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Cannibal Holocaust (Grindhouse Releasing)

    Ian Jane

  • Cannibal Holocaust (Grindhouse Releasing)

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
    Released on: July 1st, 2014.
    Director: Ruggero Deodato
    Cast: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi
    Year: 1979
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:
    (by Horace Cordier)

    The fog of intellectual war.

    I was recently asked to name my 20 favorite films of all time. ROBOCOP, SCARFACE, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and DIRTY HARRY were easy choices. Ditto STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and my current oddball pet THE BLUE MAX. And while I struggled near the end of that list (15-20 was a real game of super-sized Sophie's choice), one film was guaranteed a spot - Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. And while I'm not sure exactly what that says about me that I still remain, after all these years, captivated by this nihilistic and deeply morally problematical piece of art I have never been confused about its power.

    Director Deodato was trained as an assistant director by one of the greatest of Italian directors - the neo-realist Roberto Rossellini. One of Deodato's earliest credits was on Rossellini's 1959 wartime drama GENERAL DELLA ROVERE. Deodato also worked on the Sergio Corbucci classic DJANGO. Between the two he seemed to pick up a taste for the stark realism coupled with a touch of melodrama of Rossellini and the overtly political mix of blood, mud and subversive thunder that defined Corbucci's antiestablishment Spaghetti Westerns.

    On paper, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is an unwieldy mix of the now grossly overplayed found footage horror film and a National Geographic travelogue into jungle hell. Four documentary filmmakers - Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke), his girlfriend Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), cameramen Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen), and Mark Tomaso (Luca Giorgio Barbareschi) head into the green inferno of the Amazon from the port of Leticia in Colombia to make a film about the natives. There are strange rumblings about previous visitors to the area disappearing but the group arrogantly dismiss these warnings. After the film crew vanish their sponsors at NYU are desperate to find out what happened. Enter Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman), a noted anthropologist. Sent to the area to hunt for clues, he winds up retracing the steps of the group and learning some horrifying truths about just what these "journalists" were up to. The professor manages to ingratiate himself enough with the natives to secure the reels of film now in possession of the tribe. Upon returning to NYC, he screens the footage with the university board. Eager to use the material in a "sensational" documentary, the school executives are encouraged by the professor to think very hard about the ethics of ever letting this film be seen beyond their screening room.

    The twin narrative strands of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST revolve around two distinctly different journeys. The first is that of an ethical professor in search of the truth. While he's forced to deal with some rough characters (his savvy guide thinks nothing of plying natives with drugs to get what he needs) his motives are pure. The second is where the real message of the film is most powerfully presented however. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a ferocious attack on the most exploitative aspects of mass media. And the fact that it's steeped in some serious hypocrisy and engages in oftentimes shocking cruelty adds to the uncomfortable power of the film.

    Yates and his crew, bluntly, are scum. The inspiration for the film came from Deodato's outrage at the Italian media's constant coverage of the murderous antics of the then active Red Brigade's terrorist activities in the early 1970's. His young son was traumatized by the TV reports and the germ of an idea took hold. As CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST progresses, the audience sees bits and pieces of the Yates footage. Staged atrocities, gratuitous slaughter of livestock, rape of native women, and abuse of the natural environment are par for the course. Yates in particular has a loathsomely smug manner about him. In the film's most famous moment he discovers a slain woman brutally impaled on a pole. Thrilled at this find he grins from ear to ear until informed that the cameras are rolling. In the blink of an eye he's the concerned journalist solemnly bemoaning the primitive rites of misogynist natives. As the group progresses further into the jungle they become progressively more crazed. After the burning of the native village the tables ate turned. The natives, having had their fill of the camera crew's vile behavior, hunt them down. But will the targeted interlopers keep rolling to the bitter and bloody end?

    Billed as "the one that goes all the way" and presented as the quintessential video nasty for many years, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has always been not only controversial, but viscerally loathed in many quarters. The animal killings in the film specifically have long been a bone of vicious contention to the film's many critics. Often these sequences are referred to as animal torture - mostly by people who have never seen the film. One of the great ironies of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is that as a product of its time it was considered deeply distasteful by many. But in today's more narcissistic and PC cultured environment where animal suffering is often the subject of greater concern than human woe, this film generates a quite impressive level of outrage in certain quarters.

    The animal killings in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST could not be justified in 1979, let alone today. But it IS important to make note of a few facts. Aside from the coatimundi that suffers a longer fatal knife blow than necessary, there is no torture in the film. The sea turtle (in the film's most disturbing sequence) displays muscle spasms but is killed instantly. Those of us under no illusions about how bacon winds up on our plate understand that a single shot to the head is far preferable to the horrors of factory farming. The fog of moral hypocrisy has long been part of the intellectual landscape when the film is discussed. Also of note is that all the animals were eaten by either the tribesman used in the film or the actors and crew on location. Unlike the staged animal atrocities in hack work like Umberto Lenzi's ludicrous CANNIBAL FEROX or Sergio Martino's forcible shoving of a rodent down a large snake's throat in the risible MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, the animal deaths have a contextual purpose in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. This is a story about humanity at its absolute worst. It's also about environmental abuse and disrespect for so-called primitive cultures. This film crew is pissing in the pool of nature. Their animal abuse helps generate audience loathing and is therefore artistically useful. As someone who works with animals professionally and loves them I recognize that this is a slippery slope in terms of an argument. But I also cannot think of a single other film that I can make this claim for.

    However, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is also far from the crystal clear searing indictment of exploitative media some defenders dub it as either. There are deeply troubling segments in the film usually centered around the native treatment of women. An adultery rite of punishment and a forced abortion are unusually grueling scenes. While Deodato's sympathies are mostly with the professor and the natives, he certainly isn't above showcasing a leering exploitation set piece. The final ten minutes of the film is a master class in rapid-fire but highly skilled editing, brilliant juxtaposition of music and horrifying imagery and emotional manipulation. And a huge part of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST's grim power resides in Riz Ortolani's beautiful score.From the haunting and elegant opening theme to the jarring world music elements employed later, the aural counterpoints to the gruesome and gorgeous images is outstanding.

    One of the other great ironies of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is that it has often been most ably defended as art by intellectuals and academics. After my initial exposure to the movie I fell down the rabbit hole of hysteria online that often surrounded it in various discussion groups. The Outrage Factory never seemed to run out of coal to stoke its engines when it came to this one. One genre writer boasted of wanting to "burn every copy." Otherwise calm animal rights activists became positively unhinged. People regularly, and loudly, proclaimed they would never ever ever see it but also magically divined that it was a lousy and poorly made movie. On the recent VIDEO NASTIES documentary British Professor of Screen Media & Journalism Julian Petley gives a calmly sniffy defense of the film. In his clipped and laconic tones, he politely mocks the detractors that have tried to put forth the notion that this is a badly made shocker. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is no BLOOD FEAST. Indeed, the violence against humans here was realistic enough to get Deodato hauled into court.

    At the end of the second of two stellar commentary tracks on Grindhouse's essential special edition, actress Francesca Ciardi (sitting in with Yorke), in a bluntly contemplative mood, asks the tracks moderators to explain the film's appeal. It is a very good question, but sadly the answer isn't forthcoming. It's a small fumble for the moderators so I'm going to take a crack at it.

    Confrontational cinema isn't for everyone. It traffics in breaking taboos. It can often be horrifically violent. It usually doesn't play fair. It often mixes social commentary with deeply exploitative elements. There are sloppy and violent films that have no point to make out there. The trash heap of failed efforts in this wheelhouse is large. Anyone remember MURDER-SET-PIECES? CHAOS? But CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has real teeth. It's ferocious. Unrelenting. It's masterfully shot and meticulously scored. It matches great natural beauty with searingly grotesque images. Much like another tough bastard of a movie, Sylvester Stallone's last Rambo film, it carefully builds audience outrage against the bad guys in such a way that their brutal fate is not only accepted - but cheered. Films like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST are not entertainment in the traditional sense. They are films that are endured on one level but appreciated on another more primal one. They force us to look at, deal with, and emotionally process some uncomfortable truths about human nature. They aren't for everyone. But I think there will always be a place for this kind of art. I consider it a masterpiece of confrontational film. Long may it continue to horrify and enrage new victims.

    (by Ian Jane)

    First things first, Grindhouse's new AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.85.1 widescreen transfer is, thankfully, NOT the same one used on the French Blu-ray reviewed here (or the Shameless UK disc which suffered from similar problems). A quick look at the screen caps in that link show that the transfer used on that release is a smeary, waxy mess - compare that to the screen caps below and you can easily and immediately see the difference. Where that French disc looks artificial and is devoid of detail, the Grindhouse disc looks like film. Proof? OK.

    Here's a cap from the Grindhouse disc…

    …and a cap from the French disc.

    Note the absence of grain in the French cap. That's obviously not an issue with the Grindhouse disc (and you can flip back and forth between this review and that one for other examples). As such, detail looks quite a bit stronger and the overall presentation is just a lot more authentic feeling. Skin tones look lifelike and natural, not like they're smeared in Vaseline, and texture benefits here as well. The colors are nice and bright and bold without looking to have been artificially boosted or over saturated (the French disc looks almost too warm - almost friendly by comparison!) while the black levels are strong and deep. There is some print damage here and there but nothing major, mainly just some small specks now and then. The reds in the gore scenes really pop against the sometimes drab and muddy backgrounds and there are no issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or even obvious compression artifacts. There are obvious differences between the 'found footage' elements used and the rest of the movie but that's intentional and part of the film's effect (and obviously the 35mm material will look different than the 16mm material). All in all, this is a very solid picture here and definitely the best looking version of the movie currently available.

    Grindhouse supplies audio options in English only in DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD Mono, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Both tracks sound very good but the stereo remix here really opens up the film's iconic score in impressive ways. The sound effects and dialogue are nicely balanced in the mix and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion. There's considerable depth here and the music sounds fantastic. The mono mix isn't as impressive in that it just can't place the music the same way but it does sound better than the DVD release and is quite fine in its own right. The stereo track here is the real winner.

    Moving on to the extras for this release, everything is spread across the two Blu-ray discs in this set as follows:


    Carried over from their previous special edition DVD release is an audio commentary with director Ruggero Deodato who is joined by actor Robert Kerman for a discussion on the making of the film. Conducted in English, Deodato struggles with words sometimes but for the most part he and Kerman are fairly talkative here. They cover some of the controversy that the movie caused and the impact it has had on a few other films since its release. Deodato seems to have more to say than Kerman does, but they've both got interesting stories to tell on this release and fans of the film should enjoy checking out this feature. Deodato sounds fairly remorseful during the animal violence scenes, interestingly enough, and during the turtle scene both participants clam up a bit, but this soon leads way into talk regarding the perils of shooting on location in the jungle and dealing with the various problems associated with that. Deodato gives us some input on the camera work in the film, shares some about his dealings with the performers, and provides a fairly clear recollection of making the movie. While there are a few instances of dead air, this is definitely a worthwhile listen for those who are interested in the history of the movie. The DVD release included an optional video commentary version of this that has been omitted from this Blu-ray (not a huge loss, as the audio content is the same).

    New to this Blu-ray release is a second commentary track, this time with actor Gabriel Yorke and actress Francesca Ciardi moderated by Calum Waddell and Mike Baronas. This is a really nice addition to the disc as it allows the two actors to give their side of the story and share some pretty interesting tales about what it was like working on location with Deodato and company. They discuss their characters in a fair bit of detail and reminisce about the time that they spent together on the picture. Yorke also gets fairly vocal during some of the more disturbing scenes, evidently having forgotten just how harsh parts of this film really are. Ciardi is the best part of this track, really, as she does not mix words when it comes to her relationship with Deodato or her thoughts on the merits of the film itself!

    Also carried over from the DVD and available to view on its own (as it was not part of Deodato's original cut of the movie) is the infamous The Last Road To Hell sequence. Presented in standard definition, here we see the two additional shots that were not in the final version of the movie as Monroe sits inside an editing room and reviewing some of the victims' footage where he sees some (very real) wartime atrocity footage.

    The first disc also allows more sensitive viewers to opt out of the portions of the film containing actual animal slaughter by way of an Animal Cruelty Free Version of the movie. This is done via seamless branching and it uses the same excellent transfer as the stronger cut of the movie. Although watching the film this way absolutely lessens the impact of the picture, it's completely understandable why some viewers would prefer this version of the movie over the uncut version.

    Rounding out the extras on the first disc is a collection of trailers for the feature, all in high definition. Grindhouse supplies the original international trailer, the original Italian trailer, a German trailer, the original U.S. theatrical trailer and Grindhouse's own U.S. Re-Release trailer.


    The second disc starts off with a collection of interviews starting with a new fifty-eight minute interview with Deodato. What's great about this new piece is that it allows the director to wax nostalgic not only about his work on Cannibal Holocaust already well documented on this set but on the other two films that make up his 'Jungle Trilogy' - Jungle Holocaust/Last Cannibal World and Cut And Run. Deodato's memory is still as sharp as a tack and he seems keen here to discuss his work without mixing words. Of course, he also talks about the animal cruelty issues, controversies that he was a part of, his fan base and financial problems that he ran into while working on different projects. He addresses the sharp violence in his films, talks about many of the cast and crew he collaborated with on the three films and he also talks about his choice to shoot all three of these pictures on location rather than play it safe and use sets. It's a detailed, comprehensive and fascinating interview.

    Carried over from the past DVD release is an interview with Robert Kerman entitled Robert Kerman Exposed that was conducted in New York on November 13, 2000. Kerman begins by discussing Look Back In Anger, a kind of strange move but one that somehow seems appropriate, and then moves on to discussing his work with Deodato. He talks about how he got into making movies, how honesty can sometimes be an indulgence, and how control means everything in the industry. He talks about how he was or wasn't allowed to deliver his lines in Cannibal Holocaust, and how they were well fed on the set. In a rather tense moment, he also talks about his feelings on the animal violence that occurred in the film and how he was very much opposed to it but, essentially, it was too little too late. He also discusses how Cannibal Holocaust lead way to his work with Umberto Lenzi almost immediately afterwards. This interview is just under thirty five minutes in length, and it pretty much covers everything you've ever wanted to know about Robert Kerman's work in Italian exploitation films but were afraid to ask.

    Also carried over is Alan Yates Uncovered, an interview with the man who played Alan Yates, Gabriel Yorke. This interview was the first time he had spoken publicly about his work on the film. Conducted in Palo Alto, California on May 16, 2005, he begins discussing his audition for the film, how he wound up having to run down to Times Square to meet Deodato to audition for the role and the role that his shoe size played in his getting the part. He covers how his character differed from the other characters in the film and how it took a little convincing to get paid for his work on the picture. He gives his take on some of the more extreme content that he was involved in and how the only place they could get cleaned off afterwards was in the river near where they were shooting. He notes that he absolutely did not want to go into until he was convinced by a native that the Amazon was okay to swim in with his pants off, despite the piranha factor. This extensive interview clocks in at about fifty minutes in length and also proves to be very interesting.

    Francesca Ciardi pops up in a new featurette that runs just over thirty eight minutes. She talks about being on location, the film's infamous spider scene and some of the other effects set pieces that she was a part of and about the film's use of nudity. She's pretty frank about her experiences here and what her relationships were like with the rest of the cast members used in the picture. She's also pretty vocal with her thoughts on the use of animal violence in the movie. There's some crossover here with her commentary track but that's to be expected - this is a pretty great interview.

    Also new to the disc is a half hour long interview with Salvatore Basile who takes an opposite approach to the animal killings in the picture when compared to the rest of his co-stars. He also talks about how he got into working in the movies as an actor and an assistant director and shares his take on the merits of Cannibal Holocaust in addition to offering up yet more recollections of life on set and the toils and tribulations of the jungle locations used in the film. He also discusses the plot for the quartet of actors who played the documentarians in the film to stay out of the spotlight after the movie's premiere

    Another carry over from the DVD release is an interview with the film's late composer, Riz Ortolani, which was conducted on April 15, 2003. This interview starts off with Ortolani explaining his approach to scoring a film, then quickly moves on to how Deodato brought him on board and convinced him to score his movie. Riz discusses how the score was done with an orchestra and how the distinct electronic sound effects were worked into things, and he also covers how he feels that the film still feels modern, not dated like other movies. This interview, conducted in Ortolani's native Rome, runs just shy of five minutes in length, and any fan of Ortolani's should find it to be quite an enjoyable presentation.

    From there we move on to three more exclusive new extras, beginning with a twelve minute interview with Robert Forges Davanzati shot in April of 2010 in Rome's Profondo Rosso store, owned by Dario Argento. The man who handled most of the film's camera work shares his stories from the shoot while surrounded by various bits and pieces of horror memorabilia and ephemera - somehow very fitting. Davanzati doesn't get as in-depth and technical as some might want but he does share a lot of input on his take on the picture and offer some insight into the two formats used for the movie. He also discusses the critical reception the picture received upon release and the legal issues that came out of it and quite a bit more.

    The twenty-eight minute long Cinema Wasteland Panel shot in April of 2011 features Deodato as a guest alongside Ciardi and Yorke and Cut And Run stars Michael Berryman and David Hess. Sitting behind a table with the actors here he discusses some career highlights and takes questions from members of the audience. They talk about their work together, debate the necessity of the animal violence and even indulge in some good natured ribbing here and there.

    Francesca Ciardi shows up again in an amusing eleven minute question and answer session recorded in October of 2010. This covers some of the same ground as her other interview but a few different questions give it a fresh perspective. She also elaborates here on her initial reaction to the movie as well as how she's changed her views on the picture over the years.

    The ten minute Yorke And Deodato Reunion is, as it sounds, a video document showing the actor and director reunited at a 2009 Fangoria convention. It's interesting and seemingly pretty impromptu but it lets Yorke elaborate on why he never connected with the filmmaker once the production wrapped. This sits nicely alongside the nine minute Robert Kerman And Ruggero Deodato Reunion segment, which is a video recording of the actor and director at a convention panel from 2000 where they share some stories from the trenches of the shoot and then interact with fans and sign memorabilia.

    Five still galleries have been included, most of which are pretty exhaustive - these appeared on the DVD but have been expanded upon. The first, Production Stills, is exactly that - a series of production shots set to music from the film. The second gallery is where you'll find the Behind The Scenes shots, the kind that cover various aspects of the movie and show some effects work in progress as well as a fair number of candid, relaxed shots of the cast and crew on set. Publicity Materials is a collection of scores of images covering promotional material like lobby cards and half sheets from all over the world. The Video Releases gallery is, as you could probably guess, a huge collection showcasing various home video release covers and related ephemera from around the world. Finally, the Mondo Cannibale gallery is an interesting assortment of Cannibal Holocaust merchandise, from soundtrack cover art to t-shirt art.

    Also included on the second disc is a collection of trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing properties: Cannibal Ferox, The Beyond, Pieces, An American Hippie In Israel, Corruption, The Big Gundown, The Swimmer, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone With The Pope, Ice House, Scum Of The Earth, Cat In The Brain, The Tough Ones and last but certainly not least, I Drink Your Blood.

    Omitted from this release but included on the last DVD release is the lengthy In The Jungle - The Making Of Cannibal Holocaust documentary and the script PDF. There are also a few fun Easter Eggs here, one of which contains the Cannibal Holocaust music video that Jim Van Bebber director for Necrophagia. Both Blu-ray discs include animated menus and chapter/supplement selection options.

    Grindhouse have also included the complete soundtrack to the movie on CD format. The disc fits inside a cardboard slipcover and it includes all ten tracks from the now out of print CD release from years back:

    1. Cannibal Holocaust Theme
    2. Adulteress' Punishment
    3. Cameramen's Recreation
    4. Massacre of the Troupe
    5. Love With Fun
    6. Crucified Woman
    7. Relaxing in the Savana
    8. Savage Rage
    9. Drinking Coco
    10. Cannibal Holocaust (End Titles)

    Given how well this soundtrack plays even without the visuals behind it, this is a pretty nice addition to the set. Also included inside the slip cover packaging is a twenty-three page full color booklet of liner notes. This contains an essay from filmmaker Eli Roth detailing his appreciation for the film and its director as well as a reprinted essay on the film from the late Chas Balun, a piece written by Tenebrarum Magazine editor Martin Beine and an essay Gergely Hubai discussing the importance of Riz Ortolani's contributions to the film. The booklet also contains a wonderfully gross centerfold gleefully exploiting the film's signature set piece in lurid color. All of this fits inside the Blu-ray case (containing reversible cover art) which in turn fits inside that aforementioned slip cover (which features some really nice embossment).

    The Final Word:

    The word definitive is thrown around far too loosely when it comes to deluxe home video releases but in the case of Grindhouse's Blu-ray edition of Cannibal Holocaust, it fits. This edition offers up the best looking version available to date and it's stacked with scores of extras. If you're a fan of the film, this set is essential.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    • Mark Tolch
      Mark Tolch
      Senior Member
      Mark Tolch commented
      Editing a comment
      Nice work, guys! Great review. Also, I'm not a fan of the film, but awesome that Grindhouse has such an amazing presentation of the film. I'd never seen the french disc before, but egads.

    • bgart13
      Senior Member
      bgart13 commented
      Editing a comment
      Hey, look! There's the journalist that once wanted to burn every copy of the movie in the third from the bottom cap, except he's palling around with the filmmakers now! My, how's times change...

    • Kevin Coed
      Kevin Coed
      Senior Member
      Kevin Coed commented
      Editing a comment
      I wonder if he did carry out the 'same harm' to Deodato as was done to the animals like he said he wanted to do.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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