Cannibal Holocaust Review
Written by: Sam Hell
Maybe you've heard of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Maybe you've heard that it's considered the most controversial movie ever made, or that it holds the world record for being banned in the most countries. Perhaps you've heard that the gore effects were so realistic, that director Ruggero Deodato was taken to court to prove that it was fake. Or that Deodato had to bring the actors with him to an Italian TV show in order to put to rest rumors that they had really been eaten by cannibals. And I bet, most of all, you've heard that there are scenes containing real animal killings.
Well folks, it's all true. An idea that some thought originated with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT can be taken back further to 1979, when Italian director Ruggero Deodato set out to make a 'mockumentary' reflecting the journalistic focus on violence he saw on TV.
The story begins when an anthropology professor (Robert Kerman) travels to the Amazon jungle in search of a documentary film crew that have turned up missing. Eventually, his expedition leads to the discovery of their grisly fate, and the undelevoped footage they captured. And so begins the notorious second half of the movie, when the professor returns to New York to have the film developed and screened for a group of TV executives. We see, through a sometimes shaky handheld camera, the start of the film crew's journey into the jungle. How each person begins to coax and manipulate situations into happening for the sake of getting a good shot. Their methods continue to get worse and worse as they harass, torment, and even assault the jungle natives. People can only be pushed so far, however, and we get to see how far in the movie's final unflinching moments.
This movie doesn't hold back. If it has anything to show, it's going to show it. And because of that, you're either going to appreciate it, or think of it merely as a criminal piece of shock cinema. It's the animal killings that will most likely fuel the hate and contempt. In a interview conducted just a few years ago, Deodato explains that, at the time, he never saw the animal killings as a big deal. He was a kid from the city who would spend time on the family farm, taking part in livestock slaughter, and even drowning cats when the place became overpopulated with them. Now that he's older, he sees things differently. Plus, he says, what they did was more or less assist the natives in killing these animals that were going to be eaten anyway. So they weren't just killed for entertainment value and then left to rot. Still, it's regrettable that the filmmakers resorted to using real animal slaughters, because now it's become such a popular part of the movie's legacy. It's a factor that becomes too distracting for most viewers to get past, so whatever else the story is trying to achieve becomes lost.
On the other hand, by doing what they did, they ended up emulating the filmmakers in their own movie. Both, starting out with good intentions, end up crossing the line in order to give the public what they thought it wanted. As the female TV executive in the movie said: "Today people want sensationalism; the more you rape their senses the happier they are." Supply and demand. The public wanted more violence, more shock, more uncompromising realism. What they got was a film about those very demands, while at the same time satisfying those very demands. Is it the most gruesome movie ever made? I doubt it. The gore effects are very well done, but they're still only as good as anything you'd see in a Lucio Fulci film. It's only when you drop these scenes in with the context of the rest of the film that they become as intense as they are. See, it's not really the gore that leaves the deepest impression, it's the psychological subtleties that run throughout. It's being disconnected from the securities of modern civilization. It's being at the mercy of a wild jungle, inhabited by a culture that you're not familiar with. It's the realism created from witnessing the actions of the film crew, and the brutal consequences, through documentary-style film footage. And all of these things are wrapped up tightly in a blanket of cynicism.
Let's not forget the awkward score by Riz Ortolani. Aside from creepy synth sounds and assorted jazz numbers, there's a gentle acoustic theme that appears often. I don't know about you, but there's nothing more haunting than watching gruesome acts of violence take place while a 70's post-hippie ballad plays along in the background. Imagine Dan Fogelberg doing the soundtrack to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE...maybe something like 'Longer' playing during the dinner scene? That's pretty twisted, man. By itself, you would never recognize it as a score for one of the most controversial movies of all time. You could even play it at a high school prom and no one would think twice about it. Imagine how surreal it'd be to play this soundtrack at your wedding reception, dancing for the first time with your new bride. Then the parents and the grandparents get up and join in...bridesmaids and groomsmen are hooking up. And all the while, you're the only one who knows where it came from. Think about that the next time you watch it.
This is not a perfect movie, but it is an effective one. I can't recommend it for everyone, for all the obvious reasons. The pace is tolerable, the camerawork is fantastic, the music is unique, the gore is satifying, the acting is...uh...yeah well, you'll just have to look past that. I own the uncut Ultrabit edition from EC Entertainment. At the moment, it's the best presentation of the film you can find. However, Grindhouse is putting out a 25th Anniversary Region 1 DVD on October 25th. It'll be the full uncut version. If you feel like you can stomach it, give it a whirl. If not, your life will not be incomplete for missing it.