During this month of ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and zombies, it is important to remember that there are other sub-genres of horror films that still make essential viewing. Unbeknownst to a lot of horror fans, there was once a style of film made mostly in Italy during the Seventies and Eighties known as The Third World Cannibal Film, or simply The Cannibal Film genre.
These films gained a certain notoriety for their savage imagery (most notably the onscreen killing of animals) and brutal conventions (predominantly white people being set upon by primitive tribes and being summarily eaten). Due to this, a lot of otherwise intrepid horror audiences shied away from this sub-genre, thinking the filmmakers “out of their minds.” When certain governments caught wind of what was going on, these films soon found their way onto banned lists. Despite the efforts of “morality watchdogs,” the movies are just as much a part of the horror pantheon as any other archetype. So, if you’re in the mood this Halloween for something … different … take our advice and give some of these a try.
Oh, and bring a barf bag. Some of them can be pretty gory.
THE MAN FROM THE DEEP RIVER (IL PAESE DEL SESSO SELVAGGIO aka DEEP RIVER SAVAGES aka SACRIFICE!) (1972)
One of the first films in the genre, this Umberto Lenzi-directed flick is basically a riff on A MAN CALLED HORSE. The film is an interesting one and notable if only for its “going there” first. The story-form is still finding its way – think of it as baby steps toward a great goal – but the film’s impact is palpable. The main actor (Ivan Rassimov) chews scenery like a champ and we are introduced to genre staple Me Me Lai who stars as the welcoming native girl.
JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (aka ULTIMO MONDO CANNIBAL aka THE LAST SURVIVOR aka THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD) (1977)
This is a fun little splatterfest by Ruggero Deodato that gets the formula right and solidifies the conventions of the genre. A group of people – led by an earnest-looking Massimo Foschi – find themselves lost in the jungle and of course run afoul of the locals. The film’s gore quotient is both impressive and stomach-turning. Once again, Me Me Lai provides the eye candy … and the second dinner course.
EMMANUELLE AND THE LAST OF THE CANNIBALS (aka TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM) (1977)
An odd mixture of Cannibal Film and soft-core porn film starring the nubile Laura Gemser (the EMMANUELLE series) and directed by Joe D’Amato (Aristide Massacessi – BUIO OMEGA, ANTROPROPHAGUS). The end result is not particularly arousing (although the nudity is pervasive even if it does seem “wedged-in,” but the film does offer some solid gut-munching … which is, let’s face it, the only reason you’d rent it.
MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (aka LA MONTAGNE DEL DIO CANNIBALE) (1978)
The great Sergio Martino directs this star-studded excursion into the jungle. With solid performances by Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress, this well-made “search & would be rescue” film raised the bar on the genre by involving actors with a certain amount of name recognition. Even though the gore is not as plentiful as in some of the other films listed, there is some disturbing animal torture particularly where a monkey is pushed – yes, PUSHED – into striking distance of a very hungry python. In fact, if you look closely, you can see a hastily inserted matte painting of a plant that was put there only to hide the “monkey hander’s” arm. Director Martino did it all (giallos, post-apocalyptic, polizioteschi) but this film brought him fame in horror circles.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
Ruggero Deodato delivers the most notorious of these types of films. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST became – mostly due to its reputation & visceral movie poster – an endurance test for many people in the burgeoning VHS boom of the 80s. I distinctly remember grainy, multi-generational dubs of this film being passed around between friends (usually with a shake of the head and a muttered “Dude…”). The film itself (which has been a template for numerous films such as BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) is an uneven affair with some moments of visceral impact. Once again animal lovers will want to walk softly due to the numerous scenes of animal mutilation. Look for porn actor Robert Kerman (aka R. Bolla DEBBIE DOES DALLAS) in a thankless lead role as the investigator sent into the jungle to find the missing filmmakers.
EATEN ALIVE! (aka MANGIATI VIVI aka THE EMERALD JUNGLE aka DOOMED TO DIE) (1980)
Umberto Lenzi again… A blow-dart wielding assassin is killed on the streets of New York after murdering a man on the street and an intrepid female reporter is off n an investigation to find her missing sister. Soon, she ends up in – where else? – the jungle and the fun begins. This gut-muncher is a brutal parade of murder, torture, cannibalism, and… you guessed it… animal mutilation. Look for legendary actor Mel Ferrer in a small role as well. Oh, and of course… Me Me Lai who, from the look of her filmography, should’ve fired her agent and fed HIM to the cannibals.
CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (aka APOCALYPSE DOMANI) (1980)
Antonio Margheriti (SEVEN DEAD IN A CAT’S EYE) takes John Saxon and John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) into the literal heart of darkness by way of a POW camp where they are forced to eat human flesh. A short time later, the men – now returned to regular life – find their newfound culinary habits hard to break. Soon, they are chewing their way through the Big City and causing others to do the same. Fun stuff and one of Radice’s better roles. Saxon on the other hand …
CANNIBAL FEROX (aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY) (1981)
In many ways, this is a more impactful film than even CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Once again featuring John Morghen and directed by genre staple Umberto Lenzi, this film was given a pristine going-over by Grindhouse Releasing a while ago. This journey into depravity features fun little moments like a breast impalement / suspension, a penis severing, and gratuitous intestine chomping. The film gets a little preachy toward the end, but the overall impact makes it one of the best.
MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (aka NUDO E SELVAGGIO aka CANNIBAL FEROX 2) (1985)
A plane goes down in the jungle and, of course, the survivors wander into Cannibal Country (“Where the flavor is…”). Crocodiles, piranha, quicksand, pythons, and rattlesnakes (?!?) are the least of their worries when the cannibal hordes show up. As if that wasn’t enough, a white megalomaniac jungle lord takes them prisoner and, well… you get the idea. Acting is what you’ve come to expect. Direction is as well. Some decent gore FX make this a fun viewing.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2007)
A recently made attempt to recapture the fun and frolic of the cannibal film genre which suffers due entirely to the characters being so annoying you can’t wait to see them die. The cinéma vérité film style doesn’t help it much, either. Released as part of the Dimension Extreme line of films, there are a few moments that are exceedingly well done (the suspension of one of the actors, for example) and they do a decent job of making the natives seem scary. The film is well-made and a bit flawed in its narrative, but it shows that there’s still some life in the old genre.
Cannibal – Welcome To The Jungle Trailer
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