From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is a controversial exploitation film directed by Ruggero Deodato from a screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici. Filmed in the Amazon Rainforest, the movie tells the story of four documentarians who journey deep into the jungle to film indigenous tribes. Two months later, after they fail to return, famous anthropologist Harold Monroe travels on a rescue mission to find the group. Eventually, he recovers and views their lost cans of film, which reveal the missing filmmakers' fate. The film stars Robert Kerman as Monroe, Carl Gabriel Yorke as director Alan Yates, Francesca Ciardi as Alan's girlfriend Faye, Perry Pirkanen as cameraman Jack Anders, and Luca Barbareschi as fellow cameraman Mark Tomaso.
Cannibal Holocaust is a well known exploitation film because of the controversy following its release. After premiering in Italy, the film was seized by a local magistrate, and Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges. He was later accused of making a snuff film due to rumors which claimed that certain actors were killed on camera. Although Deodato was later cleared of these charges, the film was banned in Italy, the UK, Australia, and several other countries due to its graphic depiction of gore, sexual violence, and because six animals were killed on camera. Many nations have since revoked the ban, yet the film is still barred in several countries. This notoriety notwithstanding, some critics see Cannibal Holocaust as a social commentary about civilized society.
Much of the controversy around the movie surrounds a famous scene in which a large turtle is butchered on camera. Many condemn this as animal cruelty for the purpose of mere sensationalism, and it has even been called "animal torture." This is a dubious claim, however, since even a cursory examination of the film reveals that the turtle was killed within the first few seconds of its capture. However, in Italy an obscure law which prohibited cruelty to guinea pigs resulted in the film being banned outright there until 1983.
Many of the censorship issues with Cannibal Holocaust concern the on-screen killings of animals, which remains a major issue today. Seven animals were killed during the film's production, six of which are seen on screen:
- A coatimundi (mistaken as a muskrat in the film) is stabbed multiple times in the neck by an actor.
- A large turtle (about three feet long) is captured in the water and dragged to shore, where it is then decapitated and its limbs and shell removed. The actors proceed to cook and eat the turtle.
- A large spider is killed with a machete.
- A snake is killed with a machete.
- A squirrel monkey has its face cut off with a machete.
- A pig is kicked twice and then shot with a rifle.
Many condemn this as animal cruelty for the purpose of mere sensationalism and only to attract controversy, and it has also been called "animal torture." Deodato himself has condemned his past actions, saying "it was stupid to introduce animals."
While in the movie it appears that only six animals are killed, the scene depicting the monkey's death was shot twice, resulting in the death of two monkeys. Both of the animals were eaten by indigenous cast members (who consider monkey brains a delicacy).
The soundtrack is entirely composed by Italian Riz Ortolani, who Deodato specifically requested because of Ortolani's work in Mondo Cane. The music itself is a variety of styles, from a gentle melody in the "Main Theme", to a sad and flowing score in "Crucified Woman", and even faster and more upbeat tracks in "Cameraman's Recreation", "Relaxing in the Savannah", and "Drinking Coco". The instrumentals are equally mixed, ranging from full orchestras to electronics and synthesizers. The original soundtrack release was a limited release of 1,000 copies in Germany in 1995, on the Lucertola Media label. In August 2005, the soundtrack was released again, this time in the United States, on the Coffin Records label.
- "Cannibal Holocaust (Main Theme)"
- "Adulteress' Punishment"
- "Cameraman's Recreation"
- "Massacre of the Troupe"
- "Love with Fun"
- "Crucified Woman"
- "Relaxing in the Savannah"
- "Savage Rite"
- "Drinking Coco"
- "Cannibal Holocaust (End Titles)"