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Cannibal Holocaust: Is its reputation earned?

Updated on December 27, 2013

(This article features some images that might not be suitable for minors, so proceed with caution.)

Natives cannibal ritual
Natives cannibal ritual | Source

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. The name itself resonates as violent and grotesque. I first heard of this film shortly after its release in 1980, when I was still a kid. Needless to say, I never got around to watch it, but its title became a catch-all name for everything that was violent between me and my brothers. Even though none of us had seen it, we would use it as a point of reference for all things that were beyond gory. Some 30 years later, I finally managed to see the film and answer the question I’ve had since I was a kid: Is it really that violent? Is its reputation earned or just a myth?

Source

Directed by Italian Ruggero Deodato, Cannibal Holocaust follows the story of the members of a documentary film crew that disappeared in the Amazonian jungle while filming a documentary on cannibal tribes called “Green Inferno”. An anthropologist and professor, Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman), sets out to the jungle to lead a rescue team that eventually finds out the tapes left behind by the crew. Upon his return, he realizes the content of the tapes and objects to its showing by an American television station.

Perhaps the main criticism about the film is its unabashed and graphic portrayal of both violence and sex. Although I didn’t find it to be any worse than lots of Hollywood horror films, it is still a graphically violent film. Characters are seen being killed, mutilated, beheaded, beaten, and cut open. Some of those scenes are visually clear, while others are blurred by the shaky handheld camera and the distance. But most notable is the graphic portrayal of the killing of several animals. The scenes were controversial even among the cast and crew itself:

  • Robert Kerman stormed away from the set during the filming of the death of a coatimundi which is sliced open with a large knife.
  • Despite his bold on-screen attitude during the scene, actor Perry Pirkanen says he cried after the filming of the death of a sea turtle, which is decapitated and ripped apart.
  • Actor Gabriel Yorke refused to shoot a pig in a climatic scene, leaving the task to co-star Luca Barbareschi. He even botched a long monologue that was supposed to follow the killing, which Deodato was unable to reshoot because they didn’t have another pig available.

Although all the animals killed were consumed by natives, and one could argue that the killings would’ve occurred anyway, the scenes have been a target for censors and animal activists. Deodato himself has said that he now regrets having filmed the scenes. I can say that the coatimundi and turtle scene were particularly tough to watch.

Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen) jokes with the head of a turtle after decapitating it
Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen) jokes with the head of a turtle after decapitating it | Source

The film seems to carry two messages or subtexts. First, the comparison between the uncivilized and “savage” nature of the natives versus the supposedly civilized nature of the documentary film crew that ruthlessly terrorizes them. The fact that the latter behave more savages than their cannibal counterparts is one of the main focal point of the film. However, this message is carried in such an unsubtle, tacked-on, and in-your-face way that it affects whatever effectiveness it could’ve had. Most of what one could’ve concluded was already seen, so there was no need to spell it out for the audience or underline it with clunky lines like “I wonder who the real cannibals are”.

The second message the film seems to carry is a criticism of the media exploitation of violence, highlighted by Monroe’s decision not to support the release of the found documentary versus the desire of the American station to broadcast it. However, this message was seen as hypocritical to some since the film engages in the same excesses it seems to criticize. The fact that the film is more known for its violent nature than for its alleged social commentary proves that the message was ineffective.

The documentary film crew finds an impaled native
The documentary film crew finds an impaled native | Source
 
Cannibal Holocaust
Release date
February 7, 1980
Director
Ruggero Deodato
Writers
Gianfranco Clerici
Starring
Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi
Duration
96 minutes
Budget
$100,000 (estimate)

Another interesting fact is that the film antagonizes the character of documentary filmmaker Alan Yates for terrorizing both the natives and his crew, but testimonies from the real-film cast and crew indicate that director Ruggero Deodato was probably as mistreating as Yates. Actress Francesca Ciardi has said that Deodato screamed at her when she refused to bare her breasts for a particular scene, while there are rumors that Deodato didn’t pay the actors on time, or that he didn’t pay the native extras.

Overall, I think that Cannibal Holocaust was neither a masterpiece in social commentary nor inherently bad. I thought it was an average film with some genuinely intriguing elements on its plot (there's a bit of reverse narrative in how the plot unfolds) and some tension in it. On the other hand, the acting leaves a lot to be desired and its content/message isn't that effective for the reasons stated above. I can say I was more or less engaged and don't regret watching it. From a film fan perspective, it was an interesting watch, but the film’s reputation seems to be far stronger and harsher than the film itself. Grade: B-

 
Grades
RottenTomatoes
60%
IMDb
5.9 /10
Thief12
B-

Have you seen Cannibal Holocaust? What did you think of it?

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Cannibal Holocaust Trailer

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    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I love horror, but I don't think I could watch this one, especially with animals getting killed in them. I can't even watch horror when the animals aren't hurt in real life, but in the movie they are killed. Thank you for sharing the information on this one!

    • Thief12 profile image
      Author

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Yeah, that was the only part I found tough to watch, and I think it's because I knew it was real. Maybe if I had been under the impression that it was special effects, I wouldn't have had the same reaction. But knowing those scenes were real was a bit tough.

    • W1totalk profile image

      W1totalk 3 years ago

      I found information on this movie when I looked up Salo some how. It;s interesting Cannibal Holocaust came up. Should someone remake it look out. Interesting hub.

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      This is just f*cking weird. And you're taking money for pedalling this shite?

      Voted DOWN. Sue me.

      Romeo's Quill

    • Thief12 profile image
      Author

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Why would I sue you? You're entitled to think whatever you want and vote however you feel like. Obviously, I think we all can share our opinions, however different they are, without recurring to insults, but that's just me. I don't expect everyone to be as educated as me. Anyway, thanks for the comment.

      Oh, and no. I'm actually not taking money for "pedalling this shite". I'm writing just for the love of it and I'm not currently registered with any of the earnings programs here. Cheers!

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      @Thief12

      " To sue "; an archaic term which means, " To woo "; a satirical turn of phrase which your arrogant claim to superior education presently does not seem to stretch too, to respond in retort to your sarcasm, which has to be down there upon the lowest rung of humour's ladder.

      As you will now comprehend now being in full, beneficient receipt of this illumination on your triviality, my comment was not an insult, but an angry reply. If I cared nought, for what folk published on HP, I would tarry not, and continue like one of the proverbial three wise monkeys; you are aware that youngsters see your vile pictures, and I for one, know how damaging this celluloid puke can be to young minds( I'm no prude, but like most ordinary, people/parent, draw the line ).

      Additionally, glad to hear that you're writing for the love of it - at least you have some integrity, which lends one hope.

      This place of HP held possibility of becoming a beautiful woman; would hate to see it turn into a cheap bimbo. Just an opinion, but serving the right of reply.

      Good day sir.

      Romeo's Quill

    • Thief12 profile image
      Author

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Within the context of your initial post, "angrily" asking me to "woo" you would've made no sense, which is why I went with the traditional and more common legal definition which fitted your post and tone more properly. And my alleged claim of superior education wasn't such, but rather a nod at your inability to properly write a criticism instead resorting to the "lower rungs" of insults and demeaning. That said, you rebounded with a more elaborated response in the above post, which shows me that you are indeed able to communicate your disagreement in an educated manner.

      As for your concerns about the film, I agree that youngsters see this and other "vile pictures". But that's the concern of parents who should keep their children away from it, just like I was kept from this film as a child (a fact that I noted in my review). My hub is my take as an adult on a film aimed towards adults, and rated as such. In that way, it is not different from many of the other hubs I, or many other Hubbers, have written on countless R-rated films. Nowhere in it am I suggesting or recommending youngsters to see the film. If anything, the Hub presents precisely the reasons why parents shouldn't allow their children to see it.

      Thanks again for your comment.

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      And that is why it is called satire; thanks for catching up. And who are you to define what a proper criticism is, or is not? The very nature of said criticism, by definition, is to express disapproval, discriminating judgement, evaluation(s) and critique.

      You're translucent attempt at clarification of your reasoning has still left me nonplussed Why even propagate such an article, asserting that you would not wish parents to have their children see such a film? It's makes about as much sense as stabbing yourself with a fork and then sagely declaring, " Don't try this at home kids! " The pictures are already there to see. The reality is that kids look at this site; I can't make it any more transparent.

      I'm sure most people could happily meander through life without having to come into contact with such drivel, but that is the beauty of HP, with its freedom to wheel out any old bumph. This is fast becoming a storm in a teacup, but I've said my piece and expressed an opinion about aforementioned kak.To each their own.

      R.Q.

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      Typo ' Your '.

    • Thief12 profile image
      Author

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      If the moderators and administrators of HubPages didn't find anything offensive about the Hub, then that's it. I'm not gonna limit what I write because I'm not writing to children. The fact that they can look at the site can be said about countless of other sites with more objectionable content. At least here I'm offering a context of what's in the film and what can people expect from it.

      I'm glad you expressed your opinion and I appreciate disagreeing ones. Humanity isn't meant to agree on everything. Hope to read more from you in the future.

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      What you write has not been called into question, so you must have pulled that out of the ether; it's your gratuitous picture of someone being impaled through a spike I object to ( I can hardly believe that I'm having to point this out - I guess common sense isn't so common ).

      Obviously HubPages is a business and does not prioritize artistic integrity as of primary concern - as long as Hubbers ' tick the right boxes ' and articles reach the basic fiscal threshold, it'll publish.

      To further respond, we wasn't discussing other sites, just this one as far as I'm aware.

      What about common decency? Perhaps writers etiquette works differently here in the U.K., but I feel a little sad for declining standards of workmanship when seeing a potentially good article reducing itself to a ' penny dreadful ' for cursory titilation.

      Today just became a shade darker. Thanks for your reply.

      R.Q.

    • SteveSunpire profile image

      Steve Sunpire 16 months ago from England

      I prefer Ruggero Deodato's Last Cannibal World

      However I can see a powerhouse direction from an underrated tallent within this slice of exploitation mastery.

    • Thief12 profile image
      Author

      Thief12 16 months ago from Puerto Rico

      Thanks for the comment! I haven't seen Last Cannibal World, but I'll see if I can check it out.

    • SteveSunpire profile image

      Steve Sunpire 16 months ago from England

      you should check out my Hub... I chart The Italian Cannibal Film genre

      https://hubpages.com/entertainment/The-Italian-Can...

    • Thief12 profile image
      Author

      Thief12 16 months ago from Puerto Rico

      Thanks! Just read it. Very, very interesting.

    • SteveSunpire profile image

      Steve Sunpire 16 months ago from England

      Thanks man... Its one of my favourite sub-genres of the Italian Cinema boom of the 70s and 80s

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