42nd Street Cinema

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

A film I said I would never review, well I lied and with so much to talk about let's get this bit over with. Ruggero Deodato's notorious Cannibal Holocaust.

Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi (as Luca Giorgio Barbareschi), Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes and Carl Gabriel Yorke (as Gabriel Yorke).

Renowned among gorehounds and exploitation fans the world over, predominantly for it's savagely nihilistic depictions of cannibal tribes, human survival and the killing of innocent animals. It's certainly not a film intended to be seen by everyone, especially the fainthearted but, in my opinion Cannibal Holocaust is a cut above every other cannibal film produced throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Unlike his contemporaries: D'Amato and Lenzi, Deodato utilizes a unique and jarringly realistic approach to his film's narrative structure. Using what is essentially a 'film within a film' (not to forget the "Last Road to Hell" sequence, which is best saved for a separate paragraph), Deodato successfully constructs a believable split narrative running along separate timelines.

Wherein one segment, a crew of documentary filmmakers disappear whilst filming in the jungles of the Amazon. The crew is comprised of Alan Yates (Yorke), the director; Faye Daniels (Ciardi), Alan's girlriend and scriptwriter; and two cameramen, Jack Anders (Pirkanen) and Mark Tomaso (Barbareschi).

In relation to the aforementioned "Last Road to Hell" sequence, the entire segment is essentially stock footage of real-life executions of prisoners by a militant group, supposedly in Nigeria. It is an example of a 'Mondo' documentary film. According to Deodato, he included it to draw a comparison between Cannibal Holocaust and the 'Mondo' films of Gualtiero Jacopetti. In my opinion it can be interpreted as either a criticism or homage to the 'Mondo' film genre.

The other segment deals with one Harold Monroe (Kerman), a New York University anthropology Professor, who has agreed to lead an expedition in search of the missing documentarian crew. He flies to the amazon to meet his guide, Chaco (Basile). The pair, along with Chaco's assistant Miguel and a captured member of the Yacumo tribe travel deep into the green inferno in search of the missing crew. Whilst making their way through the thicket they come to a clearing, wherein they witness a female member of the Yacumo tribe being punished for adultery. After allowing the male Yacumo member to finish his ritual, they scare him off by firing warning shots into the air and follow him to another clearing. Here they negotiate the release of their hostage, in return, being taken to the Yacumo's village.

Following their arrival to the village, the group is greeted with much hostility, it soon becomes known that the 'missing' film crew caused unrest within the native's settlement.
Monroe and his companions take off once again in search of something more conclusive, regarding the missing the crew. Conclusive is certainly what they discover. After another long trek, the trio locate two warring cannibal tribes known as the Yanomamo and the Shamatari. Coming to the aid of the Yanomamo, the group are invited back to their village, however here too they are treated with suspicion. In an attempt to gain their trust, Monroe strips down and bathes in a river. A group of Yanomamo girls find his act amusing and frolic with him in the water, before leading him to a shrine made from the skeletons and equipment of the missing crew. With Monroe's fears confirmed, he returns to New York with the missing crew's canisters, he along with the Pan American Broadcast Company sit down to view what the team shot and it is only here they begin to understand the true atrocities and devastation caused by the nefarious documentarians.

Cannibal Holocaust is nothing short of a masterpiece. A convincingly realistic exploration into the heart of the Amazon, all the while remaining completely fictitious (aside from the animal killings and the previously mentioned "Last Road to Hell" vignette).
Deodato's usage of shaky camera work combined with a change in film stock gives the medium an authentic documentarian ambience.
The unsettling soundtrack provided by Riz Ortolani, is a mix of orchestral and electro/synth and serves as a melancholy undercurrent.

Definitely one to watch whether you're a gorehound or cinephile.


R. Sterling Gray said...

I will have to give this a second shot. I tried once, but the killing of the monkey rat thing freaked me out.

Nigel M said...

Indeed a masterpiece and one I always say I will watch with the animal safe version of the grindhouse 2 disc, yet always end up watching that poor coatimundi buying the rodent farm. effective as hell and one extremely difficult to write about in a short review- people could write books on cannibal holocaust alone, there is simply so much to say, so much to ponder, to debate and to criticise. Bravo Ruggero.

forestofthedead said...

An amazing film. One of the most extreme and disturbing I have seen. It will probably stay with me for a long time.

I greatly enjoyed your take on it.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! One of my very favourites.

Jenny Spencer said...

Wonderful review!
I'm amazed at how this film still has the power to shock and disgust people 30 years after it was made. The structure of the film is brilliant, as is the soundtrack, and I love the conflict that the viewer has in trying to determine who the real villians are. I don't watch it often (and when I do, I skip the animal scenes), but it is definitely a masterpiece for so many reasons. I agree with Nigel - an entire book could be written about the complexities of this film.

Unknown said...

The greatest cannibal film ever seen! Very realistic shot!

tentas said...

great film and amazing soundtrack from ortolani

Unknown said...

Good article and could not agree more about the soundtrack. It is definitely one of the most haunting and beautiful scores to have come out in the last 30 years. The whole film is brilliant and is Deodato's masterwork.

4rx said...

wow I am speechless, I think that an cannibal holocaust movie in that time, 80's, it is too violent and bloody for viewers to watch, that kind of movie will not be allowed in our current times

price per head costa rica said...

This is the most disturbing movie Ive ever seen. To me the way it was filmed its like you are the one behind the camera filming the horror in front of you. People with week stomachs have to pass this one, even die hard horror fans that I know got sick over this, and they all got sick over the turtle sceen. This is the most scary film, because of the to real special effects.( You can see why the director got arrested)

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