director Umberto Lenzi
Though director Umberto Lenzi made the film that started the cannibal exploitation movie genre with The Man from Deep River (1972) and Eaten Alive! (1980) (neither of which have I seen), his notorious “video nasty”, 1981’s Cannibal Ferox (a.k.a. Make Them Die Slowly!) seems very much a poor man’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Cannibal Ferox is often cited right next to Cannibal Holocaust as the most outrageous and noteworthy of the genre, and maybe rightly so, but it lacks a lot in comparison.
Unlike Cannibal Holocaust, there is no “film within a film”, no “faux found footage”, but there is a team of researchers from New York City who venture into the unknown jungles of South America in search of truths about cannibalism for university investigation. In Ferox, though, this is a small group, two women and a man, who stumble upon another pair of Americans who’ve just encountered cannibals and are trying to make a hasty escape. It turns out that one of the men is a real sadist, who finds in one of the women a willing accomplice. And that while there is cannibalism, the real monsters are the “civilized” ones who come to the jungle seeking heinous paganism.
Like Holocaust, there are images of real violence to native animals including a large river turtle (who is actually dispatched quickly with a machete) and more disturbingly a strange rodent-like creature who is tied to a stake and then screamingly crushed by a massive snake. The latter moment is pretty hard to watch, even for someone relatively inured to things. As in Holocaust, these scenes of real violence accentuate the faked violence against humans, contrasting the real with the pretend. It’s less effective here, however.
I’d always been curious about Ferox, and as I’ve been knocking off a few “video nasties” as I have been since watching the documentary on the subject, it seemed worth queuing up. I may work my way through a few more of these, the only way to develop real perspective on the genre.