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John's Horror Banana-nanza Episode Eleven: Cannibal Holocaust
I’m sure everyone’s heard of some movie, at some point or another, that’s hard to swallow. One that sticks with you long after the credits roll, maybe even makes it hard to sleep. Well, that’s what I heard about “Cannibal Holocaust”.
Deemed one of the famous “Video Nasties” from the 1980’s, this movie was so crazy, it ended up landing director Ruggero Deodato in jail, and forced by courts to prove his actors were actually alive. It’s effects are pretty neat, but it’s the polished nature of the film that really sets it apart from the rest of the Italian Cannibal boom in 80’s cinema.
First off, let’s get to the obvious elephant in the room. There are animals being killed in this movie. A coatimundi, which looks like a muskrat, gets cut open. A turtle gets basically torn to shreds, and there’s other less graphic deaths as well. I look at this two ways. One way is to say that it is inexcusable for any animal to die against its will for cinematic purposes. For the most part, I absolutely agree. It’s appalling, and not only that, it’s difficult to watch! However, what these scenes do for the movie, besides feed random members of the cast, is make the violence that much more realistic. And with this movie, it certainly seems effective.
So let’s start with the plot. A documentary film crew sets off to the Amazon to check out a cannibal tribe, and never returns. So Professor Monroe, played effectively by Robert Kerman, goes on an expedition to find them. After some crazy rape scene, they eventually make their way closer to the tribe, picking up random camera canisters along the way. Eventually, they find all the bones of the crew mixed with the rest of the film equipment. After some bizarre negotiating, they are allowed to return home with the film canisters.
So some TV producers decide this footage needs to be seen by the public, and put Professor Monroe in charge. So begins the second half of the movie, in which we see the film crew of Faye, Alan, Jack and Mark first kill off their guide, then kill a spider. A giant, freaky looking spider. Next, they encounter a tribe that they promptly burn the village of. They find a freaky abortion going on, then find a woman buried in mud barely breathing.
The insanity and brutality of what’s taking place, however, isn’t enough to convince Monroe not to show the footage. It’s what he sees next that does, and despite pleading with the producers, he’s forced to show them exactly what else is left.
And it’s not pretty. More rape, more torture, and things that no responsible film crew should ever do.
I can’t give away too much more. Some people may find it tame by today’s standards. Others may be absolutely sick. I know the first time I saw it, I was unsettled. The effectiveness of Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack, which is subdued and relaxed, mixed with the violence taking place, is just disorienting. After a few more viewings, it lost some of its impact, but is still, in my opinion, a strong film with a strong message. And if you get a copy of the DVD, most of them have an “Animal Cruelty Free” option in the menu, so that may make things easier for you.
Overall, not something to watch if you’re feeling really depressed or angry. But still, an excellent piece of film.