Film Review: CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)

CANNIBAL FEROX *** Italy / USA 1981 Dir: Umberto Lenzi. 92 mins

In a come-on typical of its sub-genre, the opening title card of Lenzi’s most notorious movie warns of at least two dozen scenes of torture and sadistic violence about to unfold before our very eyes. Does anybody actually keep a count of these things?!
Not nearly as accomplished or powerful as its obvious inspiration (Deodato’s CANNBAL HOLOCAUST), Lenzi’s film actually opens like one of his superior 70’s hard-edged police thrillers, as an ex con is shot dead by gang members in modern day New York. Meanwhile, a female N.Y.C. student is preparing to travel with two others along the Amazon river to research her PHD dissertation debunking cannibalism as “an invention of racist colonialism”. The young, naïve trio stumble across coke-snorting John Morghen and his chum, who claim to have just had a narrow escape from genital eating savages in a nearby village. Flashbacks reveal a different story of Morghen torturing and killing natives, and his actions help unleash Hell on all of them. Morghen, who has never been coy about expressing his hatred of this movie, is probably the most entertaining aspect of FEROX: referring to all women as “twats” and prone to coke-infused rambling (“Snow is bottom line…no needle…no horseshit…And it’s real…”), he screws and sleazes his way through the film with a convincing sense of simmering brutality. He is also wholly deserving of the film’s grimmest fate: FEROX arguably peaks (an hour in) when he gets his cock sliced off and eaten…just for starters. Gino De Rossi’s impressive splatter FX are another key highlight, with Lenzi’s camera lingering on maggot-infested, mutilated cadavers, close-ups of organ-munching, and a bravura gender reversal of the most notorious scene from A MAN CALLED HORSE as one of the female leads is suspended from hooks through her breasts. Going some way to compensate for the “lost” scene in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, there is also a piranha fish attack, and an obligatory abundance of hard-to-take animal violence. Another holdover from HOLOCAUST, actor Robert Kerman, weighs down the second half in his dull-ish scenes as the Lieutenant attempting to track Morghen. Meanwhile, Lenzi’s heavy handed “message” is just a reinforcement of Deodato’s: “It’s us, the so-called civilised people, who are responsible for their cruelty…Violence breeds violence!” Gee, what a revelation! It’s not one of Lenzi’s most entertaining pictures, though its notoriety, for many, made his name at the height of the early 80’s Italian splatter wave.

Review by Steven West


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