Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were really hungry.

A group of people go into the deep dark jungles of the Amazon looking for a missing film crew. They never find the crew, but they do find some lost film footage of theirs. They bring it back home and play it and what they see is so gruesome that it startles the imagination.

This is truly a gross-out classic. If you have ever watched a horror movie purporting to have gruesome special effects and then walked away disappointed then this one will make up for the rest and everything else in between. No cutaways here and certainly no restraint for good taste. The effects look real and, at times, almost too real. Best of all is the fact that the story is handled in a realistic fashion giving the effects even more credibility. For instance the cutting off of one of the characters legs after he is bitten by a snake looks completely authentic. There is also a castration scene that has to be one of the most vivid ones ever filmed. There is also the cutting up of man’s body into little pieces and some really graphic rape scenes.

The film also doesn’t have that cheap look like with most horror films and it gets you immersed in the jungle atmosphere. It is well paced and builds up some really good tension. The editing is seamless without any of those annoying jump cuts. The music score is melodic, but distinct and effective making it one of the best scores ever made for a horror film. The eventual showing of the lost crew’s footage packs a wallop.

Former adult film star Richard Bolla plays the professor and the leader of the search party. He is credited as the star of the film yet his character is bland and forgettable. His only memorable moment comes when he jumps naked into a river and allows the adolescent girls from a nearby tribe to grope him, which has got to be a cinematic first. My favorite character was Chaco (Salvatore Basile). He is gruff and rough and absolutely nothing seems to faze him. He is so hardened by it all that it actually becomes amusing and I wished he would have stayed on for the duration.

The actual lost film crew is a vile bunch giving the film its main message of just who is ‘civilized’ and who is the savage. Their behavior is so disgusting that most viewers will actually look forward to their eventual gruesome demise.

The same cannot be said for the animals. There are graphic, ugly scenes involving the torture and mutilation of animals and it is not pretty. The animals flail their arms and legs and scream in very real pain and fright. It’s all handled in a distasteful and mocking way with the dissection of a sea turtle making even this jaded viewer feel nauseous. This will certainly be unsettling for animal lovers, but fortunately for those people the DVD release has a version that will cut out these segments while still allowing the viewer to enjoy the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: NC-17

Director: Ruggero Deadato

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

6 responses to “Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

  1. Turtle.. 😦

    It’s been about 15 years since I’ve seen this one and the copy I saw was horrible quality, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over – and not just for the animal scenes. Nothing about this movie really “worked” for me. Nice write-up, though!

    • I guess what I liked about it is its sheer audasciousness. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there were so many movies that promised to be ‘shocking’ and ‘gory’, but ended up being nothing more than some cheesy special effects and stilted drama. This one at least delivered what it promised.

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