Starring Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei, Zora Kerova
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Distributed by Shameless Films
When it comes to Italian cannibal films, there are two names that stand out above the rest: Ruggiero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi – and, for a while, these two had a bit of a long-standing dick measuring contest trying to take credit for kicking off the cannibal subgenre. Lenzi claims he did it with his filmMan from Deep River (1972); Deodato says he is the true progenitor since his picture Jungle Holocaust (1977) was written with the intention of starting a new movement in horror. Deodato famously said he ”had not seen” Man from Deep River, as though his lack of omniscience precluded the subgenre from existing until he thought of it. Also, 1972 came a full five years before 1977, so Deodato’s claim appears ever more baseless. Who cares? Deodato left his mark on the subgenre for eternity, thanks to Cannibal Holocaust (1980), one of the most infamous horror films ever made. Far be it for Lenzi to feel one-upped, though, and his response was a film that is actually more repulsive than Deodato’s: Cannibal Ferox (1981).
After the requisite “let’s grab some footage on the streets of New York City without a permit” opening, a couple thugs ice a fellow scumbag when they can’t locate his buddy, Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, as John Morghen), because he’s gone down to Paraguay. Meanwhile, in Paraguay, we meet Gloria (Lorraine De Selle), an anthropology student who is attempting to disprove the “myth” that cannibalism is real by taking a trip into the rainforest. She has brought along her brother, Rudy (Danilo Mattei), and friend, Pat (Zora Kerova), as hors-d’oeuvres, er, support. Their jeep crashes after almost running into a ”goddamn jaywalking iguana” and they soon come across Mike and his buddy, Joe (Walter Lucchini), who is severely injured. The two explain they were attacked by cannibals and barely escaped with their lives.
What they don’t initially explain is Mike’s cocaine-fueled sadism led him to torture and kill a native just days earlier, which is exactly why the tribes are hunting them. As Joe explains during his dying moments, Mike & he came to the region to look for emeralds and hopefully score a sweet payday. Instead, Mike took the white pony for a long ride and wound up literally killing their only hope for getting out alive. The natives catch up with the turned-around tourists in no time and soon dicks are lopped off, breasts are skewered, hands are brutally removed, organs are harvested, brains get eaten… it’s All You Can Eat night in the jungle. Things get messy, and I didn’t even mention the loads of unnecessary animal torture.
On that last point, this was another situation where most, if not all, of the cast strongly objected to Lenzi’s direction. This isn’t a documentary and I doubt if anyone watching the film isn’t already familiar with the animals that populate a jungle. Also, not to give the general population too much credit but I’d like to think most people know animals eat each other. So, really, a drawn-out scene of a coatimundi tied to a stake so an anaconda can munch on it seems kinda pointless. All of that cruelty has been removed for this U.K. release… but Shameless has strangely chosen to insert their own edits in order to “preserve the running time” of the film. Do I even need to explain why this is a terrible idea? Cutting material is one thing; adding material back in should be the job of the director or, you know, anyone else intimately involved in making the film.
It’s tough to feel any sympathy for what is happening to our actors when none of them are redeeming. Maybe Joe, since he became an unwitting pawn in Mike’s booger sugar rage. Gloria is an idiot, though, and Rudy and Pat are just as stupid. I mean, how did that initial conversation even go? “Hey, Pat, wanna travel down to a third world country, where if we’re lucky enough not to be killed by any one of the many predators in the jungle we may or may not be cannibalized by a remote tribe of natives?” Seriously. Your life has to be in a pretty bad place to even consider the prospect appealing.
Still, for all its offenses and crass characters and feverish attempts to ape Deodato, I still get some enjoyment out of this movie. Most of that is due to Radice’s frantic performance as Mike, who could have a Hoover installed in his nose and still not feel like he’s doing enough coke. Everyone else in this film is a sidelined victim, waiting to be eaten, but Mike is a go-getter and even though he gets all the wrong shit his sheer insanity makes the movie a hundred times better. Otherwise, this is all repugnant and terrible.
Shameless Films starts the film with a disclaimer about the quality of the film transfer. Cannibal Ferox was shot on 16mm, and no attempts were made to reduce film grain or to make the picture appear smoother – which is the right call. The 1.78:1 1080p image is still full of film grain but, really, would anyone want this film to look any other way? As one of the featurettes shows, extensive work was done to restore the film elements but even with that effort colors lack punch, contrast is washy, and the picture tends to look flat and yellow-ish, like someone took a leak on the negative. I am unable to compare it to Grindhouse’s U.S. Blu-ray but, by all accounts, that release is the clear winner in terms of picture quality. This just looks ugly, all around, all of the time. Is some of this a problem inherent to the source? Yes, sure, but this is barely an upgrade over my old DVD.
Audio comes via an English LPCM 2.0 stereo track, which gets the job done well enough. These films were all dubbed in post anyway, and they sound like it, with the lip movements ever-so-slightly off at times. The funky electro score, much (all?) of which was also used for Lenzi’s Eaten Alive! (1980), is punctual and has some presence. Subtitles are available in English.
Note: this is a Region B disc. You will need to either be in Region B or have a multi-region player.
A Taste of the Jungle – This is one of Umberto Lenzi’s final interviews, recorded in 2017.
Restoration Process for Cannibal Ferox – See a few minutes of comparative footage, with the unprocessed film contrasted against the restoration.
A Lenzi Photo Gallery has 11 images.
Hell in the Jungle – This is a lengthy chat with Radice, who is very candid and concise in his recollections.
- UK Blu-ray debut
- Limited numbered edition
- A Taste of the Jungle: an interview with director Umberto Lenzi
- Hell in the Jungle: an interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice
- Restoration Process for Cannibal Ferox
- Cannibal and Carpet Fitters – a short film from 2015
- Lenzi Photo Gallery
Ugly film is still ugly. Shameless has restored the picture to some degree, though it is far from a beautiful image. If you’re in the U.K. and this is your only option, go for it, but in terms of packaging and presentation, it’s damn hard to top Grindhouse.