The film revolves around Harold, a university professor who’s aim is to try and find four documentary film makers alive in the Amazon. Does he find them? Oh he does…dead, of course. However, he does find reels of undeveloped film that belonged to the film makers, with the help of two locals. Harold goes back to America and develops the film and finds out the true fate of the film crew, but as you see more of the found footage you start to understand that this crew were victims of their own stupidity and arrogance.
In the footage you will see the film crew terrorizing the cannibals, and essentially trying to play god so they can get a reaction from them for their documentary. When you see the first half of the film, you feel dirty, and disgusted that these supposedly innocent people were slaughtered by savages. But when you delve into the second half of the film your mind should drastically change and your sympathy will slowly disintegrate. Cannibal Holocaust is so much more than violent and sadistic imagery, it has such a depth to it, but a lot people don’t bother to look under what they see; they prefer everything to be spoon fed to them.
It is clear that this film is a mirror image of the humanity and how social and emotional complacency seems to give certain groups rights to violate whatever they can. However, people may ask “Why does it need to be so violent to expose that message?” That’s easy, as humans we are just overall complacent and nothing seems to shock us any more, that’s why in 1980 Cannibal Holocaust brought the world to it’s knees because of the imagery. Having said that it is possible that society not only wanted it banned for it’s graphic material but also for it’s strong judgement on humanity.
Upon the initial release of Cannibal Holocaust, it’s director Rugerro Deodato was arrested because the film was genuinely depicted as a Snuff film by audiences. Deodato made the actors in the film go into hiding for a year while it was being released. It would make sense to have the actors disappear for a while, because it would take away the primal reaction and feelings that we are supposed to have for the film. It would be a distraction and also the film wouldn’t have been taken seriously enough, it would have just been seen as trash. But obviously with having the actors in hiding, the film was taken too seriously to the point Deodato was being charged with murder, so either way you couldn’t win. It’s a real shame that Deodato was forced to explain the secrets behind a lot of the practical FX, because sometimes it’s just more effective to the viewing process if you don’t know the secrets.
What is so beautiful about the film is the musical score. Throughout the film there are vile scenes depicted on the screen, but listening to this wonderfully scored music in the background of such violent images is just combined so perfectly. You may wonder why is such music orchestrated and placed in certain parts of the film where it seems so wrong. But the reason for that is to make you feel a little something different than just disgusted, and make you understand there is a little more depth underneath everything that you are seeing. There are a lot of Giallo films out there that do this and more often than not it’s the musical scores which are remembered more than the actual scenes. That is why musical scores are so effective in films, they bring an emotional voice which makes you feel, and it brings realism. And believe it or not there a ton of realism in Cannibal Holocaust, you just have to make sure you choose to accept the themes and messages through the film and not play dumb to the fact that this film is trying to give you a wake up call.
The four film makers in Cannibal Holocaust are genuinely unlikeable people. They don't seem to be phased by what they are doing, and are willing to provoke, endanger lives and cause havoc just to get what they want capture on screen. That just seems empty, fake and heartless. But that is how they are meant to be portrayed so then as a viewer you are meant to not feel sorry for them because everything that happens to them, they have caused themselves. The only likable character in this whole film is Harold. While he did respect these film makers and was willing to risk his own life to try and find them, he was left so appalled and disgusted with their behaviour. And deep down he really didn't feel sorry for their demise. Harold definitely symbolises that conscious that we all have inside ourselves, that a lot of the time we choose to ignore because the truth hurts.
The legacy of Cannibal Holocaust is very interesting because there are some people out there who truly do still believe it is Snuff, and there are people who feel the film loses it’s artistic merit purely because of the animals that were killed in the film. Killing animals in film shouldn’t be condoned; however Cannibal Holocaust isn’t the only film that has done that but unfortunately, it’s the scapegoat for it. A lot of people tend to listen to someone they know who has seen the film and tells them don’t watch it, they kill animals and it’s way too violent. But this film shouldn’t be remembered for actions that the director sincerely regrets, it should be remembered for showing the world what everyone was too afraid to admit. As a society we ignore what really goes on, we ‘forget’ the past and keep recreating what came before, and as a whole we never learn. All we do is violate, take, and refuse to understand and accept something that is a little different. The real savages out there are not cannibals, they are normal looking humans like you and me. But it’s us normal looking creatures which can adapt to different situations to make people believe we are sane, but in reality they are the most twisted of all.
If anything THAT is what you should take from this film.