Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Radically ahead of its time and still unbearable to watch for many viewers, Cannibal Holocaust marks the apex (or nadir, depending on your viewpoint) of the Italian cannibal movie subgenre which flourished through the '70s and early '80s. ...grim worldview and unremitting nastiness make for a very rough ride whose viciousness remains potent and startling.HORROR
1. An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.
2. A thing causing such a feeling.
Despite its stigma, the Horror Genre is generally meant for fun. It's an adrenaline rush and the filmmakers behind the scenes are usually interested in creating a good time more than anything else. Cannibal Holocaust is horror by the strictest of definitions. I've watched A LOT of horror movies in my time and have a pretty strong stomach for whatever a filmmaker wants to throw at me. Watching Cannibal Holocaust there was some fear, quite a bit of shock, and a great deal of disgust. When I say watching Cannibal Holocaust was a horrific experience, I say it with absolutely no encouragement. This is not a litmus test to see if you can handle the extreme gore. It's not good enough or even bad enough to be interesting.
So then, why does Cannibal Holocaust have any reputation at all? Why does it still have any relevance today, where you can say 'Cannibal Holocaust' in a room and a few people will acknowledge they've at least heard of it? There are a few answers to these questions. First of all, unlike a lot of cheap exploitation horror, the gore effects are quite convincing. In fact, except for the editing in what is supposed to be found footage, the images and performances are mostly convincing. This is aided by the filmmakers decision to film animals that were most definitely harmed on camera. It's a moral line, one of many the film will cross both in the fiction of the story and for real. By not holding back on any transgression, Cannibal Holocaust is much more challenging and dangerous than anything remotely similar.
The story is told in three groups. There is an expedition to search for a small documentary crew that disappeared in the jungle, the found footage showing what happened to that crew and the financiers reacting to the footage. By far the most interesting thing about Cannibal Holocaust is the debates by the producers over the found footage, which depict the film crew upsetting the villagers with appalling sadistic violence applied by a feeling of superiority. The scenes, which include burning the villagers huts have obvious political parallels and I actually applaud the film for how believable I found their actions. A moment of lust becomes a graphic sex scene performed in front of the now homeless natives, who can only watch from the beach in the deep background. It may sound like B.S. exploitation, but I bought as very interesting commentary. Plus, it perfectly sets up the revenge you know is coming.
Meanwhile, the producers question the actions of the dead filmmakers. I'm sure this is nothing more than little breathers meant to wet your appetite for what's to come. It does feel like "well if you thought that was horrible, wait till you see what's on the next reel." However, the discussions are ernest, even if accidentally so. They talk about whether it's right to film such atrocities as female mutilation. Aren't the filmmakers equally guilty of savagery? Should the found footage that people lost their lives to film, even see the light of day? (Of course that last one is great meta-commentary since I'm sitting there watching the same footage.)
Ultimately, what is genuinely interesting about Cannibal Holocaust is undermined by a couple of huge mistakes at a crucial moment. For the first hour the only silly moment is when the leader of the 2nd expedition decides to go skinny dipping to gain the trust of the tribe. He's soon joined by a group of native girls. Only, they don't look like National Geographic natives so much as Polynesian porn stars. In the last twenty minutes, the film crew participates in a gang rape. It makes no sense. Nothing the crew has done before make this a plausible action, especially since one of the crew is with his girlfriend. She is literally shoved aside as he takes his turn. (Also, it happens in mud to hide the fact that the victim is white, unlike the rest of the tribe.) This is followed by a graphic discovery, and the reactions sound completely false. Right at the climax these characters reveal themselves as actors. The whole enterprise loses all credibility.
Before the final stupid decisions, I wrestled between giving 2 1/2 stars because there is some interesting discussion to be had about Cannibal Holocaust and giving it 1/2 star because I want to sound as discouraging as possible. (Zero Stars can act as encouragement because it means I was offended, so it worked on some level.) There are a handful of absolutely brutal, immoral films out there. The question remains can they be defended on some kind of artistic grounds. Films like Salo and Enter The Void are easy to support by comparison. The original Last House on the Left takes higher ground than Cannibal Holocaust. Ultimately, the few really interesting bits do not balance out the rest of the film's extreme off-putting disregard for humanity, which is displayed like a badge of honor. Cannibal Holocaust isn't the worst film ever made. It is a film best ignored and forgotten.RATING: * 1/2