by John Bikowski
I’ve got to thank Image Entertainment. Not only do they go out on a limb for classic horror, they build a condo there. Their recent revival of the not-often-seen Cannibal Apocalypse is my case in point. Don’t get me wrong… I really enjoy this film. However, most normal people are oblivious to its existence and long history with censorship. Still, Image managed to secure a sweet, rare, uncut print complete with a squadron of quality extras. Not only do you get the new, digitally-enhanced widescreen transfer never seen legally on U.S. shores, but it’s followed by Cannibal Apocalypse Redux (a documentary with the stars and director), Apocalypse in the Streets (a video tour of Atlanta filming locations), The Butchering of Cannibal Apocalypse (a text essay on the banned footage), foreign trailers, filmographies, liner notes, and an alternate U.S. opening sequence. Phew!
The film stars John (Enter the Dragon) Saxon as a Vietnam Captain who rescues his buddy, Charlie (John Morghen) Bukowski (no relation), from a prisoner camp. The beginning of the film may lead you to believe it’s a low-budget war epic, but the “horror film” status soon becomes apparent. Essentially, the film is a zombie gore-fest without the supernatural element of walking dead dudes. This 1980 film was released, minus mucho-red stuff, here in America as Invasion of the Flesh Hunters and may’ve been hidden in many a war-rental section. The uncut version was unleashed upon Europe, thanks to a rare Japanese laserdisc. It’s no surprise the film was banned in England and dubbed a “Video Nasty” (illegal to buy or sell… or basically own). Since I was in the Rolodex of several European print bootleggers, I was able to see Cannibal Apocalypse uncut (and very unclear). I got a real kick out of the film. The characters are quirky and likeable, the violence is way over-the-top in Fulci-like fashion, and the music alternates from punchy disco to sad-but-fond melodies. There are more than enough classic one-liners and shocking scenes to win over most genre fans, so this is a sure-bet DVD for your horror collection.
The plot of the film unfolds as Saxon leads a squadron through the jungles of ‘Nam, shooting it out with the expendable locals. Once they discover Charlie and his large black friend, Tommy, they feel their mission is complete. Minutes earlier, a flaming Vietnamese woman dropped into the refugee pit and is now treated like a Bar-B-Q burger by Charlie and Co. When Saxon reaches down to help, Tommy bites into his arm and we cut to present day. It seems that Charlie and Tommy were suffering from some type of virus-induced cannibalism and they’re now locked up in a mental ward. Saxon, on the other hand, is in bed with his hot wife and all is well. Sort of. The bite on his arm may be infected, and now that Charlie is up for release, the disease may be resurfacing. This leads to a hilarious scene with an underaged teen bimbo neighbor who Saxon gets frisky with. She blurts out “No one ever bit me like that before.”
Meanwhile, Charlie is free from captivity and wanders into the local movie theater. Ironically, the screen is showing a violent war film that flips Charlie out causing him to bite out the jugular of the writhing woman next to him. All hell breaks loose and Charlie winds up holding off the police from a shotgun-vending flea market booth. While blowing away two attackers, he even manages to uncork a real toe-tapper… something like “Yankee Doodle got shot up… and called it Macaronnnniii.” Saxon arrives on the scene and talks his friend right back to the mental hospital. Once there, Charlie and Tommy attack a nurse and put the bite to her leg. The now rabid nurse and the finally-unhinged Saxon help orchestrate an escape for the cannibal boys and the foursome head for the sewers. Cornered by police blockades, they’re forced to fight to the death. Everyone is massacred except for Saxon, who wanders back to his home, just in time to die with his wife. This last scene even manages to be touching despite all the prior absurdities.
This film is full of classic moments. Charlie Bukowski is, in general, a real piece of work. He’s played by John Morghen, made famous for getting his brains drilled in The Gates of Hell and cutting off penises in Make Them Die Slowly. You can tell this guy loves his work as he methodically shreds a leg down to the snapped bone using a car buffer. His character’s death in Apocalypse… is a real showstopper. He gets shotgunned through the back so that his entire intestinal tract is blown clear out, leaving a bowling ball-sized hole for the camera to peer through… cool effect. You can also see previously cut footage, like the scene of the nurse biting out the doctor’s tongue, the scene of the sawed-apart leg, the fingered-out eyeballs scene, and more. And where else can you find a film that shows a rabid cop munching down on a freshly ripped-off breast that leads to the Captain screaming, “for God’s sake, son, put it down!!” Get it while it’s hot!