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DVD review: CANNIBAL FEROX a.k.a. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY

I’ve made no secret of my fondness for this movie, and am glad to own it. But I have mixed feelings about the DVD.

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CANNIBAL FEROX is basically director Umberto Lenzi’s rip-off of Ruggero Deodato’s controversial and ground-breaking CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which arguably inspired THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT many years later. But where Deodato’s movie was grim and serious, Lenzi’s is more unabashedly an exploitation flick, in which cheesy dialogue and 2-dimensional acting combine with gruesome gore effects and a surprisingly believable backdrop — it was actually shot in the Amazon basin, using the natives as cannibals.

HOLOCAUST involved supposedly real “found footage” from an expedition gone wrong being found in New York. FEROX also includes many scenes in New York, but they involve escaped criminals. So different are they from the Amazon scenes that I think many viewers, myself included, have over the years wondered if Lenzi simply spliced two unrelated movies together to pad out the running time. That doesn’t seem to be the case, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

Though many low-budget slasher movies have a weirdly conservative subtext — you know the drill about sex leading to death, and virgins surviving — CANNIBAL FEROX is equally bizarrely “liberal” in its way. The cannibals live a peaceful, secluded life, and only when a crazed city boy on drugs kills one of them does the tribe bring the fury, and, well…Make Them Die Slowly.

There’s also actual animal killing onscreen, which is again a copy of Deodato, but in fairness, all the animals killed are the ones locals would kill for food anyway. You just might not want to see it. In the one instance where that is plainly NOT the case — a snake strangling a small mammal — the victim is ultimately allowed to get away.

The story involves three researchers going into the jungle to prove cannibals don’t exist (you can’t really prove a negative, but whatever). Unfortunately, they run into two escaped criminals, and all the aforementioned bad shit goes down. The movie begins with a disclaimer about how violent the film is: an old-school marketing technique that more filmmakers should use today. And the movie lives up to it, though it should be noted that most of the nastiest scenes are given away in the trailer.

The disc itself isn’t as loaded as some of the other Grindhouse movies I’ve seen. Mainly it offers a commentary track, trailers, and a director interview. There are supposedly easter eggs, but I haven’t found them.

So the commentary is the main thing. At first, you worry it will be indecipherable, as it features director Lenzi and star Giovanni “John Morghen” Radice speaking in heavily Italian-accented English. Then it gets kind of funny. And by the end, I wanted to punch both of them in their faces.

Radice is clearly embarrassed by the movie and continually expresses that he wishes he hadn’t done it. But rather than mount an eloquent defense, Lenzi comes off exactly the way critics of this kind of movie might imagine — he seems like a child throwing shit at people just to amuse himself. Like them or not, the directors of the modern crop of horror films, guys like Eli Roth, can mount an eloquent defense for what they were trying to do and the stories they were telling. Lenzi, not so. Maybe blame the fact that he can’t articulate English well; perhaps it should have been a subtitled commentary. I don’t think he is a hack; obviously I like the movie and feel it does have some merit. But he talks like a hack. He’d be better off shutting the fuck up. Hell, maybe actually get Eli Roth for the next edition to do play-by-play. Lenzi does his film no favors by coming off as he does, and Radice just bags on the movie.

I don’t think the two were in the same room. Sometimes they appear to be talking to each other, but mostly, they talk about each other as if they’re not together. I think I also heard another voice a time or two — an interviewer prodding them a bit.

If you like the movie, buy it, obviously. If you’re a horror fan who hasn’t seen it, I recommend it. I enjoy the flick, and will watch it again. But the extras? Almost counterproductive. I don’t care for them.

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Rating: 9.5/10 (2 votes cast)
DVD review: CANNIBAL FEROX a.k.a. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, 9.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
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5 comments to DVD review: CANNIBAL FEROX a.k.a. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY

  • qdpsteve

    Lenzi? Hmmm, that name sounds familiar… ;-)

    In the meantime Luke, would you mind if I e-mailed you a 5-page Summary Treatment for the “1980s teenage-movie-production-gone-wrong” flick I was talking to you about doing, when we met at Rubio’s way back? I wrote the whole thing in about 45 minutes last night, in a fistful of inspiration. Would love to hear your frank-’n'-honest critique and if it’s something you think you’d enjoy working on with me.

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  • LYT

    Glad SOMEONE is reading these DVD reviews!

    As to your question, u got mail.

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  • Ben

    Luke –
    If I remember correctly, you and I went to see this together at the old Vine theater on Hollywood many, many years ago – I think it was one of (if not THE) the first “Grindhouse” nights in L.A. (back when Johnny Legend was the ‘host’).

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  • LYT

    Yep, it’s that one.

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  • Gary McVey

    Hey Luke, Steve, good to “see” you in cyberspace! LYT, here’s my own “Make Them Die Slowly” testimony–after college, when I held a union card in the NYC projectionist’s union, I showed this film at the Liberty Theater on Times Square for weeks in 1982. BTW, the Liberty was the massive theater where “Birth of a Nation” made its gifted, poisonous New York debut.

    “MTDS” had an enthusiastic repeat audience. One of the weirdest parts of the crowd were a group of utterly normal-looking high school girls who used to bring their friends on a dare–something like a hazing of some kind. The film was notable for exteriors shot outside the buildings of my alma mater, the NYU film school. I doubt that brought back the repeat business, though. “Make Them Die Slowly” had an unusual amount of full-frontal nudity–rarer in gore films than one might think–and several gross-out setpieces that got horrified laughs every time.

    I still have 3-D slides of the elaborate, wordy marquee of the Liberty, using the over-the-top style of 42nd Street in its “prime”: “Cannibalism! Blood! Castration! Nothing Left to the Imagination!!!”

    Just in case you thought it was going to be like “On Golden Pond”…

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