The Cult Club: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)


[The Cult Club is where Flixist’s writers expound the virtues of their favorite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pack, as well as their enduring legacy.]

Back in my film school days (I know it sounds douchey, but bear with me), I’d taken classes on a menagerie of topics and had turned in papers that really had little to no educational substance to them. I, the master of bullsh*t, had written ten page papers on an array of topics ranging from the adaptation of Silent Hill to the big screen, why Arrested Development was way ahead of its time, and most importantly why I thought Lars Von Trier was an assh*le and a hack (got an A on that one). Out of all the silly classes I took, however, I never had more fun than I did in Film 222.53: The Horror Film and Society.

In between laughing at classmates who couldn’t stomach the violence and flirting with the goth chick who was creepily way into it, I watched Ruggero Deodato’s controversial film Cannibal Holocaust. I was taken aback by the sheer brutality of it and even wrote (or shall I say, bullsh*tted) a ten page paper about the impact that such a film had on cinema and the horror genre and what it really meant for it to have achieved “cult” status. My original intent was to repackage said paper and share it with you for this month’s edition of Flixist Cult Club.

I’ve read that paper today, and my god that paper was absolute sh*t. So I fired up my laptop and my DVD player and decided to delve into the madness that is Cannibal Holocaust (yet again). Also, this should go without saying, but this post is extremely NSFW.

Directed by Italian director Ruggero Deodato in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust follows the story of Alan Yates and his film crew who have gone missing after they set out to the Amazon in hopes to capture footage of Yanamomo, a cannibalistic tribe that no man has ever seen and lived to tell about it. Being two films in one, the first half follows anthropologist Harold Monroe (played by Robert Kerman who also starred in famous porno flick Debbie Does Dallas) and his quest to recover the remaining footage. The second half comprises of the “found footage,” known as the Green Inferno, as we follow Yates and crew wreak havoc upon the indigenous tribes of the area and committing heinous acts and passing it off as the actions of the tribes in hopes of boosting their ratings. What happens in the end is… well… not a good time.

Cannibal Holocaust is one of those films that people use to test their threshold for all things horrible. Similar to the reason why anybody would watch such films as The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, they provide a scrupulous amount of brutality and sensationalism disguised by social commentary and heavy-handed messages. For a film made in the 80s, the caliber of sheer brutality does not falter as it is chock full of scenes of rape, mutilation and even animal cruelty.  Want to see a dick get chopped off? How about a brutal rape with a stone dick? How about just seeing scary brown people touch a former porn star’s dick? Well you’ve come to the right place.

What sets Cannibal Holocaust apart from the shock and awe films of today is that, at one time, the viewing public thought it to be reality. Borrowing heavily from the Mondo film genre, director Ruggero Deodato created an intricate folklore about the film, leading most to believe that the Green Inferno portion of the film was actual footage of death and massacre. It had gotten to the point that Italian officials confiscated the film negatives and Deodato was indicted for the murder of his actors. Of course, all this was cleared up quickly when the actual actors testified, but it only added to the allure of the film. I even remember as a child being told about this film where the director actually killed his actors so he can get an authentic scene. Watching the film now, it all seems rather silly that people actually thought these people died on film, but not too long ago people were arguing the authenticity of The Blair Witch Project. Since Cannibal Holocaust (and even The Blair Witch Project), a slew of found footage films have popped up to a point that we get a sh*tty Paranormal Activity movie every year. Still, none really matched the seriousness that was Deodato’s situation.

Other than the lore of actually murdering his actors, Cannibal Holocaust is also famous for pissing off animal rights activists by killing so many animals on screen. By my count, Deodato killed a muskrat, a snake, a monkey and a pig all for the sake of the shot. It’s brutal, yes, but none of it compares to what they did to that poor defenseless turtle:

Now, I’m not any kind of animal activist; by and large, I believe animals were put on this Earth for me to eat. I have been pestered by those stupid people in New York who try to show you what actually goes on in these meat processing plants and all it did was make me hungry for a burger. Still, seeing them actually rip apart that turtle rocked me to my core and is possibly the only time footage has ever made me really queasy. I realize it’s very hypocritical considering there is actual footage within the film of genocide and firing squads, yet nothing really stuck to me much like seeing that turtles insides bubble as its decapitated head was still snapping.

Other than the brutal nature and extreme violence, the one thing that truly rubbed me the wrong way is the heavy handed message. Going for the whole “Modern Society are the real cannibals” message, Deodato tries way too hard to warrant such visual atrocities with social commentary. While the thought of a film crew raping and murdering indigenous people for the sake of footage is an interesting concept, the constant allusions to Vietnam and the news media begin to over-saturate the film. The film goes to ridiculous lengths, such as gang raping a poor tribeswoman, putting her on a pike and passing it off as the brutal actions of devolved cannibalistic tribe. When the film culminated to a gratuitous sex scene in which two of the film crew have sex on the charred remains of the village they just burned down AS THE VILLAGERS WATCHED, I nearly lost it. It’s apparent that subtlety isn’t a thing that exists in the world of Cannibal Holocaust. It’s a good message, yea, but for the love of god, stop beating me over the head with it.

Since Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato has for the most part fallen off the face of the earth. Whispers of a sequel or a reboot were running the rumor mills for awhile, with the likes of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie attached to direct. In the end, Ruggero himself decided to head up the project, but due to a problem with funding the project was cancelled almost immediately. Still, at least he got a cameo in Hostel Part II out of it.

When it’s all said and done, Cannibal Holocaust remains an integral part of film history. Its controversial nature, the fact that it was accused of murder and the sheer level of exploitative brutality makes for one of those experiences people seek out that is sure to rattle their core. I, in no way, think this is actually a good movie, but if you’re anything like me, it’s one of those necessary stops in the tour of f*cked up movies to watch. If you ever do want to watch it, good luck finding it, as Best Buy and your neighborhood Wal-Mart definitely aren’t carrying it. Still, you could always try and ordering it straight from the official website:

Tune in next month where our very own cannibal Liz Rugg will cover the epicness that is Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. Allow me to say, that movie is all kinds of f*cking awesome. I’m sorry I cursed, but there’s really no other way to describe it.


February: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1964)

March: Django (1965)

April: Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy (1976)

May: Troll 2 (1990)