‘Bizarre human sacrifices! The most violent film ever!’
Cannibal Ferox is a 1981 Italian exploitation horror feature film written and directed by Umberto Lenzi. It can be considered one of the ‘unholy trinity’ of superior Italian cannibal films, alongside Last Cannibal World and Cannibal Holocaust. In the US, it was retitled Make Them Die Slowly.
ferōx m, f, n (genitive ferōcis); third declension
- wild, bold, gallant
- defiant, arrogant
In the jungles of the Amazon, brother and sister, Rudy (Danilo Mattei, Anglicised as Bryan Redford) and Gloria (Lorraine De Selle, (Emanuelle in America, House on the Edge of the Park) and their friend Pat (Zora Kerova, appearing here as Pat Johnson, also seen in the likes of The New York Ripper and Anthropophagous) are on a mission to prove Gloria’s assertion that cannibalism is a Western myth.
Alas, their jeep breaks down and they encounter drug dealers on the run from New York; Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka John Morghen, House on the Edge of the Park, City of the Living Dead) and Joe (Walter Lucchini).
It transpires that the pair’s busman’s holiday has developed to bothering the local tribes for cocaine and jewels, not to mention enraging them further by torturing and killing their local guide whilst Mike was high on drugs. This ‘misunderstanding’ has led to the cannibals attacking and leaving Joe badly injured.
Regardless, Mike continues to push his fellow travellers to the limit, seducing Pat and killing a native girl for kicks. The locals take exception to this and begin to hunt down the Americans in an avalanche of cruelty from hooks slicing through breasts to castration to good old-fashioned brain chomping. Only one person survives but what state will they be in when the horror is over?
Director Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City), a typically genre-hopping Italian director, bookended the cannibal film era, beginning with Man from Deep River in 1972 and essentially closing it here in 1981 (though had helmed the more opportunistic, yet tamer, Eaten Alive in 1980). Ferox, incidentally, was re-titled Woman from Deep River on its Australian release.
Ferox is pretty much the last word and left the genre with no body part or animal left to mush up. Though remaining one of the most debated films of the sub-genre, there can be little argument that Ferox lacks the cerebral qualities of most previous cannibal outings, quickly dispensing with the unnecessary introduction to the characters and moving swiftly on to breathtaking scenes of brutality and depravity.
Though fully deserving of their demise, the intruders in the jungle are wildly dislikeable (though Radice steals the entire film with his wide-eyed performance – his seduction of Pat includes the touching tribute of her being “a hot-pussy whore”) and it’s difficult not to root for the natives.
As with Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, accusations of cruelty being meted out on the local fauna were undeniable – a monkey and a pig in particular coming in for some rough treatment. Radice was apparently less than impressed, refusing to take part in the slaughter of innocent animals. It is alleged that Lenzi attempted to convince the actor to join in the killings by asserting that “Robert De Niro would do it” – Radice responded that “De Niro would kick your ass all the way back to Rome”.
Though now dismissive of his part in the film, it is to Radice’s credit that he really throws himself into the role, acting his co-stars out of the rather sparse jungle. It would be reasonable to say that their predicament is far from a jolly holiday, but De Selle and Kerova are incredibly annoying, simpering and gibbering all the way through. Robert Kerman (also known as R. Bolla when appearing in adult movies) also appears, briefly, securing his place in exploitation movie history by starring in both Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust.
Whether flimsy of plot or moral fibre, the effects are superb, the work of Gino De Rossi, an effects designer who had begun his career on the likes of Return of White Fang and Napoli Spara! but progressed through the grime of Zombie Flesh Eaters and City of the Living Dead to work on mainstream films such as Casino Royale (2006).
The music is regularly credited to Budy Maglione – in fact, it is the work of two people; Roberto Donati and Maria Fiamma Maglione. Donati had worked through the 1960’s in several different pop and R’n’B bands as a singer and guitarist but branched out into soundtracks a decade later. His works include scores to Assault with a Deadly Weapon (1976), Eaten Alive (1980) and Daughter of the Jungle (1982).
The brassy, flares-wearing New York theme seems more at home on a poliziotteschi but the main Ferox theme is a doom synth classic – a poor relative of Fabio Frizzi‘s glorious melodies but still a fondly regarded one.
Filmed in the jungles of Leticia, the southernmost city in Colombia, the film somehow lacks the feeling of the characters actually being very far away from civilisation – you rather suspect there’s a pizza place just around the corner.
Ironically, Radice wasn’t the only person onset to express his disappointment with the film – Lenzi too felt it was one of his lesser works, only a ‘minor film’ – however, his best years were already behind him and this was one of only a few efforts by the director in the 1980’s, all of them being shadows of his former genius.
Ferox is a silly film but it is difficult to have sympathy with anyone finding serious fault with a cannibal film – people get chopped up, animals are mutilated and killed, we are left with a tacked-on philosophical message – ’twas ever thus and no-one is pretending this is Ben Hur. It is, however, hugely entertaining, perhaps not always for the intended reasons. Nonetheless, Ferox is rightly hailed as a milestone in exploitation cinema.
The ‘Banned in 31 Countries’ tagline is an odd one, not least because it is likely to be far higher.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA
” …quite possibly the sleaziest, daftest, grossest cannibal film ever. Which makes it perhaps the ultimate grindhouse film. It exists solely to shock, to titillate, to nauseate, to leave 1980s audiences open-mouthed in a ‘I can’t believe they just did that’ kind of way. It has a music score that is both potty and perfect. It also moves at a clip and has some utterly terrible dialogue. It is a strange and sleazy kind of wonderful.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema
“Make Them Die Slowly is often hysterically funny— which is something you should never be able to say about a movie that involves this much animal-snuff footage— and though he lacks the nerve to revel in his most loathsome misdeeds the way Deodato did, he never lets that stop him from committing them, either. Compare Lenzi’s take on the turtle-butchering scene to Deodato’s.” Scott Ashlin, 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“Whilst I’ll never understand these films’ preoccupation with severing willies and rendering all tribespeople ever as almost-mute, intractable wig-wearers, but these tropes are present and correct, together with a little more ambition in plot development as events in New York gradually link up with the jungle. Cannibal Ferox will never be for everyone, but as these films go, it’s a fairly entertaining watch.” Keri O’Shea, Warped Perspective
On September 26, 2017, Grindhouse Releasing re-issued the film on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA:
- Original unrated, uncensored director’s cut
- New 2K transfer – scanned from the original camera negative
- Shocking deleted scenes – not seen for over 30 years!
- Breathtaking digital stereo re-mix by Academy Award winner Paul Ottosson
- Optional Italian language soundtrack and original mono mix
- Candid and shocking audio commentary by director Umberto Lenzi and star John Morghen
- Provocative, in-depth interviews with director Umberto Lenzi, stars Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Danilo Mattei and Zora Korowa, and special effects master Gino DeRossi
- Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film
- All-new feature-length documentary containing interviews with Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, and Robert Kerman
- Original Italian, German and U.S. theatrical trailers
- Extensive gallery of stills and poster art
- Glossy 12 page booklet containing liner notes by legendary 42nd Street historian Bill Landis (author of The Sleazoid Express) and Eli Roth (director of Hostel and The Green Inferno)
- Bonus CD – original soundtrack album by Budy-Maglione – newly remastered in stunning 24 bit/96khz sound from the original studio master tapes, and including never-before-released alternate takes
- Embossed slipcover