Cult film's favorite flesheater.

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Most actors want immortality, but few have their bases covered like Robert Kerman. There's no doubt that your grandchildren will be enjoying his work. Their exposure to him simply depends on their level of pop-culture depravity.

As an actor by his own name, Kerman saved the day in Spider-Man as the tugboat captain who takes in Mary Jane Watson during the climactic battle with the Green Goblin. As unlikely stud R. Bolla, the pioneering adult star provided the professionalism that made porn chic. Amanda by Night is a personal favorite, but 1978's Debbie Does Dallas is the one most likely to be recommended for preservation by the American Film Institute.

Then there's the matter of a fine exploitation film career, climaxing with Kerman's lead role in 1979's unforgettable Cannibal Holocaust-with a restored print playing as a midnight movie this weekend.

"I'm the guy who cursed that film," recalls Kerman, fresh from shooting scenes for Spider-Man II. "There's a scene where a little kid kills some cute furry animal, and I remember saying, 'I hope this film is cursed.'"

As it turned out, a lot of people went on to curse Cannibal Holocaust. The film's a wonderful orgy of gut-chomping, head-hacking, penis-ripping action. There are also some offensive moments, with mondo footage of a jungle tribe making turtle soup and abusing other hapless critters.

The jungle's a fierce place, and a sensitive artist like Kerman couldn't have been prepared for the shooting. "The section I'm in isn't that violent," he notes. "It's a good storyline, and I'm the professor who discovers the other footage of the doomed expedition. But the other stuff-the animal cruelty-really bothered me. It upset me that I allowed myself to be part of it. [Director] Ruggero Deodato was a bit of a sadist. I know he got indicted for that movie, for cruelty to animals. He almost went to jail. But the movie was very successful in Germany-it figures-and throughout Europe. And in Italy, even though it was under a cloud of prosecution."

Cannibal Holocaust still ended up being a big break for Kerman. It just took several years. The actor had quit doing porn in 1986, although his clips continue to be recycled in the industry. Kerman then watched as his filmography suddenly went from an average of 10 films a year to none.

"I basically did nothing for 12 years," Kerman says. "I went after nothing, and nothing came after me. But then I was asked to come up to Tarrytown, New York, a few years ago, when they were showing the restored Cannibal Holocaust for the first time. I went there, and there were people asking me for my autograph by the hundreds. I didn't know that many people knew the film. My ego was down, so that felt pretty good."

He'd also been invited to meet Bob Murawski, the film's new owner, who asked Kerman to provide some additional DVD content. This was when Kerman learned that Murawski's day job was being ace editor for great B-films like Uncle Sam and From Dusk Till Dawn 2.

"I didn't charge Bob anything to do the DVD," Kerman explains, "but I asked him to help me in L.A. if he could. He was one of the editors on Spider-Man, and he got me the audition. I went up against eight or nine other actors, and I got the part, thank god."

And, Kerman adds, he's feeling pretty good about the chances that his man-on-the-street segment will make it into the sequel. "Bob's still the editor," he notes.

Kerman doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about his career: "I wish things were going better right now. I'm still trying to parlay Spider-Man into something. I've been in about five mainstream movies. Real mainstream movies, starting with The Goodbye Girl. And I'm not trying to brag, but I was the star of the theater department at Brooklyn College. It's funny, because I've been successful every time I've tried to act. I live hand to mouth, but it's still all I've ever done."

As noted, a lot of actors would be thrilled just to participate in an enduring classic like Cannibal Holocaust. Kerman would even go on to take another role in 1981's similar Cannibal Ferox-best known in the U.S. as Make Them Die Slowly. He's certainly happy to be part of the Italian cannibal genre, especially as presented in Cannibal Holocaust's gorgeous new print.

"It opened on 42nd Street," Kerman recalls, "in one of those schlock theaters showing chop-'em-up films. It was a terrible print. With this new version, you can see that it was shot beautifully."

The film's Tarrytown revival even allowed Kerman to renew his acquaintance with the director who made him a genre icon. "I hadn't seen Deodato in 20 years," Kerman says. "I told him I cursed the film. He said to me, 'You got fat.'"

Cannibal Holocaust, Fri. & Sat., May 30 & 31 at Sunshine Cinema, 143 Houston (betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.), 212-358-7709.

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