Cannibal Ferox (aka: Make Them Die Slowly) is one of the most controversial horror films ever, on so many levels, that when I finally got around to watching the movie I was actually shocked by how UN-shocked I was!!
Cannibal Ferox is Umberto Lenzi's most polished entry into the flesh-eating genre he virtually gave birth to with 1973's Deep River Savages. I found Ferox to be very entertaining and not nearly as controversial as pundits would have you believe.
The film starts with a panorama of New York City and some laughably innappropriate disco music as we follow what appears to be a strung out junkie to an apartment where he encounters some thugs looking for a guy named Mike (Radice) who stole a hundred grand from them and then skipped town. The junkie get's shot just for the hell of it, and the police come in to investigate his murder. Meanwhile, in the Amazon, an anthropology student named Gloria (De Selle) and her brother Rudy (Mattei) and friend Pat (Kerova) are on an expedition to prove once and for all that cannibalism is a myth. The trio's jeep breaks down (which seems to happen in all cannibal films), and they hike up river to try and find help, wherupon they find the bodies of two Indio's, the fugitive Mike, and his injured friend Joe (Walter Lucchini). Mike tells them of their ordeal with a tribe of Indio's who tortured and ate their traveling companion, and of the pair's narrow escape. The group all return to this village because Gloria is determined to prove Mike wrong.
When they arrive in the village it is instantly apparent that Mike hasn't told the whole story, and when it is finally revealed who the real savages are, it is too late!
Cannibal Ferox was widely critisized for it's violence, most notably the actual animal deaths that Lenzi filmed. Some obviously staged, while others appear to be a result of being in the right place at the right time, but in either case none are any more disturbing than an episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (which staged many of it's own animal "showdowns"). I didn't find any of these scenes to be in bad taste, however, I can't say I enjoyed them either, but that's the law of the jungle and Lenzi wanted to show us that, for better or worse. For a far more brutal film, one need only look to Cannibal Holocaust for an example of tasteless excess in it's representation of "nature". (Although it should be noted that Lenzi's actors and crew reportedly threatened to quit if he killed anymore animals! BAD Umberto, BAD!!)
The performances in this film are well above average, with Radice (who is a dead ringer for South Park creator Trey Parker) and De Selle (who is a dead ringer for super hottie Jeanne Tripplehorn) both delivering very raw and believable performances. While the dialogue is a bit sketchy (Mike likes to call Gloria a "Twat", which get's rather annoying) the script and story flow along very nicely, and even the intrusive New York segments eventually fold together with the rest of the film and form a nice logical conclusion.
The DVD from Image compliments this classic perfectly. Besides a great transfer, the disc also boasts a nice body of extras, including commentary by director Lenzi and actor Radice (credited in the film and on the DVD as John Morghen). The two are so contrasting in their opinions on the work that you'd think they were each watching different films. Radice is disgusted, while Lenzi is delighted. It's quite the dichotomy! Also included is a short on camera interview with Lenzi, the original trailer and a poster/stills gallery.
Cannibal Ferox is one of those films you'll either despise or love, and I fall into the latter group. It's IS a cannibal film, it is very violent and it's not for everyone, but for this sub-genre, Ferox is most definitely the most polished and professional example.