Banned in 31 countries and the most violent film ever made. Yeah this is the normal sort of hype one encounters in the cinema of so called extremity all the time but Umberto Lenzi’s cannibal gut-muncher of 1981 actually walked the talk derailing anyone who mistakenly trekked through its jungle terrain like a jaywalking iguana. Although not entirely sure of which 31 countries it was banned from exactly, you can bet your bottom dollar that one of them was the UK where it rapidly ended up on the infamous video nasty hit list as a successfully prosecuted DPP Section 1 title. Cannibal films were very much frowned upon at the time and it was mainly to do with what seemed like a competition between Lenzi who had spearheaded the sub-genre with The Man From Deep River in 1972 and Ruggero Deodato who jumped into the jungle with Last Cannibal World aka Jungle Holocaust in 1977 and who had gone on to deliver the notorious Cannibal Holocaust in 1980. By the time Ferox arrived in 1981 we were very much at the pinnacle of this tropical shit storm. As for which is the best, only you can decide, all the films are wonderfully crafted and skilfully shot, they all have fantastic scores which really emphasise the savagery, pathos and contempt to life both human and animal which they portray in rites of breath-taking savagery. Let’s stick to the subject though and delve into the UK Blu-Ray premiere of Cannibal Ferox of which all versions in the UK have to date been cut, including this one.
I didn’t know what to think when the film starts here with a message saying that grain had been retained to give this version an authentic look and not bling it up like others that are available. I guess this refers to the US Grindhouse Releasing disc which is only available for those with multi-region players and has until recently been the only way to go as far as hi-def is concerned. Personally this is a step up from the all-region DVD import from Austrian company Sazuma that has been my source material through constant watches but the cynic in me would have loved both versions here to compare, contrast and make my own mind up. However the grain is subtle and a couple of hairs on the lens do make this a somewhat authentic looking viewing experience which did not detract from my pleasure in the slightest.
We start on the savage streets of New York where a junkie (let’s call him shithead, everyone else does) wanders into the apartment of dealer Mike Logan looking to score. Unfortunately Mike has gone AWOL and has two tough hoods who he has done out of a lot of dollars looking for him and after they administer shithead his very last fix the hunt is on. There are a few NY interludes to correspond with the more exotic side of things and no doubt these were one of many reasons that Ferox ruled the roost at the grindhouses of 42nd street just a few blocks away. Next we are off to the fringes of the Amazon namely Paraguay to meet up with our three intrepid explorers who are looking to disprove theories of cannibals existing in the modern world (yep one of many shades of Cannibal Holocaust here). Doing this as her dissertation we have university student Gloria (Lorraine De Selle), her brother, assistant, photographer, cool as a cucumber Rudy (Gregory Snegoff) and hot to trot companion and aspiring model Pat (Zora Kerova). Leaving civilisation and losing transport and whiskey (damn iguana) they are quickly in the thick of it and threatened by black widows, anacondas and some rather hungry savages but is it these that are the biggest danger or something more sinister in the jungle? It’s not long before they bump into the aforementioned Mike Logan (Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen) and his injured companion Joe (Andy Luotto) and embark on a no-holes barred quest for survival.
The acting is in my mind exemplary. Radice hams it up playing the mental and crazed dope fiend a bit like the bastard son of Klaus Kinski in a playground of terror and lust. This is far removed from the victim roles he is normally associated with in films like The House On The Edge Of The Park (Ruggero Deodato 1980) and The City Of The Living Dead (Lucio Fulci 1980). Having been killed in various gruesome ways during his career he really outdoes himself here. Kerova is brilliant portraying the humanist side of things in a knowledgeable and measured fashion. A scene where she starts singing after her and Pat are captured and put in a large hole in the ground to keep their spirits up is enough to bring a tear to the eye. She is a familiar face for genre fans too having been in the aforementioned House On The Edge Of The Park as well as Emanuelle In America (Joe D’amato 1977) and Violence In A Women’s Prison (Bruno Mattei 1982). Czech actress Kerova simmers with dangerous sexuality and her portrayal as, “A hot-pussied little whore” who pays the ultimate price is bound to leave viewers more than a little hot under the collar.
As mentioned in coverage of Sergio Martino’s Mountain Of The Cannibal God (1981) the downside of these films is the animal cruelty and Ferox is not one to shun that unfortunate side of things in the slightest. Shameless have no choice under British law but to administer cuts due to this and although intact of all human hostility (including castration, hanging via breasts, head chopping and brain munching) the film has 1m:55sec of real animal violence removed. These cuts have been administered carefully and although noticeable, the panning to reaction shots in a scene with an anaconda and a muskrat are much more digestible in this version. Bugs don’t seem to get off as easily and revolting scenes of a ‘Queen Of The Amazon’ butterfly and giant pupae being eaten live are stomach-turningly intact as is the black widow splatting and a surprising amount of a turtle being prepared for dinner. The native Indio and cannibals themselves seem to take to their scenes with relish, who knows what was going through their heads in making the film but they play their parts convincingly. Naturally any animals they are seen killing went straight in their stomachs.
I mentioned the music and although the score of Holocaust done by Riz Ortolani is never going to be bettered at conjuring up the mood and atmosphere of a film Ferox has a very emotionally involving soundtrack courtesy of Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione (credited under their joint alias Budy Maglione). New York gets a strutting street walking pompous theme, very much full of the groove of the time, so do individual animals like that Iguana and piranhas. The jungle itself has electronic pulses and sombre tones that really infect the listener and embed themselves in the brain, ominous and impossible to shift unless of course someone tucks into your skull for desert. I have the soundtrack along with that of Frizzi’s Zombie Flesheaters on disc courtesy of Blackest Heart Media and it gets played almost as often as the film but I would have loved the full 48 track soundtrack as available on the Grindhouse set included here and reckon fans would have happily paid out a bit extra if this was an option from Shameless. Still couple of niggles aside, it’s great to be able to finally see Cannibal Ferox as uncut as possible in the UK along with others within the short lived cannibal genre. Hopefully others will soon appear and I already have Amazonia The Catherine Miles Story (Mario Gariazzo 1985) on pre-order via 88 Films and if anyone wants a calmer introduction (with from memory no animal cruelty) to these films rather than throwing themselves into the very deep end of Ferox, this would probably be a good starting point.
It’s really damn annoying when you like a film and then hear the director and stars slag it off and say how much they regret making it and being involved. It seems to happen all the time, especially with the splatter movies of the 80’s. Quite often on rediscovery though when realising that money could be forthcoming people seem to backtrack so I was interested in what the extras here were going to unveil as both Lenzi and Radice have been vocal in the past about their loathing of Ferox. Of course Lenzi died in late 2017 but is included in one of his last interviews here on ‘A taste of the jungle running at (21:49). He quickly puts things in context talking about the various genres he worked within and stating as he has before, that his favourite were the giallos he made. He states as we all know that Man From Deep River is essentially a remake of USA film A Man Called Horse (Elliot Silverstein 1970) and that due to it and Holocaust he was urged to make a return to the jungle. This he did in a roundabout way via Eaten Alive (1980) a cannibal film based on the exploits of Jim Jones and the Guyana massacre. You can catch that as well you should on the recent Blu-Ray release via Severin Films. Initially he turned down making Ferox due to proposed fee but negotiations and a huge tax bill led to him to undertake the task. He describes the experience as unpleasant as location wise it bordered on 3 countries and in a triangle of the drug trade, fact and fiction in the film obviously collided to a certain extent. He describes the effects work of Gino De Rossi and some of the stand out gory set-pieces stating he is proud of them. Not so with the actors, he was surprised to discover that NY Cop Robert Kerman was a porno actor and after getting a huge amount of success De Selle turned her back on him after every meeting and ‘Awful man” Radice hates him and the film as he is a “crazy madman.” As for the animal scenes they were orchestrated unwillingly and he definitely would not have done things this way again but would have used FX and pretended to kill them. Apparently the muskrat was saved (first time I had heard this) and the rest were eaten as meals; thankfully films with such cruelty are rarely made anymore.
‘Hell In The Jungle’ (33.16) gives Radice his turn to get his points across on the film. Speaking calmly in English he goes on the offence right away describing reading the script and thinking it was “awful, the worst thing he had read in his life.” Needing the money he took it after getting double the proposed amount and being boosted from sidekick Joe to lead part Mike. Apparently Ferox is the one film he regrets making as I mentioned earlier but at least he is vociferous in his dislike for it and not concerned about being a fierce critic of the film. He describes filming in Leticia as the “asshole of the world” and one of the most violent places he has ever been to due to the cocaine trade. The biggest pisser is that there was no coke available there although it certainly seems like his performance was fuelled by it. He makes the shoot sound a complete disaster and states it might have gone well if directed by Capra or Welles but certainly not Lenzi. Radice is certainly outspoken and amusing with plenty of anecdotes about the wildlife where even the dolphins were apparently nasty! Lenzi was “exactly what he didn’t like in people” and despite his passing he hasn’t got a nice word to say about him but this comes as little surprise to anyone who has gone behind the scenes so to speak of the film. I could go on about his complaints as he does for a whole 33 minutes but despite the fact he hates Ferox and can’t even watch his performance have to contest the conditions brought out something in him and it has to be one of his finest roles. I fail to see how he can hate it more than Violent Shit: The Movie (Luigi Pastore 2015) but there you go. Personally I am looking forward to seeing Radice in the third part of Darren Ward’s trilogy Beyond Fury but would he really have been working today if it were not for films like this and other notorious and still unavailable uncut in the UK The House On The Edge Of The Park? Add to this you get a short comparison piece on the 2K restoration, a gallery and with the full version a barf bag in case you feel inclined to toss your cookies up whilst watching.
There you have it, a sadistic piece of cinematic violence and possibly the grossest morality tale ever committed to celluloid. Cannibal Ferox, available late July 2018 via Shameless Films.