Back in the 70s and 80s our local drive-ins and trashy movie theaters advertised heavily on the mom & pop radio station that played constantly in our suburban kitchen. So it wasn't odd to hear Phillies recaps and Four Seasons tunes lead directly into ads for the traumatizing THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN or the sounded-too-good-to-be-true freakfest SCREAMERS ("You will see a man turned inside out!") while chowing down on some sugar-bombed cereal or a mid-week Heart Attack Breakfast (bacon, eggs fried in bacon grease, white toast, butter, towering glasses of whole milk).
But two ads that still stick out in my mind are the over-the-top spots for BASKET CASE (you received a free surgical mask "to keep the blood off your face!") and Umberto Lenzi's cannibal gross-out MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY (aka CANNIBAL FEROX).
If I close my eyes I can still see the standard issue yellowish green appliances that dominated our small kitchen, the five burner stove, an inexplicable bowl of bacon covered with a paper towel, and the pot of half-regular/half-decaf coffee made who knows how many days ago that my parents would simply reheat in the microwave till it was gone. It should come as no surprise that I preferred tea for the entire time I lived under their roof.
And there I sit, hair parted in the middle, oversized tortoise shell glasses that would make A Flock of Seagulls proud, wiping away the drool as I hear – for the fifty-seventh time that week – "for what they have done... MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY..." as the bass vibrates the tiny transistor radio halfway across the kitchen table.
To tell you the truth, I'm not sure HOW the hell I missed out on seeing MTDS at the Super 130 Drive-In that weekend. It had been banned in something like 57 countries! What if the United States was next?! What was I waiting for?!
Fortunately, that banning never took place and MAKE THEM/CANNIBAL FEROX soon became a VHS gorefest staple thanks to the oversized Thriller Video box that depicted scantily clad victims, jungle savages with machetes and black & white stills that – as far as I knew – might as well have escaped from the set of a snuff flick. As the box copy read, "Too disgusting to watch. Too bizarre to resist." Damn straight.
While PSYCHO, RE-ANIMATOR, DAWN OF THE DEAD, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS easily top my list of most seen horror flicks, I'd venture that countless viewings via VHS, laserdisc, DVD and theatrical revivals definitely push CANNIBAL FEROX into the Top 10, perhaps higher.
And you can add another viewing to the list thanks to Grindhouse Releasing's definitive (to date) Blu-Ray release which out cannibals every previous release of this gut-munching sinema classick.
If you've never seen CANNIBAL FEROX I'm not really spoiling anything by saying it plays out like most of its ilk: an expedition to prove/disprove cannibal rumors goes horribly wrong, our protagonists see some crazy shit, there's a smattering of guerilla-style NYC footage and some Mondo-esque animal cruelty (an unfortunate trademark of the genre that gives the flicks a somewhat sordid rep), and the inevitable retribution for what they have done which leads to some "who are the real savages?" moralizing and hand-wringing. Fin.
But of all the sleazy, gross, sweaty, grimy, sleazy and sweaty – did I mention sleazy? – 80s cannibal gut munchers, FEROX is far and away my favorite, though that seems like an odd word to use. Maybe it's the performance from Eurotrash icon John Morghen (Giovanni Radice) as Mike "Emeralds and Cocaine" Logan, a two-bit dirtbag who lit out of NYC with $100,000 in syndicate cash and leads our hapless trio into the misery that awaits them. Maybe it's the way the flick jumps from the harsh jungles to the urban jungle, packing in those cinema verite shots of late 70s/early 80s New York that highlight all the era's true sleaze epics. Perhaps it's the iconic Budy Maglione score that mixes jungle beats and prog rock rhythms into a haunting soundtrack for a road trip to hell.
Ahh, who am I kidding? Deep down FEROX plucks at my aging gorehound heartstrings and piles on the eyeball knifing, dick hacking, coke snorting, turtle thwacking, native torturing, penis chomping, boob hanging, castration cauterizing, hand chopping, skull popping and brain chomping with so little regard for the viewer's senses that it's exhausting. Don't believe me? The box features glowing endorsements from such trash luminaries as Rick Sullivan (GORE GAZETTE), Bill Landis (SLEAZOID EXPRESS) and Chas. Balun (DEEP RED, THE GORE SCORE) so you know you're in for a real treat.
Grindhouse Releasing's Deluxe Edition is a spectacular package that includes an uncensored, unrated director's cut with deleted footage, a remixed score, commentary tracks from Lenzi and Morghen, interviews with cast and crew, liner notes from Landis and Eli Roth (whose interest in the genre led to his own GREEN INFERNO), a bonus CD of the unforgettable soundtrack and even a feature length documentary on the rise and fall of cannibal cinema. – Dan Taylor
Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and loves him some cannibal movies. For more on what we're watching, what's coming up at ER and when the next issue will hit the streets, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
CANNIBAL FEROX is available from Amazon.