Cannibal Holocaust - Redux

One, if not, the most controversial movie of all-time depicting some of the most disturbing scenes ever filmed in a fictional film, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust will be discussed here. I should mention that it was a challenge for me to enter in this infamous movie, because of the violence and the reputation of the film itself. I am not too inclined about exploitation films and I entirely disagree when a filmmaker uses animals and hurts them voluntarily (turtle scene, the pig scene). They are gratuitous and they don't bring anything interesting to the story or the “propos” of the whole thing.

Deodato's challenge was to make a fictional movie about a documentary that feels like the real making-of of a documentary. He succeeds in this aspect; the movie feels like if it was shot by two different teams. One in New York and the other one in Amazonian forest. Instead of presenting the shocking images all in one continuous chronological order, Deodato slowly brings us with the journey of the Professor Monroe to find the tapes of the documentary. The professor Monroe is one of the most important character in the movie, he represents science and also morale. He is the only character the viewer can actually identifies himself with. He has a lot of common sense but he also wants to understand the native tribes he encounters in his trip; a representation of our curiosity and interest in viewing the film. Prof. Monroe will oppose himself with force against the broadcasting of the disturbing images of the final journey of the journalist team. This is a great dilemma between what is presentable and politically correct and what the world should know. It is also a strong critique on the mass media presenting more and more shocking and disturbing images to attract the morbid interest of the viewers.

This team of reporters thirsty for celebrity and money will do anything to get the images they want to show to the public of the civilized world. It represents this buzz of journalists that will kill themselves or others just to get the scoop or the most blood of some news or documentary. Cannibal Holocaust is a metaphor on journalists and on how they feed themselves on human misery and sensationalism.

The final image of the film when the camera moves from Professor Monroe to some buildings in the city represents one of the many metaphors of the movie: who is more civilized? the cannibals living in the "stone age" or the "civilized" living in stone buildings in "societies"? Well, the answer of the film states that in every "world" there are evil and good. The buildings and technical advances do not mean that we are better humans than the one still living in the jungle or the "stone age". The technology and the suits of the modern man doesn’t get him so distant from the jungle and the brutality of the human nature. Interesting films provoke the viewer to think and elaborate theories and ways to understand the story, the imagery, and the symbolism of a film. In Deodato’s film one can find all those things, besides being gory and gruesome Cannibal Holocaust has many qualities but sadly it is remembered as a minus opus because of the blood, guts, and flesh displayed.

Even with all the thinking that Cannibal Holocaust initiated for me, it was not a film I particularly loved, but its message is clear and maybe the methods are extreme, it still denounces abuses within it. I also believed that this is not a film for the faint of heart but in some way it's like a mandatory film to watch and to aware how the “civilized” society is hypocrite and how the mass medias are willing to do anything to attract wider audiences.


  1. Great write-up, Michael! I agree the film is not easy to watch. I've only seen it once, and I don't really have any urge to see it again. Also, it's not so much the violent imagery that bothers me about this movie...it's more the killing of the animals. I just hate it. And it's that element that really sours me on a lot of the meta-textual/social commentary that Deodato litters his film with...which is too bad because those narrative elements are actually quite good for what is otherwise a pretty banal faux documentary cannibal movie in the vein of Mondo Cane.

    You're right, though, this is a movie that horror buffs have a kind of rite of passage with. It's seminal in the ranks of Italian horror, that's for sure.

  2. Nice post, Michaël. Like Kevin, I've seen the film only once, many years ago, via a grainy, bootleg VHS tape, and I have yet to watch it again. It's a powerful film, but I can't say I liked it, and I'm not sure if it's something I want or need to experience a second time. Everyone should see it at least once, though.

  3. @Kevin, the movie could easily have been made without the animal killing I agree. I also hate it. The faux documentary seems banal because the recipe has been used so many times that it's tasteless and in our time of reality television we are saturated with this kind of pseudo realistic images. Thanks for you comment! Much appreciated!

    @Michael, The new release of the DVD gives the film a great treatment. This is not the kind of film you like or love it's the narrative, like Kevin said, and the subtext message that is worth the look. I've seen it once and it is enough for me too... Thanx!


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