Press "Enter" to skip to content

Review: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) 

Directed by: Ruggero Deodato

Premise: A university professor (Robert Kerman) travels into the Amazon to discover what happened to a film crew that disappeared in the jungle while making a documentary about cannibalism.

What Works: Cannibal Holocaust is a truly uncompromising picture. There is little that is subtle about the film and upon first viewing it, the awfulness and nihilism of the movie is so overwhelming that it is hard to have anything but a gag reflex to the entire picture. But if a viewer can honestly intellectualize what is in the movie, this reveals intelligence behind Cannibal Holocaust that elevates it beyond a mere exploitation film. This is a serious piece about violence, exploitation, entertainment, and even the nature of civilization. The film’s “cinema verite” style serves it well and Cannibal Holocaust blends the real and the fabricated to such an extent that the two are indistinguishable. By doing so, the film dissects reality as entertainment and forces the viewer to confront how truth is constructed in film and the ways that the suffering of others is turned into popular entertainment. While Cannibal Holocaust is often criticized for going so far over the top that it becomes what it is admonishing, the film’s excesses are a part of its confrontational attitude. This could be described as punk rock filmmaking and its affronts to sanity, decorum, and integrity are why it works the way it does.

What Doesn’t: At the time of its release, Cannibal Holocaust was banned and legally prosecuted all over the world for scenes of actual animal violence. While this footage aids the film thematically, it is ethically questionable to say the least. The film makes it hard to feel compassion for the characters and audiences with delicate sensibilities are likely to be offended by the picture.

DVD extras: Grindhouse Releasing has put together a terrific two-disc set for such an obscure and infamous film. The set includes the uncensored version of the film and an “animal cruelty free” version, a commentary track with optional on-camera moments, a documentary on the film, trailers, photo galleries, Necrophagia music video, cast profiles, and interviews with the actors.

Bottom Line: In the age of reality television, Cannibal Holocaust remains an important film about entertainment, the documentary genre, and exploitation. Cannibal Holocaust is as brutal as film gets; this is not for everyone. Hardcore horror fans, serious film viewers, and fans of “found footage” horror films like The Blair Witch Project should take notice.

Episode: #93 (April 23, 2006); Revised #311 (October 22, 2010)

Note: Read an extended commentary about Cannibal Holocaust here.