Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

(aka Invasion of the Flesh Hunters and a lot of other titles)

(Spoilers ahead)

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I’ll be honest, I had two reasons to track down Cannibal Apocalypse. First up, with a title like that I was sure it would be quality exploitation trash – especially as it was one of the infamous Video Nasties. Secondly, I’ve got a major daddy crush on John Saxon. Ever since Nightmare on Elm Street he turned my head, then his brown-face ‘it’s OK it was the 80s’ portrayal of Rashid Ahmed in Dynasty sealed the deal. He’s a heaving hunk of man flesh.

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Cannibal Apocalypse delivered on both counts. Opening in the middle of the Vietnam War, where Captain Norman Hopper (Saxon) storms a POW camp to rescue a couple of soldiers, we’re not even five minutes into the battle when a Vietnamese lady is cannibalised by the POWs… tits first! And it’s not the only time a female character loses her boobs to the chomping of a hungry cannibal. In the middle of the carnage Norman manages to get himself bitten too, but survives the attack. He wakes sweating from a dream a year later, still traumatised by his time in Nam.

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Former POW cannibal Bukowski (John Morghen aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice of Cannibal Ferox fame) gets out of hospital and invites Norman out for a drink and a catch up. Bad timing, as Norman’s about to be seduced by jailbait neighbour Mary. A scene that can only be described as sleazetastic ensues, as Mary throws herself at Norman and… he bites her?

Yep, Norman got bit in ‘Nam, by Bukowski, and before long we find out that the bites are contagious. And if you survive a bite, you get carnivorous too! So having been stood up by Norman, Bukowski takes himself off to the local flea pit cinema where he watches a couple getting into some serious heavy petting in the next row. He decides to join in – only he takes it that step further by chowing down on the girl’s neck. All hell breaks loose from here on in…

The cannibal part of the title is more than justified, although when I saw the word ‘apocalypse’ I was thinking more Dawn of the Dead, end of the world type action. Instead we find Norman teaming up with the other cannibals and going on the run. In a strange twist we’re expected to sympathise with the cannibals and not the cops on their trail.

You can read as much or as little into this movie as you like. On the surface it’s a straight up hard-boiled video shop classic, with dodgy dubbing on almost everyone in the cast except Saxon, and some howlers in the script. Whilst Bukowski is holed up taking pot-shots at the cops, the police captain, hard-boiled in the old fashioned sense of the word, demands to know “Is he a subversive, a queer, a black, a commy, a muslim, what the hell is he?”

Cringes and laughs aside, part of me came away wondering if the whole thing wasn’t a metaphor for PTSD. We’re privy to the suffering of Norman and his bity comrades, but the psychological trauma they suffer is met with confusion, apathy and suspicion. They infect all they come into contact with, spreading madness and terror, the horrors they’ve encountered tainting those around them. They’re a lost cause, with no resources or understanding to address the suffering they’ve had all in the name of protecting and serving their country. Sounds familiar… Eerily in the final act, Norman dons his old army uniform and opts to put himself out of his misery so as not to drag out his suffering and that of his wife, Jane (Elizabeth Turner). In an added tragic twist Jane decides to die with her husband, and both hero and heroine go out in a suicide pact. But not to leave us totally depressed, a cheeky last bite comes when we realise jailbait Mary next door and her brother have succumbed to the spreading disease and have got their old aunt chopped up for later in the freezer.

So as an exploitation movie this stands up amongst the best. Director Antonio Margheriti also had a hand in Andy Warhol’s queertastic Frankenstein and Dracula outings. And for a macho blood and guts flick we get plenty of lingering shots on John Saxon in his boxer shorts and later in just a towel. We might actually see more of his tits than any of the ladies. As always he puts in a strong performance clothed or otherwise.

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So take from it what you will. A comment on the trauma of war and the devastating after effects on its cannon fodder, or a good old-fashioned beer-and-pizza cannibal flick? I’m happy to see it as both. But then I’m greedy. Now where did I put those entrails?

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As always, get me on twitter to vent if you disagree, or just kiss my ass if you love what I do! Either works for me! @jonnylarkin

JL

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