Color, 1981, 93m.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Danilo Mattei, Zora Kerova, Walter Lucchini, Robert Kerman
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0/RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Sazuma (Austria R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) , Image (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) / DD2.0, Vipco (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)
Certainly not the most accomplished but perhaps the most outrageous (and amusing) of the Italian cannibal movie cycle during the late '70s and early '80s, Cannibal Ferox belongs to that horde of disreputable Italian imports that assaulted movie screens and video shelves before the moral watchdogs put their foot down. Incidentally, the Latin word "ferox" roughly translates as "ferocious," which should give you some idea of where this movie is coming from. Marketed under the new title of Make Them Die Slowly during its memorable US theatrical run, it became a minor media sensation along the lines of Faces of Death when Elvira, Mistress of the Dark refused to host its video release from Thriller Video. Soon excerpts were turning up on news programs to show the depravity being consumed by modern teenagers. Now of course it's a sick and often amusing piece of nostalgia for gorehounds willing to overlook the real animal killings, which are still as sickening and problematic as always.
In New York, a cadre of tough cops led by Cannibal Holocaust's Robert Kerman is tracking down a notorious drug dealer named Mike (oft-abused actor Radice, billed as John Morghen). Meanwhile plucky NYU grad student Gloria (House on the Edge of the Park's De Selle) ventures into the South American jungle to prove for her thesis that cannibalism doesn't exist. Accompanied by the sympathetic Rudy (Mattei) and slutty Pat (New York Ripper's Kerova), she trudges through the wilderness after their jeep breaks down. Soon they come up Mike and his sidekick, Joe (Lucchini), who have had a nasty run-in with a tribe of cannibals who killed Mike's partner. Something doesn't sit quite right with Mike's story, but that doesn't stop Pat from bedding down with the sleazeball for the night. The next morning he encourages Pat to rape and torture a native girl, so obviously he isn't the most sensitive soul in the jungle. Sure enough, the cannibals are out for revenge, and in between bouts of animal fighting and killing, the body parts begin to fly.
While many viewers will undoubtedly be repulsed and amused by the hyperbolic violence on display (a woman suspended on hooks through her breasts, a castration and arm amputation, etc.), Cannibal Ferox is difficult to take seriously thanks to its highly quotable, profane dialogue and the insanely feverish performance by Radice, which is reason enough to watch it. Unlike Ruggero Deodato's completely serious and more intricate Cannibal Holocaust, this trash fest from director Lenzi (who kicked off the subgenre with Man from Deep River) makes few attempts at authenticity and wallows around in the gutter like a pro. Add to that a catchy, disco-tinged score by "Budy Maglione” (Roberto Donati) and you've got a midnight oddity unlike any other.
Multiple DVD editions of this nasty fan favorite have surfaced over the years, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The first out of the gate was a 1999 release from Sazuma (in two pressings, as the first suffering from faulty 16:9 flagging) with a decent but somewhat pale transfer and a smattering of trailers. This was quickly followed by a more elaborate American release from Grindhouse (through Image Entertainment) that repackages their impressive laserdisc special edition into a more compact, flashy presentation. The fun menu screens (pay close attention to John!) take you through a variety of special features, including an on-camera interview with Lenzi, three different theatrical trailers (the U.S. one is the most memorable), and a slew of stills and promotional art. Look for a fun Easter Egg involving a Los Angeles screening, too. Unfortunately the transfer is plagued by a horde of exaggerated grain, rendering many scenes difficult to watch; also, colors have been pumped up to a distracting degree with reds glowing all over the screen. The English soundtrack has been given a remix into full surround, with some nice rear channel effects but a noticeable weakening of the music during several sequences. The original mono Italian track is also included for purists, though the film was obviously designed to be shown with the voices dubbed in English. The real centerpiece here actually isn't the movie itself but the spectacular, scorching commentary track with Lenzi and Radice who, in their separate recording sessions, offer violently diverging views of the entire production. Lenzi remains proud and complimentary towards his film, while Radice is plainly repulsed and "ashamed" by it, not without good reason. Even for those who despise the film, this feature easily earns the price tag all by itself.
A later U.K. release from Vipco features a predictably cut version, along with trailers and a photo gallery. For the presentation of the film itself, Sazuma bested SD previous versions (including its own) with a metal-cased, remastered "Ultrabit" edition (now long, long gone) that features a smoother, cleaner, albeit noise reduced transfer. The surround audio from the Grindhouse version is carried over here, along with a more robust German track that features punchier music. You also get optional subtitles in German ("Rudy! Rudy, wach auf!"), English, Dutch, Swiss, and Finnish. Also included are the Italian, U.S., and German trailers, a Lenzi bio and filmography, and trailers for Sazuma's Divided into Zero and Subconscious Cruelty. That disc also comes with a nice, glossy packet of lobby card reproductions refitted as a set of trading cards. And that was pretty much it for Cannibal Ferox for well over a decade, with the Image disc repurposed under Grindhouse's own label in 2006.
Finally the film was given a much-needed remaster for Grindhouse's 2015 Blu-ray edition, a two-disc set that easily slays its predecessors and stands as one of their most entertaining releases to date. The film itself has been lavished with a new 2K transfer from the original negative, and it looks about as good as it possibly could. If you've seen prints you know how lo-fi and grainy much of it is, but the grain here is much finer and more natural than before (it's not really the kind of thing that conveys accurately in frame grabs, but you can click on the ones here to at least get an idea) and the colors, flesh tones, and textures are all greatly improved. The stereo remix is included here along with the original English and Italian mono versions, all DTS-HD MA, with optional English subtitles. That essential commentary is ported over as well, of course. The first disc also contains a pair of deleted scenes (or rather scene extensions) never on any release before, which can be watched separately or integrated back into the film (adding less than a minute of screen time). Some missing audio is filled in with sound effects, music and subtitles; the first one is an absolutely horrific, much longer version of the pig killing scene, which is guaranteed to ruin the rest of your day if you watch it. Far more palatable is the second, a longer version of Rudy's fate in the piranha lake.
Also on the first disc are the international English-language trailer, the German and Mexican trailers, and the American Make Them Die Slowly trailer, plus that 1997 Hollywood screening featurette. However, the real biggie here is the feature-length High Rising documentary, Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film in full 1080p as well. It's an amazing overview of the subgenre covering everything from Man from Deep River through the early '80s heyday into its decline, with participants including Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino, Radice (who steals the show with his description of Jungle Holocaust), Kim Newman, Shelagh Rowan-Legg, John Martin, and screenwriter Antonio Tentori. Surprisingly, the most endearing and effective moments come from Me Me Lai, who starred in three of the more notable titles and has some terrific stories about the productions. Note that this disc is coded for Region A due to licensing restrictions, while the second disc is region free.
The second Blu-ray disc features a slew of new interviews, all of them very worthwhile and an assortment of productions from either High Rising or Freak-o-Rama. The 19-minute "Umberto Lenzi - Hooked on You" is basically the complete chat about the film excerpted in the doc, with a lot of juicy extra material including the director lashing out at Radice about his infamous comments, a further discussion about the shooting of the muskrat scene, and why he seized the rights back to the film after it was opened without his knowledge on Broadway under its legendary alternate title. "The Many Lives and Deaths of Giovanni Lombardo Radice" spends a whopping 51 minutes with the great raconteur as he discusses his entire career from his early days as a ballet dancer and stage actor through his well-known roles in this film (yep, he still thinks it was a bad experience -- "a lot of cocaine, shouting, killing"), City of the Living Dead (with an interesting take on Lucio Fulci's infamous shouting), House on the Edge of the Park (including a mention of his anorexia at the time and the problems shooting sex scenes in the cold), Cannibal Apocalypse ("I loved Antonio Margheriti - not sexually!"), StageFright, The Sect, the remake of The Omen, and much more. In "Zora in Cannibal Land," Kerova chats for 25 minutes about her own start in films to go shoot this at the Amazon among native extras and scary bugs. She also talks about how Lenzi added an extra scene for her after some issues on the set and how the indelible hanging scene was accomplished. It's actually quite a moving piece as she talks about the arduous conditions and how proud she is of the film now, though it's often used against her in her native Prague. "Danilo Mattei's Amazon Adventure" gives Rudy himself 20 minutes for an interview about his career and how get got onto the project, which he did for money and enjoyed for the warm climate, albeit smack in the middle of drug trafficking territory. He also reiterates Radice's story about Lenzi's demands for the hog stabbing, too. Oh yeah, and apparently there were real piranhas nearby when he shot his final scene! Finally, "They Call Him Bombadore" gives 25 minutes to a man often referred to the interviews (sometimes in very unflattering terms), special effects man Gino De Rossi, who cut his teeth on violent '70s cop films before the demand for gore effects really went through the roof in Italy. He proudly goes into detail about the castration and hanging scenes but seems more tortured about the other things he had to do on the set, noting he's an animal lover and was goaded into doing the animal scenes for real. On the other hand, the stories about hanging with the "cannibals" drinking beef in t-shirts after each day's shooting are pretty great. There's also a (barely) hidden Easter Egg with a few additional comments from De Rossi about today's effects industry.
Also included are the usual avalanche of image galleries divided up into multiple sections: production stills, behind the scenes, promotional stills (from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the US, and miscellaneous), video release artwork, and "Ferox Fever" (fanzine coverage and art, etc.). The disc rounds out with trailers for Cannibal Holocaust, The Tough Ones, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone with the Pope, Pieces, Scum of the Earth, The Beyond, A Cat in the Brain, An American Hippie in Israel, Corruption, The Swimmer, The Big Gundown, Ice House, and I Drink Your Blood. The slipcase packaging comes emblazoned with the familiar American poster art on the outside and the more graphic European artwork on the inside plastic sleeve, which also contains a CD soundtrack containing the 14 tracks previously released along with 6 additional score tracks and 18(!) demos and alternate takes. Yep, that's 48 total tracks of cannibal disco-funk greatness. The liner notes booklet also contains appreciate essays about the film's enduring appeal by Bill Landis and Eli Roth. Tasty!