Dir. Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony M. Dawson)
Cannibals are the like honor students of the zombie world. They’ve cleverly figured out you can dispense with that whole tedious bit about dying and matriculate straight on to the flesh eating stage. It’s like skipping a grade.
After pulling war buddies Tommy Thompson and Charlie Bukowksi (That’s right, Charles Bukowski in a cannibal movie) out of a Vietcong prison where they were chowing down on BBQed human flesh, Captain Norman Hopper (a pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street John Saxon) is just trying to piece his life together, repressing the wartime flash backs with a cocktail of pills while his psychiatrist openly schemes to swipe his wife and neighborhood vamp Mary tries to ply her wiles on an aged target.
But once Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice of City of the Living Dead) gets his “first leave out of the booby hatch” and goes mano a handgun with with the police, it triggers the old cannibalistic cravings. Soon Norman and his cannibalistic sidekicks are tooling around town in a stolen van with a flesh hungry nurse riding shotgun like a cannibal A-Team as they try to stay one step ahead of the cops.
Zombology: I’m cheating a bit here as no living dead are involved. However, Vietnam vets Norman, Charlie and Tommy picked up a funny bug while serving overseas. Suddenly a long neck or a bared thigh gets the munchies brewing. While Norman has been able to repress his urges somehow, the impulses become overwhelming when Charles drifts back into his life. Now when teen tramp Mary comes slinking over from next door to flirt with the neighbor man, Norman’s got an urge to eat her…just not the way she wants. Like any good zombie-grade viral outbreak, the cannibal compulsion can be spread through a bite, and Charles seems to be sinking his bicuspids into bystanders left and right as he tussles with orderlies at the mental hospital or while getting arrested following a murderous shoot out with the cops.
There’s no reason this movie should work as well as it does, but it’s got its own sleazy charm as it squashes together First Blood and Dawn of the Dead. A sensitive portrayal of the stresses of Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD this ain’t, but neither was Rambo and that’s taken on a patina of respectability in the last 30 years. Saxon is all masculine posturing of the sort you could only get away with in the early ’80s and Radice, paired with blaxploitation vet Tony King as Tommy, projects a fevered verve for heavy caliber mayhem and femur carpaccio. The gore is well done and Margheriti has a deft hand at pacing the action set pieces and a sly eye for humor (Bukowski starts his rampage while watching George Peppard in From Hell to Victory). All told, Cannibal Apocalypse, a late entrant into the cannibal craze of the late ’70s, is only 27 percent as awful as Hell of the Living Dead.