Having kick-started the Italian cannibal genre with 1972’s The Man from Deep River and continued it with his Rev. Jim Jones suicide cult parody Eaten Alive (1980), gino-of-all-trade Umberto Lenzi’s third bite of the savage cherry threw away the artifice and put flesh-eating centre stage. Released in 1981, Cannibal Ferox (‘ferox’, we are told early on, being the Latin word for ‘savage’) proudly sold itself as “the most violent film ever made - banned in 31 countries!” and pretty much lived up to its own hype, all told.
In grand exploitation style, Lenzi’s mission was to, er, cannibalise the previous year’s Cannibal Holocaust from his fellow countryman Ruggero Deodato. But while Holocaust was a disarmingly intelligent rottweiler of a movie that asked fundamental questions about the nature of human atrocity and our savage heart, Ferox is an unashamed rip-off that hits all the same notes with fatter fingers and a cheeky wink. It’s all a bit deja vu if you know the territory; we start off in New York before diving into the jungle; there is real-life animal killing aplenty (a dubious trait of the genre that forever besmirches it); there’s a hedonistic American moron front and centre; there’s a brutal castration scene and a damsel is creatively impaled in a jaw-droppingly tasteless manner. Indeed, the pre-CGI gore effects are frequently astonishing and ingeniously lensed, no more so than the pièce de résistance scene where a bloke gets the top of his head sliced off like a soft-boiled egg and his brains scooped out by hungry indigenous locals. Lenzi was justly proud of it.
Given this is a Blu-ray debut for the UK, the extras on this Shameless release feel a bit undernourished compared to the US Grindhouse Releasing edition. A brief Lenzi interview recorded shortly before his death in 2017 is the highlight. The old rogue (not noted for his on-set diplomacy) shouts down his detractors and comes out fighting on the animal cruelty issue (“in Europe people used to eat turtle soup!”). There’s also an acerbic little chat with star and Italian exploitation icon Giovanni Lombardo Radice (credited in the movie as John Morghen) who cites Ferox as the only film from his colourful CV that he regrets making. When you hear from Radice how borderline Lenzi’s methods were, particularly his attitude towards the Amazonian tribespeople involved, you may share his discomfort.
A restoration featurette and gallery top things off but, given Radice’s view of the production, a commentary or retrospective documentary to put the film in proper context would have been very welcome. Ah well, at least the restored 16mm film looks splendidly grainy in a new 2K transfer and fans of Roberto Donati’s seminal disco-funk soundtrack will be cranking it right up because – at the risk of upsetting fans of Riz Ortolani’s Cannibal Holocaust score - it’s the best of the cannibal bunch.
Cannibal Ferox might not fit most people’s idea of entertainment but you, dear readers, are not most people. Well worth a look if you have the stomach for it.
REVIEW: CANNIBAL FEROX / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: UMBERTO LENZI / SCREENPLAY: UMBERTO LENZI / STARRING: LORRAINE DE SELLE, GIOVANNI LOMBARDO RADICE / RELEASE DATE: JULY 30TH