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May 27, 2015

Cannibal Ferox

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Umberto Lenzi - 1981
Grindhouse Releasing BD Region A

Included in this new Blu-ray release of Cannibal Ferox is a genre overview titled Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film. Among the participants discussing the genre is Ruggero Deodato, director of Cannibal Holocaust. Had Deodato's mentor, Roberto Rossellini made a cannibal movie, would it look like Cannibal Holocaust? I'm not sure I would go that far. However, it made me think, what if Umberto Lenzi's favorite director, Raoul Walsh, had made a cannibal movie. In terms of the actors, the psychotic exploiter of the tribesmen could have been played by James Cagney with the mania of White Heat, the quietly attractive young anthropologist is not far removed from the roles of Olivia De Havilland, Virginia Mayo would be the blonde bad girl, Jack Carson as the not so bad guy who realizes he's over his head, and Jeffrey Lynn as the brother of the anthropologist.
Even with regards to the story, Lenzi has traces of other Walsh films - Distant Drums with the white people on the run from the Native Americans in the Florida swamps, and A World in His Arms, with Americans exploiting the resources and people of mid-19th Century Alaska, at the time, Russian territory. And let us consider the reaction of White Heat at the time it was released in 1949, courtesy of Bosley Crowthers of the New York Times - "If that is inviting information to the cohorts of thriller fans, whose eagerness this reviewer can readily understand, let us soberly warn that White Heat is also a cruelly vicious film and that its impact upon the emotions of the unstable or impressionable is incalculable. That is an observation which might fairly be borne in mind by those who would exercise caution in supporting such matter on the screen." Not difficult to substitute Cannibal Ferox as the title referred to here, is it?

Not that any of this is of much interest to those most enthusiastic of the cannibal genre in general or this film in particular. What is also noticeable is the ambivalence several of the people involved in the making of these films, with the exception of Deodato, who is more than happy to declare Cannibal Holocaust as one of his best films. For his part, Lenzi feelings about his film seem to depend on the mood he's in at the moment. There is some mild reflection that the films, perhaps arguably seen as parables about western colonialism, were in their own way as exploitive of the indigenous people or extras portraying the cannibal tribes. Eaten Alive! includes clips for several films, including Lenzi's Man from Deep River, the 1972 film that kicked off the genre, as well as the more recent homage, Eli Roth's The Green Inferno. Roth also contributed liner notes. I'm not counting on any academic books on cannibal films, although with other serious volumes of genre studies, it's not something to be entirely discounted. The most interesting observations about cannibal movies comes from the most academic contributor to Eaten Alive!, Dr. Shelagh Rowan-Legg.

Why this is significant is that in addition to the filmmakers trying to top each other with large heaps of graphic violence, there is also much more nudity, usually involving the female actresses. One might argue that the dialogue is a reflection of the coarseness of the character, but calling a female character a "twat" several times seemed excessive. Not all viewers are discerning of the sexism of film characters versus any sexism on the part of filmmakers, but most of these films could be counted on for bare breasts if not full nudity. I don't think it's necessary for me to discuss the various notorious moments in Cannibal Ferox, but it is interesting that two of those scenes are the ones usually presented in the posters, selling the anticipation of seeing those scenes, rather than surprising the audience.

Say what you will about Cannibal Ferox, Grindhouse Releasing makes the gang at Criterion Collection look like a bunch of pikers. In addition to Eaten Alive!, the two disc set includes individual interviews with Lenzi, actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen, and the still amazingly gorgeous Zora Kerowa. There's also the soundtrack album CD in addition to the overly generous supply of extras.

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Posted by peter at May 27, 2015 04:30 PM