetti, this Mexican production adopts the more lurid aspects of Sam Peckinpah with an emphasis on primitive masculinity, suspect attitudes towards women and extreme violence. Victims are riddled with dozens upon dozens of bullets in sadistic slow-motion, while gushing head wounds and arterial sprays are also on the menu. Bereft of Peckinpah’s heartfelt humanity and poetic edge, the film’s unrelentingly bleak assessment of human psychology descends into hysterical parody with the climactic bloodbath so gratuitous in its nihilism as to be almost comical.

The story itself is well conceived but awkwardly structured with subplots shuffled like a pack of cards so that characters emerge as inconsistent as whatever moral the film is trying to impart. Billed as special guest star, Cameron Mitchell delivers an agreeably laconic turn in support of the commanding Isela Vega. Vega was among the brightest, most enduring of all Mexican film stars, from her early sex kitten roles and appearances opposite an ailing Boris Karloff in some low-budget horror films, to a stellar turn in Peckinpah’s much-underrated Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) for which she composed and sang the theme song, and her later success as a writer-producer-director. However, she does not look old enough to have a twenty-something year old son. In fact, in real life she and co-star Jorge Luke sired a daughter, which adds a further queasy layer of subtext to the film’s vaguely Oedipal overtones apparent in scenes such as where Sara soaps a blood-spattered Judd in the bathtub whilst crooning a gentle lullaby.

As the surly, rude, hot-headed rapist, bully and all-round headcase, Jorge Luke essays one of the most disreputable heroes in a western ever. He simply is not charismatic enough to make such an odious character tolerable. Alberto Mariscal directs with brutal efficiency, though the film wavers from stylish to shoddy with abrupt editing that fumbles the dramatic beats. It aims for the heights of Oedipal tragedy but ends up looking like a particularly perverse and ultraviolent Latin telenovella.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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