Cannibal films, alternatively known as the cannibal genre or the cannibal boom, are a subgenre of exploitation films made predominantly by Italian filmmakers during the 1970s and 1980s. This subgenre is a collection of graphically violent movies that usually depict cannibalism by primitive, Stone-age natives deep within the Asian or South American rainforests. While cannibalism is the uniting feature of these films, the general emphasis focuses on various forms of shocking, realistic and graphic violence, typically including torture, rape and genuine cruelty to animals. This subject matter was often used as the main advertising draw of cannibal films in combination with exaggerated or sensational claims regarding the films' reputations.
The genre evolved in the early 1970s from a similar subgenre known as Mondo films, exploitation documentaries which claimed to present genuine taboo behaviors from around the world. Umberto Lenzi is often cited as originating the cannibal genre with his 1972 film Man from Deep River, while Antonio Climati's Natura contro from 1988 is similarly regarded to have brought the trend to a close. Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, released in 1980, is often considered to be the most well-known film of the genre due to the significant controversy surrounding its release, and is one of the few films of the genre to garner mainstream attention. In recent years, the genre has experienced a cult following and revival, as new productions influenced by the original wave of films have been released.
Due to their graphic content, the films of this subgenre are often the center of controversy, and many have been censored or banned in countries around the world. The animal cruelty featured in many of the films is often the focal point of the controversy, and these scenes have been targeted by certain countries' film boards. Several cannibal films also appeared on the video nasty list released by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1983 in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the genre has occasionally fallen under critical interpretation, and certain films have been noted for containing themes of anti-imperialism and third world oppression.
The plots of cannibal films usually involved Western characters entering the Amazon or South East Asian rainforests on an expedition, only to encounter hostile natives on the way to their destination. Other films that are sometimes associated with the genre, such as Cannibal Apocalypse and We're Going to Eat You, do not follow this plotline. The films are known for their lurid content, such as sex, nudity and various forms of graphic violence. Sexual assault, torture, and the on screen depiction of cannibalism are also common, and these acts are performed by both the Westerners and the natives. The films' advertising focused on the presentation of this content rather than any critical acclaim. This form of advertising was sometimes accompanied by claims regarding the film's notoriety. For instance, the posters for Cannibal Ferox claimed that the film was banned in 31 countries, while the British home video cover for Eaten Alive! similarly noted that the film was previously banned in the country.
Films containing elements similar to cannibal films existed before the genre's inception. Rainforest adventure films were often found popular in cinema (such as with the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and 1940s starring Johnny Weissmuller). Some of these films even included primitive, and in some cases, alleged cannibal tribes, and could be seen as the prototype for the modern cannibal film. One movie that can almost be definitively linked as the predecessor to the cannibal genre is Cornel Wilde's 1965 film The Naked Prey, which involved a white man being chased by a tribe of natives because his safari group offended their chief.
Another influential film on this genre was the 1970 Richard Harris western A Man Called Horse which, although it involved non-cannibalistic Native Americans, was about a civilized white man being captured by, and forced to live with, a tribe of savages, during which time he comes to respect, and strives to join, his captors. The basic plot of Man from Deep River is almost a scene-for-scene swipe from that film, merely substituting rainforest cannibals for the American Indians. This film, created to imitate the famous 1970 Richard Harris western, would wind up becoming the template for what would later become the Italian cannibal film genre.
The subgenre as it is known today is usually regarded to have started with Italian director Umberto Lenzi's 1972 film Man from Deep River. It was released in New York City as Sacrifice!, and was a 42nd Street hit. This film inspired several other similar films to be made during the late 1970s, a period identified by genre fans as the "cannibal boom". Included in these films are Ruggero Deodato's 1977 film Ultimo mondo cannibale (a.k.a. Last Cannibal World, a.k.a. Jungle Holocaust), Sergio Martino's 1978 film The Mountain of the Cannibal God and a few films by Joe D'Amato starring Laura Gemser. However, Deodato also claims to be the forefather of the subgenre, with his film Ultimo mondo cannibale. Lenzi said in an interview for Calum Waddell's documentary Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film:
Well, Mr Ruggero Deodato, my "dear friend", says that he invented this genre. He says that I copied him because he had done Last Cannibal World and then Cannibal Holocaust. However it is actually down to me that he did those films. It was down to me because after I filmed Man from Deep River, which was called Mondo Cannibale in Germany and did very well, the producer then signed another contract with the German distributors. It gave them an 80% guarantee based on another cannibal film directed by Umberto Lenzi and starring Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov. The producer signed this contact and he was at my house for dinner expecting me to do another film like the one we had just done and telling me how he had sold it to the Germans. I said okay, fine, but as the film did so well, I want to be paid exactly double of what I was given before. He refused, saying it was too much and so on. I said okay, good luck to you. Plus I was already signed up with Dania Film to do Almost Human. So what the producer did, so as not to void the contract with the Germans, was to change directors, stating I was ill or something. But he kept Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov. But Rassimov had a smaller part now. Nevertheless, both of them remained as part of this contract. So it was down to me that he [Deodato] got to do Last Cannibal World. It was me that said no. So he did it instead. However, if I had accepted it, like the contract stated, maybe he would never have done a cannibal film.
In response, Deodato, being interviewed for the same film, stated:
I think the forefather of the cannibal genre was me. I had not seen Umberto Lenzi's movie Man from Deep River. So my film, Last Cannibal World, really originated, and was written to start this whole cannibal trend. I studied a lot of books on the subject and documented some of it from National Geographic magazine as well. I also looked closely at the ritualism of cannibalism and I don't believe Lenzi did that with his film. Maybe Lenzi did it after I made Last Cannibal World. You know, when he went on to do Cannibal Ferox [in 1981]. He didn't do it first that's for sure. When I finally saw his film, it was more of a copy of A Man Called Horse.
A large number of cannibal films were made in 1980, making it the most successful year for the genre. In February 1980, Ruggero Deodato released Cannibal Holocaust, probably the best-known cannibal film. Luigi Cozzi has said: "to me, the real beginning of the cannibal genre is Cannibal Holocaust. It was a legitimate success at the box office but not in Italy as it was banned, blocked and withheld. They distributed it at a later date but it was dead by then. However, it did astonishing business abroad." Its graphic and unrelenting violence and exploitation brought it significant attention. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Cannibal Holocaust was an enormous success; it is sometimes claimed to have accumulated a 200,000,000 USD worldwide box-office gross, though this has not been verified and the true gross may never be known. Umberto Lenzi would also contribute to the genre in 1980 with Eaten Alive!, and again in 1981 with the notorious Cannibal Ferox, but by then, however, the genre was beginning to fade, and only a few other obscurities were made until Mondo film director Antonio Climati was considered to have put an end to the genre in 1988 with the film Natura contro, which is also known as an unofficial sequel to Cannibal Holocaust (it has an alternative title of Cannibal Holocaust II). Other similar films were made with a straight-to-video release afterward, most notably films by horror director Bruno Mattei.
The genre is heavily indebted to Mondo cinema, which similarly aimed to shock audiences with exotic customs and graphic violence. A common premise of the cannibal films is that mondo filmmakers (as in Cannibal Holocaust) or anthropologists (as in Cannibal Ferox) from a "civilized" country enter a jungle and run afoul of cannibalistic natives. Ironically, many have an anti-imperialist slant to them, as in the films, the "civilized" Westerners are the first to perpetrate extreme cruelty and violence upon the natives. The cannibals, in turn, reap revenge by inflicting the same form of barbarism on the Westerners. A few are set in modern urban centers with cannibalism practiced secretly, as in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals and Zombie Holocaust (which was the first film to mix the cannibal genre with the then-popular "zombie film").
Several directors of different nationalities have contributed to the genre, but most of them did not make more than one cannibal film each. The major directors to the genre are:
Like directors, few actors are cannibal genre regulars. The three actors who appeared in the most cannibal films were:
Other popular cannibal genre actors include: Laura Gemser, an Indonesian model-turned-actress in Italy; Perry Pirkanen, who played Jack Anders in Cannibal Holocaust and an uncredited role in Cannibal Ferox; Carl Gabriel Yorke, who played Alan Yates in Cannibal Holocaust; and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, a mainstream Italian actor whose stage name is John Morghen.
|Film||Director||Year||Also Known As|
|Man from Deep River||Umberto Lenzi||1972||Il paese del sesso selvaggio (The Country of Savage Sex); Deep River Savages; The Man From Deep River; Sacrifice!|
|Ultimo mondo cannibale||Ruggero Deodato||1977||Last Cannibal World; Jungle Holocaust|
|Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals||Joe D'Amato||1977||Emanuelle e gli Ultimi Cannibali; Trap Them and Kill Them|
|The Mountain of the Cannibal God||Sergio Martino||1978||La montagna del dio cannibale; Slave of the Cannibal God; Prisoner of the Cannibal God|
|Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals||Joe D'Amato||1978||Papaya dei Caraibi|
|The Primitive||Sisworo Gautama Putra||1978||Primitives; Savage Terror|
|Cannibal Holocaust||Ruggero Deodato||1980||Holocausto Canibal|
|Eaten Alive!||Umberto Lenzi||1980||Mangiati vivi!|
|Zombie Holocaust||Marino Girolami||1980||Zombi Holocaust; Zombie 3; Zombi 3; Queen of the Cannibals; Doctor Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviate)|
|We're Going to Eat You||Tsui Hark||1980||Diyu wu Men|
|Orgasmo Nero||Joe D'Amato||1980||Black Orgasm|
|Devil Hunter||Jesus Franco||1980||Il cacciatore di uomini / The Man Hunter; Mandingo Manhunter|
|Mondo Cannibale||Jesus Franco||1980||Cannibal World; The Cannibals; Cannibals; White Cannibal Queen; Die Blonde Gottin (The Blonde Goddess); A Woman for the Cannibals; Barbarian Goddess|
|Cannibal Terror||Alain Deruelle||1981||Terreur Caníbal (contains stock footage from Jesus Franco's Mondo Cannibale)|
|Cannibal Ferox||Umberto Lenzi||1981||Make Them Die Slowly; Woman from Deep River|
|Diamonds of Kilamandjaro||Jesus Franco||1982||Treasure of the White Goddess|
|White Slave||Mario Gariazzo||1984||Schiave Bianche: Violenza in Amazzonia / White Slave: Violence in Amazonia / Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story|
|Cut and Run||Ruggero Deodato||1985||Inferno in diretta / Hell...Live!; Amazonia|
|Massacre in Dinosaur Valley||Michele Massimo Tarantini||1985||Nudo e Selvaggio / Naked and Savage; Cannibal Ferox 2|
|Natura contro||Antonio Climati||1988||Against Nature; The Green Inferno; Cannibal Holocaust II|
|Nella terra dei cannibali||Bruno Mattei||2004||In the Land of the Cannibals; Cannibal Ferox 3; Land of Death|
|Mondo cannibale||Bruno Mattei||2004||Cannibal World; Cannibal Holocaust 2|
|The Green Inferno||Eli Roth||2013||made as an homage to Italian cannibal genre|
Because of the content, the cannibal genre is one of the most controversial genres of film. Many of the films were once banned in the UK and Australia and most are forced to be cut before public display. Several are still banned in countries all around the world. Only three films of the genre (Schiave Bianche: Violenza in Amazzonia, Ultimo mondo cannibale and Zombie Holocaust) have been rated R by the MPAA for the cut version (the R rating for Zombie Holocaust has since been surrendered, and the film is now unrated in the United States).
The most controversial aspect of the genre is the real animal killings, featured in several cannibal films. Most of the films also include graphic scenes of rape and other sexual violence.
The most controversial and most infamous movie of the genre was Cannibal Holocaust. Ten days after the premiere in Milan, the film was seized by Italian authorities and director Ruggero Deodato was arrested on the belief that his film was a real snuff film. Facing life in prison, Deodato was able to bring all the actors onto a television show and demonstrated in court how some of the special effects were accomplished. The charges were dropped, but because of the still extremely explicit content, the courts still banned the film because of the real cruelty towards animals. Deodato was ultimately held on charges of obscenity and animal violence. Four years later, in 1984, Deodato was able to overturn the courts' rulings and the film was unbanned. Ironically, that same year, the United Kingdom, Norway, Finland, and Australia banned Cannibal Holocaust; all four have since repealed the ban, though the UK version has minutes of cuts. It is sometimes claimed that Cannibal Holocaust is still banned in over 50 countries worldwide, though this can only be verified for a handful of nations. In 2006, Cannibal Holocaust made Entertainment Weekly's Top 25 Most Controversial Movies of All-Time list, landing at number 20.
Several of the films landed on the UK's infamous video nasty list. They are:
Armin Meiwes (German: [ˈmaɪvəs]; born 1 December 1961) is a German former computer repair technician who achieved international notoriety for killing and eating a voluntary victim whom he had found via the Internet. After Meiwes and the victim jointly attempted to eat the victim's severed penis, Meiwes killed his victim and proceeded to eat a large amount of his flesh. Because of his acts, Meiwes is also known as the Rotenburg Cannibal or Der Metzgermeister (The Master Butcher).Body horror
Body horror or biological horror is a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases graphic or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. These violations may manifest through aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, zombification, gratuitous violence, disease, or unnatural movements of the body. Body horror was a description originally applied to an emerging subgenre of American horror films, but has roots in early Gothic literature and has expanded to include other media.Cannibal Ferox
Cannibal Ferox, also known as Make Them Die Slowly in the US and as Woman from Deep River in Australia, is a 1981 Italian cannibal exploitation horror film written and directed by Umberto Lenzi. Upon its release, the film's US distributor claimed it was "the most violent film ever made". Cannibal Ferox was also claimed to be "banned in 31 countries", although this claim is dubious.Diary of a Cannibal
Diary of a Cannibal (also known as Cannibal) is a 2007 United States production horror film directed by Ulli Lommel. It is possibly inspired by Armin Meiwes, the "Rotenburg Cannibal". Lommel's film changes the account from a "Rotenburg Cannibal" to a young Los Angeleno girl who is corrupted by her new lover, a man who talks her into killing and eating him.Diego Luna
Diego Luna Alexander (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈdjeɣo ˈluna aleksanˈdeɾ]; born December 29, 1979) is a Mexican actor, director, and producer. He has appeared in many films, including Y tu mamá también, Open Range, Milk, Rudo y Cursi, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He is one of the founders and owners of Canana Films.Dolce e selvaggio
Dolce e selvaggio (1983) (English: Sweet and Savage) is a Mondo film directed by Antonio Climati and Mario Morra. The title "Sweet and Savage" refers to the juxtaposition of pleasant ("sweet") and violent ("savage") imagery within the film. It is narrated by the producer and long-time Mondo film director Franco Prosperi.
The film is the third and final entry in Climati and Morra's Savage Trilogy and is also the last collaborative feature between the two directors. Footage in the film was supplemented by scenes that originally appeared in their previous two films, Ultime grida dalla savana and Savana violenta. Morra went on to direct one final Mondo film, The Savage Zone, while Climati later made the cannibal film Natura contro in 1988.
The film has gained notoriety for the inclusion of several scenes of human death. One of the scenes, in which a man is tied to two trucks that tear off his arm, is staged. The other scenes, which are genuine, include a corpse in Tibet that is hacked apart by monks and fed to vultures and the accidental deaths of tightrope walker Karl Wallenda and stuntman A.J. Bakunas.Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (Italian: Emanuelle e gli Ultimi Cannibali) is an Italian sexploitation-cannibal film directed by Joe D'Amato. The film involves Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) a photojournalist who discovers a woman in a mental hospital who is a cannibal and features tattoos of an Amazonian tribe on her skin. Along with Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), the two travel to the Amazon with a team to discover the source of long-thought-extinct tribe that practices cannibalism.
The film is an entry in the Black Emanuelle series and features elements of cannibal films which had just gained popularity after the release of Ultimo mondo cannibale (1977).Jennifer Armour
Jennifer Armour (born 27 August 1985) is an American actress. She starred in the 2015 film Ghoul directed by Petr Jákl.List of science fiction horror films
This is a list of science fiction horror films.Man from the Deep River
Il paese del sesso selvaggio (English: The Country of Savage Sex), also known as Man From Deep River, Deep River Savages and Sacrifice!, is a 1972 Italian cannibal exploitation film directed by Umberto Lenzi and starring Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai and Pratitsak Singhara. It is perhaps best known for starting the "cannibal boom" of Italian exploitation cinema during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Lenzi was probably trying to imitate the content of notorious Mondo cinema, which had gained considerable Grindhouse popularity since Gualtiero Jacopetti and Paolo Cavara made Mondo Cane in 1962, even though this film is fictional. Like Man from Deep River, Mondo films often focus on exotic customs and locations, graphic violence, and animal cruelty.
The film was mainly inspired by A Man Called Horse, which also featured a white man who is incorporated into a tribe that originally held him captive. The title Man from Deep River is even supposed to echo the title A Man Called Horse.Mondo film
A mondo film (from the Italian word for "world") is an exploitation documentary film, sometimes resembling a pseudo-documentary and usually depicting sensational topics, scenes, or situations. Common traits of mondo films include portrayals of foreign cultures (which have drawn accusations of ethnocentrism or racism), an emphasis on taboo subjects (such as death and sex), and staged sequences presented as genuine documentary footage. Over time, the films placed increasing emphasis on footage of the dead and dying (both real and fake). The term shockumentary is also used to describe the genre.Paola Senatore
Paola Senatore (born 9 November 1949) is an Italian retired film actress.Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals
Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals (Italian title: Papaya dei Caraibi) is a 1978 Italian cannibal film directed by Joe D'Amato. It was written by Roberto Gandus and stars Melissa Chimenti in the titular role, opposite Sirpa Lane, hailed as the "next Bardot".Perry Pirkanen
Perry Pirkanen is an American actor. He is best known for starring in the 1980 Italian cannibal film Cannibal Holocaust. Pirkanen, then a student at New York City's Actors Studio, was hired by director Ruggero Deodato who was looking for unknown actors to play the film's four protagonists.
So realistic was the film that shortly after it was released its director Ruggero Deodato was indicted for the actors' murder. The actors had signed contracts to stay out of the media for a year in order to fuel rumours that the film was a snuff movie. The court was only convinced that they were alive when the contracts were cancelled and the actors appeared on a television show as proof.Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (disambiguation)
Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (Last Cannibal World) may refer to:
Ultimo mondo cannibale, a 1977 cannibal film directed by Ruggero Deodato
Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (album), an album by the grindcore band ImpetigoSee also:
Mondo Cannibale, a 1980 cannibal film directed by Jesús FrancoUltimo mondo cannibale
Ultimo mondo cannibale (English: Last Cannibal World; also known as Cannibal The Last Survivor and Jungle Holocaust) is a 1977 Italian cannibal exploitation film directed by Ruggero Deodato. The film stars Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov. The screenplay was written by Tito Carpi, Gianfranco Clerici and Renzo Genta, and tells the story of a man trying to escape from a jungle island inhabited by a native cannibal tribe.It is the precursor to Deodato's notoriously controversial Cannibal Holocaust (1980), but was originally slated to be directed by Umberto Lenzi as a follow-up to his prototypical 1972 cannibal film Man from Deep River.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.Umberto Lenzi
Umberto Lenzi (6 August 1931 – 19 October 2017) was an Italian film director, screenwriter and novelist.
A fan of film since young age, Lenzi studied at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and made his first film in 1958 which went unreleased, while his official debut happened in 1961 with Queen of the Seas. Lenzi's films of the 1960s followed popular trends of the era, which led to him directing several spy and erotic thriller films. He followed in suit in the 1970s making giallo films, crime films and making the first Italian cannibal film with Man from the Deep River. He continued making films up until the 1990s and later worked as a novelist writing a series of murder mysteries.Vegetarian Cannibal
Vegetarian Cannibal (Croatian: Ljudožder vegetarijanac) is a 2012 Croatian drama film directed by Branko Schmidt. It was released on 1 March 2012 and stars Rene Bitorajac as an immoral doctor.
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