Cannibal Holocaust: UNCUT (1980)

4 STARS

General Information:

The information from below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078935/?ref_=sr_2

18  95 min  –  Adventure | Drama | Horror  –  7 February 1980 (Italy)

Director

Ruggero Deodato

Writer

Gianfranco Clerici (story)

Stars

Robert Kerman; Francesca Ciardi; Perry Pirkanen

Plot:

Subversive 80s video-nasty cult-classic. Filmmakers who went to shoot a documentary concerning Amazonian cannibals have been missing for over two months. A professor then discovers that they are dead, but more importantly finds the footage that they made.

Review:

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): The film's tagline was "Can a movie go too far?" - was this describing the film within Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Holocaust itself?

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): The film’s tagline was “Can a movie go too far?” – was this describing the film within Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Holocaust itself?

There has been much written about Cannibal Holocaust’s behind-the-scenes mal-practice. Specifically the shots where we see a real live turtle’s head and feet cut off, and watch as its entrails are disembowled. This review will not focus or be influenced by the horrific mal-practices of the film. Yet this does not mean that I condone what occurred on the set of this film – far from it. However I firmly believe that rating the quality of a film should be about the film itself: the images, sounds, editing, narrative devices (etc), not  when it was made or what occurred on the set itself. To use the cliché to accentuate this point: “Let the film speak for itself.” There has been extensive analysis on the morals of the filmmakers and how their anti-sensationalist message collides with their practice, however, in this review, I seek to decipher whether the film is of quality, and what elements construct to shape my rating of it.

Cannibal Holocaust is a surprisingly intelligent horror-film about the dangers and morals of sensationalism, and what struck me more about the film was how it was less about the gorey found-footage of the filmmakers being beaten, raped and eaten alive – but more about how the television producers want to get the footage put on screen – and obviously, the makers of the footage. Who are the real savages? The cannibals, or the people who provoke them to the extent that they are able to make the most shocking documentary ever made? The film is excellently structured as we jump backwards and forwards from the found footage to the story concerning whether the producers will or won’t release its contents. But what is even more surprising is that we don’t even see the found footage until around forty minutes in. Judging by the reaction to this film, you’d imagine that the film would be a ninety minute gore-fest, filled to the brim with legs being hacked off, stones being used as raping implements, and brain-meat being chewed on. Far from it. Instead we start off with news that the filmmakers have been missing for over two months. The film doesn’t start in the jungle of Amazonia but rather in the concrete jungle of New York, and we cut backwards and forwards between these two locations.

A professor and various soldiers then go into the Amazon to find the filmmakers. They then meet the tribes themselves. Later on, they then discover various skulls and bones propped onto a tree, with one of the skeletons still holding a camera. (I hate it when that happens).

Awkward.

Awkward.

Between them arriving and this infamous shock-shot, we have prolonged scenes of them interacting with the cannibals, and we observe their way of life: from the charmingly innocent (naked girls throwing water at one of the men in a river), to the gruesome: a brutal scene of a girl being dragged from a boat, covered in mud, and then raped with a large stone.

After collecting the footage, the professor is now famous and is interviewed live on TV. He then meets up with a producer who wants to release the footage to ‘educate’ the public. We now see what really happened to the filmmakers and how they ended up as skeletons, one of them holding a camera.

The leader of the crew is Alan Yates, and we discover that he is the prime reason for the film-crew’s impending doom. His practice is to use set-ups to provoke a reaction from the cannibals: burning down one of their huts with the tribes-members still inside is the most horrific. He is as savage as they are. We are shown a previous film that he has made. It involves numerous executions of children, mothers and fathers for highly political reasons. Some of these executions were faked in order to provoke a reaction from the viewer.

The iconic shot of the film: Are the filmmakers as savage as the savages themselves?

The iconic shot of the film: Are the filmmakers as savage as the savages themselves?

Ironically, the footage we see of Alan and his crew is not fake. Their deaths are not staged. Eventually the cannibals surround him and his crew. I imagine you can figure out what happens next. The rest is then shot with heavy use of shaky hand-held camera to miraculous effect. I usually despise shaky-camera techniques, but here it is the best I have ever seen. It adds to the documentary-realism of the film: this is happening, this is not fake. They are being pinned down, tortured, mutilated, raped, killed and then eaten. More to the point though, the film exploits the viewer as a voyeur. It knows its effect on us. It knows that we want to look away, but can’t, because we are so curious, and when they are finally killed and cannibalised, we are made to feel horrible for feeling curious. Some people watch horror-films to see how far they can be pushed and to see how shocking the film is. This is why people went to see The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film. There are moments in those films where you want to look away, but can’t. But what if the deaths were real? What if it was no longer a horror film, but actual live footage? Cannibal Holocaust exploits this issue, and it knows that we (and the producers of the found-footage) will find it irresistable to look away, even if it may be real. We buy into shocking news-stories, we are just as bastardised and curious as the journalists themselves.

The footage no longer becomes sensationalistic footage that will make a good news story, but instead harrowingly brutal scenes of humans being killed and the killers who have already lost their humanity – and TV executives wanted to make money out of this.

Of course, the fatal flaw of Cannibal Holocaust is the concept that it appears to revel in shocking us. It does shock, in certain sequences my mouth formed a prominently large ‘O’ shape. Yet simultaneously it attacks shock-tactics. Is this the point? Perhaps so. I am in no doubt that the film’s aims were to shock the audience – the title itself can be mere proof of this. But it feels like two films: one which is to simply shock the audience, and the other which opposes this concept. Sometimes these two films conjoin and work, sometimes they clash. Can a film shock the viewer and simultaneously attack shock-tactics? I’m not quite sure. What is clear however is that Cannibal Holocaust is exceptionally good at shocking and criticising those who shock. The shocking scenes of cannibalism are so realistic that you could easily mistake this for a full-blown snuff film. The satirical scenes against shock-tactics and media-sensationalism are so effective that they critique the producers, the filmmakers and our reactions right down to the bone.

Verdict:

Perhaps the most hypocritical film ever made due to the fact that Ruggero Deodato was a sensationalist pig and used mal-practice, but if you ignore that and just look at the film itself we have one of the greatest horror films ever made. Here we have a brutal, blunt satire on how the media will go too far to shock, and how we are just as savage as the journalists for getting sucked into it.

N.B. Just to clarify, no humans were killed or cannibalised in this film – the deaths presented are just incredibly realistic.

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2 thoughts on “Cannibal Holocaust: UNCUT (1980)

  1. This is a nice and thorough write-up here. I don’t really fault Deodato for his hypocrisy, however, as I think a great deal of it is necessary when presenting a film of this nature with its respective purpose.

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