Saturday, November 1, 2008

Cannibal Holocaust (1979)

Directed by:
Ruggero Deodato

As vile and disgusting as this film is at times, it is one that deserves at least some admiration, even from its detractors, because of its clever direction, the (then-)novel "found footage" story structure and the fact there's some sense and irony at work here, regardless of how obvious it all may be. The mood itself is also strangely intoxicating, with the gritty and palpable tropical locations all set to Riz Ortolani's beautiful and haunting music score. Naturally, most people probably tune in merely for the shock value (this film's reputation certainly preceeds it), and that's perfectly alright. The 'shock' pretty much remains undimished since it was released over 25 years later. Still it's refreshing to see a movie like this that's so well made that it can also stand on its feet in other important areas. It refuses to be shocking without at least attempting to provoke some thought in viewers while also being one of the ultimate litmus tests for even the most jaded of sick cinema freaks. It's also intelligent enough to know that it's about violence-as-pornography and not being sickening and exploitative just for sake of being sickening and exploitative.
Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) travels to South America in an effort to locate four young documentary filmmakers (three men, one woman) who disappeared somewhere along the Amazonian river basin. What he finds instead are a stone-age tribe oddly apprehensive to white man and the skeletal remains of the crew, along with some film cannisters. He returns to the city and watches the horrific contents of the cans with some producers, who want to air the footage on TV... until they discover just how graphic and unsettling the footage actually is. Deodato spares the viewer very little and his roaming POV camerawork meticulously and lovingly captures graphic acts of dismemberment, disembowelment, cannibalism, castration, gang-rape, (un-faked) animal mutilation and many other hideous acts. I truly hate seeing 'mondo' death footage (newsreels of real people actually being shot in firing lines, etc.) and the animals being killed (there's an extremely hard-to-watch shot of a hissing muskrat being repeatedly stabbed in the throat as well as well as a turtle being decapitated and gutted), but they are the strongest of the key imagery at work in this film.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is its unflinchingly nihilistic worldview and its condescending and downbeat attitude toward 'civilized' man. The fact that the filmmakers incite the natives to begin with through violence, rape, humiliation and their own sanctimonious attitudes speaks volumes about where this film is headed content wise. Once I get enough reviews on here I plan on throwing on my Horror 100 list; the best of the best from 1950 - 1990. Expect this title to be on it.


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