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Old 06-17-2007, 12:11 AM
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A *new* Covenant
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Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

"Cannibal Holocaust is a film very much more talked about than actually seen, particularly by (typically male) teenagers and those over 30 who might remember the controversy when the film was banned all over the world upon release. To the younger (potential) spectator, it can be the exciting film ‘where real people die on camera’. Those more mature might be less convinced, but nonetheless remain wary of the film until they have actually seen it, and been reassured.

Fan discourse seriously affects the reception – and perception – of Cannibal Holocaust. While the average cinema customer would not be seen dead at any of these films because of their notoriously violent and worthless reputation, they were a huge hit on the grindhouse circuit to jaded audiences and those seeking wilder entertainment.

Early reviews of Cannibal Holocaust were united in condemnation, mostly concentrating on the animal cruelty scenes. They also helped propagate the myth that the human deaths might not be special effects, sometimes referring to the real execution footage and blurring the line of reality between those shot dead and those eaten. To curious viewers with stronger stomachs this could be irresistible, and make the film a ‘must see’ – perhaps if only to satisfy oneself that this is not a real murder (or ‘snuff’) film and come out of it feeling more informed than the average person and equipped to pontificate about it. This attitude seems common in many of those who have seen the film, particularly ‘film buffs’ desperate to impress about such controversial (and hard to find, at least uncut) work. ‘Serious’ reviewers were quick to denounce the film as ‘phoney’ – people do not die after all – and hypocritical, as in true Italian Mondo tradition the film purports to condemn what it takes great voyeuristic delight in displaying. This did not affect public curiosity, and conversely boosted ticket sales as people still wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. The film reaches out to the darker, voyeuristic natures buried within us all – and people always want to investigate controversy and scandal if only to judge it for themselves.

Unlike other films, with the passing of time Cannibal Holocaust has lost none of its ferocious power. The sub-genre of cannibal movies has long since died out (unlikely many directors would be able to include the requisite animal slaughter with today’s tighter laws against cruelty), but new generations of horror and exploitation fans keep it very much alive and DVD reissues make such films more widely available. Decades of review and analysis reveal it to be still widely condemned because of its approach to animals and depicted atrocities, but it has now also been accepted as a unique and very intelligent film with a lot more technical achievement (its manipulative ‘fake documentary’ style is quite significant in these times of ‘reality’ TV) and message (interpreted as pure hypocrisy by most, as bravely constructive by others) than previously considered – the message is tackled in the next section. Once the furore over the film’s initial release had calmed down, critics were able to look beneath the viscera and wayward claims of ‘snuff’ to discover a cleverly shot and edited film (how difficult is it for professional cinematographers to ‘dumb down’ their skills in such a way to convince the audience the verite footage might be ‘real’… while still applying just the correct amount of style to make the trick watchable?), well acted (save for some poor dubbing) and – at the time – totally original in its style and execution.

Whether they admire or dislike the film, commentators of Cannibal Holocaust have one thing in common – they generally agree it is a hypocritical – even racist – piece of work, summed up in its using the final thoughts of the professor who wonders ‘who the real cannibals are?’ as justification to display all the hardcore carnage that has gone before. There is a moral to the story – that it is not civilised man’s right to plunder the world of the unknown – but so brutally and apparently contemptuously is it attempted to be forced home the point is easily lost. Pure exploitation is the charge, and since the film is a figurehead of the whole 70s/80s European sleaze and violence trend few have bothered to try and view it as anything more than questionable titillation, or a very guilty pleasure. The director it would seem wanted to shock us with graphic depictions of one of the greatest taboos, spice it up with real animal and human deaths and dubiously try and explain it all away with a glib comment right at the very end. However, there is another theory that many have missed the point and interpreted Deodato’s film incorrectly.

The first narrative of Cannibal Holocaust is the professor’s mission to investigate the missing documentary crew. He treats the natives with dignity and respect, and eventually earns both acceptance and the telltale film cans they are holding as a result – sealing the agreement with his gift of a tape recorder the natives have become instantly fascinated with. This ‘proper’ narrative displays evidence that the best way of maintaining the virility of the indigenous social structure is to allow periodic redistribution of structural forces. The ‘proper’ film clears up the huge mess left by the documentary crew in the ‘improper’ film – the significance made all the greater if we consider the explicit and voyeuristic pleasure in cruelty and barbarism that has gone before. New social relations are restored from their collapse, as the morally sanctioned gift cycle upholds the social cycle.

The second narrative documents the collapse of the exchange system, the most basic and primitive ritual of civilisation. Even amongst themselves the crew have no respect for public and private boundaries, filming themselves emerging naked from a shower, vomiting and defecating – but more obvious is their exercise in destroying the system of giving and taking, with their raping and pillaging of the native tribe. The ‘improper’ film then warns us of the consequences of this social breakdown, and the selfish and aggressive system of taking and taking back.

So, rather than being about chaos and destruction, his film is about restoration and redistribution. This has been lost on people distracted by the alleged voyeurism/racist hypocrisy claims, and no doubt because of the narrative structure which displays the restorative/‘proper’ story before the destructive/’improper’ film, leaving a nasty taste when the film finishes instead of a positive note. Also, a final statement just before the end credits reveals we are watching this film because it was smuggled out of the TV studio after the professor ordered the footage to be burned – the employee responsible joining in the chaos.

Exposed as not quite the studied hypocrisy it is widely thought to be, we should consider another cause of such widespread condemnation. The earlier project from the documentary crew is genuine third-world atrocity footage – executions of men tied to trees and shot – and while undeniably real, slips by almost unnoticed between the two main narratives. It is described as a ‘set up’, which does not suggest the footage is ‘acted’ with special effects but rather that the crew have paid to have such an event arranged for their cameras.

This short clip puts the elaborately amateurish cannibal ‘documentary’ into perspective, and breaks the taboos the acted tale merely pretends to – that of voyeurism of the moment of death. The viewer, having observed the execution footage, knows somehow it is real – yet has not been prompted to release any emotion or outrage about it since it is presented low-key and undramatically. Once the acted destruction and cannibal scenes begin to unfold in the ‘improper’ narrative, the shock, reprehension even anger generated from viewing the executions is unleashed. The melodramatic faked killings must carry the can for the viewer briefly witnessing real death.

Therefore in conclusion, Cannibal Holocaust reveals another flip side to its charges of exploitation and voyeuristic nature. The rules we unconsciously desire to break are broken without our knowledge in the fleeting but troubling experience of the execution footage, but little attention is drawn to that. The cinematic intrusion toyed with in the cannibal sequences is endorsed and consolidated by our watching the real death footage, as it sanctions the film’s narrative consequence and is a crucial glimpse of the nightmare reality Cannibal Holocaust disguises itself as. Deodato’s film provokes morbid curiosity and subsequent guilt about the private moment of death – very cleverly – with these interesting results. Very few women seem to want to experience this film. Perhaps it is down to the truthful rumours of genuine animal slaughter, or the untrue tales of human murder (in the cannibalistic sense at least), which both require the stoic, even macho defences of the male viewer who makes up the higher percentage of horror/exploitation fanatics. However, examining the more rational and considered ways the film should be interpreted, it is interesting that such an intelligent and provocative piece of work remains largely hidden behind myth and hysteria." - PR3SSUR3

Chinese Torture Chamber Story 2 aka Moon ching sap daai huk ying ji chek law ling jeung (1998)

Combat Shock (1986)

Crash (1996)

"If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Last edited by _____V_____; 12-17-2009 at 09:46 AM.
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