Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust

What an appropriately titled film.

This is a movie about sensationalized news and the bloodthirsty trends of modern media (at the time, but certainly applicable now), about the morally bankrupt approach society bent toward in this era. It is an indictment, a scathing one, that asked where the line was. In the wake of the Vietnam War, Tobe Hooper made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in part as a visceral reaction to the news reports from the war (and the lies contained therein). Cannibal Holocaust is its spiritual successor, responding to a media further degraded by a blind reliance on violence and sex to sell itself rather than any sort of journalistic integrity.

This film is one that I would dare call influential. Obviously, there's the found footage genre, the publicity it garnered from its nigh panglobal ban, the murder charges (real or fake), and the immediate trend of cannibal movies that followed. It helped create the video nasty situation, and its notoriety was a major part of the escalating horror/exploitation evolution that would one day birth torture porn, A Serbian Film, and even better works like Hannibal (which, I might remind you, airs on network television). For all its flaws (which I will get to), Cannibal Holocaust exists as a milestone of cinema that is impossible to ignore. It's not necessarily the first of anything. It's not the best. It's not even the worst. But it's the one with the reputation.

But it is, of course, repugnant. It's unflinchingly exploitative in its depictions of sexual violence and animal cruelty and gory death. While there's something to be said for its achievements in make up effects, even if the story of the courts thinking they were real has some doubt cast upon it, it is, of course, the moments of reality--the fucking turtle, for god's sakes--that stand out as the most intensely uncomfortable, horrible things ever filmed. It, like its descendant in crudity A Serbian Film, revels in breaking taboos for the sake of breaking them. The forced abortion, the multiple rapes, the racial caricatures, etc. are all unnecessary. The point is made well without them--or at least without some of them. Unlike A Serbian Film, Cannibal Holocaust is never actually boring. It's offensive, disturbing, and occasionally stupid, but never boring.

That, however, is why the title is appropriate. It's not that it's about cannibals. It's not that it makes the point that the real "savages" were the ones behind the camera. It's not that it predicts a "holocaust" of vapid, exploitative journalism to follow. It's that in making its point, it delves so far into exploitation that it metaphorically devours itself, cannibalizing its ideas and leaving cinematic defecate in its place. The moral superiority needed to make this point is dead long before we even get to the climactic horrors of the film, and the only level on which this film can truly be praised or enjoyed is a very dark, disturbing level.

What scares me is, of course, how at home to that discomfort I am.

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