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Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Man is omnipotent; nothing is impossible for him. What seemed unthinkable undertakings yesterday are history today. The conquest of the moon for example: who talks about it anymore? Today we are already on the threshold of conquering our galaxy, and in a not too distant tomorrow, we'll be considering the conquest of the universe - and yet man seems to ignore the fact that on this very planet there are still people living in the stone age and practicing cannibalism.

There is so much baggage and back story that goes with the movie that it is entirely impossible to simply write a review of Cannibal Holocaust without delving a bit into the reasons why this movie is as infamous as it is.

But first, I'll try to give you a short synopsis of what passes for a plot in this flick: Professor of anthropology Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) travels to the Amazonas - the "Green Inferno" - in search for a team of four young people, who travelled there to film a documentary about cannibalism as practised by certain tribes living in that area. Together with Chaco Losojos, a man who knows the jungle like his, errr, pockets and what I can only surmise to be a half-native guide (and a native tribesman who is used like a dog) he embarks on a search that makes him experience for himself how cruel reality can be - and when he discovers the remains of the film the four missing (and dead) people left behind as their legacy to the world, he discovers that the cruelty of reality isn't just confined to "primitive" people, and leads him to wonder who the true cannibals are...

I have a few issues with this movie, to be honest. Let's start with the most obvious one:

Lack of cannibalism.

Yes, you read that correctly. Maybe my appetite for gore (no pun intended) is a bit too high for a movie from 1980, but considering that this movie is named Cannibal Holocaust and deals with, well, cannibalism, I was definitely expecting more. What we get are a few scenes of implied cannibalism, and the few shots of "actual" cannibalism just look fake. And not gross and disgusting at all. Or, you know, bloody and violent.

My favourite scene - a meouwser, only in big!

Which brings me to my second point: The blood and the gore effects. For Flying Spaghetti Monster's sake, can it be that hard to at least produce artificial blood that doesn't have that faint touch of pink? Considering that Ruggero Deodato had enough money to film on location in Colombia and New York, only filming the interior scenes in his native Italy, it sure as hell couldn't have been a question of money.

To all you ambitious film makers out there who want to avoid someone like me ranting about how the lack of quality-blood makes your movie terrible: Add a little bit of green to it. Make sure it has the right consistency. Make sure it's not too bright, or, gods forbid, pink. Trust me - a little effort with the blood makes up for a lot. Deodato or whoever was responsible for the creation/acquisition of the fake gore sure as hell didn't go for quality with the blood. Or quantity, if I might add that with a slightly nagging voice.

Third point: The portrayal of the Yanomamo and Shamatari tribes... I don't care that the film is presumably misogynistic, but damn, if that isn't exploitation at its core, I don't know what is. I seriously don't know how they got the natives to cooperate and play their assigned roles in Cannibal Holocaust, because man... demeaning. I was constantly reminded of animals - only that, in my experience and in this movie, animals actually are treated better. As long as they're inedible. Ehm.

Plus... careful with the word "primitive" and the use of the term "stone age" to indicate that something is "primitive". At least try to be careful with that around me, movie, because that happens to just include my archaeological field of study, and I'm easily offended when it comes to calling my chosen cultures "primitive". Or any other culture that is remotely linked to mine by the derogatery use of the term "stone age". Let me add that "stone age" is a bit of a vague term, because it encompasses quite a long time.

Then there's the sex scenes... or should I make that "rape scenes"? I have no problem with rape scenes in general, but watching one in particular, in which the documentarists are gang-raping a young native female, made me feel ashamed of being a member of the species homo sapiens.

Pwetty. Me like.

On to the strong points of Cannibal Holocaust.

The first thing that I noticed was the incredible soundtrack, created flawlessly by Riz Ortolani. It is atmospheric and incredibly well made - it adds a special quality to what may otherwise remain a more or less unspectacular exploitation flick from the very beginning of the eighties.

The gore and violence, whilst not exactly on a level which sits well with the gorehound in me (as the three people who read this blog of mine know, the more blood and guts and pointless violence I get to witness in a horror movie, the more happy I am), is at times beautifully executed, as with the skull in the screenshot above.

What I could have done without was the animal cruelty. 'Nuff said about that topic.

Stone peni:

I will never look at a vibrator with the same eyes after witnessing how the script of Cannibal Holocaust uses that stony, ehm, member.

The acting is actually good - not great, not wonderful, certainly not something that would win an award these days, but it is brutally realistic - partly due to the nature of the scenes the actors were forced through. If you're interested in reading more about the details of the tribulations the cast had to go through, check wikipedia - the whole story is way too long and detailed for me having the flu and still being up, freezing and hungry, at 7:15 AM on this beautiful Tuesday morning. Man... I need sleep badly. And something against the flu. Merf.

A surprisingly good movie, everything considered. Even with the amount of criticising on my part, I still find the movie to be entertaining and moving at the same time with its scenic, sweeping shots, its fast-paced and hectic certainty and bitter grimness. Truly, Cannibal Holocaust manages to do something which I noted with the French directors of The Hills Have Eyes, Inside and other recent awesome movies from that part of Europe: The merciless camera. The viewer becomes entangled in the movie, he is the voyeur for whom these scenes have been staged and created - and although we may flinch and shy away from the brutality, we still are captivated by what happens on the screen.

You certainly won't be bored with this example of cinematic voyeurism.

A moving and brutal criticism of our modern society and how it behaves when there is no law to keep the darkness of humanity in check.

7.75/10 ritualistic punishments for adultery.


  1. "...not gross and disgusting at all." - seems like you had a bad day LOL I thought this was extremely gross and disgusting, especially the scenes where they actually killed real animals. I was a wreck after they killed the large turtle.
    Nevertheless, a very well made and surprisingly intelligent Italo-classic. Have you seen any other flicks from director Deodato, like e.g. the 'wonderful' House On The Edge Of The Park?

  2. I didn't really touch upon the animal cruelty in the movie - simply because I usually am looking away when there's the killing or hurting of animals involved. The scenes with the animal deaths are certainly going to be interesting to a specific subset of horror/gore fans, and cinematically speaking, they have been done very well. They also effect a surge of emotion in most viewers. This is great, speaking of the quality and effects of the pictures themselves; it is, however, definitely a movie that needs its viewer to be cold towards animals and humans both. Emotions intertwine here. --
    At least that's what interrogation amongst the limited group of people I know who watched this movie said...

    And no, I haven't seen any other Deodato flicks (as of yet!)... *feels slightly ashamed*