Cannibal Apocalypse (AKA Apocalypse Domani)
First released: 1982
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Current UK status: Passed 18 with 2 seconds of cuts
In all honesty, Cannibal Apocalypse is pure proof of how the Video Nasty’s heyday went a bit overboard. Most of the films in the infamous list were horrors, but Cannibal Apocalypse is more an action thriller than a full on horror, and personally, I belive it simply suffered from a bad choice (or good choice, depending on how you look at it) title. Cannibal Apocalypse is less a play on the Cannibal films around during the height of the scare, and more a play on the effects of the war in Vietnam, and consequently, is a horrific twist on Francis Ford Copploa’s classic Apocalypse Now. Any relation to films like Cannibal Holocaust and Ferox is merely by the films title, as this particular film does not contain all that much graphic gore, although some would argue differently. The film was released by Replay Video in 1982, uncut, and was an early casualty of the Video Nasty list in July 1983 when it was removed from shelves. I firmly belive that it was the films title, and NOT its content, which got it banned. Eventually it was released with a pathetic two seconds of cuts in 2005 by Cinema Club, and that same version has been available ever since.
Director Antonia Margheriti was born in Italy on 19th September 1930, and became one of the few Italian director’s to actually work with American film studios such as MGM, 20th Century Fox, United Artists and Columbia Pictures. His films ranged from spaghetti westerns, sci-fi, action and horror. Starting out as a screenwriter, Margheriti directed his first film in 1960, the sci-fi ‘Assignment Outer Space’.He then went on to direct such films as ‘Castle of Terror’ (1963) ‘Castle of Blood’ (1964), ‘Web of the Spider’ (1971) and Killer Fish (1979). He also directed another film which made the Video Nasty’s List, ‘Andy Warhol’s Flesh For Frankenstein’ (1973), although director Richard Morrissey disputed this for years. Morrissey claimed he had directed the film, whilst Margheriti had only directed a small segment of the film. Margheriti also filmed many of his later films in the Phillippines, and also collaborated on the special effects of Sergio Leone’s classic ‘Fistful of Dynamite’ and Aldo Lado’s ‘The Humanoid’. The director also changed his name to Anthony M. Dawson after finding out the English translation of his name was ‘Athony Daisies’.
Now, Cannibal Apocaypse, as I said before, is a massive play on Apocalypse Now, and goes some way to showing the devastating effects of war. This film works more as an action thriller as appossed to being a horror, and on the action thriller, come drama aspects, it works really well. Margheriti managed to enrole the great acting talent of John Saxon to play the lead character Norman Hopper, a Vietnam soldier who is now home living with his family. Things didn’t go well in Vietnam as we witness in the opening scene. We see Hopper in a gun battle with Vietnamese soldiers, it is a far cry from the brilliance of Apoclypse Now, although it is clear that the makers are basing their opening scene on that classic film. A gun battle in the jungle wants to look good, and have impact, but it doesn’t. It looks staged and a bit silly, but saying that, this is the 80’s, and the film fits the genre of films perfectly. In fact, for it’s time, it actually looks alright, a bit cheesy, over the top, but not all that bad. It sets up the film nicely.
Hopper see’s his comrades in a pit, a burning Vietnamese woman has fallen into their prison pit, and Hopper cannot see that his trapped men have begun eating her. Finally Hopper is able to free his imprisoned men, reaching out his hand to help them, the pair look at him as he usher’s them out, and instead of freedom, they decide to bite his arm too! Move forward some time, and Hopper is back home, living with his wife and kids, has just woken up from a nightmare which was in-fact the opening scene from the film, and we begin to wonder if it’s all in his head. We soon learn it’s not as the two chaps in the pit at the start appear to be in a mental hospital. This is where the film creates some serious credibility. I am not saying that all soldiers that went to Vietnam became Cannibals, but the suffering these two chaps go through is very well presented and believable. Even Hopper himself begins to have bizarre thoughts, and acts strangely around his neighbours daughter who has an unhealthy obsession with him. The young girl seems desperate to rebel against her irritating, bullying Mother who wants her room clean and her homework done. Christ, this Witch even bullies the girls younger Brother, she’s bloody horrible! The young girl tries to take advantage of every time Hopper’s wife is out, and in one scene where she almost gets her way, Hopper has a phone call from one of the pair that were imprisoned in Vietnam, the guy has been released from the psychiatric hospital, and he wants a beer, for old times sake. Hopper, rightly so, chooses the girls advances over his messed up friends offer, and this leads the friend to do something silly and outrageous.
Seeing the ex-soldier, apparently cured of mental health issues, walk down the street without a care in the world and fearing no one, paints a thousand words. This is a powerful scene as he watches a local gang of bikers bully two innocent women jogging. The lack of fear in this man’s eyes is very unsettling, and offers up many ideas as to how ex-soldiers think about our everyday lives. He goes into a movie theatre, watches a war film, laughs at its lack of realism (according to him anyway) and decides to focus on the annoying couple who have just sat in front on him. In the film’s first reason to be an 18 certificate, the girl is stripped in the cinema as her boyfriend precedes to lick her naked body. The ex soldier gets off on this, has an overwhelming urge to eat flesh, and bites the girl on the neck. And so follows a bizarre chase out of the cinema, the local gang of bikers get involved, and eventually the ‘cannibal’ ends up in a shopping centre which is closed. As the cannibal holds the shop so that others can’t enter, the odd security guard fails to hear to motorbikes from the gang, but suddenly hears the gunshot. People get killed and the police are called. After barely half an hour, the film becomes a sort of siege film as an ex Vietnam soldier struggles to deal with daily life. Not only is he messed up from the war, but he wants to eat!
Hopper is having the same cannibalistic thoughts, and heads down to the shop to save his friend from the police, and the press! The main police officer offers up some superb comedy as he grunts and orders his men around, and the press get in his way causing his temper to flare up. The film does not have the best script, but the banter between the police chief and his men is brilliant, and even better once he turns his attentions to the press. People die but the mental patient ends up back at the hospital where he, and the other ex soldier who was in the pit with him, plan a violent escape and all Hell breaks loose again. Hopper ends up joining them this time round, and after a rather slow but quite tense build up, the film suddenly heads into new territory, the hunters becoming the hunted as the police once again pursue the ex soldiers, but this time with more intent. The chase from the police gives the film it’s chance to show off some violence as the Cannibals get cornered by the biker gang. A brutal scene containing eye gouging and flesh being bitten along with staged fights and a fantastic funky set of music is clearly aimed at the horror genre, but it is brief. It is probably these brief moments where the censors got a bit scared by how this film may effect its audience. By todays standards it is very tame indeed, but man it is fun to watch. John Saxon is able to show off some of those fighting skills he perfected in Enter the Dragon, and the black ex Vietnam soldier suddenly decides to scream a lot, and this carries on for the rest of the time he is in the film. He actually becomes quite annoying, but perfectly designed for 80’s horror. A tense chase through some sewers also attempts to bring some horror elements to the film, but fail. Although, it is hard to criticise the relentless chase at the end as it does tie the film together nicely.
So, Cannibal Apocalypse, horror or not, is the perfect 80’s horror, action, comedy, whatever you want to call it. It’s design is perfect, and the production is crisp and very authentic, the actors do exactly what you’d expect from an 80’s low production value film, and the gore does come, but just not very much of it. The film should never have been on the List, each scene of violence is so brief, and it lacks the need to make an impact that most of the Video Nasty’s displayed. There is no real sense of feeling offended or disgusted, in fact, some of the film, intentional or not, is quite deep in its portrayal of ex-soldiers trying to live in a society that doesn’t quite understand what they went through. Granted ex-soldiers are not Cannibals, but it is the feeling of invincibility that they suddenly posses which makes them scary. There is no fear in their eyes. This film would have worked much better without the Cannibal twist on things, although since everyone was into Cannibals at the time, it made sense to merge the horror story with the war story. A clever idea, a fresh twist at the time, and a film which now sits proudly as a Video Nasty which probably gained it a lot more viewers than it would have had if it hadn’t been put on the list. Cannibal Apocalypse is a film which gained its success on its notoriety, and its name. The film, clever or not, is incredibly average and, while being great fun to watch, is not a film that will have much impact.
Should Cannibal Apocalypse have been added to the Video Nasty List? A big fat NO!! It was ludacrous adding this film to the List!