It was April of 2007, right before the release of the Rodriguez/Tarantino double-team known as Grindhouse, that I decided my knowledge of exploitation cinema was not all it should be. By that time, I’d seen a number of Pam Grier’s early films, and even had a few Roger Corman DVDs in my collection, yet overall my experience with this particular slice of movie history was pretty dismal, to say the least. So, in an effort to give myself a ‘crash course’ in Exploitation cinema, I did a little on-line research, reserved a few DVDs through Netflix and Blockbuster, and spent an entire weekend watching nothing but the best that the Grind Houses of yesteryear had to offer.
The final tally was 12 films in 2 days, and many of the movies I watched that weekend, such as Vanishing Point and the first two entries in the Lone Wolf and Cub series (Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx), impressed me so much that they’ve since made their way into my ever-growing DVD library. It was a fun weekend, one I won’t soon forget.
In fact, it was so much fun that I’ve decided to turn it into a yearly happening. I’ve just now put the wraps on my 2nd Annual Exploitation Weekend, squeezing in another 12 films in a two-day period. As with last year, I had one hell of a good time.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll be writing up reviews for some of the movies that made up this 2nd Annual Exploitation Film Festival (any suggestions for a better title would be greatly appreciated). The first in the series is Antonio Margheriti’s 1980 horror film, Cannibal Apocalypse, one of two cannibal-themed movies, along with Cannibal Holocaust, in this year’s line-up. Yet, despite the similarities in their titles, each film takes an entirely different approach to the subject at hand: where Cannibal Holocaust presents dining on human flesh as a way of life for a primitive culture, Cannibal Apocalypse gives us cannibalism as a disease, transmitted from one living creature to another in much the same manner as rabies.
Norman Hopper (John Saxon) is a Vietnam veteran who’s having nightmares about his wartime experiences. More specifically, he’s been dreaming about a rescue mission he led to recover two of his men, Sgt. Charles Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Tommy (Tony King), who’d been captured by the enemy. The mission proved successful, but something happened to the men while they were in captivity. When Hopper and his troops finally located Bukowski and Tommy, the two were devouring a recently killed Vietnamese woman, and Tommy, in a fit of rage, ran over and bit Hopper on the arm. Now married and living in a nice suburban Atlanta neighborhood, Hopper can’t shake the memory of this mission, or ignore the fact that, ever since then, he himself has been fighting the urge to take a bite out of the people around him. When Hopper learns that Bukowski, recently released from a Veteran’s hospital, bit the neck of a young girl in a movie theater, he decides its time to find the answers to the questions he’s avoided asking for years.
With Cannibalism as a contagious disease, transmitted from person to person by way of a bite from an infected individual, Cannibal Apocalypse has much more in common with the George Romero Living Dead movies than it does with the Italian Cannibal genre of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Much like Romero, director Margheriti employs a few fresh ideas to start his disease to spreading. At one point, Hopper finds himself alone with a young neighbor girl named Mary (Cinzia de Carolis), who has been flirting openly with him. Unable to control his urges any longer, Hopper stares into Mary’s eyes, lifts the young girl’s shirt…and bites her on the stomach! It’s a quick U-turn from where we assumed the scene was heading, and a rather humorous tactic to start the epidemic on its way. Where Mary is the first victim, over time more people will become infected, and before long this ‘isolated’ illness is spreading at an alarming rate.
While fitting neatly into the horror genre, Cannibal Apocalypse also boasts some impressive action sequences. Aside form the opening scene, where we witness the battle that led to Bukowski’s and Tommy’s rescue, director Margheriti throws in a few car chases, fist fights, and even a dramatic stand-off with the Atlanta police department. Not to be outdone, the climax to the story is equally as thrilling; a chase through the sewers, where the police hope to finally close in on the escaped cannibals and their newly-found compatriots. It’s moments like this that keep Cannibal Apocalypse flowing along at a brisk, almost break-neck pace, a pace it maintains effectively from start to finish.
Right out of the gate, Cannibal Apocalypse had all the makings of a great exploitation film, and succeeded in living up to its expectations. This is also the case for the next movie I’ll be presenting in this series; the Roger Corman produced 1980 horror film, Humanoids from the Deep. Coming soon.