Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
R0 - America - Grindhouse Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (1st January 2006).
The Film

There are some films which are labelled “notorious”. There are some films which have such a reputation that some people simply haven´t dared to see them. There are some films which others simply hate, but others love. There are films which will be talked and debated over, probably forever. “Cannibal Holocaust” by the Italian director Ruggero Deodato is such a film, living up to its reputation; for the good, and unfortunately also for the bad.

Two horror “sub-genres” in Italian exploitation cinema had the tendency to find those certain limits - of how much can you show on the screen, and how much violence and killing can you deliver for the audience. “Nazi exploitation films” and “Cannibal films” really tested those limits, making them a few of those sub-genres in the horror films, where even some of the biggest horror-fans don´t always want to see them. Cannibal films took some influences from the Italian “Mondo films”, often adding a documentary-feel to achieve a certain “authentic look” to the film and in such a way make the scenes even more rugged. The films were obviously set in some distant places in the jungle, where regular western people meet the primitive cultures and savage cannibals - and kill - and get killed. “Deep River Savages AKA Il Paese del sesso selvaggio (1972)” by another well remembered director, Umberto Lenzi, was the first cannibal film and there were many others after that, but “Cannibal Holocaust” is generally considered as THE film of the genre. And indeed, if you see it, you´ll remember it.

The plot of the film is actually quite a simple, but inventive one (it´s mentioned in the extras also, but “The Blair Witch Project (1999)” probably took their basic idea from this film). Four young documentary filmmakers; Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke), Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen), Mark Tomasso (Luca Barbareschi), and their guide Felipe Ocanya (Ricardo Fuentes) head to the Amazon jungle in South America, to make a documentary film about the cannibal tribes that are living there. They disappear. The film actually starts from the point where these filmmakers are already lost in the jungle, and New York Anthropologist, Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) is keen to go in the Amazons to look for them, to find out what happened. This “search team” consists also of a guide Chaco Losojos (Salvatore Basile) and his young right hand man. The basic structure of “Cannibal Holocaust” consist two trips to the Amazons; first made by the “rescue team”, and the other made by the “filmmakers” who disappeared, and their story is shown when the footage that they had been shot is found and projected in New York.

“Cannibal Holocaust” is stretching the boundaries of good taste and what is actually wise to be shown on the screen. The infamous reputation of the film comes from the various scenes of violence, rape and killing, which happen in the jungle. In the first part of the film (following the “rescue team”) the characters, and also the viewer, look at things mainly from the outside, observing the cruel life of the tribes and their hostile attitude towards their own people and other tribes, but in the second part of the film the viewer is sucked inside the fate of the young filmmakers, also questioning their motives and ways of making their documentary. These various vicious images and the cruel behavior of people are both the strength and the weakness of the film. I doubt that anyone can deny how powerful and also disturbing an experience the film is, gluing the viewer to their seat; watching the screen whilst feeling sick at the same time. Many people probably have a certain “love-hate”-feel towards the film - a mixed package - but there are also those who feel nothing but hate, at least when certain scenes are shown on-screen.

Yes, the issue that always is raised when people are talking about “Cannibal Holocaust” (and also certain other films in this genre) is that they include some scenes of real animal violence. There are as many points of view of looking at this issue as there are people writing about the film, but personally I think the film would´ve been better without those scenes, making the film more honest by using only cinematic tricks instead of the “real ones”. It can´t be denied though, that those scenes make the whole film even more unsettling, so if you take those scenes away, the film loses something about its disturbing effectiveness (then again, there is plenty left). The big question is probably why those scenes had to be actually shown on the screen (I mean as the history of cinema has taught us several times, sometimes “less is more”), but I guess director Deodato wanted to push that envelope, making the film as disturbing and memorable as possible. And, well, he succeeded. If you want to find at least some arguments to justify those scenes (I doubt they can ever be truly justified), that could be the general message that “Cannibal Holocaust” is trying to make (in my opinion at least); Man is perhaps the greediest and most vicious animal of them all, trying to exploit every corner of the world no matter what the cost is. In this film, man is also paying the price for its violent behavior towards the weaker tribes in the Amazons.

On a related note, I have to add that they don´t “kill animals” nor are there violent scenes every five minutes in the film, and “Grindhouse” has added an “Animal Cruelty-Free”-option to see the film, which removes roughly 6 minutes of material via Seamless Branching. This has caused a minor stir among the hardcore-fans who are yelling “censorship!”, but personally I don´t see any problems with it since the original uncut-version is included, and now this gives an option for some people to see the film without those scenes, and I can´t really blame them for that. Since the word “censorship” has been raised, this is the film that knows everything about it. From the day it was released it has been the nr.1 subject when it comes to film censorship or the films that were “banned” in certain countries, and I doubt that we´re ever going to see this one uncut e.g. in the UK. Its reputation has been carried to the more recent times, since “Grindhouse” was having some obstacles with this DVD also, and e.g. several printers refused to handle the artwork of this release.

The ultimate strength of the film is the fact that it really goes under your skin; making you uncomfortable, scared, shocked and curious. The “documentary style” used in the second part of the film is very well done, and the actors (no matter how young and inexperienced they might be) do a pretty good job of portraying their emotions, when they quickly turn into the mean spirited exploiters, creating violence and mayhem for the “sake of art” which eventually turn against them. Some of the bloody make-up effects also worked great, and the documentary camera style added that “realism” in the play.

Another aspect of the film worth mentioning is the powerful score by composer Riz Ortolani, which supports the story very well. It was wise of Ortolani not to make the film full of typical “nature and tropical themes”, but rather make his own score based on what´s happening on the screen. No wonder that the OST of this film is highly regarded.

In the end, I have to use the old phrase “this film is not for everyone”, but I also have to say that there´s more to this film than just violence and explicit scenes. If you really want to find out what, you have to be brave and see the film for yourself. I can guarantee that it´s a cinematic experience that you might not have seen before, and which you won´t forget in any time soon. But remember: You have been warned.

Video

US-based “Grindhouse Releasing” spent a serious time working on this release, and the most skeptical ones were thinking that maybe it wouldn´t arrive at all. Well, it finally did - and is named “25th Anniversary Collector´s Edition”, which is the quality 2-disc set of the film. The “Disc 1” includes the new Anamorphic 1.85:1 –transfer of the film, which won´t disappoint. There is very minor grain and line shimmering in the transfer, but the overall look is very clean and sharp. Black levels are strong, and they actually looked a bit “too strong” sometimes. Several scenes in the jungle have a lot of high contrast (bright sun light, but there are plenty of shadows also) and based on the cinematography they shot the film very much in natural light. This means that in some scenes there might be areas that are more on the overexposed side, or then again there are shadows on the actors faces etc. Things that would´ve been more controlled with fill lights and such. Still, colors are quite strong and skin tones natural. The first part of the film is shot in 35 mm, and the other in 16 mm, so that also brings some differences to the transfer. Scenes shot in 16 mm are somewhat grainier and more “rugged” with more film artifacts, but that is obviously intentional, and they also look fine. The transfer is “interlaced”, which might be a disappointing fact to some people.

Another issue that has caused some talk is the fact, that the film is missing some seconds during the “The Last Road to Hell”-sequence (footage from a previous documentary by the filmmakers). These few missing seconds are included in some other DVD-releases, but in this case they weren´t in the original negatives where this DVD is sourced. To me at least this is (since the longer alternate take is included as an extra) not that big issue, and doesn´t affect on the overall mood of the film at all. This “R0” -release is using “dual layer”-discs and there are 50 chapters.

Audio

The disc has two audio-options: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. The film has “forced” English subtitles during the few scenes where there is another language than English spoken, but there are no proper subtitles for the whole film (English HoH –subtitles would´ve been a good addition to some people). Audio is fine, relative clean and without any major hiss or other issues that doesn´t belong there. The 2.0 Surround –track (I listened to it via “Pro Logic”) is also very good, since it widens the sound field, bringing the “jungle sounds” and powerful music to the rear channels. There are also a few selected directional stereo-pans with the dialogue. I haven´t always been a big fan of these “dialogue-pans” when it comes to sound-remixes, but these work just fine for the film. Original Mono-track is solid, keeping things nice and monaural, and another good option if you want to watch the film without any surround-activity. I´m sure that everyone is happy that the original track is also included. The tracks are not perfectly clean though, but you can´t really ask for more from a film like this.

Extras

“Grindhouse” has released a 2-disc set, which is packaged in a “book-like” digi-pack, which comes with a slip-cover. The digi-pack has the more controversial “women in the pole”-cover, while the slipcase has the more subtle cover with a face of the woman. The “first pressing” was limited to 11,111 copies, and I believe that now available is the “second pressing”, which comes in a regular keep case (it retains all of the features, don´t worry). Some retailers may still carry the “LE”, I´m not sure.

Disc 1

*You can watch the film with 4 different Playback versions:
1) Original uncut version (96:28 min, with "Grindhouse intro")
2) “Animal Cruelty-Free" version (90:21 min). The movie plays as normal, but when there are some animal cruelty the disc skips them (there is a slight pause).
3) "On Camera Commentary" version. A small skull appears periodically in the bottom right hand corner, and this allows access to a video segment of director Ruggero Deodato and actor Robert Kerman discussing that part of the movie as they are watching it. This is not a very important extra, but if you want to see the reactions from the audio commentary and the interior where it was recorded, then you can use this option.
4) Audio commentary with director Ruggero Deodato and actor Robert Kerman.
Both participants speak mainly English, but there´s a translator to help Deodato once in a while. This is a quite relaxed audio commentary, but I can´t say that it´s that highly interesting. Deodato speaks quite a broken English (which didn´t help) and had the tendency to talk about other issues than those that are on the screen, telling some stories very slowly (at the same time they miss something from the film). Kerman doesn´t remember the film that well, so he´s not the best co-partner for Deodato, and a proper moderator would´ve been a justified addition. There are people in the “background” asking a few questions, and that usually helped.

There are several interesting stories though and Deodato also tells about the motives behind certain scenes, and obviously Deodato and Kerman has some chemistry together (Deodato to Kerman: “You were slim then, but now you´re fat”). Kerman is actually partly enjoying the film and is surprised “how good it looks” now, but when it comes to animal violence he is not very comfortable. It was of course interesting to hear what Deodato says about those scenes involving animals, but usually he doesn´t say that much, or he speaks very generally about them. At one time there´s a question from the background that would he leave those scenes involving animals out of the script if he would make the film today, and he says: “absolutely yes!”. There are also a few funnier moments, at least when they watch the scenes where Kerman had to be naked with all the girls. Deodato also reveals that some shots on the “The Last Road to Hell”-sequence are real newsreel footage. In the end, this audio commentary was easy to listen, but it didn´t include that much important information after all.

*Inside The Green Inferno -section gives background info about the characters of the film, and also about the cannibal tribes. It includes mainly text and some photos. The subjects are as follows:
-“The Filmmakers”: Biographies of the characters Alan Yates, Jack Anders, Fay Daniels, Mark Tomaso, and Felipe Ocanya as played in the film.
-“The Search Team”: Biographies of the characters Dr. Harold Monroe, Chacko Losojos, and Miguel Lujan as played in the film.
-“The Cannibal Tribes”: Information about the three Cannibal tribes; The Yacumos, The Shamatari, and The Yanomano as portrayed in the film.
-“The New Findings”: Photos that includes: 16 mm film camera carrying case, 16 mm camera, Movie editing table, "Green Inferno" 16 mm film negative, Cameraman George Zeter, Pan American Broadcasting projectionist John K Kirov, and photo of Dr Harold Monroe and an “unidentified anthropology student” (the last one is a inside joke by the producers of the DVD).
-Lastly, there is an “alternate version” of the “The Last Road to Hell”-sequence” (1:44 min), which is now longer with a few additional shots compared to the one in the film itself. Good addition, since now people can compare how important these extra shots are for the sequence, and make up their own minds. I personally haven´t read which version e.g. Deodato prefers.

*Trailers-section runs 11:42 min, and 5 trailers are included:
-Italian trailer
-International trailer
-US original trailer
-US re-release trailer
-German trailer

*DVD-ROM feature: The Original Shooting Script. Those who have Adobe Acrobat reader and Web browser can read the original screenplay of the film (PC or Mac). This section also includes “Script Guide”, which summarises the main differences of the script and the actual movie, and gives some very interesting info (believe it or not, some of the violence was actually toned down during the filming). This section has also a link to the web site of the film.

Disc 2

*"In the Jungle: The Making-Of Cannibal Holocaust AKA Nella Giungla" -documentary (63:03 min - in Italian, with “forced” English subtitles). “Disc 2” starts with a proper documentary of the film, which is produced by the Italian “Alan Young Pictures”, and was included in the earlier Italian-release by the same company, but without any English subtitles. This time English subtitles are included, and the documentary is divided in 7 different sections:
-The Production
-Filming
-The Music of the Cannibals
-Deodato, King of the Indians
-Banned! Censorship
-Today
-End Credits
The documentary is made in 2003, and it mainly includes interviews with the cast and crew, alongside some “behind the scenes” material from the location (shot maybe in 8 mm). Several people are being interviewed: director Ruggero Deodato, actor Luca Barbareschi, composer Riz Ortolani, cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi, production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, and still photographer Paolo Cavicchioli. These people talk about the production in the little Colombian town called “Leticia”, and about the problems that they occurred in the jungle, which included e.g. logistics and heat. Animal violence is obviously talked about, and there are interesting stories after the film was finished, when it was confiscated in Milan in 1980, and Deodato feared that he would go to jail. Cinematographer D'Offizi also tells that they shot the first part of the film in 35 mm, and the second part (“the discovered material”) in 16 mm. Surprisingly, there could´ve been more footage from Deodato himself explaining some issues, but this is still a good documentary, which finally can be seen with English subtitles.

”Interview”-section is divided in 3 parts:
*“Robert Kerman Exposed” -interview runs 35:35 min, and was made in New York, November 13, 2000. American actor Kerman (“Professor Harold Monroe”) speaks a lot, but his stories often aren´t that focused, and he seems to be a bit tired during the interview. The look of the interview is rushed in some ways and made in an amateurish way, but I assume that the producers wanted a certain restless look to the interview, which actually kind of imitates the personality of Kerman (or maybe not). He talks about some other films that he made (not much about his adult films though) and he and Deodato seemed to have some kind of “love-hate” relationship (“We fought every day and yet we had dinner every night”). Kerman is not very happy with animal violence either, and in the end he asks from the DVD-producers that they would cut those scenes away from the movie, and being serious. Perhaps this interview should´ve been more moderated and edited, but now it at least gives a chance to Kerman to say what he wants about the film. Remember also to read the biography of the actor from David Szulkin, found in the “biographies”-section.

*”Riz Ortolani” -interview runs 4:58 min, and wass made in Rome, April 15, 2003. It´s in Italian, with “forced” English subtitles. This is what you can call a basic interview, so Ortolani tells the history of the music of “Cannibal Holocaust”, and how he got involved. His score adds so much to the movie, so it´s nice that this is also included.

*”Alan Yates Uncovered” -interview runs 51:13 min, and was made in Palo Alto, May 16, 2005. This last interview might sound long, but actor Carl Gabriel Yorke has a good style, so he provides a relaxed, interesting, and honest interview. He tells his story involving the film right from the start (he didn´t have time to read the script); about the cast & crew, shooting on location, and also the animal violence. He also tells some funny anecdotes, so we learn that the actress Francesca Ciardi wanted to do their love scene “for real” before the actual shoot, and that producers wanted to pay his first salary in Colombian money. He also tells that they made some “alternate clothed takes” of those scenes which included nudity, so I wonder where they are now? These type of stories always make the interviews interesting, and unlike the Kerman-interview, this one is quite professionally made, and I liked those cut-away shots of Yorke smoking in the front of the house, or walking. They brought a certain artistic flavour to the interview, which never hurts.

*Music video by "Necrophagia: Cannibal Holocaust” runs 6:51 min. I have never been a big fan of these music videos on the DVDs that are “inspired by the film”, and this one is no exception, but at least the director is Jim Van Bebber; the man behind the movies “The Manson Family (2003)”, and “Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)”. The video includes a short intro by the band, and then it´s all dark death metal, with some clips from the film. Not my cup of tea, but I´m sure that some fans will appreciate it.

*Photo galleries run 9:46 min, and they are presented with the score by Riz Ortolani:
-Production stills
-Behind the scenes
-Publicity materials (Lobby cards, posters and press material)
-Mondo Cannibal (articles and various photos like e.g. LP-covers and T-shirts)
In this section you´ll find some photos and posters, and among them are a few photos from the “piranha scene”, which probably was never filmed after all, but the fans have been puzzled about this for years now.

*Cast & crew biographies and filmographies:
-Ruggero Deodato biography & filmography (by Chris Innis)
-Robert Kerman biography & filmography (by David Szulkin)
-Carl Gabriel Yorke filmography
I like well made biographies, and these are indeed very good. Recommended reading after the film, and I wish they would´ve included similar biographies for the other cast & crew also, since the people are probably wondering what happened to some of them (unless they just didn´t make it back from the jungle…).

*Bonus trailers: These run 18:34 min with a “Play all”-option:
"Cannibal Ferox", "The Tough Ones", "The Beyond", "Cat in the Brain", "I Drink Your Blood", "Scum of the Earth", and "Gone with the Pope".

*DVD credits.

*Booklet, with liner notes (by Chas Balun) and original Italian fold-out-poster on the flip side. Photo from the Thai mini-poster is also included.

*Easter Eggs:
The fun doesn´t end here, since disc has also 9 “Eggs” hidden. Again, finding “Easter Eggs” is not something that I actually want to do, but when there is certain material that didn´t really fit into the regular extras, this is the good way to still include them on the disc. If you want to find them by yourself, then skip this section, but for the others:
(Disc 1)
1) Choose “Playback Options”, go down to Animal Cruelty-Free version, and press “enter”. Press “left” once and a skull appears. Press “enter” one more time. It shows a discussion between Deodato and Kerman (1:34 min).
Deodato and Kerman are speaking about the animal violence. Well, at least Kerman.
2) Choose “Audio Options”, press “up” once so that Audio Commentary is highlighted, and press “left” once. A skull appears, press “enter”. Another discussion is shown between Deodato and Kerman (3:50 min).
This time they debate the dubbing, and the “piranha scene” is mentioned.

(Disc 2)
3) When you're on the “Main menu”, press “left” five times, a skull appears. Press it. A 8:46 min sequence from Cult-Con 2000 (Tarrytown, New York, November 11, 2000) is shown.
This includes some Q&A-section from Deodato and Kerman, and Kerman signing autographs for the fans.
4) Choose “Interviews”, press “left” three times, a skull appears and press “enter”. It shows Bob Murawski and Sage Stallone "searching" for actor Carl Gabriel York (1:35 min).
Another inside joke by the producers of the DVD.
5) Choose “DVD Credits”, go to the last page, press “down” once and a skull appears; press “enter”. “Cannibal Holocaust Grindhouse Re-Release World Premiere” -featurette (June 29, 2001) is shown (9:12 min).
This shows interviews from the fans before the film screening and after the film. It also shows some reactions from the fans during the film.
6) Choose “Biographies”, select “Ruggero Deodato Filmography”, press “left” once and press “down” once. Deodato is walking in a hotel looking for some apple pie (2:16 min).
7) Choose “Robert Kerman Biography”, press “right” 10 times until a poster for "Debbie Does Dallas" appears. Press “down” once. A trailer for the movie will be started (2:11 min).
8 ) Choose “Ruggero Deodato filmography”: Bonus trailers for “Ultimo Mondo Cannibale AKA Jungle Holocaust" and "The House On The Edge Of The Park AKA La Casa Sperduta Nel Parco” can be found.
9) Choose “Robert Kerman filmography”: Bonus trailers for "Eaten Alive AKA Mangiati vivi" and "Cannibal Ferox AKA Make Them Die Slowly" can be found.

Overall

It´s a bit hard just to “recommend” this film just like that, but it´s in its own twisted way a cult classic, and for the open minded it gives some opportunities to see something truly powerful and frightening, but also disturbing. “Grindhouse” gives us a very nice transfer, and plenty of English friendly extras, so don´t pass this up if you need to see this film.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Grindhouse Releasing.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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