The Italian Cannibal film came about after the popularity of the Mondo documentary films of the 1960s.
The Mondo films showcased sensational footage from around the world of minority cultures and exotic locations, depicting the most graphic sexually and or violent material of real people; the footage was often used out of context and never fully explained.
The Italian Cannibal films are for the most part jungle adventures, with helpings of torture, gore and sex, exploitation at it's finest, and unfortunately many of these films include real animal torture, usually to pad out the running time (Poor animals).
The Italian Cannibal films are also usually badly put together, or incomplete as films. This is because of budget restraints and the chaos of filming in the jungle with small crews in an unpredictable environment, usually resulting in the first take being the only take of a scene.
Umberto Lenzi is often considered to have created the first cannibal genre film with his ambitious film The Man from Deep River (1972) a.k.a. Deep River Savages, however 'The Man from Deep River' is not a cannibal film, yes there is a scene featuring some children being eaten by a rival tribe. However the films main focus is on Ivan Rassimov and his integration into a tribe that originally held him captive or an uncivilised world, which the film often suggests, showing much more of a comparison with the film A Man Called Horse (1970), and it is well documented that the Italian film industry liked ripping off Hollywood productions, director Umberto Lenzi has admitted that cannibalism was not intended to be the central theme, which brings me to the conclusion that Umberto Lenzi's 'The Man from Deep River' is a sensationalist exploitation clone of 'A Man Called Horse' and not a true cannibal movie, feeling more like a mondo movie with a plot.
However it is unfair to call 'The Man from Deep River' just a mere clone of 'A Man Called Horse' as Lenzi's film is a great film in its own right, and it is clearly researched well, and also interesting as this film was set in Thailand and not a South American jungle.
'The Man from Deep River' is a beautiful film with an engaging love story and captivating scenes that feel legitimate culturally, this truly is a must see film and it is unlike any of the latter entries.
'The Man from Deep River' did prove very popular when released in America and became a success on Time Squares 42nd street home of the Grindhouse theatres.
Lenzi did make a return to the genre with Eaten Alive! (1980), again this is not a true cannibal movie focussing more on a deranged Jim Jones type cult leader played by Ivan Rassimov.
In my opinion, it is Ruggero Deodato's The Last Cannibal World (1977) a.k.a. Jungle Holocaust which is the true birth of the Italian cannibal genre, starring the lovely Me Me Lai, who is a magnificent actress, alongside Massimo Foschi and a brief appearance by none other than Ivan Rassimov.
Deodato would later go on to create the critically acclaimed and notoriously depraved Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which is what most people classify as the staple of the genre, and what most other Italian cannibal films rip off.
But in all fairness it was Deodato's 'The Last Cannibal World' that started the Italian cannibal boom of the late 70s and early 80s, one because it was the first to really utilise the jungle setting, and two because most latter cannibal films follow the same formula as 'The Last Cannibal World', there being only a couple which followed 'The Man from Deep River' formula.
Trivia side note: Umberto Lenzi was originally approached to direct 'The Last Cannibal World', but due to salary disagreements he turned the project down.
However, there is one other noteworthy film that came before 'Cannibal Holocaust' and after 'The Last Cannibal World'. Sergio Martino's The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978). Starring the beautiful Ursula 'Honey Ryder' Andress alongside a young Stacy Keach.
'The Mountain of the Cannibal God' is an interesting entry in the cannibal subgenre, as it has numerous twists and turns mixing in elements of the Italian Giallo genre, which Sergio Martino had previously been making with classics such as Blade of the Ripper (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972) and Torso (1973).
With the rise in notoriety and popularity of 'Cannibal Holocaust', 1980 saw an increase in the genre, that year alone nine cannibal themed films were released to audiences.
None stood close to the mastery of what Deodato had achieved with Holocaust's media satire and social commentary on the passive viewing of violence, mostly all these clones were the same.
However, there were one or two that year which mixed it up such as, Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) starring John Saxon and Italian exploitation regular Giovanni Lombardo Radice. 'Cannibal Apocalypse' is a clever metaphor on returning soldiers from Vietnam and the effects of P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), also this film was not set in the jungle but an American city, as well as being highly influenced by The Deer hunter (1978).
Another interesting entry is Anthropophagus (1980) directed by Joe D`Amato, starring George 'Ironmaster' Eastman. Anthropophagus is interesting as it’s a really boring film with some of the best gore moments ever, D`Amato has never been much of a director however he is a beautiful cinematographer and this shows in the composition of his shots and use of light.
Also that year we got Devil Hunter (1980) from director Jesus Franco, starring another exploitation favourite Al Cliver from Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and Endgame (1983), 'Devil Hunter' just has to be seen to be believed.
The years that followed gave us Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox (1981), which was clearly made to out do the gore of 'Cannibal Holocaust' and certainly succeeds.
Amazonia the Catherin Miles Story (1985), which is an entertaining entry into the subgenre. 'Amazonia' however much it try's to be unique it is just another take on 'The Man from deep River'. A clone but with actual cannibal action this time around.
Then came Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985) starting the always-entertaining Michael Sopkiw, again this is not a cannibal film more of a jungle adventure and an all round hilariously bad action movie. I presume it was cloning the at the time popular Michael Douglas vehicle Romancing the Stone (1984).
1985 saw Ruggero Deodato return to the jungle with 'Cut and Run', again this is not really a cannibal movie but an action adventure with plenty of 80s action gore. Deodato's 'Cut and Run' is not a bad film at all, in fact, this is a really competently made action movie, with great performances and awesome 80s action.
1988. The barrel had really been scraped dry by this point; this last entry is a sequel to 'Cannibal Holocaust' though this film really feels more like a bad remake. Interestingly 'Cannibal Holocaust 2' was directed by Antonio Climati who was responsible for creating some of the original Mondo films, which the cannibal genre lifted inspiration from, the most famous being Mondo Cane (1962) where Climati was the cinematographer.
But the Italian Cannibal genre lives on with Welcome to the Jungle (2007) an impressive found footage film with an interesting plot and great characters, though very light on the gore which is a shame.
More recently Eli Roth has added to the genre with his entry The Green Inferno (2013-2015).
Nearly all of these films fell into obscurity, largely because of the Department of Public Prosecutions D.P.P. That deemed them to be too obscene for the public. The Video Recordings Act was then implemented resulting in the BBFC banning theses films outright in the UK.
Video stores were raided and the owners prosecuted for either being in possession of banned VHS tapes or still selling them on the shelf.
The Video Recordings Act fiasco had killed the genre, censoring it from public viewing or privet ownership of VHS.
In latter years these films were re-submitted to the BBFC, who censored many of the titles, cutting out seconds if not minutes of the film's running time, almost leaving them in a state of being un-watchable.
But the future is looking bright for these exploitation, arthouse classics, with companies such as Arrow Video, 88Films, Cult Labs and Shameless giving them a new life, the attention and love they deserve, releasing them on DVD and Blu-Ray in their entirety, uncut and fully restored to their original quality in stunning full HD 1080 resolution.
However There are still many of these genre classics still swirling in the abyss of obscurity, many of these films still remain on VHS with image quality looking like a dog had chewed it up and spat it out, and some might be lost forever.
Why Do We Love These Films...
Part of the curiosity of these films is in the sheer craziness of them, why would anyone make this type of film.
The sexism, the racism, the unrelenting disregard for animal safety, everything about these films are shrouded in mystery, and utterly disgusting to the senses, However I believe that is why we like them, because they are historically relevant, depicting a bygone era of our culture and not just cinema.
In a slightly warped sense of irony theses films are now looked on as being primitive just like the cannibalistic tribes they feature, and we are looking back on these films from the 70s and 80s judging them by their own sense of civility
However most of all I believe the reason people like these films and become attached to them is because of the adventure, especially now we live in a virtual world where information about cultures and countries are at our fingertips, these films show a time before that when the world still had some mystery to it, and I think that is why these films resonate so well today in new audiences.
Also, they are completely visceral and real, there is no CGI, and the narratives are simple and complex all at the same time.
These films represent high adventure, pure escapism to a wonderous nightmare land that is swirling in our primordial subconscious mind.
The Italian Cannibal Film chronological timeline:
The Man from deep River 1972
The Last Cannibal World 1977
Emanuelle and the last Cannibals 1977
The Mountain of the cannibal God 1978
Papaya Love Goddess of the Cannibals 1978
Savage Terror 1980
Eaten Alive 1980
White Cannibal Queen 1980
Devil Hunter 1980
Orgasmo nero 1980
Cannibal Terror 1980
Cannibal Apocalypse 1980
Cannibal Holocaust 1980
Cannibal Ferox 1981
Amazonia the Catherin Miles Story 1985
Massacre in Dinosaur Valley 1985
Cut and Run 1985
Cannibal Holocaust 2 1988
Steve Sunpire's TOP 5 Italian Cannibal Films.
Ok first off let's establish some rules.
No soft-core or hard-core porn instalments, so that scratches off Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), Papaya Love Goddess of the Cannibals (1978) and Orgasmo nero (1980).
No films masked as cannibal films which include The Man from Deep River (1972), Eaten Alive (1980), Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985) and Cut and Run (1985).
It has to be a jungle cannibal film.
No 'Cannibal Holocaust', the undisputed champion of the genre. However much 'Cannibal Holocaust' defined the genre, way too much has been said about this film already, and I don’t want to be repeating what so many other critics and fans have already had to say. 'Cannibal Holocaust' is awesome and let us just leave it at that…
1. The Last Cannibal World (1977) Ruggero Deodato
'The Last Cannibal World' has to be number one; I personally prefer this film to Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocaust'.
Simple premises with great acting and tension throughout, you really feel the pain of the naked Robert Harper, played by Massimo Foschi, wanting him to escape this nightmare.
This film is more than just exploitation; it feels akin to a Werner Herzog film.
Overall 'The Last Cannibal World' deserves more credit than it gets and usually is overlooked for Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocaust'.
2. Cannibal Ferox (1981) Umberto Lenzi
Ok, this is not a great film, but it is one hell of a romp, 'Cannibal Ferox' is just fun, disgusting, nasty exploitation fun.
This was the first cannibal film I ever watched, and it blew my thirteen-year-old brain clean out of my head.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice steals the show and gets brutally butchered by the cannibals. Awesome.
3. The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) Sergio Martino
'The Mountain of the Cannibal God' is just a perfect jungle adventure film with some creative gore and a clean fresh take on the genre, as well as clearly being an inspiration to all of the latter cannibal genre films.
Also, we get to see the beautiful Ursula Andress disrobed and basted by the cannibals, clearly what we were missing from SHE (1965), proving to Hollywood you don’t need to be in your 20's to be a sex symbol.
4. Amazonia the Catherin Miles Story (1985) Mario Gariazzo
The least incomplete of all the cannibal films, the gore is badly done and there is not as much as 'Holocaust' or 'Ferox', but the story is solid and has some interesting moments.
If you need another jungle cannibal fix after the Deodato and Lenzi entries 'Amazonia' is the next best thing.
5. Devil Hunter 1980 Jesus Franco
This film is genuinely a mess and should not work at all, nevertheless, it somehow pulls it off remarkably.
This is pure Euro-trash exploitation to the max, you have to watch it believe it, and no words of mine could ever do this film justice.
Steve Sunpire (author) from England on December 28, 2015:
Thank you Thief12... Its a strange little sub-genre
Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on December 28, 2015:
Very interesting Hub. Lot of information I didn't know about. Nicely presented and organized. Thanks!
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 15, 2015:
Thanks Steve, I will have to check them out.
Steve Sunpire (author) from England on December 14, 2015:
Thank you Jodah...
I have always been a huge Italian Film buff, and the cannibal genre is really an overlooked genre in their cannon.
Its usually just looked upon as torture porn of exploitation for the sake of having it.
However there are some very noteworthy films. and I hope this Hub informed you of that.
Man from Deep River is a very good film from the that period, yes you should see The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) Sergio Martino it is a very good example of the genre.
Just remember these films were badly dubbed due to the multi-ligual cast speaking their native tongues on set. and the budgets were stretched to the max.
hope you enjoy.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 14, 2015:
I have never seen an Italian Cannibal film as far as I know although I think I remember Man from Deep River. The one starring Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach would be worth a look. Interesting reviews for a different movie genre.
Steve Sunpire (author) from England on December 10, 2015:
Hi people of the web.
Its Steve Sunpire here, read my reviews and let me know what you think... do you agree, disagree or have something you need to add.