Cannibal Holocaust (1980) exists in infamy for more than one reason. Director Ruggero Deodato released Cannibal Holocaust during a brief rash of Italian movies based on cannibalism. Some hail this film for its stark and graphic realism. Others point to the question mark that it places on societal and cultural norms. Still, others dismiss the film many of the same reasons. In addition its visibly abrasive style, Cannibal Holocaust found legal and ethical controversy upon release. Law enforcement even brought charges that Deodato had members of the cast murdered in order to complete the film. Let that sink in.
Cannibal Holocaust – Into the Green Inferno
The screen play, written by Gianfranco Clerici, covers the plight of four gonzo journalists as they insert themselves into The Green Inferno. The Green Inferno defines a vast rainforest in South America where much of the indigenous population still live in the stone age. The team sets out to expose the brutal reality of cannibal tribes hiding in the jungle. Soon, the team fails to correspond and a search party attempts to locate them. A search party, lead by Professor Harold Monroe, finds the crew dead. He trades a cannibal tribe for their film canisters. What they find on the film horrifies them.
Found Footage – Breaking New Ground
Interestingly, Ruggero Deodato created a crazy technique that would later gain notoriety in the 90’s with films like The Blair Witch Project. Reggero Deodato invented the found footage horror film. Today, it seems like found footage films get released every other day. Minimally, the handheld camera footage appears consistently in today’s horror lexicon. At the time, this technique was fresh, and often Deodato fails to get recognition for his innovation.
Ruggero Deodato cleverly uses this technique to split the movie into two distinct parts, each with its own social narrative. First, the team recovers the tapes and delivers the to the studio that commissioned the work. This confronts the ethical implications of releasing the revolting footage on the tapes, and the lack of ethical concern by the studio. The second part begins with the assumption that the original team had academic intentions. Misfortune led them to be overcome by flesh-eating savages. The found footage reveals a much more ethically complicated tale.
Cannibalistic Social Implications
To the critics, Cannibal Holocaust is far too complicated to be dismissed outright as early 80’s Italian trash. However, those that praise Reggero Deodato and his sublime social message also take it a bridge too far. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Deodato did not strive to change the world with his film. He simply wanted to make very good cannibal film. Deodato lays down two assertions. First, the ravenous nature of media will go to any lengths for sensational headlines, no matter the human cost. Second, in the jungle, the real savages are the outsiders willing to do anything for a story.
After watching the film, the viewer leaves without a profound revelation. Yet, these themes do create cohesive and compelling narrative. At no point does it feel contrived or forced. Ruggero Deodato simply wanted to tell a good cannibal story and needed a plot. Unlike the plots of its contemporaries, Cannibal Holocaust proves interesting if not thought-provoking.
Controversy and Accusations
Probably more famous than the tight narrative is the massive controversy surrounding this film. Ruggero Deodato infamously killed several live animals during the filming of Cannibal Holocaust. The scenes bring a violent sense of realism to the film, but unfortunately could have been omitted without detracting from the whole. Of these kills, the slaughter of a giant turtle sickens the most. Let’s be very clear, turtle don’t bother anyone. If Keanu Reeves had a spirit animal, it would be a turtle. I found these killings needlessly violent and ultimately sad. Turtles are our friends, many agree.
Also, Cannibal Holocaust depicts nauseating acts of sexual violence against women. Many of the scenes are near impossible to watch without wincing. I found these scenes to be distasteful, but possibly necessary to drive the narrative that Ruggero Deodato strove for. Regardless, if you don’t find these scenes very difficult to watch, you might need a psychoanalyst. In the opinion of Malevolent Dark, savage sexual violence towards women would be better if only implied. At the time, this violence appears to be an integral part of Italian cinema.
In more ridiculous accusations, upon release, Italian authorities seized the film and accused director Rugerro Deodato of having members of the cast killed in real life to make the movie. Yes, Italian authorities really believed that director Ruggero Deodato arranged the murder of his cast and subsequently displayed his crimes for all to see on the big screen.
It truly boggles the mind that this really occurred. The premise is utterly ridiculous. As good as the effects are in some spots, most fail to pass serious scrutiny. In most cases it can be clearly scene that no human is being injured. Although to be fair, in a iconic shot a woman hangs impaled through her bumpkin with the point of the spear erupting from her mouth looks as real as anything ever filmed. Several years later Ruggero Deodato revealed that the woman sat perched on a bicycle seat mounted on an iron post. She delicately balanced a pointed splint of balsa wood in her mouth. Awesome!
After contacting the supposed “victims” and presenting them to the court, the court promptly dropped the charges of murder. However, others would be charges with obscenity charges. Despite the murder charges falling through, many still hated the film. Several countries banned the film for many years. This film famously made the British “Video Nasty” list.
Cannibal Holocaust – The Pinnacle of the Cannibal Craze
Malevolent Dark has viewed several entries in the Italian cannibal sub-genre of the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by no means has a complete view of all of the films. Of those films, Cannibal Holocaust stands out due to its cohesive plot and commentary. Ruggero Deodato produced a well paced film with depictions of brutality that demand to be seen while simultaneously revolting the audience. At the time of its release, the innovative found footage technique broke new and interesting ground.
In typical Italian horror cinema fashion, Rugger Deodato, with the help of Riz Ortolani assembled an awesome soundtrack for the film. Strangely enough the theme song creates a rather upbeat feel that is especially impactful when it plays over some of the more barbaric moments of the film. The track “Adulteress’ Punishment” brings sullen orchestral tones with a minimalist overlay of synthesizers to create a foreboding and depressing atmosphere.
Cannibal Holocaust – An Italian Horror Classic
Cannibal Holocaust likely sits on top of the heap of Italian cannibal films that came out around the same time. Cannibal Holocaust exudes certain confidence in execution and style that lacks in many contemporary works. It certainly deserves to be taken more seriously than Zombie Holocaust(1980) which despite its title is more a cannibal film than a zombie film. Plus, there is nothing like controversy to brings attention to one’s work. In that, Deodato triumphed. We at Malevolent Dark just wish he could have spared the turtle.
Malevolent Dark’s experience in the sub-genre of Italian horror films is incomplete at best. If there are other classics out there that we are unaware of, please us the comment section to let us know. We are always looking for new films to devour.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - Into the Hell of the Green Inferno - Malevolent Dark
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Date Created: 1980-03-01 05:00