Man, this was a tough film to sit though. I knew I was going to be in for something pretty sick when I finally found the time to sit down and watch CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. I know this film has been touted as one of the most horrific films of all time and it does live up to that title. Filled with animal mutilation, rape, murder, dismemberment, torture, sex, and of course,cannibalism, once you’ve seen CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I guarantee you’ll never forget it.
The thing that really hit me about CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is that, aside from all of the disgusting elements attached to this film, it is a damn smart film that deftly examines American culture and the role of media. The story starts out with a quartet of filmmakers getting ready to leave for Amazonia. We are then informed that the four were never seen again. Professor Harold Monroe (played by stern-faced Robert Kerman) decides to take a crew of mercenaries to Amazonia to find out what happened to them. After a lengthy travelogue featuring some pretty grisly scenes of real animal killing and some rituals that look all too real involving rape, torture, and murder, Monroe finds the film crew’s film canisters and takes them back to the US to review. While the media is pressuring Monroe to release the tapes, Monroe has an uneasy feeling about doing so. As the film is processed, he uncovers horrors unimaginable.
Ruggero Deodato directs a grisly and stark film, filled with effects both real and made up. Using real natives as actors, the director was able to get savage performances from a culture who probably had never seen a camera before. To come in and film a horror film in the middle of what might as well be an alien culture takes balls. The effects used in this film will make you think twice as to whether or not this is real or not; part of the mystique of the film lies in not knowing the authenticity of what’s going on. In one scene you have an actual beheading of a monkey; in the next, a horrific murder of a person. The effects are so real, you won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s Hollywood magic and what’s downright murder. But that’s kind of the point Deodato and writer Gianfranco Clerici were going for, I believe.
What I love about this film is that it misleads you at first. One is led to think this is going to be a film about four innocents killed by evil savages, but as the tapes are processed and we see the filmmakers manipulate the “savages” into performing for their film and going to any lengths including murder, rape, and desecration of villages and culture for the sake of cinema, you really see that the film crew are the real monsters here. Though Ruggero Deodato was accused of making a snuff film due to the all too realistic effects used in the film, the real horror lies in the devilish fascination in the eyes of the camera crew as they manipulate what we as the viewer see and violate the culture they are visiting, while playing the objective reporter.
Not exactly a found footage film, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is about a found footage film and goes where most of the new films are afraid to go by asking: does the public really want to see these tapes? Timely indeed—though CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was made in a much simpler time, the themes of the film resonate all the way to today’s headlines. I couldn’t help but think about Osama Bin Laden’s death and the debate as to whether or not the photos of his body should be released while watching this film. And though many won’t be able to stomach all of the horror that this film has throughout its running time, it is an important film worthy of debate and much thought. Sitting through CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was quite a chore, especially the grotesque rape scenes and the unsettlingly realistic final horrific moments of the film crew, but I was unsettled more by what CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST had to say about us as a bloodthirsty society than all of the blood and guts.