This is the one. In exploitation cinema, this is the King. Many films claim to be “The most controversial film of the week, month, year, decade, generation etc” but only this film deserves the title of “The most controversial film ever made”.
Why do I say that? Well let me ask you this:
Do you know of another movie that has the actors killing various animals on film (and not in your nature documentary kind of way) resulting in animal cruelty charges for the director? (Note that none of these scenes have been captured for this review)
Do you know of another movie that has actual footage of real life executions in it (and more than likely not after a fair trial)?
Do you know of another movie where the footage looked so real that many people over the years believed they had found an authentic snuff film? (Particularly since the cast could not be found when the film was released)
Do you know of another movie where the director, as well as facing the aforementioned animal cruelty charges, was also brought up on charges for having the cast killed – and initially lost the case?
I thought not.
But it is not just the gore and violence that make this film stand out. If it were, this would be nothing more than your standard Italian splatter exploitation film, (albeit a meaner, nastier one than most). This film has a very distinct theme running not only through the “movie” that was filmed, but also the whole set up and aftermath of it. And that is something wholly unseen in exploitation cinema.
But we shall come to that soon enough. First let’s discuss the movie. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on Grindhouse’s 2 Disc Deluxe Collector's Edition and it kicks off with the following message:
The following motion picture contains intense scenes of extreme violence and cruelty.
As distributors of this we film, we wish to state with absolute sincerity that by no means do we condone the artistic decisions employed by the makers of this film. However, as firm believers in the constitutional right of free speech, we do not believe in censorship.
To quote Thomas Jefferson, “It behoves every man who values the liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others.”
Therefore, we are presenting CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST for the very first time in its uncut, uncensored original form, with all sequences photographed by the filmmakers, however offensive and repugnant, presented fully intact.
What you will see will definitely shock and offend you. Nonetheless, it should be viewed as a disturbing historical document of a bygone era of extreme irresponsibility which no longer exists, and hopefully, will never exist again.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
The basic premise is that a team of documentary filmmakers who went into the Amazon to find the last cannibal tribes disappeared. The film begins with a second expedition being organised to go and discover what became of them and to retrieve any footage they might have recorded. The second half of the film is where the lost footage is shown as editors and TV station executives prepare the footage for broadcast.
Now you may be thinking that this sounds familiar and it does since The Blair Witch Project pretty much (poorly) ripped off the whole “lost footage movie-within-a-movie” concept with a witch instead of cannibals. And I don’t recall seeing any interviews with the BW crew acknowledging the “inspiration” they “borrowed” from Cannibal Holocaust, so they can consider themselves busted, just like I busted JK Rowling and her “borrowing” of “inspiration” from the movie Troll. (And FYI, I had someone from the US Department of Justice email me saying she noticed the similarities and popped online to see if anyone else had noticed it – but I digress)
So Professor Monroe heads off on the trail of the documentary crew, meets the cannibals and wins them over, bartering for the return of the film crew’s footage, along the way encounter a ritual punishment for adultery, cannibals tenderising meat and cutting up bodies.
But it is in the second half of the film, where the TV studio is editing the lost footage that the movie really gets interesting. Now as I said earlier, while you may be thinking that all there is, is more violence, gore, and exploitation, you would be wrong. There is much more going on in this film there are some very choice commentary on the media and its manipulation of the truth.
The studio execs plan to air the footage such as it is to allow the people to decide on its merits. But for the special, they want Professor Monroe to host it and to film interviews with the relatives of the documentary film makers to splice in between the lost footage, I guess to get an idea of what they were really like
Unfortunately we know what the documentary film makers were really like since the footage recovered shows what a bunch of sadistic arseholes they were.
Doing things like shooting a native in the leg in order to make it easier to track one tribe back to their village. And then when they get there, terrorising the natives and burning their village to show the savagery of an attack by one of the cannibal tribes and how life in the jungle "really" is. Oh and raping a member from one of the cannibal tribes…
This was them making a documentary, but obviously reality wasn’t real enough for them – sound like a big fat, leftwing piece of shit who creates his own false version of reality in his "documentaries", staging events and making things up?
And yet here was the TV studio going to show this "documentary" when it is clear to all, it is no such thing.
During the editing process, a comment is made during the editing about the sections of film with no sound "I've added in some stock music to spice things up"
Hang on. Why are they spicing anything up if this is supposed to be a documentary?
There is much of this throughout the entire latter half – both with the documentary makers themselves, and with the studio execs still wanting to show it, given that it is the most sensational documentary to come along in years. But still not sensational enough obviously.
To me a classic moment was when the documentary crew comes across a body impaled on a stake.
One of runs up with a smile on his saying something like "Oh this is awesome"
but is then reminded "Watch it, I’m shooting":
"Oh good lord - it's unbelievable. It’s horrible"
So not only do we have the obvious manipulation by the documentary makers themselves, but also by the studio. Fair enough but then we also have director Ruggero Deodato doing the exact same thing.
Remember that he made the cast sign a contract that they would disappear for a year after filming was complete – meaning no other TV or movie work, no interviews, nothing. On top of that was the decision to shoot the documentary footage section on 16mm and to do it “as is” with scenes under and over-lit, lens flares, scratches etc
So here he is, promoting a film that people are trying to say is real, while he is saying it isn't despite doing everything in his power to make people believe it is real. Could it be that he is using the media's own techniques against them? Using them to gain more publicity for his movie taking them to task for using such techniques?
And this was 20 years ago, yet it holds up even better now. Remember all those dickheads out there watching Big Brother (and that alone means they should be put to death for the betterment of society) and trying to tell you it is “reality” despite every contestant being screened and interviewed and selected for maximum conflict with the others?
Well one of the TV executives expresses a similar sentiment in that nobody really knows anything about these tribes so what does it matter if the documentary is sensationalised?
And all this in a movie where he is taking scathing shots at media manipulation in presenting things as "real" when they are anything but…
As I said, those kinds of themes are just not something you see in ordinary exploitation cinema. And certainly not something you’d expect from a film with this level of gut wrenching violence.
And make no mistake, this is not a film for the fainthearted. Aside from the animal cruelty (a turtle, a snake, a monkey, a pig, a spider, and a muskrat are all killed on camera) the general violence is also pretty damn gritty. Particularly when that surreal, ethereal orchestral score (which you hear right at the start of the film) kicks in, in direct contrast to the carnage on screen, it really adds extra to the punch.
And when you sort of know what you are in for, hearing that very atypical music at the start does put you on edge. And again, from the excellent retrospective making of documentary, that was a deliberate decision.
The gore itself is excellent. Some bits look obviously false today, but for the most part, it is well done in the fact that is not over the top as you might expect. No big gushes or intestines being flung everywhere and being filmed through the trees on a handheld camera, it looks more like something being filmed by people who didn’t want it known they were filming, such as this wonderful treatment for rapists...
The dvd is excellent – a remastered print and soundtrack, a great making of documentary, some interesting interviews and a commentary track, (not to mention the movie itself) make this a must own for all serious horror and gore fans. And there is even an option to watch the film without the animal violence scenes.
As stated, Cannibal Holocaust is the undisputed King of exploitation cinema and you cannot call yourself a true gorehound or horrorphile if you have not experienced it...
Oh yeah, and about the law suits – Deodato was cleared of any charge relating to the murder of the cast when he got them to appear on an Italian TV station to prove they had not in fact been slaughtered and eaten by cannibals. For the animal cruelty charges, despite all the animals killed being eaten by the locals on location, the issue was that they were still killed on camera for which he received a four month suspended sentence.
And I was debating mentioning this as I keep hoping that it is just some sick joke, but reports are that Cannibal Holocaust is being remade. Just let that sink in. Go back and read this review. It was not the footage that was shot that made this film what it is. It is the controversy around it and the techniques used in and for it that generated that controversy.
To the worthless fuckhead who sucks on the dicks of dead animals who approved the remake: YOU CANNOT REMAKE THIS FILM!
We know the cast isn't going to be killed by the cannibals. We know it is not going to have any footage of real life executions. We know that it is not going to have any real animals getting killed, and we know it is going to be edited and rated and released to a wide audience in cinemas. So basically there is no fucking point to the endeavour, apart from cannibalizing a film about cannibals.
And in an a somewhat more ironic way, I hope everyone involved in remaking Cannibal Holocaust is actually brutally murdered and eaten by cannibals....