Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust ★★★★★

Part of My Italian Horror/Giallo Adventure

The lore and reputation surrounding this film is something every cinephile has heard. It's created both an air of mystique and a fear. Many people refuse to watch the film because of the reputation, fearing that's it's just too much for them to handle. As a filmgoer that knows no fear, Cannibal Holocaust is a film that screamed to be watched, to have the experience known.

Let's start with the good, shall we. This is a masterpiece of both commentary and filmmaking. There is a ton of text in this film that seems to be shrouded by the violence the film is known for, forgotten amidst the shock and awe. The first half of the film follows a professor and his small crew as they enter an area of the Amazon known as "The Green Inferno" as they search for a lost crew of documentarians. This portion of the film acts as the true documentary. Exploring the native peoples of the area and their way of life. It is candid and respectful of the inhabitants, even as it shows some of their fierce brutality and primitive nature. The crew always makes sure to not interfere, to be kind - yet cautious - and they approach the peoples as one would expect a human to in such a situation.

We get to see native rituals and a piece of their everyday lives. There's a majestic beauty in what we see on the screen and we really believe we are watching real natives in their natural habitat. Once the crew discovers the remains of the documentarians, the professor quests to retrieve the footage they shot so that he can learn about what happened to them. This leads to a fantastic scene where he attempts to form a bond with the natives and does everything right.

Once the footage is retrieved we encounter the second half of the film. The film plays its cards openly in exploiting the general populace's need for sensationalism. Questions about who the real savages are and what the public thinks they want versus what they actually want run rampant as the professor and a film studio look through the found footage. Deodato knows exactly what he's doing here. Every time the studio rep says that sensationalism is what the people want, he gives it to us. We realize that maybe we don't want it. As the purveyors of mass cruelty and inhumane acts are praised as being geniuses, Deodato shows us what they really are behind the veil. The film continues down this road as we see more and more of the footage, gracefully and expertly spaced apart for both emphasis and impact, until the final 15 minutes when the professor has had enough of the studio's insistence regarding all the points they've made repeatedly, and he shows them the final reels of footage.

This is the best found footage movie ever made. I am not a fan of the genre but have seen a few quality titles. In regards to the purpose of the genre, none have ever been as successful as this one. It is 110% completely believable. From the casual moments to the utterly reprehensible, not once is the illusion ever broken and not once do you not believe that these aren't real people on the screen. The techniques used in how the footage is shot is astounding on a technical level. It's use of film stock, obvious for the time the film was made, is what allows it to achieve this level, one that modern technologies just can't accomplish.

Technical proficiency and sheer believability aside, what we see is some fucked up shit. It's the extreme level of realism that really sends it home too. I'm a broken human being and I didn't think the content was too graphic or extreme. But the film sells it. I felt anxiety whenever the found footage was playing, as I would if it were an actual snuff film. It's just simply masterful at framing the tension and the cruelty while still being told from the perspective of two people holding cameras while they shoot a documentary.

I was expecting some kind of crass exploitation film that was gross and violent for the sake of it. I did not expect to see a perfectly crafted film that utilizes its device so well and layers itself with social commentary and a meta perspective. This film is entirely self-aware and uses this knowledge to tell an important story that still strongly resonates to this day.

Let's cap this off with the bad. Animal cruelty. Period. Part of this film's legacy is the fact that all the animal violence is real. It is uncomfortable, brutal, and down-right sad. The scene that really got to me involves a giant tortoise. It filled me with such extreme sadness to see what I saw. What Deodato did with this film is wrong. One could argue that it's the real animal violence that really helps make the found footage so realistic and therefore a necessity. Bullshit. The other forms of violence in this film are all just as believable. I do not blame the world of 1980 for arresting Deodato for thinking this was a real film. The practical effects and the way the film is shot is completely believable. The famous shot of a woman impaled from ass through mouth? That totally looks real. For a film almost 35 years old, that's a serious fucking accomplishment. There's absolutely no excuse for why he couldn't have used fake animals and still achieved the same result. It's seriously fucked up and wrong. For this alone I say: Fuck Deodato.

That's it though. That's the only thing about this movie that is not completely on the level. It's a pretty serious detraction from the film too. It's because of this that I don't exactly "like" the film, but it does not destroy everything else the film accomplishes. This film is an achievement. It's the best use of found footage to date, that I've seen, and what the film says transcends it's mere existence.

The new BD from Grindhouse Releasing is astounding as well. The picture quality is so perfect and accentuates the film greatly. That's the true testament to the film's realism, with BD quality it still looks real! Grindhouse also did a solid and included an alternative version of the film called "The Animal Cruelty-Free Version". I will rewatch this film. It's really truly a great piece of filmmaking, but the animal cruelty shit is for the birds.

One final note: I find it both ironic and perfect that a film that displays such ugliness of man has such a beautiful soundtrack. Music, something that man makes. Juxtaposing the beauty of man against the ugliness is yet just another feather in the film's cap.

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