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Cannibal Ferox   B-

Grindhouse Releasing

Year Released: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writer: Umberto Lenzi
Cast: John Morghen, Lorraine De Selle, Bryan Redford, Zora Kerowa, Walter Lloyd, Meg Fleming, Robert Kerman, John Bartha.

Review by Mike Bracken

Banned in 31 countries and championed as "the most violent film ever made!" Cannibal Ferox is the stuff of exploitation legend. It's a film whispered about and lusted after by gore fans worldwide, a movie that got a 98 on the Joe Bob Briggs vomit meter, a movie that goes out of its way to warn viewers that there are more than two dozen scenes of torture and brutality to follow and adds: "If the presentation of violent and repulsive subject matter upsets you, please do not view this film." Certainly a film like this would be an instant classic, right? Well, yes and no.

Attempting to ride on the coattails of 1979's classic Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox is yet another entry in the extremely popular cannibal cycle of Italian cinema. Director/writer Umberto Lenzi (who started the whole cannibal subgenre with his film Man from Deep River) recreates the Amazonian setting of Cannibal Holocaust, yet he drops the themes of that film (see my Cannibal Holocaust review for a detailed discussion), choosing instead to make a film that exists solely to repulse. Unfortunately, he's not totally successful.

The story deals with three anthropology students -- Gloria (Lorraine De Selle: House on the Edge of the Park, Emmanuelle in Prison), Rudy (Bryan Redford: Ironmaster), and Pat (Zora Kerowa: New York Ripper, Anthropophagus) -- who travel to the Amazon to research a paper asserting that cannibals do not exist. While traipsing through the jungle, they meet Mike Logan, who's played by perennial Italian cinema whipping boy Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen (The Sect, Stagefright, The Church, Gates of Hell). It turns out that Logan is looking for some coke and diamonds. When he doesn't find what he's looking for, he flips out and kills some natives. This makes the natives mighty angry, and they revert back to the good old cannibal ways of old in order to make the evil white folks suffer... and boy, do they suffer.

The film also features a totally pointless subplot in which Robert Kerman (Cannibal Holocaust, and a ton of pornos under the name R. Bolla) plays a NYC detective looking for Logan.

The film's acting is terrible, making Cannibal Holocaust look like Schindler's List in comparison. Radice is great, playing the Logan role with a manic glee, but other than that, the acting is nonexistent.

Cannibal Ferox also suffers from some poor editing choices. The jungle scenes manage to create a real sense of unrelenting despair for the audience, yet Lenzi continually cuts away from them in order to take us back to NYC, thus destroying any of the tension the scenes had built. In another unintentionally hilarious moment, we hear the film's opening disclaimer, then watch as the movie itself opens with a shot of New York -- accompanied by some super cheesy disco track. From there, we're treated to a scene with some gangsters in an apartment who curse more in two minutes than Al Pacino did in the entire movie Scarface. It's stuff like this that keeps the film from being something as special as Cannibal Holocaust.

Gino de Rossi (City of the Walking Dead, Zombi, House by the Cemetery) handles the FX chores. The work alternates from superb (the castration scene) to outright laughable (the scene where the natives use a spear to cut open a man's chest... it's painfully obvious that this is a blunt spear drawing a blood trail in its wake). Again, this kind of inconsistency ultimately hurts the film because it kills any sense of tension that Lenzi's visual narrative had succeeded in creating.

The occasional weak FX prop aside, the film does manage to deliver the goods in terms of gross-outs. This one's a gore/exploitation fan's wet dream, featuring eye gouging, rape, a woman hung with hooks through both of her nipples, a guy eating a great big live grub, guys impaled on sticks, gut munching, dismemberment, a lopped off hand, a very detailed castration, and a skull hacked off so the cannibals can eat the brains right out of the head (and these last three things all happen to Radice... you gotta love this guy, he's a real-life Kenny from South Park -- no one dies harder in Italian cinema). Animal rights activists should skip this one, since like Cannibal Holocaust, it features real animals killed on camera.

Overall, Cannibal Ferox is a bit of a mixed bag. It suffers from an uneven pace throughout its narrative (which is odd, because Lenzi is truly a gifted director) and a really campy feel, yet it still manages to deliver the goods in terms of grue. If you want a harrowing jungle experience, grab Cannibal Holocaust. If you want a no-brains gorefest, Cannibal Ferox is for you.

I'm not sure how to rate Cannibal Ferox, because you can look at it in two distinctly different ways; either as a brutal entry in the cannibal subgenre, or as a "so bad it's good" camp flick. Personally, I view it as both.

Review published 09.04.2000.

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