Director: Ruggero Deodato (1980)
Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
Say what you will about the movie itself, but Cannibal Holocaust has one of the best opening tunes I've ever heard. It's hard to believe that a piece of music so beautiful could accompany a movie so infamously horrible. For your ears' delectation, that opening piece of snyth is reproduced in the youtube viddy below. And worry not gentle readers, there's no violence or animal abuse depicted within should that sort of thing worry you.
Lovely, isn't it? Thereafter, Cannibal Holocaust becomes as gruesome as you'd heard it was. The movie tells of four documentarians who travel deep into the Amazon rainforest to film indigenous tribes. They don't return. Later, anthropologist Monroe (Kerman) follows in their footsteps, hoping to find them. What he does find is the missing filmakers' documentary footage. It doesn't make for happy viewing.
And neither does Cannibal Holocaust as a whole. It's an unflinchingly cruel movie, almost as much so as you heard it was. There's something to offend everyone: cruelty to animals, extreme gore and cannibalism, rape, a bit with a rock and a vagina, and a lot of lurid leering at the various atrocities on show. Indeed, it's not so much the atrocities listed above that make Cannibal Holocaust such difficult viewing but rather the leering ways in which they are viewed. It's like a really nasty Bruce Parry adventure. Or that episode of South Park where Cartman goes to the jungle and hits things with a stick. Actually, the South Park comparison is pretty apt even if I do say so myself. Animal lovers will be well advised to find a copy of the movie that bypasses the gory animal bits. The bit with the turtle is one of the most stomach-churning things I've seen in a very long time. It's things such as this which make Cannibal Holocaust a hard movie to defend. It's a piece designed to be an experience; not entertainment.
That said, there is a really sweet scene in which Monroe bathes naked with the female tribe members. It quickly gives way to some typical nastiness, but it's a nice touch and one that goes largely unmentioned in other descriptions of the movie. It's easily hidden amongst the more grotesque stuff. But there are a few of these surprisingly tender moments dotted here and there, usually accompanied by Riz Ortaloni's beautifully haunting score. It's almost a waste really. I don't think the movie deserves Ortaloni's musical interludes, and I doubt I'd appreciate it even half as much without it.
I didn't expect to like Cannibal Holocaust - and I don't really - but it's an undeniably powerful movie, nowhere near as unwatchable or shit as I'd expected it to be. Perhaps it helps that this is the first real Italian Cannibal movie I've ever watched (no, Zombie Holocaust, you don't even nearly count) and was therefore starting at the top. Or bottom, depending on how you view its artistic merit.
It indicates the nature of the beast that I feel I need to justify the following rating. Heck, I feel like I'm gonna be put on some sort of register simply having watched it. I give Cannibal Holocaust 4/5 of my screamy Scream Queens because it's well-made in its own way, and undeniably a large part of horror history. I didn't enjoy watching it, and I certainly don't like it, but that shouldn't stop one from admiring it for the things it does well. It defies description or even reviewing. Listen to the script, and most of it stands as a pretty good description of the movie itself: "It's unbelievable. It's horrible. I can't understand the reason for such cruelty."