Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Robert Kerman
Francesca Kiardi
Carl Gabriel Yorke

Dir: Ruggero Deodato

After more than a month without an update here, it took a visit to my local library where I found a copy of one of the most controversial films of all time to inspire my latest review. Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust”.

Cannibal Holocaust” is one of the most infamous exploitation films of all time. Allegedly banned in over 50 countries, this original “Video Nasty” surely can’t live up to the hype can it? Believe me when I tell you that this is an incredible movie.

Off the bat, we’re confronted with cheesy South American accents. If this exploitation movie stinks, at least I can laugh at this guy’s stupid voice. And hey, he looks like Tommy Chong!

After some full-frontal male nudity our animal kill-count is up to one. The two are probably unrelated. Fifteen minutes in, and one legitimate animal death has been committed to celluloid for the sake of this movie. In all, 7 died during production of this film.

As the movie goes on, it becomes evident that the filmmakers compiled a list of taboos and decided to break each one in turn with every passing scene. In no particular order, “Cannibal Holocaust” includes the following:

  • Real, graphic, bloody animal deaths
  • Rape with rocks (At least he spat on it first)
  • Multiple gang rape scenes
  • Naked children
  • Corpse mutilation
  • A woman getting changed
  • Sex in public
  • Genital mutilation and castration
  • A woman peeing
  • Cannibalism
  • Limb amputation
  • Decaying flesh
  • Torture of a pregnant woman

It’s as if they sat down and thought “If this doesn’t get the movie banned, then this will…”

The star of infamous exploitation flick, “Cannibal Holocaust” is Robert Kerman – star of infamous porno flick, “Debbie Does Dallas“. As crossover goes, Kerman can be credited with a reasonable performance in the lead role. His presence doesn’t add any infamy to this movie at all – any actor in this film would always be playing second fiddle to the horrific images presented throughout.

I’d like to argue that “Cannibal Holocaust”, despite its low budget and reliance on exploitation set pieces over plot and acting, is one of the most important movies ever made.

Movies and film are art. They’re a creative output designed to affect our emotions. Comedies are designed to make us laugh, horrors are there to scare us. Exploitation films appeal to an audience’s base feelings. They aim to make a quick buck off the back of the audience’s shameful curiosities – whether they be in explicit sex, torture, violence or gore. Because of exploitation movies’ tendency to make a quick buck off the back of some early controversy, the moviemakers tend to not care about the overall product as much as the hype.

Deodato manufactured hype about this being a snuff movie and was even arrested for suspected murder. He clearly wrote out a list of taboos and filmed with the intention of exploiting the audience. The title alone is exploitative – two words with equal weight in the taboo stakes. The film made around $2million within a week of its release.

But “Cannibal Holocaust” is different to most exploitation films.

This is because of the cinematography, particularly when the film switches to a documentary style in the second half, which gives an edge of realism to what’s being shown. It’s a brilliant and ingenious use of the medium of cinema.

By mixing in stock footage of actual executions, the audience is shocked. But from this point on, the audience finds it hard to decide what’s real and what’s been faked for the sake of the movie. Whether it’s the infamous turtle scene, gang rape, or the pregnant woman whose unborn baby is taken from her and buried.

Add to that the shaky first-person documentary filming, and the audience isn’t enjoying this gore and violence from behind the safety of the fourth wall. They’re well and truly a part of it – disgusted at themselves as much as they are at the protagonists.

Because Deodato puts his audience into the middle of this violence, the feelings an audience feels are real, raw and visceral. I was appalled when it transpired that the film crew were going to burn the natives alive – not a particularly terrifying scene in terms of imagery – but a real emotion that I was feeling because of Deodato’s brilliant cinematography.

“Cannibal Holocaust” is an absolute must-see for lovers of film. Despite its exploitation and extreme violence, it drives real, visceral emotions in its audience. Yet the film is critical of the violence it portrays. It’s confusing for any audience member.

This movie is terrifying, shocking, appalling and confusing. All of which you feel for real. A friend of mine put it best when he described “Cannibal Holocaust” as being “a c**t of a film”. Then again, he is a vegetarian.

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