Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)
This film is not for the weak or the queasy. There are several rape scenes, naked people everywhere, decapitation, castration, animal
cruelty killings and of course, the consumption of human flesh. Fitting in with the “found footage” genre, Cannibal Holocaust does everything in its power to make the audience feel dirty. The beginning of the film goes slow with the violence and instead uses a high-pitched screeching score to raise tension and create jumps. During these abrupt musical jumps, gross bugs and rodents are running everywhere making the screen difficult to look at. The sound is interesting in this film because the dialogue sounds like it was added in post-production at some parts while sounding fine in others. One aspect of the sound I really enjoyed was the way the sounds of the jungle and of weapons are overemphasized making them unrealistically loud.
The most disturbing part of this film wasn’t the extremely realistic slayings of humans, or the indigenous people eating human flesh, instead the animal cruelty is what really made me want to turn it off. The first is of a coatimundi (muskrat) where one of the men holds the rodent and begins to gut it while it screams and thrashes in his hand. Other animal murders include a spider, snake, monkey and pig. The worst of all these awful acts is when a large turtle is wrestled out of the water, de-limbed, then cracked open. The cast members play around with the turtles insides and then cook and eat it. I honestly had to look away when they began attempting to split the turtle’s shell in half.
The film has a professor go and search for a lost group of documentarians in the jungles surrounding the Amazon. After getting to know the indigenous people and witnessing their horrific religious practices, he finds the dismembered group and takes their film footage home. When the professor begins viewing the found footage, the real horror begins. The group shooting a “documentary” are constantly provoking the people of the jungle and creating their own story. At one part they begin to burn down a village so they can capture footage of people burning and fleeing from the huts. As the filmmakers get more and more violent the “tree people” begin to retaliate and take revenge. This part of the film features a score with a similar sound to Halloween, while dreamy/pop music plays during the village fire. At one point in the film an actor yells, “keep rolling, we’re gonna get an Oscar for this”.
This film is grotesque and just plain awful to sit through, but how can anything be classified as obscene? How can someone determine when gross crosses over into obscene? This film did exactly what it was intended to do, make the audience feel terrible. Ruggero Deodato supposedly was arrested on snuff film allegations following the release of the film. The deaths are ridiculously realistic even by today’s standards due to the low-budget look of the film and the well-done special effects. What makes the film seem not as real today is the way many of the killings are from a distance in order to get away with trick gore. Although it is horrid, I feel the film holds significance in film history making it great commentary on modern civilization and the ignorance of others.