Make Them Die Slowly
If the Italian cycle of cannibal movies in the 1970’s and early 1980’s is the illegitimate bastard offspring of the Mondo film, then Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox is a stillborn foetus; an abortion that was shit out into the world by people who should have known better. The pride with which the promotional material boasted of its banning in thirty one countries (some DVD releases still assert it is banned in 31 countries!) is a key signifier of the feeble minds behind the project. Lenzi was no stranger to the debased faux-exoticism and casual racism of the cycle. He was there right at the start, helping to put in place a canvas of cruelty and sadism. However his first effort The Man from Deep River (aka Deep River Savages, 1972) was an intriguing, and a not altogether unsuccessful remake of A Man Called Horse (1970), and naturally had a far greater investment in themes of ‘going native’, the limitations of modern civilisation, and the rules and doctrines of a primitive and wild culture. In this example cannibalism is associated with villainy and evil, it is an antagonistic and oppositional force; a position which would be completely reversed by Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox. In these two films cannibalism is a reactionary behaviour, a response to external threats. Lenzi’s second cannibal film was Eaten Alive! (1980), despite its hysterical title, it emerges as one of the more placid entries in the sub-genre. The emphasis here is on adventure rather than flesh eating. Although Cannibal Ferox is vile and loathsome it does have a point-of-view, it does (believe it or not!) construct an argument, and (even more unbelievably) follows it through to a cynical and ironic conclusion. For this reason Cannibal Ferox is not the worthless celluloid offal many would have you believe.
© Shaun Anderson 2012