Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director : Ruggero Deodato
Examination : Reviled or Revered?
Writer : Doc AKA The Sadistic Surgeon
“con·tro·ver·sy – disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated.”
Controversy has always been a crucial part of extreme film making culture. Without controversy, the term “extreme” wouldn’t exist, because there would be no opinion, no deviations from the norms of society that create taboo. Authors, designers, film makers, and artists use controversial material to make a statement or social commentary. When enough controversy is generated between two groups, attention is generated, and a result is achieved.
Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 Italian film Cannibal Holocaust is one of those horror films that, like it or hate it – it stays with you for a while after the credits roll and the screen goes dark. Some could say that along with other movies, Holocaust helped to pioneer the phenomenon of controversy in extreme film making. The use of graphic images on screen, disturbing sequences, graphic camera angles, and taboo acts that this film portrays evoke thrilling reactions in the viewers that consider witnessing this material a thrilling activity. But the same factors that cause thrills and chills – the same images that play on the screen while a person sits on the couch giggling happily eating popcorn on movie night can cause revulsion in others. This conflict of beliefs or preference – whatever one chooses to term it, is in this writer’s opinion – the basis for controversy.
The plot line of the movie is fairly simple – a film crew goes missing while visiting the Amazon attempting to film cannibal tribes. A rescue mission is launched, and the expedition finds the lost cans of film. The lost film is then viewed, and conflict ensues over to whether to allow the film to be broadcast as a documentary. It is the content of this film that is the basis for this movie. Some of the controversial acts in this film include :
- Graphic on screen sexual assault and gang rape
- Portrayal on-screen of animal torture slaughter
- Impalement and resulting death of a human female
- Limb Amputation graphically portrayed on screen
- Cannibalistic behavior portrayed on screen
Be aware that in no way does this blog or it’s authors condone the real life commissions of any of these acts – nor do we have any intent to condone the acts listed above in a real life environment. In the next couple of paragraphs, we will be going point by point and justifying why the use of this type of imagery and concept is important to extreme film making, and why movies like Cannibal Holocaust should be revered.
Graphic on screen sexual assault and gang rape
The use of graphic on screen sexual assault and gang rape is a plot device necessary to portray the animalistic violence that is indeed present amongst some indigenous tribes in the Amazon. This is in no way representative of that entire group of people, just as it is ludicrous to assume that every person of Arab descent is a terrorist. But this kind of thing does happen, and if Deodato was to sugarcoat it in censorship, the movie would not have been as effective.
Portrayal on-screen of animal torture slaughter
This is one that’s almost hard for me to justify. I do not condone hurting animals in any way shape or form. However, I applaud Deodato for recognizing that this is something that happens in the type of environment his film was based in. Having the necessary intestinal fortitude to include all aspects of a certain environment, no matter how taboo they are is an important part of extreme film making.
Impalement and resulting death of a human female/Limb Amputation graphically portrayed on screen
We’ve seen much worse portrayed in more modern films than this, so why did this raise so much controversy? Has the legend of the so called “snuff film” not died down enough to where it doesn’t raise the hairs on the backs of some conservative’s necks every time it is mentioned or talked about? Realistically, much worse things happen on the streets of America every day. Yes it might be shocking to some sensitive viewers, but it should really not be a compelling reason to revile Cannibal Holocaust.
Cannibalistic behavior portrayed on screen
Cannibalism is something that has existed on the outskirts of modern culture for years. It is reviled in society because the act of consuming a member of one’s own species effectively demonizes that species – in other words, it supposedly makes that species evil. But what is evil to some, in certain forms, is not always evil in other forms. For example, the beef in the hamburger you get at your local fast food establishment comes from cattle. Technically this is not considered cannibalism because humans and cattle are different species – but it could very easily be made into a taboo act if enough members of society revile it. So if you strip away the ethical issues involved, what’s the difference between portraying the act of eating a member of one’s own species and eating a hamburger that came from a cattle? The portrayal of cannibalism in Cannibal Holocaust is arguably not an overwhelmingly valid reason to revile this film.
Throughout the history of film making, and going into the future – there will always be controversial material in film – especially that film which is considered extreme. When Cannibal Holocaust was first released, critics were split between calling the film almost perfect, due to it’s statement of social commentary, and gruesome enough to question the ethics of the people behind the camera for being willing to subjectively film an indigenous people in the act of such brutality. And of course you’ll always have the snuff film allegation – in fact such an allegation landed Mr Deodato in legal trouble, due to the supposedly questionable reality of the impalement scene mentioned above. It is relevant to note that Deodato was exonerated for murder at the conclusion of his trial. That being said – extreme movies like Cannibal Holocaust should be revered because they will always generate controversy. That controversy is the basis for social commentary and mental stimulation. In other words, it gets people’s minds working. It gets them talking. It gets their ideas flowing. And if used the right way, it has the potential to become a positive thing.