1/30/09

Feature Presentation: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

It's been a rough trip through the jungles. A whole month surviving The Green Inferno can take a toll on a man, even a heroic fellow like the good old Lightning Bug. We've survived the insane natives of The Isle of the Damned, defended against the Jungle Holocaust, escaped the clutches of the Golden Temple Amazons, and made our way out and away from the Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. Now with civilization on the horizon and the journey nearly over, there is only one last trial ahead and perhaps the most harrowing of them all. So come along as I take my machete in hand and begin to hack my way though.....

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) starring Robert Kerman, Perry Pirkanen, Francesca Cirdi, and Carl Gabriel Yorke. Directed by Ruggero Deodato.

Documentary film maker Alan Yates (Yorke) and his crew make their way into the jungles of the Amazon to capture footage of the local, cannibalistic tribes. After two months pass and there's no sign of their return, Dr. Morgan (Kerman) and a team are sent to the jungle to search for the lost crew. Morgan's travels take him deep into The Green Inferno, and he begins to uncover clues about the unsavory fate of Yate's team.

They come into contact with a tribe, and after befriending them, Morgan recovers the cans of film the crew had shot. He takes the footage back to New York, and he watches in horror as Yates cruelty unfolds on the screen. Soon it becomes clear why Yates and company never made it out of the jungle, and the savagery of civilized man is put on full display.

Film Facts

--Ten days after the film premiered, the prints was seized by the Italian government and Ruggero Deodato was arrested and charged with murder. Deodato had to produce the actors who played the slain film crew.

--The film claims to have been banned in 50 countries world wide. This would make it the most highly banned film of all time.

--Robert Kerman was a veteran of adult films where he worked under the name Richard Bolla in film such as Debbie Does Dallas.

--The two tribes portrayed in the film, the Yamomamo and the Shamatari, are real tribes of Brazil, however the tribes are not mortal enemies as depicted nor do they have a tradition of cannibalism.

--It is rumored that Deodato is working on a follow up to his most infamous film.

The Bug Speaks

Right off the bat I want to say I learned an important lesson while watching this film. If you come in contact with cannibal tribes while deep in a jungle, be nice to them. Heck, just in case there are any cannibal tribes out there right now reading this, I want to let you folks know that I think you're a group of fine, fine folks. That being said, there was a lot more to take away from this extremely powerful film.

This is a film that has been talked about and debated in the horror and cult community perhaps more than any other. So let me get a few things out of the way right off the bat. The animal violence is very disturbing, and even Deodato has expressed his regret for shooting the footage. While I found some parts of the film, especially the infamous "turtle scene" to be hard to watch, the similar scenes found in Deodato's Jungle Holocaust or Martino's At the Mountain of the Cannibal God were equally or perhaps more graphic. The difference between Cannibal Holocaust and those films is that the majority of animal violence in this flick comes from humans and not from the animal on animal "circle of life" footage normally on display. This does make the scenes somewhat more disturbing to watch, and I fully understand anyone avoiding this film on that basis alone. (Note: The Grindhouse DVD release of the film does contain a version that you can watch sans the animal cruelty.)

The acting in the film, which has been criticized, I found to be well delivered. The actors who portrayed the documentarians were very convincing, and perhaps this is owed to Deodato's ruthless direction which Yorke described as "a level of cruelty unknown to me". In the scenes featuring Kerman, the film hits it's weakest points. His meetings with the executives who wish to release the "documentary film" are marred with uneven performances from the supporting cast. Kerman himself does an admirable job of grounding the film as the only character who is not despicable and who the audience can relate to.

The directing of the film is where Deodato's opus really hits it's stride. For over half the flick, it's a  traditional narrative film shot beautifully with a stunning depiction of the Amazon jungle. The shots are well constructed and there are very few wasted frames. The other third of the film is the "found footage" of the documentary crew. Shot on 16mm stock, it is presented in the shaky cam style that we have become so used to in films such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and TV shows like Cops. While this has become de rigor now, it was a groundbreaking style to see in a motion picture in 1980. The whole concept of the film was to be a commentary on the Mondo movies that had become to popular in the 1960's and 1970's, and the footage looks real and raw. This adds greatly to the realism of the gore in the film. While some of the effects might seem dated and cheesy to modern viewers, I have no issue seeing how it would have cause Deodato the problems that befell him after the film's release.

With all that out of the way, I want to get into the meat of the film, pun intended. The main conceit of the flick is similar to many in the cannibal genre. It broaches the debate over who is more savage, the tribes of the jungle or so called "civilized man". This theme plays out quite well although it comes though a tad strong at points. Having seen this idea presented several times in film, it didn't have the same impact on me that it may have on the uninitiated. The real interesting idea I found in this film was the quest for fame. Yates and his crew relentlessly daydream about how famous their documentary will make them and are willing to go to any lengths to make their film more sensational. In 2009, with reality shows and YouTube being such a omnipresent force in our culture, this seems more topical than ever.

Cannibal Holocaust is an extremely powerful film which will leave viewers with a well spring of emotions. Personally, I felt a bit as if I needed a shower after the final credits rolled. I don't consider that a negative though. This is the kind of movie that punches you in the gut with it's ruthless pursuit of social commentary, and will leave you feeling drained and perhaps a bit bewildered. I would recommend this film to anyone who loves Italian genre cinema, and genre cinema as a whole, and I encourage everyone to watch the film at least once in it's uncut form with the gore, animal violence, and rape on full display. It is not an easy film to watch, but ultimately it is very rewarding. It goes into the pantheon of the top rated flicks on The Lair for good reason, and I encourage the wary viewer to check it out and experience the hellish journey the film contains.
Bug Rating



And so we make it back out of the jungle and to safety, but how safe are we? Not very I should think because next week begins a new journey into fear when the four fridays of February become Fuiciuary. Each week the Bug will spotlight a different film from the Godfather of Gore himself Lucio Fulci.

9 comments:

  1. This is a great write-up. I just came across your blog. It's really cool. I love this film. It had been years since I've seen it, but I watched it again a few months ago. My sister wanted to watch it so we watched it together. She was amazed and disgusted by it. She loved it.

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  2. Thanks for the comment Keith, and glad to you discovered the Lair.

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  3. This one of the rare movie I often re-watched.

    Never heard that rumor about Deodato making a sequel. I hope its true!

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  4. When dealing with cannabals, If you rape their women, kill their children and burn their village...The might just eat you.

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  5. Glad to see someone else who gets it about this film. It is some kind of masterpiece with a classic score by Riz Ortolani. If more people could stand it, they'd get it, too.

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  6. Just heard from me mate james that the the deodato companion piece to cannibal holocaust is now shelved- I pondered if this relates to the non deodato remake thats in the pipeline.

    more here-
    http://42ndstreetcinema.blogspot.com/2009/02/ruggero-deodatos-cannibals-cancelled.html

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  7. That's too bad that Deodato is not going to make the follow up after all. As far as anyone remaking CH, that would probably be horrible. I can't see any other director being able to capture what he did on the screen,

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  8. agree. it probably will be horrible.

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  9. Not sure how I missed this review--in any case, it's top notch. I'm not as big a fan of this movie as some other genre freex, but I do like it (it's not even my favorite cannibal movie--sshhh, don't tell anyone).

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