Before 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) (which I love) and 'Paranormal Activity' (2009) (which I have yet to see), there was 'Cannibal Holocaust' (1980), a gory, controversial film that was on my 'to-see' list for years. While searching for something to watch at a friend's house during my Europe trip, I happily came across a 2 disc special edition and watched it on my own one morning. Man, was I impressed.
Notorious for being graphically violent, sexually explicit (including numerous rape scenes)and PETA's worst nightmare (a real live muskrat, turtle, snake, tarantula, pig and monkey are all slaughtered on camera), 'Cannibal Holocaust' tells the story of a rescue team sent deep into the Amazon jungle after four documentary filmmakers fail to return. The filmmakers are not found, but as in 'The Blair Witch Project,' their film canisters are recovered.
Structurally, the film is complex and sometimes unravels a little too much. Two timelines are followed throughout the film, one that depicts the rescue team's trip into the jungle to determine the fate of the documentarians, and the other involves the subsequent analysis of the recovered footage made by the missing filmmakers. The majority of 'Cannibal Holocaust' is composed of the recovered film's content, which functions similarly to a flashback and grows increasingly disturbing as the film progresses. Though the plot is a bit all over the place, this form provides director Ruggero Deodato with the opportunity for social commentary that elevates 'Cannibal Holocaust' above mere exploitation. Without spoiling the ending, the film is undercut with the dark message that modern, "civilized" humans are as barbaric and savage as how we view uneducated, "primitive" tribes. In the end, we are no different and not as far removed from animalistic instincts as we would like to think.
'Cannibal Holocaust' is powerful and strange and also includes an awesome soundtrack composed by Riz Ortolani that is at times ironic, weirdly beautiful and reminiscent of what Goblin was doing for Dario Argento's films.
Check out a clip of the eerie main theme:
I think the film is important for the themes it explores and because it's plot structure and cinema verite style have proven to be so influential to horror cinema- especially for 'The Blair Witch Project,' even though directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez have denied it. Even the marketing scheme behind 'Cannibal Holocaust' was innovative and seems to have inspired the marketing of 'Blair Witch.' Deodato had his actors sign contracts with him and the producers ensuring that they would not appear in any type of media, motion pictures, or commercials for one year after the film's release in order to promote the idea that the film was truly the recovered footage of missing documentarians. Similarly, almost 20 years later, Artisan Entertainment and Haxan films plastered the streets of Sundance with 'Missing' posters bearing the faces of actors Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams, purporting that 'The Blair Witch Project' was real. Humorously, the contract Deodato had his actors sign regarding 'Cannibal Holocaust' came back to bite him in the ass when the film was confiscated ten days after its premiere in Milan and Deodato was arrested. The courts believed not only that the four actors portraying the missing film crew were killed for the camera, but that the actress in the impalement scene was actually skewered in such a manner. Deodato claimed that he had not killed the group but of course questions arose as to why the actors were in no other media if they were alive and the deal had to be exposed.
Check out the trailer and go rent it: