Apocalypse domani (1980) [a.k.a Cannibal Apocolypse]: John Saxon Wants To Have You For Dinner

Antonio Margheriti is a director whose name will now be synonymous with Eli Roth. Not because they share a similar style or vision, but instead because Quentin Tarantino joined the two. In Inglourious Basterds, when Roth’s character Donny is prodded to introduce himself at the movie theater, he produces, with an outrageous accent, the name “Antonio Margheriti.” I’ll have to say it gave me a good chuckle when I saw that part of the film, but at the time, I only knew Margheriti from the tepid Video Nasty Flesh for Frankenstein (a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein). Only recently when I was delving deeper into the career of John Saxon did I read about tonight’s film, Apocalypse domani. Now in the States, we call this one Cannibal Apocalypse or Cannibals in the Streets or Savage Slaughterers or Savage Apocalypse or….you get the idea. This one’s had a few titles, but here's a new one for it, one of my favorite cannibal movies.

John Saxon stars as Norman Hooper, a Vietnam vet who is troubled by his wartime experiences. He was sent in to rescue a couple of prisoners from a POW camp. When he found them, he was surprised to see that they were hometown boys Charlie (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Tom (Tony King), but he was shocked to see that they were surviving on a diet of human flesh. The troops save the two men, but Norman gets bitten in the process. When they get back to the States, Norman begins to develop an unnatural appetite, and when they release Charlie from the hospital thinking he is cured, he takes a bite out of a buxom theater patron. The three men have been infected with a virus, one that spreads cannibalism, and it threatens to take over the streets.

With only Flesh for Frankenstein to inform my judgment, I didn’t know what to expect with this urban cannibal picture, but in the eight years between the two films, Margheriti directed seven other films and had plenty of time to grow as a film maker. He definitely did. There is rarely a film I see that has everything, action, comedy, drama, puffy down vests, and horror, but Cannibal Apocalypse delivers on all fronts. The script by Margheriti and Dardano Sacchetti (New York Ripper, The Cat o’ Nine Tails) plunges its way trough a litany of genre film conventions, and it manages to come away as an extremely entertaining film that mashes up parts of Rambo, Dawn of the Dead, and Anthropophagus to deliver a pacey 96 minutes sure to please any genre film fan.

I mean for starters you’ve got a great cast. John Saxon is in top form as Norman Hooper, and he really sells the conflicted cannibal storyline without taking it too far. I mean here’s a guy who wants to eat people, he even nibbles around on the jailbait girl from next door, but he fights it for as long as he can. You feel bad for the guy, but once he goes full blown human gourmand, it’s just as much fun to see the coppers take him down. Saxon gets a lot of help in his scenes from Elizabeth Turner as his wife Jane. This was Turner’s last film after a short career that included appearances in Fulci’s The Psychic and Assonitis’ Beyond the Door, and that’s a shame. Apocalypse seems to have been her highest profile role, and she gave a solid performance.

Now I can’t really go further into the performances without talking about a fellow that I can’t seem to go too long without mentioning, Giovanni Lombardo Radice. It was just the other day he popped up in Deleria a.k.a Stage Fright, and it was great to see him here again. Radice had a much larger role than usual. It was amazing to see him do so much more than just show up and get killed in a horribly nasty way. That’s not to say that the latter doesn’t happen, but Giovanni is allowed to have a number of great scenes before then. (Plus there’s the added bonus that his character name is Charles Bukowski, a name he shares with one of my favorite drunks/poets who was portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the film Barfly.) He really gets his moment to shine during a police standoff that seems right out of the John Rambo playbook. It’s a sequence that could have felt out of place, but Radice, with some help from Saxon, really pulls it off to be an exciting set piece. Many of his other scenes, he shares with Tony King, an actor I know as Zach from Hell Up in Harlem and Clifford from Richard Pryor’s The Toy. King has little to do but walk around, act menacing, and bite people, but it looked like he and Radice were having a good time doing it.

Margheriti chose great people to work behind the camera as well as in front of it. One of the best choices he made for his film was the score by Alexander Blonksteiner. I have to admit that I had never heard to Blonksteiner before, but I know many of the films he worked on including Syndicate Sadists, Violent Naples, and White Fang. Yet on those films he was employed as a conductor (and occasionally writer of additional music). Blonksteiner only boasts Cannibal Apocalypse and The Erotic Adventures of Robinson Crusoe as original solo compositions. Now that is really a shame. Blonksteiner throws prog, rock, pop, disco, funk, and new wave into a blender and the result is a funky score that verges on self parody without ever crossing the line. As soon as I got done watching the movie, I dug up a copy of the score, and I can’t wait until I have a chance to listen to it top to bottom.

So if you’re looking for a film that’s got everything from gore and action to a great score and John Saxon, then you couldn’t do a whole lot better. I haven't even had a chance to talk about the film's subtext of male sexual power and the effects of warfare, but there's plenty there to dwell upon as well. As an added bonus for me, Cannibal Apocalypse was filmed in Atlanta, Ga. and I had a great time trying to spot landmarks throughout the film (my favorite was chase down an Atlanta freeway that passes the exit for William’s Street, well known now for the site of the Adult Swim studios.) From top to bottom, Margheriti served up a cannibal movie that went far outside the norm to breathe some life back into a sub-genre I was completely tired of watching. This is one you shouldn’t miss if you like horror films in general, but for the Italian horror buff, it should be on their shortlist of must sees. And who knows, the next time you have to make up an Italian name for yourself because you’re being questioned by Nazis, you might just find yourself being Antonio Margheriti.

Bugg Rating


  1. Antonio Margheriti directed some fine gothic horror movies in the 60s, including a couple of excellent ones starring Barbara Steele - Castle of Blood (Danza Macabra) and The Long Hair of Death. He also made some hugely entertaining space operas, such as Wild, Wild Planet.

  2. Mr. Bugg

    Heard you and the good Rev. Phantom will be doing a podcast. I am totally looking forward to this! I have one too that is active again. I learned how to make a separate RSS feed for a podcast (well, using Wordpress anyway) I Feedburner. This can be useful for people to subsribe purely to the Podcast and not have the Podcast mixed all together with your normal feed. I can send you an email if you need the info or you may know the secret already. I think I have your email, can't remember. MIne is:

    Have been away for 17 days and clicked on your site. Wow. Lots of new stuff to catch up on. Too tired to read it all now though.

    BTW the way, your site got my vote at that Bloody Disgusting award deal. Keep up the great and freaky work.

    Bill at the Uranium Cafe

  3. Margheriti also did a few pretty cool jungle based mercenary flicks of the wildgeese type- all absolute mayhem with bullets and explosions going off all over the place. Especially love Kommando Leopard with kinski- thats the sequel to codename wildgeese.

  4. I'm embarrassed. I didn't even catch that joke in Inglourious Basterds...shame on me.

  5. Ive tried enjoying this one, but the social and political context just doesnt justify the slow pace for my taste. Didnt mind the gore, and Saxon is his usual awesome self, but this falls below several of the other cannibal flicks on my list.


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