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John’s Horror Corner: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), appallingly brutal yet stylistic and controversial yet admonishing.

August 8, 2016

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Okay, guys. So the movie is called CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST!
Soooooo… NOT SAFE FOR WORK, right?
Any movie with either CANNIBAL or HOLOCAUST in the title probably means NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

MY CALL:  Yes, this film is every bit as brutal and controversial as you’d expect…but it’s also a brilliantly made, stylistic film that’s way ahead of its time and addresses important aspects of morality.  MOVIES LIKE Cannibal HolocaustCannibal Ferox (1981) and other brutal Italian cannibal movies.  But not Eli Roth’s Green Inferno (2013), which was a less shocking, cheap knockoff.

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After a delightfully polite warning from Shudder this Italian cult classic opens with a lovely scored montage of shaky shots of the Amazon, known by its indigenous inhabitants as the Green Inferno (hence Eli Roth’s title Green Inferno).

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Alan Yates, Faye Daniels, Jack Anders and Mark had embarked on an expedition to the border of Brazil and Peru to document the jungle tribes.  They followed in the footsteps of explorers who never came back, but they laughed at the amateurs.  After this new group failed to return within two months, a rescue mission was set up to recover them.

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Check out their BEFORE and AFTER photos.

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Our anthropologist “rescuer” Dr. Monroe teams up with a local roughneck guide and follows the same path as his predecessors marked by the decaying corpse of another jungle guide and Faye’s lighter worn as a charm by a tribesman.

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Very early scenes of military machine-gunning through forest natives is campy and bloodless such that you’d think you were watching some PG-13 nonsense.  But don’t be fooled so soon.  Not that I expect a lot of animal lovers to watch this, but you should be warned that real live animals are killed on film—and not even close to mercifully.  I felt so badly for that muskrat (about the 19 min mark).  Later in the film there is an even more disturbing scene involving decapitating a large turtle and then preparing its still-twitching body.  Just brutal, from prying the shell apart to sloppily yanking out its guts.

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This all really HAPPENS!

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Those are the real guts and the real turtle head. Horrible!

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This brutality makes its way to humans as a woman is dragged across the mud completely naked and bound, and forced into some shockingly uncomfortable positions during a sort of torturous rape scene complete with vile genital mutilation.  The violence against women in this film is immense.  But then, so is the general inhumanity overall.

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In the past I’ve praised some actresses for what they physically endure on film: Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist), Jenny Spain (Deadgirl), Isabelle Adjani (Possession), Elma Begovic (Bite), Linda Blair (The Exorcist), the entire cast of The Descent, Monica Belluci (Irreversible), the women of Martyrs, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist, Nymphomaniac), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell), Danielle Harris (Halloween), Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Jane Levy (Evil Dead), the cast of The Human Centipede films, and all actresses from the I Spit on Your Grave films, the women of all other TCM old and new, and Last House on the Left films/remakes/sequels.  Clearly Cannibal Holocaust must now be added to this list.

This film features abundant male and female full frontal nudity, rape and torture, horrible brutality against women and animals, and cannibalism.  It seems that if you are capable of being offended by anything, then this film will have something in it to offend you!  And this all happens in the first 30 minutes!!!

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But wait, what ever happened to the original crew of documentarians?  Well, Monroe (and we) get to see their recovered video footage.  Speaking of which, was this (most of the second half anyway) one of the original found footage movies?

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What’s really interesting about this stylistic film is that it’s so far ahead of its time.  We see footage from the original documentary crew, then half the movie follows Monroe’s rescue mission and interactions with the tribal people (a mix of normal and docu-reels), and then return to civilization and see the recovered found footage (both as “footage” and as regular scenes) with Monroe’s reactions to them for the second half of the film.

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When we consider the title, we imagine that we’d have sympathy for the lost crew and whatever horrible fate had befallen them.  But it turns out they may have very well earned their undoing.

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The gore is perhaps a bit more authentic than were used to, apparently consisting largely of whole animal organs in lieu of the standard rubber guts popularized by Romero’s original Zombie Trilogy, the actual brutal executions of some animals (the turtle scene was the worst), and various rape, birth and amputation scenes.

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As if making a statement of our own acceptance and desensitization to violence and cruelty, disarmingly pleasant music often scores scenes of cruelty and mayhem.  Monroe calls the original crew out for their inhumanly soulless actions and the target of our sympathy shifts dramatically.

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This film has a reputation for being brutal and unsightly.  I guess it is, and it especially was for 1980. But how had I never heard of how stylish and unique and ultimately self-realizingly moral it was?  This movie is really…well…great.  Great in a very non-mainstream, socially unacceptable kind of way, to some. But great, nonetheless!  I think this film is excellent!

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