Review: Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #632

Also known as Make Them Die Slowly
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 24, 1981
Sub-Genre: Cannibal
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Producers: Mino Loy, Luciano Martino
Screenplay: Umberto Lenzi
Special Effects: Gino De Rossi
Cinematography: Giovanni Bergamini
Score: Roberto Donati, Fiamma Maglione
Editing: Enzo Meniconi
Studios: Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, National Cinematografica
Distributors: Medusa Distribuzione, Aquarius Releasing, Grindhouse Releasing
Stars: Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Frank von Kuegelgen, Lorraine De Selle, Pat Starke, Danilo Mattei, Gregory Snegoff, Zora Kerova, Walter Lucchini, Andy Luotto, Robert Kerman, Edward Mannix, Fiamma Maglione, Susan Spafford, John Bartha, Venantino Venantini


Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Riz Ortolani “Cannibal Holocaust”

[2] Total Coelo “I Eat Cannibals”

[3] Roberto Donati & Fiamma Maglione “Cannibal Ferox Suite”

[4] Selpultura “Ratamahatta”

Whenever the word cannibal is tossed about, the word that generally follows it is holocaust. Italian filmmaker Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film, Cannibal Holocaust, is pretty much unanimously regarded as the granddaddy of all anthropophagist flicks and quite rightly so as it was so far ahead of its time that it’s positively scary. Pre-dating Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez’s found footage front runner, The Blair Witch Project, by almost a full two decades, Deodato’s notorious nasty delivered audiences far closer to the indigenous tribes of Peru than they were comfortable with and it promptly found itself bang to rights when UK Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act in 1984. Charged as being utterly reprehensible, its cause certainly wasn’t helped by the graphic depictions of an endangered species of turtle being rough-handed but that wasn’t even the half of it.

You see, Deodato was taken into custody shortly after the film premiered in his native country and found himself facing all kinds of obscenity charges. The powers that be politely requested evidence that Cannibal Holocaust wasn’t in fact a snuff movie and this proved a darn sight easier said than done. Given that the director had implicitly instructed all actors involved to lay low for a year or so just to further fuel the hype; he found himself frightfully short of alibis. Eventually he managed to convince the jury of his innocence but the damage was already done as far as a home audience was concerned and it wound up banned in a number of other countries besides. To be fair, almost forty years on, it still packs a significant thwack although it amuses me how rabid its detractors were when nowadays not a solitary soul would have batted an eyelid (other than a handful of turtle loving animal activists and Casey Jones of course).

So where do I stand? As far away from the fucking Ya̧nomamös as I possibly can, that’s where. Jests aside though, it’s hardly the kind of light entertainment that demands frequent views is it? For me, Cannibal Holocaust was always going to be a two-time deal. Lest we not forget that the American slasher movement was providing this particular adolescent with no end of flashy masks and teen slaughtering to gorge my senses upon. This wasn’t fun, it was downright distressing, and there was no jumping three-foot from my seat or lengthy chase sequences. Just dinner time. Granted, it filled something of a gap where flesh-ripping and feasting were concerned, but I knew that years down the line our paths would cross again one more time. This time I would be prepared for the come what may; battle-hardened from drinking in the likes of Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible and Srđan Spasojević’s A Serbian Film and only suffering a mild case of gut erosion. Thus I applied that face paint and booted it up for round two.

Guess what the overriding feeling was. Negative on the disappointment front as Deodato’s film has actually aged with a tremendous amount of dignity. However, while it has surrendered none of its integrity, it’s not the only movie from the early eighties cannibal canon worthy of recollection. Fellow Italian Umberto Lenzi had already cut his teeth almost a decade prior with The Man from Deep River and doubled up in 1980 with Eaten Alive so it was clear he knew his T-Bones from Rib-Eyes. Both of these efforts were instrumental in the brief eighties craze, but in 1981, third time finally became a charm and Cannibal Ferox was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences the world over.

Also known by the rather spiffing title, Make Them Die Slowly, Lenzi’s film may be a tad lighter on the turtle bashing (although wildlife still perishes), but what part of make them die slowly suggests that humans are going to receive anything less than a rough ride? Indeed, one scene in particular put me off wieners for some time afterwards and, while I got my nipple pierced in my twenties, it was Cannibal Ferox flashing the mental images as the words “this may pinch some” were uttered. I shit you not, brutality has seldom looked more authentic as the unshakable moment when poor Pat (Zora Kerova) is hoisted up like a hog in an abattoir by way of rusty-assed hooks threaded through her juice squirters.

Should you be of a weaker disposition or be suffering from tender breasts right now, then I would suggest getting your jollies from Aaron’s demise in Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno as I’m fairly assured that his ample moobs were the one body part not hacked and gouged to oblivion. Cannibal Ferox makes each of its points in terms by no way uncertain and is every bit the match of its more illustrious cousin with regards to giving its addressee that all-important pound of flesh. It may not have quite as much to say, at least where stinging commentary is concerned, but when it does speak up, it does so with cheeks stuffed.

After a brief but enlightening opening in New York, we head straight for the Amazonian rain forests of Paraguay, where the inquisitive Gloria (Lorraine De Selle) is catching up on a dash of on-location research for her current thesis. Should her theory be accurate, then cannibalism doesn’t actually exist and is little more than a load of baloney dreamed up by Conquistadors and spread by way of Chinese whispers. Accompanying her on this cross-continent field trip are her sibling, Rudy (Danilo Mattei), and the ever so faintly slutty Pat (Zora Kerova); and all is going swimmingly until their jeep gets lodged in a quagmire, leaving the exasperated trio up the world’s longest creek minus that paddle. All is not lost though as, before their heads can drop, two strapping young men come bounding from the bush to join the party. Safety in numbers right? 

Perhaps that would be so if one of them wasn’t a coke-huffing emerald scavenger who currently owes the New York mafia a paltry sum of around 100 grand, hence our intro. Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is quite clearly a few twigs short of a campfire and, while his compadre Joe (Walter Lucchini) appears kosher, he’s also sporting a mortal injury and therefore about as much use to the group right now as an electric can opener. It turns out that the pair (i.e. Mike) have rattled the cages of a tribe of natives and are in the process of running for their lives. So what better plan then than to pool resources and head straight back to the place where this deeply unpleasant “misunderstanding” kicked off in the first place. Now that’s fucking teamwork.

As if the welcome party of a rotted corpse that resembles a life-sized jerky weren’t enough, Mike then decides that Pat’s more than up for a quick round of Where’s Winky and, Pat being the whore she is, resistance is futile. That said, she’s less inclined to murder one of the native girls in cold blood on Mike’s instruction so, after a couple of toots from his magic stash, he does the dastardly deed himself. If this ragtag assembly were up to their necks in dung previously, then this despicable act has them well and truly fertilized. You see, the enraged cannibals didn’t need another excuse to make these trespassers die slowly, but aren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth when they could be tucking into its raw hide instead.

You can suss what’s coming next I’m guessing? You’re darn tooting it’s capture and parole for good behavior most certainly isn’t on the table. Instead, tonight’s menu will comprise whatever body parts are considered the dish of the day and it’s the food preparation side of things that our human menu options should be sweating over. Meanwhile, Gloria may well be needing an extension on her thesis deadline. Never mind that shit sweet cheeks, I swear I just heard the dinner bell and three dozen tummies growling in unison. Bon appétit bitches!

Cannibal Ferox may lack the innovation of Deodato’s stomach-turner but, the thing about Lenzi, is that his movies are seldom dull and this is absolutely no exception to that rule. I’m not altogether sure that the term “popcorn cannibal flick” would ever take off but, if it did, then this would be the definitive fast food front runner. Naturally, where entertainment is his number one priority (again I use the word tenuously), folk soon dismissed it out of hand as no more than a blatant rip off.

Granted, the timing of its release was somewhat uncanny, but considering the entire sub-genre was effectively Lenzi’s brain child to begin with, I figure he more than earned that right. Strip away Holocaust’s subtext and you are left with a fast-paced romp through the undergrowth with no shortage of cheese-string dialogue and more than sufficient meat on dem bones to fill those bellies. Just remember, you may wish to place your orders sharpish, as cannibals tend to skip grace and get straight to the man-mutton. So who’s got space for dessert then?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 5/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Rarely does a film warrant the 5/5 Grue Rating above quite so effortlessly as Cannibal Ferox. I happen to be rather fond of my tallywhacker (I like making it slap my thighs, so shoot me) and wince the very second that the tribespeople commence licking their lips as I know only too well where it’s headed. That said, making them die quickly was never listed in their to-do-list and, the ultimate indignity laid on for Mike (who kinda had it coming, it has to be said), is being forcibly secured beneath a multi-purpose bench while his scalp is lopped off with a rusted machete, before having his thinking gloop feasted upon. Don’t even get me started on Pat’s torn up tits as that one still makes me shudder slowly to this very day.

Read Cannibal Holocaust Appraisal
Read The Green Inferno Appraisal
Read Nightmare City Appraisal
Read Anthropophagus: The Beast Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

Click here to purchase All of Me Vol. I, II, III, IV, V & VI

Click here to purchase on Amazon

© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™


      1. It is my pleasure! I am thrilled that I was able to give back to you after so many of your wonderful pieces. Each one delights me in new ways.

  1. The whole time I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think that Eli Roth basically ripped off this movie. I remember hearing the furor over the film but I have to hand it to Deodato for the marketing ploy. Today, instead of being brought into a courtroom, he would be hailed as a genius.
    Your writing is very evocative and I could see this film playing out in my head (gasp). Terrific job, Rich!

    1. Thanks my friend. Apologies for the woefully late reply, been on holiday for a few weeks. I’m so glad you enjoyed the read and, like you, I love finding out about movies from other people. Great to make your acquaintance.

If you like what you've seen & read please feel free to share your thoughts with us!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.