The Film- Mr. Greenfield, er, I mean Dr. Monroe, (a less penetrative Robert Kerman) an Anthropologist from NYU, is quite literally balls deep in the Amazon Rainforest. He’s leading a rescue attempt on several missing American filmmakers; Alan Yates, his girlfriend Faye Daniels, Anders, and Mark, who vanished in the jungle, along with their guide Felipe, while filming a documentary on the indigenous cannibal tribes several months prior.
Before Dr. Monroe lands in South American Hell, the local military, made up of predominantly Columbian soldiers, happened upon a fleet of Yacumo tribesman enjoying dinner. By dinner, I mean an enemy from an opposing tribe, but you’re not here for logistics, now are ya? After a quick fight, because there’s no need to bet on blowguns vs. machine guns, the military take the surviving Yacumo cannibal boy hostage. Upon arriving, the captive is given to the moustache’d doctor as leverage when he enters the jungle. The locals call it “The Green Inferno”. I prefer to call it “The Muggy Tree Nest of Nope-The-Fuck-On-Back-Home”.
Monroe instantly has a bad feeling, because among the possessions of the Yacumo prisoner sits a lighter belonging to Faye. I was thinking she may have pulled the classic “teaching the locals how to smoke cigs” card, ala Godzilla VS King Kong, but it turns out she- wait, you didn’t get that last joke? Come on, you don’t remember the scene in Godzilla VS King Kong where the explorers bribed their way into a local tribe by giving them lit smokes? Really? Fuck, my childhood really sucked…
Anyways, the doctor is also provided Chaco, a man who acts as guide, interpreter, and all around “keep the white guy alive” kinda dude. He notes the Yacumo are not typically cannibalistic, and the prisoner’s tattoos indicate he is the son of the tribe’s shaman. Chaco speculates the fringe gang was taking part in some sort of ritual to expel evil spirits from the area. AKA The white people. AKA The missing film crew. AKA Those guys were dicks. AKA AmericaFuckYeah. I’m getting ahead of myself here.
So Monroe, Chaco, his buddy Miguel, and the Yacumo prisoner begin the journey into the beautiful rainforest. Wait, no it isn’t. It’s a humid nightmare where the animals, insects, and locals all want to eat you. And there’s mosquitoes too. Oh, and they find the corpse of Felipe, the film crew’s guide, with a few Courtney Love sized grub worms eating what is left of his face. There’s no way in Hell any viewer of this film wouldn’t become part of #TeamClearCutting by the time the end credits roll.
After several days in the Green Inferno, the gang stumbles upon a Yacumo man punishing his wife for adultery. And so begins the infamous, seemingly never ending “stuff the vagina with a mud ball, rape her with a sharp rock, then bash her skull in with it” scene that REALLY seems to upset people. But you know who it doesn’t upset? Monroe and his team, who just stand by and watch. I guess “when in Rome” can be applied to the Amazon too, because like three days in that place turns you into one cold hearted son of a bitch. But in all seriousness, this is one horrific scene.
Upon reaching the Yacumo village and releasing the captive, thus putting the tribe at ease, the party acknowledges they aren’t the cannibals they’re looking for, and begin the trek even deeper into the jungle. The tribes located this deep are essentially prehistoric, having never experienced contact with anyone other than their own, or a warring clan. Well after finding two of these deep-in tribes warring, Monroe’s squad decides to intervene, scaring off the Swamp tribe and befriending the Tree tribe. I guess since there isn’t a woman being raped to death with a rock, it’s completely okay to shoot the violent naives.
Despite supposedly never coming into contact with white people, the Tree People seem awfully damn scared of Monroe. Chaco speculates the film crew had indeed reached this deep in the rainforest, and they had done something to rattle the supposedly barbaric tribe. They allow the outsiders to stay, and the language barrier makes trying to solve the case of the missing filmmakers even more difficult. The following morning, Monroe decides there’s only one way he can gain the trust of the Tree People- he shucks off his clothes and begins to dinga-ding-dang his dang-along-ling-long in the river, just as the natives do.
Well his plan works, and a frolicking gang of native girls pull him from the water and take him to a totem the tribe constructed to ward away evil spirits- only thing is, it’s made of the camera, film reels, and rotting body parts of the film crew. And they were the evil spirits. Monroe has found the missing Americans, but not the way he was hoping to. With the help of a revolver and tape recorder, plus his willingness to take part in a cannibalistic ceremony, he is able to retrieve the canisters containing the footage, which he hopes will shed some light on what happened to the crew, and why the locals feared them so strongly even after death.
Upon arrival back into civilization, three NYU higher ups want to turn the found footage into a TV documentary, almost a pseudo send off for the digested filmmakers, which they lovingly decide to title “The Green Inferno”. Monroe is given the task of viewing the film reels, which are being developed, since those involved wish him to host the program. In the mean time, the board members introduce him to Yate’s previous work, a shockumentary about violence in Africa called “The Last Road to Hell”. Filmed with a concerned facade, it’s clear to Monroe the film is no more caring than “Africa- Blood and Guts”.
The developed Amazonian footage shows the crew as arrogant, narcissistic, and violent. Setting up scenes to display the beauty of the jungle, then after the shot is complete, killing animals aimlessly, destroying tribal villages, and victimizing the indigenous people. Monroe begins to fear the group provoked the tribes into retaliation, but since the executives want to turn this into an edgy, sensational broadcast, they ignore his attempt to walk away while there’s still time. By the last reel, the crew is without a guide, lost in the heart of cannibal territory, and hellbent on filming the sensational taboo. Against Monroe’s urging, the higher ups demand to see the final reel, and nothing can prepare them for what lies embedded in the celluloid.
What can I say that hasn’t been said about Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust? It’s disgusting, vile, hateful, offensive, invocative, haunting, disturbing and beautiful all at the same time. Since first watching this movie, at the incredibly appropriate age of 15, it’s been one of my favorite horror films, but if anyone were to ask my opinion on it, I would always answer “probably not the same as yours”. Unlike most people, who tout Cannibal Holocaust with the whole “such cannibals, very gore, wow” bullshit, I believe it to be a legitimate, serious film. I don’t consider it an exploitation film, even though it is hailed as such by many.
If you’re on this site, you probably know about the Italian Cannibal Film Craze of the 70’s, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. For those of you who don’t, a director by the name of Umberto Lenzi, under the influence of the Mondo Cane films, decided to make an exploitation film about the sensational topic of cannibalism, it being The Man from Deep River. This was followed by Deodato’s first foray into the genre, with Last Cannibal World. Both of these films, while easily classified as exploitation, did stray from the fantastical and kept more somber, grounded tones.
But then, outta fucking nowhere, we’re getting Eaten Alive, Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Zombie Holocaust (oddly has more cannibals than zombies, go figure), Cannibal Ferrox, and one of my personal favorites, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. There are also not one, not two, but at least three films claiming to be “Cannibal Holocaust 2”. Forgoing all the serious elements of the first two films of the sub genre, the new cannibal films brought us such classic staples as; Rape, castration, rape, meathooks in boobies, rape, breast eating, castration, rape, more castration, more boob eating, more dick chopping, and more rape. Which all originated from… you guessed it, Cannibal Holocaust, the granddaddy of them all.
So, if Cannibal Holocaust has all these things, and I don’t consider it exploitation (at least in the traditional sense), and I consider almost every single other cannibal film out there an exploitation film, I’m sure everyone is wondering one of two things: a) what drugs I’m taking, or b) how the fuck do you plan to back that statement up. Well, the first answer is simple, classic meth, and the second is just as simple. It did it first. It didn’t have to one-up anyone. The only thing you won’t find in Cannibal Holocaust, but will in a subsequent cannibal movie, is the boobie hooks. Yeah, I have no clue what the fuck was going on with that either, but it exists, so deal with it.
By being the first extreme film involving cannibalism, it was able to forge new ground without having to out-do any other movie. Yeah, everyone knows about the legendary gore. The impalement, the dismemberments, the castration, ect. Unlike subsequent films, this wasn’t the focus of Cannibal Holocaust- it was the vessel. The real intent of the film is to show how barbaric and animalistic even us “civilized” people are, and it does it tenfold.
The first half, with Robert Kerman hunting the lost filmmakers, is a slow paced adventure with some gruesome set pieces thrown in here and there. Most of these scenes are geared towards showing cannibalism and uncivilized customs, just like the adultery punishment scene, as gruesome and barbaric practices. It’s not accusatory, it’s not glorifying, it’s just there. It also illustrates the tribes as docile unless provoked, something that bleeds over into the second half, when the “civilized” filmmakers devolve into violent, sadistic monsters. They transgress from doing heinous shit behind the cameras, to invoke the actions they want captured by the cameras, into joining in with the violence.
The last 45 minutes of Cannibal Holocaust are some of the most grueling, disturbing moments I’ve ever sat through. It’s not the gore, it’s what has happened to cause the gore. It’s about human nature, the instinctual “food, fight, fuck” that keeps this doomed species going. Not to mention Riz Ortolani’s chill-educing score, which wails hauntingly during all the depravity. If you’re hunting the shocks, you’ll find them, but if you look beyond the blood and guts, you’ll see the bigger picture, which will disturb you more than anything visceral ever could.
By this point, I’m sure everyone who’s reading this has seen the movie, but to respect those who haven’t, I’m trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible. This makes conveying my point a little difficult, but I think I’ve done a decent job. There are countless scenes, from the village burning, to “watch it Alan, I’m shooting” (which I believe to be one of, if not the most important line spoken in the entire film), to the climax of the whole goddamned affair, that drive in the idea that it’s in our nature to be savage. Beheading videos here, mass shootings there, serial killer over yonder, and the list goes on.
Much like Videodrome, I believe Cannibal Holocaust was way ahead of its time. I also believe it to be the victim of misinterpretation. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not focusing on the bloody scenes, I’m not focusing on the other cannibal films and how it compares to them, I’m only touching on those topics. My main focus is on My views on Cannibal Holocaust are iconoclastic compared to most, and I hope it was conveyed by the above.
First off, I have to admit this is one of my favorite movies of all time. Ruggero Deodato’s masterwork is iconic, disturbing, beautiful, and harrowing. It’s one of those movies that becomes a part of you after you experience it. I can’t think of a single person who says “Cannibal Holocaust… which one was that?” You either get that gleeful “you’ve seen it too!” or the less than enthusiastic “oh… I’m sorry you saw that”.
For this review, I’m going to focus on just Cannibal Holocaust. Everyone seems to compare it to something else, or vice versa, and while I don’t really want to say “you’re reviewing it wrong”, well, you are. With the exception of Lenzi’s Man from Deep River and Deodato’s earlier cannibal foray, Last Cannibal World, this really is the one that started it all. It’s not hokey, cheesy, or over the top. The reason I’m mostly focusing on Cannibal Holocaust is because it was the first to take extreme cinema as far as it did, and in my eyes, every other film in the Italian Cannibal sun-genre took everything it used from Cannibal Holocaust. Except the boob hooks in Cannibal Ferox, I have no clue where the actual fuck that came from…
I’m also going to take into consideration pretty much anyone who’s reading this has already seen the film, but in an effort to maintain neutrality to heavy spoilers, I will be unable to delve too deep. One of the most unfortunate things about reviewing movies is the fine line that must be walked to intrigue potential viewers, but not ruin anything. In that regard, there will be a few instances when I mention a particular scene or line as vaguely as possible. If you’ve seen it, you can relate. If not, then quit reading this and go watch it right now. Seriously, it changes your life.
I began my quest to see Cannibal Holocaust when I was at the appropriate age of 15. I found it, rented it, watched it, and immediately realized everything I expected was wrong. This isn’t fun like, say, Eaten Alive, or Massacre in Dinosaur Valley is. It’s honestly a painful film to watch. Every time I hear people focusing on the gore, or the sexual violence, or this or that or yadda fucking yadda, I just end the conversation and move on. There’s a difference between what this movie shows you, and what it tells you. It shows you some of the most depraved and horrific things imaginable. It tells you things much worse.
Leaving the circumstances out for obvious reasons, one of the most iconic moments is the impalement scene. Hell, I own a DVD set that comes in a statue of the impaled girl. We all know the effects are stellar, as gruesome as anyone could want. But there’s better, more plentiful gore out there. I’ve reviewed so, so many movies that are way gorier than Cannibal Holocaust. So why do people keep touting it as one of the most disturbing films of all time? Simple. The message that’s conveyed isn’t “look at how gross we is gaiz”, it’s “given the right circumstances, you could be just as ruthless, maybe even more so, than those who eat other humans”. And it’s absolutely goddamn right.
By the time we’re introduced to the film crew, we know they’re dead. We know they’ve been eaten, and we think we know why. The last 45 minutes of Cannibal Holocaust doesn’t explore cannibals or extreme violence, even though it’s what’s constantly splashed across the screen. It explores how us, we civilized folk like myself and yourself, can and will devolve into monsters if it fits our course of actions. With the legendary score by Riz Ortolani wailing in the background, we watch as four “civilized” people instigate violence with cannibals, perpetuation actions far more horrific, and essentially root when the cannibals get their revenge.
One of, if not arguably the most important line of the entire picture is “watch it Alan, I’m shooting”. If you’ve seen it, you know when it’s said, and why. It’s the pivotal point when you realize these people have to die, and terribly. By the end of the last found reel, you’ve lost all faith in these people, and feel virtually no sympathy during their drawn out and painful deaths. It’s really remarkable how this film is able to turn you almost entirely bloodthirsty.
Unlike many other films that deal with the darkness in humanity, Cannibal Holocaust sticks with you after viewing for a long, long time. It may be with you for the rest of your life. I believe the extreme visuals perpetuate the feeling. There’s really nothing enjoyable about it; it’s an oppressive, nihilistic film that embeds into your brain and refuses to let go. Most people can tell you off the top of their head when and where they first saw it. That’s why I believe it goes beyond an exploitation film. While trashy and highly enjoyable, exploitation films, just like almost all other cannibal films, lack anything other than shock and gore. When they’re over, you feel satisfied. It was fun. Gruesome, bloody fun, which is something every horror fan longs to enjoy. When Cannibal Holocaust is over, you’re left shellshocked.
I really don’t want to talk about this, but I’m going to quickly touch on the topic before I end the review for completions sake- the animal cruelty. Yes, it’s fucking repugnant and horrifying, no, I don’t think it’s a reason to not watch the film. Animals were killed on camera. They were also all eaten on camera. Was it essential to the film? No. Does it enhance the film? No. You need to remember, you’re watching an Italian movie, filmed in South America, from the 70’s. Animal rights were nil, so you can’t hate someone for doing something that was A-OK at the time, but is now considered immoral. Besides, I’m sure all the animals died less horrible deaths on film than 99% of the meat you buy at Wal-Mart that came from a factory farm.
Even to this day, I consider Cannibal Holocaust just as damaging as the first time I saw it. 23 year old me is just as affected as 15 year old me. I’m sure some people out there treat it as just any other gore film, or exploitation movie, and to each their own, but unlike 99% of all the movies I’ve seen, this one effected me. It wasn’t mindless fun, it had an agenda, which while not pleasant, was essential. Just like Videodrome, I honestly think Cannibal Holocaust was decades ahead of its time. Tell me incidents like Guantanamo Bay don’t mirror what this film expresses to a disturbing degree.
The interesting thing about Cannibal Holocaust is how the film conveys a view of non-existent humanity, regardless of how civilized you are or aren’t, which in turn is how the viewer views humanity while watching. Only it doesn’t just last while watching. It lingers like a parasite in your brain. I don’t know if it’s the combination of extreme imagery and impression of barbarism, but whatever it is, it fucking works. It works almost too goddamned well.
The Package- Grindhouse Releasing has produced the mackdaddy. This Blu-Ray is virtually unfaultable in any way. The vibrant, blemish free transfer is the best Cannibal Holocaust has ever looked, or ever will for that matter. The default audio is a re-mastered DTS 2.0 mix, with the original Mono available as well.
Viewing options include the fully uncut theatrical version, or the animal cruelty free version, with all the instances of authentic animal abuse snipped out. Again I understand this decision, and I respect it, so if you’re absolutely not going to watch it with those scenes present, there is an option to adjust. We’ve also got two commentary tracks: one with Ruggero Deodata and Robert Kerman, and one with Gabriel Yorke and Francesca Ciardi, or Alan and Faye respectively.
This three disk set comes rocking a re-mastered CD of the haunting and beautiful score by Riz Ortolani, with the other disks being the film and features. Disk one includes the feature, an alternate cut of The Last Road to Hell (which is not insertable into the film, just viewable as a standalone piece), and every possible theatrical trailer for the film known to man.
Disk two is sporting some amazing things as well. We’ve got eleven different interviews with seven key figures involved in making the film, which is an astronomical amount. Still galleries from production, promotion, lobby cards from half a dozen countries, and various video releases, and a slew of Grindhouse Releasing trailers. Yes, I know you just filled the cup, and yes, it’s okay to admit it.
Everything is tucked into a case with reversible graphic artwork and an impressive book of liner notes by Eli Roth and the late Chas. Balun, which is then tucked into a hard protective sleeve containing an embossed image of the classic impaled girl.