ELECTRICWIZARDx’s review published on Letterboxd:
The absolute pinnacle of exploitation cinema, and so much more besides that.
Dismemberment, real execution footage, real animal killings, rape, murder, genocide, drugs and a disgusting lack of morality are all on show, without even thinking about the actions of the tribe of cannibal savages the film shows.
Cannibal Holocaust trancends exploitation, Italian cannibal films, video nasties and found footage films and becomes something luridly beautiful.
This is because, whilst being complete exploitation in its purest form, it goes beyond pure exploitation, and brings in the morality of the question "who are the real savages?". There's not even a question of whether there was any sort of intention of that being the case on Deodato's part. Whilst its easy to dismiss the claim due to the atrocities, sleaze and the pure horror of what happens on screen, Professor Munroe's famous line completely destroys the doubt. "I wonder who the real cannibals are."
Riz ortolani's absolutely gorgeous score engulfing the depraved and very visceral atrocities on screen give the scenes a sort of ultimate power over you. I'm convinced if it wasn't attached to the film it was it would be considered one of the greatest scores of all time.
Pulsating synths underscoring absolutely beautiful strings which then underscore the scenes in the film. It takes it beyond the usual way exploitation films are enjoyed; egging on the ludicrous death scenes and smiling your way through sensationalised sleaze and depravity. It takes it so far beyond that, that those qualities are out of view completely. Instead we reach a point where the scenes are genuinely affecting, powerful, sickening and difficult to watch.
This is all the more fascinating when you look at the criticism of the way we watch and enjoy exploitation cinema and other forms of atrocities, such as the way the news is made and viewed that Deodato questions in the film. The violence being focused on in a news report that his son was watching, causing the belief that certain things were staged to make the news more sensationalised, is widely said to be an inspiration of Deodato's when making the film. Munroe's exchange with an executive in the midway point clarifies that this is the case. Very clever filmmaking.
Despite all this, Cannibal Holocaust is an exploitation film at it's core and it would be disingenous of me to just gloss over that fact.
The gruelling scenes and the hideous characters aside, the production of this film was brimming with exploitation. The name of the film itself. Tales of Yorke arriving on set not knowing what the film was and being thrown into the leg amputation scene, an actor using his recently murdered father to ellicit tears, the stars crying and vomiting after the animal deaths. The way real tribes were used and named but portrayed completely incorrectly as savages, the actors whose characters died on screen signing a contract stating they wouldn't work for a year after the film, leading to Deodato standing trial for murder. The multiple people involved in making the film being charged with obscenity and animal violence. All of this burst the seams and erupted into the controversy that still surrounds Cannibal Holocaust today.
Banned in 50 countries, as the film boasts, a central feature of the video nasties scandal in Britain in the 80s and still not released uncut or in some cases at all in multiple countries today. All brilliantly ironic considering the themes of sensationalisation the film tackles.
The fact that Cannibal Holocaust's moral beacon comes in the form of the late Robert Kerman (RIP) - a prolific porn star - sums it up perfectly. Deviant, subversive and absolutely brilliant.
Cannibal Holocaust is Deodato's masterpiece. It's a masterpiece of Italian cinema. It's a masterpiece of exploitation cinema. And most importantly, it's a masterpiece that forces you to look at the uncomfortable truths surrounding human morality, and the unflinching way it does this ensures that it's still one of the most powerful films ever put to celluloid.
"Ah, yes, that's typical Western thought. Civilised, isn't it? That's what Alan thought and that's why he's dead. The Yacumo Indian is a primitive, and he has to be respected as such. You know, did you ever think of the Yacumo point of view, that we might be the ones who are savages?"