Film Review: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Also known as: Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (complete title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Luca Barbareschi, Perry Pirkanen

F.D. Cinematografica, 95 Minutes, 89 Minutes (heavily cut), 90 Minutes (animal cruelty free cut), 86 Minutes (Quebec version)

Review:

“Man is omnipotent; nothing is impossible for him. What seemed like unthinkable undertakings yesterday are history today. The conquest of the moon for example: who talks about it anymore? Today we are already on the threshold of conquering our galaxy, and in a not too distant tomorrow, we’ll be considering the conquest of the universe, and yet man seems to ignore the fact that on this very planet there are still people living in the stone age and practicing cannibalism.” – PABS Reporter

I’ve seen bits and pieces of this film over the years but I’ve never seen it uncut and in its entirety. If I’m being honest, I never had much urge to, as I’m not keen on gore and shock just for the sake of gore and shock.

Plus, the way the film has been described to me, by everyone for years, made it sound like it was just a fucked up piece of shit that gorehounds love without much merit or relevance beyond that.

What I ended up seeing, for the most part, was a well shot, competent film that is definitely shocking but nowhere near as fucked up as my head made it seem, after filling in the blanks based off of the comments and critiques I’ve heard for years.

Granted, I’m pretty desensitized to violence and gore and the only thing that really bothered me about the movie was the legitimate animal cruelty, which was completely unnecessary regardless of “the art” or “authenticity”. I also don’t say that as some hippie vegan; I love eating meat. However, brutalizing animals to get a shot in a film is unacceptable, regardless of how you want to chop that up… no pun intended.

Anyway, despite not hating it on an immense level, I still don’t like the movie and found it tough to get through regardless of the shocking content. While it has an interesting premise that could be explored, this wasn’t the first movie of its kind and I don’t know if it’s the best either. I’d gather that these things are pretty cookie cutter and they’re just the product of a short fad in the exploitation realm of Italian filmmaking.

I don’t really want to ever see another one of these cannibal films again and the only reason I even relented and watched this in the first place was because it was featured on Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

The truth is, I didn’t gain anything from seeing this, other than having more of an understanding about what the finished product is. But it’s really a film that I feel wasted the talents the filmmakers had.

As I’ve said, it was competently shot and there is a definite understanding of shot framing and the concept of mise-en-scène but that in no way makes it good; it just makes it better than the level of dreck I expected it to be.

The only other positive is its use of music. It uses certain musical tones almost ironically at some points and whether this was done intentionally or stupidly, it leaves an even more unsettling sensation than just the scene playing out on its own.

Ultimately, this is a really fucked up movie by a fucked up filmmaker that valued his terribly, shitty art over the lives of animals or the people in the film, who were forced into burning huts longer than they needed to be.

But hey, it got people talking! Am I right?

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other cannibal and gory, violent exploitation films of the era.

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