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‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980) Movie Review

A New York University professor returns from a rescue mission to the Amazon rainforest with the footage shot by a lost team of documentarians who were making a film about the area’s local cannibal tribes. 

If that vanilla synopsis doesn’t punch the air out of you, or make you turn your head in disgust, then you probably haven’t seen director, Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film ‘Cannibal Holocaust‘. Inspired by graphic Italian media coverage of Italy’s Red Brigade, an infamous militant terrorist group, Deodato believed much of the coverage to be fake. Ruggero’s views on the mainstream media were condemning, adding a furious conviction to this troubling film.

Cannibal Holocaust’ uses themes of savagery, natural violence, sensationalism, misogyny, and even irony to frame his story of a rescue mission turned assault. The footage is so believable, so raw in its portrayal, that Ruggero was arrested on charges of obscenity after the films release. He was later charged with making a snuff film, something that he skated past because it was untrue. Regardless, anyone that views this film has to understand the uproar it caused. Numerous countries banned the film for its perceived glorification of sex and murder, something even the best exploitation film wants to achieve. That’s the rub with this film; is it a standard exploitation entry or something brilliant? That can only be answered by a legitimate yes and noWhile the director, writer, cast, and crew are aware of the film’s heavy aspirations, they’re also painfully aware of the sex and violence ‘Cannibal Holocaust‘ is based around. A double-edged sword for certain, but how even does the blade cut? That’s for you to judge. I found it to be a fascinating film every horror fan should see at least once.

Be warned; this movie is graphic. Rape, murder, torture, and real animal deaths occur. I found myself looking away more than once.

This is an important film for cinema, horror especially. Did the film bother you so deeply that you dismissed it as trash or common 70’s exploitation? Are you forced to look away when a native is impaled on a stake? The sharpened point is shoved (off camera) up her vagina and forced through her gaping jaws. Does that bother you? How about a film crew laughing, even helping each other as they brutally rape a native Amazonian – hit any nerves? In one scene, a large turtle is captured and slaughtered for food. Have you ever experienced an actor lopping a living turtle’s head off while it squirms for its life? Maybe the shot of its still chomping decapitated head would change your mind.

I’m smart enough to know the actress didn’t have a giant stake crammed up her cooch (Vlad the Impaler-style) just for entertainment’s sake. The animals, however, those are painfully real. I eat meat; I know my habits cause suffering somewhere down the line. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking about the regular slaughtering of animals that supply our local stores and restaurants, or if I’m helping minimum wage stay stagnant by frequenting a Taco Bell at 3am. Our choices impact other living things. Now, with that said, I would walk off a movie set if I found out real animals were going to be killed for entertainment. Despite my strong views on the film’s place in the cinematic world, having to sit through the cruel taunting and shooting of a pig would send me into a violent episode. It’s like the old joke about the robbery victim telling the burglar to take his wife, but please don’t hurt the dog.

There’s that thing again, what do they call them? Oh, “feelings”. While the animal deaths are what they call “clean” deaths, it doesn’t make it easier to watch. Notice how much I’ve talked about the animal deaths and very little about the people who are tortured, raped, beaten, killed, and eaten. Score one for horror movies desensitizing us, right? The point of this morbidly realistic and cruel film is eventually about savages. Savages don’t have to carry a spear or live in the jungle to proclaim that status. The real beasts in ‘Cannibal Holocaust‘ aren’t the tribes of flesh-eating cannibals, they’re me and you. We didn’t kill anyone or play a part in Ruggero’s creation. Most of us will never know what it feels like to put a gun against another human’s head. This is all great, but are we guilty of being complicit? Does my sick desire to see this film about carnage and murderous debauchery make me part of the problem? Would filmmakers offer this kind of media if no market existed? Damn you, brain.

The sign of a great film is how you feel at the end. Feeling nice and repulsed about now? Good. That means the director did his job. The acting is mediocre for the most part, but the direction and camerawork are great. The Blair Witch filming style puts the viewer in the humid confines of The Green Inferno, something that got under my skin. So, in the end, just like in the film, simply ask yourself who the real savages are.

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2 Comments on ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980) Movie Review

  1. Geek Soul Brother // June 27, 2014 at 7:17 pm // Reply

    Man, this was one of the more difficult films to watch for me. I think you summed it up when talking about who is the savage. First the audience sees the medicine man kill that woman on the muddy shore. You think “That’s messed up.” Then you see what the explorers do and you’re like “That’s Really Messed Up!” Then you see what happens to them and you’re like “Should I feel okay about this?” My only grip is how the explorers devolved so quickly. But that’s kind of what you were pointing at, wasn’t it? Nice review bro!

    • Was it ever, Henry. I saw this when I was a teenager and we were sure it was all real. Even now it gives pause. The stake scene is so realistic.

      The rescue team seriously devolved did they not?! Just an outright shocking film any way you view it. Thanks for commenting!

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