Directed and co-written by Antonio Margheriti Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) is unlike any of the other Italian produced cannibal films released around the same period. Shifting the genre away from the jungle and into the urban jungle of Atlanta, Georgia Margheriti has created a film that often resembles the undead sub-horror genre of flesh-eaters spearheaded by George A. Romero rather than the graphically violent social commentary of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980).
Opening with a flashback to the Vietnam War, Norman Hopper (John Saxon) stumbles upon a Vietcong POW camp whilst serving a tour of duty deep within the jungle. Finding himself and his military unit under heavy opposing fire Hopper discovers an underground pit where his two former war buddies; Charlie Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Tom Thompson (Tony King) are held captive. As Hopper reaches down in an attempt to assist the two POWs he is overcome with shock. Their clothes are soiled with the blood of a mutilated Vietnamese civilian, whose flesh is still seen in the grips of their hands. Horrified, Hopper fails to react as Tom pounces before realising that his former friends have turned to cannibalism, and a section of his flesh is removed from his forearm…
Welcome to Atlanta, Georgia! After months of observation in a psychiatric institution Charlie Bukowski is released back into society bringing along memories of Vietnam Hopper would prefer to forget, and it is not long before Bukowski’s cannibalistic desires soon take over again. Hopper however has become sympathetic of Bukowski actions… He has already been fighting his own cannibalistic impulses for a long time!
Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti’s theme of cannibalism spreading like an infection is an interesting concept that is taken further when you realise that your loyalties to both antagonists and protagonists are being challenged with every twist and turn. Antonio Margheriti’s artful direction also creates a great deal of tension which he manages to sustain throughout the 96 minute running time and John Saxon’s noteworthy performance is quite chilling in his stoic manner. Giovanni Lombardo Radice (credited as John Morghen) stands out in his role, providing one of the most memorable scenes courtesy of special effect and make up artist Giannetto De Rossi, whose graphic gore effects helped Cannibal Apocalypse to find it’s way onto the DPP list in the UK where it was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act.
Cannibal Apocalypse could be considered a flawed masterpiece in exploitation. There are a number of memorable moments that elevate this film above other Italian films in the horror genre, and more specifically the cannibal/zombie sub-genres. Margheriti’s artful direction adds an element of sophistication rarely achieved in exploitative cinema so I urge anyone interested in the Italian horror genre to add Cannibal Apocalypse to their collection!
John Saxon … Norman Hopper
Elizabeth Turner … Jane Hopper
Giovanni Lombardo Radice … Charlie Bukowski (as John Morghen)
Cinzia De Carolis … Mary (as Cindy Hamilton)
Tony King … Tom Thompson
Wallace Wilkinson … Captain McCoy
Ramiro Oliveros … Dr. Phil Mendez (as Ray Williams)
Directed By … Antonio Margheriti
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