"The one that goes all the way!" "The Most Controversial Film of All-Time!" "Ripout! Barbeque! Devour! How long can you take it?" So goes just three of the many taglines for Ruggero Deodato's infamous "Cannibal Holocaust"; a film that once tested the limits and tolerance of exploitation, and still does to this day. I don't have a very hard time imagining that even some of the most faithful horror/exploitation film-goers will find it difficult to watch; even for a guy like me, it was exhausting and repulsive from beginning to end. Once the thing has descended into ugly, inhuman madness; one might think of jumping ship - calling it quits. There's no merit in a film this gruesome unless there is a message at the center. But to spread a message - to tell a really good story - one must preach to the audience, and different members of that audience might take such a decision differently than others. In the end, I think it's a matter of where you stand. Were you offended? Were you strangely moved? Were you repulsed? Or did you just throw up? It is films like this that have the power to evoke strong reactions; and if one is open-minded enough, even strong thoughts.
The first part of the film mostly focuses on a rescue mission lead by an anthropologist named Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman). The aim is to drop into the Amazon Basin and find a four-person film crew that went missing in the vast areas while filming a documentary about cannibalistic tribes of the jungle. For a while, all those on the expedition sneak around the large forest, searching for the said tribes, until they finally make a decent effort to provoke them with both violence and promising pleasures (there's a scene where Monroe strips down naked and baths in a river, in an attempt to attract the women of a potential nearby tribe; which results in the desired effect).
But as the journey progresses, so does the unease at hand; Monroe and his men meet with a few of the tribes and their respective leaders, only to be greeted by hostility and cold shoulders. Do the cannibals intend to deceive and then devour the adventurers, or did something else happen while the filmmakers were out shooting their documentary? After Monroe acquires the footage of their expedition from the natives, brings it back to New York along with him, and screens it to a television studio that intends to broadcast it; we're shown what really happened, to both the cannibals and the crew.
Two reels of film reveal the expedition. The crew - filmmaker Alan Yates, script girl Fay Daniels, and cameramen Jack Anders and Mark Tomaso - plunges into cannibal territory and proves that they aren't very educated in the field of first impressions. They hack of a giant turtle's limbs piece-by-piece with a hatchet and then burn down a straw house that belongs to one of the tribes. They aim to exploit the indigenous tribes, simply because they can; through rape, torture, murder, interrogation, and humiliation. On the way, they also partake in the killing of various other animals; such as snakes, monkeys, and pigs. But the real crime is how close they push the tribesmen and women to the edge; if only they had left them alone - or perhaps filmed their activity from a distance - they would have lived another day. But as you can see, that was not the case.
With its found-footage style and high-profile gore effects; "Cannibal Holocaust" felt so real for it's time that Deodato was arrested and charged for what was his art. To retain the realistic feel of the film, the actors basically went into hiding for a few years after the initial release; and in court, Deodato had to call each one of them up individually to prove that the effects he employed were just effects, and that he had not really killed anyone (save for the animals; of which the killings were all real). The film has had a rather troubled past, but now that we know the truth for sure, it can be appreciated for the grotesque piece of work that it is. Grindhouse Releasing has done a spectacular job of restoring the film; giving it a theatrical run, and then releasing it on DVD (the extras are a gold mine). If you're going to see the movie, rent or buy their DVD; it's the best one yet, and it's hard to imagine that it will ever be rivaled. It is a film of thematic power; and of profound disgust. You will either love it, or you will find not a single thing about it the slightest bit redeemable. It's probably one of the most divisive motion pictures of all time; and for good reason. There were moments - like the turtle mutilation and consumption - that disturbed me unlike any other film truly has. But at the same time, I realized the sadness and cruelty that the scenes depicted; lending the film an atmosphere - an attitude - different from that of any other horror film presenting similar injustices.
Deodato says that the stark social commentary and various thematic interpretations were not intended. All he wanted to make was a movie about cannibals, with some arresting camerawork and deceivingly beautiful music. On one end of the spectrum, he has provoked his audience; and on another, he's made us think, although the two tend to go hand-in-hand. I don't care whether "Cannibal Holocaust" was intended to be powerful stuff or not; I'll never forget it, and for that, I think it deserves to be called great cinema. I will not suggest it to anyone; for it is an uncompromising attack on exploitation cinema and voyeuristic filmmaking, and if you find yourself squeamish, "Cannibal Holocaust" could be compared to an assault on all the senses. Your stomach will not rest, your head will throb, and in at least one moment in the film, you'll clutch onto your crotch for dear life. Strange, how out of all the inspirational and good-natured movies on the market these days, this is the one that makes me most appreciative of the life that I possess. I guess sometimes, all it takes is a muskrat murder and a first-person in-your-face ending that allows us to take part in being eaten alive by those who are no fewer monsters than we are.
Call me crazy if you must but I love the mondo-canibale genre & will buy any film made by Lenzi or Deodato which exploits cannibalism. This, by far, may be one of the most difficult ones for me to stomach however as it's very disturbing. Needless to say, it rocks! Unlike other cannibal films in this genre, this one actually forces us to question who the real cannibals are. After we're finished watching the film, we are left with too many questions to ask ourselves … more
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Ten days after the film was released, Ruggero Deodato was arrested for "obscenity" and was later charged with murder and faced life in prison because the authorities belived that the actors were really murdered on camera. The charges were dropped when the actors appeared in front of court. Deodato's charges were dismissed but the film was banned in Italy for 3 years.