Monday, 27 June 2011

Video Nasty #11 - Cannibal Ferox

The name Umberto Lenzi has to figure prominently in any discussion of the Third World Cannibal film - Lenzi virtually invented the genre with his 1972 film Deep River Savages. The director returned to the jungle in 1980 for Eaten Alive, and made a third outing the following year for Cannibal Ferox, a film second only to Cannibal Holocaust as the most notorious of all the cannibal films.

In the film, Gloria, an anthropology student ventures into the Amazon jungle as part of her thesis refuting historical claims that natives engaged in acts of cannibalism. Accompanied by her brother and her friend, they chance upon two Americans in the jungle seeking their fortune. In fact both are on the run from some heroin dealers in New York and their brutal mistreatment of the natives, especially at the hands of the sadistic Mike, spells dire consequences for all involved...

Trashy, racist, campy and inept - just some of the criticisms applied to Cannibal Ferox over the years and while much of this sticks, the film remains one of the more enjoyable entries in the cannibal genre. Despite the fact that Lenzi wrote the screenplay, the director shows little affinity for this type of film - even the jungle vistas look dull and nondescript. Better fun is had from the cast which includes John Morghen and the delectable Zora Kerova. In recent years John Morghen has poured considerable scorn on the film, but his turn as the crazed coke-head Mike is one of his best performances from this era. Perhaps the film's biggest flaw is it's plundering of Deodato's film. The juxtaposition of the so-called savage society of Amazonia with the "civilised" Western society is well made in Cannibal Holocaust, but Lenzi's insistence on cutting from the jungle back to the violent streets of New York with it's cold blooded gangsters and overworked cops, just comes off as irritating and interrupts the flow of the film.

Whatever shortcomings the film has, Cannibal Ferox's raison d'être is its violence. Lenzi makes no apologies for being in the shock business and the abuse he dishes out to his cast is indeed ferocious - organs are dug out a stomach and devoured, an eyeball is plucked from its socket, limbs are hacked off, a skull is cracked open, and in the film's most notorious scene a woman has her breasts pierced by two iron hooks and hung up for a slow excruciating death. Had Lenzi afforded his special effects people a larger slice of the budget, such grueling scenes might have transformed Cannibal Ferox into a genuine stomach churner, but the splatter is often quite shoddy (but no less enjoyable). Be warned though, if you're sensitive to such things, the real killing of animals might get your juices flowing. But aside from the protracted killing of a small jungle raccoon by an anaconda, the scenes of animal slaughter are mercifully brief.

I'm ready for my death scene Mr. Lenzi - a coati is crushed to death by an anaconda
Grindhouse's US DVD looks comparable to their 1998 laserdisc - the image is grainy throughout but at least it's sharp and the DVD handles the darker scenes very well. Colors look very washed out at times but much of this seems to be inherent in the original film. The audio is fine and the film can be viewed in the English dub or Italian dub. I haven’t seen Sazuma's Ultrabit DVD but word is that this edition is by far the best as transfers go. Extras on the Grindhouse disc include a short interview with Lenzi, some international trailers, a gallery of promo artwork, coverage of a Grindhouse organized screening of the film in LA, and of course the now legendary dueling banjo commentary track featuring Lenzi and Morghen who offer widely different views of the film as it unfolds.


  1. "Trashy, racist, camp and inept" pretty much sums this one up. The gory mayhem is pretty fun, particularly the demise of Morghen but I'm afraid I find the animal abuse hard to deal with, so it's not one I think I'll revisit in a hurry. Cannibal Ferox, the movie youtube highlights packages were made for!

  2. Oh for sure, the animal abuse is off the scale. I can take it, I can even accept it, but I don't like it. What were those Italian boys thinking ?

  3. "I'm ready for my death scene Mr. Lenzi" = LOL

  4. I saw Holocaust on VHS 20+ years ago - and while I enjoyed the sweaty jungle feel - I too was put off by the animal torture. Consequently I doubt I'll check this out.

  5. I can appreciate that. The animal violence is reprehensible, and while I wouldn't take a pass on such films I do tend to look away during these scenes...