Movie Review: Cannibal Ferox (1981)
I set out to write this as a “30 Second Review” but I just kept writing. Some people are softies for kittens whiles others are softies for orphans. Me; I’m a softie for Italian Cannibal flicks. I love ‘em (you could say I eat them up)!! What do you think about this sub-sub-genre? If you have one, what’s your favorite from this genre? I wanna know!!
What “Italian Horror Films of the 1980’s” theme month would be complete without at least one review representing the Italian cannibal genre? No self-respecting lover of horror could look themselves in the mirror if they haven’t seen the films that make up this crazy, fun, gory genre. And though it may not be the best Italian cannibal flick made, Cannibal Ferox is perhaps the most fun. Even diehard Italian horror fans like myself think of the sub-sub-genre of the Italian cannibal flick as the creepy uncle you see only once a year at the annual family reunion; you know the one … he’s not allowed to be alone with the kids!! But goddamn these are fun movies.
No matter how many times I watch this flick I’ll always remember it as “the
movie I saw when I was waaaaay too young.” I saw this for the first time when I was 11 years old. Blockbuster stores had yet to take over the rental scene so I would get my videos from this little ma & pa store around the corner from my house. My dear old mom told the owner that I was allowed to rent anything I wanted as long as it wasn’t a porn or ‘X’-rated. Sweeeet. At 11 I was already a bona-fide horror fan; earlier that year I saw City of the Living Dead (see my review here) and that only whet my appetite to see more excessively gory movies. A friend’s older brother told me to get Ferox and after watching it I quickly hunted down all the other juicy Italian Cannibal flicks. Aahhh; if only my mom knew what I was watching in the basement (but I guess she will now because she visits this blog).
Ferox is a gritty, raw, extreme flick folks. As with all the movies in the cannibal genre, Ferox has a washed out look to it which makes it feel kinda like a documentary, thereby making the experience all the more gritty and effective. Written and directed by Umberto Lenzi (who has dabbled in many genres from his sword and sorcery flicks in the 60’s to the giallo flicks in the 70’s to the more hardcore, gory flicks in the 80’s), this is not his first foray into the cannibal genre. He also wrote and directed the notorious Mangiati vivi! and the rather dull and disappointing zombie flick Nightmare City (both in 1980). But Ferox is definitely the one I’ll remember Lenzi for.
Pretty simple story: A New York City grad student and anthropologist,
Gloria (Lorraine De Selle, who has an uncredited role in 1977’s Emanuelle in America. See my review here) and her posse visit the jungles in the Amazon to prove her theory that cannibalism doesn’t exist in the world anymore. Great theory Gloria; how’d that work out for ya? In the jungle they run into a sadistic drug dealer (I know what you’re thinking, but drug dealers often take vacations to cannibal-infested jungles and make the natives mine for emeralds and harvest coca; it’s common knowledge) played by genre fav Giovanni Lombardo Radice; better known as John Morghen, the name he uses to try and “Americanize” his movies. Let’s take a second and talk about Mr. Radice. Giovanni has a great genre resume. He was responsible for spreading the zombie virus in Cannibal Apocalypse; he got his brains fucked in Fulci’s City of the Living Dead’s famous “drill scene”; and he plays one of the brutal thugs in Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park (all three of these movies were made in 1980 making him the hardest working man in Italian expoitation!!). Radice brings a really special kind of energy to all of his roles. I don’t think he cared that he was making exploitation cheese (albeit classic exploitation cheese), because he gives a 100% in all his roles. He can be brutal and sadistic (his role as Ricky in House) and he can be kinda creepy but harmless (his role as Bob in City). But one thing’s for sure; when you see Radice in a movie the blood and gore ain’t far behind!!
Radice and his whacked out buddies, who are just as sadistic as he is, torture and kill some of the natives just for the pure sadistic fun of it all. When he kills the daughter of the native’s Chief they finally turn on their tormentors. But by this time our stupid, trusting anthropology group is with them and are therefore deemed “guilty by association”. Oh yeah; did I mention the natives are cannibals? The worm turns and the cannibals get their tasty “Law of the Jungle” revenge on our very obnoxious “New Yorkers”. What follows are scenes of very graphic and gory deaths. I love it!! I just wanna make one little request from Lenzi: Dude; lay off the genitals already. Geez. We all know about the infamous genital mutilation scene. Buddy boy is tied up to a tree and a native, in juicy explicit detail, goes all Lorena Bobbitt on his junk. This leads Radice to yell out one of the movie’s best lines: “…and then … then THEY ATE HIS GENITALS!!”
We are then witness to some other great scenes of explicit violence: A
woman having huge hooks thrust through her boobs as she’s then hanged by her boobs to die; a man placed in a contraption that exposes just the top of his head where it’s sliced off like a melon so the natives can feast on the brain goo; and there’s many scenes of actual animal mutilation and killings. It’s this last point that people really seem to have the most trouble with. Lenzi used actual footage and supported the actual on-screen killing of live animals. Radice objected to the animal killings and absolutely refused to participate in them (a double stood in and performed the animal killings). Lenzi tried to convince Radice to do the killings by telling him, “[Robert] De Niro would do it,” to which Radice responded, “De Niro would kick your ass all the way back to Rome.”
But among all this gory and explicit violence the movie is also hilarious (though most of the humor is unintentional). How can you not love a movie with dialogue like this:
Rudy: There’s something I can’t figure out…
Gloria Davis: What’s that?
Rudy: I don’t know.
Mike Logan: Wanna know something? I had you nailed down the minute I saw you.
Pat: Oh you did? What, that I’m a little whore?
Mike Logan: All the way. A hot-pussied little whore, who arrived down here looking for freedom; a victim of Puritanical breeding, seeking release from strange new feelings.
Alrighty Mike. Don’t hold back; tell us what you really think!! And my personal favorite quote from the movie is when the starving Pat is about to eat a piece of meat and Gloria yells at her, “No; stop! That might be Rudy.” Classic stuff people.
If ya haven’t seen this one yet ya gotta check it out. The sound quality is bad,
the acting is questionable, and it’s full of stock travel footage. You’ll hate yourself for watching it, but you’ll love the fact that you hated it!! For me this flick takes me back to a time when I use to have trouble watching graphic, disturbing movies. Oh to be 11 and innocent again; those good-old-days before I became the desensitized-to-violence madman you see before you. Check this one out!!
Director: Umberto Lenzi (and writer)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer