Cannibal Holocaust (1980) Review
“The film they did not want you to see!”
Synopsis: During a rescue mission into the Amazon rainforest, a professor stumbles across lost film shot by a missing documentary crew.
If you know anything about Cannibal Holocaust, odds are good that what you know about this video nasty is the bad. This movie is notorious for animal cruelty, exploitation, and showmanship so over the top it sparked a court case. Cannibal Holocaust has suffered the death of a thousand cuts more or less since it was released.
Given its reputation and my general dislike of both cannibal movies and found footage, I was expecting to suffer through Cannibal Holocaust for the sake of education only. I was NOT expecting to like it.
While an exploitation movie, Cannibal Holocaust is also a scathing send up of exploitation movies. The story jumps between an ill-fated journalist mission into the jungle and the recovery and review of that footage not to increase tension – we already know from the start that the journalists don’t survive the trip – but to explore where the lines should be between observer and observed and the ethical questions that media need to own up to. There aren’t many likeable characters in Cannibal Holocaust among the journalists, their documentary’s native subjects, or the TV producers awaiting the footage, and that’s as it should be.
The detail and care that went into the technical elements of Cannibal Holocaust is also occasionally jarring – but always a good juxtaposition with the senselessness of what’s on screen. True, most of the movie is in handheld, found footage style… but the filmmakers took care to visually differentiate the two found footage segments by using different shooting techniques. The score is lush and overwhelming and in constant battle with the ugliness of the story. And the effects all hold up painfully well even today (in large part because of practical they are in nature – when you see intestines, odds are they are actually intestines). A film buff could spend weeks dissecting the movie for all its horribly glorious parts.
Cannibal Holocaust is a brutal watch. By the end, the damning picture the movie paints is that we all of us are responsible for what happens both in the story and for why the movie was made at all. And that’s the scariest part of all.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: A