There’s a very short list of films I’ve been meaning to see, yet am somewhat loathed to see. I do intend to see the films, but by their reputation alone, I find myself not looking forward to them at all. However, one of these films, Ruggero Deodato’s infamous horror film, Cannibal Holocaust found it’s way onto the screen in a friend’s house the other night, and I found myself compelled to watch...
Professor Harold Monroe is a corn-cob pipe puffing, wool sweater wearing professor from NYU who is charged with marching into a generic Amazonian rainforest. His mission is to find a lost film crew, who have disappeared while making a documentary about the tribes who reside in the forest. He encounters a tribe called the Yanomamo, and while living with them, he finds the remains of the film team, and their footage. He returns to New York with the footage, which shows, in gory detail, what happened to the film-makers.
So Cannibal Holocaust is known as one of, if not the most controversial film of all time. It’s one of those late 70’s, early 80’s Italian horror movies that relies on gore rather than story. Most of the story is just there to tie the gory scenes together. And that’s certainly the case here. In fact, the title, Cannibal Holocaust is something of a misnomer. While people do die in the film, and those scenes, to anyone who’s seen their fair share of gore throughout the years, are pretty standard, it’s the animal deaths that are the most reprehensible and objectionable things in the movie. I’m no PETA member, believe me. I likes me steaks rare and bloody. But killing animals for the purposes of entertainment really isn’t on. A coatimundi, two monkeys, a tarantula, and most horrifically, a turtle are all slaughtered on camera. These scenes serve no purpose towards the plot and are inserted solely to shock. It’s incredibly uncomfortable viewing and pretty offensive, to be honest.
But I’ll step down off my soapbox for now. Aside from the animal butchering, the rest of the film itself is still pretty offensive. The first half of the film, which features Harold Monroe (played by ex-pornstar, Robert Kerman), just showcases the ‘natives’ in their natural habitat. While the filmmakers are striving for realism in their depiction of the natives, you can’t help feeling that overall, everything just seems a little... racist. Nothing feels real. It feels staged, and devoid of any morality. The second half of the film, during which we see what happened to the film crew is even worse. The behaviour of the four young people who trekked into the jungle gets progressively worse as the footage is shown. They act incredibly cruelly to the natives until the natives turn on them and pretty much hack them to pieces. I will admit, it’s easy to see why the film courted so much controversy when it was released. To the point where Deodato had to present his actors in court just to avoid charges that he actually murdered them while filming. But at the same time, everything in the film is just unnecessary. On the other hand though, it’s easy to see how films like The Blair Witch Project were heavily influenced by it. It does feel like a very extreme version of The Blair Witch Project.
Deodato attempts to lecture the audience that the civilised people who trek into the jungle are the real savages. That we’re a society obsessed with violence for entertainment. When Monroe shows the footage to studio executives, they want to show the film anyway. However, all this ropey subtext is lost in a film that ultimately is just trying to make the audience feel uncomfortable. For me, this film succeeds in that goal in ways very few other films have. And it really shows how filmmakers like Eli Roth, and those behind the Saw franchise really are lightweights. However, it’s a dubious honour to bestow upon this film, as I don’t think it’s a good film in any way. Am I sorry I watched it? No, not at all. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I make no apology for it. But now that I have seen what is considered the most controversial film of all time, at least I know I don’t have to sit through it for the first time again. Not that I’ll be re-watching it any time soon.