It has been a week since I last saw Cannibal Holocaust. Needless to say the horrific images are still buried in my brain. 35 years after it’s initial release, this ‘video nasty’ still shocks viewers and I don’t believe that will end any time soon. Few movies have left me sitting long after the credits. Few movies have left the movie swirling in my head still as I think to myself: Wow, what did I just watch? or Gee, this movie was deeply disturbing, or better, That was a profound experience. Movies like The Living and The Dead, Irreversible, and The Hunt have all left me with this. Cannibal Holocaust will leave you feeling depressed and filthy. Like a tribesman just gutted you and packed you full of mud as you are helplessly tied, then he laughs as you watch him eat the organs he tenderly took away from you.
The reviews and trailers can not prepare you for this. Much like the film crew the movie is based around. The story is centered on a young documentary crew going to the Amazon to film a native cannibal tribe. This cannibal tribe, however, is in unmarked territory. But wait! They brought a guide, so of course they will be safe… They go missing. Another small team is assembled to go search for them. This is mainly how the movie begins. You meet this crew who are on the rescue mission, then meet the tribe and find the film entangled with human bones. After they retrieve the film, they proceed to watch in horror what really happened to the documentarians. The whole structure of Cannibal Holocaust is great. It’s probably my favorite part of the movie, just watching the events unfold and learn the natives’ costumes. Once you reach the ‘film’ it’s shot like a found footage movie. Way before Blair Witch Project there was this, and must say it was handled expertly. But this is much more than a horror movie, more than an exploration in a jungle. It’s a film that explores human beings in a primitive state posed to being civilized. But who is civilized?
Weren’t we once savages? Director Ruggero Deodato makes us ponder many different subjects coursing through the film’s veins. One major controversial question is ‘did the live animals need to be slaughtered on film?’ Maybe it would have garnered more of an audience if not so. The native cannibal tribe did not accept our modern currency so instead Deodato offered them animals. These animals are killed on screen. Most notably the turtle scene, which holds up to its own grotesque rep. Turtles are one of my favorite animals and it was sad to see it butchered on screen. This is probably the worst part about the movie, which keeps you from cheering at the end when the film crew get what they deserved. Yes, the crew deserved their life-sentenced-punishment. It’s not just found in the conclusion while watching the found footage cam; where you see these young people mistreat the natives and disturb the peace. It is shown and understood when you see the rescuers being accepted as visitors; only because they expressed a much more human side and respect, like being bare naked and wearing no fear. In a way, the two storylines are parallel. If you are brave enough, and are not squirmish and can take the pain the movie does so well of inducing, you will see what I mean.
I do think the landscape could have been utilized better. Like I wanted to see more of what the land was like there, above, below, in the trees. But the movie did a good job of making you feel like dirt. In short, Cannibal Holocaust is a masterpiece. Not just as a horror but a social commentary drama. A much disturbingly, aching, nasty, raw masterpiece, standing on its own pillars. A few things I have learned, in our civilization we are focused on violence, very similar to how this movie is portrayed. Another thing I learned from this movie is that knowledge is pain. When the Professor (part of the rescue team) shows the editors back in the states the film clips that were uncovered, the editors wanted to see more and more of what happened. They wanted to distribute the footage for money, caring little for the lives that were lost. When they came to the end, the editors insisted on watching the rest and sell it to the world to eat up. So, the Professor put it on… Afterwards the editors looked at each other and walked away with out a word. One of them calls up the studio and tells them to get rid of everything. We are left with one final question: Who are the real cannibals?