Crossing the Line – Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust (1985) is up today, directed by Ruggero Deodato and supposedly banned at one time or another in 50 countries. At this point in the column I wonder if I even need to mention rape, murder, or nudity, or if I should just encourage everyone to take it as a given.

Tagline: The men you will see eaten alive, are the same who filmed these incredible sequences

Interesting Fact: The scene where an actor kills a monkey was shot twice, so two monkeys were killed for that scene.

Objectionable material: Nudity, off screen murder, visceral on screen murder, animal cruelty, on screen mutilation of turtle, on screen slicing open of muskrat, shooting of a small pig, there’s a lot of actual animal killings alright, Blair Witch Project style camera, white people murdering savages, disembowelment, sex, mud-girl rape, rock penis rape, forceful removal of body parts, racism, heavy handed message, man’s inhumanity to man

Disturbing Quote: “Today people want sensationalism; the more you rape their senses the happier they are.”

Warning, Very NSFW

PsychoLarry: The story of the documentarians featured in Cannibal Holocaust is one I’m sure we’re all familiar with from our study of the history of media. Sometimes regular journalism and filmmaking just isn’t enough, the people need something more. Every generation or so there are a few brave individuals willing to do whatever is needed to really make some good news. Michael Moore knew that regular lay off processes were far to drawn out to be satisfying, so he bravely took the initiative and bought half the manufacturing plants in Flint and fired everyone. The ensuing footage of unemployed and homeless people was worth its weight in gold. Noam Chomsky is personally tortured over 30% of Palestine’s inhabitants in the 70s just to ensure that there would always be an exciting holy war to opine on. Visionary media mogul Elliot Carver followed in William Randolph Hearst’s footsteps to start a vicious conflict between China and Great Britain just in time for February Sweeps. Alan Yates and his team follow in these heroes’ footsteps.


There are a lot of things wrong with Cannibal Holocaust. Enough so that I’m tempted to just leave it at that. But for you people, I press on. In Ruggero Deodato’s fantasy hyperbole world it’s somehow not shocking to a network head honcho to see a documentary crew burn an entire village to death, rape a little girl, impale her and blame it on the natives, or film other members of the crew being raped killed and eaten. Native South Americans are little better, brutally dismembering live animals and people, raping a girl to death with a stone phallus, and generally being ignorant and totally alien in every way from the ‘civilized’ world. Of course in the end it is the White Man who is the true evil entity, media gone so wrong it creates it’s own stories by staging them. This is the BIG POINT of Cannibal Holocaust and it’s handled with the subtlety of, well, of a film crew gang raping a young girl while beating the director’s girlfriend, then impaling her on a post.

Then there’s the animal cruelty. Watching a small muskrat (or coatimundi) scream and thrash around as one character stabs it repeatedly is probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to watch.

This is not a movie for you. This is not a movie for anyone. If you like your steak so raw that arteries burst onto your clothes while you tear at it with nothing but your bare hands and sharpened fingernails this movie is not for you. Once you’ve reached a point where you can only enjoy a meal when you’ve killed the beast yourself and make its offspring watch as you bite into their mother, masturbate, and shoot at them with a nail gun, then perhaps you’re going to like this movie. This is nothing but racist torture porn with a high concept. The whole point of a movie is that you fake things that you can’t or shouldn’t do in real life so that you create an illusion of reality. Why make a movie about how terrible people with cameras can be, then murder live animals on film? Why make the film so endlessly awful that you can’t give your lead the script until he’s already stuck in Columbia to keep him from bolting? How do you not question the need for the rampant cruelty when huge, vital scenes have to be cut because your actor’s can’t stop crying?

In short, this is a film that is not worth your time or emotional well being. I can take a lot from a movie and still see some value in it, but I can’t think of anything worthwhile to be gained from “Cannibal Holocaust” except the ill will of everyone you know.

MBRFT: Despite the gruesome imagery and grotesque carnage of the first two films in our soul-crushing and dehumanizing film series, nothing was ever actually hurt or killed in their creation. Now we have “Cannibal Holocaust” – a documentary-style splatter film that directly led to the deaths of at least five animals of various shapes and cuteness. I’m a big Arby’s fan so usually I don’t have a problem with the idea of animals being killed for my benefit, but I never had to actually watch it before.
What “Holocaust” lacks in thoughtful plot construction and competent acting, it makes up for with on-screen animal murder and photorealistic shaky-cam violence. It blurs the lines of fact and fiction with a lot of did-they-totally-just-kill-that-chick-for-real moments. This was viral video before You Tube when 3rd generation VHS tapes were passed from stoner to stoner until they reached every dorm room on campus. Criticize its exploitive methods and label it as a cheap gimmick, but it’s still highly effective. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Blair Witch Project” relied on the same marketing strategy to become two of the most successful Indie films ever made. Much like every post-Vietnam-era horror film there’s not-so-subtle social commentary creeping underneath all the splatter (“oh, so the callous young white westerners are really the monsters”). We even get allusions to the Mai Lai Massacre with some old-fashioned hut burning and a healthy heaping of actual war footage from a third-world post-colonial uprising.

Most Italian horror-films of that era were masterfully-stylized and handled buckets of blood with beautifully constructed visual compositions (see the works of Dario Argento). They managed to choreograph a man getting his throat-slit into art. “Holocaust” is the cinematic equivalent of a little kid opening his mouth to show you the food he just chewed. You could argue it barely qualifies as art and plays more for shock value. But it’s memorable. And Hollywood is spending millions of dollars to get a PG-13 version of the same effect (see “Cloverfield”). Media is changing. Reality television constantly rides that ambiguous line between fact and fiction. The director, Ruggero Deodato, was way ahead of his time. This movie is like a magic show, except instead of making a rabbit disappear they kill it and eat it. Say what you want about it, once you’ve seen “Holocaust” you can’t deny it ever happened.

Plus, you gotta love that title.

Screaming Girl: My response is “they killed a turtle”.

Apparently the strenuous writing schedule of one page per week is stressing my co-contributors, so I’ll make it easy on them next week. Look forward to our write up of Salvador Dali’s surrealist short ‘Un Chien Andalou’ next week.


One Comment on “Crossing the Line – Cannibal Holocaust”

  1. daphne says:

    At the end of Cannibal Holocaust, I have heard there’s a “no animals were harmed during the making of this film” screen. Is this true? And how does anyone know about 2 monkeys being killed? I’d really like to find out the truth.


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