Cannibal Holocaust Blu-ray

Monday, 26 September 2011 00:00

“Cannibal Holocaust” is undoubtedly one of the most controversial ‘video nasties’ of them all, primarily acquiring that label for its depiction of real animal killing and cruelty, and disturbingly sexual violence. Bizarrely, the cannibalism aspect is of secondary importance. DVD label Shameless has released new editions to tie in with the current vogue for ‘found footage’ films, not least because this trend-setting movie predates “The Blair Witch Project” by twenty years.

Professor Harold Munroe (Robert Kerman – “Spider-man”) is despatched by a TV network into the Amazonian jungle to track down four intrepid film makers. They were making a documentary about mysterious tribal activity but never returned to civilisation. Munroe and his backup make some grizzly discoveries and find some cans of film in the possession of natives. The professor returns to America and engages in a battle with the network to stop the shocking footage being broadcast.

Cannibal Holocaust comes to Blu-rayTo say I was uneasy about watching this film would be an understatement. Thanks to relaxations in what latter-day censors consider too harmful to unleash on the public, many previously banned movies have now been released, often in a completely uncut form. I have seen a fair number of them, and few if any have had the same effect on me as Ruggero Deodato’s controversial picture.

This Shameless release includes a new edit by the director that cuts or subtly obscures some of the animal-related imagery, but it also includes the original version. I watched the latter because, as critic Kim Newman says in one of the special features, as difficult to stomach as the clips are, they are pivotal in suggesting to the audience that as the animal scenes are real, so might be those depicting human torture and death.

Unlike a great number of sensationalist movies, some critics consider “Cannibal Holocaust” to be a well-made and artfully shot piece of work. The new Blu-ray edition is certainly reminiscent of a David Attenborough-style documentary, with shots of lush jungle, the winding Amazon river and the region’s innumerable species. Most of the ‘everyday’ and ritualistic activity of the tribal people feels credible, although it does occasionally become obvious that it is scripted and acted rather than real.

The acting is pretty good on the whole. The four original film makers – Alan (Carl Gabriel Yorke), girlfriend and assistant Faye (Francesca Ciardi) and their two cameramen Jack (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark (Luca Barbareschi) – are for the most part compellingly natural. From the comments Yorke and Ciardi make in the extras, they were very apprehensive about a lot of aspects of the shoot, and this helps to make them look uneasy in the film.

Surrounded by a group of men (including an unfortunate male guide who finds himself on the wrong end of a deadly snake’s fangs), Faye acts as the voice of reason. The males become increasingly bloodthirsty in their hunt for ‘Oscar winning’ footage, never shying away from filming what they encounter no matter how unconscionable.

Eventually they become complicit and engage in their own highly immoral behaviour, terrorising the natives and in one awful case gang-raping a woman. It is as though their brief time away from civilisation has quickly caused their self-restraint and moral code to crumble. Perhaps the pivotal scene is when Alan is leering excitedly at some native unpleasantness, only to be reminded that he is being filmed by the cameraman. His facial expression spontaneously changes to one of grave seriousness, but it is too late – we know his true feelings.

This is a central and very important theme of the movie, and Deodato is very successful in stirring up numerous emotions and doubts in his audience. Alan and co are very clearly in the wrong, and although the behaviour of the patriarchal tribes is unthinkable to us, in the proper context it follows a clear code.

For example, a horrific fate awaits women who engage in adultery; the natives believe indiscretions must be punishable before their god. On the other hand, ‘civilised’ soldiers are witnessed indiscriminately gunning down local inhabitants, and tribesmen are deliberately winged by the film crew so that they can be more easily tracked as they flee back to their camps.

The soundtrack by Riz Ortolani (“Inglorious Basterds”, “Kill Bill”) is distinctive and as emotive as the visuals. Two main themes run through the movie: one is an annoyingly catchy easy-listening ditty that the director often uses jarringly with on-screen grotesquery; the other is a sad and ominous piece of music with a John Carpenter-style synth bass riff that accompanies the dire animal scenes and presages something horrific is on the horizon.

In addition to the original and director’s ‘Animal Edit’ versions of the film, both the one-disc Blu-ray and two-disc DVD editions include the following special features:

  • Introduction to the original film by director Ruggero Deodato
  • Introduction to the new Director’s Edit by Ruggero Deodato
  • ‘Film And Be Damned’ – inteview with Ruggero Deodato and actor Carl G. Yorke
  • ‘The Long Road Back From Hell’ – specially commissioned documentary by Cine Excess featuring [genre critic] Kim Newman, Professor Julian Petley, Professor Mary Wood, Ruggero Deodato, Carl G. Yorke and actress Francesca Ciardi
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Easter Egg (which amusingly exposes a major casting continuity error)
  • Shameless Trailer Park (previews of other films)

The ‘Long Road’ featurette is superbly put together, and really gets to the heart of what the film represents in terms of its introspective message, the trailblazing ‘found footage’ aspect, censorship and film-making techniques. As the new edit of the film evinces, Deodato says he would not harm animals if he were to remake the movie today. Studio pressure was apparently partly to blame; these days he would be more creative whilst making the same statements and establishing the same sensation of unease and self-reflection in the audience.

If you think you can stomach the ultra-strong and graphic nature of this film, I recommend you experience it for yourself. It truly is a one-of-a-kind.

“Cannibal Holocaust” (1980) is out now, courtesy of Shameless Screen Entertainment. The running time is 92 minutes approx, certificate ‘18’, and the movie retails for £19.99 on two-disc DVD and £24.99 on Blu-ray (1 disc), or less from


Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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