Infamy Infamy They've All Got It In For Me
The medium of home video had a ropey start here in Britain. Being notable for having a distinct of lack governed classification, video companies started to pop up on every street corner; video companies who released filth from the seediest of holes. And by the early 80's, the British 'Video Nasties' concern had started to reign in the support of parliament; who were ready to fight the evils of extreme cinema. The companies who fuelled the fire were small humble operations such as the now disbanded Vipco and the distributors of Cannibal Holocaust: Go Video.
A pro-censorship spokesman shows intelligence.
This was not the only fiasco that Cannibal Holocaust and its director Ruggero Deodato found themselves in the middle of, upon its original 1980 release the Italian courts stopped the film's circulation and arrested Deodato, bringing him too court and accusing him of killing his actors and distributing a snuff film. Obviously this was a ridiculous allegation and in the end only made the film more popular and more sought after.
I mentioned the above as Cannibal Holocaust has become something of legend among film nerds, it's a film that seemingly brought about a wave notoriety, as well as a legacy which rose to an unmatched level. But unlike many films from this era Cannibal Holocaust has not become dated [unlike many of the films counterparts]. If anything the film has brought a new 'cult' audience that has come to fully appreciate its sharp cultural commentary and the crews technical skills. But does this film meet the expectations set by its fans or does it fall under its original exploitation label?
The film follows Harold Monroe, a anthropologist hailing from the university of New York, a local television company gives Monroe the task of tracking down a group of controversial documentary film-makers; who have not been heard from after their trip to the Amazon. Monroe explores this 'Green Inferno' with the aid of two experienced explorers Chaco and Miguel; during his exploration Monroe witnesses first-hand some of the brutality of the jungle. Monroe finds out that the missing crew had been killed in the jungle, Monroe eventually gains the trust of the local tribe and manages to acquire the lost film the crew shot. He brings this footage back to the New York station that requested it where they ask Monroe to make a documentary covering his trip and covering the footage that he had discovered; yet to the shock of himself and the audience the footage shows the crew commiting horrific crimes - killing and torturing the natives in order to shock the potential audience, in order to make a financially successful film.
Due to its content Cannibal Holocaust is a hard film to review, on the one hand I would recommend this to all who are interested in cinema, due to its historical significance and technical achievements; yet on the other hand I would be very cautious about recommending to people. This is simply due to the extreme levels of upsetting violence it contains, when critiquing violence one has to understand the context of which the film is displaying said violence. Violence in film is rarely intended for pure vulgarity and whether or not a film's content is vulgar is up to the viewer to decide: Many believe Cannibal Holocaust to be a vulgar film; yet I believe the context surrounding the violence justifies it's use.
The film uses violence to show both the divides and connections between the 'civilised' city folks and the 'savage' tribesmen. The first half of Cannibal Holocaust shows Monroe [the 'civilised' city-dweller] in a confused and shocked state, he finds it incredibly difficult adapting to survival in the forest. We as a viewer are placed in a deliberately similar state to Monroe, when Monroe gets disgusted the film wants the audience to react in the same manner. The scenes of violence are here for the sole purpose of plot and character development, the way in which Deodato shows the violence in the first half is carefully crafted to make the 'savages' the antagonist. The film develops two separate tribes who at war, the film tricks the viewer into believing that the tribes committed immoral acts upon each other [shown by the burnt village]. The film uses a scene of explicit assault to further emphasis the idea that the 'savages' are to blame, but the idea that the 'savages' are the antagonist is soon turned around; this is due too the reveal in the second half which shows the documentary film-makers as the true savages.
This twist is fantastic, it's not a twist that I saw coming, the build up to the twist is writing perfection. It throws many red-herrings at the audience and they truly believe that film-makers were killed in cold-blood; this is not the case. The second half of the film turns into a revenge tale, we see through the eyes of the camera as the savages take out a horrific revenge upon these new antagonists and we understand how the technology that seemily separates the 'civilised' film-makers to the tribesmen; ends up making no difference. They fall victims to their own ignorance and savagery as the attempt to dominate what they don't understand; but in the end the oppressed tribesmen rise above and become the true protagonists.
Due to Cannibal Holocaust's taboo breaking nature the film has had a bumpy history when it comes to home release. Here in Britain all great horror films were victimised by the Mary Whitehouse hit-squad and at the top of the DPP's infamous hit-list was Driller Killer and Cannibal Holocaust. Cannibal Holocaust's infamy lead to the banning of pretty much any film with the word 'cannibal' in it, the hit squad decided to take all of the nasties on the hit list and burn them. This only lead to pre-cert copies of Cannibal Holocaust [and it's nasty counterparts] being more sought after than fucking Bigfoot.
A rare shot of the British pre-cert.
The fact that this film was banned in every country known to man means old VHS copies are rare no matter where you look and too add insult to injury censors around the world decided to collectively ruin this film; leading to most VHS copy being cut worse than Voorhees victim. But luckily uncut dvd copies are become more and more common, a popular release is the region 1 Grindhouse release; this version comes fully uncut with features up the ass. A note worthy release is the region 2 blu-ray/DVD version by Shameless Screen Entertainment, notable for the fact that only 15 seconds being cut [this made it the most complete version avalible in Britain since the Blackhorse Entertainment release which was cut by over 5 minutes]; it was also note worthy as it featured the first official directors cut of the film. This new version cuts out the animal cruelty seen in the film, this is a decision I highly respect as it gives the film a wider audience; it not longer forces this content onto those who do not wish to see it [I wish more films with similar content had this type of cut].
Cannibal Holocaust is a true gem, a sharp movie that was well before its time, it perfected motifs of its era [i.e. revenge saga]; while simultaneously laying the ground work for most modern horror [and Cannibal Holocaust does it better I might add]. Through its historical and technical value Cannibal Holocaust is a film that deserves far more respect and should no longer be defined as the exploitation it is commonly refereed to as.
Cannibal holocaust comes highly recommend to those with the stomach to handle it.