CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) – The Dungeon Review!
‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is yet another infamously grotesque Italian offering banned in X number of countries. This one however, lives up to the hype. The film is done like a documentary and the kills look so real and disturbing that just days after the film premiered in Italy it was seized by the courts and director Ruggero Deodato was arrested and charged with murder. He literally had to present the actors that played the fictional film crew to prove his innocence. You can’t beat that kind of press to promote your horror flick!
A four-person film crew fails to return from a documentary shoot on a remote island. A university professor is recruited by a television network to conduct a rescue mission. The journey recovers the film footage shot by the crew, which captures the deplorable actions of the quartet and their inevitable deaths.
The first half of the film is the professor’s mission. Although there are some harsh and intense moments, the real severe sections are in the second half when we watch the recovered footage of the film crew. The professor has hired a guide who helps him navigate the island. He manages to get the natives to trust him and acquires the film through diplomatic means. In direct contrast we have the four young, arrogant, sick and twisted fucks that want nothing more than to become infamous. They are considerably less than courteous to their hosts, at one point they set one of their large huts on fire with several people inside to get themselves a “money shot”. One of the more subtle disturbing character traits of the crew’s leader can be seen when he comes in contact with a woman impaled on a pole. His face lights up with utter joy at the sight of this atrocity knowing full well how awesome it will look on film. The two opposing island experiences make for some interesting commentary. A comment is made by the professor at the end of the film, something to the effect of “Who are the real monsters here?” There is no mistaking that Deodato has some commentary to make, particularly where it relates to the media. By no means am I comparing the film ‘Network’ to ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ but the message is similar. Unlike the vast majority of other cannibal films in existence, this one presents its material in a deadly serious tone and no levity whatsoever is afforded to the viewer. It is one of the very few, if not the only film from this sub-genre that is interesting and thoughtful enough to earn any serious critical examination. Deodato depicts his fictional natives as brutal cannibals and throws in a whole lot of animal snuff to keep the vomit quotient high. Make no mistake about it, commentary or not, this is a completely exploitative film.
Animals are killed in graphic displays clearly intended to keep the gross out factor high in between the human violence. These killings are REAL! This is the one massive issue I have with this film and others of its sub-genre. These kills are callous and obscene and are nothing more than animal snuff. I am not ashamed to tell you, not only did I look away, but at one point, I had to turn the film off and take a break from it for a few minutes. I read that the first shot of a monkey killed didn’t work out and they had to kill a second monkey. Wow, that is just fucking awesome! The actual killing of animals for the sake of entertainment is repulsive to me. Apparently there is an edited version where all the animal violence is taken out. Unfortunately I understand that most of the other film violence is also removed. I can’t imagine not being given the satisfaction of seeing the four monster filmmaker’s deaths in all of their glory. Even though I find the animal deaths disturbing I couldn’t bring myself to watch a heavily censored horror film, I think I would just take a pass.
With that strong stance you would think I was going to tear this film a new asshole, but I really can’t. As a lifelong horror fan and someone who appreciates gore, effects, atmosphere and great soundtracks I have to give this film its due. As a director, Deodato is not without talent. The cinematography is impressive and the atmosphere is convincingly doom and gloomy. It is ugly, gritty and frighteningly realistic. The scenes of gore are simply amazing. The image so many associate with this film is a cannibal girl impaled on a pole. The scene was achieved by having the girl balance on a bicycle seat attached to the pole while holding a piece of wood in her mouth. Blood was added and you have pure horror Brilliance! Deodato comes up with some truly sick and disturbing concepts along the way. The vaginal mutilation punishment for an adulteress native woman is sick beyond belief. So sick in fact that it would seem that none of the native women were willing to do it so they covered a female crewmember with mud. Although the scene worked on a grotesque level, it is obvious that it is a white woman. Other than this muddy white woman pretending to be a native, there isn’t a single scene in the entire film that looks hokey or fake. Although it is clear that things did not turn out so well for the missing film crew, there really are few hints as to their true nature. The TV network, which plan on showing the world the found footage of the film crew also interview the friends and family of the quartet. I thought this was an interesting way to give the viewer more insight on the group without softening the blow. There are no punches pulled and all parties are viewed under a pretty damn unflattering light, with the exception of the professor, who is the moral voice of reason in ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. Although the film is extremely brutal, gore levels are relatively low compared to other horror films, by no means does this make it any less nasty. The thing I admire about ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ the most is the kick ass, killer and completely fucked up soundtrack from Riz Ortolani. The sweet string inspired compositions almost legitimize the harrowing action onscreen. This is easily one of the most disturbing and effective soundtracks ever made for a horror film!
‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is a well-made, fascinating, brutal and disturbing film. It is without a doubt the best of the cannibal films and one of the most biting films to come out of Italy during the period. Let me be clear, I don’t plan on EVER watching this film again, but I am nonetheless giving this film a recommendation with a severe warning! This film contains the brutal and graphic killing of real animals specifically for the purpose of entertainment! Rent it at your own risk.
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed By: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Paolo Paoloni, Lionello Pio Di Savoia