30 years ago, Cannibal Holocaust was unleashed upon the world. It went on to become one of the most controversial movies ever…no small feat, considering it came from the same country that gave us everything from Salo to Suspiria. Hit the read more link for a look back at this blood-soaked classic.
Note: There are some story spoilers (not that you’d watch Cannibal Holocaust for the story, ha!)
Released in Italy during February of 1980 and brought to North America in 1984, Cannibal Holocaust is presented as a found footage movie. Cannibal Holocaust tells the story of a group of Americans who go into the Amazon Rainforest to document various tribes that practice cannibalism. They never return, so a rescue team is assembled in an attempt to find them. The footage they shot is found, brought back to the states, and then pitched to a TV station. The footage starts off innocuous at first, but quickly turns graphic…very graphic. There are numerous rape scenes (one of which is a serious contender for the worst rape scene ever put in a film), brutal murders, and footage of actual animal sacrifices. That’s right: there’s no “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” message during the end credits.
These and other controversies stemming from the film have been discussed over and over again, so if you’re unaware of what exactly they are, you can read up on them here. If you’ve ever seen this movie, you can probably guess what most of the issues were
Controversy is all fine and well, but controversy only lasts for so long; how does the film itself hold up? After rewatching it for the first time in five years, I’m happy to say it still holds up very well. The script and the acting are a bit hammy at times, but with the way everything is presented, it just causes your brain to think that these are lame people, not lame actors reciting a lame script. The interactions between the characters, the environment, and the natives is so fluid and seamless, it does sometimes feel like found footage of a real documentary (which was also a big reason for a lot of the controversy surrounding this film…including accusations of people literally being murdered on screen.) The brutality is just as effective today as it ever was; there are multiple cringe-worthy scenes in this film, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone that can sit through the whole thing without looking away or wanting to look away at least once (the famous turtle scene is a top-contender for that list.)
Originally, I loved Cannibal Holocaust because it was an unrelentingly brutal movie. The first time I had seen it was at a point in my life where I was really discovering how much fun horror and gore could be in movies, so I was watching everything I could get my hands on…the more brutal a film, the more I liked it. Fast forward to today (around 14 years later), and I still really enjoy it…but for different reasons. I still like watching intense or gory horror movies, so that is a part of it, but now that I’m older I can appreciate what Cannibal Holocaust provided the film community. Granted, Cannibal Holocaust came out in 1980, so there is a HUGE list of films before it that had a similar effect…but no other film before or since has tied its extreme brutality so completely into it’s story (with the exception of the Saw films.) Tying violence into the main story is a running theme in Italian exploitation/horror films (especially in the aforementioned Salo), but I personally feel that Cannibal Holocaust really set the standard.
If you are into gory, brutal, intense films, make sure you’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust; it is the very definition of a classic.