Deep in the Amazon rainforest, a group of young documentary filmmakers disappear after a meeting with the cannibal tribes that they went there to document. A New York University professor takes on the mission to find them, but his rescue mission turns sour when he realizes that the filmmakers have became the food on the plate for the cannibal tribes. But he returns to New York with film reels of what they had shot, and what they discover on the reels is far worse than the fate they suffered to get it.
Please note that the screenshots are from Grindhouse Releasing's old 2005 DVD release. We are still unable to take screenshots from blu-ray.
Still to this day I think "Cannibal Holocaust" stirs the pot more than whatever modern attempts at shock we get, and there are several reasons for it. Let's face it, one huge aspect is the animal killings. At this very moment I am asking myself if I should bring that up or not. It's been discussed so much over the years. Yeah, they are horrible to watch and I have always been conflicted with this one. Fact is, though, that where some movies have tortured animals, what was killed in "Cannibal Holocaust" was at least eaten. I'd say some of the harder moments might not be the death of the animals, but how they were treated before the fact. Smaller things like the pig being kicked. I eat meat, therefor the deaths of them make it more okay when they were eaten. Easier to watch? Of course not, and don't hit me with any of that "if you can't kill an animal then you shouldn't eat meat" or similar - I wouldn't walk around digging for carrots either, so I guess I am not allowed to eat. Period. Now that I've made half of you hate me, I am ready to get on with the review. I started with this part of it because, frankly, 34 years later we're just beating a dead turtle here. Har har. No, really, it's something that everyone who has seen the movie has been through multiple times, so I just wanted to get it out of the way (since it can't really be ignored either).
"Cannibal Holocaust" is known as being one of the early attempts at what is today the mockumentary/found footage genre. Despite there being movies like "David Holzman's Diary", this cannibal epic is a landmark in the mockumentary genre for many reasons. The plot is beyond every other cannibal movie made before or after (when it comes to cannibal tribe movies, at least), as it hooks you in instantly and it doesn't let go. A New York University professor, Harold Monroe, goes out to the Amazon rainforest to find a group of young, notorious documentary filmmakers. The four filmmakers set out to document the cannibal tribes, but if the the provocative shockumentaries that they have made in the past were proof of anything, it was that where they go trouble is near. Harold manages to return from the Amazon, unlike the filmmakers. Along with the remains of the eaten bodies, Harold found some of their belongings. Most importantly, their film reels, which he manages to retrieve and bring back to New York. The producers of the planned documentary are excited as they will be able to show the legendary footage that young filmmakers were killed while shooting. Harold goes through all of the footage, even the footage that the editor didn't have the guts to, and sets out to make sure that the footage won't be shown.
Yes, yes, that's almost spoilers there, but I don't care. You've seen it, or heard of it. The plot is top notch, I couldn't think of much that needs to be changed. This is a cannibal exploitation movie which goes above and beyond to show every gory detail it can, while still bringing a dose of humanity and psychology to it. It goes far, but it manages to give a lot back by being having a meaning.
Before I get ahead of myself in superlatives in how much I respect this movie, I will tell you one thing that bothers me. The dubbing. The acting isn't always the best, but it holds high enough standard to sell the story. The dubbing, however, is often atrocious. Francesca Ciardi has several cringe-worthy moments as Faye Daniels where lines are delivered like a punch to my temple. I remember these moments almost as strongly as seeing a turtle being cut open - that should say something about how bad some of them are. Harsh? Indeed. But most of the movie isn't that bad, but it needs to be said.
Now, back to what makes it extraordinary. Animal killing aside, there are plenty of brutal moments of "Cannibal Holocaust" that still deliver today. I watched this on the magnificient blu-ray release from Grindhouse Releasing, and I was afraid it would ruin the movie to see it in HD. Not at all. It's still as eerie and ruthless as the first time I saw it (just less shocking, as I've seen it multiple times since). I never used to care for blu-ray, often shrugging off old movies being restored as a pointless process, but companies like Grindhouse Releasing prove that with the right title you can experience something amazing. I still stand by the fact that certain movies should be seen on VHS still, but "Cannibal Holocaust" is a horrific movie however you see it. I've seen it on multiple formats and on multiple sized screens, and it never stops getting a reaction out of me. It's truly the most successful exploitation movie ever made in that sense (with that it's also the greatest cannibal movie, of course). Love it, hate it - it's powerful either way.
The sexy Grindhouse Releasing blu-ray is a terrific 2-disc + the soundtrack. I've always wanted the soundtrack, but I'm a cheap motherfucker. Personally there is no greater theme song than Riz Ortolani's opening to this movie. It's the least scary when heard out of context, but with the imagery of the movie it simply haunting. It's beautiful outside of the movie, but there's a strange feeling coming over me whenever I watch the movie. It's clearly exactly what they were going for - showing images of horror with a beautiful tune playing is truly troubling for the mind. The entire soundtrack is great, but the opening theme can't be topped.
As far as the gore goes, the HD quality doesn't take away anything. The camera was handled perfectly (I wish modern found footage filmmakers would take note) and it shows everything but often in the right amounts. The most iconic scenes get more time on the screen, and I was excited to see that it was effective even in HD quality. I probably don't need to tell you what goes on in the movie, but if you for some reason haven't seen or heard much about the movie (you're a liar) then I can assure you it's plenty gory.
"Cannibal Holocaust" is one of those nearly pointless reviews for me to write, but still one I looked forward to. It's one of the founding titles in shock, cannibal, found footage and horror cinema. Its importance in film history, and the message it brings, far exceeds any reason you might have to hate it. Whether you own the movie already or not doesn't matter, you need Grindhouse Releasing's blu-ray set in your collection.