Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi
Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most notorious films ever made. Often this sort of reputation is overblown but Holocaust deserves to be feared by those faint of heart and respected by aficionados of edgy filmmaking because this film is truly a button pusher. Now that doesn’t mean cannibal Holocaust is actually a good and that it stands up to the test of time. That remains to be seen.
There were cannibal movies and docu style horror movies made before Cannibal Holocaust hit theaters in 1980 but this one took it all to a level that hasn’t been reached since, at least not in the United States. One could argue that Italian and Asian cinema has given us some films that are as edgy as Cannibal Holocaust. Cannibal Holocaust also brought in the idea of found footage before there ever was a Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity. The film follows a professor as he heads to the Amazon to try and discover what happened to a group of young filmmakers that had previously made the trip to do a documentary about the natives. As the professor integrates himself with the tribe he discovers they are in fact cannibals, and he finds film footage shot by the documentary filmmakers that had disappeared. He returns to the States with the footage and screens it for producers eager to use it to make a buck.
The footage reveals what terrible people the filmmakers were and of course what eventually happened to them. The film is cut up in parts with alternating footage of the professor searching for the filmmakers and found footage of what happened to the filmmakers. The result can feel a little messy but for the most part it’s truly effective. The cutting back and forth offers stark parallel experiences between the professor’s visit and the filmmaker’s and it makes the horrifying scenes all the more effective.
What makes the film the hardest to watch though is a clever filmmaking tool involving the mixing of real scenes of violence and special fx. Early in the film there’s documentary footage of actual executions and later in the film the actors kill actual animals so when other scenes of murders are blended in it’s easy to be sucked into believing you are truly seeing something horrible, for real. Add to the gory deaths scenes of rape and exploitation and the overall viewing experience can be near vomit inducing. When one of the producers screening the footage declares that all of the film should be burned you’re inclined to agree with him. The movie is over 30 years old and it’s still just as disturbing as the day it was made and it’s still more disturbing than any film being currently produced. In a way you have to give Ruggero Deodato credit for being innovative in the most disgusting of ways. He gets it right not only with his “gimmick” of using real footage of violence but also in the ordering of his footage and the broken way of telling the story: it all successfully makes you feel like you need to shower after viewing it. The film truly does stand the test of time all these years later still successful at ding exactly what it was originally made to do.
This 1080p HD restoration of Cannibal Holocaust brings the film to life in ways you may not want depending on your point of view. The overall image is better than it has ever been on home video with vibrant color and sharp detail. There’s a ton of film grain both coming from the shooting style of the film and the age of the source material but that grain makes everything all the more disturbing. The result is pretty amazing considering just how rough this film has looked on home video in the past. This isn’t a transfer it’s a true restoration.
For audio there’s the original mono sound mix and a new stereo presentation. Of the two options the stereo mix is preferable because the score seems to have more room to breathe and that makes space for cleaner dialogue and sound fx. It’s surprising that more love wasn’t given to sound though considering just how much care was taken with the video. A surround mix here would have been nice but the stereo mix gets the job done in a basic documentary sort of style which in a way is fitting.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The film is presented as a two blu-ray set inside a clear case. The cover art is reversible with more explicit art of the inside. There’s a soundtrack CD and a 22 page book full of interesting essays about the film and some great stills too. All of this is packaged inside an embossed slipcover featuring iconic art from the movie. Grindhouse did a great job of making this release feel special with this packaging and the inclusion of the book and CD. The CD though should really be an mp3 disc considering that’s how most of us listen to music these days. The book features essays by artists that are highly influenced by this film including Eli Roth (who is making a film called Green Inferno that appears to be a riff on cannibal Holocaust).
Disc one features a must listen commentary with the film’s director and some of the cast. This is a real time capsule from the making of this film and is a must for hardcore fans. Disc 2 features a plethora of archival and newly done interviews with cast and crew including Ruggero Deodato, Francesca Ciardi, assistant director/co-star Salvo Basile, and cameraman Roberto Forges Davazati to name just a few. The biggest takeaway from these interviews is just how devastating the making of the film was on everyone involved. It was a grueling process that severed friendships. The effect the film had on cast and crew is most palpable in two other featurettes from conventions both panels and reunions. At best the reunions are awkward. Other great little bits of information are revealed though including what was real and what was not. Some small things that fans have believed were real just aren’t; it’s the big things that are actually real. On top of all of the interviews and convention panels and Q&A’s there’s a massive still gallery and trailers. The still gallery is retro in the worst way though; you can’t navigate it yourself, it’s a slide show so be ready to pause for a better look (how 1999 DVD player of you Grindhouse Nearly everything you could possibly want is packed into the bonus features for this release. The only thing that might have been interesting is video interviews with modern horror filmmakers discussing their experience with this movie and how it has shaped their storytelling. Once you’ve gone through everything here don’t give up because there are several easy to find Easter eggs with some neat little additions that are definitely worth a look. Finally if you want to see this movie but you don’t want to see it there’s an animal cruelty free viewing option.
There are many movies that develop notorious reputations for being disturbing but most of the time these reputations are more marketing hype that real impact; not so with Cannibal Holocaust. Cannibal Holocaust manages to be even more disturbing now than when it was originally filmed. Movie going sensibilities have softened since the 70’s and censorship is at a much higher level than the maverick filmmaking era of the 70’s so a film like this is truly unexpected by modern audiences. The film is just as rough and hard to watch as you can imagine and probably even more so. At the same time the film manages to innovate the genre and set trends that are only just now taking hold such as the found footage style of storytelling. This presentation is the one that hardcore fans have been waiting for and it’s just what the film deserves. Be warned; if Final Destination or Insidious is your version of disturbing horror films you may want to stay away from cannibal Holocaust because it will eat your soul.