Jan 13, 2007

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): D

Says a female television executive in Cannibal Holocaust: “Today people want sensationalism. The more you rape their senses the happier they are.” Count me out of this demographic – one of many laughable examples of the film’s attempts to justify itself as some sort of moral examination on cultural violence and the destructive effects of imperialism. A group of four documentary filmmakers travel deep into the Amazonian to see what they can uncover about the supposed cannibal tribes who reside there. No surprise: none of them are ever heard from again. When NYU Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) attempts to uncover their whereabouts (or those of their remains), he and his rescue team are able to establish good relations with one of the native tribes, only to discover the fallen foursomes remains and the footage they shot, which includes – to name but a few instances of gut churning violence – native rituals involving forced abortions, rape with a stone penis as a punishment for adultery, full body impalements, communal rape of a native by the male filmmakers, and the decapitation and dismemberment of (real) animals.

The Passion of the Christ always struck me as being gratuitous in its use of violence without context (and extensively, without any real meaning behind it), but Mel Gibson’s torture chamber piece should be considered a humanitarian effort worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize compared to this. A proud supporter of free speech myself, the most offensive aspect of Cannibal Holocaust is its disingenuous claim to supporting said rights - a shallow attempt to frame its exploitation as a protest against exploitation itself. Reads the opening title crawl: “As distributors of this film, we wish to state with absolute sincerity that by no means do we condone the artistic decisions employed by the makers of this film. However, as firm believers in the constitutional right of free speech, we do not believe in censorship.” Let me add myself to the many who have already called this out as complete bullshit, a moral reach-around that, even if it were well intended, forgets that free speech has never been an absolute (let’s hope all screenings of the film end with the distribution of civic books to the audience), and that snuff films would never be permitted under the Constitution. Violence in film can indeed be a powerful tool, particularly when used to examine elements of reality that demand moral grappling and intense philosophic inquiry.

Cannibal Holocaust would like you to think it serves this purpose; at the very least, it wants to package its gorefest in such a way that junkies who get off on it don’t immediate check themselves into some sort of moral rehab (something I whole heartedly recommend to anyone who enjoys this for its gore factor - if they're not already beyond help). While the collected footage is screened for TV producers who wish to use such “sensational” material to draw higher ratings, the film regularly cuts back and forth between the worst of the material being projected and the reactions of the audience, whose glazed-over eyes may as well be watching Howdy Doody. After all said and done, the professor wanders outside to the New York cityscape, thinking via voiceover: “I wonder who the real cannibals are” (presumably, to gorehound hipsters dropping their jaws in a moment of pathetically profound realization). The completely heinous nature of the film, however, is exposed through its own inconsistencies, from the pseudo-artsy scoring of supposedly raw footage (what’s the decapitation and cannibalization of a human without flowery synthesized music?) to the fact that real animals were used for this self-proclaimed expose on the evil within men (as far as horror films serving as commentaries on our obsession with violence in the media go, The Devil's Rejects puts this thing to shame). For years now, I’ve called Bad Boys II the single worst thing I’d ever watched, but at this moment, I’d rather cuddle with Michael Bay before ever coming close to this atrocity again.


  1. I agree, the movie really makes my stomach turn

  2. Anonymous2:52 PM

    you two are just weaklings. violence is as much a part of human nature as love is. humans have been killing and torturing each other sinc the beginning of time. just because someone films (fake) death doesnt mean the movie is something to be piled up and burned. and as for the animal death scenes, the actors and film crew ate every bit of the animals they killed, so the animals were not killed simply for our entertainment.

  3. Anonymous10:35 PM

    "and as for the animal death scenes, the actors and film crew ate every bit of the animals they killed, so the animals were not killed simply for our entertainment."

    Bullshit. I haven't & will never watch this disgusting SNUFF film, but I've read on what was done to those poor animals. They weren't killed quickly & humanely as a chicken or cow is. They were slaughtered in cruel, grotesque, painful manners.
    This is a SNUFF film because real living creatures were murdered for some sick bastards' amusement.
    Don't dilute yourself.

  4. Anonymous12:14 AM

    Awful. Simply awful. Why do you need to show graphic rape and murder? You don't. It's all garbage. I sat through half and just felt awful looking at it. Why do people like this exsist? And to the crazy ass who defended this movie... You spelt "since" wrong.

  5. I agree it is silly to condemn sensationalism with such a sensationalistic movie, but I don’t think this one logical flaw is to doom the whole movie as totally worthless. On the contrary, I think it brings up a plethora of issues - namely, how the repression of violent urges leads to higher monstrosities then ever before: the actions of the filmmakers being not unlike the Inquisition or the Holocaust. If this is the result of civilization, then what does it mean to be ‘civilized’? Did not Nietzsche say: ‘all that we call higher culture has in fact arisen out of cruelty?” That they who fight with monsters should be careful, lest they themselves become monsters thereby? These are the themes that are more interesting to me than the pseudo-liberal moralizing that is unfortunately prominent in the movie (moralizing of any kind being antithesis to horror movies).
    In regards to the animals deaths, the very fact that they are disturbing to us just reiterates the themes in the movie. In many places, people sustain themselves in exactly the same way - would the Amazonian tribes view the turtle scene, for instance, with any special horror? I doubt it, they probably perform that same act at least once a week or month (depending on how plentiful they are). Is it, in fact, ‘civilized’ to be so remote from basic human urges, only to have them burst forth in the form of orgiastic horror movies? Just like the Dionysian cults of Ancient Greece, gore films are really nothing more then the barbarian urges of mankind rising to the surface and taking full form. The more gentle and quotidian the times, the more violent and exotic some art forms will be (‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’). Think of the lazy Roman aristocracy watching Christians being fed to lions, or the rise of boxing in the Gilded Age, or, as previously mentioned, the Dionysian cult.

  6. Anonymous4:45 PM

    I believe the word you are searching for is delude :P

  7. Anonymous12:56 AM

    I watched it and was mostly bored more than anything else. Movie with a message intended or not? Bullshit is the answer. It's just a gore movie made for people turned on by that sort of stuff. A violent porno, badly acted and edited. The best than can be said about it is that it is not half as bad as everyone makes out but is totally gratuitous which makes you feel a bit unclean after watching it. The animal scenes shouldn't be there, I have seen plenty of animals actually being killed but a lot of the animals in this movie are not killed humanely and quickly (i.e. cutting their throats and waiting for them to die) so the old animals get killed every day for our McDonald's argument is ludicrous. There is no redeeming quality in this movie apart from the hard work put into faking human death - that's it. Unless you are a borderline sicko who gets off on this type of thing don't bother. It will disgust you (but not as much as you think) and then bore you - it's worst crime I think.