Cannibal Holocaust (AKA Cannibal Massaker) (1979)

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Cannibal Holocaust (AKA Cannibal Massaker) (1979)

First released: 1982

Director: Ruggero Deodato

Current UK Status:  Passed 18 with 15 seconds of cuts

Probably the most notorious of all the Video Nasties, and most well known is Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, a survival horror movie well ahead of it’s time and to this day remains one of the most shocking films ever put to video. Now, I don’t agree with banning films in any way, shape or form, but I do have a very big question as I make my way through this extensive list. Amazingly The Best In Heat (AKA SS Hell Camp) and Blood Rites (AKA The Ghastly One’s) are STILL banned, and yet Cannibal Holocaust, although cut, is available. Now, I don’t believe any of these films should still be banned, but there are far more shocking scenes in this, the Daddy of all the Video Nasties, than in all of The Beast in Heat and Blood Rites put together, and the frightening thing about Cannibal Holocaust is that it looks real. It was the realism which caused most of the films problems, and we will get to that, but let’s see how the film worked it’s way through the scare. In July 1983 Cannibal Holocaust was removed from shelves as a Video Nasty, and remained banned, even though Go-Video had already pre-cut the film for their February 1982 release. It wasn’t until July 2001, almost twenty years later, that the film was released, although cut by 5:44 minutes! It wasn’t until Shamless released the film again this year that all the violence and animal cruelty was pretty much restored, with only 15 seconds of cuts. Very recently the director himself released his own edit for Shameless Video, reducing the animal cruelty but restoring all the human violence, and this version was released without any further cuts, and is the director’s preferred version. However, if you want to see the fully uncut version (there are a number of versions out there claiming to be fully uncut) then you need to buy the Region One Grindhouse Deluxe Two Disk Edition. Regardless of what anyone tells you, this is the truest version of the film, completely uncut.

Italian born Ruggero Deodato was one of the first of the Italian horror directors to re-kick start the Cannibal film craze of the late 70’s and early 80’s after Umberto Lenzi’s early film The Man From Deep River. It was his own Cannibal World (1977) which influenced other director’s to make films such as Cannibal Ferox. Throughout the Video Nasties scare, it seemed any film with the word Cannibal in it got itself banned. Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Man and Cannibal Apolcalypse to name a few, but for me, Cannibal Holocaust is the best and most frightening out of the lot, but Deodato was not always a horror director. Born in May 1939, he grew up and went to school with Renzo Rossellini, son of famous Italin director Roberto Rossellini. Renzo, knowing Deodato’s love of films, got the pair jobs as second unti director’s on his Father’s films. 1958-67 saw Deodato branch out as a second unti director and worked on many cult director’s works, some names he worked with included Riccardo Freda, Athhony M. Dawson and Joseph Losey. In 1964 Deodato made his directorial debut, the action fantasy Ursus, Il Terrore Dei Kerghisi, and in 1966 directed the film which really got him noticed, the Spaghetti Western Django. Before moving on to direct TV commercials and the TV series All Ultimo Minuto (1971) between the years of 1971-75, Deodato spent the years before directing musicals and films based on comic book characters. It was during these years he met and married Silvia Dionisio.

In 1976 he returned to feature length movies wit a violent cop thriller called Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man, and around the same time he divorced his wife. It was Deodato’s The Last Cannibal World (1977) which got the Italian Cannibal film moving again, and in 1979 the director made the most perfect of Cannibal films, Cannibal Holocaust. Due to the content of Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato had his licence revoked temporarily, and eventually made a semi follow up to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left called The House at the Edge of the Park, one of the most heavily cut of all the Video Nasties. The film was shot on a micro budget in just 19 days and a sequel is currenlty in pre-production. During the 80’s and  Deodato continued to make horrors and action films and then had more success in the90’s directing TV movies and dramas. The director was recently seen in a cameo in Eli Roth’s Hostel part 2 where he played the part of cannibal eating a victims leg. There are still rumours that he will direct a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust.

There is no doubt that Cannibal Holocaust caused controversy, from the rea life animal killings to the rumours of the film being an actual snuff movie. Not many films can have such an impact that the director was actually arrested and jailed for ten days on charges of murder and animal cruelty, but Deodato went through just that. His film, Cannibal Holocaust, notorious as it was, was incredibly successful before being banned just about everywhere. It was the second highest grossing film in Japan when released, second only to E.T, and it is claimed the film has so far made $200 million worldwide in both cinema and DVD sales. There is no question that when people discuss Video Nasties, Cannibal Holocaust will get a mention, and rightly so. The film is a vile, vicious but brilliant peice ofwork, and even with todays gore hungry horrors, you are unlikely to see anything quite as shocking as this. However, for all it’s bad reputation and notoriety, the film is actually incredibly well made and ,in my opinion, is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. To still have a hold over modern horror in that in influenced the entire found footage genre (no one has yet matched it) and pretty much every cannibal horror released will get compared to it (again, none have even come close to it’s brilliance), like it or not, Cannibal Holocaust is a very important film and one of the most important and influential horrors of all time. The fact Deodato was arrested and facing murder charges is testament to the films brilliance and realism. In fact, we was so much in trouble he had to ask his producer to get his cast of actors killed off in the film to fly to Italy to prove they were still alive! Initially, Deodato had asked his cast to lay low for a years after the film to give the impression they had actually died, but in desperation he had to get them back. Another part of the film he had to prove was fake in court was the native girl on a stick, which was belived to be real. The effect was created by having the girl sit in a bicycle seat and placing a pice of wood in her moth while she looked up, to give the impression of being impaled, the actress had to recreate this in court to prove it was fake!

Now, the film itself is a work of art, a work of genius as a crew of rescuers head into the Amazon Jungle to try a find a documentary film crew who went there to film and study the Cannibal tribes. They haven’t been heard from in a long time, and we follow the resuce team (lead by Monroe), eventually finding the leftover cameras and then presenting the videos to a TV network who plan to show the original expedition. However, as they watch what happend to the documentary film crew scenes of violence and disgust appear on screen, for us all to see. The film opens with gentle, tranquil music that is a million miles form the horrors that follow, but is testament to the great Italian horros of that era, and we then dive straight in to a news real explaining about the explorers and who they were. The rescuers then head into the jungle and do their best not to upset any of the local tribes. Our first real scene of violence comes as we bare witness to a native girl being brutally beated and raped with a large rock, some of the rescuers want to help, however one of them says not to interfere as it is a tribal ritual. It is a shocking and violent scene that still holds up today as a sickening act, and one which has been copied numerous times but again, never bettered. If you haven’t seen the film before, it is here where you suddenly realise just how real and how frightening this film really is. The brilliance of these early Cannibal films was the use of Jungle tribes, making it all seem far more real to the point you actually begin to question if this is infact real. Documentaries, known as Mondo, were available around these times which had filmmakers filming so-called Cannibals and other bizarre aspects of human nature, often getting their subjects to act up for the camera to boost ratings. It is believed that Cannibal Holocaust was Deodato’s answer to those filmmakers, and it was also the fact he witnessed his son watching vilolence on the news which influenced him to make such a film.

Later on the rescue team witness a tribe war on the river, and use their guns to save the side they are here to study. Getting a buzz off it, one of the rescuers strips and enters the river to feel like a native, and a group of naked native women join him in the river, accompanied by calming music the scene almost becomes comical. It is a gentle reminder that these natives, cannibals or not, are still human beings. Later the rescuers arrive in the native’s village, with a dead body hanging above a fire, one jokingly states “they just invited us to dinner” Oh how right you are! The rescuers evetually find the previous explorers video cameras, and we soon head back to the safe USA and watch the video footage with them, and here is where the film takes things up a notch, both in it’s violence and it’s brilliance. Now you must remember that back then, ‘found footage’ horror had never been heard of, so as we watch the tapes of the doomed explorers unfold, we can only assume it is real. Even by todays standards, it is very difficult to see what is fake amd what’s not. Granted there are a few minor flaws in certain camera angles, but for the majority this is flawless, the hand held camera being done right and done effectively and it is totally believable. It is no wonder people thought this was a snuff film, and watching the film now and based on it’s merits and authenticity, there is no doubt that thirty years ago this would have caused absolute blind panic among those who watched it. To this day I am staggered at how well this film is put together and presented.

The team of researches start off, as with all found footage films, in good spirits, laughing and joking as they head into the jungle to begin exploring. After a brief lull in violence we very soon witness the first real image of animal cruetly and, granted, it is sickening. The researches kill and cut open a live turtle, something which the actors look to be enjoying, however once the camera’s stopped filming they were disgusted in what they were doing. Most of the film crew tried to get Deodato to stop, but he stated legally they could do it based on where they were filming. However, looking back, Deodato has expressed his regret in his actions. The scene was made up by the researchers as a homage to the infamouse Mondo films where scenes were often staged to boost viewings.Animals are used not only to disgust, but also to frighten as one scene involves a horrific giant spider resting on the shoulder of one of the girls, and later on a snake bite leads the way to a vicious and barbaric chopping off of a cameraman’s leg as he his then left to die. The most unsettling part is the madness in the guy’s eyes as he raises his machete and chops away, again the special effects are flawless. The researches soon find the village and in probably the worst image of animal cruelty we witness the natives slice off the top of a monkeys head. The plan here was for the special effects guys to then replace the monkeys head with a fake one in order for the naitves to eat a fake pink goo made to look like brains. The native’s refused, claiming monkeys brains was a delicacy to them! Further on our researches, haunted by what they are seeing, begin to lose their own sanity as one of them shoots a live pig, and then they move on to burn a native village claiming “this is daily violence of the strong over coming the weak!!” There minds are being lost in this world of where only the strong survive, and they are struggling to adapt.

Things become rather messy for our once happy researchers as they become violent and unforgiving, with two of them even having sex in front of the natives as their village burns all around them. You just know these researchers are asking for trouble, and you already know how this film will end. The strange thing is, you still care about the documentary crew, mainly due to the actors fine performances. More violence follows as the crew move on a witness a further tribe stoning a diseased girl to death after performing a forced pregnancy (one of the more infamous scenes), only this time the researches seem to enjoy it. Back home in the US, in a darkened room the TV company and Monroe, head of the rescue team look on in disgust, then Monroe utters the chilling warning that it gets worse. However the TV company, as is the basic nature of humans, needs to see more, just to be sure they cannot broadcast it, and what follows is far worse than anything they have already seen.

The final half hour shows the researches at their worst as they find a murdered native girl on a stick, an image which became one of the most famous images of the Video Nasty era. The chilling part is how they walk around enjoying what they see “watch it Alan!!!” cries one of the cameramen as they film close up. The girl would appear to the same girl the researchers raped earlier.The researches do meet up with a tribe that is not willing to allow them in the jungle anymore, and as the researches hide in the bushes knowing they have done wrong after raping one of the Yacumo Tribe, we feel their fear as cameras shake and they all try to be silent. As the natives run at the crew a genuine sense of absolute terror will wash over you as you suddenly realise just how engrossed you are in the film, and what follows is some of the most disturbing, violent and vicious images you are ever likely to see in a film. What makes the scenes so frightening, again, is the realism and it is very very difficult to distinguish between what is fake, and what is not. Proof of just how well made this film is is in its history of being a snuff film. Viewers honestly believed this was real, and for that Deodato should be applauded at making something so flawlessly.

The film ends perfectly and is guranteed to leave a lasting impression. Most found footage films look for impact in the final shot, and they all learnt that from Deodato, the master. Cannibal Holocaust is without doubt not only one of the greatest horrors ever made, but also one of the greatest films of all time. Now, I don’t mean this simply for its shock value, but also for its attention to detail, its superb acting, breathtaking scenery, flawless special effects and true and real horror which delivers maximum impact. Like it or not, you cannot deny the staggering power of this film, and even now, thirty years on, filmmakers are still learning from Deodato’s genius and that in itself is worthy of the your repsect. Cannibal Holocaust is, and always will be the Daddy of the Video Nasty era, one of the most shocking and influential films ever made, and a film that not only warrants but demands respect.

Should Cannibal Holocaust have been added to the Video Nasties list? Yes, this is one of the few that was actually very offensive and dangerous.

Should the film still be cut? Hard to say, while I’d like to say no, there are scenes in this that will offend people, even by today’s standards.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★

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About Matt Wavish 598 Articles
A keen enthusiast and collector of all horror and extreme films. I can be picky as i like quality in my horror. This doesn't necessarily mean it has to be a classic, but as long as it has something to impress me then i'm a fan. I watch films by the rule that if it doesn't bring out some kind of emotive response then it aint worth watching.

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