Robert Kerman plays Dr. Monroe, a man who goes into the jungle to find out what happened to a documentary film crew led by a man named Alan Yates. Soon he finds out that Alan and his crew fell victim to a gang of cannibals, who murdered and ate them in a ritualistic fashion. Thankfully the film they recorded was as intact as possible so they take it back to New York to study it. What they find makes them questions who exactly is more savage.
Before the internet, this movie was like a leprechaun for me. It was something I thought I’d never get to see. I first heard of it in the website House Of Horrors back in the day when they actually updated it. Then, lo and behold, the indie movie rental place I used to frequent had a copy dubbed in Spanish. I danced the dance of joy, but had to wait almost three weeks until it was finally not rented to finally watch it. I sat down, and turned play, and when it was finished, I went to the bathroom and vomited. Yes, I vomited. Not because the gore was so convincing or the animal cruelty (which is terrible), but because this movie hit me like a bag of bricks over the head. It was before Blair Witch and the whole “fake documentary” craze we’ve been living since. I had not seen anything like it, and like many people, felt it just might be real. I looked up the internet and soon realized it wasn’t, but still it left quite a mark.
Ruggero Deodato is one of the most interesting filmmakers in Italian horror, and this movie is his benchmark film. He has always been able to capture reality at it’s best, from crime (House At The Edge Of The Park, Hitch-Hike) to jungle dramas (Jungle Holocaust). You might sit down and see this film as a drama, the same way Jungle Holocaust is, but you’d be wrong. This is a horror film, there is no doubt about it. It’s purpose is to upset and scare you, not give you an adventurous thrill ride. Robert Kerman was a porn star during the time, but he is a pretty good actor. His role as the doctor is very believable. And then there’s the four documentarians. Man, if you ever wanted to hate someone in your life, these are the ones you are allowed more than any other. Talk about major assholes. By the time they burn the village and start fucking in the mud while raping a jungle girl, you just want them to die the most horrible death possible. And boy, do they get it. A lof of my personal gut reaction came from that retribution, but also from these characters themselves. While I first saw it, I could easily imagine this sort of thing happen, and later in my fanaticism of horror and exploitation found out it could. The Italians were famous for staging cruelty in their mondo films (Addio, Africa for example) but of course, the level of this film took it to a level I couldn’t imagine. And it was fiction!
The special makeup effects are incredible, and some of the most upsetting and realistic ever put on film. I was so shocked the first time I saw the impaled woman that I felt that she might be really impaled. Of course, now we know that she was holding a tube and sitting on a bycicle chair, and trick photography was used for the side shots, but it’s the kind of guttural punch that you don’t get over easily. The use of real footage, from the animal cruelty of The Last Road To Hell, featuring real executions, only adds to this feeling of death and realism. I’m personally not in favor of cruelty to animals, and especially on film, but the fact is that a lot of the power comes from this footage, and if it wasn’t there the movie wouldn’t be the upsetting, controversial masterpiece we know today. A lot of power comes from Riz Ortolani’s musical score, which is very moving and appropriate in some scenes, and jarring and suspenseful in others.
And so, the legend of Cannibal Holocaust continued. I would talk to people about how great and visceral it was, and even met people who thought it was a genuine snuff film. I was able to get a copy in 2000 at the local comic book store Visual Arts (RIP) and showed it to some of my friends, most of them having a reaction similar to mine. Then Anchor Bay put it out officially, and the cult finally ended. It wasn’t the lost mythological film it used to be, now everyone could have a copy. I felt this has damaged the power in the mind that the film can have, since a lot of it came from watching something that might be forbidden. But still, the movie is a masterpiece, one of the greatest movies ever made, and it’s power to shock will never leave.