Movie Discussion: Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

  • Monthly Theme: Video Nasties
  • The Film: Cannibal Holocaust
  • Country of origin: Italy
  • Date of Italian release: February 7, 1980
  • Date of U.S. release: July 11, 1980
  • Studio: F.D. Cinematografica
  • Distributer: Transcontinental [dubbed]
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $100,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Ruggero Deodato
  • Producers: Franco Di Nunzio & Franco Palaggi
  • Screenwriter: Gianfranco Clerici
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematography: Sergio D’Offizi
  • Make-Up/FX: Aldo Gasparri
  • Music: Riz Ortolani
  • Part of a series? Yes. This is the second film in Deodato’s Cannibal Trilogy (also known as the Amazonia Trilogy), preceded by 1977’s Jungle Holocaust (a.k.a. The Last Cannibal World) and followed by 1985’s Cut and Run (a.k.a. Straight to Hell).
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Porn star and grindhouse regular Robert Kerman (Debbie Does Dallas, Mangiati Vivi, Cannibal Ferox, etc.)
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: No.
  • Tagline: “They EAT and they are EATEN!”
  • The Lowdown: No.

 If you haven’t seen Cannibal Holocaust our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: I am glad I refilled my anti-depressants recently. After watching Cannibal Holocaust I feel comfortable saying that I hate most of humanity.

Sean: What do you think ‘the point’ of the movie was?

Kristine: I think Cannibal Holocaust is about the universal nature of evil and how power corrupts. I also think our rating, “This film left me hollow and uncertain,” was created for this film. I am unhappy.

Sean: Was it as bad, worse or not as bad as you anticipated?

Kristine: It was worse.

Vegetarian’s manifesto

Sean: Why?

Kristine: I didn’t at all anticipate the film crew being such total horrible monsters. Jungle Jollies?!?!?!? And I had seen the image of the impaled girl before and was shocked when I realized Alan and his crew had done that to her. And the village burning. I was so upset. I am so upset.

Sean: I made a note about Jungle Jollies too. I could not even believe that.

Kristine: It reminded me of I Spit on Your Grave more than I thought it would. By which I mean, there was more raping than I thought there would be. I am over the raping. Enough with rapes.

Sean: This is the thing about Cannibal Holocaust. It is a sleazy exploitation picture with perhaps reprehensible moral failings, but it is also a provocation that has a lot of ideas on its mind.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: It is definitely a much more self-aware movie than I remembered it being. I was surprised by how much the movie talked about itself, especially all the commentary of the media executives as they’re watching the footage of the disappeared film crew.

Kristine: Can I ask a question that is not Cannibal Holocaust-specific?

Sean: Sure.

Fun with Play-doh this ain’t

Kristine: I guess I am out of step with humanity, but I really don’t think cannibalism is that big of a deal, considering the scores of other monstrous things people do to one another. Why is it supposed to be the ‘ultimate in terror’? Ravenous was very invested in this taboo also. This line that can never be crossed? I think the rapes and killings in this movie are way worse. Who cares about a little flesh-eating?

Sean: Right. Compared to the moments when the natives eat the flesh of their victims, we’ve got much more upsetting moments like the ‘ritualistic punishment for adultery’ scene, with the giant stone pestle and the mud-packing.

Kristine: Oh Christ. The mud-packing was the worst.

Sean: I was cracking up at the way the movie opens, with this monologue that explicitly juxtaposes space exploration with primitivism. It goes:

Man is omnipotent. Nothing is impossible for him. What seemed to be unthinkable undertakings yesterday are history today. The conquest of the moon, for example. Who talks about it anymore? Today we are already on the threshold of conquering our galaxy and, in the not-too-distant tomorrow, we’ll be considering the conquest of the universe. And yet man seems to ignore the fact that on this very planet there are still people living in the Stone Age and practicing cannibalism. Primitive tribes isolated in ruthless and hostile environments where the prevailing law is ‘the survival of the fittest.’ And this jungle, which its inhabitants refer to as ‘the Green Inferno,’ is only a few hours’ flying time from New York City.

What really struck me about that opening is how closely it hews to our ongoing argument about science fiction – first started in our discussion of Alien – about the morality of space exploration.

Kristine: See how I am right about space explorers being monsters? This movie confirms it.

We’re asked to be repulsed by this and also excited by it

Sean: I couldn’t believe that this sleazy cannibal exploitation movie from 1980 was making the same connection between our cultural emphasis on pursuing space exploration and an acknowledgement of the prevalence of global suffering and inequity. How can we divert resources to go to the Moon with a clear conscience when so many people don’t even have access to potable water? Are fighting to survive under the regimes of lawless warlords?

Kristine: I was impressed that this movie makes the explicit connection between space travel and the colonial project, and links the forward momentum of humanity to the existence of pre-technological societies.

Sean: It definitely does, which is right away a sophisticated idea. It’s still presented in a poorly written, sloppily-delivered monologue – I mean, this is still a cheap Italian exploitation movie. But Cannibal Holocaust goes out of its way to brand the four young members of the film crew as “children of the Space Age” who are coming into contact with a Stone Age civilization. I think the movie’s thesis statement basically boils down to: ‘today’s media-saturated kids – they’re so morally depraved.’ Which felt like a very current, very 2014 thesis statement.

Kristine: Agreed. This movie anticipates a futuristic society in which things like that disgusting #Jadapose incident happen all the time. It is not optimistic about ‘the next generation.’ Quite the opposite. The movie’s whole project is to condemn Generation X (who, in 2014, have been usurped by Millennials).

Explicit link: Cinema + Death

Sean: And the role of technology in Gen X’s moral depravity is really interesting and reminded me of Thesis constantly. This is yet another horror film that – like Peeping Tom, like The Fourth Man, like Targets and like so many others – identifies an inherent sadism in the cinematic project. It sees the camera as a weapon, as a tool that incites our most repulsive impulses. I think that’s one of the ways Cannibal Holocaust is actually quite conservative in the classic sense: it fears progress and the future, and looks longingly back on a time before. That’s part of what that opening monologue is meant to establish – the ‘ruthless and hostile environment’ that could be outer space or could be the inner Amazon. The people who represent the future are revealed to be morally bankrupt, savage and depraved, while the ‘traditionalist’ cannibals actually possess some kind of noble savagery that’s got a moral valence. Even though the cannibal tribes engage in “barbaric” practices, the movie always goes out of its way to justify those acts in a cultural context. Like that horrible rape-by-stone-pestle scene, where the guide is quick to explain “That punishment is considered a divine commandment – if he hadn’t killed her, she would have killed him.” We’re meant to be repulsed and titillated by the cannibals, but to always understand that their behavior is determined by a social structure and a belief system. They’ve got ‘values.’ Whereas the Space Age Kids – the four members of the film crew – have no values. Actually, their only value is their own invincibility. They say, “For us the difficult doesn’t exist and the impossible takes just a little more time!” Their acts of violence are committed for no discernable reason. They’re just acts of pure, unmotivated sadism and misanthropy. Remember that the Tree People literally turn the film canisters left behind by the Space Age Kids into talismans and fetish objects. The professor explains,  “The Yanamomos understood how important these film cans were to Allan Yates and his crew. They thought their silver boxes contained their power, a power which, I must say again, caused much damage and violence.” That’s some pretty pointed meta-criticism of media and cinema, in general. Because the thing that defines the film crew is their ownership of the cinematic apparatus, of ‘drawing power’ from those canisters. By this movie’s calculus the following is true:

The future = technology = sociopathic sadism = erosion of cultural/moral systems and values = terrifying and unfathomable.

The sadistic woman

The past = lack of technology = violent behavior that is curtailed and defined by a cultural/moral system = shocking but understandable.

Kristine: I agree with all that. To the film crew, getting the shot is more important than reality and the ends justify any means. But you’ve avoided directly answering my question about why cannibalism is such a taboo.

Sean: The movie presents cannibalism as merely a vicarious thrill, right? I’d say, outside of the movie, it’s a taboo for two reasons: (1) it’s the ultimate nightmare for a capitalist economy to – in such an explicit and unambiguous way – turn people into a consumer product; (2) It’s supposed to be a mark of our advancement as a species that we do not feed off of each other, because that would not benefit our subsistence. Isn’t that one of the big theories about what happened to the Rapa Nui civilization on Easter Island? They ran out of produce and game and lumber and so turned to cannibalism? That’s the cautionary tale right there. If you’re feeding on each other, you’re not – as a species – surging forth to be fruitful and multiply. You’re depleting your own species.

Kristine: But we’re all grist for the mill anyway, so who cares?

Sean: Well, we only like when people become symbolic products (celebrities, for example). But we’re always struggling with the commodification of the body. Prostitution’s illegal. You can’t profit from organ donation. Those things are taboo (and become black market operations). Cannibalism, to me, falls under that umbrella.

Becomes the focus of male sadism

Kristine: Right. All of the Space Age Kid footage was intense – like when Faye is freaking out about the tarantula on her shoulder and before helping her, the men make sure to get good footage of her panic.

Sean: The way the men continually turn the camera on Faye and objectify/terrorize her with it was shocking to me.

Kristine: Also, they’re all smirking at her panic and jubilant about the fact that they’ve captured something ‘authentic’ on camera. I think the professor says at one point, about the Space Age Kids,  “You know what finally convinced them [to go on their expedition]? The chance to become famous. To reach that spot where time stopped three or four thousand years ago.” They’re wannabe celebs and time travellers. They’re Nash Grier and Marty McFly.

Sean: Totally.

Kristine: Or when they’re admiring the impaled woman’s body and Alan has to be reminded that he’s being filmed so he’ll stop smirking in satisfaction at their handiwork. And then he feigns horror, being like, “Oh good Lord, it’s unbelievable, it’s horrible. I can’t understand the reason for such cruelty. It must have something to do with some obscure sexual rite or… With the almost profound respect these primitives have for virginity…” He’s pinning the violence on the tribes when he and his friends are actually the perpetrators. For me, those kinds of moments are where the film almost becomes subversive. The tribe cutting the Space Age rapist’s dick off? The camera zooming in on the bleeding stump where his rapist dick used to be? Subversive. But the movie is so racist and dehumanizing itself in its treatment of the native peoples, and is so intent on fetishizing and exploiting them. “To become like [the natives], naked and unfettered as Adam,” a white character says at one point. I mean, I know it’s an exploitation movie, but it really cancels out some of those moments of real subversion and radicalness. Plus, the natives are rapists themselves so… I guess everyone is just a horrible monster.

Polemic: How we could deal with rapists

Sean: I agree that there’s subversive content in the movie. Like when they rip the pregnant woman’s fetus out and fucking chuck it in the dirt? Maybe subversive’s the wrong word for that moment, but its certainly a taboo-busting, confrontational one. Something that did feel genuinely subversive to me was when the professor’s guide tells him something along the lines of “People like you would invent this hellhole if it didn’t already exist, whereas I’d give anything to be anywhere else.” That moment is about race, nationhood, class… So much.  But the movie is also about voyeurism and the pleasure of looking and turning people into objects/spectacles – like the Prof. and his guides hiding in the bushes watching the rape/murder of the adulteress. “Just sit back and enjoy the show,” that same guide says to the professor during that scene.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Which of course, becomes about anthropology and colonialism really overtly in the movie. It’s very meta and aware of everything its doing but also – and I’d forgotten this – it’s pretty formally innovative. It’s narrative structure is complex and interesting, with the stories within stories and all the different narrative frameworks in play.

Kristine: Agreed. There’s the film within the film within the film.

Sean: And just how the camera will play with diegetic space by showing a monitor playing footage and then zoom into the monitor and then we’re suddenly inside that space, inside the footage, inside a new cinematic construct. We keep rising and falling within layers of time and space, Inception-like. It’s got a much more sophisticated structure than I’d remembered.

Polemic: How we could deal with overpopulation

Kristine: Absolutely. I have some begrudging admiration for this movie, but also a couple of genuine likes. Are you amazed? Do you want to hear them?

Sean: Of course.

Kristine: Okay, there are only two. First, the root house where the Tree People live is really cool.

Sean: That is pretty amazing.

Kristine: Second, the score is bizarre in all the right ways. At first I thought it was totally incongruous, but ultimately I found it very effective and pretty cool.

Sean: Yes, that scuzzy 1970s soft-rock melodrama music is part of what makes the movie suffocating and nauseating for me.

Kristine: There. Those are the only things I actually liked about the movie. Let’s talk a bit more about its meta qualities. Like, how exactly is it self-aware? Because I agree that it is.

Sean: To riff off our Blood Feast conversation where we talked about how that movie presented a kind of self-critique in the final scene, Cannibal Holocaust similarly comments on itself at the end. “I want this material burned. All of it,” is one of the last lines in the movie, spoken by one of the media execs who has just realized how disgusting and morally repulsive their project really is. Also, Professor Monroe says, “This so-called documentary footage is offensive, it is dishonest, and above all it is inhuman.” That’s the movie letting us know that it knows how it will be received. It knows it will be accused of being garbage (just like Blood Feast does). But it also sticks up for itself at certain points, like when someone remarks, about the Space Age Kids, that “the stuff they shot could really gut-punch you… And did they know how to play an audience.” The ability to cause intense emotion in your audience is, at least partially, celebrated as a real achievement, a real power. That might be what animates those discarded film canisters as talismans, as sources of power. Later, one of the execs says, “You must admit it’s exceptional footage. I didn’t expect such impact, such authenticity.” That’s Deodato defending his work, to me.

Polemic: How we could deal with IKEA

Kristine: So does Cannibal Holocaust’s self-awareness excuse it? Does the self-awareness actually deconstruct any criticisms that might be leveled against it?

Sean: I don’t really think so. I mean, the actual killing of animals on-screen is morally sickening.

Kristine: I totally agree.

Sean: But still, let me play devil’s advocate. Part of the outrage we feel about the killing of the animals comes from the idea that the animals are just killed ‘for the movie,’ and thus that (like most of what the Space Age Kids do in the film) the violence is senseless and without purpose. But don’t most of the animals killed in the movie get eaten on-camera? They all eat the turtle. The muskrat and the monkey are both also eaten.

Kristine: You think that is the real turtle’s meat that they are eating? I don’t. I don’t think the bodies of those animals were actually consumed by the actors. Poor monkey and poor muskrat. I hate everything.

Sean: I mean, they butchered the thing on camera. Why not just cook and eat it if your script calls for the actors to eat turtle meat? The worst animal death in the movie, for me, was the shooting of the little pig.

Kristine: Me too! I would rather watch Fuad Ramses rip out 1,000 tongues than watch that piggie get shot again.

Sean: I had tears in my eyes.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 1.31.31 PM
Fact: In the American South, turtle is called ‘cooter’

Kristine: It’s so despicable because it is just this mucho macho power play before they burn the village. Those fuckers! I really hate them.

Sean: But to play devil’s advocate again, I love bacon… I do think there’s a lot of moral hypocrisy for Americans and other Westerners who partake of the meat-producing industrial complex (by consuming the meat that gets churned out of it) to get on too much of a moral high horse about this movie.

Kristine: Another thing that weighs against the film is that despite it dealing with some Big Ideas, it still is not respectful to the native culture. The tribal folk aren’t credited and are totally misrepresented, even if they aren’t “the worst” people in the film.

Sean: This is where the movie purports to actually critique imperialism and the colonial project, but both Deodato with this movie (and Eli Roth with The Green Inferno, his upcoming tribute to Cannibal Holocaust) had to perform a type of colonization in order to make the movie. They had to commodify the natives. This movie ends with the line, “I wonder who the real cannibals are…” as a weak cover against being accused of racist depictions of the native culture, but it’s still racist.

Kristine: So racist.

Sean: This is where we get into the issue of, ‘How do people living in the Western industrialized world even talk about or represent these kinds of pre-industrial societies’…

Kristine: Like how an entire village can be cowed by these four buffoons with guns. I liked the conflict at the beginning better, where the army dudes and the natives with their blow darts were pretty evenly matched.

Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and all the rest are literally born from this moment

Sean: Watching this, can you understand how the Italian authorities could have thought it was an actual snuff movie?

Kristine: I actually don’t understand that. I don’t believe they really thought that. I have done zero research on the case, but my uninformed opinion is that they were just outraged in general and were trying to think of a way to sock it to Deodato.

Sean: The facts as reported are that they believed that the Space Age Kids had actually been killed by the natives for the movie crew’s benefit and the actors had to appear in court and break their contract of media silence to prove that they hadn’t been killed.

Kristine: Well, I don’t believe that. I mean, I believe that the actors had to appear in court, but I don’t think the authorities ever believed actually thought it was a snuff movie. I think they were giving Deodato the business for making a gross and disturbing movie.

Sean: That’s quite a theory.

Kristine: Why didn’t they demand the impaled native girl appear in court to prove that she wasn’t killed for the benefit the film?

Sean: I do have to say, that was an incredible practical effect. I kept trying to figure out how they did it, but I couldn’t.

Kristine: I didn’t try to figure it out. But I think it’s a good question – it’s not a snuff film if only the natives are killed?

Another cinematic space within a cinematic space

Sean: This is why the Last Road to Hell segment is included in the movie. Remember that?

Kristine: Oh right – the fake executions and war footage.

Sean: The Lady Movie Exec is like, “Just to give you an idea how Allan and the others worked… Everything you just saw was a put-on. That was no enemy army approaching. Allan paid those soldiers to do a bit of acting for him.” Deodato is telling us everything we’re seeing is fake. That same exec later says, “Come on now, professor, let’s be realistic. Who knows anything about the Yakumo civilization? Today people want sensationalism. The more you rape their senses, the happier they are.”

Kristine: Now here is the question – was the Last Road to Hell footage fake? After all, the lady exec didn’t know about the ‘real’ Alan or how he operated until she was forced to watch the lost footage.

Sean: Like, is it fake within the world of the movie? Or was it actually staged footage IRL? See the Baudrillardan rabbit hole we go down here? What’s real? What’s a simulacrum? Who knows?

Kristine: Yes. So, the real cannibal is… the media.

Sean: Á la Hitchcock’s Frenzy.

Kristine: Or, more specifically… female executives!

The face of the future

Sean: Well, she is visibly sickened after she’s seen all the footage. That’s why this movie, against all fucking odds or reason, has a ‘happy’ ending. The cynical purveyors of mass shock culture are actually, by encountering this footage, made to feel the moral weight of their roles in the system and they recoil. Despite having invested in its procurement, they burn the footage. Isn’t this Deodato’s version of a fairytale ending?

Kristine: Except there is something to the reasoning (though it is often used disingenuously) that some stories should be hidden away and not told because we find them distasteful or morally repugnant.

Sean: What do you think about my theory that the ending is meant to be ‘happy’? I mean, the movie is open about the fact that cinema a sadistic enterprise. Remember when when someone says, “Their mics were just above the lens, like a gun barrel.”

Kristine: I disagree. I think the execs just have weak stomachs and know they can’t get away with marketing the footage now that they have seen all of it. I think if they knew about Alan and his antics, but hadn’t personally seen and been sickened by the footage, and if they knew they could get away with making the movie and no one seeing the real story, they would have gone for it. So, I don’t believe it’s meant to be any kind of happy ending.

Sean: Doesn’t it remind you of all the Spanish news stations airing the snuff footage at the end of Thesis because “people deserve to know”? The cynical media execs in Cannibal Holocaust make a similar argument for showing the footage on television. They say,  “We have to let the public know the truth. We’ll let the people be the judge. Better yet, we’ll let the people who knew them best be the judge: their parents, their wives…”

Kristine: I didn’t until you brought it up…

Sean: Fact: the actor who plays Prof. Harold Monroe, NYU’s noted anthropologist, is an ex-porn star who was in Debbie Does Dallas.

Becomes the face of Death

Kristine: I thought he stripped down pretty quickly.

Sean: The native women grabbing his floppy dick…

Kristine: That was an annoying ‘lovable childlike natives’ scene, I thought.

Sean: Totally.

Kristine: What do you think about Faye? I thought the towheaded camera boy was going to rape her in the mud when she was trying to pull Alan off native girl.

Sean: I was sure that he wouldn’t, because of the racial politics of the movie. Like how Faye is only mad when Alan wants to participate in the rape?

Kristine: Right? She isn’t trying to pull Alan off to protect native girl, but only because she is jealous? That’s pretty fucked up.

Sean: The gender stuff throughout the movie sickened me. How Alan is like, “Well there’s only one thing that scares me…. And that’s marriage.” And Faye, in her shrill and horrible voice, is like, “He’d take me to the North Pole to put it off!” Ba-dum-bum.

Kristine: She is presented as pretty awful.

Sean: She’s the ‘script girl’ lagging around behind Alan waiting for him to marry her, while his friends ogle her and steal her underwear.

Kristine: Disgusting. Is Faye punished because of her adventurousness/bitchiness?

Voyeurism, pleasure and the exhibition

Sean: Definitely. She’s presented as a jealous, sadistic shrew. Though I was pretty amazed/provoked by the scene where Faye and Alan are having weird rough sex on the jungle floor and then the camera suddenly pulls back and all the natives are assembled there, as spectators. That was a pretty wild and amazing moment, I thought. But so much of it comes at Faye’s expense.

Kristine: Remember that Faye tells the men not to capture the native girl (What was the term she used? Oh, right… The “monkey”) because “she stinks”?

Sean: When the film crew in NYC does all those background interviews about each of the Space Age Kids by waylaying their family members with the camera (so TMZ), the families of all the men are like, ‘Oh so-and-so was a horrid sonofabitch goodfornothing.’ But for Faye’s background they wind up interviewing a nun???? And Faye was actually an invented persona for someone named Tina? Who “always wanted to be an actress… [and] was very energetic, very hard-working, very ambitious, extremely ambitious…”? And then the nun tells us, “I used to say to [Tina], ‘Do you ever think you’ll be at peace with yourself?’ Now she is, God rest her soul.”

Kristine: That was very weird and such a fucked-up way to contrast two modes of femininity. Because that woman is not only a nun, but a nun gently tending to adorable children while Tina/Faye went off to get her ‘jungle jollies.’

Sean: Right??

Kristine: And Tina/Faye gets raped and killed, accordingly. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to say she “finally becomes at peace with herself.”

Sean: God rest her soul, Kristine.

Kristine: Ugh.

Female body as literal grist for the mill

Sean: The film is definitely sadistic to Faye, but it also punishes her male colleagues too. Most pointedly in that revolting/amazing dick-severing sequence you referenced earlier.

Kristine: I guess there is some kind of poetic justice going on for the men, too. They all get killed and their story is destroyed and forgotten. All that ‘ambition’ for naught.

Sean: Right. When they were shouting, “Keep rolling, we’re gonna get an Oscar for this!” it’s clear that their motives are deeply cynical and driven by media and celebrity. So it’s sort of fitting that they die in obscurity and have their story repressed/burned by the system that created them.

Kristine: Another quasi-‘happy ending’?

Sean: So without the animal-killing legacy of this movie, would it still be watched and talked about?

Kristine: I don’t know if it would or it wouldn’t. Are the other Italian cannibals as political?

Sean: Several are, most aren’t. Cannibal Ferox is the other big one. I like it better than this. It’s more subversive and weird, but less formally innovative.

Kristine: Like, what percentage of the ongoing conversation about Cannibal Holocaust is about the on-screen killing of animals and what percentage is about the potentially subversive politics?

Worst thing ever

Sean: Its infamous for the animal stuff. I don’t know that its politics get a lot of thought or discussion.

Kristine: Do we know why Deodato made it? What inspired him?

Sean: I don’t know a ton about that, though he’d made a cannibal movie before this one, so it was a genre he’d already worked in. But I’ve read that Deodato was really inspired by the ‘mondo movie‘ craze when he made Cannibal Holocaust and reportedly said he wanted it to feel like a mondo movie.

Kristine: Does it feel like a mondo movie to you?

Sean: Yeah, sure. “Purportedly real,” right?

Kristine: Yes. It does fuck with the line between the real and the cinematic in some interesting ways. I’d say that’s the main thing to recommend it, and the main thing an aesthetic defense of this movie should focus on.

Sean: But what’s the main project of the movie? To explain to us how our thirst for the frisson of the media experience has turned us into soulless monsters?

Also a worst thing

Kristine: Yes. To the point where the Space Age Kids [the stand in for ‘us’] commit horrible acts, like burning down the village, because they wanted the footage. But raping the girl – that was just their ‘jungle jollies.’

Sean: Well, but even the Jungle Jollies thing is about cinema and spectacle – that’s the name they come up with for their impromptu ‘porno film.’ It’s all about being on camera and being famous. It’s very YouTube. Very ‘Vine celebrity.’

Kristine: So disgusting.

Sean: I’m curious about how the movie affected you on a visceral level. Did you ever look away, bury your face, or refuse to look? For me, I could barely look at the turtle disembowelment. I felt legitimately nauseous watching it and buried my face in my dog’s fur until it was over.

Kristine: When I saw the turtle being hauled out of the water, I went behind the corner and peeped out occasionally until it was over (which was a long time, by the way). The flesh-eating at the very beginning was really gnarly, too. It doesn’t help it is 103˚ and 99.9% humidity in Texas and I feel nauseous all the time, anyway.

cannibal holocaust brrip.rmvb_003280000
Also contender for worst

Sean: Faye eating the turtle leg made me dry heave.

Kristine: Every time there was an animal on screen, I got nervous. I was ready to be upset at any moment and also ready to flee the couch and go behind the corner. I had a pre-arranged hidey spot.

Sean: Well, is this the nastiest movie of the video nasties?

Kristine: This is worst, nastiest thing we’ve ever watched.

Sean: I hated rewatching it. I aim to never watch it again for the rest of my life.

Kristine: Me neither.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Provocative and problematic AND This is horror movie homework – essential to know, but not fun to complete AND This movie left me hollow and uncertain AND Totally disgusting AND Mucho racisto

The Freak’s Rating: Horror for the Youtube generation AND Mucho racisto AND Deserves props for being groundbreaking and innovative AND This is horror movie homework – essential to know, but not fun to complete AND This movie left me hollow and uncertain AND Totally disgusting.

5 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

  1. I have a few things to say about this movie, God help me.

    First of all, the Last Road to Hell footage is real. It’s stock footage of actual executions presented as faked footage presented as real footage. Some of it is from Uganda, specifically from Barbet Schroeder’s documentary Idi Amin Dada, some of it is from Nigeria.

    The animal killings trouble me quite a bit, but I think there’s some hypocrisy in the way some people are horrified by movies like this but give a free pass to, for example, Tarkovsky’s Andre Rublev or Bergman’s The Serpent’s Kiss. It also used to be common to kill animals in westerns, from Stagecoach to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Italian cannibal movies gloat on the deaths in exploitative fashion, but I’m not sure that’s worse than doing it casually. I am much more horrified by all the animals that were killed to make the Japanese children’s movie The Adventures of Milo & Otis. Put a kitten on a raft and let it go over a waterfall, pit a puppy against a bear, kids will love it, right?

    Deodato was actually nailed by the courts for the animal killings, which is interesting because other Italian filmmakers who did the same thing were mostly left alone. The big exception is Lucio Fulci, who was accused of torturing dogs for a shocking scene in Lizard With a Woman’s Skin, but he was able to prove in court that they were special effects. I don’t endorse the animal killings in any way, but there are some interesting double standards around them.

    Deodato was definitely referencing the Mondo filmmakers, but he was also attacking the media’s coverage of the Red Brigade terrorist attacks. One of the reasons that Italian movies of the ’70s in particular were so extreme is that Italy was overflowing with violent unrest. Many Italian filmmakers were broadly left-wing and socialist and so had complicated reactions to this, as the terrorists were communists and leftists in general seldom align themselves with the police. You can see this in arthouse movies like Salo or Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, but also in horror movies and their weird hard-nosed cop genre, the poliziottesco. A movie like Violent Naples is a lot more morally ambiguous and challenging than the American movies that influenced it like Dirty Harry or The French Connection.

  2. Hey guys. Thanks for suffering through this one, because I enjoyed reading your take on it. It has to be one of the most reprehensible films I’ve ever seen, but the technical aspects the and lore behind it make me feel like there is at least a little merit in it. I almost wish that it had no redeeming value just so I could dismiss it entirely.

    Regarding Deodato’s trial: apparently they made him recreate the impalement effect in court to prove he’d faked it. It involved having the girl sit on a bicycle seat that was tilted slightly forward so that it’d be obscured by her legs. The upper part had a piece that fit in her mouth. The effects are impressive, but I wonder how much more realism they gain from being inserted alongside actual animal killings? It seems like our brains are pretty good at distinguishing real from fake, but maybe throwing something undeniably real into the mix undermines that filter. Still, I remember thinking there was a definite shift in the way the gore was portrayed in the opening segments of the film and in the found footage, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was deliberately done.

    The DVD I rented had some interviews with the cast in which they were asked about what it was like to film out in the jungle with Deodato. Apparently some of the animal killings were sprung on them as surprises and (understandably) upset some of them. Some even wondered if Deodato was filming an actual snuff film in which they’d eventually be killed on-camera. There was also apparently a language barrier between Deodato and the cast, so they were unsure what he wanted them to do half the time – which of course made him angry and frustrated with them. Eventually they started showing up to the shoot with money and passports tucked into their shoes in case they had to make a break for it and escape. It seems like a lot of the hostility and mean-spiritedness occurring behind the scenes bled through to the final product.

    As an explanation for the number of on-screen animal deaths, I’ve heard that Deodato and Umberto Lenzi had something of a feud going in which they were trying to one-up each other with the gore in their cannibal films. Not sure about this one though – it sounds like it could easily be a rumor.

  3. Awesome to hear from you, Eric. We usually watch digital files that come with no special features and I’m always curious about what the DVD/BluRay additional material might be. Thanks for the info – my impression is that a lot of the Italians making horror movies with international casts in that era had language barriers (Best Worst Movie talked about this kind of thing with Claudio Fragasso).

    I definitely think the ‘logic’ behind the turtle sequence is how it parallels the SFX used when the guy gets hacked to death at the end – the false torso they’re using jiggles and sloshes just like the real turtle innards and, yes, blurs the line between fake and real.

    Curious: are you interested in/will you see Eli Roth’s Green Inferno?

  4. Thanks Pearce – this context is really amazing and I wasn’t thinking about it (re: animals injured/killed in all kinds of ‘classic’ movies from pre-animal safety eras AND the political climate in 1970s Italy). And knowing that the Last Road to Hell footage is authentic is… well, I’m going to think about what that is.

    I’m super curious about whether or not you’re anticipating Roth’s Green Inferno, which comes out later this year. I’m trying to imagine what it would mean if it was a hit/cultural phenomena (á la Hostel) and what a movie like this even signifies in 2014. I teach college English, and I’m trying to imagine my students going to see it without any context/awareness of movies like Cannibal Holocaust, and what they’ll think of it….

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