There are some films that people choose to never see. Whether it's because of the violence, content or creative teams behind the films, many audiences avoid certain movies like the plague. Recently, we've seen this with films like the expanding 'Human Centipede' franchise, and the controversial 'A Serbian Film.' We hear these rumors of films so foul that they not only disgust you, but really make you hate yourself after. Sounds like exploitation to me.
When I was 13, I used to visit comic conventions around the Boston area. Back in the early 2000's, it was really the only place to find unreleased workprints and other hard to find movies. Soon I began going to conventions to find new movies, as opposed to rounding out my comic collection. Every type of movie was at a young gorehound's disposal for the "low" price of $10 for a bootlegged VHS. I was ecstatic at finding a new film that I had not seen before, but one film changed the way I would look at movies forever: Ruggero Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocaust'.
Sitting in my friend's basement, way too cracked out on caffeine and pot, we watched about 4 of the 8 films we picked up that weekend. It was the first time I saw the bat-shit crazy 'Meet the Feebles', the X-Rated 'Robocop', and, if memory serves correctly, the version of 'Little Shop of Horrors' with the alternate EVERYONE DIES ending. I enjoy all of these films for different reasons, but I had never seen anything like 'Cannibal Holocaust'. Nothing really prepares you for the carnage of a group of filmmakers destroying, raping and killing natives to beef up their documentary. It's baffling that a film with so few likable characters resonates so heavily, but it's in the way the film is constructed that makes it so memorable.
The very first piece to cover on 'Cannibal Holocaust' is how amazing the cinematography of Sergio D'Offinzi is. His work captures a beauty that the plot of the film cannot. The amazonian landscape is shot in a way that feels like a nature documentary, but when matched with the gut-wrenching visuals involving the cast, compliments it rather nicely. There are very few moments that feel like the found footage of the lost documentary crew is fake. Everything looks so genuine that I can understand why Deodato was sequestered to court on the allegations that he killed his cast. If you've convinced the Italian government that you've committed atrocities towards humans, then you must have made an impactful film.
With that comes the conversation of animal violence, which is very real. I do not endorse animal cruelty in the slightest, although I'm going to throw my cat out the window if she's scratches my VHS again. The animals that were sacrificed to the movie gods were also consumed afterwords by the cast and local tribes people. No animal, except maybe the spider (which I'm fine with. I hate those things) was put to waste. I'm sure if you're trekking through the jungle, some barbecued turtle would sound mighty tempting. Condemn it all you want, but it's there for a purpose. If the animal cruelty is something that you don't think you can stomach? Fine. Either don't watch the movie, or look away at those parts. Remember 'It's just a movie'.
The score is another phenomenal piece of what makes 'Cannibal Holocaust' such an amazing film. Riz Ortolani composes such a hauntingly uplifting score that it battles against the gruesome images that Deodato orchestrates. The main theme is one that really stays with you after your initial viewing, with its cheery synth and acoustic guitar. It's one of the scores that when you first see the film might seem out of place, but it really heightens the horror of the action.
Another thing that really makes 'Cannibal Holocaust' stand above most other exploitation films is the message that the film is trying to press. It may seem heavy handed that the real monsters are the ones behind the camera, but it has become more true since the film was originally released. The documentary crew who ventures in the Amazon had always beefed up their previous efforts by faking the events that were happening, or paying armies to execute civilians. Deodato used this as an allegory for the way news outlets world wide would sell violence if it meant ratings. The message rings truer today with the advent of reality television. Violence of all types equals more money for sponsors and TV stations. How long until 'The Running Man' becomes an actual show?
After a recent screening at The Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline Massachusetts, I was brought back to when a I first saw 'Cannibal Holocaust' almost 15 years ago. Seeing it in 35mm was like seeing it for the first time, and I was also able to bring some new viewers along for the ride. They had heard of the film, but for whatever reasons had decided to not see it. Afterwords they both remarked at how much they really liked the movie. There is a preconception with exploitation and grindhouse films that there is some inherit camp value to the productions, and most of the time that's right. 'Cannibal Holocaust' is not a campy film, nor is it one that is for mainstream audiences. Every found footage film owes a little piece of their creation to this groundbreaking film, and while no academy will ever declare 'Cannibal Holocaust' a Best Picture candidate, the impact of this little exploitation film will be forever imbedded in cinema history.
**No animals were harmed in the writing of this article.**
Cannibal Holocaust from Amazon