Quite possibly the single most reviled style of cinema is the Italian cannibal sub genre. Born from the grimy underbelly of the shockumentary films that permeated movie houses the world over for the latter part of the 1960's and throughout the 1970's, the cannibal films savagely exploited elements from those so called "documentaries". Garnering an incredible amount of notoriety around the globe, these movies were in huge demand in territories such as Germany and Japan.
The infamous monkey-snake sequence from MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978). This scene wouldn't be TOO terrible (considering the plethora of nature programs that show the same type of scenario) if it weren't for the fact that the filmmakers forced the little monkey into the path of the huge snake.
While the cannibal films offered up exotic locales interspersed with graphic depictions of death and bodily defilement, they were also criminal of on camera animal mutilation which has been the subject of near endless discussion over the years. While the lead conspirators of the genre are namely adventure film specialist, Umberto Lenzi and controversial trailblazer, Ruggero Deodato, Italy's top genre directors also had their hands in the proverbial (human meat) pie.
Umberto Lenzi got things rolling with his THE MAN FROM THE DEEP RIVER (1972); an extraordinary and overly grim retelling of the American western drama, A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970). Lenzi's movie lays the groundwork for those that would follow. What's interesting is that virtually all the Italian cannibal epics trade on various plot points.
Tony King (left) and John Morghen (right) chow down on some Vietnamese cuisine in CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)
Nearly all the films feature two oft used story threads. Either an individual, or group of individuals are searching for a missing person, or group of persons who have ventured off to the deep and dangerous green inferno. The other concept is a mysterious emblem, or body tattoo that represents some bizarre tribal sacrificial rite. An enterprising investigative group of people traipse off to the Amazon/New Guinea/Southeast Asian territory to solve the mystery of said mark--cue repeated scenes of gruesome violence.
Amidst the numerous scenes of (real) animal cruelty in these movies, the (fake) violence perpetrated on the human anatomy is astounding. Eviscerations, disembowelments, dismemberments, decapitations, castrations and the feasting of flesh are the key components to a cannibal classic(k). Also, you have to have at least one puking scene. Somebody is always seen regurgitating at some point in Pasta Land Jungle horrors.
The ten films on this list are among the most notable, the most nasty, the most controversial and the most gruelling endurance tests to ever ooze forth from a theater screen, or your DVD player at home. Granted, there are a handful of entries that deserve to be 'Eaten Alive By The Cannibals' such as the obscure Joe D'Amato sex and & gore yawner PAPAYA, LOVE GODDESS OF THE CANNIBALS; Jess Franco's meandering WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN and DEVIL HUNTER (both 1980); the perpetually stupid CANNIBAL TERROR (1981) and the turgid AMAZONIA: THE CATHERINE MILES STORY (1985).
This list represents the quintessential cinematic culinary cannibalistic cuisine for exploitation fans with a taste for raw meat. This is...
CELLULOID SINS PART 2: YOU ARE WHAT THEY EAT!
THE MAN FROM THE DEEP RIVER (1972) aka IL PAESE DEL SESSO SELVAGGIO (DEEP RIVER SAVAGES; SACRIFICE)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Whereas Deodato gave life to this dangerous sub genre, Umberto Lenzi fed the masses its first helping of flesh eating offensiveness with this 1972 adventure yarn. It's not really a cannibal movie, but a more violent version of A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970). The one sequence of cannibalism is quite brutal and excessive showcasing the depths to which the genre would sink in the coming years. This gruesome scene of human consumption was excised from the US theatrical versions as well as the VHS release. Despite the film being an adventure/love story laced with sadism, it contains a fascinating amount of themes and ideas that would crop up in the films of other directors over the course of the decade.
The film itself deals with a photographer and his guide traveling the river between Burma and Thailand. The guide is killed and the photographer caught, he ends up in the claws of a tribe of savages who torture him, believing him to be some kind of fish because of his wetsuit. Eventually, the outsider is accepted into this tribe and marries the chieftains daughter. He later leads her people against their rivals, a vicious tribe of cannibals.
Ivan Rassimov, a notable presence as an antagonist in many a movie, occasionally dabbled in good guy roles such as this one. He enjoyed working in the jungle, but was less a fan of the sadistic subject matter. Ovidio Assonitis, the director of several well known Italian rip offs of American hits, was a producer here.
Umberto Lenzi, a reliable director of adventure movies, was well chosen for this first foray into the wilds of the forbidden and mysterious jungles seen in so many of the most notorious of this uncompromising sub genre. Lenzi's movie, while being a reworking of the Elliot Silverstein movie, A MAN CALLED HORSE, contains several elements that would turn up in later violent tribal movies including his own EATEN ALIVE! (1980). Not the least of which were some of this films stars. While Lenzi will no doubt be forever associated with this controversial style of grue-cinema, he was an ace filmmaker in other genres such as giallos and crime pictures. He had previously shot films in Asian territories with his two Sandokan movies starring Steve Reeves.
JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1976) aka ULTIMO MONDO CANNIBALE (THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD) aka THE LAST SURVIVOR aka CANNIBAL aka CARNIVOROUS
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Ruggero Deodato took the reigns of his first cannibalistic gore-met with this supposed true story that takes place on the filipino island of Mindanao. The story has two intrepid explorers and two additional persons surveying locales for oil drilling. The group land and quickly get attacked by unseen savages. Not long after, only the two surveyers remain, but are separated. One of them is captured by cannibals and prepped as bait for crocodiles. A sympathetic tribal woman helps the man escape in an attempt to make it back to civilization. Me Me Lay, the jungle love interest from Lenzi's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972), encores here in a similar role, but gets far more brutal treatment than her prior feature. Ivan Rassimov also encores from Lenzi's movie, but is in a supporting role here.
This movie was initially handed to Lenzi, but he passed on it and the duties were taken up by Deodato. While Lenzi could ably handle any genre he was assigned to, Deodato was able to add layers of authenticity to his cannibal movies that were often lacking in Lenzi's more sensationalized splatter opuses. Also, Deodato's cannibal movies generally contained a bit more controversial themes and ideas that blurred the lines between serious dramatization and outright exploitation vulgarity.
An amazing scene where a huge snake devours a rather large monitor lizard seen in JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1976)
Filmed in both Mindanao and Malaysia, the shooting took over a month and the crew had problems with lethal creatures such as various poisonous snakes and spiders. Having said that, this production contains much animal death. Even though the critters were eaten afterwards, the camera is attentive capturing every agonizing second of the various geek level sequences of animal cruelty. Although JUNGLE HOLOCAUST was a mere warm up for Deodato's near career killing CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST in 1980, his original offal chucking effort has more than its fair share of what made this despicable sub genre so damn (in)famous.
EMANUELLE & THE LAST CANNIBALS (EMANUELLE E GLI ULTIMI CANNIBALI; 1977) aka TRAP THEM & KILL THEM
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Famed cinematographer and prolific porn and exploitation movie director, Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi) pukes up this sex and gore filled extravaganza that mixes soft core with hard gore. The special effects are crude for the most part, but are still very effective and thoroughly unpleasant. As per nearly all the more well known Italian cannibal movies, this one purports to be "a true story" as a title card after the credits would have us believe.
Yet another 'journey into the jungle-searching for clues to a mystery' movie, this one opens with a nurse screaming down a mental hospital hallway minus one of her breasts; it having been bitten off by a crazed patient. Emanuelle (famously portrayed by Laura Gemser) enters the wild woman's room and fondles her privates(!) to get some answers and finds her bearing a strange tattoo exclusive to an Amazonian cannibal tribe presumably the last known to man. With a varied group of followers (read cannibal fodder) along for the journey, Emanuelle and company meet up with two more explorers whose real purpose is to find a downed airplane and its contents of diamonds.
While it's a terrible movie, D'Amato keeps things moving and the film contains an amazing amount of sex and gore. One scene is especially stomach churning where a woman (spaghetti western and giallo actress, Nieves Navarro) is tied naked to two posts and has her vaginal region carved out. There's various guttings and decapitations and also several scenes of women having their breasts sliced off. It's all very misogynistic without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. There's even a scene where Emanuelle is having a sexual fling with one of the other female cast members and a chimpanzee(!) watches on while smoking cigarettes(!!) and playing with their sunglasses(!!!) Truly must see "entertainment" for trash aficionados. D'Amato's movie played in a severely truncated version on cable television years ago under its aka of TRAP THEM & KILL THEM.
MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (LA MONTAGNA DEL DIO CANNIBALE; 1978) aka PRISONER OF THE CANNIBAL GOD aka SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD
Directed by Sergio Martino
Italian genre specialist Sergio Martino followed suit with his contemporaries, Lenzi and Deodato by venturing into the South American jungle to film a series of violent jungle adventures. Of his unofficial jungle trilogy, this particular film is the most nasty and mean spirited. Where it differs from the more controversial entries in the cannibal subgenre is the genuine sense of adventure. Despite containing some extremely strong scenes of violence including castration, strong sexual content and bestiality, Martino assembles an astonishing cast for his cannibal picture. Stacy Keach, Ursula Andress and Claudio Cassinelli round out the cast in search of Andress's missing husband, lost somewhere in the New Guinea rain forest.
Martino's entry into the Italian cannibal sweepstakes is a slight bit less violent than its more famous brethren, but his seemingly bigger budgeted venture has more than its fair share of disturbing imagery including bestiality, a high quotient of nudity, violent death and the prerequisite scenes of gut-munching. Martino's mix of old style serial thrills intermixed with brutal scenes of cruelty and animal death makes for an uneasy stew of themes. However, he makes it work creating an atmosphere akin (only far more violent) to the one Lenzi conceived for THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER in 1972. Martino also apes the style of Deodato's previous JUNGLE HOLOCAUST from 1976 and utilizes what appears to be the latter films Malay locations (including the same massive grotto) for added authenticity. Sri Lanka was also a shooting location for the production crew.
As per the usual ingredients found in these up chuck spectacles, there's the all too real scenes of animal violence. Also, as is usually the case when the directors are probed about such scenes, a mysterious "producer" is blamed for the inclusion of the animal footage. One sequence involving a monkey and a snake is especially nauseating. Ursula Andress strips away all her clothes and her body painted in a bizarre scene that would be replicated in similar fashions in films such as Lenzi's EATEN ALIVE! (1980), Marino Girolami's ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980) and John Derek's TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1981). Beheadings, graphic castrations and cannibals playing with themselves are some of the other repugnant delights found herein.
John Saxon wipes out an enemy Vietnamese encampment during the opening moments of CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE
CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) aka APOCALYPSE DOMANI (APOCALYPSE TOMORROW) aka THE CANNIBALS ARE IN THE STREETS
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Antonio Margheriti jumped on the cannibal bandwagon with an entry of his own, but bearing more of his signature style, mostly ignoring the South American setting and placing the action in modern day Georgia. Margheriti under his oft used pseudonym delivers an action packed, if hopelessly stupid, but original cannibal movie. The film benefits from the presence of prolific American actor, John Saxon, who was also a regular participant in Italian crime movies. Here, cannibalism is attributed to being a disease; one that's brought back from Vietnam by a group of soldiers. By biting a victim, you pass on the sickness creating more cannibals. This story conceit also recalls the myriad number of zombie movies, the kindred spirit of the cannibal films.
Among the cast are Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who played the memorably psychotic Mike in Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX. Blaxploitation actor, Tony King also stars as one of the disease stricken soldiers. While New York seemed to be a fave locale of Italian moviemakers, Margheriti opts for Georgia for his picture. The gore is plentiful especially towards the end when the cannibalistic soldiers take to the streets with the cops in pursuit leading to a chase in the sewers below.
Released in the US under the even more exploitatively titled INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS, that version was severely cut, eliminating much of the movies gore stripping it of its sole attraction. Outside of the gruesome effects work of Gianetto De Rossi, there's virtually nothing to recommend, other than a few stray exploitation elements such as Saxon fighting back the urge to put the bite on his horny, but Lolita-like next door neighbor. Known as APOCALYPSE DOMANI (APOCALYPSE TOMORROW) in Italy, it isn't too hard to figure out which American movie this one was aiming at with it original title. It was also released as THE CANNIBALS ARE IN THE STREETS.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Former porn star, Robert Kerman (left) featured in some of the most well known Italian extreme adventure films
The single most controversial cannibal movie and one of the most important horror movies of all time is also one of the most despised and radically discussed genre movies. Ruggero Deodato was in an aggressive, yet focused train of thought when he opted to return to the Amazon for this searing attack on the media and the all to real violence they create with their "reality" TV reporting. It resonates even more now than it did then. Sergio Leone apparently praised the film, but foretold the trouble the film would bring its director. Luckily, Deodato's career was able to rebound. In recent years, Deodato announced a sequel entitled CANNIBAL METROPOLIS, but the film stalled due to funding issues.
The murderous documentary crew find the result of their actions; the center image is most closely associated with the advertisement for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
The plot of CH concerns a NY professor who takes off for the Amazon jungle to locate a documentary film crew lost and presumed dead. The searchers manage to find the filmmakers cameras in addition to bearing witness to sadistic tribal rites of punishment, death and cannibalism. Returning to the states with the martyred film footage in tow, the professor and TV executives watch the newly assembled doc that the film crew paid for with their lives. What follows is one of the most jaw droppingly disgusting movies of the modern age. Deodato's movie brought him an avalanche of trouble and almost a prison sentence and murder charge. It was believed he had actually killed people on camera until the cast was finally located to prove it was just a movie.
Luca Barbareschi pretends to chomp down on a freshly decapitated turtles head. This nauseating sequence of the complete destruction and consumption of a large turtle goes on for around five minutes
The animals in the film weren't so lucky, though. In Italian cinema of the day, it was common for natures critters to be slaughtered onscreen for the geekshow "enjoyment" of the audience. Scenes such as these are stomach churning despite the participants stating the creatures were consumed by cast and crew alike in some cases. In others these animals died for the movie they unwittingly found themselves in. Such unusual methods of moviemaking led CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to be accused of glorifying the very violence it sought to be a condemnation of. Aside from its varied controversial elements, Deodato's movie is still an important film that should be seen by all serious horror fans.
EATEN ALIVE! (MANGIATI VIVI!; 1980) aka EATEN ALIVE BY THE CANNIBALS aka THE EMERALD JUNGLE
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Umberto Lenzi countered Deodato's noticeable return fire of JUNGLE HOLOCAUST with a double barreled shotgun blast to the head with both this film and his notorious CANNIBAL FEROX the following year. For this second go round in Lenzi's unofficial cannibal trilogy, Robert Kerman (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) plays an adventurer aiding a young and beautiful woman (the seductive Janet Agren) searching for her missing sister somewhere in the jungles of New Guinea. Blow dart deaths whose clues lead to a cannibal cult deep in the jungle interior are the work of a maniacal sect leader, Jonas. Modeled on the dangerous work of the Reverend Jim Jones, Ivan Rassimov relished playing this sexually perverse and cruel dictator whose cult was protected from outsiders by cannibalistic natives.
Lenzi's movie either ran short of money, or ran over schedule as in addition to a slew of putrid gore and sexually offensive scenes, there's a "greatest hits" package of scenes lifted from various other Italian cannibal movies like MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and Lenzi's own auspiciously violent premier, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972). There's also some borrowed footage from a shockumentary, presumably SHOCKING ASIA (1976). Me Me Lay returns for her third trip into the jungle and ends up just as badly as she did in her role for Deodato from JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. In fact, the filmmakers utilize her demise from that film to compliment the new scenes of bodily destruction.
Real animal death rears its ugly head yet again mingling with assorted scenes of sexual deviancy, flesh shredding and dildos dipped in cobra venom. This one has it all. It's a fairly awful movie, but is incredibly entertaining just the same. Lenzi's attempt at melding real life tragedy (the Jonestown Massacre) with abundant sleaze to create some semblance of a thought provoking social or political statement fails on every level. If that was even his intention, it's strictly exploitation exuberance. Lenzi's sophomore effort is inferior to his other two cannibal cook outs, but EATEN ALIVE! contains enough B grade thrills and lowest common denominator reprehensibility to satiate the appetites of goremongers everywhere.
ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980) aka LA REGINA DEI CANNIBALI (THE QUEEN OF THE CANNIBALS) DR. BUTCHER M.D.
Directed by Marino Girolami
Enzo's father, Marino Girolami, was in the directors chair for this wild, wooly and hopelessly braindead cannibal movie moonlighting as a zombie picture. The title gives the impression of a massive horde of flesh eating undead, but in actuality, the zombies do nothing but walk into frame and look menacing. The violence perpetrated on the jungle interlopers is dealt exclusively by the cannibals. The alternate Italian title, THE QUEEN OF THE CANNIBALS best suits the production. The cannibals seen here are a lively, noisy bunch who waste no time getting down to business.
When body parts and organs begin disappearing in various cities, a bizarre symbol found on the bodies of the cannibalistic perpetrators leads two investigators to a mysterious island. Once there, the group of explorers and their guides run afoul of an overly excitable and very hungry cannibal clan. Deformed and mutilated walking dead are seen walking about and it is soon learned that the flesh mongers are a protective cover for a mad doctor hell bent on creating a race of zombies. Director, Girolami handled his fair share of forgettable fluff, but managed to turn out one of the best peplum adventures ever made with THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962) and some choice Italian crime movies like VIOLENT ROME (1975) and SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976).
Ian McCulloch stars fresh off of Lucio Fulci's grueling and grandiose gore epic, ZOMBIE (1979) as does Dakar. Both essentially play the same roles they played in the Fulci film. The energetic Donald O'brien (RUN, MAN, RUN; 1968) tackles the role of the mad doctor. ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST played rather successfully in the early 80's under the title DR. BUTCHER M.D. distributed through Aquarius Releasing, a company then well known for handling some of the most successful exploitation fare of the time period. Although one of the most laughably bad movies of its type, it contains an empty headed charm brought to life in its many scenes of extreme gore and abundant nudity courtesy of the inspired assets of Alexandra Delli Colli.
CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Zora Kerova (left), Danilo Mattei (middle) and Lorraine De Selle (right), trapped as the vengeful savages prepare to MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY
Genre hopping director, Umberto Lenzi dove back into the genre he created with the violent adventure movie, THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972), by helming one of the most infamous and outright nasty of the Italian cannibal subgenre. Allegedly banned in 31 countries, Lenzi's movie seems to be a return fire of sorts at Ruggero Deodato in answer to his incendiary CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Lenzi was apparently approached to direct a followup to his initial violent jungle film, but turned it down. Deodato was approached and took the job which then led to his single most damning film. Lenzi's 1981 cannibal feast got a lot of exposure in America and ultimately became one of the most recognizable grindhouse movies of all time.
It even managed to make an American prime time news show on 20/20(!) in the late 1980's. About violent horror movies and the violent effect many claim they bring to young people, a narrated segment featured several women sitting around a television watching Lenzi's movie. The camera lovingly shows us the housewives reactions to the onscreen carnage in an effort to elicit a response from viewers much in the same way Deodato presented the "violence" reporters create in his own seminal motion picture. Lenzi's movie is more splatter comic than a cinematic dissertation on society, it features a cavalcade of cruelty that will likely turn many a stomach.
The plot concerns some college students who venture into the Amazon to prove that cannibalism doesn't exist only to run afoul of two Americans on the run from the law. The story takes a grim turn when it's learned that one of the men is insane and has reverted the passive natives back to their savage tendencies resulting in a barbaric pursuit of cannibal revenge. It was called most famously here as MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. The VHS from Thriller Video was one of my prized possessions till I sold it when the DVD hit. It contained superlative box art the likes of which you just don't see anymore. Lenzi's movie lives on, but in the shadow of Deodato's more resilient, but no less vicious production.
CUT & RUN (1985) aka INFERNO IN DIRETTA (STRAIGHT TO HELL) aka AMAZONIA
After the controversy and success surrounding his most troublesome movie, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, Ruggero Deodato was approached to do a follow up. Preferring to not go down that road again, one of Italy's most notorious filmmakers finally completed his "Cannibal trilogy" with a mid 80's violent jungle adventure. The difference between this film and Deodato's other two films is that the natives seen here aren't really cannibals. We never see them eat anybody. Instead, they are more into extreme brutality and rape. Led by Michael Berryman, these savages are quick and quite cold blooded. Here, it's a member of Jim Jones's cult thought to have been dead who has taken up his own commune and drug cartel in South America using bloodthirsty savages as a means of cover and to annihilate any competition. Among the killer cult is a missing American television producers son. Two reporters are sent to South America to locate him and find the elusive cult leader.
Deodato's movie is very similar to Lenzi's EATEN ALIVE! (1980) with its Jim Jones style drug cartel leader played by Richard Lynch. He also explores territory he covered in his most infamous movie, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. The director was able to amass quite an amazing cast for such a violent movie. For a change of pace, instead of New York as a framing device, Miami, Florida substitutes. New York is mentioned in passing, though. Eric LaSalle (ER) and Willie Aames (CHARLES IN CHARGE) include two of the familiar television personalities. Karen Black and John Steiner have guest appearances. The films main stars are Lisa Blount (AN OFFICER & AND A GENTLEMAN, DEAD & BURIED) and spaghetti western and Italian crime movie vet, Leonard Mann. Gabriele Tinti (EMANUELLE & THE LAST CANNIBALS) and Luca Barbareschi (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX) have smaller roles as well.
Wes Craven was originally attached to the production and scouted for locations, but that version was never made. Deodato went into a slightly different direction this time out and also shot this third jungle flick in a different location. Venezuela stands in for his previous cannibal epic locales, Columbia and Malaysia respectively. The film was shorn of around three minutes of violent footage for its US 'R' version. The gore sequences are some of the most spectacular to ever be showcased in an Italian horror movie. Possibly a result of its much bigger budget than normal, the production also benefits from some stunning location shots and a grand 80's score by Claudio Simonetti.
COMING SOON! FLASHING STEEL OF THE LIGHTNING SWORDS OF DEATH! THE BONE CRUSHING FISTS OF SONNY CHIBA! THE GORE DRENCHED SAGA OF THE SHOGUN ASSASSIN! FEMALE KILLERS OUT FOR BLOOD! IT'S MADE IN JAPAN & IT'S SOON ON THIS SCREEN!!