So Christmas has passed and one of my many kindly received gifts was a small book called ‘The 101 Horror Movies You Must Watch Before You Die’. It’s basically exactly as it sounds, a long list of horror films recommended to audiences based on their popularity and influence on the genre. What’s great about it is that it gives you all the films in chronological order from 1919’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to 2007’s The Orphanage and separates them into decades. Naturally; I jumped straight to the 80’s. Something about 80’s horror always appealed to me, American Werewolf in London and John Carpenter’s The Thing being my two favourite horrors of all time. I think it was the way they experimented with special effects during this era that had me fixated with it as a child.
Anyway, the first film in the 80’s section was Italian film maker Ruggero Deodato’s controversial film Cannibal Holocaust. I had heard about this film. I knew that it had been banned on its original release. I presumed it was probably going to pretty fucked up. Yet; I immediately got a hold of a copy and started to watch it. It would be an understatement to say that it shocked me.
At first I thought the film was just mindless violence and sexual violence because, well, it was. But I still didn’t turn it off. My book had recommended it so I was going to sit through it. Scene after scene passed by with people being killed and eaten and women being sexually assaulted, it was truly disturbing t watch. Then there was a scene where a man cuts open a musk rat. This scene was different. It looked different, felt different. The special effects seemed to be a step ahead of what I had seen in the film so far. Still I carried on watching. More people were eaten. More heads stuck on spikes. More bones made into necklaces.
Then there was another scene with an animal being killed. This time a large turtle/tortoise, I don’t know the difference. Again this was different; these scenes did not look fake. I couldn’t shake the thought of it so I grabbed my book. Having not read anything but the title of the film to avoid reading spoilers I began to read. It turns out the reason for the film being banned was not just for its disturbing subject matter. The animals killed in the film were all real live animals. This shocked me more than watching the film. The film suddenly became real. It pleased me to find out the director was put in prison for four years for the cruelty he showed towards the animals in the film.
Weeks on I still couldn’t shake the thought of Cannibal Holocaust from my head, the reason for this blog; I started to think whether or not, the film had succeeded in some way. Yes killing the animals in this film was brutal and wrong. But Deodato’s goal, like most film makers goal, was for his film to be noticed. It has certainly stuck with me. It made me think about the lengths people would go to in order to be successful and it kind of creeped me out a little.
Despite all this the film did have some redeeming qualities. Most of the second half of the film was in the style of the found footage movie. Very popular today and thought to have been pioneered by The Blair Witch Project in 1999, it again made me think. Maybe if Deodato hadn’t killed those animals and got his film banned, perhaps the film would have made it into the headlines for an entirely different reason to why it did and his career might not have gone down the shitter.
If you haven’t seen Cannibal Holocaust I’m not recommending it. Yet it is rather interesting in a slightly fucked up way. So for those of you who like stuff like that, you should definitely watch this.