Cannibal Holocaust is a film I’ve long heard about but never seen. It wasn’t exactly a movie you could wander down to Blockbuster Video and take home with you (along with a bag of Blockbuster brand microwave popcorn. Y’all remember that?). There was an excellent independent video store in town (R.I.P. 112 Video) and it’s likely that they had it, but at the time we were all about renting anime films and making jokes about them. So that’s why it wasn’t until this year that the infamous film finally danced across my eyeballs.
If you’ve never heard of the film, it is renowned for two things: 1) being the original “found footage” film–in the very literal sense—and 2) being basically an animal snuff film. At least five animals were actually killed during the making of the movie, their deaths all photographed and appearing in the final cut. If you have a soft spot for animals, even the scaly or shelled kind, you’ll want to give Cannibal Holocaust a hard pass. You’ll probably want to do that too if anthropophagy is also a turn off, even if fictionalized.
Cannibal Holocaust is the story of four missing documentary filmmakers who vanish in the Amazon and the anthropologist sent down to find them. The first half of the movie deals with the anthropologist’s search and eventual discovery of the footage the filmmakers shot. The film’s back half concerns the attempt by a television network to exhibit the film and the anthropologist’s viewing of the recovered footage. It depicts the fates of the filmmakers and, more importantly, what their actions were leading up to that fate.
Regardless of you’re feelings about the actual animal deaths or the found footage genre, Cannibal Holocaust makes a strong statement about journalistic integrity, the exploitation of indigenous peoples, and our own appetite for the sensational–we feel guilty simply watching the movie, as if we’re complicit in the suffering the movie was responsible for. I think the film succeeds at this more than the director intended.
Cannibal Holocaust is not a film for everyone, nor is it even on the cinemaphile’s list of movies they must see before they die. However, if you’re a fan of horror films and can stomach the contents of the movie, it’s an important one if only for knowing the roots of found footage film and to see why it became an infamous piece of horror cinema. It’s a difficult movie to rate. I give it four skulls out of four as an iconic movie, but only one skull for class and taste.