CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) Blu-ray
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Grindhouse Releasing

Sillier than CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST yet chock full of extreme imagery, Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX hits Blu-ray in a stacked two-disc special edition from Grindhouse Releasing.

New York police Lieutenant Rizzo (Robert Kerman, EATEN ALIVE) is investigating the murder of a junkie in the apartment of tour guide Myrna Stenn (Fiamma Maglione, wife of co-producer Mino Loy and co-composer of the soundtrack with Roberto Donati). Although the audience has seen the victim shot by a mobster (John Bartha, EYEBALL) and his enforcer Paul (Kerman's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST co-star Perry Pirkanen), Rizzo suspects Myrna's coke-snorting boyfriend Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Meanwhile, NYU grad student Gloria Davis (Lorraine de Selle, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK), her brother Rudy (Danilo Mattei, ANIMA PERSA), and "hot-pussied little whore" Pat (Zora Kerowa, NEW YORK RIPPER) are trekking through Panaguya, Columbia in search of a native village called Manyoaca to disprove accounts of cannibalism for her thesis that posits cannibalism as a colonial myth to justify the cruel treatment of native populations. No sooner do they break down in the middle of nowhere do run into Mike and his wounded partner Joe (Walter Lucchini, IRONMASTER) who claim to have been attacked by cannibals while panning for emeralds. The quintet plan to make for the Amazon River in search of help but Joe cannot travel for long periods of time. When Rudy stumbles upon the village, he sees some evidence of carnage that seems to support Mike's story but also notices that all of the young natives are gone and the elders and children seem more frightened of them. Mike is eager for them to escape to the river before the village's young men return and kill them, but Rudy and Gloria refuse to leave Joe behind. Realizing that he is dying, Joe tells the sibling that truth about what happened to rile up the villagers: that a coke-snorting Mike became frustrated and tried to torture the location of the emeralds out of their Indio guide who he mutilated and castrated. Pat and Mike skip out on them, but it is not long before they and the siblings are captured by the village hunters with the goal to MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY…

Although definitely made to cash-in on the international success and Italian domestic notoriety of Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX also has its white victims paying for their own atrocities against the natives; but it is not interested in indicting media sensationalism or armchair academic arrogance so much as piling on the guts – all animal regardless of whether the victim is human or not – and sex. Were it as soberly acted and filmed as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX would be as grim as the American title MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY sounds; but Radice's over-the-top villainy earns his character a fittingly grisly fate compared to the more pathetic victims he played in other films or the other victims here, particularly Kerowa's Pat who is at first turned on by violence but horrified with her own potential sadism before she is captured. Most interpretations of the ending suggest Gloria cynically keeps the fates of her fellow captives secret in order to further her theory that cannibalism as an organized practice does not exist; however, her emotionally-shattered demeanor in the final scene might also suggest her belief that violence breed violence and they have driven the Indios to primitive behaviors. Kerman also appeared in Lenzi's EATEN ALIVE the year before, a cannibal flick that featured Ivan Rassimov as a Jim Jones-esque cult leader and stock footage from JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. The cast also includes Venantino Venantini (who put a drill through Radice's skull in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) as a police officer tailing Myrna to get to Mike. As a nod to Lenzi's earlier cannibal film MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, the film was retitled WOMAN FROM DEEP RIVER in Australia.

Released unrated theatrically through Terry Levene's Aquarius Releasing under the title MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY and then on cassette by Thriller Video (one of the unrated titles on which Elvira did not do hosting segments along with the Euro horrors DR. BUTCHER M.D., SEVEN DOORS TO DEATH, and BURIED ALIVE), Grindhouse Releasing first brought CANNIBAL FEROX back into the mainstream in 1998 with a Box Office Spectaculars laserdisc that featured a letterboxed transfer with a brand new Dolby Surround mix in English as well as the Italian mono track and an occasionally combative audio commentary by Lenzi and star Radice. Radice expresses his hatred for the film early on as well as painting a vivid picture of Leticia, drug dealers, substandard lodgings and food, and the share suffering with his castmates. Lenzi focuses on the particulars of the production and anecdotes. Both react with distaste to the animal violence, but Radice blames Lenzi for having shot it while Lenzi blames the requirements of the producers. Image's 2000 Grindhouse DVD featured a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 port of the laserdisc master with a short Lenzi on-camera interview added to the ported over trailers and still galleries (Grindhouse reissued this version on their own in 2006) while anamorphic transfers in 1.66:1 and 1.78:1 appeared on overseas DVDs.

Grindhouse Releasing's new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 encode is derived from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative (upon which Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski had already performed pre-digital restoration work back in the nineties when they struck the new 35mm prints and video master for the laserdisc). Colors are bold, detail is stunning (particularly in close-ups), and the grain structure is well-rendered, restoring a sense of depth to compositions like the downward POV of Mike through the bamboo bars of his mudpit cage. The film can be viewed in two versions via seamless branching. The first is the export cut of the film as we all know it (92:59) and the second (93:19) reintegrates two bits of rediscovered footage from the pig killing scene and the piranha scene that can also be viewed separately in the special features menu (1:31 and 1:28 respectively when excerpted in context of the surrounding footage), although the audio was missing and subtitles have been added where necessary. The piranha scene is most interesting for offering a different twist on the scene with the character whose legs have been ravaged by the flesh-eating fish switching from pleas for help to demands to be killed before getting a blow dart to the chest. Audio options include the stereo remix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and original English mono as well as the Italian mono in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Purists may prefer the mono mixes, but the stereo remix is very respectful to the original mix, taking advantage of the stereo music tracks and mono sound effects elements to give an increased sense of depth and width without any gimmicky additions. The film can also be viewed in its original cut accompanied by the Lenzi/Radice commentary recorded for the laserdisc.

The major extra on the first disc is the feature-length survey of cannibal films "Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film" (85:33) directed by High Rising Production's Calum Waddel and featuring commentary from writers Kim Newman, Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Antonio Tentori, and John Martin Jr., scholar Mikel Koven, actors Me Me Lai (MAN FROM DEEP RIVER) and Kerman, and filmmakers Lenzi, Sergio Martino (ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN), and Ruggero Deodato. The survey of Italian cannibal films from Lenzi's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER to MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY – with a mention of the Indonesian SAVAGE TERROR – connects the genre to the earlier mondo films and addresses charges of racism and misogyny. The scholarly commentary is interesting, although there is not really a dialogue about issues of representation between separately-filmed contributors while some of the writers' commentary is more anecdotal about their encounters with the films during a time of heavy censorship in the UK and Italy (do recall that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was banned in its native country until a few years after all of its cash-ins). Much more interesting are the reflections from the directors on their contributions to the genre and whether they would like to be remembered for them. Lenzi claims to have originated the genre with MAN FROM DEEP RIVER and that producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (MADHOUSE) and the German investors wanted another jungle adventure with Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov but the producer would not cough up the larger fee he wanted; thus, Ruggero Deodato was hired to helm LAST CANNIBAL WORLD/JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. Deodato, on the other hand, claims to have originated the genre because his film was meticulously researched while MAN FROM DEEP RIVER was – as Lenzi himself admits – more patterned after A MAN CALLED HORSE. Sergio Martino – who helmed MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD – contends that his work was more of an adventure film (which some of the other contributors compare to thirties jungle flicks). It actually is not a very insightful featurette, summing up what was really more of a cycle of films like any other Italian trend that burned itself out.

Four trailers are included for the film, with the international trailer (2:45) framed at 1.66:1 in 16:9 while the more entertaining female-narrated U.S. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY trailer (4:20) is still in 4:3 at 1.66:1 (although the rough condition does make the experience significantly more grindhouse-y even if a new HD transfer would have been welcome). The German trailer (2:52) for the film's release from THE BEYOND distributor Arabella Filmverleih as DIE RACHE DER KANNIBALEN follows the international trailer montage with hyperbolic (though sadly untranslated) German narration while the montage of Mexican trailer (4:22) is that of the American version with burnt-in Spanish subtitles for the dubbed dialogue and female narration in Spanish that seems to follow the American script and is titled HAZLOS MORIR LENTAMENTE (with the narrator stressing the last word "slowly") and is framed at 1.78:1 and in 16:9. The first disc also features footage from the film's 1997 Hollywood Premiere (5:15) – in a double bill with CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD – that makes one which Grindhouse had included a 5.1 audience track from a screening as they did with PIECES.

The second disc features the meatier extras. In "Umberto Lenzi: Hooked on You" (19:42), the director has refined his views on the film from the commentary and past interviews. In "The Many Lives and Deaths of Giovanni Lombardo Radice" (51:11), Radice discusses how he began as a dancer until a back injury lead him to pursue acting and directing for the state; whereupon he was noticed by Ruggero Deodato's agent mother-in-law, which lead to his casting in HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK and then CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (both roles of which he stole from friend Michele Soavi who he claims took small roles in horror movies in order to observe the directors and help out behind the scenes). The featurette discusses his feelings on his handful of Italian horror films and his spectacular deaths scenes in them including CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, CANNIBAL FEROX, and STAGEFRIGHT (although he does not discuss his roles in Soavi's THE CHURCH and THE SECT which were not as gory). The running time is seemingly indulgent, but Radice is a charismatic and amusing speaker. In "Zora in Cannibal Land" (25:00), Kerowa recalls how Lenzi cast her without an audition, getting along with her castmates, the hellish location filming, and the staging of her death scene.

In "Danilo Mattei's Amazon Adventure" (20:52), the English-speaking actor concedes that the film was a step down from his beginnings as an actor (as the young protagonist of Dino Risi's Venetian gothic ANIMA PERSA), staying in Leticia (during which a drug lord tried to purchase Kerowa), his refusal to kill a pig (presumably as a hand stand-in for Radice who had also refused), and leisure time in between shooting (when some of the cast and crew sampled cocaine). In a short Easter Egg, Mattei discusses a follow-up production he was to do with Lenzi. "They Call Him Bombadore" (25:08) is an interview with special effects artist Gino De Rossi – too often confused with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi, especially when they worked on the same films – who shows off the effects props including the hollow hooks for Kerowa's death scene – and discusses how they suspended Kerowa above the ground without mentioning the contributions of assistant director Riccardo Petrazzi as Kerowa had in her interview). Also included is a 1998 interview with Umberto Lenzi (7:51) in which the interviewer translates the director's Italian comments, although there is nothing that we haven't heard in the commentary or newer interview.

The extras are filled out by loaded still galleries of production stills, behind the scenes shots, promotional materials from all over the world (including a section of US advertising that leads to an Easter Egg in which Aquarius Releasing's Terry Levine discusses how he usually came up with the titles, taglines, and chose the artwork from 35mm frame blow-ups), as well as video/laser/DVD covers and a gallery devoted to CANNIBAL FEROX merchandise. The second disc also includes trailers for several Grindhouse Releasing titles while an included CD features the remastered Budy-Maglione soundtrack featuring twenty tracks plus twenty alternate takes and remixes. Also enclosed is a liner notes booklet with essays by Bill Landis and Eli Roth (and a chapter listing on the rear) as well as an Umberto Lenzi filmography on the reverse of the cover. (Eric Cotenas)