Friday, 12 December 2008

Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Insert eye pun here

Umberto Lenzi had pretty much created the cannibal genre with his 1972 film Man From Deep River. By the late 70s, every exploitation filmmaker with access to a jungle and a handful of bearded Italian actors were in a cut-throat competition to see how much pig guts they could fling at the screen. In this barf-inducing limbo competition, Ruggero Deodato lowered the bar of good taste as far as it could possibly go in his 1980 cannibal classic, Cannibal Holocaust. Umberto Lenzi promptly gathered up a handful of Italian exploitation flick veterans and booked the next flight to the Amazon, determined to out-gross (both in a financial and nausea-inducing sense) Deodato's epic. Was he successful? Kind of. It's certainly dumber.

Gloria (Lorraine De Selle, from House on the Edge of the Park), her brother Rudy (Bryan Redford) and her slutty best friend Pat (Zora Kerowa from New York Ripper) take a trip down to the Amazon so Gloria can gather supporting evidence for her dissertation. It states that cannibalism is a racist myth cooked up by whitey, and armed with a recent paper that posits the existence of cannibalism in the Amazon, she intends to head to the village mentioned and... well... I don't know. Take a poke around and say "Well, no cannibalism here" and head home. QED. I'm not sure this would pass muster in a thesis defense.

After Pat gets a moustache ride from a hairy, sweaty local, the three of them make their way into the heart of darkness. As they chug down the river in their riverboat they are startled by a parrot, which the captain promptly grabs and eats, apparently for good luck. Another local gives them a pet mongoose as snake bait. Of course, within seconds of hitting dry land, these three knuckleheads drive their jeep straight into a river and have to hoof it the rest of the way. During their journey a bunch of animals are killed on-screen for our entertainment (mongoose, turtle, etc). They also stumble upon a native who is so engrossed in his meal of tasty grubs that he doesn't notice the three grossed-out whiteys standing right in front of him.

Eventually they run into Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice who played half-wits in both House on the Edge of the Park and City of the Living Dead, but not here) and Joe, two injured travellers (also New York residents, it's a small world after all) who are high-tailing it out of the village. Mike gives them a suspicious story about how the natives turned on them for no good reason, captured their Portuguese buddy, tortured him and "then... then they ate his genitals!" Woah! Despite Mike's cautionary tale, they all decide to risk genital consumption by heading back to the village for some reason. Mike's story starts looking more and more suspicious as they realise that there are no young people in the village and those that remain seem very wary of the white folks.

Eventually Mike's buddy Joe, nearing death, decides to come clean about the supposed cannibalism. Turns out that they came to the Amazon with the intention of stealing the natives' hidden treasure. In a flashback sequence, Mike ties up one of the natives and, coked out of his skull, starts doing what the US might call "aggressive interrogation". Pretty soon the floor is littered with severed eyeballs and genitals and God knows what else. There is no genital eating, as far as I can tell, I think Mike added that part to his version of the story for a little local flavour. After spilling his guts (metaphorically), Joe promptly croaks, just in time for a bunch of hungry natives to arrive, spill his guts (literally) and go to town on his intestines. I never understand in these cannibal flicks why the natives always go for the intestines. I mean, that can't taste good. What's wrong with a nice thigh fillet, or a shoulder joint? Roasted up with a side dish of giant grubs? That's good eatin'.

The four remaining survivors are quickly captured by the natives, who tie Mike to a stake, cut off his pork sword and eat it. After this act of tribal justice, they cauterise the wound so he doesn't die in transit and then ship the prisoners to some other village. As they near the riverside, Rudy tries to make a run for it but heads straight into the piranha-infested waters. He begs the natives for help and gets a poison dart in the neck. Probably not what he was after, but better than getting castrated by cannibals at any rate. When they get to the village they dump the prisoners into some makeshift jail cells and drop in a snack for the women to eat. They refuse... oh, a human heart not good enough for you prima donnas? Instead they decide to burst into song.

During the night, one of the natives (no doubt moved by their singing) lowers a rope to help the ladies escape, but Mike crawls out of his tiger cage, pushes him away and cuts the rope. What a fucker. Fortunately, he immediately gets captured again and his hand cut off for good measure. Then they place him under a table with a hole in it, so that the top of his head pokes through. A quick swipe with the machete and they've got an all-you-can-eat brain buffet. Pat gets it pretty bad too, they stick hooks right through her boobs and hang her up until she dies.

Before Gloria falls victim to a similar fate, that helpful native from earlier helps her escape, but in the process he falls victim to a booby trap. Gloria makes it to the river and is picked up by a passing boat (for the deepest Amazon there sure seem to be a lot of American tourists). Three months later she is receiving her doctorate for successfully debunking the myth of cannibalism. Good to see that her experience hasn't left her too shaken to commit some good old academic fraud!

One thing I haven't mentioned is a subplot about a policeman trying to track down Mike and Joe, both having fled to the Amazon after stealing some mobster's money. Horribly acted and utterly pointless, the only reason I can see it existing is to force in some stock footage of New York. It spoils a lot of the tension of the jungle scenes, but it does have it's moments of unintentional hilarity. Over the course of several minutes, the opening sequence follows a denim-clad young man's disco-scored journey from the hospital all the way to a rathole apartment. Upon arriving, some mobsters call him "shitface" about fifty times and shoot him. That's the end of that character.

It doesn't have any of the subtext or style of Cannibal Holocaust. The gore effects look a lot cheaper too. Apart from Radice, who (as usual) overacts like a motherfucker, the acting is pretty terrible. The most hollow of lip service is paid to it's themes of racism and ethnocentricity. There isn't a single likable or interesting character in the whole film. What it does offer, however, is something to disgust everyone. I can unreservedly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys being disgusted and/or offended by non-stop brutality, misogyny and animal abuse.

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