Infamovies: Cannibal Ferox (1981)


What’s the deal?

Violence, animal cruelty,

Still banned?

Wasn’t ever, really…sort of.

Background:

In the midst of what Wikipedia tells me is called the “Cannibal Boom”, Umberto Lenzi released his Cannibal Ferox. It was initially dismissed as little more than a direct rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust (which I agree with) but Lenzi himself had actually kick-started the boom with 1972’s The Man From Deep River. That film had taken the very basic conventions of what would become the cannibal genre (exotic locales, different culture, bloody violence) and turned them into the framework of the slew of gritty cannibalistic films to follow.

Now that being said, it’s a bit hard to not see how much this ticks off a list of things that Cannibal Holocaust did first, and did better – not that I have much love for either film, but Cannibal Holocaust somehow manages to seem classier about its schlock.

The film is officially titled Cannibal Ferox, but there’s also plenty of advertising material that had it named Make Them Die Slowly! – hilariously, when they decided to rerelease the film with the Ferox title, they just posted that on old posters, turning the original Make Them Die Slowly! title into a tagline

OFLC

And first a note here – I’ve had a few emails regarding my continuing usage of the acronym OFLC – I’m well aware that the Office of Film and Literature Classification has become the Australian Classification Board, but given that most of the films I started writing about had problems with the censors when they were the OFLC, that’s what’s stuck.

Now – an interesting case here – Cannibal Ferox was never specifically banned in Australia. It was initially released as The Woman From Deep River to cash in on the success of Lenzi’s first film, and the distributors pre-cut much of the footage before submitting it to the censors.

However, attempts at importing uncut versions of the film were often met with customs seizing the product and forwarding it on to relevant bodies, such as the police or OFLC themselves.

It was re-released on DVD in 2005 in its uncut form, and proudly bandied about its “BANNED IN 31 COUNTRIES” tagline – a fact which many have pointed out has never been confirmed.

So – officially never banned, but not officially allowed in its complete form until 2005, though there was never any specific censor ruling that said that its uncut form was unacceptable.

PLOT

You’ll often read in reviews of Cannibal Holocaust that its theme music is eerily peaceful and light-hearted in contrast to what will follow. Well, Cannibal Ferox’s theme is similarly dissonant – if you decide to score your early 80s cannibal film with the highest quality porn soundtrack around.

But we go through quite a lengthy opening scene of footage of New York, wherein we follow a dishevelled looking young man as he tries to find an apartment. When he does eventually find it, he is greeted by two mobsters who are also looking for the apartment’s occupant, Mike. Turns out that Mike skipped town with $100 000, pissing off the mobsters and leaving our dishevelled fella with no supply of heroin. The mobsters beat Mr Dishevelled up and then shoot him.

We spend a good 5 minutes watching him walk around New York, only for him to be shot. Bye!

The police arrive, headed by Lt. Rizzo, (Robert Kerman, because Ferox needs to even steal Holocaust’s actors – even down to his outfit) and he investigates, noting that they need to find Mike’s girlfriend.

Okay, good little police-procedural setup. They’ll probably head into the jungle to find Mike, and then get set upon by the titular cannibals, right? Yeah, the police don’t turn up again for another 42 minutes.

Onto the actual plot!

We meet Gloria, Rudy, and Pam, as they arrive in [insert South American nation that’s obviously less civilised than the USA here]. Gloria has arrived to prove a theory in her thesis, that cannibalism doesn’t exist and in fact never has. Never mind that there is no possible way to prove this theory by taking one visit to one nation, Gloria’s got her mind set on it.

L-R: Rudy, Pam, Gloria

This functions as the slightly nicer version of the film crew from Cannibal Holocaust. Gloria, Rudy, and Pam are inherently nicer people than Holocaust’s band of arseholes, but the whole impetus of the plot is “people used to comfortable life in the US being thrust into the jungle as a way of affronting their hubris.” In Holocaust their hubris is to assume that they’re a more powerful people who can exploit the natives, in Ferox it’s that they’re a more educated people who know more about the natives than the natives do themselves.

Rudy, Gloria’s brother, goes along to look after his sister, and Pam, the token air-headed blonde, goes along under the false pretence of the expedition being a vacation. They arrive in their faceless location (well, they’re in Paraguay but it just functions the same way as setting the movie in “THE JUNGLE”) and attempt to get someone to take them to a remote village, but not before Pam has sex with a lecherous guard in order to use his shower. And that’s pretty much Pam’s characterisation – blonde with big breasts who has sex at the drop of a hat.

I suspect having sex with this guy to have a shower would leave you still feeling unclean.

They get taken on a boat ride further into the jungle – while the score plays this hilariously melodramatic music over mundane footage of not much happening. Pam asks what it is exactly they’re doing here and Gloria explains the crux of her thesis. It includes such obvious excuse-plotting that the dialogue becomes hilarious. Pam playfully suggests that Gloria invented the village in her mind – Gloria shows her a newspaper article that mentions cannibalism being witnessed along the river, near the village they’re heading towards. Pam shrugs off this proof with “oh you can’t believe everything you read.” Furthermore, despite Gloria having a newspaper article that confirms the existence of cannibalism – she still decides she can prove it never existed by having a quick look around the jungle…but I’ll at least give them some brownie points for justifying her position, that the idea of the ferocious cannibal was made up by the conquistadors to justify their cruelty. But I’ll also point out that this line exists to justify dropping the term “Cannibal Ferox” into conversation so that the movie can justify having a cool name. For the record, Ferox is a Latin word that means “fierce.” Also on this boat ride, one of the locals captures an enormous butterfly – then eats it. Yeah…this movie has a lot of animals dying on screen.

As they venture into the jungle, their car gets bogged down and there’s a surprisingly lengthy scene (for what it entails) involving them getting the car moving again, only for it to get stranded (almost) immediately afterwards. So after this pointless diversion, they set off on foot. Along the way, they come across a native, calmly sitting down, eating grubs off a leaf – you know, the same way all cannibals do – but it’s really just an excuse to have some more animal death, even if said animal is only a grub or two. The native is also covered in facial tumours that look all bloody and pus-oozing – it’s pretty foul. Gloria suggests they get out of there as she has a “bad feeling” and she’s right – as they leave they pass by some trees where a group of the tribesmen are standing with their blowpipes.

Then comes the worst scene of the movie – on the boat, they were given a mongoose to help fight off any snakes they come across. When they camp for the night, they leash it to a stake near where they’re sleeping. Along comes an anaconda and proceeds to kill the mongoose. Now, in reality, what’s happened is that the filmmakers have shot footage of an anaconda killing a mongoose that they’ve tied down purely for the scene. They intercut it in the film with shots of the characters (clearly filmed elsewhere) saying “oh no” and “poor little thing.” We even get a shot of Gloria wanting to save it but Rudy lamenting that “there’s nothing we can do now” – even though there was clearly enough time for him to take that machete and kill the snake. Their sorrow for the mongoose doesn’t make it any more palatable to see a small animal – tied down and trying desperately to escape, watch with palpable fear as a giant snake comes along and starts killing it – slowly. You hear the mongoose screaming and yelping pitifully from the second it sees the anaconda, all the way to the point where it finally dies – bleeding from the neck, being wrapped up in the various coils of the snake and suffering all the while. You can also see the mongoose looking at the film crew with absolute fear and terror in its eyes. And then its over and the film continues with no reason for having needed that shot.

As the trio continues through the jungle, they hear the pained cries of someone in the distance, and come across two villagers who have met their ends at the end of a booby trap.

The guy on the ground is visibly breathing throughout this scene.

Pam rightfully freaks out at the sight of it and wants to turn back, while Gloria tells her to calm down because she’ll “only make it worse!” Pam is still hysterical, so Rudy comes along and gives her the old “slap of calming” – but it’s inadvertently hilarious. The sound crew on this film were clearly baked while they worked on it, and the sound effect they’ve dubbed in for each time Rudy hits her sounds like a quick explosion.

It’s here that they come across Mike and Joe. Remember Mike? The guy whose disappearance opens the film? There’s absolutely no reason they couldn’t have just opened the film in the jungle, but hey, Cannibal Holocaust had scenes in New York at the start of it, so why not Ferox?

Mike and his accomplice Joe explain that they’re on the run from the cannibal villagers, after said villagers killed and murdered their guide – they tell the trio that they were looking for emeralds, as their tour guide told them where they could find some, before he met his grisly demise. Joe is badly wounded (which they convey by putting a bandage around his knee) so the trio agrees to help them, but not before we get some character development of Mike – from beginning to end, he’s a bastard who loves cocaine, and that’s all you need to know. They rest up for the night but in the morning find Gloria gone. They split up to search for her. Joe and Rudy come across the village, and while Rudy wants to go in and find Gloria, Joe begs him not to because they’ll kill him – I’ll point out that at this point, Rudy has no reason to not believe Joe on that claim.  As Rudy looks around the village, he comes across the burned body of Joe and Mike’s tour guide – and I don’t know if it was intentional, but the body looks like a gory version of the Venus de Milo.

Rudy also comes across some villagers, but they’re all very passive, and mainly old people. Elsewhere, Pam and Mike forage through the jungle, watch as a jaguar eats a monkey, then come across Gloria stuck in a small pit being menaced by a pig. And literally – a small pit, and a pig – not a wild boar or anything, just a pig rolling in the mud. Mike jumps down and stabs it – again, killing a creature on screen – before they all regroup in the village. Rudy is puzzled, as to why the younger villagers have all left, and why the older ones left behind react in fear if they go near them. He even delivers the most subtle of all subtle lines – “THEY SEEM SCARED OF US…AS IF WE WERE GOING TO DO SOMETHING TO THEM, WHEN REALLY IT SHOULD BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND” – keep in mind Mike’s questionable character and Rudy’s constant questioning of his story, and it almost seems like Mike’s a bit untrustworthy!

They all decide they’ve seen enough and want to leave, when Joe conveniently collapses, getting sicker from his wounds. Mike chivalrously suggests they abandon Joe in the village, but Gloria insists they stay. Mike puts in a caveat that if the younger cannibals come back, they all kill themselves to spare the horrors of being eaten.

Next, after a snake is dropped onto the ground by the filmmakers so it can be eaten by an iguana, we see Mike and Pam having coke-fuelled sex. In their drug craze, they then go and capture a native boy and girl – Mike tries to persuade Pam to cut the girl up, but she can’t do it. As the girl tries to run away, Mike shoots her, before getting into a fight with Rudy who arrives on scene. Pam gets the native boy to flee. This plot point is wrapped up when Joe has a relapse and looks to be close to dying – Pam and Mike go to look for a plant that can help reduce his fever, while Gloria and Rudy tend to him. We pause briefly to see a large tortoise being hacked up and fried by the natives, before cutting back to Joe on his deathbed.

He comes clean and drops the amazing twist – that Mike is as much of a bastard as we already know him to be. Joe and Mike ripped off the mob in New York and fled into the jungle. There they met one of the villagers, who showed them a few emeralds. They followed him back to the village, intending to rip him off, but in the end exploited the villagers as slave labour in the search for more emeralds.

After a while, Mike got fed up with the situation and tied their guide to a pole, before torturing, castrating, and eventually burning him, as well as killing another villager. This – understandably – pissed off the villagers, and they decided to get their revenge. The duo decided to try and leave, with the help of a kidnapped villager to show them through the jungle, but she fell foul of the booby trap we saw earlier in the film, and a village charged at Joe with his spear, wounding him, before Mike killed him. The two then made it a small way before Gloria, Pam and Rudy came across them, and end flashback. Gloria and Rudy try to find Mike and Pam, but it turns out that they’ve run off with all of Gloria’s supplies, leaving her and Rudy to die in the village.

BACK IN NEW YORK!!!!

 

I’ve only titled it like that, because the way the films smash-cuts back into New York, with a blare of the pseudo-porn music is enough to give someone whiplash. Back in New York, Lt. Rizzo tries to track down Mike’s girlfriend.

He does.

She tells him she doesn’t know where Mike is, but Rizzo puts a police tail on her.

BACK IN THE JUNGLE:

Rudy and Gloria agree to bury the now-dead Joe before escaping, but they come across:

A ROTTEN PAPAYA ON A STICK

 

Apparently it’s a bad omen, but they treat it the same way as the horse’s head in The Godfather and it’s hard to take seriously. But rotten papaya = they’re fucked.

Rudy and Gloria hide as three young villagers come back. They drag Joe’s body outside, split it open and eat his intestines…before walking off. Rudy and Gloria escape into the jungle, but are set upon and captured by the angry natives, who’ve also captured Pam and Mike.

They lock Rudy, Pam and Gloria in a cage (where Pam gets bitten by a leech) and proceed to tie Mike to a pole, before castrating him and eating his genitals.

BACK IN NEW YORK!!!!

Also, the mobsters try to track down Mike’s girlfriend.

They do.

She tells them she doesn’t know where Mike is, but Rizzo’s police tail chases them off before they kill her.

Lt Rizzo and Mike’s girlfriend agree to go to THE JUNGLE to try and find Mike.

END NEW YORK SUBPLOT.
IT WAS DEFINITELY NOT INCLUDED TO PAD THE FILM’S LENGTH, OR BECAUSE CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST ALSO HAD A SUBPLOT IN NEW YORK.

 

Back in the jungle, the villagers take Rudy, Pam, Gloria and a cauterised-Mike to a village upstream, to kill them some more. Gloria hopes a search party will come across her credit-card and necklace which she dropped in the previous village and be able to find them – but we’re immediately shown the villagers playing around with said objects, which I admit made me laugh like I think it’s supposed to.

When they dock at the new village, Rudy tries to make a break for it to get help, but ends up hiding in a lake where piranhas start eating from an open wound on his leg, forcing him back on shore, where the cannibals kill him.

They throw Pam and Gloria in an admittedly-inventive little set piece – it’s essentially an above-ground oubliette which the villagers have built as a mound with a door on top. Mike is put in a regular pit in the ground.

Gloria has a nice “explicitly state the film’s message” moment where she says that they’re not so different from the cannibals, and that human nature is savage and blah, blah, blah – we’ve heard it all before, not least of all in FUCKING CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST!

Rudy is implied to have been gutted, as a random piece of choice meat is lowered into Gloria and Pam, but they don’t eat it. They instead choose to sing a song to calm their nerves.

The cannibals gut a crocodile and munch on it, before retiring for the night. In the night, Mike digs his way out of his pit and kills the cannibal who should be guarding him.

The villager from before, who Pam told to flee when Mike killed his girlfriend, tries to help Pam and Gloria escape by lowering them a rope, but Mike chases him off, and cuts the rope, leaving the two women behind. He tries to flee into the jungle but ends up getting captured again. The natives cut off his hand and take him back to the village.

Pam and Gloria are brought out of their prison. Pam is stripped shirtless, before having large hooks shoved through her breasts, from which she is then suspended and left to die. And yes, this is Ferox’s answer to the impaled-body scene from Holocaust.

Elsewhere, Mike’s girlfriend arrives in the jungle with a small search party, only to be greeted by the natives, who tell them that the five Americans were in a canoe which capsized and were all eaten by crocodiles.

Back in the village, Mike gets put underneath a table with a nice skull-shaped hole in the top, and they proceed to slice open his skull and feast on his brains. Pam dies from her wounds. The native who tried to help them escape before sets Gloria free, and the two escape into the jungle, but it isn’t too long until this happens:

Gloria leaves him to die, escapes the jungle (with the help of poachers, no less), heads back to New York, hands in her thesis and is shown to have gone along with the “got eaten by crocodiles” myth as she feels so much guilt about the treatment of the cannibals. She also sticks with her original statement that cannibalism does not exist.

And that’s where the film ends!

Review

Hmmm. Didn’t like it, didn’t hate it. It’s certainly clear that this is just riffing off the previous success of Cannibal Holocaust, but it must be said that there is some small amount of inventiveness. Having the Americans be divided into good and bad characters works a little more to show that good people have to suffer for bad people’s actions, but meh – it’s not that dissimilar a point to make.

The film is not as nasty as Cannibal Holocaust – it’s not quite as mean spirited, and the complete absence of rape is a very welcome change in an exploitation movie. While it definitely plays as a cheap knockoff of Holocaust, it doesn’t match the good qualities that Holocaust had.

It also manages the impossible task of contextualising the animal cruelty in Cannibal Holocaust – I wrote in my review of that film that it was pointless and unnecessary – I agree with that still, but at the same time, it showed the characters being cruel to everything around them, and therefore reinforces their characters as bastards. In Ferox it’s thrown in for the sake of having animal cruelty in the film – which admittedly many of the distributors of cannibal films insisted on putting in – but it’s still entirely pointless. Other than Mike killing the pig (proves he’s a psycho) and the natives killing the animals for their food (gross but makes sense in context) the animal slaughter in this film is just a series of events where the filmmakers put two animals together and filmed the fight. I didn’t even mention all of the animal cruelty in this film, but there’s a lot of it, and I have to admit – the scene with the mongoose made me want to cry. It’s just cruel and nasty, and out of tone with the rest of the movie.

Not as bad as watching a mongoose die…

The film is also often unintentionally hilarious – the sound crew repeat the same sound effect for repeated movements hilariously. When Mr Dishevelled walks up a flight of stairs at the start of the film, each footstep is identical. When characters get punched or slapped, it’s an identical sound each time. And oh lord the dubbing – I can only assume that it’s not the original actors voicing themselves, but good GOD is it poorly matched. If it wasn’t for the animal cruelty, this movie would be largely a comedy.

And there I suppose is the ultimate summation of this movie. It’s quite poorly made, and even though it’s trying to copy Cannibal Holocaust, it’s just not ultimately that upsetting. Sure there’s some gory parts, and the animal cruelty is horrible to watch, but the rest of the movie just isn’t that horrendous an experience. It’s not disturbing, it’s not horrifying, and perhaps the biggest crime of all, it’s not particularly interesting.

Understandably (sort-of) banned? 

Like I said before, it was never the decision of the OFLC to ban the film – the censors pre-cut material before submitting it for a rating. That said, with the uncut versions of the film being confiscated by customs, I suppose we can still treat it the same way.

So I’ll say, with all the animal cruelty, yes, I can see why it was banned. Uncut with the film’s horror-violence…well, for the time, yes it’s easy to see why it would be banned, but in the modern light of horror films, while it’s not necessarily tame, the effects are pretty unsophisticated.

Understandable for the time, but there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t be released uncut today – which it has been.

Go HERE  to see what was removed from the film back in the day

Overall 

The animal cruelty is upsetting, but the rest of the film is a cheap imitation of Cannibal Holocaust which gives an overall “meh” response. Worth seeing for the curious though.

ONE MORE THING:

I’m including this trailer to show what I meant about the sound effects – but it is also a SERIOUSLY NSFW trailer, and I would advise only watching it if you’re 18 years old. It makes the film look a lot nastier than it is – and when she says “we’re saving the best bits for you” – she’s referring to the animal cruelty. Pretty much all of the money-shot violence in the film is included here. But enjoy the sound effects of people being hit!

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5 thoughts on “Infamovies: Cannibal Ferox (1981)

  1. Oh dear…

    READING about the mongoose made me feel a bit teary, so I certainly won’t be checking this one out!!

  2. Great post, Dave, read with interest, knowing of many of these films, but hardly being initiate in them. Some day I want someone to explain to me (perhaps you) what it is in Italian culture than produced in this era films of such incredible – pretty much unprecedented – violence. What the connections are. It’s an Italian thing, surely(?).

    • I remember once coming across an article that suggested it was largely a result of post-war frustrations, and that Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were expressing rage at the fall of fascist Italy. There were some semi-persuasive arguments in there (the most credible which suggested that Argento had a fascination with dealing excessive violence to women as a response to an alleged “Americanisation” of Italian culture which was essentially neutering the entrenched Italian machismo) but it was a largely questionable piece that had little-to-no supporting evidence.

      However, you’ve piqued my curiosity now; may have to follow up on this.

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