Director : Umberto Lenzi
Stars : Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei
Three friends out to disprove cannibalism meet two men on the run who tortured and enslaved a cannibal tribe to find emeralds, and now the tribe is out for revenge.
“Cannibal Ferox” was derived from Umberto Lenzi’s prime as a film maker, well, in my opinion anyway. I’m sure many people would say that his mid seventies foray into Giallo was his high point, possibly peaking with the impressive “Almost Human” (1974), but I say to these people, hey now, you must take into consideration the period of 1980 t0 1981, and the outrageous zombie based filling of “Nightmare City” between the cannibal sandwich that is “Eaten Alive” and “Cannibal Ferox” These three films are a joy to behold and would look stunning together on any director’s resume, especially that of an Italian schlock jock. I rest my case.
Cannibals sure were getting a lot of screen time during the seventies and eighties in Italian cinema, with Lenzi being one of the pioneers with such films as “The Man from the Deep River” (1972), but when you think of “Italian Cannibal films”, the one that springs to mind is Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980), and rightly so as it’s a true classic, and since it’s release many other Italian directors were inspired by it (or copied it if you like), including Lenzi. This of course, isn’t a strange occurrence in Italian cinema however as they’ve been copying other people’s films since Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961) was directly remade by Sergio Leone into “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). (Probably even before, but I’m not up for researching this), and with the likes of Bruno Mattei having such films as “Terminator II” (1989) (written by Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso) and “Jaws 5 : Cruel Jaws” (1995) under his belt, even The Asylum would be proud.
Our film starts off with a guy walking from a hospital and heading towards an apartment. This is the title sequence and the tune playing reminded me of a late seventies American cop show. To be fair, the film didn’t let me down as about two minutes later we see a cop car and two detectives investigating the murder of the chap we’ve just watched walking during the titles, which was a disappointment as I’d really become invested in this character. Anyway, he was shot by two thugs in the apartment who are looking for a guy called Mike. I wonder who Mike is and what kind of trouble he’s gotten himself into. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
So now we get to the meat of the story as we cut to Gloria (De Selles), Rudy (Mattei) and Pat (Zora Kerova) boarding a boat to a Colombian jungle where Gloria decides now is a good time to tell her friends the reason they’re there. It’s to prove that cannibals are a myth, and well, it’s not long into the film that she’s proven very wrong, but before we get to that point, we see the first of many controversial scenes this film has to offer.
It just seems impossible to talk about these cannibal films without mentioning their inclusion of real animal killings. Some people wont go near them with a barge pole due to the unflinching cruelty shown in these scenes, and I certainly don’t blame them as I do find them hard to watch myself. Others will say it’s all a part of nature and the “cannibals” in these films are real tribesman, not actors, and it’s what they do on a daily basis, so filming them do it in a kind of nature documentary way is like filming a lion eating an antelope etc. Then obviously there’s people that think it’s great and adds more shock value to the film. Well, in my eyes the first scene here of a small rodent with a long nose (sorry, I haven’t got a clue what it is) tied to a stick while an anaconda attacks it and eventually devours it is pretty indefensible (like the rodent thing itself). A bit later there’s a scene where a leopard eats a monkey that just has nothing to do with anything, it just happens. Then a scene where a character hacks a small pig to death with a machete to save his friend. Of course there’s a turtle scene, they really have a hard time in these films. This one is killed by a tribesman like in Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s certainly not as brutal (or as long) as that version, and to top it all off an alligator is decapitated. I’m remaining on the fence as to whether these scenes are necessary or not, it’s up to you how you feel about them. Oh yeah, an ugly spider get’s crushed too, but I hate spiders so it doesn’t count.
Anyway, after a short while our trio stumble across a couple of dead tribesman, and this is where they meet the aforementioned Mike (Radice) and his injured friend, Joe (Walter Lucchini), I’ll try and keep what happens in the second act brief. Mike tells the gang that they were held captive but escaped, he then ends up becoming Pat’s trail hook up. They then come across the village where Mike and Joe were supposedly held captive. Mike tries to rape a young girl but ends up killing her and afterwards Rudy gets pissy and punches Mike, but Mike pulls out a gun. Mike’s favourite word seems to be “twat”, and it turns out he’s a massive one as Joe explains that they weren’t held captive and instead Mike lost it with one of the villagers and gauged out his eye before castrating him and leaving him to bleed to death. He also killed the two men they found in the jungle. This basically means that when the tribesmen come back, they’ll all be done for.
So the gang talk about leaving the village before the inhabitants return, without actually leaving the village. After what seems like hours of hanging around they eventually decide to split, but yeah you guessed it, the nasty cannibals arrive and capture them, and this all leads to the the film’s money shots.
In Cannibal Holocaust, the most memorable scenes for me are the turtle scene, the woman on a pole, and to a lesser extent the castration. In this film it’ll always be the woman (guess who) getting strung up by hooks through her tits, the head in the table scene, and to a lesser extent the castration. I dunno, I’ve just seen a lot of nobs being chopped off in films, and nothing’s ever really come close to “I spit on your Grave” (1978), I think it’s the noise it makes. Anyway, it’s these scenes I mentioned where the Italian films really come into their own. If you want to see great practical gore effects then look no further. Budget doesn’t even seem to be an issue. People even thought the woman on a pole In Cannibal Holocaust was a real dead body, and the hooks and head scenes in this certainly had me wondering how they were made to look so convincing, but I’m doubting it’s snuff.
I’ve just got to briefly mention the side plot that breaks up the cannibal action involving the detectives looking for titles boy’s killers. They bring Mike’s landlady, Myrna (Meg Fleming), in for questioning. She doesn’t know much so they let her go but decide to tail her. Then the killers find her. One of them kicks her in the face and threatens to shoot her if she doesn’t tell them of Mike’s whereabouts, but they’re immediately thwarted by the cops who come racing around the corner. The thugs get back in their car and tear off and instead of chasing them, and basically solving the crime, the cops pull over, all three officers get out of the car, and head over to Myrna to see if she’s okay. Great work guys. We don’t see the gangsters again anyway as Myrna decides she wants to find Mike for some reason and flies to the jungle. Will she be successful? (no)
Canibal Ferox is my favourite cannibal film. I haven’t even delved into the whacky dialogue in this gem. At times it can be pretty suspenseful, other times brutally nasty, and at other times just downright funny. What more could you ask for from the cannibal genre? It’s also spawned a couple of sequels, but I’m not getting into how genuine they are, especially as Bruno Mattei directed the third one.. I think I’ll leave that for another day.