Cannibal Holocaust

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It’s one of the most notorious films ever made. It’s been considered disturbing, grotesque, sickening and horrifying. The director, Ruggero Deodato, was arrested after several audience patrons claimed that several of the actors had, in fact, been murdered for the film (in court, Deodato presented the actors, alive and well). It was banned in several countries, including the director’s native Italy, where it was banned for three years.

Here’s the dirty little secret about Cannibal Holocaust: if it wasn’t for the ‘shocking’ and ‘disturbing’ moments (don’t worry, there’s a few), it would be kind of boring. The acting is completely pedestrian, and several elements to the film are incredibly cheesy. The basic story is four filmmakers (played by Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francessa Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen and Luca Barbareschi) journey deep into the Amazon jungle to make a documentary about a tribe of cannibals. They are never seen again. Sometime later, a pipe smoking professor named Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) ventures into the jungle, led by the gruff guide Chaco (Salvatore Basile), to find out their footage, and to hopefully uncover the truth behind what happened.

If it sounds to you like Cannibal Holocaust perhaps ‘inspired’ the filmmakers behind The Blair Witch Project, then I agree with you; replace the cannibals with the witch, and you’ve got pretty much the same movie. Anyway, that’s the first half. The second half takes place back in New York City, where the professor watches the footage, and uncovers the truth, all right. It turns out the four young filmmakers are not entirely what they seem to be, and Deodato seems to be saying something about the media, how lies are fabricated to form truth, I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure, he doesn’t really get a cohesive message across. (I did, however, really like the musical score by Riz Ortolani).

There are two infamous scenes in the film, both involving violence towards women (don’t worry, the film is not only sexist but racist too, Deodato doesn’t miss a beat). The first is when a savage native, punishing his wife for adultery, rapes her with a stone phallus, and then beats her to death, shoves her corpse in a boat and pushes it out into the water (all while the professor and his two guides wait in the bushes, to follow the savage back to his village). The other moment that most people remember from the film is another young woman from a tribe, after she’s been raped by three different men, impaled through a pole, with the top of the pole sticking out her mouth. Classy.

In addition to the three rape scenes, multiple scenes of torture, deaths, we also have some classic cannibal action and a whole village being trapped in a hut and burned alive. That’s in addition to the seven, count ’em seven, animals who were killed onscreen. That’s right, the animal deaths were real, including the scene where they capture a giant sea turtle, cut off its head, rip open its shell and disembowel it onscreen (six animals die in the film, but one scene of a monkey being killed was filmed twice, with two different monkeys). Deep in the heart of the Amazon Jungle, with no studio executives around to tell him no, Deodato got away with a lot.

None of the violence in this film seems to further the story or be put into the film for any real point, it’s all shock value. This is one of those films that most horror film afficiandos (like myself) get to eventually, but I don’t think it will be worth watching for anybody else. This is one of those movies that you watch once so you never have to see it again.

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