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Me Me Lai, Queen of the Cannibals - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2006

For films starring Me Me Lai
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Even though Me Me Lai's filmography amounts to hardly a dozen films, it could hardly be any more colourful:

Me Me Lai's films include straight horror, sex films, the most lurid of exploitation cinema, arthouse - and gameshows - and over the years (especially after her early retirement) she has become something of a cult icon.

 

Born in Burma in 1952 to an English father and a Burmese mother, Me Me Lai entered the film industry in the early 1970's, playing supporting roles in such series as Paul Temple or Jason King. Around this time, Me Me started out as a TV co-hostess, in shows like The Golden Shot - a call-in show in which the caller has to direct and shoot a crossbow - and the quiz show Sale of the Century.

 


Flix.com

Eventually, her TV-fame led to roles in the movies, like the horror film Crucible of Terror (1971, directed by Ted Hooker), in which she had very little screentime (but did a nude scene nevertheless), and the sex comedy Au Pair Girls (1972, Val Guest).

Mainly, Me Me was chosen for these early roles to lend some exotic touch to the proceedings, and because she would do nudity, both traits that would be indispensible in her next film, Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio/Deep River Savages (1972) by Umberto Lenzi [Umberto Lenzi bio - click here].

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Taken by its own merits, Deep River Savages might seem like nothing more than a well-made but sleazy violent jungle adventure, but eventually the film would be granted a place in (exploitation-)cinema history for being the first Italian cannibal movie - even if actual cannibal scenes are kept to a minimum (but are quite explicit at that). And what's more, the film would be Me Me Lai's career-defining movie.

In the film, Me Me plays a jungle beauty who falls for a white man her tribe has captured, and makes him fall for her as well. Eventually the two marry and she gets his baby ... but dies at childbirth thanks to her tribe's evil witchdoctor. The white man in the film is played by Ivan Rassimov, someone who would co-star again with her in subsequent films ...

 


Just as the cannibal genre, Me Me Lai's career would lie dormant for a few years, but in 1977, both would hit back with a bang, and that bang was called Ultimo Mondo Cannibale/Jungle Holocaust by Ruggero Deodato [Ruggero Deodato bio - click here].

Essentially, Jungle Holocaust follows pretty much the lines of Deep River Savages, again a white man is somehow captured by a primitive tribe, and again he befriends a savage girl ... the savage girl is of course Me Me Lai, the white man is this time played by Massimo Foschi, but Deep River Savages' lead Ivan Rassimov can be seen here as the second lead.

What's different from the earlier film though is that this time around the primitive tribe themselves are the cannibals, and our white man does not adopt to their ways, rather forces Me Me to help him escape, and the romance between white man and savage girl, played out in full in Deep River Savages, is only hinted at here.

... and poor Me Me has a particularly gruesome death scene in this one, as her chest is torn open in gory detail and her organs ripped out, replaced by burning coal. Now this is a movie that set new standards in screen violence ...

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Me Me's third and final excursion into the cannibal genre, Mangiati Vivi/Eaten Alive (1980), again directed by Umberto Lenzi [Umberto Lenzi bio - click here], is also the weakest of the three: It's a sensationalistic little film that tries to blend the cannibal genre with (then current) news of the Jonestown Massacre - to unintentionally hilarious results. The film is high on sleaze - e.g. Me Me Lai has to perform sex with three men on the ashes of her dead husband in front of a large crowd -, but the budget was rather low, so many scenes were re-used from both Deep River Savages and Jungle Holocaust, to an extent that Me Me's death scene was lifted from the latter.

Once again, Ivan Rassimov - as the Jim Jones-like cult leader -  is Me Me Lai's co-star in this one, but they only have very few scenes together this time around.

 

So ok, altogether Me Me Lai did only star in 3 cannibal movies, but somehow her exotic beauty, her somewhat naive facial expression and not at least her willingness to appear in the nude and do sleaze made her a natural, perverted 1970's style jungle princess, an icon of the cannibal genre and maybe - besides constant co-star Ivan Rassimov - the only face identifyable with the cannibal film.

 

Outside the cannibal genre, though, Me Me Lai's career did not really take off, she had a role in Revenge of the Pink Panther directed by Blake Edwards in 1978, but neither was the film one of the better films of the Pink Panther-series - that lead Peter Sellers was gravely ill during filming did certainly not help -, nor was her role - that of a Chinese hooker - big enough to get her much attention.

Licensed to Love and Kill (1979), in which Me Me played a rather small supporting role in an illustrous (not really) cast, was one of director Lindsay Shonteff's ill-fated attempts of to cash in on the James Bond series. And while the film might be funny at times, it can hardly be called remarkable, and it was not much of a success neither.

 


Flix.com

Maybe Me Me Lai's most important film came in 1984, the Danish production Forbrydelsens Element/Element of Crime by the then unknown director Lars von Trier.

Essentially, Element of Crime might be best described as a psychedelic murder mystery, and Me Me plays one of the lead's (Michael Elphick) many leads, a prostitute who was somehow involved with the killer and now becomes involved with the detective who's after him. Although Lars Von Trier intended the film to be merely a variation on the murder mystery genre, it was enthusiastically welcomed by the arthouse crowd, and the rest, as they say is history: From Element of Crime onwards, director Lars von Trier has virtually shot to fame, being (at times however) considered as the most important European filmmaker, and eventually he wound up filming with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Björk. 

Me Me Lai on the other hand, quit the film business soon afterwards, and has since vaned into obscurity. Today even her whereabouts are unknown.

 

In retrospect, Me Me Lai might be best described as an icon of her time, of the anything-goes underbelly of the 1970's, when one still could be several things at once: Queen of sleaze and exploitation, mainstream gameshow hostess and artfilm actress.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.

 

There's No Such Thing as Zombies
starring
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry

 

directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke

 

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Tales to Chill
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