aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY
(Italy - 1981; US release 1983)
Written and directed by Umberto Lenzi. Cast: John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Lorraine De Selle, Bryan Redford (Danilo Mattei), Zora Kerova, Robert Kerman, Venantino Venantini, John Bartha, Walter Lloyd (Walter Lucchini), Meg Fleming (Fiamma Maglione), "El Indio" Rincon, Perry Pirkanen, Dominic Raacke, Jake Teague. (Unrated, 93 mins)
The Italian cannibal genre is always a touchy subject. Its origins are in 1962's MONDO CANE and the subsequent mondo documentaries of the 1960s and into the 1970s by Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi and others. There's also the influence of the 1970 Richard Harris hit A MAN CALLED HORSE, which spawned Umberto Lenzi's 1972 Italian ripoff THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER. In HORSE, Harris is an English aristocrat abducted and treated like an animal by a Sioux tribe until he eventually comes to earn their respect, abandons his privileged upbringing and ultimately becomes the tribe's leader. THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER took a very similar concept--with Ivan Rassimov as a British wildlife photographer in the jungles of Thailand--but steered it in a Mondo direction that a Hollywood film wouldn't dare venture. THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, a fixture in American drive-ins throughout the 1970s under various alternate re-release titles (DEEP RIVER SAVAGES, SACRIFICE!), offered sparse but still graphic depictions of cannibalism, sex and rape involving subgenre mainstay Me Me Lai, and brutal animal killings, and though it's rather tame compared to what would come later, it's almost universally considered the first Italian cannibal film.
THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, released in the US in a cut version in 1978 as THE LAST SURVIVOR, but best known today as JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. A far more graphic riff on THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER and featuring Rassimov in a supporting role, THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD stars Massimo Foschi as an oil prospector stranded in Mindanao after a plane crash. He's abducted and humiliated by a cannibal tribe and eventually resorts to cannibalism to earn their respect. Allegedly based on a true story, THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD raised the bar for what the Italian cannibal genre was willing to depict. Here was the more aggressive barrage of flesh-eating, graphic rape, Foschi and Lai (again as a tribe girl/sex object) completely nude for a good chunk of the film, and on-camera animal slaughter, hands-down the most troubling element of the genre. Sergio Martino hopped on the cannibal bandwagon with 1978's MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (released in the US in cut form as SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD), which got a minor boost in class thanks to the presence of Ursula Andress as a socialite venturing into the jungles of New Guinea to find her missing husband, and Stacy Keach as the experienced guide she hires, traumatized by his own experiences being abducted by a cannibal tribe years earlier. MOUNTAIN's really foul elements, including a monkey obviously being thrown into a snake's mouth, a borderline pornographic cannibal orgy that showcases gratuitous masturbation involving a female cannibal, and one really unpleasant depiction of simulated bestiality with a cannibal and a water buffalo, are mostly confined to the climax, don't directly involve Andress or co-star Claudio Cassinelli, and happen long after Keach's character is killed off, a certain indication that Martino pulled a CALIGULA on his cast and shot the really vile stuff when they weren't around.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) that really caused the movement to explode. One of the key films in the genesis of found-footage that was used so effectively nearly 20 years later with 1999's THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and became practically standard after 2009's PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a horrifying and intensely disturbing experience--go to a midnight showing of it with a snarky audience that's ready to mock it MST3K-style and you'll see them grow silent about 25 minutes in as the shell-shocked crowd starts really thinning out by the one-hour mark. It remains one of the very few irony-proof films that separates the players from the pretenders when it comes to cult hipster fandom. You don't simply watch CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST--you survive it. Deodato's handling of the found-footage element--the second half of the film consists of a professor (Robert Kerman, better known at the time as porn actor R. Bolla) watching increasingly damning footage left behind by a documentary crew who vanished while investigating the existence of cannibals in the Amazon--has yet to be equaled by any of its countless faux-doc/found-footage offspring. Deodato's film was so believable that Italian authorities actually thought he made a snuff film and he had to prove he didn't kill off his unknown actors. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has legitimate statements to make about the comparisons between the stone-age jungle and modern civilization, evidenced in the way that the tribes are generally peaceful but only end up turning on the documentary crew when the raw--no pun intended--footage shows the crew (civilization) acting like sociopathic assholes and goading them into acts of increasing savagery and abhorrence. One of the film's most telling moments involve two of the crew raping a tribe girl, who's later punished in one of the film's iconic images: impaled on pole that enters her vagina and exits her mouth. Lead filmmaker Alan Yates (Gabriel Yorke) is smirking and visibly amused at the horrific punishment until one of the other guys says "Watch it, Alan...I'm shooting," at which point he turns serious and melodramatically declares "Oh, good Lord! This is horrible!" CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is an intelligent film with moments that remain prescient today in an era when there is no depth to which the media won't plummet to sensationalize or outright manufacture a story. But any indicting aspirations it has to being the NETWORK of Italian cannibal movies is negated somewhat by Deodato also wallowing in the same exploitation and sensationalism that he's criticizing, whether it's turning his camera on the gruesome slaughter of a helpless animal (the turtle scene is arguably the most revolting thing ever filmed for a commercial movie, and co-star Francesca Ciardi's vomiting is real) or playing up the graphic exploitation elements.
|Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Umberto Lenzi|
on the set of CANNIBAL FEROX
theme that's so "'70s cop show" that you almost expect to hear an announcer intone "Previously on CANNIBAL FEROX..." (Lenzi opened EATEN ALIVE with a similarly incongruous Budy-Maglione number). CANNIBAL FEROX was acquired by Terry Levene's Aquarius Releasing--the company behind the cannibal/zombie crossover ZOMBI HOLOCAUST's transformation into DOCTOR BUTCHER, M.D.--and released in 1983. under the instantly legendary title MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, advertised with Levene's typically hyperbolic hucksterism ("Bizarre Human Sacrifices! The Most Violent Film Ever! Banned in 31 Countries!"). A grindhouse and drive-in staple well into the fall of 1984, MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY became a fixture in video stores and scarred many budding gorehounds in those mid-1980s glory days of PMRC outrage and Satanic Panic. We knew slasher movies and zombie movies, but the Italian cannibal films were another beast entirely. To those who cut their teeth on horror in that era, MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY and its ilk were as far as grossout cinema could possibly go, which of course, was part of its charm (plus, grindhouse gorehounds in America saw it before most of the others: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and EATEN ALIVE, the latter as both DOOMED TO DIE and later on VHS as THE EMERALD JUNGLE, didn't turn up in the US until 1985). Of course, CANNIBAL FEROX is garbage. Of course it's indefensible and utterly reprehensible. But it has its charms and it left its mark. In many ways, it's the ultimate exploitation movie: it's trashy, sleazy, sloppily-dubbed; has some incredible late 1980 time capsule NYC location shooting (DIVINE MADNESS, HOPSCOTCH, FAME, and THE EXTERMINATOR all playing at one NYC theater!); a pointless Manhattan mob subplot that Lenzi simply abandons; gratuitous nudity; delirious overacting by Radice; supporting roles for NYC-based porn actors (Kerman is present once again, this time as rumpled cop Lt. Rizzo in scenes shot at the same precinct Lenzi used for Ferrer and Grant's scenes in EATEN ALIVE), over-the-top violence, ridiculous dialogue ("Hey bitch, where's your stud?" and one of the greatest lines of all time as a starved Pat is tempted by a piece of meat: "No! Stop! It might be Rudy!"), and one of the most unforgettable and effective retitlings ever, even utilized by Rob Zombie for an early, pre-fame White Zombie album. You remember a movie called MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, even if it has a trailer as unappealingly narrated as this one:
EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977), released in the US in 1984 as TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, and PAPAYA, LOVE GODDESS OF THE CANNIBALS (1978), and Jess Franco inevitably chimed in with DEVIL HUNTER (1980) and CANNIBALS (1980), both borrowing Lucio Fulci regular Al Cliver and Sabrina Siani for Italian legitimacy purposes but nevertheless exhibiting Franco's tendency toward amateur hour and his expected lack of attention to detail, whether it's a cannibal sporting a visible wristwatch or another with a disco perm, porn 'stache, and sideburns. There were a few later stragglers, like Michele Massimo Tarantini's MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (1985), Mario Gariazzo's AMAZONIA (1985) and Antonio Climati's dubiously titled CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST II (1988). Italian hack Bruno Mattei tried to restart the cycle with a pair of 2004 shot-on-video atrocities, MONDO CANNIBAL and IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS, both of which shamelessly rip off CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, and Jonathan Hensleigh (THE PUNISHER, KILL THE IRISHMAN) directed the justifiably little-seen 2007 American found-footage dud WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, with two dipshit couples encountering cannibals while on a get-rich-quick plan to retrace the journey of Michael Rockefeller before his disappearance in New Guinea in 1961. Eli Roth's long-delayed THE GREEN INFERNO, shot in 2012 and finally due in theaters in fall 2015 after some distribution snafus, is purported to be an overt homage to the entire Italian cannibal subgenre.
|MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, opening in my hometown of Toledo, OH on 9/14/1984|
|MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY playing at|
the Liberty in Times Square