Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
“Sometimes I wonder who are the real cannibals.” (A line made more poignant to today’s audience at the end when the camera pans up the World Trade Center.)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici
Some people ask me how the fuck I can watch stuff like this. Well, first off, I have a very strong stomach for bloody, evil (and fake) violence. I have no idea where the hell that came from because none of my family likes stuff like that.
Second, I just like the thrill of horror films. That split second of sheer terror that comes from some masked madman jumping out from behind a couch with a knife. Of course it’s always a little more lasting when that guy is actually scary, like Michael Myers and not just stupid like Jason Vorhees.
Third, a couple of friends of mine are REALLY into this sort of stuff and they got me into it. (Especially the guy who is actually going to be reading this. Thanx, man. Thanx a lot.)
Now, for the main event at hand.
I can just see the casting call for this movie. “Must not mind being bare-ass naked and having horrible, nasty, painful things done to their genital area.” Of course, that is pretty much the casting call for any real cannibal film.
This one is the one that started and ended it all. Yeah, by 1979 there were a lot of cannibal flicks out there and there were even more afterwards. But this one was the most horrific and disturbing of the bunch and, as such, it has built up quite a cult following. Being kind of hard to find doesn’t hurt that status, either.
Imagine my shock when this little gem (!?) showed up on the menu (pun intended, of course) at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. It came complete with “real cannibal food!” (That consisted of Cream of Sum Yung Guy (ha-ha), Handburgers, and German Sausage Links–made with real, young German boys!)
The movie starts with beautiful shots of S. American jungles and some very “nice” music. (It’s actually really cheesy, but it’s supposed to be soothing.) I guess this is all here to lull us into a false sense of security. It almost worked. Maybe if I hadn’t known what was going to happen eventually…
The story is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. (I guess maybe that should be the other way around, huh?) Four documentary filmmakers go to South America to seek out the jungle cannibals. As they get deeper into the jungle things start to go wrong. Their guide gets killed by a snake, they get lost and then they start to go a little crazy. Jack, Alan and Mark decide that they want to torment the natives a little and, for the most part, Faye (Alan’s girlfriend) gets in on the action.
When the filmmakers go missing an old professor of theirs, Harold, goes after them with a couple of guides who actually know what the hell they’re doing. They have to recover the footage of these guys’ fates. Due to the guides intelligence they secure the trust of the natives and don’t get eaten.
When Harold gets back to New York he has to decide whether or not to release the material. Of course the sensationalistic producers want all of it out there complete with dramatic music (which it isn’t…it’s kind of dumb, but soothing in a way) and fancy editing. What they don’t know is exactly why the kids were killed. This is where we see the most graphic and disturbing footage of the whole film.
Now, anyone who is into this sort of thing will love the actual cannibal scenes. They’re shot with full-on graphic-ness so that we get to see every detail. What most of us DON’T like are the scenes of animal cruelty, because we all know that those are real. (This movie was actually banned in its native Italy because of this. Why is it that all zombie/cannibal flicks seem to come out of Italy? Someone should write a dissertation about that someday.) These guys really did cut up a giant turtle and pull out its innards. They really did stick a knife in a muskrat. That was probably the most disturbing part of the whole movie, with a close second being the “rape with a rock” scene. (This was not done by the filmmakers, it was a punishment by the natives for adultery. But, in a sense, it was done by the kids.) This ain’t no Cannibal! The Musical.
Suffice it to say that by the end of their footage I wanted the kids to die.
So how was the movie itself? Well, the acting was really bad, some of the “natives” were suspiciously Caucasian and the direction was, well, ok. Not a great film by any means, but if you’re into this sort of flick, see it. It is kind of the Holy Grail of cannibal films. It wasn’t as graphic and bloody as I thought it would be, but I can’t really imagine it being much worse.
By the way, the documentary footage of the Vietnamese assassinations that were supposedly faked by Alan were actually real. This was supposed to be director Ruggero Deodato’s (legendary Italian director of such “masterpieces” as The Last Cannibal World (aka Jungle Holocaust), Atlantis Inferno, Straight To Hell and Body Count–none of which have I seen) version of irony. I don’t know that he really succeeded, but there you go.