Cannibal Apocalypse has the reputation of being one of the 39 films prosecuted by British law under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, whereupon every film that was prosecuted by parliament become known as “Video Nasties” due to their lurid and extreme content as dictated by Mary Whitehouse. The video nasties later would become a go to list for anyone looking for extreme films to enjoy.
Cannibal Apocalypse, like many of the films prosecuted in 1984, would later be re-released on DVD with all the nastiness restored – albeit having a few seconds cut to a scene involving real animal cruelty (Which, in all honesty, I think everyone’s okay with). In my opinion, the best release is the version of Cannibal Apocalypse released by Optimum Releasing, which I have in my possession, and is a pretty decent restoration which is almost fully intact.
However, I would like to quote the blurb on the back of the box: “…a relentlessly brutal, unforgettable horror classic…” Cannibal Apocalypse, despite its reputation, is not a standard “horror” film, rather, the film is more of a violent crime thriller reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino as the plot centers around a group of Vietnam Vets infected by a form of rabies and are hunted by police as they try to control their cannibalistic urges. The film is also, and most importantly, an anti-vietnam film. It’s crystal clear that inspirations for the plot of this film definitely came from the numerous stories of shell-shocked Vietnam veterans who came back from the violent war and just couldn’t adjust to normal life back in America after what they have experienced. Many of which, committed massacres on their own families as well as killing random citizens. It was a very dark time in America’s history, and one I don’t feel that America has fixed, as there are still many homeless veterans who live on the streets to this day without the necessary therapy to help them overcome their trauma. However, there is more being done today to help veterans than what was done in the 1970’s.
This theme does wonders for Cannibal Apocalypse‘s reputation as a ‘video nasty’. The “cannibals” in this film aren’t portrayed as being horrific savages, like zombies or evil tribesmen, efforts were made in this film to make the characters sympathetic, to say that it isn’t truly their fault as to why they’re violent monsters much like the plight of the poor Vietnam veterans. It makes Cannibal Apocalypse stand out among other Cannibal films such as Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Terror due to it’s subject matter, and definitely shows the film what can be done utilizing extreme subjects to tackle serious contemporary issues. A concurrent approach that stems from films from the 1950’s like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was used to depict America’s fear of encroaching Communism.
Aside from the slightly subtle, subversive plot, I would say one other aspect of Cannibal Apocalypse that really stood out to me was the violence. Although not as graphic as other films that were placed on the list of “Video Nasties”, Cannibal Apocalypse still earned it’s place due to scenes of flesh-eating, graphic dismemberment and partial nudity. The special effects used aren’t the best that 1980’s Italian cinema had to offer, but still delivered when it came to gory spectacles and vicious imagery.
Also, the film has relative star power because of it’s lead roles coming from John Saxon (best known for his roles in Nightmare On Elm Street and Enter The Dragon) and John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, best known for his roles in Cannibal Ferox and City Of The Living Dead). John Saxon gives a powerful, yet almost sympathetic performance, proving his worth as a talented actor. John Morghen, however, is portraying…John Morghen, the only acting style he knows can only be described as “I don’t know what I’m doing, but my bottom teeth must be shown at all times”. He isn’t really a ‘good’ actor, but he does seem to carry a strange form of charisma when on screen making him a weird joy to watch in whatever film he stars in.
Unfortunately, that’s all that Cannibal Apocalypse really has to offer. Nothing else is really spectacular, the film contains obvious stock Vietnam footage without any attempt to interlink it with the story, cinematography is bland and generic as well as the boring sets, and the actresses give horrible over-the-top performances and are horribly over-dubbed (a bad convention of cheap Italian films). The film is far from being perfect, some would say it’s not even in the realm of ‘good’ film-making. I, however, say that it’s enjoyable because of the star power of the two Johns, and the films interesting subject matter. A tentative recommendation for those who like their subversive crime-thrillers just a little bit more…nasty.