(Release Date: April 24, 1981 [Italy])
(USA Release Date: September 1983 [New York City, New York])
Yes, folks, as the exploration of all 74 flicks slapped onto the Video Nasty List by the DPP continues, I've been given another opportunity to evaluate, critique and lambaste the interesting psychological specimen known to Filoni Fans everywhere as Umberto Lenzi! What a guy.
And what a MOVIE Cannibal Ferox is. Yikes!
Yes, there's more of the whole Breast Mutilation thing here, which sucks for anyone like me, who, lets face it... loves boobs. This time Lenzi goes a tad farther in his reach, managing to be misogynistic, disgusting, bloodthirsty and derivative all at the same time as he rips off the famous "hook-and-hang" scene from A Man Called Horse, suspending not a British Aristocrat, but a hot American Hooker (played by a hot Czech Actress) by the chest. However, this is the first movie of Lenzi's I've seen that made me question the assertion that he has a problem with women. Well... with JUST women. The repeated motif of penis removal, mutilation and consumption (a staple of the genre at that time, but amped up heavily in this film) actually makes me wonder if Lenzi's issue is with sex. Or maybe... people.
Let's talk a little about the people he gives us in his little movie. I think "dumbass" might be a good word to describe most of them. Gloria Davis (played by Lorraine De Selle from The House on the Edge of the Park) is a grad student working on her Doctoral Thesis in Anthropology. She's convinced that not only is there no such thing as cannibalism in the modern world, but that there also has never been any such thing as cannibalism ever in any part of the world in any part of history. She thinks Honkies made the idea up. To prove this out she decides to travel to a village somewhere deep in the Amazon Jungle to investigate claims that the natives there might be cannibals. I guess she figures "If they eat me, they are, if they don't eat me, they're not... and hey, I get my doctorate!"
Setting aside what a stupid idea this is (isn't it tantamount to saying "There is no danger to running in traffic, watch!"?), what university is going to award a Ph.D. based on such circumstantial evidence? She reads in a magazine that this tribe eats people. If she goes there and sees they don't eat people while she's there then Cannibalism can immediately be re-classified as a myth for all parts of the world for all time. Does that mean that I can get a "Doctor PhilosophiŠ" by spending a weekend in Iraq, not getting blown up and then claiming that there is and never has been any such thing as terrorism? I once sat in a bar for 30 minutes being ignored by the waiters and bartenders. Does that mean that Booze Service is also a myth? Because I grew up in Louisiana, yet have no Southern Accent, does that mean that there is suddenly no such thing as a Twang or a Drawl and neither existed ever?
Man, I want to go to that University, they're practically giving Degrees away. I can picture the advertisements "We're practically giving away Professorships! Come on down to Crazy Umberto's University and Big Screen Warehouse... Ha Ha! Take the Smith Street Exit off of Belt Parkway!"
Still, Gloria is smart (or cruel) enough to take along her little brother Rudy (Bryan Redford, who is really... Danilo MATTEI) and her slutty little friend Pat Johnson (Zora Kerova), whom she convinces that this is just a vacation. While this might be seen as a good move on Gloria's part (more bodies, less chance of getting munched on if she's wrong), it honestly never dawns on her in any way, shape or form that a village known to have cannibals therein might actually count people-eaters amongst their citizenry.
She starts feeling pretty crunchy about the time that two desperate jackasses hobble out of the Jungle and scream about the cannibal village they just escaped from. Before she can even say "D'Oh!", though, the douche bag criminal Mike Logan (John Morghen, who is really Giovanni Lombardo Radice, whom De Selle got naked with in The House on the Edge of the Park, though she remains clothed here) and his complacent sidekick Joe Costolani (Walter Lloyd [really Lucchini]) have joined their ranks and soon lead them to a nice, safe resting place... a hut, right in the middle of the same people-eating village. Ah, the logic of Lenzi.
Meanwhile, we're given a lame, slow-the-plot-down subplot that seems designed to illustrate what a jackass Mike really is, but showing us the various people who want to kill or arrest him back in New York City. Generally this involves Mike's girlfriend Myrna Stenn (Meg Fleming, who is really Fiamma Maglione, one of the composers of this film) and Police Lieutenant Rizzo (played by Lenzi-pal and inexplicable porn star Robert Kerman) who interviews her when mobsters like John Bartha and Perry Pirkanen aren't trying to shoot her.
Surprisingly, this isn't at all necessary (except to pad out the film), because one of the things that Lenzi does do well in this film is show the viciousness Mike really harbors. This is one sick man, he is. It shows too, not that it keeps Pat from getting naked with him but quick! Of course, it's not long before the Young and Strong village denizens return and decide to do all kinds of nasty things to the five white devil intruders they find hanging out there.
Primarily, Cannibal Ferox is a Revenge Flick that would feel a lot like a Last House on the Left or a Virgin Spring (really the same thing) in reverse if it weren't so derivative of other movies like the aforementioned A Man Called Horse and Last Cannibal World, along with Lenzi's own Eaten Alive and Martino's Mountain of the Cannibal God. To this end, Umberto pushes the envelope harder than the entire Top Gun program with the blood, gore and depravity seemingly calculated to allow the commonly misleading advertising to call Cannibal Ferox "The most violent film ever made!"
While that point is debatable, it's hard to deny that this film is violent and sick. Aside from the mammary gland piercing that I loathe so deeply, there are tons of other scenes that seem to be promoting nausea like a new, hip fad. The opening crawl of this film states "The following feature is one of the most violent films ever made. There are at least two dozen scenes of barbaric torture and sadistic cruelty graphically shown. If the presentation of disgusting and repulsive subject matter upsets you, please do not view this film." Yep... yet another warning designed to fill up grindhouses... Such is the core of exploitation. Still, "two dozen" sounds about right. And that includes one of those Fulcian Eye-Popping shots. Just about every rule is broken on the BBFC's list of No-No's (from the mixture of sex and violence to the graphic detailing of animal slaughter... over and over again), making damned sure it got Banned in the UK and, if you believe the advertising, 30 other countries.
But then again, another one of this film's taglines is "They raped and killed his sister while he watched helplessly. Now it's his turn to Make Them Die Slowly". That, by the way, may be the plot of some other movie, but it's not Cannibal Ferox! In short. Grain of Salt.
It's no surprised that the advertising for this film would be confused, as Umberto Lenzi (as both director and writer) seems to be confused throughout this entire flick. Lenzi claims that Cannibal Ferox has a "strong message" about racism and colonialism. He also claims that his film City of the Walking Dead is not a peer of Romero's Dawn of the Dead or Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters, but of Demme's Philadelphia! In spite of these claims, the message is hardly strong. It's hinted at, but only in brief. For the rest of the flick he can't seem to decide just how he's treating the Natives or the Foreigners. Are these innocent natives who are exploited by and brutalized by the white visitors, or were they vicious cannibals the whole time, just waiting for the innocent and the guilty alike to prey upon? Lenzi can't seem to decide and he waffles like a cornered Politician throughout the entire last half of the film.
Still, as far as this genre goes, it could be worse. To be clear, this is still a bad film, and the exploitative warning quoted above is absolutely true. This is too extreme for some gore hounds even. However, in spite of all this, Lenzi comes close to getting a star or two with his interesting framing and subtle building of suspense. Yes, even that is relative. Let's not forget, we're talking about Cannibal Ferox here.
"Ferox" is an interesting word, and one you don't hear very often. It's Latin for "Fierce", which causes the title of this film to translate to something like "Cannibal Ferocity". Not a bad title, but the English name used here in the USA is notorious in and of itself. Make Them Die Slowly became the title of White Zombie's second album, neither the first, or certainly the last time that their Famous Singer named Rob mined the Video Nasties for material. He's not alone, either. Massacre in Dinosaur Valley was billed as Cannibal Ferox 2 in some regions to cash in on this flick. But then again, Cannibal Ferox was billed as Woman from Deep River in some regions to cash in on the successes of The Man from Deep River which, in turn, was so named to cash in on (drumroll) A Man Called Horse! If it's not already clear, Cannibal Ferox itself is derivative of many of the same movies its peers and successors imitate. Hell, the very score by Maglione with Roberto "Budy" Donati more than "sounds familiar", it's an almost verbatim re-play of their score from Mangiati Vivi! Hey, no need to pay them twice right? No big deal!
Cannibal Ferox is a big deal. Banned in England, influential to other flicks, notorious and legendary in the Grindhouse and Exploitation genres. Still, it gets a Dog! Some will love it, many will loathe it... many like me will appreciate it for its assets and virtues and still see clearly its vices and liabilities. Decide for yourself. Is Cannibal Ferox trash or treasure. You can buy it... ON AMAZON! How appropriate. See you in the next reel!
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