Cannibal Apocalypse

Cannibal Apocalypse

It's been a hellishly long time coming, but a personal favourite finally finds it's way onto DVD.

The film opens explosively (literally) in a Vietnam-based prologue introducing the three main protagonists: Norman Hopper (John Saxon), Charles Bukowski (Giovanni Radice) and Tom Thompson (Tony King). The latter two are held captive in a pit while Hopper, their commanding officer comes to the rescue - only to discover them feasting on a charred Vietnamese girl. Thompson bites Hopper at the close of the scene.

The credit roll, then the action is relocated to Atlanta several years later. Hopper, now married to pretty TV reporter Jane, still suffers from nightmares of the above. Jane confides to their friend (and not-so-secret admirer) Phil that she is worried about her husband's mental health. Phil, incidentally is a doctor at the Military Mental Hospital that currently houses the delirious Thompson & Bukowski ...

Upon his release from said institution, Bukowski's offer of a friendly drink is snubbed by Hopper. Instead, Bukowski attends a cinema screening of 'war epic' FROM HELL TO VICTORY and promptly bites a chunk out of a fellow audience member's neck. He flees the theatre and is pursued by a gang of bikers he'd previously antagonised, into a nearby hardware store. Here Bukowski finds access to a rifle and ammo, and a bloody shootout ensues. Eventually the cops arrive (headed by a hilarious Lee Marvin-esque cheif with a penchant for cursing).

The seige is brought to an end when Hopper turns up and convinces Bukowski to give himself up. He's subsequently sent back to the military hospital, where he and Thompson deliberately cause a ruckus in which Thompson bites a nurse in order to infect her - this will assist their escape later on.

In the meantime, Hopper has listened-in on a phone conversation between Jane and Phil, in which Phil suggests that Hopper may have contracted a rare cannibalistic form of rabies in Vietnam, and must go to the hospital for a blood-test. He does this, and in the process meets his two old army buddies who insist he helps them escape. Along with the nurse's assistance, the group make their bloody exit from the hospital and embark on a brief cannibalistic rampage through Atlanta. Until, that is, they are cornered by the police and forced down into the city's sewers ...

The plot may sound ridiculous and needlessly convoluted. It exists simply as an excuse for numerous scenes of gore, horror, nudity and 70s-style action. The early seige scene is long but engrossing, and the final half-hour (mostly in the sewers) is more stylishly shot than the preceding hour. The FX are by Gianetto De Rossi (THE BEYOND; ZOMBIE etc), but aren't on a par with his Fulci work. Gory, yes - eye-gouging, throat biting, gun-shots, flesh-eating - convincing, no.

But this film works. The music of Alexander Blonksteiner is entertaining and memorable (in a 'poor-man's Goblin gets an 80s disco mix' kind of way). The pace never flags, the gore quotient is agreeable and the direction surprisingly good. It's certainly one of the more entertaining entries on the DPP's hallowed 'Nasties' list.

The disc itself is a joy. Firstly, this is the full uncensored, uncut version of the film. It's presented in it's original theatrical 1.66:1 theatrical ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture quality is brilliant - for a film of this age and ill-repute, you honestly couldn't hope for better. Nice sharp images, deep colours, minimal grain (the only grain is in the opening scenes - but that's due to the stock war footage that's been used). There's no artifacting - CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE looks like it was made within the last couple of years!

Sound is Mono, but is consistent and clear throughout - a nice job done here.

For such a revered cult film, it would be a shame if the World DVD premiere didn't go to town on the extras ... Well, Image have done us Gore fans proud with a package that betters many of the 'mainstrean' releases these days.

Apart from the stunning presentation of the film, we get a 55 minute retrospective documentary called 'CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE REDUX' which includes interviews with Radice, Saxon and director Antonio Margheriti (the first two speak English, while the latter is subtitled). It's an entertaining and informative proposition, despite Radice's tendency to go of-subject and speak about other aspects of his horror career. Saxon clearly didn't know quite what he was getting into!! Personally I've grown to prefer documentaries like this to audio commentaries (though both would have been nice) so I was pleased to find this on the disc.

APOCALYPSE IN THE STREETS (6 min) is a video-produced tour of some of the key scenes that were shot in Atlanta. It's here as a curiosity piece, I guess.

There's a text essay on the various cuts the film has received in the US which is quite interesting, and two trailers (the Euro one is gore-filled, while the Japanese teaser trailer only shows the film's most 'celebrated' gore scene - the hole-through-the-stomach scene). Alongside this, Travis Crawford's four-page booklet appraisal of the film offers little insight but is a fairly interesting write-up anyway.

The filmographies of Margheriti, Saxon, King and Radice seem thorough - and the alternative opening sequence with the title INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS is worth a look. It's only VHS quality (and blown-up to full-frame), but it's here ...

Finally, there's a stills gallery of international theatrical/ video artwork that is nice but uninvolving.

Overall though, this is a stunning presentation of a film I never expected to be treated so respectfully upon it's DVD release. The remastering of the picture is a pleasure - and the extras just tip this over the edge. Okay, they're not the best extras in the world, but ... this is far more than we ever could have hoped for this little gem.

If you like old-school video nasties, this is essential - the best release it'll ever realistically receive. Sod it, I've just had another look at the picture quality and that list of extras - BUY IT NOW!

Review by Stuart Willis

Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Released by Image Entertainment
Extras :
55 minute documentary; location featurette; 2 trailers; stills gallery; liner notes; text essay on censorship; alternate opening sequence