Project Horror, Day 13: Cannibal Holocaust (Italy)


Here is the dilemma I face when reviewing this movie - on one hand, I'm glad that I've finally seen the infamous Cannibal Holocaust and scratched the itch of curiosity.  On the other hand, I don't know if I'm entirely glad that I have finally seen the infamous Cannibal Holocaust.  I added this one to the line-up at the recommendation of my friend Eric, who was careful to describe it as "excellent in its own way."

If you're aware of this movie, it's probably for one of two reasons.  One is that it uses the same "found footage" technique that The Blair Witch Project used, and received some renewed attention around the time of Blair's release.  The other is that this movie contains some of the most extreme violence ever committed to film, including castration, impalement, infanticide, gang rape, cannibalism (obviously), and unsimulated killings of animals.  It really is not messing around.

And here, for the first time during Project Horror, I have to examine my own motives a little bit.  A friend of mine wrote a really great article a year or two ago, in which he wished that he had never seen pornography.  Not for any moral reasons, and not because he had any sort of addiction, but because of the cumulative effects of it on one's mind.  He wrote about being a kid, and sneaking a peek at a Playboy for the first time, and how just a glimpse of that magazine was enough to fuel his fantasies for months.  He compared that to how now, as an adult, with access to virtually anything he wishes to view at any time, it takes far more to get any kind of reaction from him.  The entry-level stuff just doesn't do it anymore.

I haven't really been scared by a horror film in a long time.  I was lucky to have protective parents when I was growing up, and saw very few until I was even in college.  Movies that my friends had seen ten years before were new to me, and scared the crap out of me!  But as I watched more and more of them, I got hip to the horror movie conventions, and they had less and less effect.  Sure, every now and then I'll jump a little when they pull out one of the stock tricks (like a cat screeching out from under the bed), but I don't go to bed afraid to turn the lights out that night.  Part of why I finally decided to see Cannibal Holocaust was to see if it would have that effect.  Although it didn't, it also made me realize that the purpose of horror isn't always to scare, sometimes it's just to jab you on a visceral level.  On that standard, the movie definitely succeeds.

It is told in flashback - a renowned anthropologist ventures into the Amazon rainforest to find a documentary crew who had ventured there and never returned.  He finds their remains and their film canisters, and takes the film back with him.  The crew was notorious for staging events for maximum drama in their previous works, and that's what he finds as he watches their footage.  Upon arriving at a native village, they immediately force the population into a hut and burn it down, planning to edit it to appear that this was done by a rival tribe.  This is just the first of many, many graphic abuses they heap upon the tribespeople until the inevitable revenge occurs.  The subjects being cannibals, I'm sure you can guess which form the revenge takes.

I'm going to agree with my friend, and say that this movie is excellent in its own way.  It succeeds in being really horrifying, and that's just what it set out to do.  I give it four shrunken heads out of five.


Ali said...

ok. i think i have reached the point where i'm going to have nightmares just from reading the DESCRIPTIONS of the horror movies you're watching - i think you ARE desensitized.

Will Meekin said...

i know what you mean about the cumulative desensitization of too many scary movies (and, yes, too much porn). but blair witch and, more recently and more profoundly, paranormal activity really upset me. i still can't sleep w/ my walk-in closet door open. (why is it ajar right now!?) i guess it's the whole found-footage aesthetic that allows those movies to set up camp in my brain and seem possible, probable even. where's my teddy bear?


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