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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Italian Horror Week 2017 - Freddie Young on Cannibal Ferox



Another year, another Italian Horror Week. Unfortunately, the man
responsible for bringing the bloggers of the horror world together
lost his battle to cancer in March. We still miss you. Doc Terror! But
thankfully, many of us have come together for Jimmy to keep what he
started alive.



This year, I decided to review the controversial 1981 cannibal horror
film CANNIBAL FEROX. The irony of me picking this film didn’t hit me
until it was approved. For those not in the know, I had planned to
discuss CANNIBAL FEROX back in June of 2015 for Midnight Confessions,
the podcast I co-host with Reverend Phantom and Moronic Mark. It had
been planned months in advance for a Italian Horror Month that June
for the show, which I was really excited for. Unfortunately, I was
privately dealing with being a caregiver for my mom, who was suffering
with a severe bout of cancer for 10 months. She passed away on June
3rd, 2015, forcing me to take a month hiatus from the podcast and
missing that entire month altogether. So CANNIBAL FEROX now seems
connected to a horrible disease that took away two important people in
my life. Not really the type of film any one would connect with
cancer, but it somehow fits within my strange and bleak world. It is
what it is.


What CANNIBAL FEROX isn’t is a film that’s catered to everyone, as it
will please some and disturb others. It also isn’t a film that is
nowhere close to being as memorable, or as good quality-wise to its
counterpart - 1980’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. But CANNIBAL FEROX still
manages to be an important film within the horror genre, for better or
worse.


PLOT
Gloria Davis (Lorraine De Selle) is a student writing a college thesis
to disprove the idea of cannibalism in the Amazon in order to receive
her PhD. To get prove for her piece, she takes her brother Rudy
(Danilo Mattei) and friend Pat (Zora Kerova) along as witnesses to her
findings in Brazil. Once they arrive to the Amazon, bad things happen
to the trio. Their transportation gets stuck in a big mud puddle. The
coati given to them as a distraction to the local tribes in the area
is murdered by an anaconda. And trying to find a way out, they run
into Mike Logan (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and his injured friend Joe
(Walter Lucchini) - diamond smugglers who claim to have been attacked
by cannibals. As the group witnesses Mike’s psychotic behavior due to
drug use, they realize that Mike’s story isn’t all that it’s cracked
up to be. Learning the truth, Gloria and company realize that they’re
now seen as guilty in the eyes of the local tribe due to associating
themselves with Mike - unfortunate victims of their revenge. Gloria
finds out the truth about cannibalism, making sacrifices along the
way.


REVIEW
While many see CANNIBAL FEROX as a poor copy of Ruggero Deodato’s
highly infamous CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the two films couldn’t be more
different. While certain elements do remain similar in both films,
Deodato’s film had more of an artful element to it - with the director
actually trying to make a film of high quality while spreading a
message that even the most prim and proper people could be more savage
than the supposed uncivilized people who inhabit a jungle. It made you
question who the real monsters using disturbing imagery that has
repulsed people for decades. CANNIBAL FEROX has repulsive imagery as
well, but Umberto Lenzi seems to care more about shocking his audience
rather than making us question what we’re watching. That’s not to say
that’s a bad thing, but FEROX doesn’t work quite as powerfully as
HOLOCAUST does for that very reason. However, both films have their
place within the cannibalism sub-genre.


CANNIBAL FEROX is a film that wants to be many things, but falls short
on some of them. What it does succeed on are the scenes in the Amazon
with Gloria, Mike and company. Unlike HOLOCAUST, the group of
so-called “civilized” people aren’t at the Amazon to hurt or look down
at the local tribes that may or may not be cannibals. Only Mike Logan,
the film’s clear antagonist, shows any sort of vile behavior towards
the locals. While he claims to have been attacked by cannibals, we
soon find out that Mike was the one attacking these so-called
cannibals because he didn’t receive the prize he was promised by one
of them and killed some of them out of greed and anger. Mike is also a
pretty disgusting drug dealer who calls women a “twat” and molests
them any chance he can get. Because of Mike, Gloria’s plan to just
visit an Amazonian tribe to study them and take notes for her thesis
becomes a nightmare - as she and her friends are now guilty by
association due to Mike’s actions. Mike’s actions also disproves
Gloria’s idea of this cannibal myth, as his cruel behavior unleashes
the barbarism of the tribe wanting nothing more but revenge on the
“white people”.


In a way, Mike acts as a imperialist. He went to an island to steal
their resources for his own benefit, turning on the island only when
the resources aren’t enough to satisfy his greed. The locals revolt
against him and whoever they believe is friendly with him, leading to
an ugly and gory war that leaves many scarred and damaged. Like
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, FEROX seems to be taking a stance that the real
barbarians are the civilized folk who enter an unfamiliar location and
believe they’re above it all and feel entitled to everything that
location possesses. It’s clear who the real monster in this film is.


Mike isn’t the only misguided character in the film. Gloria, who’d you
would think would be a bit more open-minded about foreign traditions
or history, is completely misguided as she heads to the Amazon to
disprove this idea of cannibalism. There are stories about this kind
of thing for centuries in many facets of the world. Yet, Gloria is so
caught up in her civilized world that she can’t fathom this idea that
indigenous people might consider eating human flesh as a sort of
lifestyle and habit. While she’s not as evil as Mike, her ignorance
leads her to dangerous territory that changes her life forever. And
judging by the ending of the film, she doesn’t really learn her
lesson, even though she’ll suffer with her ignorance for the rest of
her life.


The others are just victims of their own stupidity. Rudy joined his
sister Gloria to take photographic proof for her thesis, but should
have known a few common things about where he was going. After all,
how does one go to the Amazon and not know that piranha inhabit the
river before dipping into it to hide? Joe just follows Mike’s lead
throughout the entire thing because he’s scared of him, leading to his
unfortunate fate. And Pat? Well she would rather get high or have sex
during an educational venture, making her the biggest idiot of
CANNIBAL FEROX. She even almost helps Mike rape and kill locals at one
point. She’s no better than Mike really. At least the characters have
development and you can somewhat relate to them on some level - even
if they are pretty unlikeable people.


While the Amazon scenes work for the most part, the scenes in New York
City should have never been in the film to begin with. I get that Mike
needed some sort of backstory to explain why he went to the Amazon. I
understand that learning about Mike through people who knew him - his
girlfriend, the mob guys after him - was meant to show what a lowlife
the guy was. But these scenes just ruin the flow of the film. In fact,
they don’t really lead to anything important. The cops are looking for
Mike. The mob is looking for Mike. Mike’s girlfriend is looking for
Mike. But Mike is caught up in his own crap during this film, making
these subplots meaningless. None of these people accomplish their goal
at the end, so why even bother?


I’m also not a fan of these animal cruelty scenes in these cannibal
films. Both CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL FEROX are infamously known
for these scenes, making many horror fans not want to watch these
films more than once because of how the animals are treated in these
films. I’m not a vegan or anything like that, but who finds pleasure
in watching animals suffer or get murdered on their television?
Deodato tried to make these scenes a bit more artful and meaningful in
HOLOCAUST at least, even if I look away whenever these scenes pop up.
Lenzi doesn’t even try in FEROX, mainly using these scenes to shock
and disgust viewers to get a rise out of them. Do I really need to see
a helpless coati, that’s tied to a pole, be smothered to death by an
anaconda for three minutes straight? Do I really need to hear this
coati cry for help and in pain at what this huge snake was doing to
it? Do I find pleasure in this? No, I was disgusted that I had to
watch that scene as part of this review. It’s not fun. It really
bothered me. It’s made worse when the camera just lingers on this
murder as if that’s okay. I’m all for the “survival of the fittest” in
the animal kingdom, but that coati was murdered against its will
without a chance to defend itself. There are also other scenes,
especially one with a tortoise getting decapitated so it can be eaten
(also disturbing). But that coati and snake scene really upset me, to
the point where I almost regretted taking on this film for a review. I
know things like this happen. It doesn’t mean I need to see it on film
for some sort of shock value.


The direction by Umberto Lenzi isn’t stylish or anything memorable
visually. The editing is off at times and the flow of the film is
definitely questionable at times. But Lenzi does manage to get a
reaction out of you through his visceral camera work. Lingering on
animals getting killed will either make you regret continuing to
watch, or make you shut off the film entirely. The gore effects are
pretty well done, making certain moments like cutting out an eye, a
scalping, and castration make you cringe in disgust. Or maybe it’ll
make you giddy. Whatever floats your boat. Lenzi also seems to follow
Deodato’s book by telling the viewer that we’re all savages on some
level through our main characters and the actions they make in order
to survive. Deodato had a more artistic vibe in his direction,
however, while Lenzi would rather shock and disgust us with his work.
If that’s what Lenzi was going for, he succeeded big time.


The score by Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione is more subtle than
not, which adds to the atmosphere of CANNIBAL FEROX. We get funky
music, jungle beats, and synthesizer riffs that grab you during the
more violent and uncomfortable moments in the film. I believe some
music was taken from Lenzi’s previous cannibal film, EATEN ALIVE! The
score is probably not as memorable as the score from CANNIBAL
HOLOCAUST, but it works nonetheless and adds to the overall mood of
the film.


The acting in CANNIBAL FEROX isn’t the main focus of the film, but
there are some pretty memorable performances here. Probably the
highlight in terms of star performances is, without a doubt, Giovanni
Lombardo Radice - known as John Morghen here - who plays one of the
more memorable and vile villains in 80s horror in Mike Logan. Radice,
a well known actor in the Italian horror world, probably provides one
of his best performances as a con man who can charm you into bed, but
is nothing but the scum of society. He’s smooth while still being a
twitchy, sweaty creep. Radice’s vile and maniacal performance stems
from the fact that he hated even starring in a film like CANNIBAL
FEROX, displeased with the story and the treatment of certain
characters and animals. Using that frustration and anger, he channels
a misogynistic performance that rivals David Hess’ Krug from THE LAST
HOUSE ON THE LEFT as one of the more despicable characters ever
portrayed in a horror movie. If there is any reason to watch CANNIBAL
FEROX, it’s for Radice’s performance.


The other actors fare well in their own right. French actress Lorraine
De Selle is spot on as the misguided and naive Gloria. She’s
responsible for the best body language and facial expressions during
the entire film, pretty much displaying the same feelings about this
entire scenario as the audience watching. I bought her transition from
snooty graduate student to traumatized survivor. Danilo Mattei is the
male hero of the film as Rudy. He carries a masculine and strong
performance that makes you want to see him survive, until the script
betrays him for being stupid when it’s most convenient. The only other
notable actor is Robert Kerman as a NYC police detective looking for
the whereabouts of Mike Logan. It’s funny that he also starred in
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, where he actually has a better performance in.
It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get the chance to do much in FEROX,
but it’s always nice to see him in these kind of films.




THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE CANCELING MY TRIP TO THE AMAZON


- A drug pusher was murdered over something stupid Mike Logan did to a
bunch of mobsters. I had no idea CANNIBAL FEROX was the influence for
every opening scene in every Law & Order episode.


- Gloria refuses to believe that man wouldn’t eat other man, as
cannibalism doesn’t exist. It’s obvious she’s never visited PornHub.


- The group find a local sitting alone, eating bugs. I guess we know
who’s winning on a future episode of Fear Factor…


- A big ass snake unfortunately murdered a poor coati. I guess this
anaconda don’t want none unless it got buns, hun.


- Rudy finds the village, thinking a machete will help him. It’s 1981,
so unfortunately Machete won’t be able to text. Sorry, bro.


- Some locals ripped open Joe’s body and ate his insides. I guess he
was an organ donor…


- Mike gets castrated by the tribe. Lorena Bobbitt probably had her
big O during that scene.


- Gloria and Pat sing to keep their spirits up while they’re trapped.
This is no time to audition for Amazon’s Got Talent, ladies.




THE FINAL HOWL
While CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is the “better” film, CANNIBAL FEROX is no
slouch either. It’s sleazy, disturbing, and sometimes hard to watch.
The animal cruelty is a big no-no in my book [I don’t need to see that
in a film, I’m well aware that stuff happens], and the scenes that
occur in New York City feel as if they’re from a different film that
Lenzi wasn’t able to complete for some reason. However, it does what a
cannibal film should. It provides a simple message that we are all
monsters on some level, no matter if we’re civilized or not. The gore
scenes are pretty cool. And the acting, especially by Giovanni
Lombardo Radice, is worth the price of admission alone. CANNIBAL FEROX
is definitely a polarizing film that’s not meant for everyone. But if
you’re willing to take a chance on it, you could do a whole lot worse
in this sub-genre. Definitely one of the better cannibal films out
there.




Freddie Young writes for Full Moon Reviews
[www.fullmoonreviews.net], a movie review site [for horror, sci-fi,
fantasy, B-movies, and action]. He is an avid film lover with an
honest mind and a dirty mouth. He doesn't kiss anyone's ass, and he
tells it like it is. He’s also the sarcastic member of the Midnight
Confessions Podcast trio, which you can find on iTunes, Stitcher,
Soundcloud, and PodOMatic. He also contributes to ThatsNotCurrent.com,
offering insight on bad movies and writing occasional retrospectives
on certain movie franchises.

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