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Cannibal Films 101

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If there’s one particular brand of cinema that is well renowned for being overtly nasty and controversial. Then it’s the Italian Cannibal film. Titles such as Make Then Die Slowly and Trap Em and Kill Em don’t piss down your back and tell you it’s raining. It’s ‘Oi mate’, smack in the face! If it’s not the subject matter at hand, then it’s often the castration , rape or extreme violence. The director of the notorious 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato, was even forced into an Italian court charged with murder, until he could provide the actors from the film to prove that it wasn’t a snuff video. Cannibal Holocaust was intercut with scenes of real violence. like political executions in Nigeria, to give it a realistically gritty feel. These films lurid covers usually boasted claims of being banned in the most countries possible and nudity and violence was the staple. Lets have a look at the Genesis of these films and how they evolved.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Dir. Ruggero Deodato.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Dir. Ruggero Deodato.

There have been many films made about cannibalism over the years from Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast to Silence of the Lambs , Ravenous and more recently Marian Dora’s Cannibal and Grimm Love (which detailed the story of German Cannibal Armin Miewes). Although when someone mentions they like cannibal films, usually they mean of the Italian made variety.  Although there has been exceptions which still fit the genre. Like Jesus Franco’s White Cannibal Queen, a fucking dreadful film which has painted face natives so ‘primitive’ they forgot to take off their digital wrist watches and wedding rings. This is almost outdone in the dumb derby by a Hong Kong film, Hunters of the Lost Gold, that utilizes the same cast as some of the Italian movies and oh, Stuart Whitman. The only other entries are the US ones. Such as – Welcome to the Jungle from 2007 which isn’t too bad. As well as the long awaited one from Eli Roth, Green Inferno, which just premiered at the Toronto Independent Film Fest and will hopefully hit our shores soon.

White Cannibal Queen (1980). Dir. Jesus Franc

White Cannibal Queen (1980). Dir. Jesus Franc

So what are the main characteristics of this style of film? Well, first of all they wear exploitation films usually set in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, the Amazon or somewhere in South East Asia. They were made between the early 70s to the mid 80s and exploit the gore, sex and locales associated. The plots usually detail stories about white explorers trying to debunk the cannibal mythos, or they get captured by a primitive tribe for disrespecting tribal laws and are tortured and killed . There are even plots about people being lost in the jungles, being found and simulated into the tribe. Generally though there is one question often posed.  Who are the real savages? Us or them?

A lot of the films feature shot and stock footage of animals being killed. This is in the style of the Mondo films that influenced these movies. Mondo films are the original reality TV series; shockumentaries that showed Westerners forbidden delights, rites and bizarre behaviour from far away exotic lands. Once again, these were Italian and the first, Mondo Cane, translates into English into as It’s a Dogs Life. Aussies think Shocking Asia as a good example of the genre. Unfortunately back then though, a lot of people didn’t have the same sensibilities about these kinds of things and must of gained enjoyment from such animal slaughter. It has to be said in some cases here the tribes involved ate the animal(s) in question. Even still there is no excuse for the unnecessary animal snuff in these but I digress, as I love a barbie as much as the next bloke. Some DVD companies these days who are staunchly anti-censorship, have even gone as far as to remove these scenes in Cannibal Holocaust, such as UK.

As well as the Tarzan films of the 30s and 40s – which often featured primitive tribes and Jungle follies – another film that was highly influential towards these cannibal classics was the 1970 Richard Harris film, A Man Called Horse.This had nothing to do with cannibalism, but was a western about an educated white man that gets captured by a Native American tribe that he comes to respect. This was so influential that Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 vehicle Man From Deep River pretty much emulates this film in its entirety; swapping the US for South America and the Indians for cannibals. Lenzi returned to the genre again in 1980 with Cannibal Ferox or Woman from Deep River.

"The Man From Deep River" (1972) - Dir .Umberto Lenzi

“The Man From Deep River” (1972) – Dir .Umberto Lenzi

The most famous of all these films is Cannibal Holocaust; a 1980 film by Ruggero Deodato. This was shot in South America with real indigenous tribal members. An American film crew goes into the jungles to try get footage of “cannibals”. They manufacture some dodgy scenes to spruce up their doco and manage to piss off some tribes until they ultimately get fucked in the arse by Karma. Their film footage is found by Dr Munroe (played by US porn star Robert Kerman), who takes the footage back to New York  Uni and unspools the story before our eyes. Not only is this one of the best cannibal films, it is also unique for starting the “found footage” films like Blair Witch Project.

Join me in a few days for my ultimate Italian Cannibal film run down.


About the author: Admin

Monster Pictures is a Melbourne-based distribution / production company dedicated to delivering the most energetic, unique, creative, innovative, provocative, bizarre, frightening, challenging, surreal, offbeat, absurd, twisted, demented, raunchy, cinema in the world today.



    This is my absolute favorite sub-genre the Euro-cannibal film. Awesome article

    1. Jason Driver. says:

      Thanks April. I appreciate the feedback. I love em too. Part 2 to this article should be up soon.

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