Cannibal Ferox (AKA Make Them Die Slowly) (1981)
First released: 1982
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Current UK status: Passed 18 with heavy cuts, although the film is available uncut in the US
Whilst Cannibal Holocaust is and always will be the Daddy of all Cannibal films, Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox, a film heavily influenced by Holocaust, can stand proud as a worthy possible second place. The violent horror was released uncut by Replay in August 1982, and within a month, the BBFC unofficially approved an 18 certificate with 6:51 seconds of cuts. The film became a Video Nasty in July 1983 and there possibly was a good reason for this, but we will get to that in the review. Cannibal Ferox was successfully prosecuted and removed from shelves. As with all the Video Nasty’s, good or bad, the film became a collectible, with the uncut version becoming the most in demand. The uncut version remained off the shelves during the Video Nasty heyday, although the cut version did eventually get removed from the list. In 2000 the already cut version (by 6:51 seconds) was submitted to the BBFC who then demanded a further 6 seconds of cuts for animal cruelty before giving the films its 18 certificate. Cannibal Ferox is now available here in the UK with at least 12 seconds of cuts. I am reviewing the uncut version here, and I will be discussing as the whether these cuts are justified later on.
Italian director Umberto Lenzi was a strong movie enthusiast from an early age. He set up film fan clubs while studying law, and became a journalist for local newspapers and magazines. Deciding to leave law and move on, Lenzi soon moved on to learn about the technical arts of film making at the Centro Sperimentale de Cinematografia. Lenzi graduated, and continued to be a journalist and film critic until he got a job as an assistant director , which then lead him to make his first film called Hell Below Deck (1961). The film was the first in a small line of pirate and swords oriented fantasy films, and Lenzi continued to make these films during the early sixties. It wasn’t until 1966 that Lenzi moved into more adult themed films: using adult aimed comic books, known as Fumetti, Lenzi directed Kriminal in 1966. A couple of spaghetti Westerns and war films later, Lenzi moved into the favoured choice of Italin horror director’s of that time, the Giallo. In 1969 Lenzi made his first Giallo called Orgasmo, which was later re-titled Paranoia for the US, the same name given to another film he directed in 1970. Lenzi then went on to direct a number of Giallo’s, including So Sweet… So Perverse (1969), Seven Blood Stained Orchids (1972) and Eyeball (1975), although Lenzi struggled to reach the heights of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. In the late seventies the director moved on to police thrillers, however in 1972 he directed the Man From Deep River, which was to be the start of the Italian Cannibal genre of horror’s. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato then made The Last Canibal World (1977) and Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Lenzi fought back with Eaten Alive (1980) and the more vicious Cannibal Ferox (1981). However, this was to be a turning point as Lenzi became disgusted with the level of violence, especially after Cannibal Ferox became banned in 31 countries.
After the Cannibal saga, Lenzi quickly had a go at Zombies by directing Nightmare City (1980). In his film he chose to ignore the rules set by the likes of Romero and instead of his Zombies crawling around at a snails pace, Lenzi’s Zombies were fast moving, like the one’s you will witness in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Sadly though, this was the beginning of the end for Lenzi. He went on to make a number of TV shows in the 1990’s which were never aired, and budgets for his films became less and less causing his output to become weaker and his popularity to suffer. After a number of action thrillers and the odd horror, including The Hell’s Gate (1989), Lenzi has now given up on directing, his last film being in 1992.
Cannibal Ferox is a true to form Video Nasty, like its predecessor, Cannibal Holocaust, it goes as far as it can possibly go and then some. Granted, Holocaust got there first, and pushes way more boundaries than Ferox, but the two films could easily get mistaken to the casual horror fan. The similarities are frightening, both films set in the jungle, both featuring a team of explorers, both teams suffer at the hands of Native Cannibals, there is animal cruelty and there are very cleverly designed scenes of violence that make you question whether it is actually real. Now, think back to the early 80’s, films like this hadn’t really been done before, or at least reached such a vast audience, so the cleverly produced scenes of gratuitous violence probably would have had the general public up in arms and panicking. Holocaust suffered from this more than any other film, and that will be covered in a later review, but how did Ferox do considering there are scenes here that do beg the question: is that real? Oddly, Ferox did not suffer as bad as Holocaust, and the main issue director Lenzi was faced with was that of one of his main cast members, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who refused to take part in any of the animal killings. Apparently Lenzi told the actor “De Niro would do it” and Radice responded with “De Niro would kick your ass all the way back to Rome!” A double was used instead for the animal killings, and this double almost lost his hand in a scene where he slaughtered a wild boar. Radice had to be seen to be doing it, and so the double held a bowl of fake blood, and Radice’s hand was filmed plunging down as if into the boar. As he plunged into the bowl of fake blood, his knife went right through, cutting the doubles hand very badly.
I must say the animal killings were very shocking in this film, especially a large turtle which is stabbed and killed, and we see its legs frantically shaking, grasping for life. Clearly these films were intended to shock, and scenes like this will shock. There is also some actual footage of a Python eating a small animal, filmed in all its glory. For it’s time it would have badly upset viewers, and probably will today, but scenes like this are broadcast all the time on nature shows, so I guess it really depends on what you are willing to see. The actual plot of the film itself proves very simple in the jungle, although a story running parallel to these events feels pointless and takes you away form the activities in the jungle. A crew of researches who have head into the jungles to prove Cannibals don’t exist meet with two dodgy drug dealers who are on the run from both police and gangsters. The police investigation story back home feels unnecessary, and distracts from the main story. Thankfully we do not cut to this very often, and the majority of the film is based in the jungle. It is not long before we meet the natives, as the explorers witness a tribesman eating a massive bug. Every single mouth movement is recorded for us to see, and it actually feels like we are watching from a distance based on how the actors watch him and whisper. It is actually very comical as the camera pans back to reveal the explorers literally stood over the poor guy as he eats his dinner.
Anyway, the explorers meets the dodgy chaps who seem very on edge and it soon turns out that the natives are looking for them. One of the dealers has been taking so much coke he is a paranoid mess, and bullies any natives he see’s. While he is away, his friend explains that earlier on he held the women and children of a local village captive in order to find some rubies which they had come to seek out so they could pay for their drugs. With the amount of coke he had taken he has become desperate, and after failing to find the expensive stones he is angry. He ties up a native and cuts out his eye in a sickening scene, and then chops off his most important body part! The men are all out fishing and hunting, but once they come back they go on the hunt for these bullies, and since the explorers have joined with them, they too become targets. Cannibal Ferox is sick, and it is unsettling, but for some odd reason, it has moments of sheer stupidity that make you laugh out loud. The Natives get hold of one guy who has been slowly dying after receiving a poison dart in his chest, they drag him off and rip his insides out for lunch. One of the dealers looks on, and in a bold move to protect one of the women who has joined them, he pulls out a flick knife, no more then six inches long. Now, the Natives have massive spears and axes, what the fuck is a flick knife gonna do. And the funniest part is he looks so damned serious holding it up as if it will save them all! I love moments like this, they are pure moments of 80’s and late 70’s brilliance where director’s were so desperate for impact they just ended up getting it so badly wrong!
As you can probably guess, all the explorers and dealers get caught by the Natives, and if what has already been displayed on screen hasn’t upset you, what follows surely will. Cannibal Ferox really goes for it in the later stages, although the tagline on the poster about a girl being raped and the man taking revenge never actually happens. The final third is made up of captives being tortured, escaping and being tortured again. We see a glorious castration scene, one which director Lenzi clearly wanted to out do Cannibal Holocausts genius castration scene at the end of that film, we see a woman (good looking I might add) have hooks shoved through her breasts, a fantastic scene where a guys hand is chopped off, and then Cannibal Ferox’s crowning glory. Cannibal Holocausts castration scene was possibly its big moment where it sticks in your head for days after, Ferox actually goes on better! One of the captives is forced to kneel and put his head in a hole in a table, a support is wedged under his chin to hold his head in place and the Native swipes his machete across the top half of the victims head which is pocking up through a hole in the table. Brains spill out in bright pink, the cannibals tuck in, and a brief glimpse of the victims face paints a thousand words, and I guarantee it is an expression that will linger in the back of your mind.
Cannibal Ferox is great fun, and it is almost guaranteed to offend someone. It was released at the height of the Cannibal film era, and to be honest, Cannibal films have not been the same since. Ferox celebrates the days of when directors intended to shock, and could do so willingly and drastically. In todays horror, you have to try and use the excuse of art or meaning for your shocks, but back in those days, Italians were openly making films to simply disgust. However, they cleverly blended raw, brutal violence and realism with stories which were believable and justified. There is a certain magic attached to films like Cannibal Ferox which only grows through time as the film gets older and more legendary. To todays horror fan, Cannibal Ferox may not offer up many shocks, but to the horror fans of old, Cannibal Ferox still stands the test of time and feels authentic, it certainly shocks. There are moments of brilliance here that horror director’s of today simply can’t get away with, and there are plenty of reasons to justify why this film was banned in the first place. There is no doubt in my mind that this films should be available today, but back then, when all this was relatively new, just maybe the Video Nastys List got it right, for the briefest of moments. However you look at it, being on the infamous list has not harmed the films reputation or saleability one bit!
Should Cannibal Ferox have been added to the Video Nasty List and banned? Hell yes, for its time this film is shocking and disturbing.
Should the film sill be heavily cut for its 18 certificate? By todays standards? No chance, lets have he fully uncut version already!