Some of the movies I’ll be talking about this year are famous, some are less famous, Cannibal Holocaust is one of the few that is infamous. For years I’ve heard the urban legend-like stories that have surrounded this exploitative docudrama. Stories that included; real-life violence, torture, and even murder! Cannibal Holocaust is a film that remains controversial today for some of the most shocking imagery you’ll ever see in any kind of film.
The setup is quite ingenious for the time. NYU professor Harold Monroe (real-life former porn star Robert Kerman) travels deep into the Amazon in search of a missing documentary crew. What he discovers are several film reels left behind by the missing crew. Monroe then brings the footage back to New York and with several colleagues, watches the footage that details the last days of the fateful mission. Could Cannibal Holocaust be the first found-footage movie? Anyways, it’s on these reels that Monroe discovers that the documentary crew was not only SPOILERS killed, but eaten by the natives. The results of which are surprisingly real and only more shocking when you learn the rest of the story.
Cannibal Holocaust was a film deemed so shockingly real by audiences that director Ruggero Deodato was actually arrested in his native Italy under snuff film allegations. The charges included obscenity and even MURDER, until Deodato was finally able to prove the violence was fake. How could people be so stupid as to believe this was real? For one, the makeup effects in this film are phenomenal. Two, the then unseen found-footage style gave the film a certain realism. Three, the fact that there is other violence in the film that IS REAL may have blurred the lines between fact and fiction. What real violence? I’m talking about the killing of real animals on camera.
Cannibal Holocaust is a film that really challenges what you can justify with art. On camera we see the death of; a coatimundi, a turtle, a spider, a snake, a squirrel monkey, and a pig. Of course this kind of animal cruelty would never fly today, but it makes you think. Apocalypse Now is a masterpiece, but there is a scene where an ox and donkey are killed. We kill animals for food all the time, but for movies? It makes me uncomfortable and reportedly much of the cast and crew of Cannibal Holocaust were equally uncomfortable on set . Even Deodato (the animal deaths being his idea) has regretted some of the decisions he made but some fans have stood by the violence.
Is Cannibal Holocaust a good movie? Surprisingly, it’s not that bad, but also not that great. The acting just borders on passable, the pacing is a little meandering, but the effects and style are genuinely terrifying. The film covers some interesting themes about civilized versus uncivilized society, but it’s often overshadowed by the film’s violence. Whether this film should be praised or condemned is up for debate, nonetheless it has it’s place in horror movie history.