Cannibal Holocaust: Remastered Edition (1979)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato

Produced by Franco Palaggi & Franco Di Nunzio

Starring Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes, Gabriel Yorke

Cannibal Holocaust

Borne an era where the Red Brigade held Italy in a grip of terror, the assassination of Aldo Moro foremost in a country's collective conscious, and sensationalist journalism plumbing new depths in its presentation of the facts, Ruggero Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" is probably more relevant now at the start of a new millennium than it has ever been. In a modern age where the deaths of thousands are video-replayed nightly ad nauseum, and ratings rabid television studios will collect a cross-section of total strangers together then hold them captive in a house for mass brain-dead-couch-potato voyeuristic pleasure, did Deodato's message turn out to be so far from the truth? Both a savage vilification of countrymen Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi (infamous for the shockumentaries "Mondo Cane" and "Africa Addio"), and scathing indictment of the media's often insensitive face, this stands alone as the mature face of a sub-genre of cinema that rode on its extremes rather than intellect.

Anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe (Kerman) plunges deep into the depths of the Amazonian jungle in an attempt to locate acclaimed, and missing, documentary filmmaker Alan Yates (Yorke) and his crew, Faye Daniels (Ciardi), Jack Anders (Pirkanen) and Mark Tommaso (Barbareschi). With the aid of local trackers he not only locates what remains of the filmmakers and their 16mm legacy, but also witnesses a world that has largely been uncorrupted by Western civilization, holding true to its primitive rites and rituals. Trading "white man's magic" (a tape-recorder) with the arboreal Tree People tribesmen for the earthly remnants of the documentarians (a few cans of film), he returns to New York and a scabrous television network with designs on screening the unseen footage. On the back of his (largely "engineered", per Jacopetti & Prosperi) award-winning work "The Last Road To Hell", Yates' final swansong is eagerly awaited by the greedy studio. But once the film is pieced together and threaded through the private theatrette's projector gate, what unfolds soon paints Yates and his crew as barbaric savages far worse than anything they sought to portray, white colonial predators intent on subjugating their lesser developed cousins.

Who are the real cannibals? The grotesque pale skinned monsters who would torture, murder, rape and degrade an under-developed people for the sake of their own self-important ends, set on seeing their names up in lights. Or worse, those further up the food chain who would profiteer from promoting such an appalling display of "white superiority" and sadism. Deodato's film affects me like no other passage in Italian cannibal cinema, as its message is far stronger than any of the other entries in the sub-genre (which invariably played as slick exploitation and pandered to white male domination fantasies). It is a film of unprecedented power that never once downplays the fact that its protagonists are little more than sick, sadistic mercenaries hell-bent on crossing whatever moral boundary that will get in the way of them satiating their journalistic ends. After the catalogue of horrors that precede it, nowhere is this more evident than in the final scenes where the surviving cameraman films his fellow crew members meeting unimaginably grisly fates. It is imagery no more horrific than a recent real-life tragedy that's horrors threatened at one point to be milked to maximum ratings effect. With the utmost of respect, and deepest of sympathies, to our American readers, there came a time during September that the seemingly endless replays of the appalling destruction of so many innocent lives disturbed me beyond any work of film-fiction I have ever seen, leaving me feeling physically sick. I am sure I am not alone in my condemnation of the media's cold-blooded sensationalism of one of the most devastating human tragedies of our time.

Deodato's film is unquestionably one for those only of a cast-iron stomach, but Sergio Leone was right when he said that it would become his "most famous" work. Over twenty years later, it is still banned in several countries, and heavily censored in others. It knowingly mocks the Italian documentary filmmakers like Jacopetti and Prosperi, as well as to a lesser degree Mario Morra, Antonio Climati and Alessandro Fracassi, who would spice up their "Mondo Cane" styled features with scenes deliberately staged, or engineered, for the camera's leering eye. Gianfranco Clerici's script paints Yates and his cohorts as morally bankrupt, reprehensible scum that are full well deserving of the primitive justice that is eventually meted out to them. Many may disagree with this aspersion, but as with Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves" and Ralph Nelson's "Soldier Blue", the truth is always harder to stomach when the white man is portrayed as the villain. The fact that Deodato underscores his gruelling scenes of unconscionable sadism with a lush score by Riz Ortolani (who, ironically, found international fame with his chart-topping theme song "More" from "Mondo Cane"), underpins his central theme of the unimaginable presented under the guise of "primitive beauty". By underscoring the everyday realities of tribal life, untainted by Western civilization's decay, Ortolani's music creates a tremendously unsettling power that intensifies the impossibly strong visuals.

Not having had the good fortune to ever catch EC's original DVD release of this film (it's STILL on back order [nearly seven months later] at Sazuma, believe it or not…with all correspondence to cancel it unanswered as of this writing! Now there's "service" for you!), I can only report on what I've seen with their new edition disc. Letterboxed at an aspect ratio of 1.85 and anamorphically enhanced, I can't imagine Deodato's film looking better than it does here without brand new negatives being struck! Per Umberto Lenzi's "Eaten Alive!" of the following year, Deodato shot on 16mm stock and the materials were then restruck in 35mm for theatrical engagements. Thus, there's going to be a bit of grain present, but it's not as distracting as you'd expect. In fact, unless you're watching the transfer instead of the film, you really won't notice it that much at all. Colours are exceptionally rich and vibrant, and detail levels are significantly high. Shadow detail and black levels are exactly what you'd expect for a $100,000 16mm feature, and there is some minor print damage present (the most obvious being some vertical lines that appear infrequently during the first reel). Overall though, unless Grindhouse go over the film with a fine-toothed comb and digitally correct the whole thing (as well as produce a 16x9 transfer), I'd have to say that this will remain my version of choice. I can't imagine it looking any better, short of a small miracle.

Audio is reproduced in two channel mono, rendering the proceedings and Riz Ortolani's fine score in a thoroughly exceptional fashion (I assume any future editions of this film on disc will undoubtedly be remastered in either Dolby 2.0 surround or Dolby 5.1…but honestly, to what ends?). English subtitles are also available, obviously as this is a Dutch release (and not EVERYONE in the world boasts English as their first language), but their presence assists greatly in opening scenes where characters converse in South American dialects. Extras consist of two informative interviews with Deodato: one hosted by his son Saverio, the other on stage with Martin Coxhead at the 1998 Eurofest. Both are shot on video, and their quality is passable at best (although the information provided is quite revealing). There are two theatrical trailers: English language (anamorphically enhanced), and German (sourced from video). Tying up the package is an Artwork & Stills gallery, as well as a nicely produced colour booklet insert that features a well written Deodato biography & filmography. The extras are exactly the same as EC's previous release, but this edition wins hands down with the hugely improved video quality of the main feature. Short of an audio commentary, or extra footage, I doubt that EC's disc will be topped for some time to come…if at all.

"Cannibal Holocaust" is the apex of the cannibal sub-genre, and a far more mature entry in the cycle than any of those it shares (peripheral) connections with. It is far more disturbing and challenging than any other film in the cycle, carrying a heavier message that is sadly almost destroyed by its glib final line of narrative. It features stomach-churning scenes of animal mutilation, that have been dealt with at far greater lengths elsewhere (which I purposely did not touch upon here, as such sequences were indicative of this genre), and thus if you are of a sensitive nature in this area you would best be advised to overlook this film. However, if you are able to approach Deodato's film with an open mind, and a mature outlook, then you may just find a film as relevant today as when it was first released. With the mass media pushing the television-weaned sub-culture to wallow ever deeper into details once thought too lurid for the masses, this remains the frightening (potential) face of journalistic moral decay. Let us hope with our very beings that the day never arrives where murder is served up as entertainment. Let it safely remain the archetype of a film genre whose audience is intelligent enough to distinguish between rubber and stage blood from the all too real face of actual human suffering.

Review by M.C.Thomason

Released by EC Entertainment
Classified 16 - Region 2
Running time - 95m
Ratio - Widescreen 1.85 (16:9)
Audio - Dolby digital
Extras :
Theatrical trailers, Stills & Artwork gallery, Interviews with Ruggero Deodato, Ruggero Deodato filmography & biography insert
© 2001, Icon In Black Media