Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. Site runner Jill Cooper asked for reviews of disturbing films and I decided to start off with one of the most disturbing films of all time. So here it is: originally posted March 10, 2008:
Four filmmakers go into the Amazon rain forest in search of a cannibal tribe. They are never seen again. Six months later, their footage is recovered. If it sounds familiar, keep in mind that Cannibal Holocaust predates The Blair Witch Project by twenty years. The whole "found footage horror" sub-genre (which includesBehind the Mask, Last Broadcast, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, andDiary of the Dead) started with this 1980 cult classic.
What the format allows is a bird's eye view of human depravity. A simple laundry list of atrocities will give you an idea: castration, firing squad executions, rapes, abortion, cannibalism, amputations, the iconic impalement scene and several (by all accounts, real) animal mutilations. The Italian government was allegedly fooled by the realism of the footage and actually put the director on trial for murder.
The question I keep asking myself isn't why someone would make this movie (money); but rather why I watched it. I first saw it during a midnight screening at an art house theater. Halfway through the movie, I began to wonder about the audience around me. What drove each of us to spend a Saturday night watching a movie like Cannibal Holocaust? The director's motive was as clear as that of any drug dealer: to provide the product that customers demand. But why the demand? In the end, the audience members are revealed as being the true monsters with our unexplainable need to view human misery.
For nearly thirty years, Cannibal Holocaust has stood as a gold standard for disturbing cinema. The more polished Hollywood horror shows haven't even come close to its brutality or ability to generate self-loathing in an audience for watching it. However, after viewing recent box-office successful films likeSaw and Hostel, director Ruggero Deodato has stated that he feels mainstream audiences may be ready for a big-budget re-make. There seems little reason to update the story for this decade, however, since the original does such a splendid job of delivering "what the audience wants", while at the same time forcing that same audience to ask why they want it. Approach with caution!