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Gruesome and Unrelenting
on August 26, 2005
`Cannibal Holocaust' is widely regarded as one of the most intense, affecting horror films ever, at least amongst the sorta viewer who would actually have seen this movie. I'd agree with this assessment. This film seems slightly less well known than `Cannibal Ferox', though I can't imagine why. On top of being far better made, it's a lot more outrageous and offensive as well. So, if you've seen that film, and weren't particularly impressed, don't just ignore `Cannibal Holocaust'. Certainly, it's still got many of the flaws that come with low-budget horror film making, mostly being that the acting is often pretty amateurish and the dialogue fairly blasé. But, as H.G. Lewis said, no one ever walked out of `Blood Feast' because the police investigator couldn't act, and I think the same can be said of the guide or professor or whoever in `Cannibal Holocaust'. And, again, these are standard shortcomings of the genre. If you can't live with the acting in this movie, you shouldn't be watching this sorta movie in the first place. But, if you do like this kinda thing, `Cannibal Holocaust is about as good as it gets.
Now, lotsa cheap horror films are fun to watch: They have cool gore or nice atmosphere or camerawork or whatever. But few are really all that powerful or intense. `Cannibal Holocaust' is, partially because of how it is structured. The film concerns the investigation into the disappearance of 4 documentary filmmakers down in South America. This allows for a sort of dual narrative, as we watch a professor and some others go search for them, then, and find that they're dead, but that their film reels survived, and so we watch them during the second half of the movie. This provides an interesting contrast, as the first half of the film is shot pretty as any film of this sort would be shot. It's well done, by the standards of this sort of thing, but not remarkable. But, the second half of the movie, specifically the film within the film, is shot in a very rough, pseudo-documentary style. The transition from the traditional filmmaking style to the mock-documentary is very effective, as the contrast heightens the relative realism of the tape. Of course, the documentary isn't terribly realistic, if you think about it all that much, as the acting is still questionable at times (though definitely better than the rest of the film) and it's all kinda theatrically amateurish, but it still tends to feel very realistic at the time anyway. Though, getting back to that, I actually think the acting by Yates' team is pretty good. Yeah, it's kinda hammy, but it fits their personalities. They've got a totally destructive and adolescent mindset going into the jungle, so their yelling and pranking all actually makes quite a bit of sense.
I can't precisely say what the appeal of this film is. With most gory horror films, I just kinda gawk at the extremity and ingenuity of the violence and the gore fx. As far as I can tell, there is nothing of real world violence in it. But, this is different. `Cannibal Holocaust' addresses violence in a more visceral sense, and it's not a fun movie, but it's got an undeniable appeal. The violence is often more about the violence itself, rather than just the gore, emphasizing the cruelty and brutality of the aggressor. (Most clearly displayed in how they callously hack off their guides leg when he gets bit by a snake, more interested in documenting it then helping him, and how the crew dances around and celebrates as they decimate the Yakumo village, and later how the Yanonamo just continue to hack away at their dismembered corpses, on and on. etc.) What can I say, it's just got a real gruesome intensity that makes it unsettling and yet compelling. Occasionally, I'd say it goes slightly too far, such as the rape scenes that seem to go on forever, and the forced abortion scene, which I really could've lived without.
Some people argue that these cannibal films aren't horror movies, and while it may vary on a film to film basis, `Cannibal Holocaust' is definitely a horror film. There is no adventure in the various treks through the jungle, just horror and death. And it just does a brilliant job of building things up and up, with ever increasing horrors throughout the film within the film. And the climax puts it all together perfectly, with the wild, amateurish camerawork and frantic pacing. The gore effects aren't up to modern standards, but they're extremely good for the time, and are surprisingly convincing. There is quite a bit of animal violence in this film, so if that bothers you ya oughta stay away. I don't find this kinda thing morally offensive, though it can be pretty nasty, particularly the killing and dismembering of a turtle, which is pretty much the grossest thing, ever. Also, there's is a *lot* of sexual violence, so if that bothers you too much, you'll need to steer clear. Suffice to say, if you've ever been offended by any violent movie, you probably oughta give this a pass.
The score is perhaps slightly overbearing, but it's very memorable and quite powerful. Definitely heightens the impact of the more graphic scenes.
This film is not yet released in Region 1, but Grindhouse is supposed to be putting it out in late October. This may yet be delayed, however, as a couple companies have refused to print it due to the offensive artwork. (Presumably, it's the naked, impaled native chick that's on the cover which is making them balk. And, of course, the guys over at Grindhouse are crying censorship, and claiming the cover is 'banned', which is bullcrap. They're aren't preventing the DVD from being produced, they're just refusing to help. Claiming that is censorship is like claiming that your censoring a graffitti artist if you refuse to let him spray paint all over your house. Of course, they're also claiming this is the 'most controversial film ever' which is ridiculous, so maybe they're just trying to be showmen and hype this up as much as possible. But, whatever) Anyway, I doubt it'll be too long, and that version is doubtless going to be the best one in any Region. Personally, I have the Region 0 EC Entertainment version, and it looks pretty good, but I'm sure the Grindhouse one will top it in all areas.
Worthy of its reputation. I'm done.