Did you know that Cannibal Holocaust a film that depicted genuine on-screen animal killings and violence so convincing, the director was arrested and forced to prove the 4 actors werent actually killed on screen.
Cannibal Holocaust is a 1980 Italian cannibal film directed by Ruggero Deodato from a screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici, starring Carl Gabriel Yorke, Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi and Luca Barbareschi. Cannibal Holocaust was filmed in the Amazon Rainforest with real indigenous tribes interacting with American and Italian actors.
The film tells the story of a missing documentary film crew who had gone to the Amazon to film cannibal tribes. A rescue mission, led by the New York University anthropologist Harold Monroe, recovers the film crew’s lost cans of film, which an American television station wishes to broadcast. Upon viewing the reels, Monroe is appalled by the team’s actions, and after learning their fate, he objects to the station’s intent to air the documentary.
Cannibal Holocaust is unique for its “found footage” structure, in which the gradual revelation of the recovered film’s content functions similar to a flashback. The film’s notion of “recovered footage” has influenced the now-popular genre of found footage horror films, such as The Blair Witch Project.
Cannibal Holocaust achieved notoriety as its graphic violence aroused a great deal of controversy. After its premiere in Italy, it was seized by a local magistrate, and Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges. He was charged with making a snuff film due to rumors that claimed some actors were killed on camera. Although Deodato was later cleared, the film was banned in Italy, Australia, and several other countries due to its disturbing portrayal of graphic brutality, sexual assault, and animal violence. Some nations have since revoked the ban, but the film is still banned in several countries. Critics have suggested that the film is a commentary about civilized versus uncivilized society.
Cannibal Holocaust premiered on 7 February 1980 in the Italian city of Milan. Although the courts confiscated the film based on a citizen’s complaint, the initial audience reaction was positive. After seeing the film, director Sergio Leone wrote a letter to Deodato, which stated [translated], “Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.” In the ten days before it was seized, the film had grossed approximately $2 million.
Critics remain split on their stances of Cannibal Holocaust. Supporters of the film cite it as a serious and well-made social commentary on the modern world. Sean Axmaker praised the structure and set-up of the film, saying, “It’s a weird movie with an awkward narrative, which Deodato makes all the more effective with his grimy sheen of documentary realism, while Riz Ortolani’s unsettlingly lovely, elegiac score provides a weird undercurrent.” Jason Buchanan of Allmovie said, “…while it’s hard to defend the director for some of the truly repugnant images with which he has chosen to convey his message, there is indeed an underlying point to the film, if one is able to look beyond the sometimes unwatchable images that assault the viewer.”
Detractors, however, criticize the acting, the over-the-top gore, and the genuine animal slayings and point to an alleged hypocrisy that the film presents. Nick Schager criticized the brutality of the film, saying, “As clearly elucidated by its shocking gruesomeness—as well as its unabashedly racist portrait of indigenous folks it purports to sympathize with—the actual savages involved with Cannibal Holocaust are the ones behind the camera.” Some argue that Schager’s racism argument is supported by the fact that the real indigenous peoples in Brazil whose names were used in the film—the Yanomamo and Shamatari—are not fierce enemies as portrayed in the film, nor is either tribe truly cannibalistic (although the Yanomamo do partake in a form of post-mortem ritual cannibalism).
Robert Firsching of Allmovie made similar criticisms of the film’s content, saying, “While the film is undoubtedly gruesome enough to satisfy fans, its mixture of nauseating mondo animal slaughter, repulsive sexual violence, and pie-faced attempts at socially conscious moralizing make it rather distasteful morally as well.” Slant Magazine’s Eric Henderson said it is “…artful enough to demand serious critical consideration, yet foul enough to christen you a pervert for even bothering.” Cannibal Holocaust currently holds a 60% “Fresh” rating on the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5/10.
In recent years, Cannibal Holocaust has received accolades in various publications, as well as cult following. The British film magazine Total Film ranked Cannibal Holocaust as the tenth greatest horror film of all time, and the film was included in a similar list of the top 25 horror films compiled by Wired. The film also came in eighth on IGN’s list of the ten greatest grindhouse films.
Cannibal Holocaust is seen by some as social commentary on various aspects of modern civilization by comparing Western society to that of the cannibals. David Carter says “Cannibal Holocaust is not merely focused on the societal taboo of flesh eating. The greater theme of the film is the difference between the civilized and the uncivilized. Though the graphic violence can be hard for most to stomach, the most disturbing aspect of the film is what Deodato is saying about modern society. The film asks the questions ‘What is it to be ‘civilized’?’ and ‘Is it a good thing?'” Mark Goodall, author of Sweet & Savage: The World Through the Shockumentary Film Lens, also contends the film’s message is “…the rape of the natural world by the unnatural; the exploitation of ‘primitive’ cultures for western entertainment.”
Deodato’s intentions regarding the Italian media coverage of the Red Brigades have also fallen under critical examination and has been expanded to include all sensationalism. Carter explores this, claiming that “[The lack of journalistic integrity] is shown through the interaction between Professor Monroe and the news agency that had backed the documentary crew. They continually push Monroe to finish editing the footage because blood and guts equal ratings.” Director Lloyd Kaufman claims that this form of exploitative journalism can still be seen in the media today and in programming such as reality television.
Despite these interpretations, Deodato has said in interviews that he had no intentions in Cannibal Holocaust but to make a film about cannibals. Actor Luca Barbareschi asserts this as well and believes that Deodato only uses his films to “put on a show”. Robert Kerman contradicts these assertions, however, stating that Deodato did tell him of political concerns involving the media in the making of this film.
These interpretations have also been criticized as hypocritical and poor justification for the film’s content, as Cannibal Holocaust itself is highly sensationalized. Firsching claims that “The fact that the film’s sole spokesperson for the anti-exploitation perspective is played by porno star should give an indication of where its sympathies lie”, while Schager says Deodato is “pathetically justifying the unrepentant carnage by posthumously damning his eaten filmmaker protagonists with a ‘who are the real monsters – the cannibals or us?’ anti-imperialism morale