I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film.
At the alarmingly young age of just 13 years old, I was exploring the more lurid areas of cinema. I had seen the hysteria and infamy surrounding this film: the list of countries that had banned it, the various warnings such as ‘If in doubt, do not watch this film’, which of course was an invitation rather than a deterrence.
Owing to my age, I would have been hard pressed to walk in to a shop and buy a film titled ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, and I didn’t want to waste my time watching a version that had been slaughtered by the BBFC, so I broke the law and found it on the now extinct LimeWire. I’d never downloaded anything before, I was sure it wouldn’t work somehow.
However, when the download finished, I opened the file and was presented with the opening scene, a shot of the vast, seemingly perpetual Amazon rainforest accompanied by Riz Ortolani’s beautiful score. The realisation that I was now able to watch this film of unprecedented horror was so terrifying that I instantly closed Windows Media Player in a wave of fright. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to watch it; it was a joyfully intense experience. I never knew what ghastliness was around the corner, only sheer masochistic curiosity kept me watching it, this curious thrill being the essence of exploitation cinema. In order to clear my name, I must add that I have since bought a fully uncut version on the Internet!
‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is the father of the ‘found footage’ genre. The film follows Harold Monroe, a professor of Anthropology at a New York university who endeavours to discover what has happened to a young group of documentary makers who ventured into an area known as ‘The Green Inferno’ in South America. Eventually, he finds their reels and takes them back to New York, witnessing their fate in a projection room. According to director Ruggero Deodato, the film serves as a diatribe against the sensational violent nature of the media, which is quite obviously dubious and hypocritical considering the exploitative nature of the film.
It is a very powerful piece of filmmaking; it leaves a lasting impression on you. The film batters you with its biting visceral force, which is both visual and aural. In many respects, this film has high production values for an exploitation film. For example, Riz Ortolani’s score features both beautiful acoustic tracks and relentless aural assaults; it works with the strong visuals to wear you down until you’re imploring for it to stop.
Its violence is jarringly realistic, and on several notorious occasions, completely real. I’m somewhat torn on the issue of animal slaughter; all animals killed in the film were reportedly eaten afterwards, and the animals were killed humanely, apart from the coatimundi, whose fate is the hardest to watch. I feel ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is unfairly maligned; look at ‘Apocalypse Now’, the brutal slaying of the water buffalo is ignored because of the massively high esteem it’s held in. If it was a low-budget exploitation film it would have probably been steeped in criticism.
The acting is tolerable, if slightly toe-curling in places, however generally it’s good enough for it not to detract from how horribly effective the film is.