It’s been about 8 months since my boyfriend and I started hosting “Den of Sin” night at our apartment and it really does seem to have developed a reputation, which is great. Our friends started bringing their friends, and some of their friends started bringing their friends, which lead to some very diverse audience nights. However, it also puts my boyfriend and I in a sort of awkward situation if the friends of friends are not as experienced with the more outrageous or cult-y films we tend to show. One, we run the risk of offending or upsetting these people we hardly know and two, being that these people hardly know us and all they do know is that our house is where the f****d up movies are, I’ve been growing concerned about the opinions these people have of me. In the beginning, I used to try to circumvent these judgments by offering tasty home baked treats, but lately I haven’t had time to slave over a hot oven.
So you can probably understand my apprehension when my boyfriend announced his programming choices for this week. Although he and I do share a lot of the same tastes, our sensibilities when programming differ somewhat, I tend towards world film, classics and camp; my boyfriend tends towards full on exploitation, grindhouse and gore. To accommodate this we decided to alternate programming months, although we are both allowed to contribute suggestions. And it was with this in mind that my boyfriend decided to program the infamous “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980) and the infamously silly “Dr. Butcher M.D.” (1980) (a.k.a. “Zombie Holocaust”). Luckily, I managed to talk him out of his original programming idea which was to pair “Cannibal Holocaust” with “I Spit On Your Grave” as a sort of “let’s get it over with” night since I didn’t feel like losing all of our friends in one fell swoop.
Although I had not seen it, I knew of “Cannibal Holocaust” by reputation and had read several articles defending or condemning it. I’d actually been sitting on a borrowed copy courtesy of Sinister Sam which I had requested so that I could write a rebuttal essay to a piece I’d read about the film. However, in the six months since he had lent it to me I had yet to work up the nerve to actually watch it. There were seven people in attendance which was a smallish turnout due to the fact that most of our friends are in school and it’s end of term time here in Canada. However, almost all of the people neglecting their studies had seen “Cannibal Holocaust” before when it played the Cinemuerte Horror Festival (which Sinister Sam helps program) a couple of years back. As it turns out, my boyfriend and I were two of the three people present who had not seen it before, that is until my sister showed up (just in time for the full frontal male nudity) and evened out the virgin to sluts ratio. To our credit, most of the people who did make it out did need to wrestle with whether they were ready to see “Cannibal Holocaust” again.
We started late, again, but I insisted that I be allowed to finish my dinner before we started since I had a good feeling I wouldn’t want to finish it once the movie got going. And it turns out I was right. The movie starts off innocently enough with overhead footage of a long twisty river in the amazon set to what I would best describe as “ambient disco” music causing a few people to comment that they didn’t remember anything about the movie except for the animal mutilations. This made me quite nervous. Especially since our friend Corinne spent most of the film chanting “the monkey got away… the monkey got away…” which was a reference to only one of the six (!) scenes of actual animal death. This probably explains why the film is still banned in many countries to this day (interestingly enough the film is allegedly one of the highest grossing in the history of Japan).
The story is sort of a story within a story where we are first introduced to a documentary film crew who venture into the Amazon to make a film and never return. The story is then taken over by a professor of anthropology (porno star Robert Kerman) who is sent into “the green inferno” to try to try to discover what happened to the filmmakers. For awhile we follow him as he tries to uncover what happened to his countrymen and is, through a series of mildly racially insensitive exchanges with the “good” natives, inducted into their tribe (complete with naked frolic with the buxom female natives). It is in the native’s village that he discovers the remains of the film crew and their film. He then returns to New York to watch the footage and things get a little “Blair Witch Project” while we watch the film crew either perform or incite a series of atrocities against the “good” natives to include in their documentary, an obvious comment on the “Mondo” films that were made in Italy in the sixties and seventies which claimed to be documentaries, but included a collection of real and staged footage. However, the behavior of the film crew is so reprehensible and presented so graphically (their actions include rape, a forced abortion, the burning alive of dozens of villagers and the live dissection of a giant turtle, among other things) that it is difficult to accept on a purely moral commentary level. It does, however, make their own demise at the hands of the “bad” natives (we know they’re bad because they have darker skin than the “good” natives, I could go on all day…) somewhat satisfying and almost justifies the graphic manner in which they are disposed of.
Entire Ph.D. theses have been written about this movie and its moral significance so I won’t even try to enter the debate here. But I will mention that the “moral” at the end (“I wonder who the real savages are?”) did garner significant laughter from the peanut gallery. However, and it is with some surprise that I will include myself in the camp that views the film as a powerful statement which not only surpasses its exploitive roots, but is aided by the gratuity those roots provide. That being said, the only reason I think I could ever watch it again would be because I didn’t watch any of the animal torture scenes, nor did my boyfriend who even commented, “I can’t believe I’m actually covering my eyes!”
Dr. Butcher enters the Den in part two of ENTER THE DEN OF SIN: FILMMAKERS, CANNIBALS AND ZOMBIES – OH MY!>>>