Please check out the first part of my series on cannibal horror – Summer BBQ: A Short Guide to Cannibal Slashers
BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979) Young taxidermist Frank (Kieran Canter) lives in a large manor with his demented housekeeper, Iris (Franca Stoppi)—who jerks off Frank when he needs calming down—and steals the corpse of his recently deceased girlfriend, Anna, from the nearby cemetery. Indulging in his aforementioned hobby, Frank embalms (in a very graphic scene) Anna and turns her into another of the stuffed animals he has scattered in the basement. When a hitchhiker comes snooping around, Frank and Iris dispatch her, chop her into bits, and dissolve the parts in an acid bath, but not before Iris saves the remains and adds them to her stew. Frank’s bloodlust and taste for cannibalism rise, and more gruesome murders ensue. A brutal and unpleasant film, Beyond the Darkness is too bleak and depressing to really enjoy, although maybe that’s the point. It is nonetheless a well-acted and directed (by Joe’D Amato) piece of Italian gore cinema, and as graphic a film you’ll likely see—but there’s not much fun to be had in any of it. Terrific score by Goblin. C
CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) No implied blood and guts here. No editing away and leaving the red stuff to the imagination of the viewer. In Cannibal Ferox, people are chopped, gutted, dissected, decapitated, castrated, tortured, and in the end are turned into a hot meal for an Amazonian jungle civilization—all in colorful close-up. As for the plot, it’s basically a rerun of director Umberto Lenzi’s previous cannibal epic, Eaten Alive!, with white men invading a “savage” forest society and getting their much-deserved comeuppance. Those being served as the buffet are a grad school student (Lorraine De Selle) doing a thesis on the myth of cannibalism, her airhead friend (Zora Kerova), who’s looking for the next party, and the source of our protagonists’ problems, a coke-fueled drug dealer (the late Giovanni Lombardo Radice), who’s lost any sense of social grace after discovering emeralds in the riverbed of a nearby village. Character and story are jettisoned for gore, and it’s all surprisingly effective—when the bubbleheads are ripped apart you can’t help but flinch. A sleazy semi-classic originally released as Make Them Die Slowly. B
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) Dubbed “the one that goes all the way,” and for good reason. Cannibal Holocaust is a film that doesn’t have any pretenses about its grisly subject matter, so if the title alone makes you wince, it’s a safe bet this is not the film for you. Four up-and-coming documentarians set out to make a film deep within the Amazon. When they fail to return home, a New York anthropologist (Robert Kerman) agrees to help lead a rescue mission, venturing into the uncharted rainforest to find the missing filmmakers. Instead, he finds their skeletal remains and the film they shot before their deaths—a plot device famously revisited in The Blair Witch Project nineteen years later. The final thirty or so minutes of Cannibal Holocaust is composed of the footage the four filmed, revealing the truth of what really happened. Despite its rough-around-the-edges demeanor—overwrought acting mixed with lousy dubbing kill the impact of certain “serious” scenes—the movie has the uncanny ability to get under your skin, building an air of claustrophobia and intensity that most other Italian gut-munchers of the era lacked. As with the best of horror, Cannibal Holocaust is grim and unforgiving in its portrayal of psychological terror and can be a tough watch even for the most jaded viewer. B+
EATEN ALIVE! (1980) Southern Belle Sheila (Janet Agren) finds herself in the jungles of New Guinea, where she believes her sister was last seen before disappearing. There she hires American expat Mark (Robert Kerman)—who likes his Jim Beam a bit too much—to help locate sis, but ends up running afoul of snakes, crocodiles, and cannibals. The crocs gobble up a local guide, while the cannibals make a feast of a nearby villager (after raping her, of course). Sheila and Mark eventually discover the sister (Paola Senatore) has joined a cult which worships a man named Jonas (Ivan Rassimov), who teaches the way of purification. In other words, rape, torture, and cannibalism are all part of Jonas’s periodic table of “enlightenment.” Despite such a sensational title, Eaten Alive! is fairly tepid, lacking the gritty gruesomeness of its predecessor, Cannibal Holocaust, which this film is clearly emulating. That would explain the overuse of animal cruelty, and the casting of Kerman, who played a similar role in the earlier movie. Lots o’gore, but not much else. Friendly cannibal Me Me Lai’s death scene (in which her abdomen is cut open and loaded with burning hot rocks) is actually older footage lifted from Ruggero Deodato’s 1977 movie Jungle Holocaust. C
THE GREEN INFERNO (2013) The upper crust students of Columbia University are hellbent on organizing protests, mostly likely so they don’t have to go to class. This is good news for freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo), whose father just happens to work for the United Nations—a connection that gains Justine entrance into a snotty activist group lead by the charismatic Alejandro (Ariel Levy), who’s putting together a trip to Peru. Alejandro and gang—including Justine—head there to prevent Big Business from tearing down the rainforest and to protect the Amazon’s natural resources, which apparently includes cannibalism. They quickly learn White Man is not welcome in the “green inferno” and are eventually dismembered by an indigenous jungle tribe and served for dinner, eliminating any chance for extra credit. A tribute to the Italian cannibal movies of the seventies and eighties, The Green Inferno is a competently-made piece of splatter filmmaking, which by the 45-minute mark basically becomes a remake of Cannibal Ferox. It lacks the claustrophobic intensity of Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s still an undeniably (if uneven) gruesome experience. Ignore the monumentally stupid mid-end-credits twist. B–
JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977) Also known as Last Cannibal World. A small plane crash-lands on the remote Philippine island of Mindanao, where the survivors encounter a tribe of people that never left the Stone Age. After half of the survivors are killed and eaten by the locals, oilman Robert (Massimo Foschi) is captured, stripped naked, and kept as a sort of pet/plaything by the savages—the tribe’s children delight in pissing on the poor guy, but not before Robert is served human remains for dinner. Robert is eventually awarded sympathy by one of the society’s more “civilized” members (Me Me Lai), who sets him free. The two flee into the jungle to face even more horror, natural and unnatural. The obvious blueprint for future Italian cannibal movies, Jungle Holocaust features the appropriate amount of meat-eating, but that’s just background dressing in the film, which is written as more of a jungle survival adventure, albeit a very brutal one. That’s not to say the movie is without its gory delights, because it’s not: a sequence in which Robert must feast on the innards of his vanquished enemy to prove his dominance and gain ultimate survival is quite nasty. Director Ruggero Deodato learned a lot from this little bit of (enjoyable) exploitation, as his next film, Cannibal Holocaust, would top the gore and suspense aspects in almost every way. B–
If you haven’t yet, please follow my new podcast channel The Video Verdict, which I cohost with friend and fellow movie nerd Frank Pittarese. The episodes are available on Podbean. Our latest is all about cannibal jungle movies!