Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gruesome Grindhouse Double Feature: Make Them Die Slowly and Savage Man, Savage Beast

It was a hot September day in NYC. Walking down the “Deuce” with my buddy, Richie, we were looking to kill some time. As we approached The Liberty, we just froze in our tracks. A really sick poster was advertising the fact that someone had raped & killed someone’s sister and now it was his turn to Make Them Die Slowly. The poster featured a bloody woman and people holding bloody machetes. It looked like a rape/revenge flick, but it was anything but that.

The Liberty had a monitor out front and they usually ran trailers for the films showing. The monitor was turned off, making this viewing a little more ominous than usual. I wanted to check it out, but Richie was freaked out by it. He was more interested in hitting a massage parlor than checking out this blood bath. I didn’t give a shit, I wanted to see this show. So off he went in search of a blow job and I went to the movies

Both films were released on that hot day in 1981. First up was Savage Man, Savage Beast which was shot in 1975 to cash in on the “Mondo” craze. Picture Faces of Death lite, that’s what this film was. Some parts were as exciting as a travelogue, others were just fuckin' weird & stupid. Lots of cruelty to animals, enough to make you want to walk out. There is footage of someone stupid enough to get out of his car in a safari park and get eaten by lions.

One segment has natives digging holes in the ground and fucking the earth. I swear to God this is true. This one scene, racist in nature, elicited a lot of catcalls & obscenities from the mostly black audience. The film did suck, but nothing could have prepared the crowd for Make Them Die Slowly.

A disclaimer rolled across the screen, narrated by a soft female voice telling us that this film depicts over 32 acts of barbaric torture and cruelty. We are advised that if this kind of material offended anyone, they should leave. Needless to say, no one left, just proving what a bunch of sic fucks we were and still are. It also told us that this film was banned in 30 countries. I’d like to see that list.

This film was directed by Umberto Lenzi, who single handedly created the Italian Cannibal Subgenre with Deep River Savages. Lenzi seemed to be in a pissing contest with another director, Ruggerio Deodato, who made Last Cannibal World( aka Last Survivor, Jungle Holocaust, Carnivorous, & Cannibal). Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust blew away Lenzi’s two films. This film was his payback. But where Holocaust was grin & unrelenting, this film was just too over the top to work as effectively as Holocaust did.

It starts out, as most Italian cannibal films do, in Manhattan. A junkie is gunned down by two mob guys, looking for a dealer named Mike. Robert Kerman plays a detective in a scene shot near the West Village. Then we shift to the Amazon where three students are out to prove that cannibalism is a myth. They encounter some nasty stuff before they meet up with Mike & Joe, on the run from some locals.

Supposedly the two were looking for emerals and pissed off the locals. Joe, who is dying from a fever or something, lets it slip that Mike tortured a local to get some coke. Mike is the dealer the mob is looking for. Mike (played to the hilt by John Morghen) was a character that was all too familiar to the audience: a dangerous, out of his mind, cokehead. Mike tied the guy to a pole and cut out an eye with a knife, then castrated him. Mike and Pat, (Zora Kerova) snort coke, then try to make it with a native girl. Mike kills her and the tribe wants revenge.

Mike’s buddy dies of a fever and is gutted and eaten. Mike, Rudy, Pat & Gloria are put in a cage. Mike escapes and has a hand chopped off. Rudy gets a poison dart in the neck after he hides in water infested with Piranhas. Mike is tied to a pole and is castrated, and yes, the camera doesn’t shy away. Then he is placed under a table with a hole cit in it. Part of his head sticks out and that is lopped off with a machete & the tribe eats his brains. Pat is hung up with hooks through her tits, in the most appallingly famous shot from the film. Gloria escapes with the help of a friendly native, who gets impaled by a spring trap. She goes back to school and publishes her paper which says cannibalism is a myth.

Make Them Die Slowly was hyped as the most violent film ever made. It was ultraviolent and unrelenting. Where Deodato’s films could pummel the most jaded audiences into stunned silence, this one didn’t. Oh, it did elicit groans of disgust from the crowd, but it did lack the punch of the other cannibal films. Make Them Die Slowly was maybe the most prophetic title ever slapped on a “deuce” marquee. In 1981, the area was in it’s death throes due to crack, the AIDS epidemic, and greedy realtors.

John Morghen, arguably the most abused man in Italian gore films, was completely out of his mind here. The audience was all to familiar with the character he played. Psychotic pipeheads roamed the “deuce” like zombies, looking to pull a ripoff for their next rock. Morghen’s leering ,foulmouthed, sweaty performance was typical of coke fiends in the area. And, that , boys & girls, is what put one of the final nails in the “deuce’s “ coffin.

Make Then Die Slowly was a perennial favorite at The liberty, popping up from time to time until it closed. Cropped versions showed up in some of the inner city theaters in Jersey. The biggest cropping occurred in Mike’s castration scene.

Make Them Die Slowly may be one of the last great exploitation films to play the grindhouse circuit. It is now on DVD, under it’s original title, Cannibal Ferox. Pass the barbecue sauce, will ya.
42nd Street Pete

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