Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cannibal Holocaust

(1980) [No Rating]

Cannibal Holocaust is the sort of film that turns lifelong meat-eaters into instant vegetarians. It's a vile piece of work that uses every miserable gory trope I've ever seen in a horror film, and some I haven't -- cannibalism (obviously), multiple rape scenes, genuine (i mean it) filmed animal killing...

Watching it, taking my screenshots, and then combing the screenshots for ones I could bear to use in a review means, pretty much, that I had to watch this movie three times in a row. I don't plan on ever seeing it again. I can't recommend it to viewers with even the sturdiest of stomachs, and to anyone who gets even the least bit queasy at a gory movie, you'll want to forget that a movie like this even exists. In fact, if you belong in the second category, you're probably going to want to close this window and go for a walk. I plan on doing just that when I'm done writing.

It's easy to know how to react when you see someone get eaten in a zombie movie. You think, "ugh," and -- if you're anything like me -- you think, "radical!" I'm at a loss here though, for a number of reasons.

For one, it's undeniable that there are cultures throughout the world that practice cannibalism for religious or funereal reasons, and as a celebration of conquest over a hostile tribe. Curiously, the tribal cannibalism portrayed in Cannibal Holocaust isn't anywhere near as disturbing as the one scene in which an American non-cannibal is offered human flesh -- he eats because it's either that or insult his hosts, who outnumber his crew, and are armed. The look on his face as he chews is that of a man who has just cut off a fat piece of his soul.

I caught screenshots of this, but you don't really want to see them. Here -- let's take a break and look at some daisies, shall we?

Another hurdle to knowing how to react to the cannibalism here, is that there are too many other kinds of carnage on display to single anything out as being worse. Plus, the cannibalism stuff is fictionalized -- there are honest-to-god animal deaths featured in the movie. Most disturbing is an involved scene in which a giant turtle is hacked open and cooked. According to the DVD commentary, actor Perry Pirkanen cried after filming this scene.

But that leads to another hurdle, which is that it feels hypocritical to be a meat-eater and be repulsed by a scene like this. We eat meat. It comes from an icky, violent process that we never have to see because the deed is done and shrinkwrapped by the time the meat gets to us. Doesn't make us innocent players in the exchange.

I thought for a while about star ratings and what I'd give this. Without a doubt, it's the most disgusting movie I've ever seen -- not to be confused with "Grossest" which is a title I could bestow upon either this or Dead Alive. But the crucial difference is that Dead Alive is funny and charming in addition to being gross. Cannibal Holocaust is joyless. There isn't a moment of fun to be had here. You watch movies like this for only voyeuristic reasons -- because you just have to see.

It certainly fulfills its purpose as a Grindhouse movie, which is to be appalling. One could argue that this makes it worthy of a 3.5 or even 4 star rating, but I won't bring myself to dole out rewards for this kind of filmmaking. I'm just not in the mood.

I need some fresh air.


JPX said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment, although your rating of zero stars suggests more of an ethical rating than a “horror” rating. I wouldn’t know how to rate it either. From a horror standpoint it probably should get a 5 but my gut reaction would be to award it zero stars as well. I watched this film 10 years ago and not only have I never forgotten it, but I will never watch it again. The sea turtle scene you mention will bring you to tears, it’s that awful. This movie was banned for many years (I have a bootleg from a nerd convention) and only just recently became available here. Avoid at all cost.

Catfreeek said...

I know exactly how you feel, JSP talked me into watching this 2 years ago. I'm still not over it. The turtle, I just can't think about it.

50PageMcGee said...

note, i didn't say "zero stars." i said "no rating."

JPX said...

Perhaps "no rating" should be a new category as defined by a movie that delivers the "horror" but is unwatchable?

Landshark said...

Great review. I like the whole tone and approach to dealing with a movie like this.

Not my fucking cup, for sure.

Whirlygirl said...

I've never watched this, and I never will. That says a lot coming from me because I'll usually watch anything at least once regardless of how frightening or disgusting. This one I can't do because I know it will sit with me forever.

Whirlygirl said...

Landshark, once again we commented at the exact same time. Are we on the same blog schedule?

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I've been wanting to review this for years now but there's no way I could bring myself to watch it again. Thankfully 50 captured everything I wanted to say about it. "There isn't a moment of fun to be had here. "

However, I wouldn't call it worthless. It's not my cup of tea either, but it far better than, say, most Troma movies and it does have some social commentary. (Who are the real savages?)

Johnny Sweatpants said...

The most disturbing thing about this movie is the filmaker's pessimistic view of humanity. It's not the behavior of the cannibals that's so appalling, it's that of the supposedly "civilized" documentary crew.






So the twist is that when the documentary crew doesn't find anything interesting they actually murder the savages and put their bodies on stakes etc. to make their footage more more sellable.

50PageMcGee said...


****SPOILER, I SAY!*****

actually jsp, you're incorrect --

they didn't do the impaling. they found her like that. the weird part is how the head of the crew is smiling when they find her.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

*** SPOILER ***

Yeah but... From Wikipedia "The final two reels begin with the team locating a young Yanomamo girl, whom the men gang-rape as Faye tries to stop them. Later, they arrive at a site where the girl is found impaled on a wooden pole and claim that the natives killed her due to an “obscure sexual rite.” "

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Perhaps you should watch it again?

Johnny Sweatpants said...

btw I think this is your best review this year thus far!

DCD said...

Excellent review, we all know I would never watch this.
I liked the daisies.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I saw this move once, eleven years ago, and it still haunts me.

Re: The real-life death of the giant turtle

"But that leads to another hurdle, which is that it feels hypocritical to be a meat-eater and be repulsed by a scene like this. We eat meat. It comes from an icky, violent process that we never have to see because the deed is done and shrinkwrapped by the time the meat gets to us. Doesn't make us innocent players in the exchange."

I agree and it's a great point to make. If you're going to eat a hamburger then you should be aware of how the cow lived, what it was fed, how it was slaughtered and how it eventually ended up on your plate. What disturbed me about the turtle was the fact that its lifespan exceeds that of our own. This turtle may have been 100 years old. It was likely spectacular looking in person. Then it was butchered in the name of shock value for a B-horror movie.

50PageMcGee said...

i mean, at least they ate it.

Octopunk said...

I remember another animal death in this that affected my more. Some small mammal, and you see its full distress as it's being killed. Awful.

There's a handfull of tawdry films from this era that really just go too far. There I said it. Blood Sucking Freaks is one, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is another. Too much cocaine or I don't know what, but the result is stuff that just makes you sick about humanity.

Maybe I'll buck the trend and watch this a second time so I can review it. No promises.