Face-Off: Cannibal Holocaust vs Cannibal Ferox

This Friday, September 25th, Eli Roth's THE GREEN INFERNO will finally be making its way into theatres. The first film Roth has directed since HOSTEL: PART II in 2007, THE GREEN INFERNO is his loving tribute to the Italian cannibal movies of the late 1970s and early '80s, most directly referencing Ruggero Deodato's notorious 1980 film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. 

In anticipation of the release of Roth's entry in the cannibal genre, I somewhat reluctantly decided to take a look back at two of its most popular Italian predecessors, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX from 1981. I will admit up front, these movies are not for me, but to reacquaint myself with where THE GREEN INFERNO is coming from I put them on and experienced the horrors that Deodato and Lenzi filmed more than thirty years ago.

NYU anthropologist Harold Monroe's search for a group of arrogant Americans who disappeared in the Amazonian rainforest while shooting a documentary called The Green Inferno ends with the discovery that they have been killed by a native tribe. Their recovered footage reveals that they brought about their own demise through the horrible actions they took to stage shocking scenes.
NYU student Gloria Davis ventures into the Paraguay rainforest with her brother and a tagalong friend on a quest to disprove the idea that natives practice cannibalism. Car trouble brings them in contact with two NYC drug dealers who have come to South America seeking cocaine and emeralds... and who have made a native tribe very angry in the process.
Despicable Protagonists
The documentary crew features some of the biggest scumbags ever put on film, with director Alan Yates standing out as absolute pure evil personified. It's stunning and chilling to see how they treat the tribespeople, raping and murdering their way through the rainforest without any regard for the natives.
Drug dealer Mike Logan is the villain of the piece, but while he does some truly terrible things, the character really just comes across as your typical sleazy drive-in movie bad guy.

Gross Outs
The gore on display in this film is so disgustingly realistic that Deodato was taken to court under suspicion that he had actually murdered his cast. There are some jaw-dropping "How did they do that?" moments, but the worst things in here are the much-discussed real animal deaths. I can't stand to watch them, I skip through them when I watch the movie, which is a rare occasion. I mostly avoid the movie as a whole because of them. I have sat through them before, though, and will always be haunted by them, particularly by the shrieks of that poor little coatimundi as it's slowly killed with a knife.
The native tribe delivers gory, torturous retribution to the American interlopers, most notably stringing a woman up with hooks stuck through her breasts. It's tough to look at, but not entirely convincing. Like Deodato, Lenzi chose to put real animal deaths in his film, and again it's an adorable little coatimundi that gets the worst treatment. In this case, a coati was tied to a post and an anaconda was set loose on it. It's very upsetting and infuriating.
The native tribes in this film have some abhorrent practices (like their punishment for infidelity) and a disturbing tendency to eat the flesh of their enemies, but seeing the way the documentary crew treats them stirs up sympathy. They are simple people being terrorized by these savages from the "civilized world."
The tribe in this film mostly just stands around silently while coated in mud, and everything about them feels very forced and awkward. They don't seem like real characters, I don't buy them at all.
I don't agree with some of the filmmakers' choices, but there is a depth to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, an intelligence and a message buried beneath the shock. It's also a very unnerving, unpleasant movie to watch. It feels real and dangerous, and that feeling is enhanced in the second half, when it becomes a found footage film twenty years before found footage became a trend.
A cash-in on the success of HOLOCAUST, FEROX attempts to do the same thing but doesn't pull it off nearly as well. Cheesy and dreadfully dull, it keeps the viewer at a safe "this is just a movie" distance at all times, aside from the regrettable animal killings.
Cannibal Holocaust
And so CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST gives CANNIBAL FEROX a trouncing on every level. I don't enjoy watching either of the movies, but I still find that HOLOCAUST is a vastly superior film. It has the better script, better characters (repugnant though some of them are), better acting, and is much more involving. I may hate what I'm seeing, but HOLOCAUST holds my attention while FEROX becomes a chore to watch; it's not very interesting.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a movie I can almost grudgingly respect, but those animal killings are very repellent to me.

Having confirmed that Roth chose the right Italian cannibal movie to name his entry in the genre after, I can now gladly go back to avoiding CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL FEROX, but I am looking forward to seeing Roth has done with the concept in THE GREEN INFERNO. A movie which probably (hopefully) has a "No Animals Were Harmed" Humane Society stamp on it.



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