Memory is a funny thing sometimes. I first saw 'Cannibal Holocaust' when I was in high school during my edgy years and the truth is it disgusted me. My memory is it was a series of exploitive rape, brutality, and gross out effects just to be the movie that did it. So 13 years later I've decided to return to where I first received my horror-lumps.. And my oh my, have things changed.
Heads up, I have a lot to say today.
First off: the story. My memory recalled that we went to the jungle and saw essentially the first major found footage film - but there's 2 real timelines happening. A documentary crew went into the Amazon to film a cannibalistic tribe that is separated from the rest of society and never returned. What we see is a professor who went into the jungle to find them but only found their lost footage. Here we not only learn to understand these tribes, but we empathize with them. They get along with the professor and welcome him to learn from them - this becomes extremely important when contrast with the ending. The latter half of the film is us watching the footage with him and a news outlet, and also seeing the media and professors response to the footage as it goes.
The entire movie is a satire of the violence displayed on the news, and television in general, and questions at what point is enough truly enough. The movie encourages us to look away and asks why we feel the need to witness such depravity - truly, this film was lightyears ahead of its time.
Now, back to the violence. My memory mostly only recalled a scene involving a tribe woman being raped with a rock and then being beaten to death. While this scene still exists as I remember there's a big thing that I missed - this is just how the culture was. This woman was being punished for adultery, and after the man kills her he cries. An extremely important note that this wasn't to be mean or have fun, this was a serious consequence in their culture. The tourguide even mentions how if he didn't kill her then the tribe would've killed him.
So moving on, yes, things get extremely grisly. We see genital mutilation, impalement, and cannibalism - but the context of it all is extremely important. Spoiler alert - but the documentary crew 1000% deserved everything that happens to them. On film they rape a woman, kill their animals (which are REAL ON FILM ANIMAL DEATHS), burn down their village with children in their huts, and much much more. The real onscreen violence blends with the fantastical violence to make a truly surreal experience.
Now, I couldn't stomach the animal violence, even hearing the muskrat cry out was enough to make me sick. But this goes along with the fake violence to again question the viewer, when is enough truly enough? Their are hard answers and the film ends with the quote, "I wonder who the real cannibals are."
This film is powerful to the fullest extent of the word. It's nauseating and hard to watch - and that's exactly the point. It has the reputation if being a shocking 'dare you to watch' film, but it's so much more important than its given credit for. The director was even notoriously brought up on murder charges for how realistic the death scenes were (which the humans were all acting, but the animals were real).
If you saw this a long time ago, then it's due for a rewatch. If you've never seen it, then I advise you to atleast look into it. It's very hard to watch, but compared to what FOX News or CNN show you on a daily basis it's really not much worse. I believe this is one of those movies where watching it makes you a better, if not more empathetic, person.
A STRONG 4/5
"Cannibal Holocaust" is currently streaming on Shudder.
'Til Next Time, Mike Cleopatra