Friday, 1 July 2011

Video Nasty #12 - Cannibal Holocaust

Ruggero Deodato's 1977 film Last Cannibal World took the basic framework of Umberto Lenzi's Deep River Savages and delivered an intelligent, atmospheric and well acted jungle adventure, but there was little in that film that would prepare the world for Cannibal Holocaust, with it's radical style and structure. Deodato's film, if you were to think in such terms is the Citizen Kane of the cannibal genre, but for all the praise heaped upon the film, Cannibal Holocaust is a problematic work.


The plot of the film is conventional enough - a New York professor journeys into the heart of the Colombian rain forest in search of a 4-strong documentary team gone missing. Only the grisly remains of the film makers are uncovered along with some cans of film footage. Later back in the US the production company who financed the would-be documentary, tentatively titled The Green Inferno, piece together a rough assemblage of the found footage detailing atrocities committed by the film makers on the native people and in turn the retribution visited upon them...


However you feel about the Third World Cannibal film, it would be a mistake to ignore Cannibal Holocaust, the film quite clearly stands apart from the likes of Cannibal Ferox and Slave of the Cannibal God. If nothing else, see the film for Riz Ortolani's soaring score, its bold use of cinematic language and the remarkable way it juggles two distinct styles - the beautiful, lush photography and the carefully composed direction meshing with the rough documentary texture of the Green Inferno section, all shot with erratic hand-held camera, careless zooms, skipped frames and bad splices. Technical accomplishments aside, Cannibal Holocaust remains a reluctant masterpiece. The credibility of the film's central theme, a critique of the obsessive quest for sensationalist imagery, more specifically the tactics of the so-called Mondo school of documentary film making, is demolished by Deodato's onscreen killing of animals, a staple tradition of Mondo Cinema. At best it makes the film look naive and confused, at worst the film quite knowingly smacks of hypocrisy.


Deodata was 40 when he made the film - still a young man, and Cannibal Holocaust looks like a young man's film with it's eagerness to shock and awe. The special effects are orchestrated to look as convincing as possible, especially so in the Green Inferno sequences of the film, the rough veritaé quality performing a remarkable sleight of hand, embellishing the human carnage, much of it sexualized, with an unsettling authenticity. Just look at the famous shot of the young native girl impaled on a stake (a ritualistic punishment for being raped), a scene which still has viewers wondering how such an uncanny effect was realised. Ultimately, Deodato had to pay a hefty toll for making such a provocative film. Legal proceedings against the film took in place in Italy, and for three years Deodato made no further films (his 1980 film House on the Edge of the Park was in the can by the time the fallout of Cannibal Holocaust began), returning to the fold in 1983 with Raiders of Atlantis, an entirely lightweight, post-apocalyptic action film.


Given the film is huge box office where ever it goes, it's not surprising Cannibal Holocaust has been released on DVD in a number of different versions throughout the world. A detailed breakdown of the various cuts can be read here. The film first arrived in video shops in the UK in 1982 courtesy of GO Video and in little over a year, copies of the film were fast disappearing, the film a key player in DPP's roundup. Word has it that UK DVD label Shameless has secured a new version of the film with just 15-seconds worth of cuts by the BBFC (one of the animal killings). Another step towards the rehabilitation of the Video Nasties list in the UK.

12 comments:

  1. Hopefully the Shameless release will finally give me the chance to see this film. The copy I ordered a couple of years ago never made it past customs, a testament to its fame and notoriety maybe. Great post though Wes, and good to see these cannibal films reviewed side-by side.

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  2. Thanks Jon, be sure to let us know what you think of the film when you see it... The Video Nasties series is going slower than I hoped - I have to watch each film before I write the review, I can't write from memory, and while I'm not giddy with the prospect of seeing SS Experiment Camp again, Cannibal Holocaust is always a pleasure to re-visit.

    There's one bona fida cannibal film left to go, Franco's Devil Hunter and then we're out of the jungle, thank God...

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  3. You are doing a sterling job, Wes. "The folks back home is a-countin' on you." as Major Kong says in Dr Strangelove.

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  4. Thanks...I suspect I was fishing for a compliment there... a friend of mine said to me the other day, "I'll read your blog again when all that Video Nasty shit is over with..."

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  5. That's real harsh Wes! I've seen the film twice once way back and again when I considered myself mature enough to see it properly, I agree with your criticisms of it completely. As I said in the Ferox comments, I really struggle with the animal stuff and as strong and powerful as the film is it's not my idea of a good time. Good stuff Wes!

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  6. I think I read that the new cut of C.H. you guys are getting truncates the musk rat killing... surprising to me because I always found the turtle slaughter to be more distressing.

    That said, I'm completely over being concerned about the animal killings in this movie. Three animals, three decades ago? Time to get over it and move on. If you think about what happens in our battery farms and abattoirs EVERY DAY it sort of puts it into perspective. And at least these animals died to be in a good movie unlike Lenzi's piece of shit ;)

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  7. Well said dude. I can appreciate people being turned off the film for the animal snuff but I looked up the film on a mainstream movie forum and all but one lone voice, declared the movie to be piece of shit and lots of "I hope Deodata dies" type nonesense... all over a fucking turtle !

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  8. The BBFC guidelines are pretty clear cut when it comes to the animal cruelty laws,but I think Aylmer has a point when he talks about the hypocrisy of a society that slaughters animals in their hundreds of thousands for meat. Shades of what Wes Craven said about some 'truths being too painful for society to admit' I reckon.

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  9. "today people want sensationalism; the more you rape their senses the happier they are."

    Hey Wes, nice review; I think I'm almost completely in agreement, especially when it comes to Riz Ortolani's amazing score. I got the Grindhouse Releasing special edition, which I was very happy with.

    I'm less critical of the animal cruelty, barring the needless murder of the shrew type creature, which is totally unnecessary. When it comes to the monkey and the turtle, I guess you could level accusations of exoticism as well as hypocrisy, but people do eat this stuff, so why not show it?

    I've seen women in the markets of Hong Kong prepping turtles like that in the street; thankfully I wasn't eating when I did as it isn't a pleasant site, but it's no different to butchering a pig.

    As for the monkey; one of the documentaries on the DVD relays the story about how the guy who did the killing and eating was trying to persuade them to do a second take, as it's a delicacy he loves, but doesn't get to eat very often.

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  10. Many thanks for the great comment Daniel, and yes I completely agree with everything you say... Our society has industrialized the killing of animals for food and other such things, yet a few animals killed during the making of a piece of art is completely ridiculed. I accept the killings are unpleasant and I admit it's unnecessary, but the film needs to been seen beyond that...

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  11. As I said on the previous post - I should have realized this one would be next - I did see this one, and appreciated a great deal of it - but the real animal stuff makes a rewatch a tough call.

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  12. Craig, it might be worth mentioning that the Grindhouse Blu has a Cruelty-Free Version which skips all the animal violence, a very sensible use of DVD technology I think. So that might be worth considering because I think the film is a major work...

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