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Retro Review: CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)

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CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE
aka INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS
aka CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS
(Italy/Spain - 1980; US release 1982)

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti). Written by Jimmy Gould (Dardano Sacchetti) and Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti). Cast: John Saxon, Elizabeth Turner, John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Cindy Hamilton (Cinzia de Carolis), Tony King, Wallace Wilkinson, Ray Williams (Ramiro Oliveros), May Heatherly, Joan Riordan, Venantino Venantini, Luca Venantini, Goffredo Unger, Walter Patriarca, Edoardo Margheriti, Paul Costello. (Unrated, 96 mins)

Throughout his long career, journeyman Italian director Antonio Margheriti dabbled in everything from post-HERCULES peplum, sci-fi space operas, gothic horror, 007 Eurospy knockoffs, gialli, spaghetti westerns, family comedies, crime thrillers, JAWS ripoffs, Indiana Jones imitations, commando action explosion movies, and whatever YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE is. 1980's CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE was his only stab at the graphically gory, extreme Italian horror made famous by the likes of Lucio Fulci in the wake of George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD.  He didn't really care for that style of horror, and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE reflects that by trying to go for something a little different than the post-DAWN zombie flicks and the flesh-munching jungle cannibal films of Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and Umberto Lenzi (CANNIBAL FEROX, aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY). Despite the horrific elements and the overt zombie/cannibal influence, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE actually fits more in the post-TAXI DRIVER, "crazed Vietnam vet" subgenre popularized by ROLLING THUNDER, THE EXTERMINATOR, FIRST BLOOD, and any number of lesser B-movie actioners.  Like those other films, we have soldiers coming home from Vietnam, unable to re-adjust to civilian life, cast aside, and, for varying reasons, going on a rampage. Cannibalism is a rather extreme metaphor for the PTSD turmoil felt by shattered combat vets, but it shows some more thematic ambition than is generally seen in such exploitation films of the time. And, as Roger Corman and others have noted for decades, exploitation films are where filmmakers can sneak in the hardest-hitting messages, because nobody's looking for it amidst the blood & guts and the T&A.





Released to US grindhouses and drive-ins in 1982 by Almi Pictures under two different, equally lurid titles--first as INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS in a version cut by several minutes to avoid an X rating, and a later relaunch later that year and into 1983 in its uncut form as CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS--CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE has Vietnam War PTSD manifesting itself in the form of a dormant cannibal virus infecting a trio of Atlanta-area Vietnam vets: crazed sergeants Tommy Thompson (Tony King), the improbably-named Charlie Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, billed as "John Morghen"), and their C.O. Capt. Norman Hopper (John Saxon), who had a chunk taken out of his right arm by a feral Thompson in 'Nam. Hopper is still haunted by nightmares and some thawing, raw meat in the fridge is starting to look appetizing even before he, Bukowski, and Thompson can no longer resist the slowly-building craving for human flesh. Hopper comes to Bukowski's rescue after the latter bites a young woman in a movie theater (showing Umberto Lenzi's 1979 WWII drama FROM HELL TO VICTORY, conveniently from this film's executive producer Edmondo Amati) and instigates a police standoff in a flea market.





When Bukowski is arrested, Hopper, who's already put the bite (and probably more, offscreen) on the aggressively flirty, seductive, and underage girl next door (Cinzia de Carolis, credited as "Cindy Hamilton" and a long way from her role as Karl Malden's young ward and sidekick in Dario Argento's THE CAT O'NINE TAILS) in a cringey scene that can best be described as "incredibly uncomfortable" even though little is shown (some of Margheriti's crasser contemporaries would've left nothing to the imagination), busts him and Thompson out of the mental ward, taking an infected nurse (May Heatherly, best known as the nudie jigsaw puzzle-hating mom in the beginning of PIECES) along with them on a cannibal rampage through Atlanta that culminates in a police manhunt through the sewers. In pursuit are Hopper's news reporter wife Jane (Elizabeth Turner of BEYOND THE DOOR and WAVES OF JUST) and her friend Dr. Mendez (Ramiro Oliveros), who carries a blazing torch for her and is constantly trying to goad her into ditching Norman. There's also irate, foul-mouthed, trenchcoat-wearing Capt. McCoy (local Atlanta actor Wallace Wilkinson, also seen as Glenn Ford's captain in the insane THE VISITOR, another Atlanta-shot Italian horror film made around the same time) who barks orders at everyone after arriving at the flea market standoff and yelling "Is he a subversive, a queer, a black, a commie, or a 'Moslem' fanatic?" Wallace Wilkinson: canceled.





Just out on Blu-ray in its uncensored version in a 4K restoration from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead), CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE looks better than it ever has in this pristine new transfer, an upgrade that's leaps and bounds over the 2002 Image Entertainment DVD. Though it's not as consistently over-the-top as a Fulci or Lenzi gorefest, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE is still no slouch in the splatter department.  From intermittent flesh-munching to tongues being ripped out to eyes being gouged out to one hapless victim's limbs being buzzsawed off to the legendary scene filmed through the gaping hole in Bukowski's shotgunned belly, Margheriti, however reluctant he may have been about dabbling in this subgenre, delivers a sufficient level of the goods. The Kino Blu includes a nearly hour-long retrospective ported over from the old Image DVD, featuring interviews with Saxon, Lombardo Radice, and Margheriti, who died in 2002. It also has a new commentary by film historian and former Video Watchdog publisher Tim Lucas, plus a new interview with Canton, OH-native King, a forgotten Buffalo Bills receiver whose brief NFL career ended in 1968 after one season. King soon drifted into movies (he had a small role in SHAFT and a bit part as a stablehand grooming Jack Woltz's doomed horse in THE GODFATHER), most notably in a memorable foot chase in what should've been a star-making supporting turn in 1975's REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER. By 1980, he was finding steady employment in Italy, doing two more Margheriti films after CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980's Namsploitation outing THE LAST HUNTER and 1982's TIGER JOE), as well as Ruggero Deodato's insane 1983 sci-fi actioner THE RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS. Several years after his Italian sojourn, King changed his name to Malik Farrakhan and became head of security for Public Enemy.




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