Well, I finally did it. After years of putting off watching what has been claimed to be one of the most controversial horror films ever made, I finally brought myself to watch Cannibal Holocaust. Closing my 110-movie horror marathon in October, I chose this and Rosemary’s Baby to be the final note in which to end the horror-fest. I will say this; I ended the marathon strong choosing these two films. Rosemary’s Baby very well may be the greatest psychological thriller I’ve ever seen and Cannibal Holocaust… well, let’s talk about that.
I recently watched Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” and I knew that movie was inspired by Cannibal Holocaust, even the title “The Green Inferno” gets its name from the film being shot within Cannibal Holocaust by the documentary film crew, or psychopaths – whatever you want to call them, and of course I am aware of the hype surrounding Cannibal Holocaust so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into. I’ve seen hundreds of horror movies ranging from suspenseful to just straight gore-fests, but I had never seen something made with such blatant disregard for life or consequence. I’m speaking mainly of the animal killing in the film. For those that are unaware, they used real animals in the movie with the sole purpose of torturing and killing them. I’m going to go into some detail in this review just so you can appreciate my nausea with the film. If necessary you may want to stop reading now.
From what I can remember, and I refuse to watch the movie a second time so you’ll forgive me if I forget something, there were three animal scenes: the turtle, the pig and the monkey. The film crew decide to pull a large turtle, or tortoise I can’t remember, onto its back and lop off its head before systematically dismembering it and separating it from its shell. They look around in its insides for a bit until finally settling with cooking and eating some of the meatier parts. The female crew member is obviously disturbed by the scenario but she still partakes in the feast. Her reservations are quickly discarded by the time they reach the village of an indigenous tribe, and this is made apparent when they approach a child that has a pet baby pig that has been collared to a stake in the ground. The crew members immediately shoot the pig in the neck as it runs in circles for its life, until finally dying. The scene is closed with the crew trapping all of the members of the tribe in a hut and burning it down. Survivors were forced to watch as two of the crew members had sex. The final animal scene I remember is when a member of another tribe grabs a spider monkey from a tree and breaks its neck, after which he breaks the skull open and eats its brains. Remember, all real animals, all really being killed.
Perhaps the real animals in the film is the film crew; that’s definitely the most obvious message they’re trying to get across here. I’m not going to go into detail regarding the sexual horror portrayed, but I will say it involves a lot of rape, and a lot of genital mutilation. The man in the movie that “finds” the footage left behind by the crew is tasked with putting it all together in a documentary-style film. There are parts he discovers with no audio so he clips in elevator/lounge-style music which only enhances the unnerving imagery. By the time he finishes editing everything together and reveals it to the studio, they simply tell him to burn the footage and never speak of it again. I wish I could do the same.
This was by far one of the most deeply disturbing films I’ve ever seen. Muscling through the animal maiming, torture and explicit cruelty, I was rewarded with a “found footage” film within a film. I’m used to gross and bloody, but this film goes above and beyond simple violence and brutality with the inclusion of psychological shockery coupled with unsettling elevator music. I’m comfortable admitting I lost some sleep the evening after I watched this – I think that speaks to at least some measurable amount of humanity in me. Certain flashbacks of vividly grotesque imagery popped in my head for several days after, not only of the animal killing, but the rape and genital mutilation as well. I don’t recommend anyone watch this movie, but if your curiosity is peaked and you’re determined to watch it anyway, let me give you some advice – distance yourself as much as possible from the characters in the film. Don’t try to connect with, relate to, or otherwise understand the characters or their actions. Don’t question why the movie was made, why they killed real animals, or why anything is happening. Just take each scene as it comes and simply acknowledge everyone in the film as sadists. Rationalizing this garbage is not worth your time or brain cells.