Category: Movie Reviews
Written by SuperNova
Published on Thursday, 23 July 2009 19:35
Cannibal Holocaust DVD Review
Written by SuperNova
DVD released by Mondo Entertainment
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Written by Gianfranco Clerici (also story) and Giorgio Stegani (dialogue) (Italian version)
1980, Region 2 (PAL), Not rated
DVD released on June 18th, 2003
Robert Kerman as Professor Harold Monroe
Francesca Ciardi as Faye Daniels
Perry Pirkanen as Jack Anders
Luca Barbareschi as Mark Tomaso
Salvatore Basile as Felipe
Ricardo Fuentes as Chaco
Gabriel Yorke as Alan Yates
Paolo Paoloni as Executive
Lionello Pio Di Savoia as Native woman being stoned
Luigina Rocchi as Lady Executive
In 1979, four documentary filmmakers set out to expose and shoot a film based upon ethnic cannibal tribes in the heart of the South American jungles. After their leave of absence grows impatiently longer than expected, the university of New York, for whom they were shooting the documentary, begins to worry. Following a liberating debate, Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman), the Dean of Anthropology, is sent to acquire any information regarding the whereabouts of Alan Yates, Faye Daniels, Jack Anders, and Mark Tomaso (Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, and Luca Barbareschi). His expedition sees him arriving at a small encampment outside the Amazon and forming an alliance with Chaco (Ricardo Fuentes), who will help him not only retrieve the information he is seeking but also manage to get out alive with his limbs intact.
Deep in the heart of the green inferno exist three cultural tribes carrying the characteristics the documentary crew is looking for. The Yacumos, who don’t take part in cannibalism, are a spiritual tribe with strong warriors whose only fear is the Yanomamos. No white man has ever seen the Yanomamos or, the ones who have, never lived to tell about it. They’re a fierce tribe often referred to as the “tree people,” getting their name from the villages constructed of “shabonos” (small individual houses connected together). They travel on foot as opposed to river and are historically a tribe of “endocannibals” (which means that they eat their own people). This rare form of cannibalism is thought to be the way for the deceased's soul to enter the body of their living descendants, thus providing spiritual and physical strength to combat the evils of the jungle. The act of cannibalism may seem shocking to most Westerners, however many Catholics on a weekly, or daily, basis practice a form of cannibalism called “theophagy”. The Communion (the symbolic eating of the body and blood of Christ) may seem like a natural ritual to us, but may make little sense to the Yanomamo. They prefer the real thing.
Anyone discerned as being "other" than the tribe is considered to be subhuman. The laws and ethics that may keep a village from succumbing to warfare within its own walls, thereby do not apply to anyone perceived as being subhuman. In other words, war is hell and the Yanomamo will do anything including kidnapping, raping, killing and abusing people from opposing tribes. Lastly is the Shamatari tribe, who often find themselves at war with the Yanomamo. Nick-named “the swamp people,” or “river tribe,” the Shamatari take these titles because of their love of living close to the water's edge of the River of Parakeets. It’s not long before the professor and his crew come upon the tribes and perform acts of obedience and bribery to be accepted as harmless. On their final encounter with the Yanomano, Harold is lucky enough to discover film canisters holding what appears to be the final images of the crew’s documentary.
Cannibal Holocaust is a film that’s recognized by many as the indisputable grand facade of Mondo entertainment. I’m not to sure how Ruggero Deodato feels about receiving such a nomination, surely it’s not too great of an honor, but I suppose you could find esteem and assurance in it somewhere. Ruggero Deodato is a director like many who started off as a second unit assistant working for his best friend’s father in the movie industry before receding to the phenomena of Euro horror. Cannibal Holocaust has been cleverly disguised under a social guidance that to this day people still defend. It rivals George Romero’s annotations about consumerism in Dawn of the Dead as one of the most depicted downfalls of society. Sadly, Cannibal Holocaust cannot be sanctioned to compete on the level of social commentary as Romero’s Dawn, because underneath its tabloid underpinning is just an excuse to dwindle in excess and exceed in an incompetent genre of cinema. There is no structure, no means for what takes place on screen. The viewer is forced to watch characters who we are lead to believe can be corruptive and insulting but are able to do it subtly and effortlessly that our opinions drastically change about them. The reporters in the film are being compared to the media journalists of the world. They are fraudulent and obsessed, yearning to retrieve a story, to get that first shot, to conceive the inconceivable. On the inside they are brutes, but possess a quality of politeness and charming misconceptions to the observer. They garner the rewards of knowing someone is hurt, just so they can play into their fears and milk every last word until the audience is on mere breakdown.
It’s a statement in its own right and holds somewhat stable ground when compared to the glam light industry of, say, Hollywood, which is filled with epidemic like paparazzi and willingly camera friendly actors glaring for attention. But it’s unfair, and almost selfish, for these individuals to be portrayed in such an affair, nothing should be this compulsive and neurotic as it doesn’t really dismiss the actions of any particular person in the movie cannibal or civilian. In the closing statements of Robert Kerman’s character he says something to the effect of “I wonder who the real cannibal are?” And, as a viewer, we are supposed to make that assessment based on incidents that don’t hold coherency when compared and contrasted to each other. It’s a philosophical way of arguing that humans are or can be as primitive as cannibals when in a land of vigilance.
In Cannibal Holocaust Ruggero Deodato is trying to say, “Look at these people, they were so nice, so kind and so deceptive. They fooled you, but, hey, we got the last laugh because we actually got to see what cameras will never show. We got to see the destruction and harm they caused, but in the end it’s okay because the ones who were harmed got revenge, and revenge somehow leads to purpose and truth.” Surely I’m not saying he said that word for word, but if someone would sum it up, that would be the outline for Cannibal Holocaust. The thing is, though, it doesn’t make any sense. Sure, media is corruptive and even fabricated, but why the characters would travel to a place and begin to destroy other people’s belongings and immediately commit murder isn’t even rational. It’s like stating media journalists are serial killers armed with straight edge razors, ready to slice into one’s throat just to get a close up of the arteries profusely pumping out blood. It doesn’t work that way, and I refuse to believe it. Furthermore, it makes no sense how these people can be depicted as insulting even beyond cannibalism, because evidently that’s what we are obliviously distracted to consider. The acts of the cannibal tribe are far more disheartening than anything the crew of the documentary conceived, though it is questionable. Within the first couple minutes of the research team entering the Amazon, a male cannibal tribesman drags a girl upon shore and thrusts a rock into her vagina vigorously and repeatedly. It’s quite repulsive to watch and insulting to my intelligence that Ruggero Deodato would capitalize on this by stating it’s some kind of punishment for adultery. If this is an act to succumb to sexual conformity than I’m left wondering how the tribe has even lasted this long and moreover what happens to the male she slept with or is this a predominantly male society where women are the minority?
I’m also baffled as to how they’d come to discover ones who’ve lost their virginity, surely no one would speak of it or even risk being caught? Another act of sensationalism sees a woman giving birth to a child, only to have the newborn taken from her and buried in the dirt nearby. What is Ruggero Deodato saying here? Perhaps he promotes violence amongst children or that it’s okay to abandon your own flesh and blood? I don’t understand it, well actually I do. It’s all for shock, the sole purpose of the film is just to leave the audience in dismay after all it’s tagline reads “the one that goes all the way.” Only it heads into a territory I seemingly don’t want to defend. Cannibal films are what divide genre fans right in half, a lot of people don’t like them for several reasons some of which I stated and then there’s a lot of people who find enjoyment in them. I’m neither the latter or former, I’m in the middle and thus being in the middle I have the ability to critique what I watch and accept it for what it really is. I can talk about these films because I’ve seen them and I can offer my own perspective based upon that assumption. Why many fans wont dare touch these movies and there are reasons but the first one and obvious one is the animal slayings. Yes they are real, yes they are graphic, but it doesn’t mean I’m a sick person for watching them and it doesn’t mean those who found themselves associated with the films are any worse than you and I.
I know it appears as though I really dislike the movie but in actuality that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a fan of the film and I’m a fan of the director Ruggero Deodato, but what I’m trying to do is strip Holocaust down and present it to the viewer with straight facts and not some embellished reproduced review that offers nothing new. The film is far from perfect but it at least has something to offer in its story though misguided and misinterpreted too often it‘s still a decent one. It was a very original piece for it’s time which would later go on to be stolen, yes stolen, not borrowed, not inspired but stolen by the writers of The Blair Witch Project. A crew of four people travel to the Amazon to make a documentary about cannibals. They disappear and several months later their shocking footage is found.
What made The Blair Witch Project so successful was its attempt to analyze human emotions and what followed when our psyche began to unfold and break down. The characters in that film had no resolve to their situation. It was almost depressing to watch three people crumbling under the very emotions we are introduced to in life. What happens in Cannibal Holocaust is the complete opposite. The four characters appear nice, they appear charming, but their good hearted nature is quickly dismissed by contrary antics. As a viewer we don’t feel connected to the crew and so when they go on this malicious rampage we neither feel for the cannibals or their belongings instead we are left with confusion, a feeling that’s supposed to be erased when the tribe exacts their revenge, but it doesn’t because the frown has no moral reason to sweep from your face and the confusion that’s embedded inside your brain has no real clarity. Ruggero Deodato is trying to commit to a commentary here, he’s trying to make a statement about our society, but where others have been fooled, I won’t allow myself to seep to such a low standard. There is nothing within conceivable reach to excuse the actions of the crew and even the cannibal tribe. It’s possible for people to get caught up in the intensity of the moment and to exploit themselves. Not all of us are perfected beings, we have faults, and we behave inadequately at times. But these elements don’t transcend to what is taking place on screen. Yes humans can be vindictive, they can be malevolent, but nothing goes without consequence and if Ruggero Deodato’s purpose was to develop and accentuate the behavior of a human being then great he accomplished that, but not in a way that proves his direction is ambitious and not in a way that challenges the viewer to expand upon his or her own morals. When this genre really started to take off a lot of people were displeased with the false portrayal of the people from the Amazon, headhunters, cannibals, and etcetera. Though it seems kind of silly as I doubt the Amazonians have any means of watching a T.V., but it is understandable. These films portrayed cannibals to live in a period of sadistic depravity, capturing and killing humans at will and sparing no expense for animals. The reason why Cannibal Holocaust isn’t expendable to this in most opinions is because the film presents the cannibals as civilized human beings compared to their suggested image, which the documentary crew acquires. But how anyone can examine such vile acts on both part of the fence as refined and cultured is beyond me. It’s evidentially clear as I’ve pointed out earlier in my above statements that there is nothing elegant or sophisticated about revenge and what this tribe does to it’s own people.
Overall, Cannibal Holocaust is just a good film with an adequate story, something that this minuscule genre doesn’t really focus on. If anything Ruggero Deodato should be proud that his film has a coherent script, while not great it at least offers and solicitates creative thinking from the viewer. The animal deaths could have been barred, though it wouldn’t have made this film any better than it is, moreover Ruggero Deodato states the crew ate what was killed, presumably to ‘justify’ the animal killings. It was interesting that Robert Kerman starred in this film as he’s most perceptibly known as an adult film star. Ruggero Deodato stated he had no prior knowledge of Kerman’s career, but even if he did I don’t believe he would not have cast him. In fact Ruggero Deodato shouldn’t be upset at all as Robert Kerman does a terrific job as professor Harold Monroe. Though I really didn’t need to see him frolicking naked in the water even with the accompaniment of several other women, he’s a valuable asset to this motion picture as his character injects the sympathy for the cannibals and in many ways is the medium that viewers want to relate to most. As if you didn’t know Cannibal Holocaust is filled with a hefty amount of blood and nudity. The violence went so far that Mr. Deodato had to actually appear in court to prove the make-up effects were completely fabricated. It is in my own personal opinion that a lot of the effects are really convincing and still manage to carry the same emotional impact on the viewer as they did when the film was first released. The nudity is a much different story, those lead to believe women running around with their breast and vaginal regions exposed in an elegant manner are in for a surprise. There’s absolutely nothing attractive or arousing about the women in Cannibal Holocaust or the film itself. Francesca Ciardi may be beautiful to some and grant it I think she’s cute, but her actions through the character of Faye Daniels are thoroughly distasteful. She is, in the simplest most redundant term, a dirty whore. Saggy breasts , unkempt pubic hair, just a few things that really don’t appeal to me about most of the ladies in Holocaust. Francesca Ciardi does hold a fairly respectable position in the film as do a lot of the actors who found themselves involved in the movie. Gabriel Yorke is fantastic as Alan Yates the overly obsessive pessimistically corrupted leader of the documentary expedition. Ricardo Fuentes plays a convincing character in Chaco, just a very solid performance all around. I think everyone did a splendid job with acting in this movie, the cast seemed to perform as expected and it really shows.
If you are interested in seeing this movie I do recommend it. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it or that it will offer you a tremendous viewing experience, but it’s definitely a great introduction to the cannibal genre. It’s not high art nor is it really art at all, it’s just a cult film with a rather strong following. I urge you not to read into the hype, I also ask that you do not go into this movie expecting to believe or learn some social commentary because it’s not there irregardless of how long and hard you look. Cannibal Holocaust isn’t really the film that goes all the way, director Umberto Lenzi outdid Ruggero Deodato with his cannibal film Cannibal Ferox, and it seems fitting too as Umberto Lenzi is the guy who started it all with Man From Deep River. But look here’s the deal and I’ll be honest with you because that’s how I am, you only really need to see one cannibal movie to understand them all and that movie is Cannibal Holocaust. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you walk away from my review with a better understanding and maybe a fresher more intelligent taste of things to come.
Video and Audio:
Back in 2001 EC released Cannibal Holocaust on DVD to some mixed results. The print was solid but offered some rather grainy scenes filled with white specs and occasional blotches. It was also missing five seconds of the “road to hell” scene in which African POWs were executed. Alan Young Pictures with the supervision of Ruggero Deodato endured a painstaking process to introduce life and color into the print we have here. The transfer is pristine though I was advised before purchasing that the color was just a little bit too bright, overall though I don’t think it’s too distracting. I believe the enhanced lighting creates a sense of realism, as if actually being there in the Amazon with the sun peering down upon you, and sweat dripping from your brow. It really does a tremendous job of transcending what appears on screen right into your living room. A little over a month ago EC entertainment released an ultra bit transfer of Cannibal Holocaust, which contained the extra footage that was missing from EC and Alan Young Pictures release. I was told the transfer was dynamic, but something told me to go ahead with this release instead. I’m not disappointed as it’s presented in a gorgeous 16x9 enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, but I’m not too thrilled either. While the colors are vivid and well produced, day time shots being the most predominantly exposed, I can’t seem to find a way to remove the forced Italian subtitles.
They aren’t distracting, but they are there and quite visible. I don’t really have room to complain and nor would I as this release was intended for Italian audiences and those who speak the language. On the upside though this should be classified under the audio section the subtitles are wonderful. A nice off color that doesn’t manage to succumb to the changing colors on the screen, very clear to see and easy to read.
Alan Young Pictures presents Ruggero Deodato’s classic Cannibal Holocaust here in several mono and Dolby digital tracks. Sadly the only track I could understand was the English track or Inglese as pronounced in Italian. Like I stated above there are forced Italian subtitles. There are no English subtitles provided on this disc at all, so if you speak fluent Italian then you are in luck, if not well then you know how I feel. Despite the minor quip the English mono track is greatly adored here. Audio is comprehensible and vivacious without much intervention of blips. Though I don’t speak Italian (I’m learning though) I still wanted to hear how the Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounded. All I can say is it’s vastly superior over the English mono track. Highly efficient, almost effortlessly sounds pour from the speakers. I cannot go without mentioning Riz Ortolani’s musical score. This is without a shadow of a doubt the center piece of this movie. If you appreciate music and the patience it takes to compose notes you’ll find yourself thoroughly engaged in this brilliant piece of composition. Riz Ortolani was able to do the unimaginable when he incorporated the mixed sentiments of the film into a lavish but simple set of instruments. The main title to me really sums up the sadness and inner anguish that the viewer is suppose to feel. It’s a soft melancholy song with light vibrating hums that build to a poetry structured rhythm, sucking the listener into this state of numb consciousness. It’s just a wonderful but ever so powerful mesmerizing score. It is a character of the film, without it Ruggero Deodato’s Holocaust would not be the film that it is.
- Anamorphic (16:9) Widescreen (1.85:1) Version
- Italian 5.1, Italian 2.0 and English 2.0 Mono Audio Options
- Italian subtitles are forced during English Audio playback
- Audio Commentary with Ruggero Deodato, Giona Nazzaro & Antonio Tentori (In Italian)
- Italian Trailer
- International Trailer
- Radio Spot (USA)
- 'The Making of Cannibal Holocaust' – 60 min 'Making of' with plenty of behind the scenes footage and interviews (in Italian only without subtitles)
- Photo Gallery – 8 mins worth of stills and behind the scenes photos – Fully Scored
- Poster Gallery – 8 mins worth of stills and behind the scenes photos – Fully Scored
- Japanese Pressbook
- Bios (in Italian) and Filmographies
It seems like everywhere you turn today with the advancements in technology and consumerism on the rise a lot of companies have been propitiating to manage small independent DVD labels to make further advancements in the trade and online market. So many times have titles been remastered, edited, cut, restored that the task of finding the right DVD of a particular movie becomes a job all its own. When purchasing titles not confined to the region you live in the experience becomes a practice in trial and error unless going into it already having the knowledge. This experience can be annoying and often proves costly if you make too many mistakes. I scarcely researched this DVD and as a result found myself second guessing my purchase. I wanted good quality, but opted to save a few dollars as well and picked this over EC’s newly released limited edition to 3000 copies Ultra Bit edition, which was only five dollars more. I made a mistake in that this DVD, while a great presentation and certainly jammed packed with extras, doesn’t appeal to me as the extras are presented recorded in the original native language. I don’t consider it a real big loss as I didn’t own a prior copy of Cannibal Holocaust, but I would have certainly benefited from buying EC’s older reissued disc or their Ultra Bit one, either way I got a film with great video quality, terrific sound options and vast selection of supplements, all of which I find myself not being able to take advantage of.
I tried my best to research reviews written about this disc for my review and most that came up were French sites. My attempt at converting the language to English didn’t go over too well and just made a lot of nonsense. I can only imagine how ‘The Making of Cannibal Holocaust’ featurette turned out. I viewed it myself to verify it was on the disc, but I was unsuccessful to interpret most of what was said. However there are several supplements that do not require the viewer to speak Italian. For example there is a theatrical trailer dubbed in English, a radio spot also in English as well as two fully scored galleries of pictures and posters both sets separately running eight minutes each in length. Also present is a Japanese press book containing stills and pictures, an Italian trailer and even biographies on the cast and crew. And just when you thought that was everything Ruggero Deodato, Giona Nazzaro and Antonio Tentori come together for a commentary track. It’s a solid DVD that I can only recommend to DVD enthusiast.
Going back over this review perhaps I was a bit rough on the movie and the director. I know I’ve defended bad films before, ‘God knows I love them,’ but I think sometimes a reviewer is obligated to express his passion in a stripped down form of writing without giving the run around. Cannibal Holocaust is often cited to be more than what it is and there will be people who will defend it because they see something in the story that I don’t. It all comes down to a matter of opinion, though a strong stomach sure would help also. I believe Ruggero Deodato’s film is a classic, but not one that should be idolized as great cinema.
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