RIP OUT! BARBEQUE! DEVOUR!
There is nothing quite like the scent of fresh meat cooking on a barbeque, is there, fellow fiends? Oh sure, I’m sure some of you would strongly disagree but just play along with me while I finish this bit, m’kay?
Hello boils and ghouls, and welcome back to the Nightmare on Film Street’s Video Vault. Now, as I was lamenting; flesh on an open flame elicits such summertime feels that it’s tough to top. And, with the warmer months upon us, it’s time to indulge in some cookout, cavorting, and in true NOFS fashion.. cannibalism. We here at the Vault take our grilling, as well as our horror, very seriously. We wandered deep into the archives to bring you the perfect film to top off any picnic, family or otherwise, you may be planning this summer.
So strap on a bib and loosen your belts because it’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) time!
BACK OF THE BOX INGREDIENTS… ER… OVERVIEW
A professor ventures into the jungles of the Amazon in search of a missing group of documentary filmmakers. When he finds the remains of the film crew during his search he also finds their footage they had been shooting. He brings the camera footage back to America to tell the story of their final hours and discovers the true horror of what has been captured on that film.
THE MAIN COURSE
The cast is a mishmash of American and Italian actors with Robert Kerman (Night of the Creeps 1986) as Professor Harold Monroe, the man searching for a group of missing filmmakers, with the help of his guide, Chaco, played with dripping arrogance and reckless abandon by Salvatore Basile (Love in the Time of Cholera 2007). Our doomed documentary team consists of director Alan Yates played by Gabriel Yorke (Idle Hands 1999) and his girlfriend/script girl Faye Daniels played with pure 80s campiness by Francesca Ciardi (Death Walks 2016). Luca Giorgio Barbareschi (The Mercury Conspiracy 2013) is Mark Tomaso, Perry Pirkanen (City of the Living Dead 1980) plays Jack Anders, the team’s cameramen, and Ricardo Fuentes, in his only film appearance, is Lieutenant Ochoa the stereotypical Spanish cop.
MEAL PREP: CONCEPTION, RECEPTION & ALL THE TRIMMINGS
Cannibal Holocaust was born from the influence of Italian documentary filmmaker Gualtiero Jacopetti and his mondo documentaries (or mockumentaries as we know the genre today) and by Italian media coverage of the Red Brigade terrorist organization that plagued Italy for over a decade, both influenced the film’s central storyline. The first half of the film would be scripted storytelling and the other half the documentary crew’s footage, which, in turn, sparked the found footage genre that nearly twenty years later was popularized by The Blair Witch Project (1999).
To achieve the film’s infamous realism, the production was filmed primarily on location in the Amazon rainforest of Colombia with real indigenous tribes interacting with the actors. The realism didn’t end with the authentic locations either. The picture’s graphic violence was so realistic that upon its theatrical release, it caused a great deal of controversy.
Despite the latter, the initial audience reaction was surprisingly positive. After seeing the film, director Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in America, 1984) wrote a letter to Deodato, which stated, “Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.”
In the first ten days of its release, the film grossed approximately $2 million. In Japan, it grossed $21 million, becoming the second highest-grossing film of that time after E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) and after several ensuing re-releases throughout the years, there are claims that the film has grossed $200 million worldwide.
Following the initial ten days of release, a local Italian magistrate ordered the film seized and director Deodato arrested on obscenity charges. From there the domino effect was in motion snowballing into several more charges laid against the director including murder after snuff film allegations came to light. Once the actors were found to be alive and well, Deodato was ultimately cleared of these charges and released, but his film found itself banned in Italy, Australia, and several other countries due to its graphic content. Perspectives of the film have changed in recent years with some nations lifting the ban but some still uphold the embargo even to this day. It seems modern audiences and critics alike have finally noted the intended commentary on ethics in journalism, exploitation of developing countries, and the nature of modern society versus uncivilized society.
HOME (COOKIN’) VIDEO
Because of the stirring content, several different versions of Cannibal Holocaust exist in circulation. The UK was the only country to initially release the flick on VHS in 1982 (Go Video) and it had approximately six minutes cut from the final edit. These cuts were done by the distributor, believed to be due to tape limitations. In 2001, the feature was released on DVD (BBFC) with 5 minutes and 44 seconds cut to expunge scenes of animal cruelty and sexual violence. A 2011 re-release reinserted an extra 16 seconds into some of the previously cut material. There are also versions released by Grindhouse Releasing containing an animal cruelty-free version of the film that removes the six animal deaths. Other versions also contain alternative footage shot specifically for Middle Eastern markets that do not depict nudity.
FOOD CRITIC’S RESPONSE
There is a definite divide between critics when it comes to Cannibal Holocaust. While one side cites it as a seriously depicted social commentary on the modern times, the other sees it as over-the-top, gratuitously gory and deplorable for the animal slayings alone, not to mention and perceived insincerity the film portrays. The “Yay for Cannibal Holocaust” side praised the grimy realistic approach to the lamenting score that haunts the soundtrack, but the “Boo for Cannibal Holocaust” side maintains that the savages portrayed on film are not the real-life tribespeople, but the real-life filmmakers behind the camera.
APERITIFS, DESSERTS, AND CLOSING CREDITS
There are a few takeaways from a film like Cannibal Holocaust. It has its pros and its cons. While the performances during the scripted moments are bad to the point of hilarity and the characters are stereotypical – the sheer brutality, and realism of the film crew’s fate make all of the film’s flaws almost disappear. And one cannot ignore the social commentary that this film makes as well. In Amazonian countries where the modern world has long been invading and desecrating the ancient world, their stories often go untold but the power of cinema changes the narrative. It gives those without a voice a platform for the world to see the injustices being done to their people and their environment. Cannibal Holocaust is that unlikely voice. Who would have thought that an exploitative, splatter movie would spark so many different controversies? It’s a win/win situation, to be honest. Those real-life plights that need a stage get their stories told and, of course, the more practical benefit is a filmmaker selling and marketing his movie successfully.
And another thing, dagnabbit! Without Cannibal Holocaust’s influence, we would never have had the talents of some of today’s hottest filmmakers. No Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity, 2007), no Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project, 1999), no Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, 2008), or no Ti West (V/H/S, 2012). Films like The Visit (2015), As Above, So Below (2014), Willow Creek (2013) and Troll Hunter (2010) would never have terrified audiences. In fact, the list of found footage films reaches into the hundreds with many more in the production and pre-production stages.
Whoa, Nelly! After all this talk of cannibalism, I have worked up quite an appetite. I’m so hungry I could eat the- Say, how much do you weight? Care to stay for dinner? I can arrange it so that you’re on the menu. Ahem, pardon me, I meant… aw hell, that’s exactly what I meant, now c’mere!
They’ll be back. They always come back.