Hello horror fans! Today, I plan to open up a can of controversy and actually suggest that the best horror movie from the 80's isn't a slasher OR a ghost story, even though they're WAYYY up there! Be warned: this post will contain incendiary opinions, ghastly subject matter, and probably some graphic pictures and/or videos. Reader discretion is advised. Also, if for some reason you clicked on a post about Cannibal Holocaust and haven't actually SEEN Cannibal Holocaust, you need to get your life together and watch it before you read this. I will spoil the FUCK out of it. Without further ado, let the carnage begin!
Before I start listing reasons why I consider this film to be one of the best in the genre, and CERTAINLY the best of the Cannibal Boom, I'll give you the plot summary, because I assume you're going to Wikipedia right now, and my writing is probably more fun than theirs. (Humor me, people.) If you want to skip the summary part, go until you see Dr. Monroe's shocked face.
Cannibal Holocaust begins with the arrival of anthropologist Harold Monroe (Brought to life by the exploitation film regular Robert Kerman) to a region of the Amazon jungle known as "The Green Inferno". He has been sent to find a four-person film crew who were trying to make a movie about a cannibal tribe, the Yanomamo. The introductory scene shows some natives munching on some campfire-cooked human limbs. That is, until their barbecue is cut short by the Colombian army, who proceed to blast the shit out of them with automatic weapons. In the ensuing skirmish, all but one of the natives are killed, and one soldier gets a poison dart in the arm, dying in a relatively tame way.
The city slicker Dr. Monroe is linked up with a guide, Chaco, and his assistant, the young Miguel. The trio take the last surviving tribesman and identify him as a member of the generally calm Yacumo tribe. Chaco finds it unusual that these natives would be feasting on human flesh, and say that they were trying to exile white man spirits from their land. That doesn't bode well for the film crew. In any case, the team uses this tribesman as their guide into the Green Inferno and they witness the barbaric execution of an adulteress by phallic-shaped rock.
They eventually trek far enough and encounter the remains of the film crew's guide, Felipe. Felipe is missing a leg, and is extremely decomposed.
After some puking (on Dr. Monroe's part), the team run into a battle between the Yanomamo and another tribe, and decide to help out the Yanomamo with their superior weaponry. The other tribe is fought off, and the troupe is led into the village. When they get there, they see most of the huts have been razed to the ground, and one of the men appears to be nursing a bullet wound. The tribe is suspicious of the troupe, but they are allowed to stay in the village for the night. They partake in the ritualistic eating of a dead warrior and include the horrified Dr. Monroe and his less-than-shocked companions.
In order to gain the trust of the natives, Dr. Monroe bathes in a river with some of the tribe women. There is an abundance of nudity. Then the trio of explorers are taken to a shrine. A very macabre shrine.
If you couldn't make it out, that's the skeletal remains of the film crew along with their film reels. Monroe is pretty disgusted, as he is with most of the things he's witnessed so far. He trades a tape recorder with a recording of the tribe's chanting on it for the film reels, and the trio gets the fuck out before they become dinner. From here, the film takes a massive shift in narrative delivery. Monroe takes the footage back to New York for restoration, and a TV company wants to air the uncut film reels, but the good doctor refuses without having reviewed the contents beforehand. At this point, the viewers get to watch the footage along with Monroe, and that's where this already violent movie gets CRAZY. Remember, this is the movie that basically created the Video Nasties controversy.
The film reels start with the young crew being introduced. Alan Yates, the director; Faye Daniels, his girlfriend and script writer; and the two cameramen, Jack Anders and Mark Tomaso are shown with their lively guide taking off in a float plane to conquer the Amazon jungle. The journey starts off alright, with some interesting nature shots and some commentary from the crew. Oh, and a LOT of animal violence. I don't condone the use of real animal deaths to make a movie, and these vignettes are some of the most disturbing things in the film. Almost as some sort of karmic justice, the day after the crew butchers a turtle, Felipe is bitten in the foot by a poisonous snake. The crew continue filming while Jack amputates Felipe's leg in a desperate attempt to save him. The wound turns out to be fatal, and the group decides to push on through the jungle.
This is where we start seeing how depraved this film crew really is. They eventually come across some of the natives, and shoot one in the leg in order to easily follow it into their village. Upon arriving there, the crew kills the tribe's animals, forces the natives into a hut, and SET THE HUT ON FUCKING FIRE. They film this in order to stage some war scenes for their documentary. The film crew continues tormenting the tribe, going so far as to rape and murder one of the girls, impale her on a pole, and then video the impaled victim as if they had just discovered her. Finally, the tribe decides they've had enough white man bullshit for one lifetime and goes crazy on them. Spears fly through the jungle. The crew loses their map and tries to scare off the warriors, to no avail. First, Jack is captured, killed, butchered, and cooked. And his friends FILM IT ALL. They even wait long enough to see him eaten down to the bone before they try to escape again. Next, Faye is kidnapped, raped by the whole tribe, and beheaded. And yes, you guessed it, the two surviving assholes film it all.
Then the two remaining movie dicks are brutally massacred in front of the camera. The footage is destroyed, and Dr. Monroe contemplates the brutality of "civilized" mankind. So ends one of the most hardcore cinematic experiences available to humans.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Yeah, that sounds cool and all, Tony, but how does all this exploitative shock value add up to a quality film?"
I'm glad you asked! There are four BIG reasons why Cannibal Holocaust is one of the best horror exploitation films out there!
#1: It's The Original "Found Footage" Flick!
That's right, folks, this assault on decency and decorum was unleashed in 1980, and is the FIRST to employ a "found footage" method of filming. The element that makes this movie so effective and brutal is the switch from a classic narrative style in the first half to a behind-the-camera perspective for the latter portion. This drastic shift in perspective gives the illusion that what we see in the film crew's footage is very real. The frames are intentionally damaged, there are frames missing, and the footage has a very gritty, weather-damaged feel, which only enhances the realism. Speaking of realism...
#2: The Effects Are INSANELY GOOD
Looking at the film again, the factor that stood out the most to me was how well the effects stand up even against modern gore films. This film had a VERY low budget, and this was before the advent of CGI effects, so the creators had to pull out every practical effect trick in the book to make it work. In fact, the effects were so convincing for its time that the director, Ruggero Deodato, was arrested on charges of MURDER because the government thought that the actors were ACTUALLY KILLED ON-SCREEN! Fun Fact: The actors signed a contract that they wouldn't appear in any other media for a year after this film's release in order to sell the realistic qualities of the movie more convincingly. During the hearing, the actors had to be brought in to a live TV broadcast just to prove they were actually still alive! If that isn't a testament to the special effects, I don't know what is!
#3: The Realism Is Unmatched!
Another major factor that led to the authenticity of the film was the mix of genuine animal violence with simulated human violence. Now, again, let me stress that I DO NOT condone animal cruelty. However, being that it is in the movie, let's explore what it does for the movie. The violence provides a mental template for how we register the other violence on the screen. We KNOW that the animals were really killed, and the effects surrounding the heinous butchery of humans greatly resemble that. Therefore, it blurs the line between fact and fiction, and makes the whole experience that much more harrowing. I really wondered if the actors were actually alive before I researched it...
#4: The Soundtrack Is Phenomenal!
Riz Ortolani composes a beautiful and horrifying score for this festival of brutality, capturing vast emotions and thick tension as the movie goes on. Just listen to the opening credits. If the title card Cannibal Holocaust wasn't plastered across the picturesque Amazon nature shots and glorious music, you'd think this was some sort of friendly documentary!
I could go on, but these are the major factors leading to the polarizing cinematic shock-fest that is Cannibal Holocaust. Whether you love it or hate it, it is impossible to deny the influence and technical success of this, the greatest of the cannibal films, and possibly one of the greatest horror films ever brought to your screen.
Thanks for reading, and let me know down below what you think of this Italian flick! Also, if you have a topic you want covered, just tell me and I'll make it happen! Have a KILLER day!