Cannibal Ferox AKA Make Them Die Slowly (1981)
R0 - Austria - Sazuma Productions
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (5th February 2006).
The Film

If Ruggero Deodato´s “Cannibal Holocaust (1980)” is considered as “the king of the Cannibal genre”, many people would probably say that the “prince” is “Cannibal Ferox (1981)”, by its director/writer Umberto Lenzi. When it comes to reputation, “Cannibal Ferox” is certainly close, since apparently it has been banned at some point in time in 31 countries. This also means that the film is no family picnic, but like many other films in this genre, it´s cruel, violent, and controversial. This film wasn´t actually anything that new to Lenzi, who basically did the first “Cannibal-film”, “Deep River Savages AKA Il Paese del sesso selvaggio” in 1972, and then “Eaten Alive AKA Mangiati vivi (1980)” the year after this one. Lenzi has also done plenty of other genres, and his contributions can be seen in Italian police-films (he has done quite a few good ones), WW2-movies, and also Giallos, among others. Lenzi is an important and skilled “Euro cult”-director, no question, but although “Cannibal Ferox” is one of the most remembered films by him, it´s not one of his best.

“Cannibal Ferox” follows the known story path of having a bunch of young people travelling to the Amazon jungle, and eventually clashing with the native tribes there, mostly asking for it by behaving cruelly and humiliating them first. This time the anthropologist-student Gloria (Lorraine De Selle), her brother Rudy (Danilo Mattei - as Bryan Redford), and their “free spirited” female friend Pat (Zora Kerova - as Zora Kerowa) are on their way to find out the truth about the human cannibalism in the jungle. Their goal is to proof that the cannibalism is mainly a myth, rather than reality. Rudy is there probably to protect her sister, but Pat seems to be just along for the ride, mainly just to get a few exotic photos of her during their journey. On their way they see a few glimpses of the still primitive ways of the natives, since one man eats a fly, and another is eating some tasty maggots (looks unpleasant, but this is just a real native man eating his breakfast). These few instances will tell the viewer that again the so-called civilized people cross paths with the natives and their strange customs, and probably that there are more to come. When their jeep breaks down, they have to continue on foot (these young people take certain issues very calmly it seems; “Our ride broke down deep in the jungle. Oh well, let´s walk then”). Things are changing quickly from calm to hectic, when they suddenly meet two men in the jungle; Mike Logan (Giovanni Lombardo Radice - as John Morghen) and his partner Joe (Walter Lucchini - as Walter Lloyd), who is injured. They tell the story of how they were attacked by the cannibals, and one man from their crew got viciously killed in the village. The whole group makes a plan to bale out from the jungle, but the next morning Gloria disappears. While searching for her they see the village again, and when they go and have a closer look, it seems that it´s almost empty, with a few older villagers and children there only. They proceed to the village, since Joe is hurt, needing a place to lie down and rest. In the village the real nature of Mike is starting to reveal (we have already learned that he likes snorting cocaine every now and then). When he kills a young village girl at the riverbank, and his partner Joe finally tells what atrocities actually happened in the village (Mike has been the one of torturing and killing innocent people there, when the mixture of his cocaine and greed for the emeralds had taken hold of him), it´s basically too late. Now it´s time for the villagers to take their revenge, and Gloria will have the answer to her question: Do some native tribes really eat humans?

To me at least, it´s quite clear that “Cannibal Ferox” is not as compact and as interesting a work as “Cannibal Holocaust” (if you have to compare these two in the first place). Even when both films have their roots tightly into “exploitation”, it´s still “Cannibal Ferox” which is using more “cheaper tricks” and certain uninteresting and spiritless storylines. I mean e.g. it´s hard to imagine that after the events described by Mike in the village, it won´t be long until Mike and Pat are having sex in one of the huts in there, when “cannibals” are not that far away. Issues like that don´t really feel believable, not even in a low budget cannibal film from Italy. The film doesn´t want to explore all the possibilities that the story could´ve given to it, and the shock value that certain scenes of torture and violence (and a few scenes of nudity) delivers is something that Lenzi trusts to keep his viewers “entertained” for the whole 90 minutes. Character development? Real suspense? Memorable actors? Sadly, not many of those aspects appear in this one. This doesn´t necessarily mean that “Cannibal Holocaust” is a true “art” with a big “A”, but where it kept the viewer pretty much glued to the seat, always at least intrigued, in “Cannibal Ferox” you probably find yourself yawning once in a while, just waiting for the inevitable gore-scenes. “Cannibal Ferox” is not a bad film and it probably just wants to shock and make the “exploitation-fans” happy (where it succeeds - and that is enough to many people), but its direction and editing is a bit imbalanced, relying on a few gore-scenes here and there with silly dialogue to clue the film together eventually. “Cannibal Ferox” is an exploitation that works in certain levels if you close your eyes to some issues (well, like bad acting for starters), but if you want to find anything more than that, you might be disappointed. The question of course again could be, that do the fans of this genre even want things like “character developments”, and was the original purpose of this film nothing more than have a gory exploitation ride through the Amazon jungle?

“Cannibal Ferox” also moves from New York to Amazon, and then during the film there are also a few scenes that happen in New York again. In here we meet two familiar actors from “Cannibal Holocaust”; Lt. Rizzo (Robert Kerman) and Perry Pirkanen. Lt. Rizzo is working on a case where some drugs have been stolen from the local mobsters, and the person who stole it has now disappeared. Pirkanen is in a small role (I believe incredited), playing another violent mobster trying to find the stolen cocaine (you can´t go wrong with that sort of blonde hair and moustaches, since they give an instant “mobster-look”). This all might sound even fairly interesting, but unfortunately it´s just a small sideline of the story, which explains why the Mike Logan-character runs away to the Amazons. To me it was still refreshing to move away from the jungle once in a while, but I have to admit that these scenes weren´t very interesting or necessary.

When it comes to violence of the film, again you have a fair share of grim material that both shocks and probably also offends someone. Shocking aspects involves the fake mutilation, killing, and cannibalism towards the poor human victims (done by special make-up effects artist Gino De Rossi - not to be confused with Giannetto De Rossi; there is a lot of confusion with these two), and the offensive part would be the animal violence, which is again shown on the screen to some degree. Many of these shots are fortunately relatively quick, involving scenes where natives probably are actually making some “food”, but again most of these scenes (e.g. where an anaconda is trying to eat a small animal in an unnecessarily long scene) doesn´t really add anything to the film to make it actually better. The ending mayhem is effective though, and with that scene the film is starting to earn its name from the US title: “Make Them Die Slowly”.

If “Cannibal Holocaust” succeeded to add at least a minor “message” within the film of our society and our way of creating violence and exploiting the weaker ones, that doesn´t really work on “Cannibal Ferox”. Sure, again the western man first behaves cruelly toward the native people and pay the price after that, but this time characters are written so thinly, and in a clichéd way, that somehow the film didn´t raise any deeper thoughts (not that every film has to). Lenzi has made a film that “moves you” only on the nastiness level, and that he has done well. Is that enough to make this film actually good is a question, that probably has many different answers. It´s your turn to give yours, and that can be only be done by watching the film.

Video

Austrian based “Sazuma Productions” is known for their online-store, but they do have some DVD-releases under their belt also. Their second release of “Cannibal Ferox” is labeled as “Ultrabit Edition”, which hints that this release is a bit like “Superbit”-releases; keeping the bitrate and quality of the transfer high (and extras away). The transfer is presented in Anamorphic 1.78:1, which is indeed good. It´s clean and without any major film artifacts or dirt, and average bitrate is near to 9 mb/s (the disc is “dual layer”). The transfer is not perfect, since it looks slightly “washed out” in certain scenes, and there is some softness in the air, but it could be that this is how the original film was shot (in the end it´s a quite low budget film). You could say that like the film, some scenes in the transfer look better than others, but I assume that this is quite close to the best DVD-release of this film so far (I haven´t done any proper comparison though). The film runs 88:59 minutes (PAL), and it has 16 chapters. The disc is coded “R0”.

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and German Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono -tracks can be found from the disc, and there are also different subtitles included: English, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish. English-track does its job well, keeping the basic track quite monaural like the original track, but adding some music and sound effects (like “jungle sounds”) to the surround-channels. Dialogue basically stays where it should be, in the front center channel. German audio is “louder”, in case you desperately need to know.

Extras

Since this is “Ultrabit”-release, it doesn´t offer very much extras. 3 theatrical trailers are included; Italian (2:43 min), US (4:17 min), and German (2:49 min). These are all quite violent, and full of spoilers (well, if killing a bunch of people in this film can be considered a “spoiler”), so don´t make the mistake of showing these to your grandmother. Biography and filmography of director/writer Umberto Lenzi is included, which to be frank doesn´t offer much. “Bio”-section is more like a few tidbits, rather than a full biography (which would´ve been nice). Bonus trailers includes “Divided Into Zero” (4:01 min) and “Subconscious Cruelty” (2:57 min).

The package itself is special. The disc is packaged into a Tin case (the disc itself is housed inside a plastic slim case, with no cover art), which is numbered and limited to 3333 copies, and includes also 8 postcards.

Overall

The reputation (good and bad) and its catchy name makes “Cannibal Ferox” a relatively familiar film to many people, even when it´s no “classic” by any means. You could give it a chance though, and when you do that, this “Ultrabit”-release by “Sazuma” is a very good option, offering a good transfer. It´s thin on extras, though, and a 2-disc set would´ve been a nice choice.

This DVD is available at Sazuma.com.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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