Cannibal Holocaust is an incredibly controversial film, one that has been analysed and dissected over the years for its animal cruelty and desire to shock.
In brief, we join an expedition who are looking for a film crew that had previously gone into the jungle and had never been seen again. It’s revealed that the crew are all dead, having embarked on a descent into inhumanity that saw them attack the locals and animals with reckless abandon. Fortunately for everyone, they filmed every step of their trip, which we get to watch after the fact with the returning expedition, in an early example of the found footage genre.
Of course what it’s trying to say is the cannibals are the animals simply because they are seen as being uncultured, superstitious and violent. In reality the film crew are equally as bad, if not worse than the natives. They are there for sensational film footage only, no matter the cost to life or the peril they put themselves under. They are a foolhardy bunch who have no regard for the natural world or, it seems, any other living being including each other.
From a modern perspective Cannibal Holocaust is no more violent or horrific than the latest remake of Evil Dead. The real life animal cruelty is a tough one to stomach, but it acts to truly distinguish this from the other video nasties. It’s certainly not lost any of its power, and for better or for worse it’s one of those nasties that stands out above almost all the others, with perhaps the exception of the original The Evil Dead.
I watched the UK cut version of the film, where most of the instances of real animal death are obscured by film tears or are cut completely. Having compared my version with the original they are relatively minor edits overall, not shying away from the animal cruelty but also not forcing you to watch it in full. These edits were introduced by Deodato himself who, with thirty years of hindsight, apparently realised that the sequences were inherently wrong to film.
On the other hand, in the interests of balance, most of the animals were subsequently eaten by the natives, so there was little wasted. Small comfort to animal rights campaigners, but there lie the facts. Or what we’re led to believe are the facts. It’s just as easy to say that Deodato still considers these sequences to be essential to the film, and only made the cuts to try and publicly absolve him of wrongdoing. Bit late for that, bub.
The soundtrack isn’t unlike all the other video nasty era Italian horror films. That is to say, it’s rather good. More often than not it contrasts wildly with the images onscreen, but works to a far better extent than the similarly titled video nasty Cannibal Apocalypse. At least here there are actual cannibals.
It seems that Cannibal Holocaust is a right of passage style of film. One in which you earn yourself a cinephile badge for having watched it from start to finish. The sad fact is that it’s a well made film and has an important message behind it (just keep repeating “the green inferno” over and over), but unfortunately it will always be known as that film where a bunch of animals are killed for real.