CANNIBAL FEROX ****
Directed by Umberto Lenzi. Starring Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei, Zora Kerova, Robert Kerman. Horror, Italy, 92 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray by Shameless Screen Entertainment on July 30th 2018.
The mere mention of Italian cannibal movies to anybody is likely to get a reaction, whether it be disgust at the graphic scenes of animal cruelty, rape, torture and gut-munching or delight in filmmakers taking gore and violence to their limits, making it look real and half-heartedly wrapping up the narrative in a socio-political commentary about human nature. Ruggero Deodato’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is often cited as the poster boy for all that is savage and nasty in extreme cinema, and with good reason as it contains all of the ingredients that make up the cannibal movie stew and still holds up to this day, but amongst the deluge of increasingly bad knock-offs that followed in its wake, Umberto Lenzi’s CANNIBAL FEROX was probably the most notable by being the most savage.
It was, of course, Lenzi who kicked off the whole cannibal craze with 1972s THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, a retelling of A MAN CALLED HORSE set in the jungle, although that movie was considerably less graphic than where the genre would go once Ruggero Deodato decided to push the envelope. And so Umberto Lenzi’s response to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was CANNIBAL FEROX (a.k.a. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY), a movie that took the basic ideas, themes and social commentaries of HOLOCAUST and... didn’t really do a lot with them. What it did do, however, was focus on the gore aspect of what Deodato achieved with his movie and upped it, sometimes successfully and sometimes not quite so successfully but always well aware that the ‘Banned in 31 Countries’ label that the movie was promoted with was going to do wonders for its notoriety.
As is tradition in Italian genre movies CANNIBAL FEROX begins in New York for no real reason other than it could, and sets up a little plot about a drug dealer ripping off the mob and disappearing, the disgruntled gangsters gunning down the dealer’s pal in their search. The movie then switches to anthropology student Gloria (Lorraine De Selle – HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK), her brother Rudy (Danilo Mattei – THE SICILIAN) and friend Pat (Zora Kerova – ANTROPOPHAGUS) who are travelling to the Amazon jungle to study the native tribes and prove that cannibalism in the 20th century is just a myth. Not long into their research the trio come across Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice – CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE), who is carrying his injured friend and also happens to be the New York drug dealer hiding from the mob. Mike spins them a yarn about the natives killing and eating his other friends and events transpire that the expanded group end up back in cannibal territory. However, Mike – as we know - is not to be trusted and the reasons for the hostility from the tribespeople is revealed as Lorraine is given more than she bargained for when she gets a full-on display of cannibalistic revenge.
So yeah, CANNIBAL FEROX tries to tell a ‘who are the real cannibals?’ story amongst all of the carnage but the sentiment doesn’t have the same impact as it did in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the message in that movie feeling tacked on to justify the violence but it worked. Here, Umberto Lenzi is less interested in plot and social commentary and more interested in grossing you out, and he achieves that as CANNIBAL FEROX does contain several scenes of brutality – including a woman getting hung up on hooks by her breasts, the obligatory genital mutilation (which is in extreme close-up and lingers longer than in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), guts being pulled out and eaten raw and a brilliantly staged brain eating scene that has to be seen to be believed – but you have to have more than just gore for gores sake to keep things engaging, and thankfully we have the wonderful Giovanni Lombardo Radice to entertain us as the script sometimes struggles to get the film where it needs to be during the first half. A familiar face in Italian horror, Radice’s presence is magnetic when he is on the screen and when you learn of what he had to go through during the production you can understand why he appears so desperate and on edge in his performance.
Looking fantastic thanks to Shameless’ re-graded 2K scan that sharpens all the edges but keeps a lot of the grain, this limited edition Blu-ray disc also comes with the final interview with Umberto Lenzi before his death and a fascinating new interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who isn’t shy about revealing his feelings on the film and is well worth checking out, if only to hear an actor not praising his experience of making the film that you've just shelled out money to watch. One of the most infamous names on the Video Nasty list, this edition of CANNIBAL FEROX is as complete a version as we are ever likely to get in the UK – all previous cuts relating to human violence have been waived and the animal cruelty scenes have been edited and substituted to keep the running time the same – and although purists may baulk at the idea of a new edit that isn’t the original uncut version, as with the UK releases of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, you really have to question why you would deem a few seconds of real animals being tortured or killed absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, CANNIBAL FEROX remains as disgusting and uncomfortable as it ever was, and despite always playing second fiddle to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – which it still does – the fact that it doesn’t really try that hard to deliver a half-hearted message and just wants to show you some realistic(ish) gore for entertainment purposes makes it quite endearing, and probably says more about the audience watching it for enjoyment it than it does about the filmmakers for making it in the first place.
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