Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust ★★★★

On the shores of life, there are many lines in the sand. These lines are drawn in different places for each individual; what are you willing to be subjected to in the name of art? And does your line coincide with what you will abide for the sake of artistic preservation and posterity, no matter how immoral a given work may be. Cannibal Holocaust is a film that should have never been made. But since it was, I think there is an important conversation to be had with regards to its status in the sphere of cinema and the reasons why it has endured through the years. Does this film cross my own line? The short answer is yes, particularly the scenes of animal cruelty. I simply cannot and will not excuse them in any way. However, when I watch this movie, I do not skip these sequences, because I feel it is essential to understanding the boundaries we should never cross as artists in the future. Apart from providing a trenchant commentary on colonialism, sensationalism in the media and—through the portrayal of supposed ‘civilized’ individuals committing the most heinous acts of cruelty—the rejection of despicable western/white supremacy, Cannibal Holocaust is a useful example to all potential creators of what is and is not unacceptable conduct for achieving your artistic vision.

More so than any other cinematic venture, I will never fault anyone for avoiding this film like the plague. It is in fact abhorrent, disgusting and completely inexcusable. That being said, when a work can spark such a firestorm of censorship and controversy as this was did and continues to do, its importance and relevance cannot be denied. What is deemed—for lack of a better term—okay, when going about shooting a film should always be left up to the creator, not the bodies that govern them. It’s simply a matter of individual morality, for censorship of any kind is a slippery slope towards fascistic ruling, which I find infinitely more terrifying than anything in this movie. Ruggero Deodato crossed the line, but does that mean his film should be rendered inaccessible to the public? Of course not. Many have and will continue to write this film off as “edge-lord garbage”, and whilst I disagree with that assessment, it is one that anybody who harbors it is entitled to. For me personally, I find Cannibal Holocaust to be a singular, taboo-shattering work that sets a trap and proceeds to fall right into it. Is this a bad thing? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make its strong message of elitist rejection and media saturation any less powerful.

As for the film on a purely technical level, it is actually quite impressive. Not only would we not have The Blair Witch Project and the never-ending stream of found-footage horror films that crop up in the years that followed without Cannibal Holocaust and it’s innovative camera techniquesmaking its legacy and unexpected influence that much more profound—but it contains one of the finest original scores of all time. Riz Ortolani and his soothing symphony of melancholic melodies, sorrowful strings and jarring sections of synth work counteract the violent images which Deodato so shamelessly presents. Production was laced with difficulties—seeing as the film was shot on location in some of the deepest bowels of the Amazon jungle—and the ability to withstand these conditions to produce a coherent work is commendable, even if the some of their means of doing so were, in fact, equally condemnable. The acting, while mostly shoddy, is a testament to the dedication of the performers and those gore effects (chiefly, the impalement scene) still hold up as some of the most impressive ever put on film.

Cannibal Holocaust will be forever etched in the minds of those brave enough to withstand it. Peak-exploitation cinema that has never been outdone; and for damn good reason. Though I admire the film for its boldness, there’s no way I would ever wish for anything similar to be made ever again. Like I said before, it’s a relic of filmic history to try and learn from, to help us understand where to draw our boundaries. There will always be evil in the world, but showing that evil on film is indeed a fine line; one that has been crossed before but—with films like this serving as a haunting reminder—should never be crossed again in such a manner.

Jerry McGlothlin liked these reviews