Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

It's a hell of thing when a giant storm of wind tries to ruin your favourite time of year, but it happened and now I'm trying to get back on track in the wake of it all. It's not easy, truly, because I have obligations outside of this site and they seem to keep getting in the way of me getting any work done. Even tonight I find the rug pulled from under me, meaning once more I have to alter previously made plans. It's honestly a huge pain in the ass, but that's life for you. The good news though is that I'm not being eaten by any cannibals.

I have been assured that I would taste like chicken though. I'm not sure if that is supposed to give me solace or pause.

Today we're going to be talking about one of the oldest requests I have on my list, a movie that is as infamous as one of our current presidential candidates. Movies are less scary that Hitler's second coming though. Inspired by the idea of many news stories being staged, this Italian horror staple is easily the most famous in the cannibal sub-genre, often being the movie that other cannibal films would attempt to replicate to varying degrees of success. The funniest thing about this though? When I first started out as a critic I actually joked with a friend that I'd probably never talk about something like this. Oh, how naive I was.

I wasn't ready for a world of Eli Roths and Axel Brauns.
Since then I have learned quite a bit about suffering, both physically and mentally, and I'd like to think all of that has hardened me enough to finally tackle the most requested film ever for me. After all, I've seen it before on more than one occasion. But then...that's the twist, isn't it? Because I wasn't really seeing the film that had been banned in so many countries and had offended so many people over the years. No, I saw the censored version because I never had access to the uncut version...until now. Yes, thanks to Grindhouse Releasing, I now have the film as it was meant to be seen.

Based on the cover, it probably won't surprise you to learn that there's rape involved. Lots and lots of rape.
Now, let's be clear here for a second, because there are levels to censoring in regards to this film. There are versions where all the gore is pretty much gone and then there's the version I saw that has the actual real death cut out. Yes, there is real death in this film. Just not of people, despite what the title may lead you to believe. No, the main theme besides cannibalism and rape on show here is animal butchering. I'm not an animal rights activist, by any means, but...yeah, I'm not really itching to watch them die. But, as I believe in taking this in at its purest level, it's time to grit my teeth and watch something deeply uncomfortable. Let's dig into Cannibal Holocaust.

For fuck's sake, at least cook it first.
The film opens on a text crawl that informs me that I'm about to watch people do some terrible and "irresponsible" things. Yes, because when I think of irresponsibility, I think of ripping a large turtle apart on film. After the theme that sounds more like it belongs in some Italian love story, we see people on the street watching a television broadcast talking about the questionable fate of the film crew who journeyed out into the Amazon in search of true cannibals tribes to film a documentary on them. They seem full of confidence on the footage it shows of them, as they all joke about together with their guide and new friend, Felipe. Yep, they're a nice looking group.

I'm sure nothing terrible happened to them at all.
Since the group have gone missing, our actual main character, Professor Harold Monroe, is asked to lead an expedition to either recover them or at the very least their footage. He meets up with the local military in that region upon his arrival, learning that they have a captive member of the Yacumo tribe. The plan is that Monroe along with his guide, Chaco, and his assistant, Miguel, will be taking the captive tribesman to act as their way into getting safely to the tribe. Along the way Chaco tries to hammer into the professor's head that it's important they show they're stronger, as offering help to the captive toting their gear could be seen as weakness. Also, they find what's left of Felipe, meaning we can cross him off the list of potential survivors. Then they stop for a snack.

Translation: we get to watch a very cute animal die. It screamed a lot. I need a minute.
Their journey eventually leads them to a ritual being performed in which a husband is forced to rape his wife with a sharp piece of wood, then jam a bunch of mud and rocks in her vagina before finally bashing her head in. Monroe tries to intervene, but Chaco stops him and tells him that it's not his place. If the woman, who apparently committed the crime of adultery, doesn't die then the husband will be killed by their people instead. And I guess she'll probably still get killed, because that's how this shit goes.

Ah, the good old days...what? This is what the "good old days" were actually like.
They surprise the guy after he kills his wife and they then follow him to some other tribesmen where Miguel then strips naked and goes out with the captive to try and pull off their plan to get into the village. After getting some poisonous darts blown at him that land instead at his feet, the tribesmen do indeed lead them to the village and we get to see some clear impressions of Alan's group having been here, as the village shaman is less than happy to see them and one of their young men seems to be dying of an infected gunshot wound. Yep, they were here alright. Miguel once more works things out by trading a switchblade in good faith and they end up partying with the natives. This mostly consists of them eating what is best described as frothy spit soup.

I'm sure Paula Deen gave them the recipe.
The next day it's out back into the jungle to find the Ya̧nomamö and the Shamatari tribes, as clearly one of them will likely better know the fates of our missing film crew. It doesn't seem to take too long either as they soon find a bit of both, leading to them actually saving some Ya̧nomamö from the Shamatari. They're brought back to their village but the tribe is clearly cautious of them, making it fairly clear Alan's group was here. Desperate to try and gain their trust, Monroe gets the idea to try and expose himself to them by bathing. It mostly leads to a lot of native women playing with his dick.

Trust me, this guy is no stranger to having his dongle diddled on film.
And it turns out that their suspicions about them likely knowing Alan's group are right on the money as this whole thing leads to them being lead to a sacred shrine where the reels of film are...oh, and also the remains of the crew. Yep, they're super dead. Monroe ultimately is able to recover the footage when he plays back some music he'd recorded on his tape recorder which convinces them he has the power to dispel the bad spirits that Alan's group left there. All that's left is the ceremonial breaking of bread before getting back to civilization. Oops, did I say bread? I meant he gets to eat part of a criminal the village executed, then eats.

You know, this is one of those times an Arbys joke would normally pop up but I happen to like me some gizzard.
Back in the less cannibally world, we get to see Monroe interviewing various people connecting to the dead crew and get a bit of a peek into how others see them. It's not all that positive, shockingly enough. It's almost like maybe Alan and company might have been less nice that they seemed. It's in the editing room we get to really get some true insight into them, first through a documentary they previously filmed about genocide, then finally we get to see their Amazon footage. What do we get to see? Well, there's plenty, such as them basically making shit up and causing more trouble, like the shooting of the Yacumo tribesman and them using the wounded man to lead them to the village where they set fire to their fucking homes.

This is possibly one of the more questionable John Turturro roles. Still better than Transformers though.
Keep in mind, that burning hut has people in it. Oh yeah. Then there's the other shit, like killing some more animals, including what is probably the most long drawn out gore scene I've had to sit through when they catch a large turtle, hack it's head off, hack its still wriggling limbs off, the rip off its shell and basically play around with its guts for a while. I have a fairly strong stomach but this honestly bothered me to watch. Maybe because I knew it was a real animal being brutally murdered or maybe because it just felt so malicious and unnecessary. Either way, it's likely the hardest scene I've ever had to sit through in a film.

"JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, GUYS!"
But hey, we're not done because they also are responsible for Felipe dying when the idiots cut off his leg after a boa constrictor (non-poisonous snake) bites him and they gangrape a Ya̧nomamö girl while laughing happily. The only one who tries to stop this is Faye, Alan's fiance/scriptwriter, but she was totally alright with burning villagers alive and having sex in front of them with Alan, so I don't feel that great about her. And because they were such utterly shitty people, this all comes back on them as the Ya̧nomamö catch up to them, first killing Jack, who they actually film being torn apart and eaten, then Faye gets taken. Alan wants to go rescue her but is ignored by Mark who keeps filming as the Ya̧nomamö warriors gangrape her before killing her and carrying her head around. Finally, the last two dickheads get ran down and the footage ends with Alan's dead eyes staring into the camera.

"You know, in hindsight...perhaps raping a cannibal woman was a really shitty idea."
After making the executives all watch the footage, Monroe finally succeeds in convincing them that this footage has no place being shown off. They order it to be destroyed and he exits the building, asking himself who the real cannibals are. I know that's supposed to be deep, but the truth is that the real cannibals are still the people who, you know...EAT PEOPLE. It's pretty cut and dry. The film closes as we're informed that the film didn't actually get burned (shocker) and that the projectionist apparently got in trouble over it. It's good to know we get to find out the fate of a character who wasn't even visible in the movie.

I know that after seeing a woman skewered on a pole I sure was worried about who leaked the footage and whether they did time for it.
This movie has earned its reputation, as the gore effects on display are well done and if I went into this not knowing it was fake, yeah, I could see how some people believed the director killed some of his actors. But then, considering the animals that died, I guess technically some of his actors were killed. All told, seven animals died in the filming of this feature. This includes the coati, the turtle, a pig Alan's group shoots that was tied up, a tarantula that gets swatted off with a machete, a snake that gets cut up, and two squirrel monkeys that both have their heads cut off and eaten.

Ted Nugent's home movies paint an interesting picture.
I won't lie, this was a rough sit. Especially since I sat through it twice for this review, as I always tend to do. I don't know if I could say I regret making the decision to finally tackle this movie, but I do feel not great in the aftermath. It has its place as a cult classic and a perfect example of the cannibal sub-genre of horror, but I would honestly recommend avoiding the fully uncut version. There's just something deeply unsettling about the way the animal deaths are both done and filmed that trails outside of my comfort zone. But if you're a purist, Grindhouse Releasing has your back. Both versions of the film are present here, so you get to decide for yourself. Me, I'm gonna go get some air. Later days, bleeders.

"Time to go get a Jamocha shake."

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