Cannibal Ferox (1980)
Cast: John Morghen, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei, Zora Kerova
Extras: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailers, Still Gallery, Talent Files, Interview
For this review of "Cannibal Ferox", I will dispense with any sort of clever introduction and skip right to the meat of the matter. (Pun intended) If you aren’t interested in reading about the DVD release of one of the most violent and mean-spirited films ever made, then I suggest that you not read this review. "Cannibal Ferox" is not for the weak of heart or those who are easily offended. The DVD release of this cult favorite from Grindhouse Releasing is the uncensored version of the film, which offers more atrocities than the previous U.S. release, which is better known as "Make Them Die Slowly." That means that there is even more evidence of why this notorious film has the reputation which it does.
"Cannibal Ferox" fits squarely into the South American cannibal film cycle that came out of Italy in the late 1970s. The film opens in New York City, but the action quickly shifts to the Amazon jungles. There, we meet Gloria (Lorraine De Selle), her brother Rudy (Danilo Mattei), their friend Pat (Zora Kerova). Gloria is working on her doctorate degree in anthropology and has come to South America to dispel the myth about cannibalism, her thesis stating that cannibalism is merely a racist belief. They proceed into the jungle in a jeep, which promptly gets stuck in the mud, forcing them to proceed on foot. After finding the corpses of some local tribesmen, they meet Mike (John Morghen AKA Giovanni Radice) and Joe (Venantino Venantini), who claim to have been attacked by the locals while searching for emeralds and cocaine (do those both grow in the same place?).
Gloria, Rudy, and Pat decided to assist Mike and Joe and make them a part of their party. Mike talks constantly and is always gesturing with his knife, while Joe is very sick with a fever. The group finds a village and Mike claims that it is where they were attacked. Soon, Pat begins to fall for Mike and share in his cocaine. Meanwhile, Rudy and Gloria begin to explore the village and before long, the truth is revealed. Mike and Joe weren’t attacked by the tribesmen – it was the other way around. Soon, the tribal men return to the village to seek their revenge on the white-skinned intruders who killed some of their people. Who will survive the cruel and ghastly methods of torture employed by the natives?
Umberto Lenzi’s "Cannibal Ferox" is not a great film, and some would argue that it’s not even a good film, but it is undeniable that it attains its goal of shocking and disgusting its audience. The acts of violence in the film are shot in a very matter of fact manner and typically don’t pull any punches. (The mutilation of John Morghen is edited so that you barely see the incision.) While the acts of human butchering are disturbing, it’s the acts of cruelties towards animals that have earned "Cannibal Ferox" its reputation and helped to get to earn the film its tagline, "Banned in 31 Countries." (I’d like to see a list!) The violence towards humans is the work of special effects artist Gino de Rossi, and range from convincing to incredibly fake looking. However, the onscreen deaths of the animals is very real and thus, very disturbing, making the film hard to watch at times. The animal cruelty in the film is so shocking because it’s unexpected. We know that the humans are going to die — if not, there wouldn’t be any movie — but, we don’t expect to see animal violence.
The story itself (written by Lenzi) takes a while to get going. It’s over an hour before any real action takes place. Once we realize that the main characters are going to end up as lunch for the cannibals, there is a certain amount of tension and suspense to the film. But, up until that point, things range from mildly interesting to downright dull. Also, the editing in the film is very odd. During the last reel, Lenzi constantly cuts from the jungle action, back to New York City to explore a subplot concerning Mike’s girlfriend, which makes the film seem very disjointed. While the acting is acceptable (it consists of little more than running through the jungle and looking scared), some of the dialogue in the film is very silly, especially the garbage that comes out of Mike’s mouth. (Giving a bad name to "Mikes" everywhere!) So, underneath its reputation as an ultra-violent film, "Cannibal Ferox" suffers from many of the same aesthetic problems which plagued most Italian films from this era.
Problems with the film aside, it’s obvious that a great deal of care went into the making of the Grindhouse Releasing DVD of "Cannibal Ferox." The film is presented in a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The bad news is that the picture isn’t all that great. The good news is that this is probably the best (legal) version of the uncut "Cannibal Ferox" that you’re going to find in the U.S. This "uncut" version runs at a length of 93 minutes, whereas the Thriller Video VHS of "Make Them Die Slowly" (circa 1984) has a listed running time of 92 minutes. The digital transfer of "Cannibal Ferox" has revealed a great many flaws in the source material, showing scratches, purple lines, and a great deal of grain. The picture is clear, but not very crisp. Most of the colors look washed out, and the image has an overall dark tone to it. However, the framing appears to be accurate and there is no <$pixelation,pixelation> present. Compared to Anchor Bay’s recent releases of similar material ("Deep Red", "Autopsy"), this transfer of "Cannibal Ferox" doesn’t come close to matching their quality however.
The audio on the "Cannibal Ferox" DVD is a Dolby 2-channel surround. This mix is surprisingly effective, as there is a great deal of action from the rear speakers. Keep in mind that most of this is music or major sound effects, but at least it’s obvious most of the time that your surround system is indeed being put to use. This mix makes the dialogue very clear and audible. For you purists, the DVD also features an Italian dialogue track, but, strangely, there are no English subtitles to accompany this.
The DVD contains an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring writer/director Umberto Lenzi and star John Morghen. Most of the commentary sounds as if Lenzi and Morghen were together when it was recorded, but then at certain points, it does not. (Is this one <$commentary,commentary track>, or 3 different ones edited together?) While Lenzi’s English isn’t very consistent, he manages to be comprehensible throughout most of the track. I did learn from Lenzi that the title translates to "Savage Cannibal". Lenzi also states that he doesn’t like violence and had difficulty shooting the animal atrocity scenes. Points like that are a little hard to swallow while watching the film. He also misidentifies an iguana as a mongoose! (Get me Rike-Tiki-Tavi on the phone!) Morghen’s English is much better and his unabashed hatred of "Cannibal Ferox" makes his comments very entertaining. He actually says, "I hate this movie." He also adds, "The jungle is the most stupid location (in which to shoot)."
The DVD contains the original Italian, German, and U.S. theatrical trailers, with the U.S. trailer running over four minutes. The amount of violence that is shown in these trailers is simply amazing. A still gallery with over 180 images is also on the disc, as well as extensive talent files. In the file on Lenzi, there is a five-and-a-half minute interview with him, which was conducted in 1998. The interview is a bit awkward because the interviewer is serving as his own translator, so he must stop and translate whatever Lenzi has just said. The menus on the "Cannibal Ferox" DVD are very nicely done, especially the very amusing menu for the Biographies.
Also, I must say a few words about the packaging of "Cannibal Ferox". Despite the fact that this title is being distributed by Image Entertainment, "Cannibal Ferox" is presented in an Amaray-style case and not Image’s usual "snapper" case. Also, the main cover of the DVD is reversible, revealing an Umberto Lenzi filmography on the other side. The booklet contains liner notes by "Sleazoid Express" editor Bill Landis on the history of the film.
While "Cannibal Ferox" may not be for everyone (some would argue if it’s for anyone), it is another shining example of how all kinds of movies are now making their way to DVD. This uncut version of "Cannibal Ferox" will be a must-have for fans of the film. While the video transfer is somewhat lacking in quality, the sheer amount of extras make this a treasure for devotees of the Italian-Cannibal film subgenre. Trust me, they’ll eat it up.