Working with the indy circuit, I’ve seen far too many films claiming superlatives than I care to. Covers have arrived boasting the goriest, grossest, most disgusting, most brutal (to quote Nathan Explosion), and so on and so on. Cannibal Holocaust is marketed repeatedly as “the most controversial movie ever made”. This one, at least, has some history behind it.
Cannibal Holocaust was originally released in 1980, and the release did, in fact, generate a ton of controversy. The filmed animals really were slaughtered, resulting in a ban of the film in Italy. Due to graphic scenes of rape and torture, the film was also banned in Australia, Germany and the U.K. Cannibal Holocaust has been banned in eight countries, though reports boast that number may be as high as 60. There is a brief in-film documentary titled “The Last Road to Hell” which features real execution footage. Claims popped up that the actors were really killed as well, which was disproved when director Ruggero Deodato brought them on to an Italian TV show.
So what the hell is it?
Cannibal Holocaust follows a New York anthropologist, Herman Munroe (Kerman), as he heads into the Green Inferno, an area of the Amazon rainforest. He’s tracking the expedition of four Americans who have since gone missing, and eventually finds their footage. As he re-creates their expedition, he sees increasingly graphic details of what happened to the ill-fated trip.
As Munroe explores the forest with his guides, he witnesses the remains of the former expedition’s guide, the killing of a coatimundi, and then a woman raped and killed. All that is just the opener, but it properly sets the tone for the film’s progressively gory journey.
The first expedition, consisting of Faye, Jack, Mark and Alan, encounters several warring tribes, including the Yacumo and the Shamatari. As Munroe pieces together their footage, he witnesses far more disturbing scenes. The foursome proceeds to distribute torture and murder, intent on claiming it as the actions of the warring tribes. Munroe is naturally shocked to find the brutal acts coming from the filmmakers rather than the tribes, who get their revenge later.
Munroe has been asked to put the footage together for a sensational news program, but after reviewing the footage, he wants it all shelved. Only by making the executives watch the proceedings can he open their eyes to what they really wish to promote. As the footage continues, Jack (Pirkanen) and Alan (Yorke) push one another with their aspirations of violence and fame respectively. Faye (Ciardi) moves from uncomfortable to nearly captive among the team as the men’s obsession take over. Kerman very steadily handles the role as the consciousness of the film in both the jungle of South America and Manhattan.
Deodato apparently decided to make the film after seeing his son watch a news program on the Red Brigades, a Marxist militant Italian group formed in the 70’s. He believed that the news broadcasters sensationalized things past the point of reality, perhaps even making up the news for a better story. We call that Fox. His commentary, through his heavily-accented delivery, delivers the message of the film with purpose.
Deodato also wanted to see how shocking he could get and still have fans find it entertaining. That’s what the film is best recognized for; the extensive use of violence and torture. The director also wanted to defame the makers of Mondo Cinema, a genre of documentary-style films cashing in on the same types of violence depicted in Cannibal Holocaust. In that end, Deodato was actually guilty of the same acts of violence, in an effort to criticize the Mondo filmmakers.
The film has often been compared to, or credited as an influence of, The Blair Witch Project. Each movie covers a group of filmmakers heading into an unknown forest and winding up dead, with just their footage to tell their tale. The key difference is that the fate of the filmmakers is already known by the midway point of Cannibal Holocaust, where Blair Witch doesn’t fully display its hand till the final shot.
The film, dubbed number 20 on Entertainment Weekly’s Most Controversial Movies of All Time, is scored with a fantastic orchestral theme by composer Riz Ortolani. He was requested by Deodato specifically, primarily for his involvement with past Mondo films. His compositions also appeared recently in “Kill Bill: Vol 1 and 2”.
So, which of the Horrorview faithful should watch Cannibal Holocaust?
First of all, if you’re an animal lover, this one isn’t for you. Even if all the animals killed were later eaten by the natives or the crew, that doesn’t make the shots any less graphic. If you aren’t a huge fan of rape or torture, this isn’t really your speed either. Oh, and, if little things like castration, decapitation or forced fetus removal don’t make you grin, take a pass.
If you want to be totally tripped out by how to shoot incredibly violent films, effectively use pig organs to simulate human guts, or watch a bunch of lunatics kill innocent people and then get theirs, this one’s right up your alley. If you want to hit that nice little crest where you’re grossed out and want to look away but you still want to watch the proceedings, you’ll enjoy this.
The 25th Anniversary DVD, released by Grindhouse Releasing, is packed with extras. Limited to 11,111 copies, is digitally re-mastered and has a new stereo re-mix. The commentary track from Deodato and Kerman is an insightful look into much of the film; including how and why many of the scenes were shot. (The film’s signature shot of the impaled girl involved balsa wood and a bicycle seat.)
Disc Two includes interviews with Deodato, Kerman and Gabriel Yorke. There is another piece called “In the Jungle”, an hour-long Italian featurette on the Making of Cannibal Holocaust. The usual extras are also included; trailers, stills, the script and a music video by Necrophagia.