Director/writer Ruggero Deodato (who also had a great cameo in “”Hostel 2″) may have said he made a simple movie about people eating other people, but the end result was something far beyond that. “”Cannibal Holocaust” is not just a film about people eating people, it’s actually a very pointed and angry rant against a voyeuristic culture and the media. People can debate about whether that message was intentional or not (I don’t see how it can be anything other than intentional), but the movie makes a point … and its audience is part of it.
The film came out in 1980, well before the Internet and reality TV were household words. It focuses on a professor who ventures into the jungle to find a lost documentary film crew. Instead of finding them, however, he stumbles across their film and brings it back to “”civilization,” where studio executives want to run it on television. The footage is horrific, to say the least. The documentary film crew filmed animals being killed for food and pleasure, women being raped, and other atrocities. The kicker, however, is that the men and women film crew were actually responsible for or instigated much of the carnage that was captured on film. They rounded women and children into a hut and burned them alive, they raped, they killed animals out of spite, and staged fake reaction shots to the entire thing. In the end, their demise was captured on film as the cannibal tribe they encountered finally devoured them. It’s obvious who the real monsters are in this film.
Often cited as the impetus behind “”The Blair Witch Project,” “”Cannibal Holocaust” caused plenty of outrage in its time. The animal killing scenes are real, and the violence is pretty graphic and, some would say, believable. (Ironically enough there is a section of the film that features real human deaths. It’s in a film shown within the film, and while it has been debated, general consensus is that “”The Last Road to Hell” is actual death footage. This is rarely comes up in casual critiques or discussions of the film. People tend to be more upset over the fake rapes and violence and real animal slaughter than they do about the humans who are actually killed.) The director was arrested upon the release of the film, and he also had to prove the actors were still alive. The fact that the film is actually very well done and effective only added leverage to the controversy.
“”Cannibal Holocaust” is a film that challenges viewers on many levels. It’s a film that constantly goes one step beyond what viewers are expecting, too. And, more importantly, it’s a film that gets more relevant with age. It is almost uncanny how close to reality it has gotten, as people will do almost anything, like the documentary film crew, to get “”famous.” (I recall an NBC hidden camera show called “”Spy TV” that aired during the summer months a few years ago. One of the pranks pulled on people involved an audition for a reality television show. Contestants were put through a series of interviews and tests, and it came down to two of them left fighting for the one open position. Their final test? Eating human flesh [really just pork]. Whoever ate it would get on the show and have a chance to be famous. One of them did it. I can only imagine what that person thought after he learned he was exposed as a would-be cannibal on television. What did his friends and family think?)
The years haven’t diluted “”Cannibal Holocaust” as they have done with some films. In fact, like wine, the film gets better with age. When I first saw it, in a very cut form, I was not a fan. When I purchased the Grindhouse Releasing edition, my appreciation of the movie was taken to a whole new level. Very few people can sit through it, and it seems that even fewer still can understand the movie for what it is. It may not have inspired filmmakers the way other films on this list have, but it has made a place for itself in horror film history, and it is one movie where the rumors of the film aren’t nearly as captivating as the film, itself. It succeeds on all levels, and pushes all the boundaries, and it does it a damn good job of it, too.
If you think “”Saw” and its sequels are the be-all end-all of horror films, you need to muster up the courage to see “”Cannibal Holocaust” and then think about what it says about you and your surrounding culture. Consider yourself warned, though. This is one movie that won’t leave your thoughts for many days/weeks/months/years later … if at all.