Continuing Simon Augustine's countdown of the Most Disturbing Movies (Read Part 1 for the first 13). [<< #9]
8. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) 7/10
Ruggero Deodato's exercise in The Ugly American's confrontation with jungle cannibalism is an admired and feared placeholder on any respectable Disturbist's desert island list. Made a full twenty years before Blair Witch Project, Deodato's film cleverly played with the line between movie reality and reality-reality by using a story of found footage: film stock is found in the jungle that chronicles the self-made video diary of an intrepid naturalist/would-be documentarian and his cohorts as they cut a swath through the Amazonian jungle to capture the lives of a “primitive” and, unfortunately for them, cannibalistic tribe.
As executives at a television studio watch the footage unfold, so do we: and it soon becomes clear that the arrogant and foolhardy filmmaker of the film-within-the-film is also a borderline sociopatch; attacking the tribe and burning their huts to capture the chaos on film.
The tone of the whole affair is unrelentingly merciless, with the line between filmic and actual violence blurred because Deodato throws real animal cruelty in with the human savagery: we see a huge turtle with its shell cut off, and other animals butchered casually by the Americans; we also see a tribeswoman impaled on a stake that goes through her rear up through her mouth. (Even for the Disturbing Film buff, real animal cruelty is unacceptable, and actually distracts from the experience by breaking the rules; the Disturbist is principally interested in artifice, not reality.) Like Men Behind the Sun, the film became highly controversial and banned in many countries because of the animal rights violations, and Deodato was throroughly investigated by the Italian authorities; he only convinced them he hadn't made a snuff film by producing the actors, who as a gimmick had gone into hiding for a year.
It is the final scenes, however, that give Holocaust its undeniable stature: as the troupe moves farther into the depths of the jungle, they are slowly cornered by the angry cannibals, self-filming their panic and bloody demise, get their just desserts (and literally becoming dessert). I don't know how he does it, but with the realism, the eerie, lush score by Riz Ortolani, and the POV tactics, Deodato succeeds in imparting a real, palpable sense of existential doom in the last moments that an exploitation director has no business wielding. It is like the exploitation version of the transcendent and beautiful last scenes of Fellini's Amarcord, when a wind stirs up as a family gathers in the countryside; only the tone here goes in the opposite direction: not sentimental nostalgia and awe of the ordinary, an admission of the inherent beauty of things, but a sense of the brute laws of a jungle world closing in for the kill.
Guaranteed to ruin a perfect night at home with the fam.
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