Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici
Starring: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen & Luca Giorgio Barbareschi
In the annals of exploitation cinema, movies don’t get much more controversial than CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. This 1980 Italian cannibal flick has garnered massive backlash thanks to its extreme content across the years. It originally became infamous thanks to a court case in which director Ruggero Deodato had to prove that his cast members were still alive and that he didn’t, in fact, create an actual snuff film. To ramp up the film’s notorious reputation a little further, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was actually one of the poster children for the ridiculous Video Nasties act that took place in 1980’s UK (in which 72 horror films were flat-out banned to the point of serving a prison sentence was a possible punishment for owning copies of said films). Out of all the early Shocksploitation films, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is definitely the most potent…which is both a good and a very bad thing.
Dr. Harold Monroe has begun a mission to find out what happened to a crew of young documentary filmmakers who disappeared in the Amazon. Upon arrival, Monroe faces the fact that the jungle is an extremely dangerous place and to survive, he’ll have to do and see some pretty intense things. Though the expedition doesn’t give much positive closure to the family and friends of these four filmmakers, Monroe returns with canisters of film that the crew shot. Watching reel after reel, Alan witnesses exactly what those crazy kids got up to in the rainforest and what happens when you screw with dangerous cannibal tribes. As you can probably guess, nothing good comes from it.
Though miles from a great or even good horror film, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is important for a number of reasons. This is the film that gave birth to the found footage style. You can blame every single handheld scary movie to come out of the past two decades squarely on the shoulders of this exploitation flick. However, this film is also shocking beyond belief. If you’re not prepared walking into this movie, it wouldn’t surprise me if you couldn’t make it past the first 30 minutes. This is a rough experience full of barbaric acts that will shake you to your core. In the contents of this film, you see cannibalism (duh), lots of rape, some genital mutilation, a bunch of dismemberment and tons of other atrocities that I really don’t feel like typing up in this review. It’s a nasty and harrowing piece of work that is sure to gain a strong reaction from you, regardless of whether you “liked” this film or absolutely despised it as a piece of cinematic filth. I happen to be split on this movie for a number of reasons. It’s disturbing and effective throughout, but it’s also packed to the brim of needless excess and really poor decisions on the part of the filmmaker.
This film contains animal cruelty and that is absolutely appalling, especially a scene in which a poor turtle is cut up and roasted over a fire. There’s no excuse for those scenes and they really add nothing to the film at all, aside from pointless shock value. It’s not as if this movie isn’t already packed full of disturbing material. There are a number of graphic rape scenes as well as the insane level of violence. Though some of the effects haven’t aged too well to this day, there are still moments that look pretty friggin’ convincing. It’s no shock that people in the 80’s thought this was a legit snuff film as an impaled girl really looks as if she’s been killed as well as the nasty dismemberment scenes that Deodato focuses on throughout. The shock value is off the charts and launches this entire movie into the darkest recesses of cinema, which will absolutely disgust and appall the viewer. That was the intention from frame one.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to say that all the performances are bad. Robert Kerman, a former porn star, plays the most fleshed-out character in Dr. Monroe. With that being said, Monroe doesn’t really do much at all. He walks cautiously through the jungles and watches the reels of grisly found footage with a look of horror and dismay on his face. The documentary filmmaker characters are ridiculously over-the-top in being evil, which makes their impending gory comeuppance at the hands of the cannibals more than a little satisfying. It would be a waste of time to get into how badly and unrealistic the natives are portrayed with borderline black-face, bad wigs, and grunting gibberish as a language.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST revels in being offensive and shocking beyond words. This vicious film goes for the jugular of every viewer who stumbles across it. It’s full of problems that range from bad acting to over-the-top writing to animal cruelty that has rightfully garnered a deserved hatred towards the film. However, there’s also a few depraved merits to this piece of work. It definitely goes all the way into being one of the single most disturbing films that I’ve ever seen (falling short only to the likes of A SERBIAN FILM and possibly SALO). It also spawned a found footage horror angle that has gone on to influence the likes of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and MAN BITES DOG. A half-hearted commentary about violence and savagery in the last line of dialogue feels as if the movie is trying to make a point, even though it’s gone about it in a totally depraved and senseless way. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST more than lives up to its many controversies and infamous reputation after all these years. Proceed with caution!