In all the hype over Blair Witch; and its mockumentary style of filmmaking, very few people know that the indie phenomenon isn’t as original as it so blazingly declares. In 1979, Italian director Ruggero Deodato made a disturbing piece of unadulterated horror in Cannibal Holocaust;, my pick for the most gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, molar-moving, terrifying, and realistic horror flick of all time. It’s not a good film so to say, but the story, atmosphere, and make-up effects make up for a truly horrifying experience.
Like Blair Witch, Cannibal Holocaust features three wannabe filmmakers (two guys and a girl) who venture out into the wilds of the Green Inferno of the Amazon to make a documentary on local tribe life. Unlike Blair Witch, the trio here are an unlikable group of loathing cretins doing the project for their own personal gain: Fame and fortune. While the three from Witch probably had similar wants, at least they had personality. When the natives prove too placid for the filmmakers’ likings, the three (Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Lura Burbareschi) probe the locals into violence by raping, killing, and setting fire to the forest villages. They want death and destruction; the Amazonians just want peace and harmony among themselves.
What this breaks down to is sometimes the privileged are more savage than the not-so fortunate. The tables are turned on the three Americans (played by Italian actors) when the inhabitants can’t take any more torture and dismay from the strange new people. Eventually the trio loses their struggle with the natives, resulting in graphic slaughter and carnage rarely seen so exorbitantly on screen. A new team of researchers are sent out to look for the missing Americans, only to discover, in one of the film’s oddly robust scenes, three freshly devoured skulls stacked on a totem pole, the camera and sound equipment hanging nearby.
Gore is not what makes Cannibal Holocaust such a devastating watching experience. It is the sense of dread and petrifying realization that these characters are not going to make it out of the woods alive, or in one piece (no put intended). What Blair Witch didn’t show, Cannibal Holocaust as the adverbs say, goes all the way. This is some strong stuff, folks, even for the hardcore gore hound. Not one to wince at blood or violence on screen, Cannibal had me looking away several times, especially during the totally unnecessary killings of real live animals. But it is the power and emotion of the film that packs the true punch. The immorality of the three filmmakers: did they get what they deserved’
Cannibal Holocaust is finally getting the recognition it deserves with a limited theatrical run this fall thanks to Grindhouse Releasing, the same studio that reissued Lucio Fulci’s 1981 masterpiece The Beyond in the summer of 1998. For anyone who likes they’re horror strong and disturbingly real, Cannibal Holocaust is a must-see in its newly remastered, uncut print. For people who found Halloween: H2O to be they’re cup of tea, this is a must-avoid.