When students from New York leave for the Amazon to investigate the cannibal myth, they meet two American drug smugglers who have been playing havoc with the natives. The natives are not happy with the treatment and intend to torture, kill and eat their American guests.
"Cannibal Holocaust" and "Cannibal Ferox" have always been in a cock measuring contest with each other. Despite neither being the first cannibal film, these were the most vicious of its time. Umberto Lenzi has always been quick to jump onto popular themes for some money, and with "Cannibal Ferox" he was ready to take the crown of brutal, relentless cannibal films from Ruggero Deodato. Granted he did make "The Man From Deep River", which preceeded them, but it was just the beginning of what would become cannibal films. The only problem is that while Umberto Lenzi had no problems pushing it further with animal cruelty and senseless violence, Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" was a superior story, with a unique style (the found footage angle), less animal killings for the sake of it (where it was eaten, unlike the scenes in "Ferox"), and seemed to have a message to its violence. I am not trying to completely knock "Cannibal Ferox" already in the opening paragraph, I can enjoy it for its exploitative and brutal nature, but it will always be studied in the shadow of Deodato's movie. But enough about the comparisons - how does "Cannibal Ferox" stand on its own?
The story is very straight forward, with a group of University students leaving for the Amazons to investigate the myth of cannibalism among the tribes. While there they quickly realize that they are not mentally equipped for that life. In the Amazon they stumble upon another group of Americans, who have stayed there longer than they have and have adapted to the world. But it turns out that these Americans are not good people. In fact, they are drug smugglers and have been treating the tribe people like shit. There is no surprise when the Americans are about to become the menu.
Now, have you heard this plot before? It is very much like "Cannibal Holocaust", but the plot in "Cannibal Ferox" is mainly what it is because it was quick to write and it gives room for a lot of torture and violence. Hell, even the final statement is pretty much stolen! There are several gruesome scenes in this movie that arguably go further than other cannibal films did, but the effects (or rather, how it was shot) often keeps it from being as effective. Don't get me wrong, the movie has great gore, but there's not enough power behind it. I guess that's a side-effect to a movie being created mainly to cash in on the genre, and wanting to be the most brutal it could. It's hard as a viewer to get completely attached then.
There is no doubt that you can argue the value of the animal scenes in all of these cannibal movies, but "Cannibal Ferox" has scenes that are just there for the hell of it. Even when it's scenes of animals killing each other, most of the time it's either one animal tied to a rope, or one thrown onto the other so that they are forced to fight. And the camera lingers on the misery for as long as it can. This can especially be seen in a scene where a pig is brutally stabbed (which may or may not be simulated, I'm no expert). It is hard to "ignore" the animal cruelty is these films (you shouldn't), and this is a movie that is too proud of its torture of animals, but at least there are those movies that show animal killings that are followed by them being eaten. That's food in my eyes. This movie does not do that.
Despite the senseless animal cruelty of "Cannibal Ferox", this is one of the strongest cannibal films. It's an exploitation film that attempted to go the whole way, and it did, and as long as the brutality is towards characters in the movie it is very entertaining. We're talking disembowelment, castration and hooks through tits. Yes, this movie doesn't show the natives as animalistic cannibals, but strategic geniuses of torture! Which, of course, makes it a lesser movie in some ways, but has its values purely in gory entertainment. Its alternate title "Make Them Die Slowly" speaks volumes of the movies intent.
Grindhouse Releasing's blu-ray release, which consists of 2 blu-ray discs and a soundtrack CD, is the best the movie has ever been presented and is packed with a ton of extra material such as the documentary "Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film". It's a must buy if you like this kind of cinema.
Note: As we were unable to take screenshots from the actual blu-ray, we grabbed sceenshots from the internet.