Cannibal films are a subgenre of exploitation film made mostly by Italian filmmakers through the 1970s and 1980s. This subgenre is a collection of graphically gory movies that usually depict cannibalism by primitive, Stone-age natives deep within the Asian or South American rain forests. Even though not all cannibal films show cannibalism on screen, all the movies are connected with the genre by stating that the tribe is cannibalistic. 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, castration, and/or cruelty to animals. Similarly to mondo films, the main advertising draw of cannibal films was the promise of gore, exotic locales, and cruel behavior, and eventually became a popular aspect of Grindhouse culture. The peak of the genre's popularity was from 1977 to 1981, a period that has come to be known as the cannibal boom.
Due to their graphic content, the films of this subgenre are often the center of controversy. Many of the films include genuine slayings of animals, making them a common target of censors around the world. The inclusion of graphic gore and sexual violence has also resulted in censorship.
Movies similar to the cannibal genre certainly were not rare before the 1970s, as rain forest adventure films were often found popular in cinema (such as with the Tarzan movies of the 30s and 40s 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 1966 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 rain forest cannibals for the American Indians.
The sub genre as it is known today was officially started with Italian director Umberto Lenzi's 1972 film Man from Deep River. Man from Deep River 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 70s, a period identified by genre fans as the "cannibal boom". Included in these films are Ruggero Deodato's Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, Sergio Martino's Mountain of the Cannibal God, and a few films by Joe D'Amato starring Laura Gemser.
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. Its graphic and unrelenting violence and exploitation is believed to have caused audiences to realize how repugnant most of these films really were, and inevitably, the popularity of the genre began to decline. 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. Lenzi would also contribute to the genre in 1980 with Mangiati Vivi (Eaten Alive), and again in 1981 with the notorious Cannibal Ferox (Make Them Die Slowly), 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 alternate title of Cannibal Holocaust II). Other similar films were made with a straight-to-video release afterward, most notably films by horror hack 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:
- Ruggero Deodato, with the films Jungle Holocaust and Cannibal Holocaust.
- Umberto Lenzi, with the films Man From Deep River, Eaten Alive!, and Cannibal Ferox.
- Jesus Franco, with the films Mondo Cannibale, The Man Hunter, and Diamonds of Kilimandjaro.
- Joe D'Amato, with the films Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals, and Orgasmo Nero.
Like directors, few actors are cannibal genre regulars. The three actors who appeared in the most cannibal films were:
- Robert Kerman in Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive!, and Cannibal Ferox.
- Ivan Rassimov in Man From Deep River, Jungle Holocaust, Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Eaten Alive!.
- Me Me Lai in Man From Deep River, Jungle Holocaust, and Eaten Alive!.
Other popular cannibal genre actors are --- Laura Gemser, an Indonesian model turned actress in Italy; Carl Gabriel Yorke, who played the most infamous character of the cannibal genre, Alan Yates in Cannibal Holocaust; and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, a mainstream Italian actor whose stage name is John Morghen. (An interesting sidenote is that the lead character in the influential A Man Called Horse (1970) was named John Morgan.)
Films by year
|Film||Director||Year||Also Known As|
|Il paese del sesso selvaggio||Umberto Lenzi||1972||The Man from the Deep River / The Country of Savage Sex; Deep River Savages; The Man From Deep River|
|Ultimo mondo cannibale||Ruggero Deodato||1977||Jungle Holocaust / The Last Cannibal World|
|Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals||Joe D'Amato||1977||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 (UK release)|
|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||N/A|
|Eaten Alive!||Umberto Lenzi||1980||Mangiati Vivi|
|Zombie Holocaust||Marino Girolami||1980||Queen of the Cannibals; Dr. Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviate); Zombi Holocaust|
|We're Going to Eat You||Tsui Hark||1980||Diyu wu Men|
|Orgasmo Nero||Joe D'Amato||1980||Black Orgasm|
|The Man Hunter||Jesus Franco||1980||The Devil Hunter; Il cacciatore di uomini; Mandingo Manhunter|
|Mondo Cannibale||Jesus Franco||1980||Cannibal World; Cannibals; White Cannibal Queen|
|Cannibal Terror||Alain Deruelle||1981||Terreur Caníbal (some scenes co-directed by Jesus Franco)|
|Cannibal Ferox||Umberto Lenzi||1981||Make Them Die Slowly|
|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||The Green Inferno; Against Nature; Cannibal Holocaust 2|
|Nella Terra dei Cannibali||Bruno Mattei||2003||In the Land of the Cannibals; Cannibal Ferox 3; Land of Death|
|Mondo Cannibal||Bruno Mattei||2003||Cannibal World; Cannibal Holocaust 2|
|The Green Inferno||Eli Roth||2012|
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 two films of the genre (Schiave Bianche: Violenza in Amazzonia and Zombi Holocaust) have been rated R by the MPAA for the uncut version (the R rating for Zombi 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:
- Il paese del sesso selvaggio (1972)
- La montagna del dio cannibale (1978)
- Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
- Mangiati vivi (1980)
- Il cacciatore di uomini (1980)
- Cannibal Ferox (1981)
- Terror Caníbal (1981)
- Landis, Bill. Make Them Die Slowly. Grindhoiuse Releasing.
- David Carter. "Savage Cinema". Savage Cinema. Retrieved 2006-09-06.
- "Trivia for Cannibal Holocaust". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2006-10-19.
- Giovanni Pistachio. "Cannibal Holocaust (1978). Paradise Cinema". Paradise Cinema. Retrieved 2006-10-19.
- "Motion Picture Association of America". Motion Picture Association of America. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- "Zombi Holocaust". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- "Final Cuts: The History of Snuff Films". Fringe Underground. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- "Cannibal Holocaust (1980)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- "Entertainment Weekly's EW.com". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- No longer banned in the UK, but must be heavily cut before displayed or released.
- Banned in the UK
- No longer banned in the UK, and can be shown uncut.