Is ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ one of the most horrific movies of all time?
For horror buffs, Cannibal Holocaust is a rite of passage. Considered one of the most gruesome horror films of all time, this 1980 Italian film appears on many “disturbing films you can’t sit through” rankings & lists.
The film follows an American anthropologist and a crew of filmmakers encountering a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon rainforest. Spoiler alert: the filmmakers are eaten, but the footage they capture remains for the taking.
A history of grindhouse film
Cannibal Holocaust was actually supposed to be that gory. The film was a grindhouse film, an old genre of movies that were only shown in adults-only theaters. Back in the day before streaming, the internet, or VCR, this is where you’d go to watch your porn.
Not only were grindhouse films sexually explicit, but they were also extremely violent. Exploitation films of the day were made to be as gory as possible. Without the magic of CGI, in order to get as much gore as possible, sometimes the violence was real.
A high kill count
According to the YouTube channel Carnage Counts, which tracks the number of kills in a film, Cannibal Holocaust has forty-nine kills total. With a typical ninety-minute runtime, that’s one kill in the film every thirty seconds.
However, allegations sprang up that the kills in the film weren’t all fake. The director, Ruggero Deodato, faced murder charges after a French magazine alleged that Cannibal Holocaust was a snuff film. Deodato already faced obscenity charges for the level of violence in his film.
To keep up the illusion that the film was recovered documentary footage (think of Cannibal Holocaust as the forerunner for The Blair Witch Project and camcorder films like Paranormal Activity in this regard), Deodato forbade the actors from appearing in public.
Unfortunately, this didn’t help his case since the prosecution used the actors’ disappearance from public life as proof they were dead. Deodato had to summon them for interviews to clear his name. He also had to explain the special effects to the court, breaking some of the gory illusion of his film.
However, there were real kills in Ruggero Deodato’s film. Animals were killed on set, mainly by the indigenous tribes who killed them for consumption. The slow, painful deaths of animals both tipped off the censors and caused Deodato to regret his decision later in life.
Gorier than the footage of people being shot, bludgeoned, and eaten, the audience is treated to an array of live cruelty to animals. From beheading a turtle to slowly torturing a shrew to death, if you’re an animal lover, this isn’t the film for you to watch.
A point the film made, in our humble opinion, was exposing to the colonialist, racist attitudes of American documentarians who trample through native lands with no respect for the culture or even the lives of the tribes they’re covering. The explicit violence makes the film’s Western audience stop & ask who the real “savages” are.
The concept of “savagery,” a derogatory term for indigenous people used to justify colonization, is often turned on its head in cannibal exploitation films like Cannibal Holocaust. Cannibals, cultures who break the Western cultural taboo of eating human flesh, are treated like evil monsters.
However, when filmmakers come on their land and treat death in their culture like a show, who’s really evil? As an indigenous tribe’s village burns after the filmmakers set fire to their huts, women & children are trapped in huts by the blaze. The American filmmaker awes and exclaims “this is beautiful!”
There’s also a memorable scene where the filmmakers excitedly rush to film a dead, impaled woman. They treat her like a prop or a prize for their camera reel. There’s no gravity, no sadness about finding a violently killed human being. By treating the indigenous people like props in his film, the audience has zero sympathy when the film reel shows the filmmakers being bludgeoned to death by the indigenous people.
One final note. If you’re a fan of films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and any other “found footage” or camcorder horror films, thank Cannibal Holocaust. While the film is gory and shows real, horrible violence, you have this film to thank next time you throw on your favorite found footage horror flick.
Have you seen Cannibal Holocaust, or do you plan to watch it? Let us know what you think in the comments!