The Catherine Miles Story
Italy / 1985
Directed by Mario Gariazzo
Elvire Audray
Will Gonzales
Andrea Coppola
Color / 90 Minutes / R

Format: DVD / R1 - NTSC
Shriek Show
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    2   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
So just what is Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story? It comes packaged as a sordid jungle exploitation movie about a white woman kidnapped by a native tribe but that's a little deceptive. True, the film comes complete with headhunters, animal cruelty and naked natives but anyone expecting something along the lines of trash epics like Cannibal Holocaust or Make Them Die Slowly are going to be frustrated. The film purports to be based on a true story and most of the time seems an attempt at realistic docudrama. Of course, anyone familiar with exploitation movies knows that a cloak of respectability and a "true story" claim is a great cover for whatever nastiness you can get away with for a lot of folks that's enough of a draw. Sure, there's a fair amount of standard issue topless jungle nudity, a few gruesome deaths and even some questionable wildlife footage showing the kill-or-be-killed aspect of nature. But unfortunately most of the time this movie plays like a soap opera only occasionally punctuated with mean thrills. It's hard to tell if they wanted to make a realistic film or an exploitation shocker but they've end up somewhere in the middle, pleasing no one. If the filmmakers had picked one path and stuck to it they might have made a better movie. What they ended up with isn't very exciting or fun and all the naked breasts and decapitated heads in the world won't help a dull story.
    The film opens with some supposed footage of the 'real' Catherine Miles in London recounting her horrible story to a journalist. I not only doubt this is the actual Ms. Miles but also that this story is based on anything other than a screenwriter's imagination. We're told she served a sentence in prison for the murder of two people; the film uses her trial as a framing structure. This allows Ms. Miles (played by the mildly effective Elvire Audray) the chance to advance the story through a dull voice-over that is often more interesting than the movie itself. We're shown young Catherine returning to her parents' plantation in South America after years of school abroad. She's only happily home a few days when a boating excursion on the river ends with both her Mom and Dad murdered by blowgun darts. Catherine is also struck by the darts but is carted off by a group of native hunters who also take along her parents' heads as keepsakes. On the journey to the tribe's village Catherine finds herself attracted to the quiet, noble leader of the small hunting group but despises him for killing her family. (She's a conflicted woman.) Much to her surprise she isn't harmed by the natives but is bought by the wealthiest member of the group and set up as one of his brides. Upon discovery that she's still a virgin Catherine is afforded the status of child and given a certain amount of freedom. (Cue the soft focus and soft music.) In this long middle section she learns the ways of the tribe, helps with the children and in a truly silly sequence heals a man's injured leg so that he can be a hunter again. This sappy part of the film is almost too much to sit through but the filmmakers continue to dangle naked breasts, the impending deflowering of our heroine and the whole murder trial thing as bait.
    So, like a slavering junkie, I kept watching. There's even an attempt to make a heavy-handed anti-colonial statement, with some white bounty hunters using a helicopter to kill a few members of Catherine's adoptive tribe. Since by now the film has become mostly soap opera the rules of that hallowed genre prevail for the rest of the story. Certain odd facts are learned about the circumstances of Catherine's capture and the way for true love is opened... Cue the jungle love theme as her hunky suitor wins her hand in deadly but poorly staged combat. Happily for the exploitation fans still awake Catherine decides she must seek vengeance for her parents' deaths and sets off with her lover to take back her birthright. I'd love to say the movie kicks into gear at this point but it doesn't. Maintaining the leaden grace of a drunken man on crutches the film lurches to its ending that manages to be neither satisfying nor exciting.
    It can be truly said that Amazonia is a botched job all the way around.

Apparently taken from a French print with the alternate title L'Esclave Blonde ("The Blonde Slave"), the movie is in English. The print is in pretty good shape except for the obvious stock footage in the opening credits. In a striking mirror of this mess of a film Shriek Show has managed to make an equally large mess with its DVD of Amazonia. On the case the film is listed as being presented in a letterboxed transfer at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio and to be anamorphically enhanced although this is only partially true. Due some new kind of authoring glitch the movie will only play in fullscreen mode on regular 4x3 televisions but plays properly on widescreen sets and in DVD-ROM computer drives! You read that right unless you own a widescreen (16x9) TV or watch this disc on your home computer, significant amounts of picture are lopped of both sides of the image. It's like a return to the early days of VHS! After examining the film on both types of TV I can say the picture is really nice in widescreen but since most of us have older models this is a sad disappointment to potential customers. This is just the kind of screw-up I hoped Shriek Show was putting behind them and shows a need for much stricter quality control measures at the company. The only extra on the disc is a small image gallery that plays over some of the film's score. Advertised as an Elvire Audray photo gallery it also includes several lobby card images for both this film and others in which she starred. 10/20/05