Cannibal Ferox (A.K.A. Make Them Die Slowly) Review
Written by: thegoldensimatar
*Same warning as Cannibal Holocaust, but I will keep this review as spoiler free as possible. Thank you and enjoy.
In 1980, Italian director Ruggero Deodato released his second cannibal film and what is probably the finest of the dead cannibal genre, Cannibal Holocaust. A year later, fellow Italian director Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City) unleashed Cannibal Ferox, one of the last of the genre.
Right, if you have read my other cannibal review...no, not Hillside Cannibals, but Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust you'll give about a paragraph or so about this dead subgenre. Okay, moving onto Ferox.
Umberto Lenzi is no stranger to the cannibal films. He is credited with starting the genre with Man From Deep River (1972) and he followed that up with Eaten Alive! in 1980. And in 1981, a year after Ruggero Deodato's cannibal magnum opus Cannibal Holocaust burned its way across the silver screen (as well as the Italian justice system), Lenzi released Cannibal Ferox, a film that came at the tail end of the genre, it would only last a few more years before finally dying.
Cannibal Ferox is a film I have been looking for for months. And I finally found it by accident and of course snatched it up. I already owned Holocaust and Deodato's other cannibal film Last Cannibal World, as well as Lenzi's Eaten Alive! so I figured it would make a nice addition to my collection, as well as I could see if all the hype and fuss over the movie was really true.
In a word yes and in a word no. So, let's at last begin shall we?
Gloria Davis is working towards a doctorate and to get that she needs to write a major paper or book. She has chosen her thesis, that cannibalism has never 1) existed in a civilized culture and has never existed at all 2) the concept of the cannibalistic native was invented by the invading white man to give a legitimate excuse for killing native people. With her brother Rudy and friend Pat, they go down to the Amazon, looking for a village where supposedly cannibalism has taken place. Down there they bump into two New Yorkers, Joe and Mike who have just had a scrape with a hostile tribe. Soon, everyone is in mortal danger as the natives appear and Gloria's thesis is proved very, very wrong...
Ferox is defiantly not one of the better cannibal films and though there was several more cannibal related films afterward, Ferox lacks the brutal impact its predecessors had. Though if you have not seen any Italian horror films or any cannibal films before you will be shocked, horrified and if you are having dinner...running for the bathroom with a hand over your mouth.
For my money though, Ferox is good, but not great. The problem for me starts with the script. Lenzi also penned his previous cannibal film Eaten Alive! which I like quite a lot. The cannibals are a bit more of a side note, keeping the protagonists in a Jonestown-esqe commune located deep in the Amazon. Most of the cannibal killings didn't come near the end and there were only a few deaths, but they were bloodily and nasty.
Ferox though has the protagonists tramping through the jungle and being in the native village for about the first half hour or so before the native warriors return and the film becomes a long series of torture and bloodshed. Though I do like Hostel, I am not a huge fan of torture movies. I had heard Ferox was the most violent and brutal of the cannibal films, the swan song if you will and so I was ready to sit down and watch it. Though I can safely say, of the four cannibal films I have seen prior to this, Deodato's Jungle Holocaust, Cannibal Holocaust, Lenzi's Eaten Alive!, and Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse, Ferox is indeed a shocker and a violent film, but it is surprisingly restrained despite being a film where torture and bloodshed is the selling point.
In an age where Italian horror was characterized by long shots of objects entering the human body and removing parts, Lenzi shows a lot of restraint and the actual actions in this movie are done with surprising quickness. That isn't to say there isn't blood and gore, but getting to that point is by far the shortest I have seen in an Italian horror film.
For example, when a character has their eye gouged out I expected to see the knife blade slowly work its way from under the eyeball and work the eye out. Here, Lenzi shows the knife move towards the eye, the cuts back to the gouger and his reactions before cutting back to the man's face covered in blood and the eyeball sticking on the end of the knife blade.
This came as a shock to me as I fully expected to get treated to a full minute of knife work before the eye was removed. Another brief example I will give is a hand is cut off with one fell swoop instead of a cut and sawing the last little bit with blood pouring out. The castration scenes are also surpirsingly restrained as unless you pause the film you don't see the male genitalia as the underwear is removed and then for the actual cutting, Lenzi has the camera behind and slightly to the side of the person so once again you really only see the attacker.
Though Lenzi makes this up with the characteristic animal snuff, which I should say I deeply against. Though here I was shocked to find myself not phased by it as much as I would have been normally. One reason I figure is because I have seen it already in the other Deodato and Lenzi films and there the shots were longer and it showed more of the death. While here Lenzi shows hacking off a few limbs and the eventual dinner by the natives as well as the fact that though a river turtle is killed, its death is far less graphic than that in Holocaust. Though the anaconda-small furry animal (I do not know the species) killing where the anaconda crushes it is staked outside of the protagonists camp because the snake would kill it and not them. Here I did have to mute and turn my head.
So, here Ferox does not live up to the hype around it. Another problem with it is that it doesn't feel fresh. You cannot go through the same old routine over and over without spicing it up or changing the ingredients and here Lenzi does try to do that with adding a subplot concerning why Mike and Joe are in the jungle. Reason...they ripped off 100 grand from a New York gang and they fled down to the Amazon in search of emeralds and cocaine. So a little bit of the film is spent in New York City where the police are trying to track down where Mike has run off to and his girlfriend actually down in the Amazon looking for him.
Though this doesn't change Ferox enough for me. And Lenzi instead changes the explorers from running from the cannibals while getting picked off one by one to where they are firmly in the grasp of the cannibals and are being tortured to death. This does alter the playing field, but expectations of a film more brutal than Cannibal Holocaust, which I actually had to stop and go outside for a breath of fresh air, kill this.
After seeing Cannibal Holocaust, Ferox is the inferior film and is the weaker of the Lenzi cannibal films I have seen. Ferox also gives me an impression that Lenzi is the inferior cannibal director compared to Deodato. I am not saying Lenzi is a bad director, his films are fun and are worthwhile watching. But both in Alive! and Ferox, Lenzi takes footage directly out of Deodato's films as well as his own. If you watch Deodato's Jungle Holocaust and then Eaten Alive!, you will see what I mean. This, for me at least, doesn't shine too well on Lenzi.
This isn't to say that Ferox is a bad film. It is compently done and Lenzi does create some places with good tension that actually gave me butterflies in my stomach. The pace is even and moves smoothly without much drag. It could also be classified as relic of a era where the order of the day was blood and gore and one of the very few cannibal films in the vast sea of horror films.
The cast of Ferox is an interesting group. If you have watched the cannibal films as well as other Italian exploitation films, a few familiar faces pop up. Giovanni Lombardo Radice (City of the Living Dead), Robert Kerman (Cannibal Holocaust), Lorraine De Selle (Women's Prison Massacre), as well as Zora Kerova (Anthropophagus) are probably the most familiar to genre fans.
The acting is pretty good for what the film is and doesn't go much above that. Radice takes over the scenes he is in, from when he is introduced as a panicked New Yorker and to when he goes far over the edge after snorting quite a lot of coke. He plays crazy/demented very well and is the character that you love to hate, while having a grin on your face when he is on screen. Despite drama behind the camera between him and Lenzi over several scenes, Radice doesn't let this affect his performance and carries on. Though crazy/demented is a often played part and actors could be interchangeable but, Radice sells it with an almost mad glee in his eyes.
The other actors do well, Kerman was a little surprising here and took me a second to recognize him without a mustache and here he plays a New York detective trying to locate Mike. Kerman is only on screen for maybe ten or fifteen minutes total and he plays the part of the detective straight and another actor probably could have taken over the role. Kerman is a good actor, though his performances in Cannibal Holocaust and Eaten Alive! are better, but he still keeps pace and doesn't under perform.
The other actors in the movie play their parts, like Kerman, play them straight like their characters were written. De Selle (Gloria) plays her character like you would imagine, a bit full of themselves with their scientific ideas and notions before starting to lose that idea with the realities of life. Kerova (Pat) and Danilo Mattei (Gloria's brother Rudy, relationship to Bruno Mattei unknown) also play their parts pretty straight forward, Pat as the annoying girl who loses it every time she sees a little blood while being interested in tough, dangerous men and Rudy as the honest, well meaning, and the guy who tries to keep the ladies together. Good, but not the best.
Makeup and effects are the same good quality as most Italian gore films of the time. One thing the Italian horror market did well was gore, which there is a healthy amount here. You have brains, blood, eyeballs, pierced breasts, guts...everything you would expect. Though unlike Holocaust where I was crossing my legs over the castration scene there, as I have mentioned before, you don't what happens from the front, even when a native warrior lifts up the appendage before eating it, you don't see it for long enough to really get a look at it.
The gore is up in your face and out in the sunlight. Even though Lenzi doesn't show what happens prior to the outcome a few times, the result is still nice and juicy. So if you have a watched a lot of Italian horror, no need for me to going into full explanation here as outside of a few animals, you really see no body hacked up, just one opened and the insides removed. If you are a newcomer to the genre and haven't watched any Italian horror, you might get a lump in your throat.
The only down to effects is that you see the start and finish with some scenes, but you never see the middle where all the blood and gore leave the body, which is where these films usually get ya. The only other downer was when a native is ramming a large hook into one of the female character's breasts, you could probably catch that it is latex or rubber and not the real McCoy.
The musical side of Ferox I am a little split on. During the New York scenes loud, bad disco like music blares, the stuff that you would have found in a cheap '70s or '80s actioner that really annoying. What might have been the highlight of the score for the Amazon sequences, a wonderful mix of organ and some quick guitar is unfortuantely not used enough. The other music is a mix of what seems to be synths, some acoustic guitars, drums and others to make a mix of a native sound with (at least then) contemporary feel to it. It doesn't really fit too well with some of the more high suspense areas, while other areas lack any music at all.
The sound and audio on the Grindhouse DVD release is fantastic. I thrashed Asylum's Snakes on Train for having audio that would be low when dialogue arrives and high when the action comes, something I loathe. Here the sound and audio is crisp and clear with a perfect balance throughout much of the movie, there are a few points where you want to rewind or turn subtitles on to see what the actor says, but no subtitles on the DVD.
Overall, Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox is an interesting film to view as look back in the past and as a piece of the cannibal genre. It is certainly not a great film, espeically after viewing Cannibal Holocaust, but it holds its own and stands on its own two legs. It is a film that will make you feel at the very least uneasy, or even something more if you are new to the genre. It is not as brutal as people put it out as, but compared to things then and now, it still is a fairly violent and disturbing piece.
I can recommend it if you are a huge exploitation or Italian horror fan, but if you are a casual horror watcher or someone whose only experience with horror is MTV/Cast of the WB crap...you can watch it and your brain will probably be numb for a little while afterward.
I did enjoy Ferox and it is an interesting film to watch, should you be able to come across the DVD from Grindhouse, the same folks who brought us Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust.
Well folks, I think that is it. After seeing Snakes on a Train, it felt good to type out a review for a film that numbs your brain and sticks with you because of it being disturbing...not because of its eye gouging horridness.
This does it for me. TGS over and out...