Cannibal Ferox (1981) (AKA: Make Them Die Slowly)

Posted: April 28, 2013 in Movie Review
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Cannibal Ferox

Directed By: Umberto Lenzi

Starring: John Morgan, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei, Robert Kerman, Walter Lucchini, Zora Kerova

Subgenre: Cannibals, Exploitation

Synopsis:  While attempting to discount the existence of cannibalism, a research party encounters drug dealers and a native tribe in the jungle.

Thoughts: The cannibal genre was in its heyday in the late 70s and early 80s.  Italian film makers were turning stomachs left and right with journeys into the depths of the jungle.  I’m no expert on the genre, but I’ve seen a handful of the movies.  Some are better than others, but for the most part, they follow the same path.  Arrogant Americans travel into the jungle for various reasons and are responsible for atrocities against the native tribes, which also happen to be cannibals.  A vicious form of vengeance involving severed body parts ensues.  It’s a great recipe to showcase some pretty nasty effects, and Cannibal Ferox does just that.  One thing that I have never fully understood about cannibal movies, is the need to feature the butchering of animals.  I’ve been around animals my whole life, so butchering one isn’t something that bothers me, I just don’t see what it has to do with the storyline.  It’s almost as if it is there up the gore factor and further turn stomachs.  It takes away from the storyline for me, but it is a trademark of the genre.

Most Cannibal movies feature a cast that the crowd is supposed to despise.  More often than not, they are not innocent victims.  Cannibal Ferox is no different.  What is a little different, however, is that they entire group isn’t totally reprehensible.  There are a few recognizable exploitation faces in Cannibal Ferox, including Lorraine De Selle (House at the Edge of the Park) and Zora Kerova (Anthropophagus and New York Ripper.) Playing a familiar role as the lead scumbag is Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who has been in a handful of Italian exploitation flicks such as City of the Living Dead, Cannibal Apocalypse and House on the Edge of the Park.  Overall, the cast comes together really well.

Umberto Lenzi fits the description of cult director to a tee and wears that description like a badge of honor.  His movies have run the gamut of b movies, including cannibals, zombies, gialli, westerns, sword and sandal epics, action movies, and everything in between.  While his movies may not always be impressive, his zeal to make movies is.  While I haven’t seen anywhere close to Lenzi’s filmography, he seems to make technically sound movies.  The FX in Cannibal Ferox are better than you would expect in a B movie, and are really a differentiator when comparing this to other splatter flicks.

Like many of its brethren, the gore and the on screen animal deaths landed Cannibal Ferox on the infamous Video Nasty list that so many of us use as a checklist for 70s and 80s exploitation movies.  It wasn’t until the 90s that it was available uncut here in the US, but it is pretty easy to find now days.  If this genre is your thing, this is worth checking out.  It stands a little behind Cannibal Holocaust, which is widely considered the benchmark for the genre, but it is a close second from what I have seen.

  1. The animal killings are indeed in there just to up the gore factor. Directors Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi both never attempted to hide this fact. Deodato in particular put his actors through emotional hell over having to go through with those killings. Being the pioneers of this particular genre, both directors had no scruples about throwing whatever they could think of in the audience’s faces… even if it made no sense. That’s the part that really gets to me about the animal brutality in films like this, Cannibal Holocaust and others of their ilk. I’m not as put off by the cruelty itself but rather because having it there really distracts you from the rest of the movie.

    This one’s okay, but not my favorite in the cannibal genre (Cannibal Holocaust is, of course) and not even my favorite film by director Umberto Lenzi. That’d be Nightmare City.

  2. shnsjolin says:

    Like you said, the animal killings are nonsensical and there to up the gore factor. The fact that they are a common thread in this genre makes them even less impactful.

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