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Cannibal Holocaust

 “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…

–  Sergio Leone in a letter to Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato

One cannot go far in the world of extreme cinema without hearing about the ‘big-guns’ – usually at the top of everybody’s “Sickest”, “Most Extreme”, or “Most Disgusting” – films ever made lists are Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo, and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.  These two films were made in a cinematic era which we will sadly never see again – a time of testing the boundaries which were not as clearly established as they are today- as well as going balls-out past those limits with two middle fingers raised high – cinematic nihilism at its finest!  These two films are the closest things (in the world of film) to being weapons of mass destruction – for if we learned anything from the ‘Video Nasties’ era, it’s that films like this WILL corrupt the youth and WILL act as a gateway drug to violence.  Faithful readers of Cinema Holocaust will know my message is always the same – art exists in everything, no matter how much filth is on top of it, that being said, let’s take a look at Ruggero Deodato’s seminal work – Cannibal Holocaust.

19 years before The Blair Witch Project “invented” the found-footage format we are all sick of today, Ruggero Deodato was waist-deep in some South American swamp filming his opus, Cannibal Holocaust.  Neither he, nor his actors knew at the time the impact this film would have on the entire world – or the consequences of the art they were creating…


Cannibal Holocaust starts with an expedition through the thick, wet, and cannibalistic-tribe -infested ‘Green Inferno’ of South America on a quest to find three missing film-makers (cough Blair Witch cough).  After some roughing up of the citizens of one of the lesser-dangerous tribes, and a wicked snake-bite (Life’s a bitch in the jungle!) we come across the remains of the missing film-makers and of course (pause for effect) their camera!  The footage is then brought to New York City to be screened to the financers of the film – what follows is a morally decrepit tale of three individuals doomed to die the second they arrived…

Alright, let’s talk about the elephant in the room right off the back.  The reason people (usually) get uppity over this film is because Deodato decided to show multiple actual animal killings on camera – from a pig being shot (for no real reason) to the infamous tortoise beheading + de-shelling, people cannot shut up about the killings.  Yes, it’s exploitation, but to play devil’s advocate, they are in the middle of the fucking jungle – there are no McDonalds nearby.  Anybody who lives off the land kills animals daily to survive, this is no different.  Now before any angry rants about how I said it’s OK to show animal killings on film know my stance – I don’t condone it, but I do understand it – and frankly, it’s not the end of the world that many people make it out to be.

Nobody said anything when the bull was slaughtered at the end of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or in countless episodes of Fear Factor in which droves of insects were blended for consumption – on PRIME TIME TV.


And with that, I think I found the formula – basically [size of animal] + [passiveness of animal] + {any cuteness of animal] = reaction – which is why nobody gives a shit about a bunch of insects being blended on some game show – because they are small, aggressive, and not cute at all.  I’ll go so far as to say if instead of cockroaches it was a bunch of caterpillars at least a few people would get uppity.  It’s not that something has life, no, that’s not critical for a response; it’s the size, passiveness, and cuteness of animal that determines if people get upset at its filmed demise …also…I didn’t hear you complain when you killed that nasty bug JUST BECAUSE it was in your house…or when you ate hamburger last night…just because you didn’t see the animals being killed makes it OK right? – You need that level of detachment to make it OK in your mind?

I digress…

Back to Cannibal Holocaust, there was a little mini-film shown within the movie titled, The Last Road to Hell which showcased ACTUAL human executions…and nobody gives a shit!  Not ONCE have I heard of ANYBODY complaining about the REAL HUMAN DEATH in this film…but oh my fucking god THE POOR ANIMALS!

Whoa…I digress again…

Bottom line, Deodato was in director-mode and knew that the use of animal killings would both a) add realism to a supposed “found footage” movie, and b) get people talking about the movie.  Any talking about a movie is good talking, as it shines a light on for all we know could have just been an obscure exploitation film without the animal killings.  Now, should Deodato have done this?  Probably not, but there are FAR worse things in the world to get uppity about and we do have laws now protecting animals in film, like I said, it was a time of cinematic nihilism, a “fuck the world” approach to film-making.  Deodato has since said he regretted the animal killings.

Now that we discussed all that jazz, we can move on to the meaty, delicious, raw…meat of the history of Cannibal Holocaust, mainly the effect of the “found footage” approach…

Imagine the year is 1980-something and you have just obtained a grainy bootleg VHS copy of Cannibal Holocaust – you heard the stories of the atrocities contained within and as you watch, you can’t help but wonder “Is this real footage? – surely I’m not watching the last real moments of these people!?”  Nowadays the internet ruins EVERYTHING, but alas, this was decades before that bitch could screw everything up, your only source of information was what your buddy told you or (if you were lucky) what you read in say Fangoria or some other film publication.  You were no better off than Charlie Sheen when he was told Flowers of Flesh and Blood was an actual snuff film and got the FBI involved, and this is exactly what Deodato wanted.

As if ambiguity wasn’t enough, Deodato actually had a clause in the actor’s contracts that prohibited them from doing ANY press for an entire YEAR after the film came out.  So think about that, logic says “this movie is totally fake”…but then another layer of logic asks “why am I not seeing the actors doing any interviews?”  Again, this is before the internet, so unless you knew the actors in person, chances are you chalked them up as killed by the tribesman in South America.

Of course this system of added realism can’t go that far without certain people getting informed that there is a snuff film being circled in the world of cinema.  Deodato was actually charged with MURDER unless he could prove his film was fake – most importantly a specific scene involving a tribes-woman impaled on a massive spike.  Deodato proved in court that she was actually sitting on a bicycle seat while looking up and had the spike coming out of her mouth – and the courts lifted the charge, hello more publicity!


With all that meaty history, there is no wonder why Cannibal Holocaust is the most controversial film ever made…or why no copy under 30 fucking dollars exists.  Also, if history teaches us anything it’s that the more somebody says “you can’t have this” – the stronger the demand will be.  Now, I’m only 25 years old, but I can imagine how giddy somebody who went through the channels to obtain an unmarked bootleg VHS of this must have felt back in the day, that exhilaration!  The fact that this film was banned in 50 countries only fueled the desire to hunt it down, further adding secrecy and misinformation about the realism of the movie.  Now, I can walk to the mall across the street and pick up one of two different copies at FYE – strange times indeed if you told that to the chap who bootlegged it some three decades ago – WITH the director commentary, INSANE!  …also don’t listen to the Deodato commentary, there is a lot of tension between him and Robert Kerman and you can only understand 1/3 of what he is saying, resulting in a migraine.

So, grab yourself a bloody Mary, eat some raw meat, and slaughter a random animal* and enjoy Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust!

*but seriously don’t

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This entry was posted on June 16, 2012 by in Cinema Holocaust and tagged , .
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