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Cannibal Film

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From the mid 1970s until around the mid 1980s, a slew of chiefly Italian Exploitation Films were made that are known as cannibal films, and are considered to form one of the most extreme subgenres of horror cinema. The premise for every film involves civilized, predominantly white protagonists venturing into remote South American/Asian jungles and encountering tribes of dark-skinned human-eaters. The tropes for these films are quite consistent, possibly because most of the films essentially ripped off one of three cannibal films that enjoyed financial success. These tropes include:

  • The triumph of the white man. This triumph can come in the form of successfully escaping the jungle or establishing a positive relationship with the savages, using gizmos and measured hand gestures.
  • Once contact has been established between the outsiders and the natives, always because the outsiders have been captured through an act of stupidity, the outsiders are forced to witness an assortment of rituals conducted by the natives, all of which involve blood and something or someone being cut open. The lucky victim is generally not of any specific type; human victims, whether male or female, civilized or savage, have all gone under the spear in these films. These sequences will often also include the protagonist/s suffering humiliating subjugation by the natives.
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  • The civilized characters can be distinguished from one another, on a purely visual level. The savages are a collective mentality and rarely is one elevated to any position of significance in the film (the most notable exception would be Me Me Lai's character in Last Cannibal World).
  • Civilized non-white characters are usually the first to die, and never in a pleasant fashion.
  • Cannibals sympathetic to the protagonists live long enough to get them out of danger before falling prey to their vengeful fellows.
  • Civilized women are typically sleazy, whiny bimbos who often serve as Ms. Fanservice (cannibal films do not stray far from standard horror). If they do have an attitude, it can be solved with a good slap.
  • Interracial relations between a native and one of the protagonists. Typically the native is female, but either way the sex is rarely consensual.
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  • Characters played by Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai. They appeared in three films in the genre, more than any other actor. Me Me Lai's characters were native women with, um, breast implants.
  • Sadly, almost every cannibal film made in this period features animal cruelty either from stock footage or, even worse, in scenes created for the film. This aspect of the films both cements their infamy as a subgenre and their notoriety as going further down the path of moral decadence than most other horror films.

Other common tropes of cannibal films:

The most well-known and successful of these films was Cannibal Holocaust in 1980. It is also infamous for scenes of gratuitous animal death, among other things. Because of the infamy of this movie, cannibal films were among the many horror and exploitation films banned by the UK as Video Nasties.

Not to be confused with Cannibal Tribe, the general trope about savage tribes which kill and eat outsiders.


  • The Man From Deep River 1972 — was the first Italian cannibal film and introduced the notions of white people being trapped in cannibal territory, exotic rituals, white-native sex and Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov.
  • Last Cannibal World 1977 — four plane passengers are stranded in a jungle, the brown-skinned members of the group die quickly, the main character is stripped, fondled and urinated on and watches the natives kill first one of their own using bull ants and then a crocodile. He escapes using Me Me Lai, who helps him survive before being eaten by the pursuing tribe.
  • Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals 1977
  • The Mountain Of The Cannibal God 1978
  • Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals 1978
  • Primitives 1979
  • Cannibal Holocaust, 1980 — Upon the film's release, the director and producer Ruggero Deodato was arrested on the charge that they had had several of the actors murdered for the camera. Their names were cleared when they arranged for the "dead" actors to appear together on television. It has been suggested that The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast appropriated their mockumentary style from Cannibal Holocaust.
  • Eaten Alive! 1980 - Not to be confused with the 1977 film of the same name. Here, a woman searches for her missing sister who has disappeared in the jungles of Sri Lanka. She and an expatriate guide encounter a cult and a group of flesh-hungry natives. It is loosely based on the Jonestown massacre, which happened just three years before the movie's making.
  • Zombie Holocaust 1980
  • White Cannibal Queen 1980
  • The Devil Hunter 1980
  • Cannibal Ferox, 1981 — The natives capture two men who previously exploited them, along with three college students who have fallen in with them. The natives humiliate and kill all but one of them in slow, ritualistic fashion, hence the official & alternative movie title: Make Them Die Slowly.
  • Cannibal Terror 1981
  • Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story 1985 — Despite the title, no it's not a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Also an example of Based on a Great Big Lie, as the movie claims itself to be a true story.
  • Cannibal Ferox 2: Massacre in Dinosaur Valley 1985
  • The Green Inferno 1988 — By that time, film director Antonio Climati was considered to have put an end to the genre in 1988 with the film Natura Contro, which is also known as an unofficial sequel to Cannibal Holocaust.
  • Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, 1989, is a satire of this kind of film that is better than it sounds. It had to be billed as Piranha Women etc etc in the UK to avoid association with the genre (since cannibal films in general were immediately labeled as Video Nasties even when they didn't get as disturbing as Cannibal Holocaust).
  • In 2003, director Bruno Mattei directed and created two straight-to-video release cannibal films, Cannibal Ferox 3: Land of Death and Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning a.k.a. Mondo Cannibale, said to be the official sequel to the original Cannibal Holocaust. Both films are a mix of Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Predator, plus every other cannibal film from the 70s & 80s imaginable thrown into not one but two giant blenders.
  • Welcome to the Jungle, a Genre Throwback (though nowhere near as extreme as the pictures it is referencing) and Found Footage Film released in 2007.
  • The Green Inferno, an much more faithful Genre Throwback (just look at the title!) by Eli Roth. Features a tribe never filmed before, whose introduction to movies was Cannibal Holocaust - they agreed to filming after deciding that it was the funniest thing they had ever seen.