Monday, 3 May 2010

Cannibal Holocaust

Title: Cannibal Holocaust
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Released: 1980
Staring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Polo Paoloni

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: A documentary film crew disappears in an area of rainforest known as “The Green Inferno”, while searching for the tribes of cannibals which live in the area. Professor Monroe (Kerman) an American anthropologist heads up the search party to find the crew, encountering two tribes the Yanomamo (The people of the trees) and the Shamatari (The people of the swamp), two tribes locked in an ongoing war with the other. However when they discover the remains of the film crew along with their missing film, the grisly and shocking truth is only then discovered.

Review: “Cannibal Holocaust” is a film whose reputation tends to proceed it, which originally made me weary of actually watching it, much like the rest of the cannibal genre, which proved to be especially popular with Italian horror directors in the 70’s and 80’s, with the genre peaking between 1977 and 1981 with this film in particular being one of the genres most notorious entries, whilst also marking the beginning of the end for the popularity of the genre, it still manages to cover all the main areas familiar with the genre including rape, torture, castration and animal cruelty in one grisly offering.

The film is essentially split into two parts with the first half focusing on Monroe and his team, searching for the missing film crew, while the second half focuses on the footage itself and while it’s true that either half could have stood up on it’s own, the blending of these two halves complement each other perfectly, whilst also helping the viewer to gain a true understanding of the two tribes, who upon first impressions seem savage and quick to violence, especially when one of these first encounters see’s Monroe and his team bearing witness to a native girl being violated with a rock by her husband, before being bludgeoned to death by in a ceremony we are informed, is being performed as the result of the girl committing the crime of adultery, a scene which sets the tone in many ways for some of the horrors yet to come. Despite witnessing this brutal act, Monroe approaches the tribe in a scientific manor as he attempts to win the trust of the Yanomamo, a method which includes him running around naked with several female members of the tribe (apparently played by girls hired from the local brothel) and even joining them in a feast were the main course turns out to be the body of a member of the rival Shamatari tribe. Thankfully it pays off as the tribe revel their grotestque totem made up of the remains of the missing film crew, as well as giving Monroe the footage which the team captured, which the natives also believe to be a source of black magic.

With the footage taken back to New York to be studied, the film enters its second half as we learn more about the film crew, whose director Alan Yates (Yorke) has built a reputation for staging scenes to create more exciting footage, with his last film “The Last Road to Hell” despite being claimed in the film as being fake footage, was actually created using real news reel footage of public executions. Still it’s this desire for more exciting footage which ultimately proves to be the down fall for Yates and his crew, as we soon discover as they butcher their way through the rainforest, gleefully killing various animals on their journey to find the cannibal tribes, who upon finding the tribe, find them perhaps a little to sedated for their liking, as they proceed to set out on a mini rampage, setting fire to the village, while raping and shooting the natives, with the only member of the crew who actually bothers to protest their actions being Yate’s fiancé Faye (Ciardi). Faye constantly proves to be the innocent in the group, being shown protesting the group’s actions frequently, aswell as most notably throwing up in disgust, when they kill a turtle on film.
It is unsurprising that the Yanomamo take these actions of the crew, rather badly and proceed to hunt down the crew, murdering them in an orgy of violence and gang rape which disturbingly Yates continues to film from the safety of the bushes, even when his fiancé is being killed. Thankfully he soon also meets a suitably grisly end and having seen what they have done to provoke this reaction, your almost cheering on the natives.

Despite the numerous scenes of violence, which feature so predominantly throughout, it is really the scenes involving animals being killed, which prove to be the most disturbing, in particular the killing of a turtle by Yates team, which is not only shot with an unflinchingly voyeuristic style, but also appears to have been filmed in real time. The fact that all the animals being killed are very much alive, only adds to the disturbing and monstrous nature of the footage, comparable to slaughterhouse footage used so readily by animal rights groups and it is no doubt these images which will stick with you, more than any of the scenes of violence being committed against the human cast. These scenes would prove to be a source of much regret for director Deodato and would also lead to the film being banned in Deodato’s native Italy, were it was mistaken for being a snuff film, which is only really true if you happen to be a turtle.

One of the most effective parts of the film, belongs to it’s score by Riz Ortolani, which essential switches between two main themes, with one being it’s main theme which is a nice laid back orchestral track and really highlights the beauty of the surrounds, while the flipside of this soundtrack being the darker synthesised theme, which appears during the more shocking scenes, on occasion several times without warning, appearing part way through a scene and only makes these scenes all the more darker and chilling.

The cast all give convincing performances, even if Porn star turned actor and genre regular Kerman proves to be the main draw here, while the rest of the cast give more than convincing performances, especially with those playing members of Yate’s team, which in a way explains why so many people found their footage so realistic, especially with so many of their scenes appearing largely improvised, only adding to this illusion.

Although not an enjoyable viewing experience, with it’s every attempt to disgust and shock the audience, it is still however an important film for not only the cannibal genre, but the horror genre on a whole, as it’s influence can be seen especially with films such as “The Last Broadcast” (1998) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) both of which used the same grainy documentary style, which Deodato adopts for the footage shot by Yate’s team and it’s an incredibly effective way of telling the story of how they met their demise.
The film contains so many memorable moments, though the chances are that you won’t want to remember most of them (and if you do perhaps you should be seeking some help) but even as sick and twisted as it gets, it still proves to be a gripping ride until the end, as you find yourself strangely drawn to see it out until the end, which is perhaps the one credit which it holds above so many of its gratuitous genre cousins, as it remains at it’s heart a powerful piece of film making and an interesting comment on how civilised a society we really are.


  1. Great review. To have seen this a decade ago or more, its the film that made Deodato a legend and the film became mythic within the underground horror scene.

    Once you see it, that pole scene sticks in your head for days...sometimes weeks

  2. I think I found it especially effective, seeing how I entered in to watching it with only the slightest amount of knowlege and none of the hype which it usually is accompanied with, which I think is the best way to view it.
    As for the most memorable scene, for myself it remains the turtle scene, which is still stuck in my head now, along with the darn theme tune!!


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