“”Cannibal Holocaust” is from an era when films actually seemed dangerous. It’s a reminder that for all the hype about the evils of Hollywood from the Right Wing, movies like the aforementioned Italian flesh-eating epic can’t be made today. They can’t even be remade properly. Michael Bay can’t decide he likes the title and buy the rights to it and then try to do something comparable to the original. It can’t be done. It’s not the rape, the violence towards men and (especially) women, the gore, the execution footage or even the real animal cruelty (and if you bought Grindhouse Releasing’s incredible DVD set you are able to watch a cruelty-free version as well as the original). It’s all of those things combined. Put “”Cannibal Holocaust” in front of the brain dead goons at the MPAA today and forget any possibilities of a wide release. Do a remake and tone it down, and you don’t have “”Cannibal Holocaust.” You have “”Wrong Turn 2″ or something.

“”Cannibal Holocaust” leaves nothing to the imagination. Women are raped. Babies are stolen from wombs. A penis is forcibly removed from its host body. Animals are brutally killed for food and kicks. There is nothing subtle about its message or presentation, and it takes the unfamiliar (cannibals deep in the jungle) and makes them the very thing viewers shouldn’t be frightened of. Instead, viewers end up fearing the white film crew. They were out of control. They taunted the natives. They committed rape. Sure, the native tribes did some unsavory things to each other, but that is the law of the jungle. They didn’t antagonize for sport, and they sure as hell didn’t do it to make a good documentary. Pogo would have been proud, as the enemy was us and nothing else.

It’s been said that the makers of “”The Blair Witch Project” got much of their inspiration from “”Cannibal Holocaust.” That may be true, but they didn’t get their execution from it. Their movie plays on the senses. Ruggero Deodato’s masterpiece assaults all values and morals and destroys senses, and that’s why it can’t be duplicated today.

Our current films assault the senses, but they do nothing for the mind. We are bombarded with images of violence, explosions, brief glimpses of nudity and so on. But none of it is very cerebral, none of it sticks, and it pulls back before it gets to be too much. That’s safe. That’s candy. “”Cannibal Holocaust,” on the other hand is far from safe. It makes no apologies for what it is. It doesn’t try to save the audience from itself, and it definitely isn’t candy. Instead, it takes an almost perverse glee in going as far as possible while keeping within its own boundaries, but ignoring the boundaries of the audience. And it wasn’t typical of its era, either. Upon its release, the director was arrested and the movie was seized; authorities believed he had made a snuff film (and there was that sticky cruelty to animals issue). I doubt that will happen to Steven Spielberg anytime soon.
The most interesting and disturbing part of all of this is that the movie is more than just a gore show. It’s actually quite good, and its social commentary is still relevant today. It holds up and doesn’t feel aged. If anything, it feels even more timely with the advent of reality television and people filming all sorts of sick matter for the Internet.

I once took a creative write course in college. I did it simply for laughs. I wanted to go in and write something so outrageous, so disturbing, that it would cause a stir. And I wanted to do it well. It’s a hard line to walk, but shocking merely for shock’s sake rarely works. There needs to be something behind it. Did I succeed? I think so, as the teacher spent the first half of the next class giving a lecture about my story. She noted how it bordered on pornography without ever crossing the line. She also compared it to a horrible car wreck you couldn’t help but look at. In other words, it did exactly what I wanted it to do. “”It was good,” she said. “”Don’t do it again.”

“”Cannibal Holocaust” is good, and it can’t be done again. And nor should it be. The world only needs one film like this to remind us of what miserable s***s we are. The exploitation of foreigners has been going on since humans began to travel, and it continues today in places like Iraq. Do we need to be reminded of it by a graphic, morally despicable and highly offensive film? Yes, because we obviously haven’t learned its lessons.

My friend, Exhumed Films and Diabolik DVD’s Joseph Gervasi, is shown on one of the bonus features on the Grindhouse Releasing version of “”Cannibal Holocaust.” He, too, says the film could never be made today. Imagine, however, that it was produced in today’s climate. What do you think would happen? I can tell you.

Religious pundits would crucify it. Democrats and Republicans, who have been in power during administrations where American soldiers have acted like the film’s documentary crew, would call it a crime against decency. And the media? It would play up the controversy to the hilt, with commentators being appropriately outraged and questioning how far filmmakers should be allowed to go. The funny thing is, all these groups would be operating on one simple assumption. It’s the assumption that we forget, and they would be right … for the most part.

They would assume we forgot about 9/11 and how religious leaders blamed homosexuals and abortion for it. They, however, would also have forgotten that our government’s policies and strategies not only helped to train those terrorists, but it also created them. And they would forget that for days the media attacked us with endless footage of the World Trade Towers crumbling to the ground, of people jumping from windows, of endless blocks of missing posters. I remember one reporter asking, “”What are you feeling?” I remember the blank stare that was his answer.

They would forget all this, and they would assume we would to, just like we forget everything else ten minutes after it is over.

“”Cannibal Holocaust” is the very thing they represent, and they either don’t realize it or hope we don’t. If you watch the film, however, one thing is certain — it is made in such a way that you’ll never forget it. Its strength is its curse. Its indictment of the world is its crime.

The simple explanation is that this is a mindless splatter movie meant to make somebody a little scratch. That explanation puts minds at ease and requires no further thinking. It’s a great way to end all debate and ensure the film is never taken seriously as social commentary, art or anything else. It’s also very wrong.

The state of the world is not Forrest Gump playing football and hobnobbing with presidents. It’s an out-of-control outsider destroying that which he does not understand in order to gain fame and power, and his fate is easy to see. It may not come right away, but it will come. He will tumble off this mortal coil with his head three feet away from his body, his penis torn in half and his intestines held to the sun before being devoured by that which he sought to exploit.

Simple gore film? No. More like a warning delivered with napalm … or a very sharp blood soaked spear.

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  1. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:

    “Cannibal Holocaust” was an amazing experience for me. It stayed with me for almost three weeks, and certain scenes were utterly shocking.

    My mom, who is a huge horror buff, watches “Faces of Death,” and has seen execution footage of Iraq hostages, yet refuses to see this. She’s scared, and she has reason to be.

    Putting this on my DVD player, I was a little nervous too. It’s a fantastic movie.

    Reviewed it for FT, in the first few months here.

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