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);
- 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) and their friend Pat (Zora Kerova) 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) 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 butchering 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, putting the move on Pat and killing a young female native for kicks. The locals take exception to this and begin to hunt down the Americans in an avalanche of cruelty…
Director Umberto Lenzi (Almost Human, Nightmare City), a stalwart of Italy’s genre films, bookended the cannibal arena, beginning with Man from Deep River in 1972 and essentially closing it here in 1981 (though had helmed the tamer Eaten Alive in 1980). Ferox, incidentally, was re-titled Woman from Deep River on its Australian release.
Ferox was 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 Holocausts both Jungle and Cannibal, 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 are undeniable – a monkey and a pig, in particular, coming in for some rough treatment. Radice was 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 films) also appears, briefly, securing his place in exploitation movie history by starring in both Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust.
Whether flimsy of plot of 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 1960s 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, near 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 Hut 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 1980s, 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 get a rough deal, 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.
Ferox is rightly hailed as a milestone in exploitation cinema. The ‘Banned in 31 Countries’ tagline is an odd one, not least because it was likely to be far higher.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA