Review: Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #799

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 4, 1980
Sub-Genre: Exploitation/Body Horror
Country of Origin: Italy, Spain
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Producers: Maurizo Amati, Sandro Amati
Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti, Antonio Margheriti
Special Effects: Giannetto De Rossi, Bob Shelley
Cinematography: Fernando Arribas
Score: Alexander Blonksteiner
Editing: Giorgio Serrallonga
Studio: Edmondo Amati presents, José Frade Producciones Cinematográficas S.A., New Fida
Distributor: New Fida
Stars: John Saxon, Elizabeth Turner, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Cinzia De Carolis, Tony King, Wallace Wilkinson, Ramiro Oliveros, John Geroson, May Heatherly, Ronnie Sanders, Vic Perkins, Jere Beery, Joan Riordan, Laura Dean

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] The Saints “Know Your Product”

[2] Alexander Blonksteiner “Cannibal Apocalypse”

Branding plays such a pivotal role in assuring the success of your movie. Few nationalities know this quite as well as the Italians, whose output at the tail-end of the seventies and early eighties was simply staggering. Horror was booming stateside and the impetus for every aspiring Italian filmmaker was to crack this particular nut and penetrate its highly profitable marketplace. Directors chose American sounding aliases to help bamboozle the masses and, whatever bandwagon was currently deemed mobile, provided a jump on point as long as the product was branded accordingly. One perfect example of the dilemma facing the Italians is Cannibal Apocalypse as it underwent significant alterations before commencing its brief theatrical run in 1981.

Margheriti’s film paraded under an obscene number of alternative titles before opting for Cannibal Apocalypse. These included Cannibals in the Streets, Cannibals in the City, Cannibal Massacre, Virus, Invasion of the Fleshhunters, The Slaughterers, Savage Slaughterers, Savage Apocalypse, and my own personal favorite, Apocalypse Tomorrow. However, with Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox courting all kinds of controversy, it promptly found itself named and shamed on the 1984 Video Recordings Act and banished to the sin bin as a video nasty. No press is bad press of course, thus it coasted by on its new-found infamy and duly became relatively sought after. This would be all well and good, but those expecting another gut-munching ramble through the Amazonian rain forests were in for a rather monumental bummer.

You see, Cannibal Apocalypse actually shared more common ground with the likes of George A. Romero’s Dawn of The Dead and David Cronenberg’s Rabid than any of the films bearing the notorious “cannibal” mantle, although there were no foaming mouths or creeping flesh here. Indeed, those down with the sickness appeared no different to the naked eye than any other civilian. Margheriti was already an established director in his native land but, despite numerous forays into horror during a career that spanned five decades before his death in 2002, it was never his go-to genre. Granted, cannibalism did play a part in proceedings, but this was primarily a run-of-the-mill exploitation movie with little to elevate it above the masses.

Our tour of duty begins at a POW camp in the Vietcong during the ‘Nam war, where no-nonsense captain Norman Hopper (John Saxon) and his unit are torching the whole base down, eliminating any stray “gooks” as they do. After happening across AWOL sergeants Thompson (Tony King) and Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) imprisoned beneath them, Hopper takes a bite from one of the men and promptly wakes up drenched in sweat next to his wife Jane (Elizabeth Turner) in his cozy bed in current day Atlanta, Georgia. Was it all merely a nightmare? More importantly, what kind of shenanigans can the highly decorated officer get up to while the missus is at work tomorrow?

One person not short of suggestions is his underage neighbor Mary (Cinzia de Carolis), who seems to have taken rather a shine to Hopper from across the way. Surely Margheriti wouldn’t go there would he? Are you kidding? This is Italian cinema at the turn of the eighties. Besides, there’s something about the way that Mary teases him with a hair-dryer nozzle while he’s attempting to take an important phone call from his old troop mate Bukowski (who appears in some distress I might add) that a traumatized Vietnam vet like Hopper wouldn’t dream of passing up. One look at those bunched up cotton white panties with a hint of overhanging bush and it’s chow down time.

Needless to say, Bukowski doesn’t take this latest snub particularly well and his PTSD begins to develop into something far more potentially viral. After getting into a bloody brawl with a gang of embittered bikers, he barricades himself into a mall and plots himself a city-wide rampage. Meanwhile, a similarly blighted Sgt. Thompson is gearing up to do precisely the same at a different set of coordinates, leaving high-ranking, trench coat wearing flatfoot McCoy (Wallace Wilkinson) with a potential pandemic on his hands and not the vaguest idea how to spot or treat its symptoms. It’s fine though as, once Hopper has wrapped up eating that prohibited pussy, he’s sure to shepherd get his men back in formation right? Is he fuck! That unplanned a.m. pussy platter has gone fried up his circuitry and their major malfunction appears to be his also.

Aside from the slightly misleading title, Cannibal Apocalypse never really finds anything like a bankable identity and ultimately winds up neither here or there. Make no mistake, our leading man is on typically magnanimous form and there’s more than enough incident scattered across its 96 minute running time to hold the attention through numerous lulls in its narrative and unlikely logic leaps. Given that Margheriti was going through a lengthy divorce while shooting this and none too happy about the studio’s intention to market it as a “gore flick”, the fact it didn’t end up on the cutting room floor is an achievement in itself.

Perhaps the most fascinating outlook is that it tackles soldiers returning from active combat, failing to readjust to society, and in that respect at least, Margheriti shows genuine thematic integrity. The cannibalism of the title is ultimately an extreme metaphor for the fallout of war and suddenly the alternative title Apocalypse Domani (translating to Apocalypse Tomorrow) becomes far more relevant. You see, it provides crystallized clarity of the direction he wished to take this before the powers that be hogtied him.

Choose to sign up and my advice would be to consider James Glickenhaus’ The Exterminator as a benchmark for both presentation and flavor. Saxon may be no Robert Ginty, but neither is Ginty any kind of John Saxon and therein lies the paradox. I fear I may have ingested some morning napalm you know. The horrors of war huh?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Cannibal Holocaust was absolutely brutalized by the censors on its release and it’s hard to work out what all the fuss was about as, a handful of gruesome instances aside, it’s really not all that gory. That said, the four scenes in question are admittedly pretty strong. One features a tongue being bitten off and spat out like rancid candy, another entails an eye being gouged, there’s a messy autopsy with a buzzsaw carving through flesh and bone, and the crowning moment involves a shotgun blast to the tummy that creates a gaping hole right through the victim’s midriff. This particular gag still holds up supremely well to this day and I suspect that even the great Lucio Fulci himself would have been impressed.

Read The Exterminator Appraisal
Read Cannibal Holocaust Appraisal
Read Cannibal Ferox Appraisal
Read House (1986) Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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