Cannibal Holocaust

Dir: Ruggero Deodato, 1980


This review is of the uncut version

After the release of The Blair Witch Project, critics were heralding a new genre of filmmaking; “found footage.”

But found footage has been around for years, and The Blair Witch Project didn’t invent anything, it just merely brought it to prominence.

For reasons unknown, Italian filmmakers went through a relatively short lived phase of making cannibalistic films. Whether it’s Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, or Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox, the menu was always the same: people got eaten.

Arguably, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is the most famous of them all. Mixing found footage, with scenes of excessive violence and gratuitous gore, topped with a smothering of animal cruelty, Deodato’s movie was the subject of a murder investigation and subsequent trial, bans and critical revulsion.

Ostentatiously announcing that the film is banned in thirty one countries, Cannibal Holocaust is, indeed, a censor baiting movie of callousness and inhumanity.

An anthropologist, leads a team of explorers to find a documentary crew that went missing in the Amazonian jungle.

Searching for the missing group, the expedition find the film that the crew recorded and are horrified at what the footage contains.

On paper, it’s a great premise. The problem is the execution of it. Deodato, Lenzi, Fulci, they all have this void of editing knowledge. Possibly, the lack of a substantial budget had an impact on the creative process, but all we see is the camera zooming back and forth from one character to the next.

A film about cannibals, will inevitability have lashings of gore and savagery. But, like all the other Italian movies that deal with flesh being eaten, they use the same stock sloppy sound effects of people chewing, that’s in EVERY cannibal film. Seeing as Cannibal Holocaust was shot in a real life jungle, there was very little need for an art department or set designer. So, the special effects team, use that budget to buy litres of red paint and substitute it for blood. At times, it looks like they used lipstick! The practical effects are no better. Nipping to the local butchery, the production use the offal of any animal that happened to be slaughtered that day. It does have to be said, though, that a shot of a dead woman impaled on a stake is rather gruesome and effective.

Italian filmmakers, seemed to possess this notion that tribes cover themselves in mud and commit atrocious acts of rape and violence. Aside from the plot, Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox are pretty much the same film. You could easily change the title cards without affecting the films whatsoever.

Notoriously, and unforgivably, Cannibal Holocaust features real acts of animal cruelty, with a number of deaths occurring on screen, all at the behest of Deodato. The cannibalism and poor special effects, won’t have an impact on the viewer, however, anyone with a heart, will feel justifiably saddened and angered at the brutal and needless deaths. Regardless of whether the film is any good or not, this abuse taints the whole picture and leaves you with a righteous sense ofn injustice for the animals.

Unsurprisingly, Deodato’s movie found itself in trouble with British law enforcement. Prosecuted for possible obscenity, the film was withdrawn from the shelves of the UK and didn’t reappear until many years later, in a heavily censored version on DVD. Like many other videos of the pre-certification era, Cannibal Holocaust featured a rather lurid video sleeve of a cannibal munching on some poor victim’s intestines.

Britain has very strict animal cruelty laws, and, thankfully, rigidly implement a legality that was enacted eighty years ago. The Cinematograph Animals Act 1937, prohibits the harm and suffering to an animal that occured specifically for the making of the piece. Aside from a few trims of sexual violence, nearly all the cuts concerned the slaying of animals. In total, over six minutes was removed.

However, a contemporary re-release saw the BBFC waive all the original cuts bar one: the killing of a coatimundi. This decision was justified by the censors, as it was viewed that the butchery of the animals was quick and, therefore, eliminated the suffering. Cannibal Holocaust is now available on UK DVD with only fifteen seconds of cuts.

The irony with “video nasties” is that, despite the aggravated interest in the films, they tend to, generally, be dull and not worth much of your time. Cannibal Holocaust is no exception. It’s a case of the history, being more interesting than the product itself. “Video nasties” have a mystery surrounding them. Their previous unavailability, is paramount to the continuing success in Britain.

In all, Cannibal Holocaust is a boring and badly acted movie, that will make you feel sick to your stomach at the horrendous crimes committed to the animals.



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