Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The belated release of Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno has us hankering for other movies about cannibalism. Bon appétit.
Racist, repugnant, amoral, and obvious, Cannibal Holocaust is a work that few enjoy sitting through, much less like. Yet there’s something terrifyingly transfixing about Ruggero Deodato’s notorious (and still banned in many countries) 1980 faux-snuff film about an NYU anthropologist named Harold (Robert Kerman) who travels to the Amazon in search of a missing four-person documentary crew, witnesses his fair share of ugliness, and then returns home with the dead filmmakers’ footage, which turns out to contain material far worse than his own experiences. Deodato stages not only the documentarians’ recordings as authentic, but also his story as a whole, courtesy of shaky verité-ish cinematography and intro and postscript facts about the events. While that realism is a put-on, as are his sequences of cannibalism, there’s plenty of nastiness to be found throughout his seminal shocker, from actual animal dismemberment to unforgettable images of people being violated and impaled, from crotch to mouth, on gigantic wooden poles.
Such gruesomeness comes equipped with a message about the exploitation of the Amazon’s natives—through both physical violence and dishonest cinematic manipulation—by its documentary characters, who are seen viciously abusing and attacking their primitive subjects for the camera. Harold makes this point laughably clear when, in the last scene, he ponders “I wonder who the real cannibals are,” though Deodato condemns his story’s filmmakers (and the execs who want to broadcast their footage) even as he himself perpetrates the exact same sort of cinematic exploitation with Cannibal Holocaust. That leaves the proceedings feeling less self-critical than merely hypocritical. Still, the director’s grim commitment to shocking his audience is fanatical to the point of being enthralling, as he dramatizes one bit of extreme, rancid cruelty after another for little reason other than to turn viewers’ stomachs. It’s far from a noble goal, but there’s no denying its effectiveness, especially during a turtle-mutilation centerpiece that unfailingly stimulates one’s gag reflex, and helps cement this horrorshow’s infamous status as perhaps the most sickening film ever made.
Availability: Cannibal Holocaust is available on Blu-ray and DVD through Netflix or possibly your local video store/library.