Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

by Zombie Bodhi

Cannibal Holocaust film title screen

Can a movie go too far?

A New York University anthropologist goes on an expedition to the Amazon rain forest to rescue a documentary crew who has been rumored to fall victim to the jungle’s hostile cannibal tribes. However, while Professor Harold Monroe is able to win favor and hospitality among one of the jungle tribes, he soon discovers the remains of the documentary crew and their undeveloped film canisters. After bringing the film back to New York, where television executives are insistent on airing the film, Professor Monroe resists the release of the film due to it’s shocking footage which includes the fates of the documentary crew and it’s director, Alan Yates.

pointing a gun at face

"So this is the shooty end of the gun..."

While I can’t say that I enjoyed Cannibal Holocaust or even recommend it, the film does have an interesting social statement to make and is not a movie which is simply an excuse for torture porn, despite it’s myriad scenes of unbearable gore. In addition, the movie also breaks some ground as being considered one of the first of the found footage genre, released a good 19 years before the Blair Witch Project which is the film that really got the ball rolling with the shaky cam style of filming.

Is Cannibal Holocaust Real?

holocaust cannibal soup of the day

"Hmm, so what do you think is in the soup du jour?"

Due to the controversy surrounding this film when it was released, the director Ruggero Deodato along with the films producers were under investigation for the possibility of harming people during the making of the film, especially considering the hyper realism of the special effects. However, it was determined that none of the actors or people were harmed, though there was real animal cruelty which included the dismemberment of a turtle, a muskrat, a pig and a monkey. In addition, there was stock footage used from a Nigerian documentary called The Last Road to Hell which showed human execution by firing squad. Given all that, it’s no wonder why people might assume that the movie is real.

Art or Exploitation?

cannibal holocaust scene

The crowd was not amused with the standup comedian's joke, "Why don't cannibals eat clowns?"

Though the movie is definitely disturbing and hard to watch at times, it does pose some interesting social implications regarding not only other cultures but our own culture in a westernized society. What really sets Cannibal Holocaust apart from other cannibal movies of the time is that as we learn more and more about Alan Yates and his documentary crew, the more we despise them and sympathize with the jungle tribes. We see a film crew of four young arrogant westerners provoking and torturing the Amazonian natives for the sake of not only entertainment, but their own sadistic needs. And in the end, what we get is Ruggero Deodato pulling the old switcheroo on the audience by not only making us turn against the protagonists, but question our own taste in entertainment by watching his movie, which is best demonstrated in the following dialogue:

Female TV Executive: Today people want sensationalism; the more you rape their senses the happier they are.
Professor Harold Monroe: Ah, yes, that’s typical western thought. Civilised isn’t it? That’s what Alan thought and that’s why he’s dead. The Yacumo Indian is a primitive and he has to be respected as such. You know, did you ever think of the Yacumo point of view? That we might be the savages?

cannibal holocaust video documentary

The problem with reality TV is that through the power of editing you can create any reality you want.

Overall, I can’t really give the movie a rating since it’s probably not something I imagine anyone would really enjoy, it’s a movie that you just kind of have to accept as something very different from the status quo, whether that be an exploitation film or a work of art. Regardless, it makes you think and at the very least, makes you want to cover your eyes.

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