Cannibal Holocaust: a 35 year review
Holy cow! What did I get myself into? Cannibal Holocaust?!!? Really? Talk about a movie you have to watch alone for fear of someone walking in and screaming on the way out. You may be surprised, though, to discover that I have never seen the film till this past weekend. I had some time to kill, no pun intended, and thought, “You know, I should watch this movie.” Jesus, what’s wrong with me? Horror fanatics and buffs and nerds alike talk about this movie to great lengths. Strange people have even podcasted reviews and thoughts of the film some thirty-five years in the making. This is part of why I was intrigued to watch it. Another reason is because Cannibal Holocaust is considered as the grandfather of modern day found footage films. And I think this is what really hooked me, at first, to watch the granddaddy of lost tapes. My first experience with found footage was with The Blair Witch Project back in 1999. Cannibal Holocaust is not entirely found footage, however. Its partially found footage and part real time. Which, I thought, made it more interesting. The story goes:
After a documentary film crew goes missing during a trip into the Amazon to make contact and film two warring cannibal tribes, a rescue mission is led by a New York University anthropologist named Harold Monroe. The Professor eventually discovers the ill-fated film crew and recovers their lost cans of film. With only partially watching the footage, an American television station decides to edit and broadcast the material, you know, as a special in memory of the dead documentary film crew in all. However, upon viewing the rest of the reels, some of which even the editors could not watch, Professor Monroe becomes obviously appalled by the team’s heinous behavior and actions towards the Amazonian tribes they encountered, and after discovering how they died, he objects to the station’s intent to air the documentary.
Cannibal Holocaust was filmed in 1980, but it has a very 1970’s vibe to it. That may be the case because its an Italian film, but it reminded me of similar films made during the 70’s, including: Jungle Holocaust, The Mountain of the Cannibal God, and perhaps even Faces of Death. The musical score also screams 1970’s. But as for the special effects, the gore feel all too real. And most of the animal related gore IS real!! Cannibal Holocaust was filmed using actual Amazonian tribes in-hue as actors. The decapitated livestock during production were, apparently, used as real food for these peoples. So, in case you’re worried, nothing went to waste.
Besides being seen as one of the first “found footage” movies, Cannibal Holocaust is also heralded for its controversial history. Because of the films graphic violence Italy ordered the movie to be seized and director Ruggero Deodato was arrested for obscenity and for supposedly making a snuff film due to rumors that some of the actors were killed on camera. Although Deodato was later cleared, the film was still banned in Italy, Australia, and several other countries due to its portrayal of graphic brutality, sexual assault, and violence toward animals. Today, around the world, Cannibal Holocaust has become a taboo cult classic. And surprisingly the message in the movie is still relevant today. If you can get past all the gore and rape, you’ll find an actual significant meaning in all that mess. Crazy right? But that’s how horror movies work. A lot of times they’ll show you the eerie banality in violence by discussing violence in a meaningful, albeit brutal, way.
The message or meaning I got from the film was about xenophobia and ethnocentrism, judging other cultures by the standards of our own culture. During my studies in history, ethnocentrism was a real obstacle for some of my fellow students, and its still a problem with people today. Cannibal Holocaust highlights those issues with blood and the most taboo of taboos. And of course with Professor Monroe’s lasting statement at the conclusion of the film, and I’m paraphrasing: “Just who are the cannibals?” A chilling self examination: just what makes us civilized?
I actually enjoyed the film, despite its more unpleasant scenes. And i thought the overall intent of the film to be genuine and still relevant. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Cannibal Holocaust, why not make it a weekend? And don’t forget the Greg Poupon!