Saturday, August 08, 2009

Movie Review - Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

It has been said that - for the true horror film devotee - all paths eventually and inexorably lead downward to the depravity that is Cannibal Holocaust. For my part, I had been trying in vain to get a decent enough copy of it for the last couple years. Finally, I managed to snag an uncut Director's version of the film and it is every bit as disturbing and deliciously depraved as they said.

Italian Director Ruggerio Deodata's classic splatterfest is a must see. There's no arguing that. It is to this movie that the recent spate of cinema verite-style horror can trace its roots. Taking the idea of reality based film making to an extreme still unmatched, Deodata gave us a film so disturbing that it is still banned in a significant majority of countries, including Great Britain, and has the distinction of being the most banned movie of all time.

When it first came out - much like the uproar that The Blair Witch Project engendered - there was some confusion about whether or not it was a true film or an artistic film of questionable taste. In fact, many of the bans of this film were because it was believed to actually be a snuff film. The director and producers in fact had to answer to the law, faced arrested, and were made to produce the still alive - and not actually cannibalized - actors as proof that it was not a document of murder.

The film tells the story of the recovered footage of a group of documentary film makers who attempt to film previously undiscovered native people in the Amazon rain forest. They disappear into the vast jungle never to be seen or heard of again. The film is told from the perspective of an anthropologist who tries to track down the original filmmakers and fails, but recovers the footage from a tribe of aboriginal natives.

Approached by the same network that financed the original trip, the professor films his odyssey as well and - once he returns to New York - begins to piece the lost footage together. What he finds is horrifying and - ultimately - unusable for its sheer brutality.

Looking at this film from the perspective of a jaded horror fan, the actual gore and violence of this movie does look contrived. The makeup effects and alleged violation of the corpses throughout are obviously faked - but I watched this movie some thirty years after it was made. In 1980 - when it came out - it must have been grotesquely horrifying. I fully see how this could be seen as a snuff film and, while I don't agree with the banning of it, I understand the reaction by the more conservative members of society who first behold the film in all of its cannibalistic, murderous, rape-filled glory.

This film has everything. As I just mentioned, there's murder, rape, cannibalism, and gore galore. But, at its heart - and this is the part that those who would rather make it illegal miss - it shows that we and our so-called civilized morality are the true horrors in a primitive world. It's an indictment of the press and documentary film-makers who will do anything to tell a compelling story. And the missing filmmakers turn out to be far greater monsters than the cannibals they encounter in the bush.

When taken in its entirety, this film is a valuable part of horror film history in that it breaks boundaries never before crossed and does so unabashedly. Interestingly enough, the murders and mutilations shown are gruesome and undoubtedly disturbing to more sensitive viewers - but they are not the most disturbing aspects of this film. In fact, there's a genital mutilation scene that's actually really well done, as is the iconic scene of the woman impaled on the log. But, the scenes that cause the most discomfort and outcry from the non-horror fans who watch it are undoubtedly those were they actually show the killing and gutting of real animals.

The director himself has disavowed his use of animal slaughter in the movie. He said if he could do anything differently, it would have been to remove those scenes. In fact, many later versions have deleted these scenes. Thankfully, the version I saw retained these images. I understand the squeamishness casual viewers might feel when watching the death of the animals, but I myself had no problem with it. Most likely, it is because I grew up hunting and have done similar acts while gutting a deer or skinning and gutting a rabbit.

All in all, this is a great movie that, like I said in the beginning, should be viewed by all horror fans who consider themselves true horror denizens. It is a film that pushes all boundaries and is de rigeur viewing for all gorehounds like the good Doctor hisself! One could look upon it as apex where splatter and grindhouse meets the excess of 1980's slasher films. It mixes shocking images of gore and violence with biting social commentary of Romero-like proportion. See this movie if you can! Doctor Zombie commands it!



glittergirl said...

there's a version that shows everything but the actual animal killings, for hypocrites like me.

i can't stand seeing animals hurt in films, and i worry about the deer that live on our property getting hit by cars. and tonight i'm grilling a nice big steak for dinner.

Dr. Zombie said...

I am not at all distubed by the inconsistency of your statement, glittergirl.

Mmmm... steak...

I guess the animal death in Cannibal Holocaust was undistressing to me in that it was done as a prelude to being eaten. (Except where they killed a snake. Snakes, by their very spine shuddering existence, all deserve a good machete'ing! Glaaaah! I hate snakes!)

It's the whole hunting tradition thing. Although gratuitous, it was a whole circle of life thing.

That's not to say that I'm totally immune to feeling for animals. Case in point: I've been watching Whale Wars on Animal Planet. I'm upset beyond words that the Japanese whalers killed a whale on the last episode. I want to charter a boat, sail to the southern Antarctic ocean, and ram the motherfuckers. Let them drown in a cold, icy death. I'm absolutely sickened at the senseless slaughter.

So I to am a study in inconsistency! : )

Free Movies said...

Excellent review mate! Nice personal background info too.
I'm glad to see another in depth review of this that gives it the respect it's due. Deodato is by far the best 'Cannibal' Director and his almost as good "JUNGLE HOLOCAUST" is also a must watch.