There were a number of issues going into Cannibal Ferox that ultimately left me feeling rather cold on the film itself. For one, I was still relatively green in my explorations of Italian cult cinema so I didn’t quite know just how bad these pictures can be in the hands of an untrusted director. There was also the fact that I had seen Cannibal Holocaust beforehand so my expectations for quality cinema may have also tainted my expectations to a degree. Thirdly, I suppose the hype didn’t help things. The movie itself actually starts off by hyping up its own violence with the warning:
”The following feature is one of the most violent films ever made. There are at least two dozen scenes of barbaric torture and sadistic cruelty graphically shown. If the presentation of disgusting and repulsive subject matter upsets you, please do not view this film.”
Hype is always best served by those who aren’t directly linked to a project and while I understand marketing campaigns used to focus entirely on self-appropriated hype back in the Grindhouse days, that introduction is a bit much by anyone’s standards! Going into the movie, listening to its proponents (some of who still swear its the most violent film ever made) and looking at that Banned in 31 Countries blurb on the poster… I can understand hype being a factor. I am not saying that Cannibal Ferox is a walk in the park mind you, not by anyone’s standards. There are a few very gory moments as well as some brutal stock footage of animals slaughtering one another as well as fresh footage of animals being slaughtered by natives. Lenzi did his best to try and one-up Rugero Deodato in terms of graphic content when it comes to animal butchery, but unfortunate for him his violence just doesn’t have the impact. The use of stock footage does keep you guessing during the course of the movie, as you wonder which of these moments did Lenzi shoot himself and which were simply picked out of a vault. Yet, stock footage always takes me out of a movie like this. It reveals the movie magic and dulls the impact of the “fake violence” all the more.
While I still consider Cannibal Ferox to be the corny little brother of Cannibal Holocaust, I do have a much more favorable opinion of it these days. Everything that happens during the jungle segments of this movie is actually quite strong, in my opinion. The drama that is built, the performances and of course the exploitation elements. When the movie makes the jump to New York, things aren’t quite as favorable. Rather than the “Dr. Monroe” situation in New York that we found in Cannibal Holocaust, Lenzi instead focuses on the drug dealing past of Mike and the police investigation (lead by Robert Kerman) around the death of a junkie that Mike used to sell to. This entire sequence could have been scrapped and nothing would have been missed. However we are forced to contend with these strange jumps in quality and tone as we move from the Amazon, with its grueling and bleak world of chaos, to the disco soundtrack world of New York’s criminal underworld. The two soundtracks used for each locale couldn’t be more drastically different and while I understand that Lenzi may have wanted to show how different these worlds were, the music lacks any kind of subtle quality and instead it feels like you are being pelted over the head with a brick.
The theme music in the jungle may lack any kind of subtlety, but it works. It is all doom and gloom, but that is precisely what the movie calls for and it was definitely a great call to use it. The best way to describe it is intense, because the music takes over everything whenever that main theme is played. The cast are actually pretty decent as well. John Morghen as Mike is over the top, but is pitch perfect for what his role called for. Morghen is best known for some his more weaselly roles, but this time out he takes on the authoritative and violent Mike and is very believable. He plays the role in much the same way as a David Hess might and thoroughly commits to being the brutal oaf that we expect from the villain. Lorraine De Salle puts in a good performance as well, although at times she does appear rather lost. I only say this because I have seen her put in much better performances but here she never really gets to shine. In fact, her beauty even seems to be toned down as her appearance is never what I would consider to be attractive. Generally the movie is technically well made as a whole. It looks good, there are some well thought out shots, the gore FX are really great and the acting (outside of the New York sequences, which feature some very dodgy acting by way of the Mafia goon-characters) is pretty strong. What few issues I have with the movie are now relegated to structure and poor choices on behalf of the director.