I want to thank Tromeric for asking me to contribute to Extreme Week on his blog. I've always been a huge fan of Guts and Grog, so it's an honor for me to share something for his blog's awesome theme. When I read the word "Extreme" when it comes to cinema, only one film really stuck out for me. It's a film I've been wanting to discuss for a very long time, mainly because it's an oft-requested film for me personally from my readers. Plus, the film is so controversial and so well known that I honestly couldn't call Full Moon Reviews a horror blog if this movie was never discussed. It's a film I didn't want to watch again, but I did for this write up. It sickens me, while at the same time makes me think about the hidden social commentary underneath. It's one of those Video Nasties that really deserved the title and the reputation it gets within fans of the exploitation/horror genre. And that film is Ruggero Deodato's 1980 CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.
There's a reason why I held off on CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST for this long - it's a film you can't really review like you could for any other film. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST isn't a film made to entertain its audience. As a matter of fact, it'll most likely do the opposite. But I always considered CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST one of those films that really needs to be seen, even if I wouldn't recommend it for entertainment purposes only. There's so much going on in it, that the hype and buzz around it is totally justified. Hell, you wouldn't have THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or any found footage film that was released right after it without CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. It's historic for a reason - it's a film that truly deserves that tag line "Remember - it's only a movie".
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST goes down like this:
A group of four filmmakers go missing in some South American jungles [known as the Green Inferno] while shooting a documentary on a local tribe there. An anthropologist named Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) is hired to lead an expedition to locate the filmmakers. While paying respect and speaking with two cannibal tribes known as the Yakumo and the Yamami, Monroe learns of the corpses of his targets. However, he finds some canisters of film, believing it's lost footage of the tragedy.
Monroe heads back to New York City to host a television special about the fates of the filmmakers, the expedition he took to find them, and the revelation of the lost footage. This exposure comes about due to the media believing that the filmmakers were tragically murdered by barbaric cannibals. However, Monroe and the producers of the special watch the footage, realizing that the true barbarians were the filmmakers themselves. They watch them rape, torture, and even murder some of the tribespeople - just to film footage that would look authentic for their documentary - only for them to receive the same treatment in return.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a film that's the epitome of the word "extreme". It's notorious for a reason - this movie is made to shock its audience with graphic visuals of torture, murder, and even the rape of innocent women. Ruggero Deodato filmed the film in Colombia, wanting the footage to look as "real" as possible to make audiences believe they were really watching legit carnage in front of their eyes. For a 1980 film, it pushed the boundaries of what could be shown in cinema, and probably boundaries in what's considered good taste as well. Hell, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is still an uncomfortable watch in 2013! If there was any film that belonged on the "Video Nasty" list, this film was definitely it.
There isn't much of a "story" in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but there is a plot and a message behind that plot. While the expedition story with Monroe is pretty interesting in a culture shock sort of way, it's really the faux documentary with Alan Yates and his crew that really make CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST the film that it is. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a film within a film - not only do we watch the action unfold in horror and disgust, but so do Monroe and the producers of the television special at the same time. We are witness to four filmmakers who, while supposedly representing civilization and culture, pretty much degenerate into savages who hurt their subjects just for their own selfish pleasure and ambition.
It's really unsettling what these filmmakers do just to create a compelling film. They rape women. They make fun of the members of the tribe, looking down on them. They cut a friend's leg with a machete on camera, capturing every graphic detail. We also get a penis getting chopped off [pretty graphically, I might add]! The worst stuff is probably the animal cruelty [the real deal], which still gets to me even to this day. Watching a musk rat get gutted while still breathing is pretty chilling. We see a snake get chopped apart from a hatchet. A pig gets shot in the head while it's tied up. And probably the moment that makes me sicker than anything - a turtle being cut open right on camera, as its organs spill out in plain view. The turtle scene may be the only time where I actually wanted to puke while watching a movie. I think what makes it worse is that the actors are actually smiling, and even look excited, about harming these animals and these people. I get the intent when it comes to these scenes [killing and eating like the tribespeople do], but sometimes I feel Deodato took this a step too far. I'm not a member of PETA or anything, but I still find these scenes very disturbing to watch.
I think there are two reasons why CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST still resonates today. For one, the idea of savage vs. civilized is a thought provoking one. Even with laws, both moral and societal, man and woman can still act like monsters. At the start, we're supposed to identify with the filmmakers because they come from a civilized world where they're aware of right and wrong, only to get murdered in a barbaric world by people who act on instinct without any sort of consequence. Of course the tribespeople are the villains! They're not like us! Different equals bad, right? That's what makes the actual events in the film more shocking and appalling. It's these "civilized" people who are acting like the savages, doing terrible things to these tribespeople in order to make a great documentary - and probably because of ego and this idea of feeling superior to these so-called "primitive people". It's easy to accept these tribespeople as cannibals because that's their way of life. But there's really no excuse for these filmmakers and their actions. You start asking yourself who are the real savages here - the tribespeople or the filmmakers? Like in any zombie film, the monsters may just be the supposed protagonists themselves.
Also, I like this idea of doing extreme things for the documentary to create a level of sensationalism that's believed to be what the audience wants to see. It's like what we see on TMZ and in tabloid magazines. The greater the scandal, the more the intended audience wants to know. It's as if CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is trying to send a hidden message that filmmakers, or anyone who shoots things with a camera, are being exploitative. We film things not only to document them, but to manipulate the events in order to get some sort of reaction from our audience. Watching the footage, you can't help but notice the blurring of the lines of what's real and what's being manufactured. Are the filmmakers really like this, or are they just trying to make a shocking documentary? Are the filmmakers really this unaware of what they are getting themselves into, or are these events intentionally done to create some form of sick legacy? The moral dilemma is pretty thick here.
What helps everything is the fact that Deodato films the movie in a very gritty, dirty style. The scenes with Monroe are shot quite nicely and with more polish. But the found footage definitely has a documentary, low-budget, guerilla style that makes the events unfold in a way that you might actually believe what you're seeing if you didn't already know you were watching a film called CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. In fact, Deodato had to be put on trial, due to belief that the events in the film were indeed real. Deodato had to prove that the footage was fabricated by presenting the actors in the film as proof that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST wasn't some sick snuff film. How many other films can lay claim to something that extreme? Not many that I can recall.
Honestly, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a film I don't want to recommend to those who haven't seen it due to its graphic nature. But I do think one should take the time out to check it out just once in order to understand the controversy behind it. While it's easy to focus on the extreme visuals of animal cruelty and the gore that put it on the Video Nasty list, there's something really intelligent about CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. While I don't enjoy watching it, I do enjoy that it allows me to think about issues of morality and media sensationalism. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is definitely an extreme film and it was made to shock, but it's a lot deeper than that. And I believe that maybe it's worth investigating at least once in a lifetime to get the most out of the film.
- Freddie Young
My name is Fred, but they call me the Wolf. Love writing, watching films [especially horror], playing video games, listening to music, and just hanging out. Always been fascinated by films and pop culture for as long as I can remember. I want to be a screenwriter so I can help create a better Hollywood and stop this remake/spoof trend that the scene seems to be so involved in lately. Hopefully I can make it happen. But for now, I'm reviewing films and enjoying preaching the word on good and bad films.
Make sure to check out Full Moon Reviews for more of Fred's writing.