Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato's cruel and unflinching second foray into the Italian Horror cannibal sub-genre repels on every level, yet remains a favorite amongst many gore-hounds and for good reason. It's absolutely fucking depraved. However, as sickening as the film is, it is not completely without merit. Despite repellent scenes of animal cruelty, simulated rape, and the film’s ability to literally suck every ounce of joy from my body with every viewing, Cannibal Holocaust is a hugely important film, and one whose impact is still felt in the genre today.
Deodato’s film tells the story of a group of documentary filmmakers who go missing in the Amazon whilst on a mission to document the existence of lost cannibal tribes. When the television station that funded their journey fears the worst, they send anthropologist Harold Monroe (Kerman) in to investigate, but he soon learns that the hapless filmmakers succeeded in finding their subject, but with disastrous results.
Monroe, however, does manage to retrieve the film of their journey and returns to New York, where he is offered the job of putting the "lost" footage together and hosting a special broadcast of this intrepid group of adventurers lost footage. When the footage is developed, however, Monroe discovers that the filmmakers had succumbed to the darkness of their jungle surroundings, and that the true savages in this documentary were those behind the camera.
Cannibal Holocaust is really two movies in one. For the first half of the film, it is the story of Monroe and his quest to find the lost filmmakers, and it is very much an effective and engaging tale. Monroe's interaction with the lost tribes is handled beautifully by Deodato, and, while there are obviously buckets of gore, the film is actually more of a skillfully handled drama than exploitation piece.
The second half, however, is where the movie ceases to be entertaining (at least to me) and just gets nasty.
Presented in the found footage style so prevalent in the genre today (remember when I said this film was important?), we bear witness to the documentary crew’s gradual decline as they go from bright-eyed explorers to sardonic opportunists to, ultimately, dinner. It’s all very effective and uncomfortably realistic, but Deodato goes overboard with several animal killings, explicit rape scenes, and lurid flesh-eating sequences that seemingly go on forever (making them as boring as they are shocking).
While a film like Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox (aka; Make Them Die Slowly) also features animal deaths on film, these scenes are presented with a wildlife documentary style that is actually used in REAL wildlife documentaries. They’re staged encounters between animals and the "trials of life" unfold. Deodato, however, has his ACTORS killing animals! They shoot a piglet for no reason at all, hack apart a turtle (as the natives in Ferox do, but, once again, handled in an entirely different manner), and then play with its severed head and limbs while the camera lingers on the creature’s still kicking remains. It’s brutal, wholly unnecessary, and this is just one of the many reasons I have a love/hate relationship with this film.
While I can’t say I find Cannibal Holocaust an enjoyable film, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s among the finest Italian horror productions of its era. For a film shot on a meager budget, on-location in one of the most unforgiving places on the planet, Deodato managed to put together a visually stunning, well-acted, and almost mercilessly effective film that, thanks to scribe Gianfranco Clerici, also boasts an excellent narrative device in the use of found footage that pre-dates The Blair Witch Project - the film far too many credit the gimmick to - by two decades.
While Grindhouse Releasing gave fans a feature-packed limited edition DVD release of Cannibal Holocaust several years back, the company went back to the drawing board for its Blu-ray release.
Presented in a new 1.85:1 hi-def restoration of the original director’s cut of the film, Cannibal Holocaust looks absolutely gorgeous. The image quality here is just jaw-dropping stuff, with a near pristine print that boasts vibrant colors and a level of fine detail I’d not thought possible with a film of its budget and vintage. We’re also given a pair of audio tracks; the original mono track, and a fantastic new 2.0 mix that’s nearly as much of a revelation as the video quality. The mix is especially spacious for a stereo track, with expertly isolated sound effects, rich, organic sounding dialogue, and a gut-rumbling representation of Riz Ortolani’s disturbingly upbeat score.
This three disc set, packs in an absolute smorgasbord of bloody bonus features, including a previously released commentary track with Deodato and Robert Kerman, as well as a second commentary track featuring stars Carl York and Francesca Ciardi.
We’re also treated to a collection of in-depth interviews, including all new interviews with Ruggero Deodato and Francesca Ciardi (among others) as well as a collection of “classic” interviews with Kerman, York, and Ortolani.
A bonus audio CD features Ortolani’s iconic score in its own slipcase with appropriately disturbing retro-style art. Speaking of art, the set comes in a really impressive embossed slipcase featuring the classic “woman impaled on pole” image, while the case within features a reversible all-new cover insert designed by Rick Melton. And, in case all of the above wasn’t enough, we also get a 24-page full color booklet featuring essays by Eli Roth, Chas. Balun and others.
While Cannibal Holocaust isn’t a film I casually recommend to others, it is an undeniably important piece of horror cinema and, that alone, makes it a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a true fan of the genre. Grindhouse Releasing’s Blu-ray presentation is a nothing short of exquisite, with a feature-packed set that presents the film looking and sounding better than I could have ever imagined. For fans, this set comes with my highest recommendations.