Splatter Cinema presents CANNIBAL FEROX (1981); Dir. Umberto Lenzi; Starring John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Lorraine De Selle and Robert Kerman; Cinevision Screening Room; Saturday, August 15 @ 8:30 p.m.; IndieGoGo campaign w/ advance ticket sales end July 24; Admission at door is cash only; Trailer here.
By Aleck Bennett
Splatter Cinema wants to bring you a rare chance to see Umberto Lenzi’s notorious CANNIBAL FEROX, aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY on the big screen at Cinevision in all its 35mm glory. Incredibly they’ve scored a fully restored print from Grindhouse Releasing! But the catch is the rental and shipping is expensive, so they are dependent on an INDIEGOGO campaign with advance ticketing. If it doesn’t make its goal, this screening won’t happen. That would be a real shame because Splatter Cinema has really delved into the fetid jungle of grindhouse treasures to unearth this putrescent piece of gut-munching gore.
As I’ve mentioned here before, the horror genre is, in the eyes of many, disreputable. It’s not hard to see why—its primary purpose is to elicit something negative: fear. Comedy doesn’t get that reaction, because who doesn’t like to laugh? Action films promise thrills and excitement, which generally equals fun. Drama deals with serious topics and explores a wide range of emotion. But horror films conjure up some of our darkest emotions, and thus fall victim to the stigma of being “bad for you.” And some of horror’s subgenres get criticized more harshly than others. The slasher film, for instance, constantly comes under fire for celebrating slaughter. But no subgenre inspires the kind of wholesale, visceral revulsion than does the Italian cannibal film.
The whole craze started in 1972, when Umberto Lenzi helmed THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER. Almost a beat-for-beat remake of 1970’s A MAN CALLED HORSE, Lenzi shifted that movie’s setting from the old west to the Thai rainforest and added a fascination with ritualistic acts, cannibalism, violence and animal cruelty (largely inspired by the worldwide success of exploitative pseudo-documentary Mondo movies such as MONDO CANE and AFRICA ADDIO). Its huge success in Italy and on the US grindhouse circuit led to the subgenre remaining successful for nearly two decades.
Generally speaking, the Italian cannibal film follows a particular pattern: it opens in the “civilized” world—typically New York, though this isn’t written in stone—and some incident occurs that pulls our protagonists into the (again, typically) Asian or South American jungle. There, they encounter some previously unknown, long-lost or much feared native tribe; witness or experience graphic violence, torture and/or rape; and then a bunch of people get eaten and the lone survivors return, battered but wiser. This plot plays out in Lenzi’s CANNIBAL FEROX, which ups the ante on all its predecessors by claiming to be the “most violent movie ever made.” It goes to such extremes that Italian exploitation stalwart John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice) expresses regret that he agreed to act in the movie to this day.
Now, there are a wide variety of reasons why CANNIBAL FEROX and its kin are viewed so negatively. To start off with, there’s the insinuation that entering into some foreign jungle will pretty much guarantee that you’ll become the next meal of some “savage tribe.” It might stop short of actual racism (and my use of “might” is mighty shaky), but short isn’t where most people would prefer to stop. Then there’s the issue of sexual violence and rape. Sexual violence in these movies is almost always a threat, whether it’s perpetuated against indigenous women by the outsiders or against female outsiders entering hostile territory. Sympathetic critics have defended both elements on the grounds that many of the Italian cannibal films are explicitly anti-colonialist in tone and critical of Western capitalism. The conquering white heroes invade a remote locale, rape its women and kill its men, and are dealt retribution in kind. It’s not particularly subtle, but then, neither are these films when it comes to anything else. They’re blunt instruments, the argument goes, meant to shock a complacent audience into examining itself and the violence inherent in the system.
And then there’s the actual animal cruelty depicted in these movies. For some reason, this is a longstanding element of the subgenre, and is the main focus of most people’s revulsion. Defenders of the cannibal genre argue that the presence of actual animal cruelty works as a technique because it causes you to question the reality of what you’re witnessing—if that is real, what else is? Others argue that some of the depictions reflect actual practices of the people populating the film, so it’s an introduction of documentary realism into a fictional framework. Still others argue that these elements are present in any number of critically celebrated films—from Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE to Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV and Godard’s WEEK-END—and that singling out these films amounts to bigotry against the horror genre (“sure, I’ll let Coppola show a water buffalo being slaughtered because that’s art, but all horror is pretty much crap, so this cannibal movie is fair game”). All of which are salient points, to which I’ll add that the raison d’être of horror films—to evoke fear and revulsion—draws more attention to these acts than in other, more mainstream films. There’s no shift in tone to relieve the audience. Not that it makes the viewing any easier.
The genre reached what many consider its apex in 1980-81. Ruggero Deodato’s landmark 1980 film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST touched on all of these elements and not only set aim at the horrors of colonialism, but turned its sights on the fact that an audience even existed to relish in the horrors he was putting on screen. As with Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES, the viewer is made implicit in the crimes depicted as he or she watches. In making HOLOCAUST, Deodato seemed to be saying, “look upon the disgusting nature of this genre’s demands and know that they exist because you fools pay money to see them!”
Then came 1981’s CANNIBAL FEROX, released in the States as MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. So uncompromising that its marketing brags about having been banned in 31 countries, the movie sees Lenzi largely eschewing the postmodern moralizing of Deodato (while still picking up on the evils of colonialism and Western capitalism) and going straight for the jugular. It’s brutal, it’s ugly, and it represents one of the twin peaks of Italian cannibal cinema. Lenzi is an accomplished filmmaker and knows precisely how to push buttons and fills his movie with energy to spare. That it’s as well-made as it is only makes the bludgeoning savagery of the film that much more affecting. If it were truly a bad movie, then no amount of outrage would sustain the attention paid to the film over the years. I mean, nobody’s talking about Bruno Mattei’s MONDO CANNIBALE, which sports many of the same superficial elements (heck, it’s basically a remake of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and it’s only 12 years old. No, CANNIBAL FEROX is a quantifiably good movie—well-paced, intelligently structured, and uniformly follows through on its line of reasoning to an inevitably downbeat conclusion (it’s always hard to judge the acting, because most Italian films were shot without sound and dubbed after the fact even in their home countries, but what is here is perfectly acceptable). It just may be completely reprehensible, depending on your point of view. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, say what you want about the merits of CANNIBAL FEROX, Dude, but at least it’s got an ethos.
But at any rate, it’s a film that demands to be seen, experienced and then talked about. See it with your friends and debate the various controversial aspects of the movie afterward. No matter where you stand on the appropriate nature of the vile events that are depicted in the movie and the philosophical reasoning behind how they’re depicted…well…
It’s definitely something to chew on.
Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.
Splatter Cinema Brings Italian Cannibal Mania in the Amazonian Jungle to the Cinevision Screening Room With CANNIBAL FEROX!Posted on: Jul 17th, 2015 By: Anya99
Splatter Cinema Presents THE BEYOND (1981), fully remastered and uncut direct from Grindhouse Releasing; Dir: Lucio Fulci; Starring Catriona McColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale; Tues. March 13 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.
Originally an art critic who became a filmmaker (he made 18 comedies before becoming renowned as one of the most violent, gory Italian horror movie directors), the late, great – some might say “crazy” – Lucio Fulci made some of the coolest, most demented flicks of the late 70s/80s. Need a roll call? ZOMBIE (1979), promoted in Europe as a sequel to Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD; THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), THE BEYOND (1981), etc., etc (he made over 50 movies).
What accounts for the violence in his later films? His wife’s suicide back in 1969 and a daughter’s fatal car accident several years later always weighed heavily on him, and his hyper-violent films such as THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) caused him to be branded a misogynist by prentious critics, although he always claimed that he loved women. He also struggled with severe type 2 diabetes, a fact he tried to hide from colleagues, fearing he would be deemed unemployable. And he was an inveterate gambler.
So what about THE BEYOND? For those who are not die-hard horror fans, the basic scenario is this:
…E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà, its original Italian title, also known as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH, is Lovecraftian in tone. The film has gained a cult following over the decades, in part because of the film’s gore-filled murder sequences, which were heavily censored when the film was originally released in the United States in 1983.
In 1927, Louisiana’s Seven Doors Hotel is the scene of a vicious murder as a lynch mob crucifies an artist named Schweick, whom they believe to be a warlock. The artist’s murder opens one of the seven doors of death, which exist throughout the world and allow the dead to cross into the world of the living. Several decades later, a young woman inherits the hotel and plans to re-open it for business. But her renovation work activates the hell-portal, and soon she and a local doctor find themselves having to deal with the living dead, and Schweick, who has returned as a malevolent, indestructible corpse, apparently in control of the supernatural forces.
Need I say more? Other than get down to The Plaza Theatre Tues. night, March 13 for a rare, gory treat of Italian horror weirdness.
Contributing Writer Philip Nutman knows a thing or two about zombies: he is the author of the cult classic undead novel, WET WORK, and recently produced ABED, the sickest zombie love story ever, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.