Sunday, October 30, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Cannibal Apocalypse (aka Apocalypse domani)

Released a year after Cannibal Holocaust and a year before Cannibal Ferox (Jess Franco’s Cannibals was in there, too) it’s safe to say that the‘70s and early ‘80s belonged to the cannibal subgenre. Antonio Margheriti – working under the oft-used pseudonym Anthony Dawson – never had much use for the horror genre as this was his only foray into visceral, exploitation horror film. He was more of a Gothic horror filmmaker with one of his most well known films being the 1964 film Castle of Blood (It's also much rumored that he directed Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and not Paul Morrisey). He was more of a genre filmmaker who specialized in those great Italian action films that were just knockoffs of more popular American films. Marghertiti – who cut his teeth working as an assistant with Sergio Leone – isn’t up to the tricks that Deodato and Lenzi used in their cannibal films; in fact, the word ‘cannibal’ in the title is a bit of misnomer as Cannibal Apocalypse doesn’t contain any of the racial insensitivity or cruelty to animals (or gut munching) that those infamous cannibal film have. It’s a nice, underrated film, and one that I am completely baffled by the DPP’s inclusion of it on their Video Nasty list.  Cannibal Apocalypse is an interesting amalgam of cannibal movie, Vietnam movie (its Italian title translates to “Apocalypse Tomorrow”), and Euro crime picture; it’s a sneaky-good Italian horror movie that more people need to see.  

The underlying theme here isn’t lost on anyone: the men who fought in Vietnam came back as animals as the result of what they saw/did there. But hey, it’s better than the usual storyline found in these type of films, and it’s certainly a more interesting and watchable (and funny in the pizza and beer movie kind of way) cannibal movie than, say, something like Cannibal Holocaust which takes itself way too seriously. There a four things that happen within the first five minutes of Cannibal Apocalypse that make me feel all warm and fuzzy; four things that let me know immediately that what I’m watching is an Italian horror flick from the 1980s: we open with stock footage (always good) from the Vietnam war; the name John Saxon appears (this is always great) on screen; a funky, Goblin-esque beat supplies the background music for all of the action; and, of course, we get some good ‘ol fashioned cannibalism.

What happens is this: Norman Hopper (John Saxon) is having nightmares about his stint in Vietnam when he was on a rescue mission for some POWs, and what he found was that they had turned to cannibals. The next day, Hopper receives a call from one of the POWs, Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), who asks Hopper out for a beer. When Hopper remembers his dream, he’s reluctant to meet up with his former war buddy and promptly hangs up the phone. Meanwhile, while Hopper is on the phone, one of the strangest subplots of the film is taking place: Hopper’s jailbait neighbor is looking to hook up with, and even though Hopper continually rebuffs her, once he hangs up the phone, he can’t help but give in to his urges; which ends in him biting her. It’s a hilariously awful and clumsy seduction scene as his young neighbor feigns a pulled muscle so that Hopper will have sex with her. Just a weird, surreal moment – the kind you only ever found in these kinds of exploitation movies.

Inept seduction aside, the rest of the movie is essentially a “cannibals on the loose” type of film that really takes after a zombie film (or at least an Atomic zombie movie like Lenzi’s Nightmare City) as Bukowski takes a bite out of a couple making out in a movie theater, hides out in a flea market (perhaps the film’s most memorable set piece), takes on the lamest biker gang ever filmed (they’re dressed like The Village People, and they ride dirt bikes; and instead of chains or knives, they carry and throw baseballs at people), and gets his former cannibal war buddies together to terrorize the city. The thing is the film is a helluva lot of fun; it’s just about the perfect mix of exploitation horror that works and so-bad-it’s-good cheesiness.

The film is cut at a brisk pace –the action always moving at a nice clip – and the goofiness is at the appropriate level so that it never takes the film to that eye-rollingly bad level because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that’s where Margheriti’s skills come in handy: he keeps the film grounded in what he’s most comfortable working with. Because he started in Gothic horror (akin to Bava), Margheriti seems to favor mood over gore, and Cannibal Apocalypse – for as wacky as it can be – always seems to have the right mood to it. There isn’t a lot of gore here, but what is here is still memorable thanks to the effects by the make-up maestro Gianetto De Rossi (Zombi 2, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery) – especially the famous scene where one of the cannibals is shot through the stomach with a shotgun and Margheriti’s camera peers through the hole in a great effect similar to what Sam Raimi would do a decade later in his western The Quick and the Dead. However, the poster and title for the film certainly promise more gore than what you’re going to get, but that doesn’t make it unworthy of your attention. Cannibal Apocalypse is a well-made exploitation movie that’s a lot of fun, doesn’t insult the viewer too much, and removes the problematic tendencies of the cannibal genre. Check it out; it’s a film that deserves to be near the top of must-see Italian exploitation films.


  1. It seems like the perfect film to cure myself after the viewing of Cannibal Holocaust! Nice write up Kevin!

  2. I had forgotten all about this one. I did kind of like that we are ostensibly on the side of the cannibals here -- something different than most of the films of this ilk.

    Oh, and that scene with Saxon and his young neighbor is probably the most disturbing thing about the film. Just an odd, odd choice.