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Invasion of the Flesh Hunters

Invasion of the Flesh Hunters

A.K.A. Apocalisse Domani, Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Massacre, The Cannibals Are In the Streets, Cannibals In the City, Virus ...

1980, Dir. Antonio Margheriti (a.k.a. Anthony Dawson)

John Saxon, Giovanni Radice


Jeez, where to start? How about the end. The final line of dialogue in this film is: "This fuckin' nightmare's over". Amen to that. I borrowed this video from my buddy FittyX, who said he'd leave it in his mailbox for me. He did, and I promptly forgot about it for about a month. I should've continued to forget about it, but I couldn't escape the curiosity after discovering these key elements.

Made in 1980. Lots of Italian names in the credits. Cannibals. John Saxon.

This should set off all kinds of warning alarms for you B aficionados out there. Combining the early '80s Italian flair for gore and atrocity with the formidable talents of Mr. Saxon should yield a pretty decent gore flick. Add to the fact that this was shot at about the same time, with some of the same actors as gore maestro Lucio Fulci's The Gates of Hell. One would think that a little of that Fulci magic would rub off, yes?

Nope. Add to all of the above that after doing a little web research I find that I had just endured the heavily edited Vestron Video version of the flick. Therefore, I was even denied the payoff of a little old fashioned Italian gore. Sometimes I just can't win.

Within the first five minutes of this film, among interspersed sections of Vietnam War stock footage, a dog explodes. You see, Captain Hopper (what a superhero that would be) is leading a small troop against some V.C., who send out a dog strapped with explosives. Anyway, as the Captain and his crew are burning things and shooting V.C., we see two soldiers captive in a hole in the ground. A flaming V.C. woman tumbles into the hole and is promptly devoured by the soldiers. Upon discovering the captive men, Capt. Hopper reaches in to rescue them, somehow not realizing that they are eating a woman. Of course one of them takes a chomp out of Hopper's arm and ...

He wakes up. I hate that! He's just having a flashback, he's at home sleeping with his wife. He goes downstairs and gets a pill. He looks on the fridge and is captivated by a dripping slab of raw meat, accompanied by horror synth blasts. The next day his wife Jane explains to their psychiatrist buddy Phil that Hopper's been having nightmares again. They pull up to the hospital for Nervous Disorders, and a particularly nervous fella is being released. It's one of the guys who was in the pit, Sgt. Charles Bukowski who I'm sure would be surprised to find that his name's been appropriated for a movie. Chuck calls Hopper, who's too busy trying to fend off the advances of the teenage slut from next door. So Chuck goes to a movie. A war movie of course. When the amorous couple seated in front of him take it too far, he takes a chunk out of the girl's neck. He is then chased by a mob and a bunch of bikers until he holes up in a flea market. A flea market with a fully stocked guns 'n' ammo section(?). The cops show up and there's a showdown. We're introduced to the chief, who has some of the best lines in the whole flick, such as this one. When told that the gunman's name is Charles Bukowski, he replies: "Tell me his background, is he subversive, queer, black, muslim?" Apparently all the crimes in this city are committed by one of the above, or they've recently had a wave of subversive queer black muslims biting chicks in movie theaters. The chief goes on to uncork lines such as: "Ashes to ashes, shit to shit", after the cannibals escape into a sewer, and the aforementioned final line.

Hopper shows up and gets Bukowski out of there by using some Army talk. Bukowski's reunited with Tom, the other soldier in the pit, back at the looney bin and they start their reign of terror, giving people superficial wounds that instill cannibalistic urges. Soon, Hopper's urges start to get strong, and what do we have on our hands? A Cannibal Apocalypse?


The great John Saxon.

As much as I hate to admit it, this film has potential. And from this point on, it wastes it. Why? Well firstly, by 1980 the plotline of several people on the run from a whole assload of zombies / cannibals (now there's a visual) had become cliche. Romero put his protagonists in a house, with a whole cemetery of zombies outside. Then he put them in a mall full of zombies, with a whole friggin' world of zombies outside. Then the Italian fascination with tropical islands and South American jungles inhabited completely by any combination of zombie / cannibal / native. This movie flips that around, and here we have the cannibals on the run, vastly outnumbered by the people. And why does that work? Another fairly decent idea. These cannibals aren't zombies, they're just people with a "virus". Aside from the compulsion to eat human flesh, they're fairly normal. So why didn't anybody do this before? Well, as Dr. Logan taught us, zombies are creatures of instinct. Therefore four of them would not do particularly well against a police force, nor would several native savages. So in addition to making the cannibals "normal" people, make them Vietnam veterans who have recieved, according to Capt. Hopper, the "highest level of military training". Even though this apparently includes pissing on tear gas canisters, I'll let that slide. If anybody should be able to put up a good struggle against an entire city's police force, it should be them. So what went wrong?

Firstly, one of the problems that plagues many of these movies: completely inappropriate music. For example, the first Vietnam flashback scene. While Hopper and company are shooting up the Viet Congs, there's ridiculous '70s boogie music playing. Rudy Ray Moore should be slappin' hos to this tune. There's the occasional lapses in concentration, such as in the flea market when the blood on Charlie's face disappears and reappears. There's the miraculous reappearance of the motorcycle gang. And there's the awful denoument. These are military men with the highest level of training, right? Well that all was for naught because the cops shoot them down with ease, even getting Hopper in the leg before he manages to limp to safety. Their demise can't be chalked up to deteriorating mental status, because they've been completely logical about their escape. Also, they can differentiate between normal and cannibal, such as when the previously bitten nurse comes to free them, and when they see Hopper, who Tom previously bared his teeth at. There's the avoidance of the money shot, which I'm sure would be all taken care of in the unedited version, but you know what? It wouldn't have mattered. And then the godawful ending, which of course sets up a sequel.

IN CLOSING: If this film followed up some of the ideas I mentioned we could have had ourselves a nice little B classic, but no. And seeing the unedited version would only appease me slightly, I'm sure. Not even the presence of the estimable Mr. Saxon made this enjoyable. If you're a gorehound, try to get the unedited version, you'll probably be pleased. Otherwise, don't bother.