‘POWs in Vietnam… starved in captivity… released with a taste for human flesh.’ Margheriti’s notorious 1980 nasty does pretty much what it says on the cover. Three Vietnam veterans (played by Saxon, Radice, and Tony King) return home from the war to find that what they first assumed to be post-traumatic stress disorder turns out to be a variant strain of rabies: a contagious virus that turns people into cannibals when bitten. Pretty soon there’s panic on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia as the three fugitives flee the authorities to start spreading violence and mayhem.
Cannibal Apocalypse has a chequered history over here. It first swept up on UK shores in the pre-VRA days as a Replay Video VHS. Placed on the video nasty list in the early ‘80s, it was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act and subsequently banned from home video/DVD until 2005. Cinema Club released the film that year with cuts, and since then, Optimum has put it out in 2010 (also cut).
There’s the usual indifferent Italian horror movie dubbing (plus Alexander Blonksteiner’s music score is a mishmash of musical styles) and some risible dialogue but Cannibal Apocalypse remains an energetic and enjoyable gorefest with some interesting ideas. Radice stands out as the disturbed Vietnam vet struggling to readjust (this was made two years before Rambo debuted in First Blood); Saxon gives a typically solid performance as his equally troubled commanding officer who ultimately has to accept what they have become. There’s some medical mumbo-jumbo to bridge the film’s crossover from war drama to virus horror (“It’s a biological mutation brought about by psychiatric alteration”) and a running theme about deviancy in America (“Is he a subversive, a queer, a black, a commie or a Moslem fanatic?”).
Extras on the disc include an essay on the film’s turbulent US censorship history; an alternate US opening sequence; poster and stills gallery; the Japanese trailer (the film’s most infamous gore moment features prominently); the European theatrical trailer and a short documentary, Apocalypse in the Streets, which takes us on a tour of the Atlanta locations. Missing from this release from Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment is the 60-minute ‘making of’ documentary included on Image Entertainment’s unrated American R1 disc. The two seconds of animal cruelty (a rat being set on fire with a flamethrower) - which remain cut by the BBFC in UK releases - appear to be intact here, making this version fully uncut. However, for those complete extras, you might also want to check out the above-mentioned Image Entertainment’s (also uncut) R1 before you buy.
CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) / CERT: 18/ DIRECTOR: ANTONIO MARGHERITI/ SCREENPLAY: ANTONIO MARGHERITI, DARDANO SACCHETTI / STARRING: JOHN SAXON, ELIZABETH TURNER, GIOVANNI LOMBARDO RADICE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW