Cannibal Apocalypse

Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)
Image Entertainment
Cast: John Saxon, John Morghen
Extras: Cast & Crew Interviews, Location Tour, Trailers, Filmographies, Still Gallery, Alternate Opening, Essay

As Oscar time approaches, we begin to think about the best films of the year, specifically, which movie will win Best Picture. But, "Best Picture" is a terribly broad category, and it might help if we narrowed it down some. How about "Best Horror Film"? Or, "Best Italian Horror Film"? Or better still, "Best Italian Horror Film which was shot in Atlanta, Georgia"? Now, we’re getting somewhere and the clear-cut winner in this category is "Cannibal Apocalypse". Yes, this southern-lensed shocker featuring a cast and crew from the land of pasta has finally clawed its way onto DVD, in a nice-looking special edition from Image Entertainment. But, does the culture clash makes this film one that’s difficult to stomach?

"Cannibal Apocalypse" opens in Vietnam. Here, we meet Captain Norman Hopper (John Saxon), as he invades a native village with his troops, in order to rescue POWs. He finds Charlie (John Morghen AKA Giovanni Radice) and Tommy (Tony King) trapped in a pit. But, what’s even more horrifying is that they are eating a woman! As Hopper reaches to rescue them, Tommy bites him in the arm.

Flash-forward to Atlanta, a few years later. Hopper is married to beautiful TV personality Jane (Elizabeth Turner), and has a happy home-life in the suburbs. This all changes when Charlie is released on a day-pass from the local mental hospital and invites Hopper out for a drink. Hearing Charlie’s voice brings back all of the terrible memories from Vietnam, and this makes Hopper have an unexpected desire to bite the teenage girl next door. Meanwhile, Charlie attacks a woman in a movie theater, and then has a stand-off with the local police. After being captured, Charlie is returned to the psych ward, where Tommy awaits. It seems that Tommy and Charlie have a disease, which, when transmitted via a bite, makes the carrier want to eat human flesh. Together the two attack a nurse and escape into the streets. Will Hopper join then on the cannibalistic rampage, or can he fight his sudden urge to kill?

Using any standard ratings system, "Cannibal Apocalypse" would have to be viewed as a bad movie. It’s slow and poorly acted. The music is of the 70’s "wacka-wacka" guitar variety and is incredibly annoying. Most of the special effects are amateurish. The premise is incredibly silly and the film is full of goofs, such as a police sharp-shooter using a shotgun. And who can forget silly aspects, such as the tough motorcycle gang who are all riding dirt-bikes and appear to prefer a baseball as their weapon of choice! Or what about the scene in which the police fire tear-gas into a 10,000 square-foot room. Yeh, that will work. At times, the editing seems very random and the film goes overboard in showing off its Atlanta location.

However, given all of those negatives, "Cannibal Apocalypse" still somehow manages to be an entertaining movie. The movie is an odd combination of George Romero’s "Dawn of the Dead" and Lucio Fulci’s "Zombie". It moves from the jungle location to an urban one, while still retaining the cannibal angle. Also, the way in which the cannibalism "virus" is spread is comparable to that of most zombie movies, yet the carriers here are still alive. The film doesn’t pull any punches with its content. Saxon’s attraction to his young neighbor is disturbing, and there is loads of gore to be found here, most notably Charlie’s infamous demise. These aspects (and the fact that the Humane Society clearly was not on the set!) help to make "Cannibal Apocalypse" one of the most nasty and notorious film of the Italian "gut-muncher" cycle. Most audiences will find the film drab, depressing, and disgusting. But, gorehounds and those who are fond of these zany Italians movies, should devour "Cannibal Apocalypse".

As mentioned above, Image Entertainment has given "Cannibal Apocalypse" the special edition treatment, and the transfer shows the work that went into this process. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.66:1 (although, it looks more like 1.85:1 to me) and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Don’t let the opening scenes fool you. The stock footage of the Vietnam War looks terrible and is littered with flaws. But, once we switch over to the real film, things improve nicely. The print used for this new digital transfer is in very good shape, as it shows only minor white and black specs on the image. Also, there are a few moments where the image will jump, as if 1 or 2 frames were missing. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only occasional artifacting. The colors here are quite good, as the reds and greens really jump out from the background. There is only a minimal amount of grain in the daylight scenes. Overall, this is a great transfer, which belies the fact that this is a 20-year old low-budget film.

The audio on the "Cannibal Apocalypse" DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono which provides clear dialogue, and exhibits no hissing or crackling. Also, there is no distortion on this track. The volume is well-balanced and there is no echoing. Unfortunately, this fine track nicely reproduces the irritating score, so you may find yourself fast-forwarding through some scenes simply to escape the music!

Considering the relative obscurity of this film, Image has loaded the DVD with extras. We start with "Cannibal Apocalypse Redux", which is labeled as a "making-of featurette", but is actually interviews with director Antonio Marghereti (AKA Anthony M. Dawson), John Saxon, and John Morghen. This 54-minute featurette is interesting, but it can be difficult to digest in large chunks. While Marghereti discusses "Cannibal Apocalypse", Morghen appears to be giving an overview of his career in Italian horror cinema, as he talks about several other movies. (And someone should snatch him up to play Lex Luthor in a "Superman" movie!) Saxon’s talk is all over the place and very hard to follow at times. Having said that, this segment does offer some nice tidbits about the making of the film, and you’ll learn how Marghereti helped to influence "Pulp Fiction".

The next extra is a true disappointment. "Apocalypse in the Streets" is a 6-and-a-half minute featurette hosted by Vic Marlin, which purports to give us a guided tour of the Atlanta-area locations used in "Cannibal Apocalypse". Now, one would imagine that we would be shown a clip from the film and then the actual location, but this rarely happens. What we do get are extended clips from the movie (which we just watched) intercut with random Atlanta sites, and, oh yeh, Vic’s mother makes an appearance. This could have been a nice tour-guide for fans of this film who live in or plan to visit Atlanta, but it simply leaves the viewer confused.

The DVD includes the European theatrical trailer for "Cannibal Apocalypse", which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.66:1 and the Japanese teaser for the film, which is presented full-frame. Both of these were presumably mastered from a VHS source, as they show a great deal of video distortion and shimmering. A still gallery shows off many different poster and video boxes for the film, as well as some publicity shots. Next, we have filmographies for Saxon, Morghen, Tony King, and Marghereti. The alternate U.S. opening for the film is offered here, and is shown full-frame. Strangely, the only real difference here is the "Invasion of the Flesh Hunters" title card. Otherwise, this is simply the same six-minute opening. (This appears to have come from a VHS as well.) Rounding out the extras is a nice text essay which lists the scenes that were cut from "Cannibal Apocalypse" for its U.S. release. Also, you’ll find some fun cannibal related Easter Eggs on the DVD.

"Cannibal Apocalypse" is known by at least 15 other titles (with "Apocalypse Domani", "Cannibals in the Streets" and "Invasion of the Flesh Hunters" being the most popular), but the film by any other name would still be as violent and morbid. Those needing a EuroHorror fix should love this DVD, as it offers a great transfer and some interesting extras. So, undo your belt buckle and sit down to this Italian feast.