A lot of films lay claim to the most disturbing movie of all times, even more are labeled that by fans, the media or groups protesting violent or disturbing films. Many times the label is applied by the films marketing team in hopes of stirring up interest, since any publicity is good publicity. While many films vie for this title and many deserve mention here there is one film that is generally agreed to by all that have seen it and many who haven’t, as the king of all disgusting films. It’s a film so disturbing that the director has apologized for parts of it and said he would never make a film with that content again. It was a film so controversial that the director was arrested and the film has been banned in many countries from one time to another. The movie was Cannibal Holocaust.
The movie was released in 1980 and the basic plot centers on a group of journalists who disappears into the wilds of the Amazon to film the natives who are suspected of practicing cannibalism. The group disappears and a New York Anthropologist, Professor Monroe, goes into the jungle to locate them and find out what happened. With the help of local guides he finds the bodies near the encampment of the feared cannibal tribe. He is at first feared but eventually the tribe welcomes into their camp and invites him and his guide to a feast. He bargains for the film canisters and has to take part in the feast that involves him participating in cannibalism in order to get them. He returns to New York with the recovered film. The bulk of this movie is this film, showing the film crews journey into the jungle and their descent into depravity and eventual torture and death at the hands of the natives they sought to film.
Monroe brings the film back to New York where the local television station wants to broadcast the footage. Monroe insists on watching the film first after hearing that the film crew had a reputation of brutality toward locals and also a reputation of “setting up” atrocities so they could film it. After seeing the footage he recommends it be burned. At this point we watch along as he screens it for the execs and watch as the brutality unfolds.
We watch as the three men and woman embark in the Amazon and begin the trek into the “Green Inferno” as the locals call it. Almost immediately bad luck befalls them as their guide, Felipe, is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies soon after. The team continues on eventually encountering a group of the Yacumo, one of the tribes they set out to find. Deciding the best way to find the tribes camp is to follow them, they callously shoot one of the tribesmen in the leg to slow him down so they can follow. Arriving at the camp they resort to intimidating the tribe and set fire to one of the main buildings filled with tribesmen in order to film an “attack” on the peaceful tribe by cannibals. The leader of the team is so aroused by his murderous act that he roughly has sex with the female member, Faye, in front of the surviving tribesmen , while the last member, Andres, secretly films it. Leaving the tribe they come upon a forced abortion by the side of a river and the ritual stoning of the women. They comment that it is most likely a ritual punishment for adultery.
At this point we switch back to New York and Professor Munroe. He has seen the last reel of the film, that details the groups death. Once again he argues that the film should be destroyed, but the executives will not agree until they have seen the footage. Munroe again starts the film and we are thrust back into the jungle.
Several days have apparently passed since they left the Yacumo and the film crew states that they are in a different part of the jungle. They are in search of the feared Yamamomo tribe who they blamed the slaughter of the Yacumo upon. Suddenly they come across a young female member of the tribe and for unknown reasons they attack her and take turns raping her while filming the attack. Unknown to them another tribes member is watching from the tall grass as the scene plays out. Faye tries to protest the rape but she is held back. Its not clear if she is upset more about the rape or about her boyfriend Yates taking part. The film cuts and we see the team surrounding the young woman who has been impaled on a large stake with the end protruding from her mouth.. Yates is seen smiling at first, then strikes a concerned look for the camera as he explains that the girl was probably killed for a violation of the tribes sexual taboos. While it is not clear who killed the girl, we are strongly lead to believe it was the film team.
We then cut to the team once again in the jungle. They find themselves surrounded by natives in apparent anger over the attack on the girl. The team fights back as the tribe attacks but one by one they are caught and brutally killed. Yates as the last one killed keeps filming, seemingly taking more interest in the film than his friends lives. In the final shot Yates is speared and drops his camera, then falls dead in front of the lens.
Back in New York the executives are shocked and disgusted. They agree with Munroe that the film should never be shown. The tapes are destroyed. As Monroe walks out of the building and down the street, the last words of the film were “ I wonder who the real cannibals are.”
The brutality of the film crew on the natives and the filming of the crews death are disturbing enough. What really sets this film apart and causes it’s notoriety though is the animal slaughter. Throughout the film several animals are brutally killed for the film. It is real, it is not fake and it is brutal. The animals include a snake, a spider, a monkey,, a pig, a turtle and a ferret. The turtle scene especially is hard to watch as the team pulls it from the water, and viciously slaughters it. The scene goes on for several minutes. Another scene involves a monkey. It is reported that the director actually had a fake monkey, but that the natives insisted on using a live monkey, since monkey brains were considered a delicacy. The scene took two takes so two monkeys were killed. The animal scenes are what the director Ruggero Deodato says he regrets. They are the reason the film is still banned and considered so controversial.
Ironically the director was arrested for the scenes involving the human actors. Apparently because the animal scenes were so real some authorities believed that he had actually had the actors killed for the film. He had the entire cast sign non disclosure agreements and non publicity agreements as a way of gaining publicity for the film. The apparent disappearance of the actors lead fuel to their suspicions. Deodato was forced to break their agreements and summon them to appear or face charges of murder. Like wise the young girl who was impaled was compelled to appear . The director also had to explain exactly how the scene was done, which involved her sitting on a mounted bicycle seat and holding the point of the spear in her mouth..
What is interesting to me is that none of the human death scenes look particularly real. I think the unrelenting reality of the animal deaths simply mad e the human deaths look more real. What is not known to many people who have watched the film is that there is actual footage of humans being killed in the film. At one point a “documentary” is shown that has supposedly been shot by the film team before their journey to South America. The film shows actual executions from Africa and South East Asia. Professor Munroe is told that the film crew apparently set up these atrocities, this gives us insight into Yates character before we see his actions in the jungle..
Deodato has said he was making a film purely for shock value. If this is true than he accidentally made a film with deeper meaning . I can in no way condone the animal slayings, and while I have seen it once, if I ever watch it again it will be a censored version. Still the slayings add a rawness that otherwise would not be there. I think the human killings would look silly without them. It is interesting that the “cannibals” are not guilty of as many atrocities as the “civilized” film crew, at least on screen. Also since the sickening animal slays almost all come from the film crew, we have little sympathy at watching their obviously fake deaths. Deodato effectively points the camera at us and says we are the true savages. We go about our everyday life taking no concern over the brutality all around us. We automatically assume that anyone not as civilized as us has no worth. Who are we to judge our lifestyle as superior to theirs? True we don’t practice cannibalism but we have devalued human life to the point that death no longer fazes us. We routinely step on others to get where we want to go and never consider those we harm in the process. In our race to civilization have we lost our humanity? Maybe we all need to get back to the jungle .
Cannibal Holocause is available in R rated and Unrated versions. It contains graphic male and female nudity, sex, scenes of violence including rape and other sexual violence, profanity and actual animal slayings. It is not for the squeamish.