Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Article 4521 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-1-2014
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Featuring Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian cannibal movie

An anthropologist undertakes a mission to the jungles of South American to find out what happened to four filmmakers who disappeared while on a mission to make a documentary about the primitive cannibal tribes of the region. He manages to acquire the footage they shot.

If I learned anything from watching this movie, it’s that I’ve developed a high tolerance for gory and repugnant footage; I managed to get through the whole thing without flinching. This is, of course, the most legendary and notorious of the Italian Cannibal genre. It has been banned in several countries, and the director himself was charged with murder; he was only freed when he was able to gather up the cast members (who had signed a contract to disappear for a year after the movie was released so as to seem as if they had really died) and have them show up in court. The most offensive thing in the movie is easily the slaughter of the animals; the human violence was faked, but the animals were really and explicitly killed. The main question that needs to be asked is this – was their a point or a purpose to the parade of atrocities on display here? Deodato does seem to be trying to make a point; some of the atrocities are not committed by the native tribes, but by the documentary filmmakers themselves, and it’s obvious that he’s trying to get the audience to ask themselves who the real monster are. Unfortunately, two things blunt the effectiveness. One is that he makes the filmmakers so vile that they stop feeling like human beings and more like symbols. Secondly, despite efforts to the contrary, the “documentary footage” doesn’t always feel convincing; there are moments where it looks overly-edited and where it feels like there are more cameramen around than is supposed to be on the journey, and the addition of a musical score makes it seem even less real. This, combined with the fact that much of the atrocity footage seems very gratuitous, undercuts the movie somewhat. As a result, despite the fact that the violence is quite extreme, I have a feeling that the movie hasn’t really risen above its exploitation roots enough to truly disturb me. Or perhaps it would be better to say that I’m more disturbed by what was done to make the film than by what it was trying to say.

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