Color, 1971, 107 mins. 19 secs. / 98 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Starring Vicente Parra, Eusebio Poncela, Emma Cohen
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Subkultur (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD), Divisa (Blu-ray) (Spain RB HD), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A brutal and strangely melancholy film, Cannibal Man (or technically, The Cannibal Man) begins with humble cow butcher Marcos (Vicente Parra, a popular Spanish star also seen in the sexy Soft Skin on Black Silk) contentedly chomping away on a beefy sandwich and hanging out at a bar where a TV commercial proclaims "It's good because it's got meat!" Marcos hops into a cab along with his girlfriend (The Other Side of the Mirror's Cohen) but gets into a spat with the driver and kills him in a rage. He ignores her insistence that he go to the police and finally strangles her just to keep her quiet. Pretty soon almost everyone he knows stumbles across evidence of the crimes and has to be added to the rising body count, with the unfortunate result that Marcos' apartment becomes awfully crowded. Meanwhile his sympathetic gay neighbor (early Pedro Almodóvar regular Poncela) observes everything from afar and decides to become involved in an unexpected way.
One of Spain's more notorious cinematic exports, Cannibal Man was originally titled La semana del asesino (or The Week of the Murderer, since he kills once a day) and circulated in Europe and some reissue markets under a more subtle title, Apartment on the 13th Floor. Director Eloy de la Iglesia was one of the major directors to push Spanish censorship boundaries with this film and a number of powerful gay-oriented films like El Diputado, Los placeres ocultos, El Sacerdote, and the unforgettable Colegas, all of which eventually found an audience on VHS. While Cannibal Man certainly doesn't skimp on the red stuff, it's ultimately not as graphic as the later '70s Euro splatter epics and quite different from the flamboyant bloodletting of Italian thrillers around the same time. The fetid atmosphere of decay and frustration is overpowering, with the most horrific use of a single apartment since Roman Polanski's Repulsion. The social implications of a Spanish society which ultimately cannibalizes itself are hardly subtle, but it's this kind of treatment that allowed directors like Iglesia, Jess Franco, and many others to flourish under their new government. Somehow the film ended up on the U.K.'s Video Nasties list back in the '80s, indicating that, as with many other targeted titles, the title itself was more responsible for its persecution than anything in the actual film.
Anchor Bay's DVD from the early days in 2000 looked fine under the circumstances, albeit pretty drab and muddy in keeping with the usual appearance of the film, while the dubbed English audio isn't too harsh on the ears. A Spanish print would have been preferable, but presumably this is all the distributor, Atlas, was willing to offer at the time. The disc also includes a nondescript English-language theatrical trailer (and yes, it did briefly play U.S. movie houses in the early '70s). Phil Hardy's Aurum Encyclopedia of Horror reports an original running time of 120 minutes, but this is most likely misinformation passed on by the original press materials (as with many other titles in the book). Blue Underground later reissued the exact same presentation on DVD in 2007.
The first Blu-ray of this film appeared in 2015 from German label Subkultur under the Cannibal Man title, featuring a gorgeous HD restoration of the film that completely stomped on its SD predecessors. Colors are much richer than before, detail is increases drastically, and the visuals now have an aesthetic impact that was impossible to appreciate before; it's a really beautifully shot film at times. (Incidentally, the slaughterhouse footage seen at the start of the English-dubbed export prints has been moved back to its more logical place in the Spanish cut about thirteen minutes in.) The English dub is included along with a German dub, in DTS-HD MA or Dolby Digital mono options. Also included are the English and German trailers as well as a hefty batch of deleted scenes (11 mins.), many of which accentuate Marco's daily life (including a long scene with his boss) and elaborate on the local environment with some additional tavern interaction. An extra bit also involves one victim's dad looking for his missing daughter, which spackles over one of the more obvious plot holes. A Spanish Blu-ray released in 2016 featured an interesting new wrinkle by adding almost all of the deleted scenes back into the film, which can be played either entirely in Spanish (with optional English subtitles) or the English dub with Spanish inserts for the extra footage. Also included as "Planos eliminados" (1m35s) is a ragged sample of the remaining excised silent footage including an extended alternate ending and some extra softcore smooching. The disc rounds out with galleries, the English trailer, and Spanish filmographies and artistic and technical notes.
Released in 2018 from Code Red, the film's American Blu-ray debut features the Apartment on the 13th Floor title with cover art culled from the Hallmark Releasing reissue poster. Image quality is comparable to the German and Spanish versions, which means it also looks great. Audio-wise this continues the film's weird streak of having its Spanish track unavailable in the U.S., as it only features the standard English dub (DTS-HD MA) and reverts to Spanish with English subtitles for the deleted scenes which, in keeping with the Spanish Blu-ray, have been integrated back into the feature itself to create that extended cut. Image quality appears to be identical across the board in terms of color timing, framing, and grain resolution. Trailers are also included for the main feature, Jungle Holocaust, The Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Cut and Run.
In 2021, Severin Films revisited the film on Blu-ray and DVD, managing to finally, finally, finally break the language jinx that's been plaguing this one in North America for decades. Both the extended version and the standard international cut (the latter with the slaughterhouse nastiness back at the beginning) are included on the Blu-ray (just the international on DVD), sporting a new scan from the original negative and looking even better than the earlier Blu-rays thanks to more info visible in the frame and a visibly better white balance. Some of the single-frame bits of baked-in damage that have always been there are still present, as they have been in every transfer regardless of the source. The audio specs on their site are a little confusing, but here's what you actually get: the extended version can be played entirely in Spanish with English subtitles, or with an English track featuring subtitled Spanish for the added scenes (all options DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono). The shorter theatrical cut can be viewed entirely in English or Spanish, with either English or English SDH subtitles. The extra 1m35s of silent excised footage is carried over here along with the English trailer, but you also get a pair of new featurettes starting off with "Cinema at the Margins" (26m11s) in which Stephen Thrower and Dr. Shelagh Rowan-Legg cover the director's place in Spanish cinema, the limits imposed by the Catholic Church that had be circumvented by button-pushing horror filmmakers, the balance between gritty realism and surrealism in this film, the intention to originally make the protagonists in their late teens, and the complex treatment of homosexuality that would flourish in his later work. Then in "The Sleazy And The Strange" (17m54s), which bears the actual onscreen title "The Director and the Cannibal Man," Carlos Aguilar, co-author of a 1996 Spanish book of interviews with the director, provides a thorough exploration of De la Iglesia's Basque background, his personality and work ethic, his early start with the crazy-looking family film Fantasia 3, the deliberately transgressive motives behind this film, the censor-imposed ending, and the psychological themes would be defined and honed throughout his entire body of work.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Video Mercury (Blu-ray)
Updated review on August 15, 2021