• Cannibal Ferox

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
    Released on: May 26th, 2015.
    Director: Umberto Lenzi
    Cast: Lorraine De Salle, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Zora Kerowa, Danilo Mattei, Robert Kerman
    Year: 1980
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    The Movie:

    With 1973’s The Man From Deep River, Umberto Lenzi more or less kick-started the Italian cannibal subgenre of horror/exploitation films. Noted for their gratuitous scenes of violence and rape, politically incorrect depictions of native peoples, and all too real scenes of animal slaughter the cannibal films are widely considered the harshest of the films made during the heyday of the Italian horror boom of the seventies and eighties. None of them are as harsh as Cannibal Ferox.

    Our story begins on the mean streets of New York City – now the New York City of now, but the New York City of 1980, so we get some nice Times Square footage and some shots of the Lower East Side that once was. Here a drug fiend named Tim Barrett breaks into an apartment looking to score and in doing so, he runs afoul of a pair of mafia types and he winds up getting shot. A couple of cops are put on the case, and the film cuts to the jungles of South America.

    Enter pretty Gloria Davis (Lorraine De Selle). She’s writing her term paper on cannibalism. Gloria intends to set out into the jungle to find out whether or not cannibalism really exists or if it is all just a myth. Her brother, Rudy (Danilo Mattei), and her friend, Pat (Zora Kerova), are along for the ride and soon the three find their jeep is stuck in the mud on the way into the thick of the Amazon. They decide to make the rest of the journey by foot, because really they have no choice, and along the way they run into a drug dealer named Mike (favorite Italian cinematic whipping boy Giovanni Lombardo Radice, a.k.a. John Morghen) and his cohort Joe (Walter Lucchini). Mike tells the three students that the reason he and Joe are running around in the jungle is because they were held captive…. by a tribe of cannibals. Obviously, since they’re no longer captive, they’ve escaped, but regardless, Gloria is intrigued.

    Eventually it comes out that Mike and Joe are New York City drug dealers. They were forced to get out of town and since arriving in the jungle, they’d been really looking for gems amongst the tribes-people. When they didn’t find any, they got all messed up on smack and slaughtered a bunch of the villagers. Bad move. Because of this, the tribes-people are out for revenge and they don’t care who they kill, as long as they look like the bastards who killed off their citizens (white folk!).

    While all of this is going on, various animals kill and eat each other and a couple of even more unfortunate ones are killed by a few of the human actors in the film. These scenes of actual animal violence, along with the nasty scenes of cannibalism, rape, breast mutilation, castration, and decapitation caused the film to be banned in a rumored thirty-one countries around the world. While the debate will always rage on in regards to the artistic merit (or lack thereof) that the animal cruelty scenes have or what they really add to the movie itself aside from shock value, they were meant to be seen in the film. As such, they are all present and accounted for in this uncut version of the film (in the United Kingdom all of these scenes and much of the faked human atrocity footage has been excised from all home video releases of the film).

    While Cannibal Holocaust (which starred Robert Kerman, who also has a small role in this film as well), which came out a year earlier, is probably the most infamous of the Italian Cannibal films (it even went to so far as to include actual human execution footage in its uncut form), Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox is still a very mean spirited film. It’s a picture full of despicable characters and plenty of rampant nastiness. It also happens to be this reviewer’s personal favorite from the sub-genre that so many fans love to hate simply because it is so balls to the fucking wall exploitative. The film gleefully eschews the politics that make Holocaust the ‘better’ movie in favor of more. More what? More gore, more dick chopping, more breast hooking and more utter insanity!

    The cast here are pretty solid. Lorraine De Selle is quite good here, sympathetic enough that we like her character. She’s attractive enough but also has a sort of smart look to her, the kind that lets us buy her as someone who might engage in some sort of anthropological study. Zora Kerova doesn’t give quite as good a turn here but she looks great and she gets the most infamous death scene in the film and does a remarkably convincing job during that important moment in the film. Danilo Mattei is also fine, but he isn’t given quite as much to do. The same can be said of Walter Lucchini.

    But really, this movie is all about ‘John Morghen.’

    Radice’s performance has rightfully since become the stuff of legend. He is so completely and utterly over the top in this picture that it borders on self parody but the movie wouldn’t be half as interesting as it is without him in it. The guy really goes for it. His death scene is the highlight of the film not only because of the gore it offers, but because he plays such a despicable bastard that no matter how ugly it’s going to get, you want to see him meet his maker. In regards to the rest of the gore (and the gore really is a big selling point here), the infamous ‘meat-hooks through the breasts’ scene that was used so prominently in the advertising material for the film outdoes any of the human deaths in any of the other cannibal films, including anything Deodato could muster up for Cannibal Holocaust (yeah, the impalement in that one is impressive to be sure but Lenzi does him one better here). Not only is it rather convincing from a technical standpoint, but it is painful to watch even if you don’t have lady-boobs.

    Though some are put off by the New York City criminal underworld subplot that kicks this all off, Lenzi makes it work even if it is a strange idea in concept. The weakest part of these scenes is the very dated disco score that plays over top of the urban action but don’t be surprised if it’s stuck in your head afterwards. City scenes aside (are you really going to complain about too much vintage NYC footage?), Lenzi keeps the action moving at a good clip during the time that the film spends in the jungle. His experience as a Crime/Action film director makes him a good choice to helm this type of film. While he was wildly uneven as a horror film director (able to churn out dreck like Ghosthouse and decent stuff like Eyeball with equal ability) he does have a proven track record of directing great action films (From Hell To Victory) and crime thrillers (The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist, Almost Human). Of the various cannibal films that the man had a hand in bringing to life, Cannibal Ferox stands as his crowning achievement. It’s not as timely as Eaten Alive was or as groundbreaking as Man From Deep River but it’s so bat-shit insane that it takes the crown.


    Grindhouse presents Cannibal Ferox framed in its proper theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer mastered in a 2K scan taken from the original negative. There’s some mild print damage evident in spots but we get a pretty nice upgrade here, particularly when compared to the old Grindhouse non-anamorphic DVD release from years back. The movie’s always been a pretty grainy looking one and thankfully that hasn’t changed here – there’s not a trace of noise reduction to complain about – while colors fare quite nicely. Skin tones are nice and warm (except when said skin is caked in mud!) and the bloody reds look appropriately sickly without ever feeling boosted or too hot. Compression artifacts never rear their ugly heads and there isn’t any edge enhancement to complain about either. Detail gets the biggest bump in close up shots, medium and long distance shots get it too but it’s just not as obvious, but this is a nice, film-like presentation of a dirty, ragged, bitch of a film.

    Audio options are provided in a few different flavors – a newly re-mastered English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, the original English Mono track in DTS-HD and the original Italian language Mono track, also in DTS-HD. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. All three tracks sound quite good here. The stereo mix has some nice channel separation mostly in terms of how it places the score, while the two single channel options play it straight. Levels are properly balanced on each of the three options and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.

    The extra are spread across the two Blu-ray discs in this set, and there’s a lot of stuff to enjoy here. Disc one starts off with the infamous audio commentary recorded years back with Lenzie and Radice and if you’ve never heard it before, it’s pretty amazing. In a nutshell, Radice hates the movie and has no qualms saying so while Lenzi kinda-sorta defends it. Lenzi also talks up the location shoots, discussing how and why he wound up in New York City and what it was like working there and, of course, what it was like working out in the jungle – two very different environments. Radice talks about the arduous shoot, how and why he chose the pseudonym he wound up using in this film, and yes, his feelings about this film. There’s some pretty interesting, and at times amusing, back and forth here between the two men.

    The disc also includes a Deleted Footage section that offers two scene extensions. The first is a longer version of the pig killing scene and it’s pretty nasty (those sensitive to animal violence would do well to opt out of this one). The second is a longer take on the piranha attack. Both are interesting to see and haven’t appeared on any past home video releases of the film. The disc also gives you the option to watch them cut back into the feature version of the movie. Subtitles have been added to this material where needed and video quality matches that of the feature cut quite nicely.

    The first disc is also home to Eaten Alive! The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Film, which is a feature length eighty-five minute long documentary that, as the title implies, traces the beginning and end of this bizarre run in Italian horror movie history. Interview on camera here are Lenzi and Deodato, both of whom take claim for getting the ball rolling, as well as Robert Kerman and, of course, Radice, who steals the show with his unflinching honesty in regards to his experiences working on these pictures and his thoughts on the quality of the films. Me Me Lai is also interviewed pretty extensively here about her work in a few different films, her input is quite revealing. Sergio Martino pops up here too, to talk about Mountain Of The Cannibal God. We also get input from a few critics, each offering a unique cultural and/or socio-political perspective on the run. The focus here is on the Italian films, but the Eurocine cannibal films and Indonesia’s Primitives are at least touched on in passing and the movie ends, appropriately enough, with Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno which is obviously a love letter of sorts to the movies that Lenzi and Deodato were making. It’s a pretty thorough and well put together piece that’s worth taking the time to watch.

    Moving right along, disc one also offers up trailers for the feature – you get the International trailer, the German trailer, the U.S. trailer (under the infamous alternate title of Make Them Die Slowly… “The following feature is one of the most violent films ever made…”) and, strangely enough, an interesting Mexican trailer (“Hazlos Morir Lentamenta!”). You can watch these individually or by way of a ‘play all’ feature.

    Closing out disc one is footage from the Hollywood Premiere of the movie that took place February 15th, 1997. In this five minute piece we travel back in time almost twenty-years to see all manner of cult movie nuts lined up in front of the Vine Theater to check out the infamous film, which was playing as a double feature with Fulci’s Gates Of Hell. Grindhouse Releasing founders Bob Murawski and the late Sage Stallone are both seen here and look for Clu Gulager, Johnny Legend and a few other familiar faces in the crowd.

    So yeah, all of that is one disc one, but there’s a second Blu-ray in here and it’s also jam packed, starting with a bunch of interviews. First up is Lenzi in a piece called Hooked On You. Here he speaks for just shy of twenty-minutes about first being approached years back by Nocturno Magazine to talk about this film and his reaction. He then discusses some of the concepts exploited in the movie, the condition of the hotels they used during the jungle shoot, working with the natives, and the difficulties of putting hooks in breasts. He then talks up the effects work in the film, the problem with leeches on a film shoot, the complexities of chopping of fake dicks and more!

    The Many Lives And Deaths Of Giovanni Lombardo Radice is a fantastic fifty-one minute piece with the actor who speaks in his typically candid fashion about his career in Italian horror cinema. He talks about how he got into acting, his work with Deodato on House Of The Edge Of The Park, his appearance in Gates Of Hell and that picture’s infamous drilling scene and what it was like working with Fulci. He also talks about working on Stagefright and how his dance training came in handy in this film, and his time spent on Cannibal Apocalypse. Of course, he also discusses Cannibal Ferox, which he describes as terrible. He then explains how he figured the animal violence would have been faked only to learn that it wasn’t going to be, how the story is ‘one of the most stupid and pointless’ things he’s ever done and how he doesn’t even recognize himself in the movie! This is great stuff. Sure it covers some of the same ground as the commentary but this guy is just a blast to listen to, particularly when he starts talking about fan response to his character in Cannibal Ferox.

    Zora In Cannibal Land gets Ms. Kerova in front of the camera for twenty-five minutes. Here she talks about how she wound up in the movie, what it was like working with Lenzi and her various co-stars and her thoughts on working in the jungle (which she describes as ‘scary’). Of course she also talks about how the breast hanging scene was done and how she feels about all of that.

    Danillo Mattei’s Amazon Adventure is a twenty-one minute interview with the actor who talks about how he used to make ‘good movies’ before he made Ferox, which he describes as ‘one level down from what I used to shoot… but it was well made.’ He’s pretty aware of what he did here but he looks back on the shoot that he describes as fun describing the jungle as a pretty nice place. He also shares his thoughts on working with Lenzi, difficulties with people on location (‘He wanted to buy the girl!’) and the unbearable heat of the location shoot.

    They Call Him Bombadore is a twenty-five minute interview with Italian effects titan Gino De Rossi. He explains how he get the ‘bombadore’ nickname, his penchant for working with guns and explosives and how he’s finally got a ‘clean name’ in cinema. He discusses what he finds creatively fulfilling in his line of work, how he wound up working on Ferox and the film’s infamous animal violence, which he says was done under wraps. He then goes on to explain how he created some of the contraptions used in various parts of the movie before showing off some of his tricks of the trade.

    The final interview is an Umberto Lenzi Interview From May, 1988. It’s a quick one at just under eight minutes and the audio is sometimes hard to understand because Lenzi has a thick accent and sometimes speaks in English and then in Italian. The interviewer speaks English and kinda-sorta explains things to the camera.

    The second disc also contains a massive selection of still galleries, one each dedicated to production stills, behind the scenes shots, Italian promotional materials, German promotional materials, French promotional materials, Spanish promotional materials, American promotional materials, promotional materials from other territories, home video releases and, last but not least, Ferox Fever (fanzine articles, reviews, theatrical reissue advertisements, soundtrack releases, pictures from the commentary session, etc.).

    Grindhouse also once again includes their trailer collection so be on the lookout for previews for Cat In The Brain, Cannibal Holocaust, The Beyond, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone With Pope, Pieces (It’s exactly what you think it is!), Corruption, The Swimmer, The Big Gundown, An American Hippie In Israel, Scum Of The Earth, The Tough Ones, The Ice House and last but not least, I Drink Your Blood. Some credits for the release are also included here.

    Both discs include menus and chapter selection and if you dig around on the discs, in true Grindhouse fashion, you’ll find a few fun Easter Eggs too.

    Also included with the two Blu-ray discs in the set is the original soundtrack to the film on a separate CD. The disc fits inside a cardboard sleeve that is tucked away inside the slipcover that the Blu-ray case fits inside of. The tracks included on the disc are:

    NYC Main Title / Jungle Theme / Jaywalkin’ Iguana / Killing Two Parrots / Into The Bush / Son Of A Bitch Trap / Jungle Jive / Cannibal Village / A Real Smart Dude Part 1 / Mike Flips Out / Castration / A Real Smart Dude Part 2 / NYC Aftermath / Kettle Of Doom / No Escape / NYC Brass / Jungle Pursuit / Piranhas! / Pit Of Doom / End Of A Myth

    If those twenty tracks weren’t enough, we get an ADDITIONAL twenty-eight bonus tracks and alternate takes, many of which feature musicians and studio types talking to each other in Italian before they begin. These tracks aren’t identified by name on the packaging but they’re definitely there. Neat stuff!

    Last but most certainly not least, the flipside of the insert cover (which features considerably more explicit artwork than that used on the slipcase) contains an Umberto Lenzi filmography and tucked away inside that case is a booklet of liner notes. Open that full color book up to find an appreciative essay from the late Bill Landis of Sleazoid Express fame and a piece from Eli Roth, director of The Green Inferno. The book is nicely illustrated with some great archival artwork and stills and on the back page we get a chapter listing for the feature.

    The Final Word:

    Grindhouse Releasing’s Blu-ray reissue of Umberto Lenzi’s infamous Cannibal Ferox is, in a word, definitive. The set offers the HD upgrade that fans have wanted for years and throws in an amazing selection of supplemental interviews and a feature length documentary. On top of that you get the complete soundtrack and a load of unreleased bonus tracks as well. The film holds up, a nasty punch to the gut highlighted by Giovanni Lombardo Radice at his most gloriously unhinged!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!