CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: A Blu-Ray Review

A Warm Welcome to Everyone,

Thank You for making it back safely. Today, I get to write about my favourite horror film of all time. It’s one I didn’t see until the early 2000’s, though I was aware of its existence much earlier than that. I was always worried that this would be the one film I wouldn’t be able to stomach. Thankfully, I was, and having seen it many, many times now, it never fails to deliver the goods for me. That film is Ruggero Deodato’s 1979 notorious cannibal masterpiece CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST! Grindhouse Releasing have just released a brand-new double-disc, Region Free, Blu-Ray set of this gut-munching Nasty, banned for many years here in the UK, and I’ve finally managed to get my hands on a copy. Here’s why I rate this film so highly. I hope you enjoy my thoughts!

On 1st July this year, Grindhouse Releasing finally unleashed their much-vaunted multi-disc release of one of horrordom’s most infamous flicks. Containing two Blu-Ray discs, plus a CD of the soundtrack, this was always going to be a problematic film to unleash onto the popular HD format. Moreso, when the grimier the print you watch, the better the experience. (It’s the physical presentation that caused many people to believe it was a genuine snuff film, despite featuring opening and closing credits. But more on that subject later…)

It’s fair to say that this film needs little introduction. Anyone with even a cursory interest in film censorship or the history of horror films, should be aware of the cult that exists around this film. It is a film that has a whole load of baggage with it, and that baggage has been used to berate the cast, the crew, and even fans of the film themselves. Yes, it is that reviled!

And to be fair, the film has a reputation that is self-explanatory! The title alone is going to cause consternation’s to the unwary and easily-offended, but those of you who want to experience one of the most visceral and shocking pieces of cinematic carnage, should absolutely invest in this release, as it is genuinely the finest release I’ve seen – and I say this as someone who owns already three versions of the film on DVD, and two more on Blu-Ray (including this one)!

The film is of the “found footage” genre, but before too many of you roll your eyes and switch-off, this is the film that pretty much kickstarted the genre, some 20 years before the likes of THE BLAIR-WITCH PROJECT popularised it, and brought it to the world’s attention. Robert Kerman plays noted New York University anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe, who sets off to the Green Inferno, an infamous part of the deep Amazonian rain forest, to seek out what happened to a small film-crew who have gone missing. The film crew consisted of director Alan Yates (Gabriel Yorke), camera-girl and screenwriter Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), cameraman Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark Tomaso, their producer and assistant (Luca Barbareschi). Ricardo Fuentes stars as Felipe Ocanya, their tour-guide.

After arriving in the bowels of hell, Monroe meets the cannibal tribe that have murdered the film crew. He also discovers several cans of unexposed 16mm film, which he brings back to NYU. Once there, the footage is viewed, with the intention of airing it as part of a memorial documentary to the film crew, but when the TV station preparing the documentary see the footage, little do they realise what is to soon be uncovered!

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is an experience like few others! It is reviled, with detractors crying at the film’s abhorrent content and offensive storyline, and even fuming at its mere existence. The fact that this anger is justified, makes the film’s existence even more controversial. Not unlike MELANCHOLIE DER ENGEL which I’ve reviewed a few months back, has a film the power to mentally scar its audience. Be warned! This film is NOT an easy watch! Many have tried. Many more have walked-out in distress and upset, due to the inflammatory nature of the movie, and condemned the film. This film has baggage like you wouldn’t believe!

There’s little point in beating around the bush here, when discussing this movie, so I shall be upfront. The film’s notoriety is due to several scenes of real animal killings, predominantly murdered purely for the sake of the film itself! As such, this is going to be an automatic no-no for many film fans. The idea of anyone or anything being murdered on-screen purely for entertainment purposes should be something no one should accept. Certainly not in 2014. We’re better than that. And even though the animals were mostly killed and then eaten by the film’s cast and crew, it’s still an abhorrent concept that the killing of a creature purely to shock, was considered acceptable even in 1979. Alas, it was, and many other similar films of the Italian Cannibal and/or Mondo tradition from the same sort of era, also include such material. That’s not to justify it, but merely to contextualise. I certainly don’t condone the killing of animals for entertainment purposes, but I’m also not going to be two-faced about it, and say that Grindhouse Releasing (or any other film company for that matter) should not touch CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or films of a similar ilk, because of it. It’s creation is very much of its time, and – rightly or wrongly – it is still an immensely popular work. This very fact is marked by Grindhouse themselves, at the start of the film, with an opening credits crawl.

What makes this worse, is that two of the animal killings, are really, REALLY shocking and graphically repellent! The following descriptions may upset some of you, but I include this information so that my readers are aware of some of the content. The first, a Coatimundi (or as it is said in the film, a muskrat), is terrified by having a flick-knife blade inserted twice through each side of its neck, presumably to sever the main arteries to its brain. Sadly, the killing is protracted, unsettling and not pleasant to watch. Hearing the poor creature’s squeals does the film no favours, before it is unceremoniously gutted and sliced-up. The second one, a huge sea-turtle, is equally repugnant. The turtle is captured by two of the lead actors, from a a river, before being dragged up the side of the riverbank. Once on land, they then decapitate the turtle, flip it over on its back, and then proceed to crack-open and remove its shell. There, it then has one of its rear flippers removed, and its innards exposed and then scooped out. During the scene, Jack Anders, mockingly picks-up the head, and shows it to the camera (us – the viewers) up close, and the mouth moves. Clearly, there is still some brain activity going on in the poor creature’s mind. Actress Francesca Ciardi also vomits in the background during the decapitation. This wasn’t faked! The actress was unprepared for the graphic nature of the killing, and of course, was understandably disgusted with what she experienced. The fact that one of the cameras deliberately teases her, as she waves it away, trying to gain a few seconds of privacy, really does the film no favours either. (Kerman famously stormed off of the set, as well, over the same issue, though he did eventually come back to finish the film off. Quite what, or how we was persuaded to return, it’s never been made 100% clear.)

These two, are the worst moments! With that said, a monkey is decapitated on-screen; a snake is chopped up with a machete, and a pig is kicked and shot in the head, where it bleeds to death squealing!

Be under no illusion! This film is gruelling! The animal atrocity footage, is sickening! Many people have walked-out of screenings, and if you switch-it-off too, no one would blame you. However, the reason why I love this film so much, and tolerate the animal killings, is because this is a film that sucker-punches audiences, so that whatever side you stand on the debate about violence of any kind, there’s no easy answer or solution. And CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is all about the topic of the presentation of violence!

But, for those who do NOT want to suffer through such scenes, Grindhouse have repeated their old DVD selection option, so it is possible to watch an Animal-Cruelty-Free Version of the film, that deliberately misses out the worst and most offensive moments. It’s not perfect, and it’s not seamless, but it’s there, and may be more preferable than trying to manually skip through the offending moments yourselves, using your Blu-Ray player’s Fast Forwarding button. I have seen this version, but for me, unless you are watching with someone who is absolutely resistant to animal-cruelty, then it’s not an option I would choose. However, it is a choice, and choice is always good. So kudos to Grindhouse for giving people who wish to see the film, but who are totally against animal-slaughter, a choice to see an edited version!

On top of this, there’s some genuine snuff footage… of sorts! In the film, a small portion of a documentary, supposedly filmed by the missing film crew, is shown to Professor Monroe. In it, we see some African soldiers kill and shoot several people – adults and children. There’s also scenes of charred and tortured human remains, that will upset many. At the end of the scene, Monroe is told that the footage was faked, and that it was all acting for the cameras, deliberately for Alan’s production. What almost no one will tell or admit to you, is that the footage was not faked at all! That is real, genuine, war atrocity footage from the 1970’s! What you have just seen, is real human suffering and slaughter, incorporated into a fictional documentary film, incorporated into a fictional horror film!

Once you are aware of these issues, you suddenly realise that the constant bending and distorting of what is real, and what isn’t, is what makes CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST such a great film. You no longer trust anything you see on-screen, because what you think is fake, may well be real, and everything you think is real, may have been entirely faked! You’re just never sure exactly which is which!

The film never gives audiences an easy choice. This is a film that messes with your head, and is – for me, at least – one of the finest social commentary films ever made. With the proliferation of so-called “scripted reality TV” shows such as THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX and MADE IN CHELSEA, where the cast are genuine people, but where much of what happens is scripted/manufactured/set-up specifically for viewers to enjoy, and the documentary reality shows like THE REAL WORLD, SURVIVOR, BIG BROTHER and many more, in which we place real people into real situations and watch what happens, whilst TV audiences only get to see the side of the participants the show’s creators want you to see, the blurring between what is reality and what is fiction is no longer the clearly-defined demarcation it once was. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST pisses all over these, and really demonstrates that nothing you see is sacred!

The finest moment that exemplifies this, is when a female Pan American Broadcasting System TV executive has a chat with Monroe, outside on a bench. Having both seen some of the “sensational” footage they’ve found, she is keen to broadcast it, as public-interest material. She tells Monroe:

“Today people want sensationalism; the more you rape their senses, the happier they are!”

Monroe confronts her, and explains that the shooting of the pig would have provided a week’s worth of food to the tribes-people. He then asks her how she would feel if a criminal broke into her home, took the only remaining piece of food she had from her refridgerator, and flushed it down the toilet. Suddenly, we the viewers are confronted with the notion that it’s not the same, when it’s you that’s being attacked and persecuted, rather than some irrelevant, insignificant, foreign “other“! You only need to watch any international news broadcast, to roll your eyes when you hear 20 “others” have died, during fighting, in some remote land, far away from where you live, to understand this concept. We are all guilty of it – myself included! We all ignore those “others“, because they aren’t near us, and their lives don’t appear relevant or important to us. They’re just numbers, statistics, notes in a news-report. Yet we’d all be crying wolf if it was us being terrorised, persecuted or abused! As a species, we in the Western World are very hypocritical when we want to be! Moreso of those in the Developing/Third World nations, or those living in the Middle East, for example. There are other great quotes too, especially towards the end of the film, when the same lady and Monroe come to blows once again, over whether the footage should be screened or not, but I won’t spoil it for you.

No one can deny that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a film as repellent as they come, but it does come with some very, very powerful and poignant motives and themes buried underneath the viscera and animal-slaughter! It’s not the most repellant film ever made, nor the most graphic, but it’s easily in most horror fans Top 10, and many Top 5’s! Even the final sequence, when Monroe walks out of the Pan American building, and wonders who the real cannibals are, could be mistaken as being laughable, but the more you think about what cannibalism is, in both the literal and metaphorical terms, the more you realise just how great Gianfranco Clerici’s script genuinely is.

Alas, too many viewers only see the violence, which disappoints me greatly, because Deodato has created a genuine masterpiece here. At once, just a grubby, foul, and repellent little cannibal film, but twisted into its obscene fabric, are some masterly, thought-provoking questions we in the West really do need to start thinking far more about. And that is why I recommend this film, without hesitation. You’ll need a cast-iron stomach, but sometimes we have to suffer seeing disturbing or shocking material in a fictional film, to remind ourselves of how precious life really is! Despite what Ian Fleming might think, you really do only live once!

Now, all of that is well-and-good, but what about the picture, the extras, and the discs themselves? I’m glad you asked. Without question, this is the best-looking print of the film I’ve ever seen. It’s hands-down, significantly (and noticeably) sharper, clearer and cleaner than any previously-released version! In a sublime 16:9 format, you get a handsomely-composed 1.85:1 Widescreen image, that feels like no other version I’ve previously owned. Where there was dirt before, now the image is crystalline perfect. I couldn’t spot a single genuinely-troubling problem. Occasional tiny white spots do appear, but these are probably a flaw in the master, than the Blu-Ray disc itself, and as such, have to be forgiven. Some have reported that the grading of the colour scheme from the 35mm main feature, against the 16mm found footage, is too similar, when Deodato specifically mismatched the footage, to deliberately “jar” the audience, and whilst there is an element of truth to it, it shouldn’t upset anyone enough to cause them to reject this version of this work. And to be fair to Grindhouse, no print of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST should ever look pristine in the first place! There’s a reason why the film has fake reel-changes, fake inverted 16mm text, and blotched sound and scratchy imagery! It’s meant to look like genuine found footage! So please be aware of this.

Sound-wise, you get the Original Mono (remastered) and a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio option. I personally prefer the Original Mono soundtrack. It’s beefier, meatier and feels more powerful. Riz Ortolani’s minimalistic score really sounds truly warped and freaky when you watch the film, and this – for me – aids the film’s power.

What you surprisingly don’t get, is Deodato’s new re-edit of the film, which was previously included on the – bizarrely of all places – UK Shameless Blu-Ray release, from September 2011. Although the film has an almost identical running time of approximately 1hr 35m, Deodato re-edited and altered the worst and most potentially offensive moments from most of the animal killing sequences. In this version, you hear the Coatimundi being killed, but you never see it. Likewise, the editing of the sea-turtle being killed is toned down, though not enough to warrant this being safe to view by animal lovers. (For that, you still need to stick to Grindhouse’s Animal-Cruelty-Free Version, I previously mentioned.) There may be other edits/amendments, but as I’ve still not seen this particular version of the film, I’m afraid I can’t say much more. Thus, for completists, such as myself, you’ll still need to buy that Region Free disc too. (It’s also available on a 2-Disc, UK DVD, also from Shameless, if that’s easier for you to access.) I should point out that this alternate re-edit is NOT the same as the Grindhouse “Animal-Cruelty-Free” edit included on the disc I’m reviewing here!

The film comes with two audio commentaries: one from director Ruggero Deodato accompanies by Robert Kerwin, The second has Carl Yorke and Francesca Ciardi, being moderated by Callum Waddel and Mike Baronas, on being stars in one of the most notorious films ever made! I’ve not listened to either of these in full, but the bits I dipped into seem fun, even if the hardcore fans amongst you may not learn too much you didn’t already know.

On top of this, there’s a very short but vitally important 1m 45s featurette, entitled “The Last Road To Hell”. In the main CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST film, the “Last Road To Hell” portion of the feature exists in several versions, all ever-so-slightly differently edited, and with different sets of cast/crew listed at the start. There’s no one, uncut or complete version, per se. As the full version no longer exists, it could not be included in the HD remaster. What you get here, is the slightly longer, original uncut (in terms of content) version, presented in a 4:3 Letterboxed, Standard Definition version taken from a European DVD release. There’s a bit more gore and violence, and is worth viewing. It certainly adds even more “punch” to an already shocking film. It’s a great inclusion, and should satisfy those who complain that stuff was missing.

All of the above, is contained on Disc 1. The words “short-changed” certainly do not apply here!

Moving onto the second Blu-Ray disc, and this is where you get the truly refined cuts of meat! (Pun wholly intentional!) Most of the disc is concerned with interviews with most of the main participants of the film, including the director, the scriptwriter, most of the main cast and some of the producers. There’s a lot of chat here – almost five hours worth – with most of the interviews lasting over 30 minutes: two of them last almost a whole hour each. They are as follows

1) Director Ruggero Deodato, totalling 59 minutes, but split into three parts: “Last Cannibal World”, “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Cut And Run”
2) Robert Kerman, 35 minutes
3) Carl Yorke, 56 minutes
4) Score composer Riz Ortolani, 5 minutes
5) Francesca Ciardi, 39 minutes
6) Salvatore Basile, 30 minutes
7) Camera Operator Robert Forges Davanzati, 12 minutes
8) Ruggero Deodato appearing at The Cinema Wasteland Panel, 28 minutes
9) Francesca Ciardi at the Glasgow Frightfest Q&A Session, 11 minutes
10) Yorke and Deodato Reunion (Standard Definition only), 10 minutes
11) Kerman and Deodato Reunion (also Standard Definition only), 9 minutes

In the Extras, you get about 45 minutes of various trailers and promo stuff for other Grindhouse Releasing works, and slide-shows featuring various releases of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST videos, DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s, plus all manner of pictures, press-book clips and newspaper clippings, which you will enjoy scouring through at your leisure, featuring over 350 images and split into five sections:

1) Production Stills
2) Behind The Scenes Stills
3) Promotional Material Stills
4) Video Release Stills
5) Mondo Cannibal Stills

In addition, a full-colour Blu-Ray-sized brochure is also included, which details the film’s creation, production, and notoriety around the globe. There’s also a password and website link, in which you can download the original script and access even more behind-the-scenes materials, if you fancy extending your CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST experience.

Finally, we have the newly-remastered version of the original Riz Ortolani score. Lasting a little over 30 minutes, there’s not much, but what you do have is beautiful, sublime and ever-so-slightly disturbing listening. All instrumental, it’s complete and a nice listen, and comes in its own, unique, blood-red coloured cardboard sleeve.

For the truly hardcore and avid fan, there are also seven lovely Easter Eggs hidden about the two Blu-Ray discs, but whilst these are interesting, I’m going to let you discover these for yourself. If you get lost, the info is already out and online, so it’s not difficult to locate, but part of the fun of these kinds of things, is the hunt itself. And it would be insensitive of me, to spoil all your fun in this review.

If I had to give any criticism at all, and if I really wanted to nit-pick, then it would be the Rick Melton tits-and-ass cover-artwork on the Blu-Ray’s sleeve (not shown here). Mr Melton also does many of the covers for the UK Arrow label, but – as is always the case – the work is often merely adequate, but most significantly, seems to be aimed at a puerile, teenage boy audience, due to the constant inclusion of tits-and-ass, which is both sexist, and really unnecessary! It gives the wrong impression of the film! For CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the sleeve is reversible. On the front, is the “cleaner” version of the art. On the reverse, is the one that features a more bloody, and more crude version. I don’t know why Mr Melton always feels the desire to include unclothed women in the majority of his works, and his painting for the Arrow release of Dario Argento’s INFERNO was particularly notoriously inappropriate, but it seems to be getting rather tired now. Please, Rick, try doing something a little more original for a change. Not every piece of art has to feature a topless women in it, to get me to buy it, and such artwork is actually rather insulting to me, as a fully-grown adult!

So there you have it! Grindhouse Releasing have proved, once again, that they really are one of the best cult film labels out there, and I cannot thank them enough for giving this grubby flick an outstanding release. Congratulations all round, and a fitting memorial to the sadly-departed Sage Stallone as well. (I’m sure he is smiling down on you guys!)

You can obtain it from most major online websites, and it’ll set you back around £22 / $35 / 27 Euros. This is a genuinely first class package, of a great, albeit distasteful film, but one that any true horror fan should view and try to fully understand at least once!

I’ll be back again shortly, with another article or review of interest.

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CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: A Blu-Ray Review

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