It’s the return of our good old friends, the cannibals, to Zombie Club tonight and in the immortal words of Guns n’ Roses ”Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games”. Not one, but two classic Umberto Lenzi pics, packed with enough gut-munching, random jungle stock footage and animal brutality to make even Jim squeamish.
Umberto Lenzi’s first foray into the forest was Deep River Savages back in 1972 which effectively kicked off the whole cannibal sub-genre (it was actually Italy’s first ever graphic cannibal yarn) although it was to be 5 years until Ruggero Deodato and Aristide Massaccesi revived it with Last Cannibal World and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals respectively.
Lenzi returned to the genre in 1980 with Eaten Alive!, but we’re skipping that one in favour of the one that everyone knows, Cannibal Ferox from 1981. Rivalling Cannibal Holocaust for ultimate jungle native notoriety, this is the one that features John Morghen enduring, amongst other atrocities, a particularly gruesome penis slicing. It was banned in 31 countries don’t you know…
Tonight’s Zombie Club was brought to you by Rawshark in association with fresh monkey brains and copious amounts of J&B whiskey.
Deep River Savages (1972)
Plot An English photographer is captured by a tribe of wild natives.
Rawshark Ivan Rassimov plays John Bradley, an English photographer on location between Thailand and Burma. After an opening fight in a bar (”Don’t mess with the Rassimov” - Zomblee), Ivan decides to take a trip up river with a seemingly limitless supply of J&B whiskey - see the bottle appear in almost every shot! - until one day his guide is killed and Rassimov is caught in a net by the natives and taken to their village.
There the kids beat him with sticks (”They think he’s a Piñata” - Jim), subject him to various tortures such as throwing darts at him and keep him caged, despite the fact that they think he’s a ‘fishman’ due to the wetsuit he is wearing. Over time, he is slowly accepted into the tribe, where passes several ‘tests’. eats monkey brains (nice) and after a quick ‘boob feel groping’ game, he ultimately settles down with local girl Me Me Lai, described by Jim as ”a poor woman’s Thai Laura Gemser”.
With only occasional ‘shock tactic’ shots of bloody violence, female nudity and animal deaths (the snake vs mongoose fight is particularly grotesque, yet fascinating), Deep River Savages is relatively tame with the actual ‘cannibals’ only appearing late in the film to attack Ivan Rassimov’s adoptive tribe. More of an Emerald Forest type story of a civilised man being assimilated into a tribal society, Deep River Savages is actually a hugely enjoyable film, beautifully shot and well realised. Ok, so there may be flaws, such as the overtly racist dialogue and the slow-motion shot of Me Me Lai running topless as a flashback accompaniment to her death, but overall this is great stuff from the legend that is Lenzi, from an age where he was at the height of his craft.
"I'm a human being, like you! I'm a man, not a fish!"
Jim Yeah, I can think of more tasteful ways to remember a lady that has died than a slow motion montage of her running topless through the jungle, boobs swaying merrily from side to side. But that's cannibal films for you. Their wedding ceremonies are similarly dodgy - the one shown in the movie literally descends into a rather tasteless shag scene (“Well, the wedding ceremonies are certainly different in Thailand!” – Rawshark), although sometimes I wonder whether those kind of ideas are from the cannibals or the Italian filmmakers, if you know what I mean.
Still, in terms of tasteful cannibal movies - if there really is such a thing - then this is probably the most tasteful of the lot. Coming across as a kind of cross between Emerald Forest (like Rawshark pointed out) and A Man Called Horse, it's bizarrely more of a love story than anything else, telling of ‘obviously not Englishman’ John Bradley who's missing his London pubs, and his acceptance into this tribe in Thailand (“We get it, you’re meant to be from London,” – Zomblee). But it's no easy feat, and along the way he has to take quite a few tests.
The bamboo head cage thing that looks a bit like a primitive Saw contraption (“You must find the key!” – Zomblee) was the first, as they spin him slowly and shoot darts at him, but by no means the last. We also have the log test, the snake test, the pig test and what we could only label the tit test, which involved various tribesmen putting their hand in a hole in a hole in the wall and feeling Me Me's boobs (“I bet that wasn’t like that in Flash Gordon when Peter Duncan had to put his hand in that thing!” – Rawshark).
And it didn't stop there. Before the end we were treated to the elephant test, the liquorice test (don't ask) and ultimately the helicopter test, where John hides from those searching for him to stay with the locals. Still, who can blame him after that flour on the floor shag, which is something I admit I've never experienced. “You haven’t lived!” exclaimed Zomblee and “You have to get self-raising though…” added Rawshark. That's quite enough of that.
”I come from London, where we have pubs”.
Zomblee Yes, there really were tests aplenty for the golden-maned Rassimov in Lenzi's relatively tame Thai / Burmese cannibal adventure. In fact I cannot recall a single movie which features more tests, and we wouldn't have had it any other way because there was precious little in the way of human impaling or genital munching going on. However, this is a more competently crafted film than Ferox, with a fraction of its gore quota. Hey, who needs excessive gore when you've got a tit test like this?
Set "back in the days when you could smoke at the Thai boxing" (Rawshark), this story follows Rassimov the photographer and his journey into the jungle where after being captured by a primitive tribe, he falls in love with a native girl with a great arse and decides to stay. That's about the size of it from what I can remember. Throughout, Lenzi injects the story with obligatory shock moments like the snake / mongoose fight ("I'm glad the mongoose won" - Jim), a cockfight, and live snake chopping ("Tastes like chicken apparently" - Jim), which the local people proceed to cook up and eat, so that's ok I guess.
The tribe in this movie have managed to fashion themselves some incredible attire, the like of which was no doubt the height of jungle fashion in the early 70s. The men in particular all seem to be involved in some kind of loincloth hierarchy system ("That guy has a really complicated pair of pants!" - Jim), and the old chief even has a middle parting that goes all the way down the back of his head. Amazing.
Perhaps we should have been taking a film like Deep River Savages more seriously, but as you can tell, we just like to have a good time here at ZC. This movie actually demands a certain amount of respect, in that it eschews most of what the cannibal movie would later stand for and concentrates on humanity instead. Lenzi was still helping the subgenre find its feet in 1972 and opts to handle the whole affair with a good deal of sensitivity, and the result rightfully ranks up there with his best work.
"They must think I'm some kind of fish. Must be the wet suit I have on."
Director Umberto Lenzi
Cast Ivan Rassimov
Me Me Lai
Runtime 93 mins
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Cannibal Ferox (1981)
Plot More cannibals...
Zomblee Cannibal Ferox was banned in 31 countries apparently, and although it must have appeared harsh back in the early 80s, it's difficult to feel shocked by the content these days. Opting to big-up his gory opus to the hilt, director Lenzi commences the film by stating that there are over two dozen scenes of barbaric cruelty about to come our way, and advises anyone with a weak disposition to leave the theatre. Promises, promises.
When the Ferox titles kicked in proper, everyone at ZC started singing along with Donati & Maglione's super-catchy cheesy funk harvest. What a tune, and only a taster of this great 70s soundtrack. After an NYC intro, we're off up river in the Amazon where Gloria (accompanied by slutty mate Pat, and assistant Rudy) is on an expedition to prove that cannibals no longer exist. Unluckily for her pals, they soon encounter trouble in the form of NY's most wanted - Mike Logan - a class A shit with a cocaine habit and a penchant for torturing the local tribesmen in his crazed quest for precious stones and "high quality blow".
Needless to say, it all goes horribly wrong for both groups; the locals take them hostage and make them...die slowly. Radice gets star treatment of course (he always does!) – the cannibals return the favour of chopping off his knob, while the blond slag just gets irritatingly hysterical all the time, shouting "I can't take it anymore!", the way loads of characters seem to do in crap Italian movies. When the local tribe decide to impale her breasts, she eventually ceases her yakking - a relief for all concerned.
As you will be no doubt aware, a lot of the promised barbaric cruelty in Lenzi's Cannibal Holocaust rip-off features animals like a mongoose / snake fight and a huge turtle getting ripped apart for hors d'oeuvres ("I don't need to see that" - Rawshark), i.e. plenty of animal deaths but not so many human deaths. There are loads of monkeys in this movie, too ("I reckon the monkeys are stock footage." - Jim), but here Mr Lenzi denies himself the monkey brain breakfast as featured in tonight's first movie.
"I can't take it anymore!"
Jim "This is a much better transfer than the one I saw when I was 15!" observed Zomblee as our second cannibal extravaganza got under way, starting, like many Italian films did at the time, in New York. Yes, just like Contamination, Zombie Flesh Eaters and the rather rare Alien Terror (coming to a Zombie Club soon), there's minimal chatter in the Big Apple (stuff about some guy ripping off the mob and then running, and this bird who's doing a PhD on cannibals not existing) before we're whisked off to the jungle where it's much cheaper to film, and the ever dependable cannibal movie boat trip ("You really can always count on a 'going down the river' scene in a cannibal movie." - Zomblee).
So, this girl Gloria starts explaining that she's doing a thesis on why cannibalism is a myth, then a coked up John Morghen comes waltzing out of the jungle with his injured mate talking about how they just survived a cannibal attack, which everyone believes ("Sounds a bit fishy to me." - Rawshark). Gloria's blonde mate gets off with John, a couple of hideous animal atrocities are perpetrated and not a lot else happens for a while, if you don't count Gloria taking loads of pictures ("Not a cannibal movie without some camera action!" - Zomblee) and John trying to teach the blonde girl how to torture locals properly.
Yes, for with the end of the movie in sight it soon becomes clear that John Morghen's not such a nice guy and, thanks to a drawn out confession by his injured mate, Gloria and co realize that they shouldn't really be associating with John at all, just as the cannibal's turn up to mutilate anyone still alive. And with the cannibals come all those famous gore scenes we've been patiently waiting for, except perhaps the piranha scene. ("I've heard the piranha scene's a bit naff." - Rawshark)
Not as compelling as Deep River Savages, and a blatant rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust, Ferox is nonetheless great fun, especially the last ten minutes. Don't get me started on those stock footage monkeys, though ("All the monkeys like getting on one branch, have you noticed?" - Zomblee).
”I can’t take it anymore!”
Rawshark Yep, it’s funny seeing Cannibal Ferox again in ‘re-mastered’ quality after having only seeing it before once on a very dodgy video copy back in the early 90s. Maybe it’s the fact that the DVD quality shows up the gore effects to be mostly bad, or perhaps it’s the fact that it’s not actually a very good film, but on a reviewing reflection, Cannibal Ferox (for the record, that’s pronounced Fer-ocks, not Fer-row) no longer lives up to it’s title as one of the most notorious nasties ever.
Gloria’s intended PhD thesis (”According to Gloria dear, man eat man is bullshit”) is an obvious sign that most, if not all, of our cast are purely in the film as mere cannibal fodder – a fact emboldened when John Morghen’s coke-headed twat Mike turns up out of nowhere yelling about attacking cannibals and genital munching. There is more of the nasty animal stuff (the snake beats the mongoose in this film by the way, and the turtle bit had us all looking away from the screen as we were eating pizzas at the time) and occasional random cuts back to New York, but it’s all just teaser stuff really for the final 15 minutes of cannibalistic carnage.
And yet, when it happens, it’s all just a tad disappointing. True, the penis slicing is pretty gruesome, but John Morghen then escapes by tunnelling through a gap in the mud bank (”Yeah, like that’s not going to hurt” - Jim) before machete-ing a cannibal and running away. He’s caught again soon after, and has his hand and head sliced off for his troubles, but alongside the ‘hooks in the breasts’ (”it’s all going tits up!” - Zomblee), the effects here are all pretty shoddy and fairly anticlimactic.
Obviously trying to outdo Deodato’s earlier Cannibal Holocaust in terms of graphic gore, Ferox ultimately fails due to a cheap script, lazy direction and weak characterisation. Yes, there’s lots of offensive stuff going on here - the problem is that it’s very difficult to care, The music is bloody good though, and remember, as Jim observed, ”The first rule of cannibal movies – girls with headbands get eaten”.
”I can’t take it anymore!”
Director Umberto Lenzi
Cast Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Lorraine De Selle
Runtime 93 mins
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With the jungle expedition finally over, we packed away our cameras, cleaned our machetes and paddled away in our canoes, pausing only briefly to take stock (footage) of tonight’s two films. Deep River Savages emerged the far classier affair, and proves once again that during the 70s, Umberto Lenzi was a hugely accomplished film director, willing to take risks and experiment with new genres. It also helped that Me Me Lai’s breasts featured so often.
Cannibal Ferox, despite it’s ‘singalong’ soundtrack and merry blood-letting towards the end, was a bit of a let-down really, but for such an infamous film, it was still a worthy addition to a Zombie Club evening. So what have we learnt tonight? Firstly, if you’re going into a jungle, remember to wear a wetsuit so the locals see you as a fish god, avoid wearing headbands, and don’t take shit-loads of coke and machete innocent tribesmen like John Morghen did. Idiot.
Next week; Fetch out your Bo and your Shurikens as Zomblee brings us a night full of Ninjas in the form of Sho Kosugi’s Revenge of the Ninja and Pray for Death.