This weekend we’re screening exploitation classic Cannibal Ferox as part of our ongoing Nitehawk Nasties series. Part of a wave of cannibal-centric exploitation movies, Cannibal Ferox frequently gets confused for another Nitehawk Nasty-certified film, Cannibal Holocaust.
To help clear things up, we fielded a few questions* on the two films, how they’re similar and how you can tell them apart.
Okay, so why is this confusing?
Because they’re basically the same movie. Cannibal Holocaust is an Italian Exploitation film that came out in 1980 about a gaggle of repugnant white folk who exploit a tribe of cannibals and suffer the consequences; while Cannibal Ferox is an Italian Exploitation film that came out in 1981 about a gaggle of repugnant white folk who exploit a tribe of cannibals and suffer the consequences.
You just said the same thing twice. Are they really that similar?
They’re crazy similar. Both movies follow Westerners deep into the jungle to study or observe cannibal tribes, and in both it’s the Westerners who turn out to be the real monsters. They rape and pillage their way through villages, and ultimately their bad mojo catches up with them. That’s when all of the scalping, mutilation and castration comes into play.
That’s pretty gross, what’s the matter with you?
It’s gross, for sure, but the point of the framework is to soften the blow of the violence — at least these people are getting what they deserve… Well, except the girl who gets giant hooks shoved through her breasts. She didn’t really do anything.
Wait, what? What kind of movies are these?
They’re fucked up!
Okay, so in which one does the girl get her breasts hooked?
That’s Cannibal Ferox. Both movies have their fair share of gruesome mutilations, but Cannibal Ferox is most famous for two: there’s the boob hooks, which definitely sticks with you; and there’s the scene where this fearsomely unlikable guy gets his penis cut off and then eaten raw by a Chieftan.
Totally. After that they cauterize the wound with a torch and then they pop open his skull and eat his brains.
What about the other movie, what horrible things happen in that one?
The most famous image from Cannibal Holocaust involves a woman skewered on a giant stake, with the bottom going through her lower end and then protruding from her mouth.
So, aside from killing people in different ways, how are the two movies different?
Cannibal Ferox has a traditional — and kind of stupid — narrative about an anthropologist who wants to disprove the existence of cannibals; while Cannibal Holocaust has a neat dual narrative thing going on.
In the first half of Cannibal Holocaust, a documentarian follows the path of a doomed expedition of filmmakers into the Amazon Basin hoping to solve the mystery of their disappearance. He becomes friendly with a local tribe of cannibals and discovers that they had captured and killed the previous group. He barters for the dead crew’s footage and returns to New York to make a movie out of it.
So Cannibal Holocaust has a Blair Witch kind of thing going on?
Kind of! It’s an early example of the whole found footage genre, but that doesn’t kick in until half-way through. In the second half, the documentarian screens the deceased crew’s raw footage for a bunch of boorish studio executives who want to make it into a TV special. The footage shows that the rogue filmmakers staged violent scenes to spice up their movie, and shows them going on a rapacious murder-spree.
I heard they kill a turtle in one of these movies, which one is that?
Both of them.
This is why it’s confusing. The filmmakers pry open a turtle and eat it in Cannibal Holocaust, and the natives do something similar in Cannibal Ferox.
That’s horrible! They really kill animals in these movies?
There’s all kinds of animal cruelty in these movies. In Cannibal Holocaust they kill a muskrat looking thing with a knife, lop off a snake’s head, pry open a monkey’s skull and shoot a pig with a shotgun; while in Cannibal Ferox they kill a bunch of bugs, a monkey, an alligator and they tie yet another muskrat looking thing to a pole so a snake can eat it on camera.
Yeah, it’s upsetting, and that’s kind of the point. By actually killing animals on camera, it makes the staged violence against humans seem more real.
How real can it possibly look? Weren’t these movies made for like $30?
Real enough to get the filmmakers in trouble. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato was arrested after the film’s premiere in Milan and accused of making a snuff film by Italian courts. The courts seemed to think that the missing crew in the film were actually killed, and that Deodato actually impaled the girl on the pike. Deodato made things worse because he had coerced his cast to sign contracts that ensured the four of them could not appear in any media leading up to the film’s release. To the courts, they were dead.
Deodato got out of the whole thing by presenting his cast, alive and well, on an Italian television show; and also explained how they achieved the impalement special effect (the actress sat on a bike seat and just put a bit of wood in her mouth).
So, that was Cannibal Ferox?
No, that was Cannibal Holocaust.
I’m confused, how can you tell these apart again?
Okay, let’s hit the key points:
Cannibal Holocaust is the one with the girl on the pike and the cool found-footage framework that made the Italian court think it was actually a snuff film. Cannibal Ferox is the one with the dick eating and the boob hooks.
They kill animals in both of them, both of them have been banned in several countries, and both of them are about white people stomping into the middle of nowhere, acting like they own the place and then having their shit handed to them by angry natives.
So, if — for some reason — I wanted to subject myself to one of these movies, which one should I watch?
Cannibal Holocaust. And I’m not just saying that because we’re playing it this weekend (which you should totally go to, by the way, buy tickets here, bring friends). The found footage framework is ground-breaking, and Deodato explores an interesting theme about the sneering superiority that civilized people feel towards less-developed cultures.
That theme is present in Cannibal Ferox as well, but it’s less artfully handled; and while both movies are, just, super violent, Ferox has this weird, juvinile hang up on genitle mutilation that’s thankfully absent in Holocaust.
Was that helpful?
Not really, but thanks for trying.
Yeah, well… I do my best.
*Questions and answers supplied by the same sad person
— Kris King