Malevolent Dark is finally returning to the realm of Italian mondo cannibal horror. After a recent conversation on Twitter that claimed that Cannibal Ferox is better than Cannibal Holocaust, we felt we had to close the gap on this before things got out of hand. While many Italian cannibal films exist, often Ferox and Holocaust are considered the titans of the genre.
Make Them Die Slowly
Like many Italian horror films of this era, the release notes are fuzzy. This one carries the unsubstantiated claim that it had been banned in 31 countries. It is true that Cannibal Ferox is one of many that received the revered Video Nasty award in the UK. To our knowledge, 31 countries is likely an overstatement. Additionally, the film was released in Austrailia as The Woman From Green River. I first encountered the film in 1985 under the title Make Them Die Slowly.
Cannibal Ferox is directed by Lord of the Cannibal Films, Umberto Lenzi. Umberto Lenzi would also direct the film Eaten Alive! (1980) and The Man From Deep River (1972).
The film begins with a couple of Brooklyn gangsters looking for a man named Mike. With bad accents and worse dubbing, they explain that Mike borrowed $100,000 from the mob and skipped town. For whatever reason, Umberto Lenzi returns several times to this New York plot line even though it’s barely germane to the rest of the film.
Lenzi then cuts to a trio of adventurers preparing to enter the jungle in order to prove that cannibalism is a myth perpetuated so that society can take advantage of native tribes. Rudy Davis (Danilo Mattei) and Gloria Davis (Lorraine De Selle) are siblings. They are joined by their friend Pat Johnson, played by Italian horror veteran Zora Kerova.
Soon after they enter the forest, we meet Mike, played by another horror veteran, Giovani Lombardo Radice. Mike and his partner Joe are fleeing from the cannibals after an unprovoked attack. We eventually learn that Mike and Joe actually murdered one of the cannibal’s own and everything happening to them is well deserved. Mike would eventually take another native life, this time while Pat watches. The tribe wants revenge.
It should be noted that Robert Kerman performs as Lt. Rizzo. He was also in Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. That’s as a good a reason as any to keep an irrelevant New York plotline in play.
Those that read our review of Cannibal Holocaust know our position on the senseless and cruel mutilation of live animals for shock value. In addition, you know that if there is a depth that no director should sink to. That depth involves the mutilation of turtles. Of all the animals in the entire animal kingdom, turtles are possibly the least deserving. In fact, the turtle might be my spirit animal. I am the guy that stops traffic so that they can cross the road. Cannibal Ferox features the live dismemberment of a turtle and a crocodile looking thing. Topping it off, we can see some small furry creature get strangled to death by an anaconda. Boo.
Shame on you Umberto Lenzi. Go stand in the corner with Ruggero Deodato.
Special and Not So Special Effects
Undoubtedly, the gore in Cannibal Ferox will turn the stomachs of all but the most grizzled horror veterans. It features everything from the aforementioned animal slaughter to live grub-worm eating. The film places a premium on extreme genital mutilation. Many of the special effects seem rather primitive by Italian gore standards. For instance, one of the early cannibal kills involves a man being sliced from head to toe with a supposedly sharp spear. Clearly the end of the spear paints a trail of blood down the torso. Seconds later, the cannibals play in red mush that slide across the top of an intact but bloody torso.
To fair, eventually they get to the fun of evacuating an open carcass of its guts in more graphic and believable fashion.
The effects that are most impressive appear to be so because the are not actually effects. Umberto Lenzi continues the standard practice of using real animal innards whenever he can. As one would expect, these scenes are revolting, especially when the natives place raw innards in their mouths and tear away at raw liver.
Many of the most gut wrenching scenes actually occur away from the camera. Even in the purportedly uncensored versions, these scenes were obfuscated. This film features not one, but two penis amputations. Fortunately, both occur off the screen. There is an eye gouging scene, but Lenzi skips the more technical knife insertion for the after-the-fact eyeball removal. If you are upset that there are no visible penis detachments, you are likely the type of person that will at least find satisfaction when one of the cannibals eats one.
The Infamous Boob Lift?
The iconic scene from the movie involves Zora Kerova being hung from metal hooks by her breasts. To be totally honest, it’s not entirely clear how this effect was pulled off, but it is surprisingly effective. It seems as though one can see the metal hook pierce the real flesh of her breast. As the camera pulls away, the only indicator that it is not real is the unnatural angle in which her body hangs.
How Does Cannibal Ferox Stack-Up
Cannibal Ferox might be a classic if it weren’t for it’s big brother, Cannibal Holocaust. However, in the shadow of its predecessor, it really doesn’t compare. Most glaring, Cannibal Ferox never attempts to be more than a simple minded cannibal exploitation film. This by itself is not a crime, but Cannibal Holocaust manages to actually succeed with its social commentary while preserving every bit of the splatter exploitation of Ferox.
The music, arranged by Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione, is comically trivial compared to other Italian films. It really never amounts to much more than unrecognizable D-side disco schlep. The theme isn’t terrible, but its not great either. Cannibal Holocaust at least tried to match the mood of the music to the weight of the subject matter. Undoubtedly, Riz Ortolani assembled a superior audio track.
The bottom line is that Cannibal Ferox looks cheap, and feels cheap. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but in the face of better art, it simply doesn’t compete. If Malevolent Dark could only recommend one cannibal exploitation film, this would not be the one. You might be able to guess which one it would be.
After rewatching Cannibal Ferox for this review, I found that it only confirmed my memories from decades past. I originally scooped this guy up at Club Video on VHS to watch over at my buddy’s house in 5th grade. Admittedly, I had a fairly refined taste for horror all the way back then and I totally remember being underwhelmed. Banned in 31 countries; yeah right.
However, I was surprised at how well much of the imagery stuck with me over the years. There is definitely something worth seeing here, but don’t plan on a profound experience. It’s certainly worth a side by comparison with Cannibal Holocaust for anyone wanting to dig deep into the Italian horror cinema catalog.
Cannibal Ferox (1980)- Banned in 31 Countries, Or Less - Malevolent Dark
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33