Directed by Ruggero Deodato and with an international including Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi and Perry Pirkanen, 1980 Italian horror Cannibal Holocaust is commonly viewed as ‘the most controversial film ever made’. The story follows a film crew who travel to South America to make a documentary on cannibalistic tribes, and go mysteriously missing in the process.
Cannibal Holocaust is by no means a straightforward horror film. While the build-up is traditional, the plot is well-researched and the production is focused on rendering characters, situations and locations as truthfully as possible, what Cannibal Holocaust is really known for is the amount of sheer brutal violence it contains – and the controversy such violence has attracted since its release in the 1980s.
The intentions of both the writer Gianfranco Clerici and director Deodato were to create a movie where horror and social commentary went hand in hand, and where the shock factor could be used for more than just simple entertainment. Indeed, the message in Cannibal Holocaust is a strong one – highlighting the paradox of civil societies by showing the covert barbarous behaviour of a group of westerners – yet its impact is partially demeaned (ironically so) by the amount of violence used to make its point.
Unfortunately, the film only seemed to attract attention for its bloody, violent scenes of murder, rape and torture – and also apparent footage of real (alleged) killings of animal and human actors – for which Deodato was arrested (he avoided life in prison after proving that all the human actors were alive and well). Needless to say, any social commentary was completely lost amongst the furore.
Admittedly, the movie features a few well-shot moments, and the background music and sound effects heighten the feelings of anxiety and unease. The high-definition quality of this newly released director’s cut is also outstanding.
Cannibal Holocaust loses all intentions of being an intelligent, brave social commentary around halfway through its runtime, and consequently feels like Deadato is more interested in breaking as many boundaries and taboos as he can – a strategy which, unfortunately, causes the audience to recoil from the events rather than reflect upon their implications.