Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-02-27 06:05

Written and directed by: Umberto Lenzi

Reviewed by: Brett H.

When people talk about the most vile, despicable movies in horror film history, there are usually a few flicks that remain constant on everyone’s lists. Of these movies, there is no shortage of films from the cannibal sub-genre, Italy’s most disgusting export. Cannibal Ferox is placed near the top most of the time, usually only outdone by the fantastic Ruggero Deodato classic, Cannibal Holocaust. But, is the reputation of being “banned in 31 countries” enough reason to give Cannibal Ferox a shot?

The film begins in New York where a man is recently released from drug rehabilitation where he had successfully completed his stay. Of course, the moment he gets out, his main goal is to go cop from his dealer, Mike (John Morghen). He roams the streets of New York and when he finally gets to Mike’s apartment, is met by two men and a gun pointed straight at him. Mike has screwed the mob out of 100 grand and naturally they are not so pleased. Not surprisingly, Mike is nowhere to be found. Not wanting the Mike to be tipped off by the man, the mafia dispatches him with a gunshot to the chest.

At the same time, a group of three people are making their way to the Amazon, where Gloria (Lorraine De Selle) is doing research for her thesis regarding cannibalism. According to her theory, cannibalism doesn’t exist and was made up by Conquistadors and she’s out to prove her ideas right. Accompanied by her brother, Rudy (Danilo Mattei) and the promiscuous Pat (Zora Kerova), they begin to trek through the jungle and surely enough, not long into their rendezvous, the jeep gets stuck in the mud and they’re left in the thick forests of the Amazon all alone. Fittingly, soon after this they come across the gruesome corpse of two natives when suddenly two men come rushing through the brush, one injured badly.

One of the men is Mike, the dealer from New York, who is hiding out in South America from the mob as well as trying to acquire cocaine and emeralds. He gives his story about how the cannibals brutally tortured another person they were with before castrating the man and, as Mike succinctly puts it, “ate his genitals.” The two parties forge ahead together and for some inane reason, end up back at the same village where Mike and his friends had been held captive. Mike’s friend is in rough shape, so they aid to him while the men of the tribe are out fishing, but soon enough blood poisoning gets the best of him and he passes away. But, before he dies, he’s generous with useful information for Rudy, Pat and Gloria. Mike has been a naughty boy out there in the Amazon and the reason the natives are after him aren’t what they had been told earlier. Enter the brutality.

Cannibal Ferox isn’t a film for everyone. The numerous real animal deaths, misogyny (women are referred to as “Twats” on at least two occasions), and downright carnage displayed on the screen won’t exactly appeal to the masses. It’s not the goriest movie of all time, probably not even in the top 10, but it definitely will fill up a gorehound’s plate. Heads are cut off, genitals mutilated and the infamous shot of a woman being supported up above the ground only by hooks through her breasts fill the film. Along with that are gooey corpses and perhaps even more disgusting, some bugs about the size of your index finger are eaten by natives with exaggerated chomping sounds edited in.

At the same time, Cannibal Ferox is not the film that Cannibal Holocaust is, by far. It’s not as innovative (or innovative at all), it’s not as gory, it is not nearly as effective and nerve wracking as a whole. Director Umberto Lenzi had done two other cannibal pictures prior, Eaten Alive in 1980, and what is regarded as the first of the sub-genre, Man From Deep River in 1972. Lenzi’s main goal here is to shock, not necessarily to make the best movie he could make. He wanted to top what Cannibal Holocaust had done a couple years prior. I don’t think he came anywhere near it, but he did create some memorable scenes and some parts that are downright cringe inducing. The natives in the film mostly just stand around still and make the odd face, so they aren’t very scary and don’t really have the presence that they’ve been given in other cannibal romps. Naturally, this takes away a lot of the film’s potential impact.

One scene in particular really made me smile, though. Rudy has an open wound attacked by a school of hungry piranhas while hiding from the natives. If you’ve been living under a rock, a “piranha scene” had been rumored to be in Cannibal Holocaust, but never turned up on a copy anywhere, sans a few stills taken on set (footage doesn’t exist). So, if one thing will stick with me above all about the film, it’s the fact that piranhas did actually attack in an Italian cannibal movie and this fact surely helped spread the confusion of piranhas in Cannibal Holocaust for so many years until the age of the internet.

Cannibal Ferox is a popcorn cannibal flick, if such a thing can exist. Sure, Lenzi throws in the “we’re the savages” type dialogue that cannibal films seemingly all have, but the focus of the film is the gore and nothing else. A lot of dialogue is cheesy in the good way and there are a handful of familiar Italian horror faces to reminisce about and try to decipher just what the hell you’d seen them in before. The score and music in the film is great fun as well and fits the tone of the film perfectly. Grindhouse has been kind to the film on DVD, vastly improving picture as well as offering a commentary from Lenzi and Morghen and a few different trailers. It’s not the easiest film to recommend, but it’s worth viewing at least once, if you can handle it. For those with weak stomachs, though, Cannibal Ferox will eat you alive. Rent it!

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