Everything out there wants to kill you—including the people.
We've shown you many magazines and books on the subject of headhunters (check here and here for our absolute favorites). Mid-century interest in the subject made its way to the silver screen more than once, in this case with Jivaro, which premiered today in 1954. The title references hunter-gatherer cultures centered in the northwestern Amazon rainforest across Ecuador and Peru who shrank human heads for ceremonial reasons. The movie was a 3-D production, a fact that becomes apparent as pottery, chairs, spears, and occasional flaming arrows fly toward the camera, and it was shot in Technicolor. For those reasons, we wouldn't call it a b-movie exactly, but it still could have used a boost in budget.
Fernando Lamas plays a rough and tumble trader who plies the Amazon River in a rat trap boat. This is a rough gig. People are mean as hell down there. Even the local priest knows martial arts. Lamas agrees to conduct hot redhead Rhonda Fleming to meet her fiancée, who has ventured far from the nearest trading post in search of gold. She's fresh from California and has no idea her man has turned into a drunk and is canoodling with a local girl played by Rita Moreno.
Fleming's fiancée goes incommunicado, and eventually Lamas decides to trek into the forbidden Valley of the Winds (cue wind machine and sound effects) in order to find him. There isn't much upside to this quest, but something has developed between Lamas and Fleming, and if they don't know whether her fiancée is dead or alive, he'll always stand between them. Or something like that. They head into the wilds, endure struggles that will look familiar to fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and in due time find answers to all their questions, if perfunctorily.
For us, the movie raised new ones, such as where was the screenwriter during all this? Lost in the jungle too, we guess. But we can't say Jivaro is bad. While shot entirely in Hollywood with second unit footage from South America added to fill in the margins, it's actually somewhat convincing in its setting. And Fleming is good, though with her red hair we can't believe the Jivaro we able to miss her with so many arrows. But that's film tradition for you—even today, using better weapons, villains still have terrible aim. If you aim to watch Jivaro, we recommend drinking some firewater to make it a more entertaining diversion, and keeping your expectations in reasonable territory.
Authenticity test on horrifying Ecuadorean artifact reveals that it's a horrifying Ecuadorean artifact.
We ran across a story today that touched on an occasional Pulp Intl. subject—that of shrunken heads, those macabre delights found in the dusty basements of museums and the arcane libraries of mysteriously missing anthropologists. Vintage men's magazines such as this issue of Man to Man often contained features on shrunken heads, usually written by adventurers who claimed to have narrowly escaped losing their own. This occurred mainly in the Amazon regions of Ecuador and Peru where a people called the Jivaro live. When white men weren't available, the Jivaro used the heads of slain enemy warriors, shrinking them via an exacting, multi-step process meant to trap the spirit of the unfortunate victim so that their supernatural power could be utilized. The practice died out decades ago but old shrunken heads are scattered about the world because they were highly sought after curios, a demand that also led to the manufacture of numerous fakes. Researchers at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia had a shrunken head sitting around that had been acquired by a recently deceased university staffer during a 1942 trip to the Ecuadorean Amazon. They announced Monday that the head is indeed the genuine item. They reached this conclusion by subjecting it to numerous tests, among them CT scans, and of course the angry spirit test, which involves ridiculing the head then waiting to see if your hind quarters wither and fall off. This particular head is especially pulpworthy because it has acinema history. It was used as a prop in the 1979 film Wise Blood, John Huston's adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's novel of the same name. In the movie it was placed on a fake body, as you see just above. Mercer University plans to repatriate the head to Ecuador, continuing the recent practice of some museums and universities returning cultural items looted or bought for a pittance by artifact hunters. We agree that stolen artifacts should go back to where they came, assuming the original possessors ask for them, which they increasingly have been doing. This means there will be fewer shrunken heads in circulation, which in turn means the process for making them that we shared a few years ago is more timely than ever. Like a Julia Child recipe for boeuf bourguignon, the classics never go out of style. In fact, we think the horrible shrunken head market is about to blow up like Bitcoin. So if you feel the need to shrink the head of... we don't know, anyone ranging from your current boss to the so-called friend who stole your hopeless crush back in college, feel free to get a sense of the process from our post. It's a bit messy, but satisfying and amazingly empowering. So we hear. Just remember that you can't make a shrunken head without a decapitated head, and that's another messy business entirely.
Heads for sale! Got them shrunken heads for sale! Why dry 'em when you can buy 'em! Got them heads for sale!
Shrunken Head à la Pulp Intl.
You will need: One human head freshly cut from an enemy*. One large iron pot. Six to eight gallons of water. Five bundles of firewood. One pound of small stones. One pound of sand. Five ounces of plant seeds. Several small wooden pegs. Needle and twine. One bay leaf (optional).
1: Carefully remove skin and hair from head by making incision in back of neck. Sew eyelids shut, seal mouth with wooden pegs, and sew neck slit closed, but leave open the large neck hole where the head was severed. Discard skull or offer as sacrifice to cruel primitive god.
2: Simmer head in water for one to two hours. Be careful not to over boil, as this will cause the hair to come off. Remove head and discard liquid, or add bay leaf and use as soup base.
3: Head should now be one third normal size and rubbery. Carefully turn inside out and scrape remaining flesh away. Discard scraps or save as dog treats.
4: Invert head skin side out once more. Heat stones and sand over fire and insert into head. This will cause more shrinkage.
5: Once head has reached desired size pack in hot sand to set shape and facial features and let bake at low temperature.
6: Remove from sand. Rub wood ash on head to prevent muisak, or avenging soul, from escaping. If you are not superstitious or prefer a lighter colored head skip this step.
7: Fill head with seeds and sew neck hole shut. Hang head several feet over fire to slowly harden. Be careful not to overheat, as hair can ignite.
8: Wear shrunken head around neck to instill terror and revulsion in onlookers. Optionally, it can be fitted with a tiny hat and sunglasses.
And that's all there is to it, kids. If you want a more detailed recipe or just some interesting context read Lewis Cotlow's Amazon Head-Hunters and learn how the Jivaro people of Ecuador did it. 1954 copyright on the Signet Giant edition with James Meese cover art.
*Pulp Intl. disavows any responsibility for heads actually cut from enemies.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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