Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cannibal Holocaust


  You can only be an exploitation fan for so long before you have to see Cannibal Holocaust. It's incomparable to other genres and other movies. There's no 'Cannibal Holocaust' of action movies. This movie is notorious and nasty. It earns it's reputation and doesn't pull any punches doing so. On one hand this movie is obviously an exploitation classic, but on the other hand... it's very far removed from it's own genre.
Most exploitation movies are graphic and nasty and crazy, but they're usually always very 2 dimensional. Even the best of the genre, will be very 2 dimensional. Cannibal Holocaust at first glance is just another gory, controversial, schlock-fest, but if you want to call it 2 dimensional... you've got another thing coming.

  It's also impossible to talk about this movie without pointing out that the director got arrested for it. Yessir. He wanted so very badly to make everyone think that people actually died in this movie, that he wasn't really ready for when they did. He had his actors sign a contract that stated they'd stay out of the public eye for up to a year after the film's release. Of course when the director got arrested, he had to call them up and prove to the authorities that they were, in fact, alive. If that doesn't set the stage for how gruesome this movie is, nothing will. I thought I was prepared. I've seen such awful acts of violence and brutality on film without so much as batting an eyelash that I thought I was fully prepared for Cannibal Holocaust.

  As it turns out, I was right, and I wasn't. Yeah, the violence itself didn't unnerve me that much, but it was the characters and the story behind the violence that got under my skin. Also this movie features more real animal killing than the infamous Faces of Death, a 'movie' that became notorious for it's supposedly real scenes of death (not gonna lie, some are very real). Yet, still, Cannibal Holocaust takes the cake. In a way, the actual onscreen violence towards the animals is more stomach turning than any of the violence towards humans. Simply because the former is real, and the latter isn't. A real turtle gets his head chopped off, and his twitching corpse hacked from it's shell with a machete. The scene would be unnerving if it were fake, but it's downright stomach-turning because it's real. It's real, and it's forever preserved on film. As are the deaths of many other animals.

  Yes, I know, animals get massacred every day in the wild. However, there's something terrifying about the fact that they weren't killed for any concept so noble as survival. They were killed for entertainment. The simple fact that they messed up a scene in which they had to kill a monkey- so they shot it again, and killed another monkey should illustrate my point nicely. Anyways, the plot of the movie is kinda choppy, but I'll summarize as best as I can. A four person American film crew (three guys and one girl) goes to the Amazon rainforest to shoot a documentary about actual cannibalism. Suffice to say, they go missing, and a rescue team is dispatched to find them. However, all they find is corpses... and film footage. They return to the states with the footage, where the professor who led the rescue team, and a few executives from the company that backed the film crew start watching it. What they find... is more horrific than anything they expected...

  As it turns out, the film crew staged a lot of their controversial footage, by maiming, killing, and burning villagers themselves, with glee no less. It was a shocking twist honestly, at this point in the movie you just know that the real villains aren't the savage cannibals at all. The movie is a tour of depravity from that point on full of human sacrifice (basically), rape, and brutal senseless killing. The film crew takes to terrorizing anyone and anything they come across, and filming it all. Their whole idea is to edit out the parts that show it was them doing all this, and string everything together as a documentary on the savagery of cannibals. In one scene, the three guys rape a native girl, and then offscreen during the reel change, they impale her onto a tall pole. As they then "discover" her corpse, they all feign disgust and shock. Except one guy, he smiles at his handiwork... and the camera guy has to remind him that they're filming, he quickly and effortless changes his expression to match his buddies'.

  It's such a simple scene, yet an iconic one, and one that really worked on me. It got under my skin, and is now probably what will always stay with me about this movie. The twisted evil these guys were able to portray far outdid the bloodthirsty ways of the cannibals in the movie. The movie would have you think that it has something to say about the nature of man, and if it does, it's lost on me. But the movie is just so-so. Beyond it's shock value this movie isn't really one worth seeking out unless you're an exploitation completionist like me. I mean even the cannibal aspect is undercooked. Especially when I'm able to eat barbecue ribs not an hour later without so much as a second thought.

The two aforementioned scenes were the two scenes I found actually hard to watch. I mean, the rest is admittedly gruesome, but there was just only those two scenes I found really truly hard to watch. A lesser (or better?) movie would have cut away, but both scenes just keep going on and on. I think this movie is more interesting to talk about than it is to watch. I may buy it though. It's a hell of a conversation piece, sort of a merit badge, and like I said, I think it's worth talking about. Also worth noting is the theme tune. It's... deceptively serene. Even the scenery. Some parts of this movie, both despite and including it's brutality is almost artful.

Those parts make me wish Francis Ford Coppola or Kubrick made a cannibal movie. Like it would be in better hands. There are scenes that flirt with nuance and beauty (go figure) but it's almost like it was on accident. Like nobody meant for this to be as good as it was. As an exploitation movie, it's deliciously notorious. Yet the stories around it are more fun than the movie itself. Yet unlike most exploitation movies, it's not "fun" at all. There's no humor, no lighter moments, no silliness- unintended or otherwise.
The level of competency in the making of this movie is too high for it to be considered mindless dreck, and it's too low to be taken seriously as an artful experience. So you're stuck with an exploitation movie you can't have fun with. One you can only endure.

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