Review: Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Cannibal Ferox
aka Make Them Die Slowly

Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei, Zora Kerova

I trusted you, Cannibal Ferox. You promised a good, gory time. Everything about you was appealing to me: Your posters, your trailer, your music score … everything. But you let me down. What could I have possibly done to deserve this?

You told the story of a group of amateur explorers looking for a tribe of natives in an island rainforest. Gloria (the anthropologist looking to finish her dissertation on the “myth” of cannibalism), Rudy (her machete-swinging brother) and Pat (their incredibly promiscuous friend) squeeze themselves into a jeep and drive into the wild, leaving everything, including good sense, behind. They encounter Mike and Joe, two violent and mysterious emerald hunters on the run from a savage tribe of flesh-eating savages.

And it turns out it was all Mike’s fault. Because Mike is completely out of his mind on cocaine. Pat tries some and immediately sleeps with him. It’s a potent drug. Oh, and we have to blame American culture, too. As Gloria says, “It’s us!” So true. The savages are only savages because Mike showed up and started drowning everybody. Thank you, Cannibal Ferox. You’ve made it all so clear.

The movie is notorious for being incredibly disgusting. At least three animals are killed onscreen. The natives hack off the limbs of an overturned turtle as it squirms helplessly. Mike butchers a pig with a knife. And the fake killings are gruesome, too: Heads are hacked in two and spikes are driven through skulls. Eyes are gouged out and stomachs are ripped open. The problem here is that these scenes are superfluous. Umberto Lenzi decided to make a message film about violence and the misuse of drugs. The gory scenes obviously aren’t important to him. The movie is chock full of dialogue, most of it cringe-inducing, some of it filled with half-baked ideas about where violence comes from.

But I’m not sure what exactly he wanted to place importance on, though. The movie is a jungle adventure/exploitation/splatter crime drama with countless loose plot ends and needless characters and details, all of which add up to make an incredibly confusing 90 minutes. A couple detectives sit in a police station and talk about stolen money and a drug ring. Mike’s girlfriend back in America gets roughed up by some thugs. And at one point – god, at one point – Pat and Gloria – oh, god –

“Let’s sing something to keep our spirits up. To show they can’t let us down.”

They sing. And everyone – including the cannibals – stops and listens. I could handle the intestine-chewing and turtle-hacking, but this was something else.

If you’re going to make a cannibal movie, make a goddamn cannibal movie. What is this?

It’s Cannibal Ferox. And it’s offensive for all the wrong reasons.

Links:

Amazon – Cannibal Ferox DVD
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer
YouTube – Original Score by Fabio Frizzi & Budy Maglione

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