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Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal HolocaustDirected by: Ruggero Deodato

Produced by: Franco Palaggi

Written by: Gianfranco Clerici

Starring: Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi

Music by: Riz Ortolani

Cinematography: Sergio D’Offizi

Editing by: Vincenzo Tomassi

Distributed by: Grindhouse Releasing (2005 Re-release)


Release date(s): February 7, 1980 (Italy), June 19, 1984 (US)

Running time: 96 minutes

Country: Italy

Language: English, Spanish

Budget US$100,000 (estimated)

The film opens with a television documentary about a missing United States film crew, who disappeared on an expedition to the Amazon Basin to make a documentary about indigenous cannibal tribes. The team was Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke), the director; Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), his girlfriend and script girl; and two cameramen, Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark Tomaso (Luca Barbareschi). Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman), a New York University anthropologist, has agreed to lead a rescue team and flies to the Amazon to meet his guides, Chaco and his assistant Miguel. The group has a hostage captured by the military from a local tribe called the Yacumo, and they use him to help negotiate with the natives. The team arranges his release in exchange for being taken to the Yacumo village. There the team meets hostility and learn that the film group had caused great unrest among the people.

The next day, Monroe and his guides head deeper into the rainforest to locate two warring tribes, the Ya̧nomamö and the Shamatari. Following a group of Shamatari warriors to a riverbank, they intervene and save a smaller group of Ya̧nomamö from death in a conflict between the groups. The Ya̧nomamö invite Monroe and his team back to their village, where they are treated with suspicion. To gain the villagers‘ trust, Monroe bathes naked in a river. A group of Ya̧nomamö women emerge to take him to a shrine, which he learns holds the bones of the missing American filmmakers. Angry, Monroe confronts the Ya̧nomamö, during which time he plays a tape recorder for them. Intrigued, the natives agree to trade it for the first team’s surviving reels of film.

Back in New York, executives of the Pan American Broadcast Company invite Monroe to host a broadcast of a documentary to be made from the recovered film. Monroe wants to see the raw footage first. The executives introduce him to Yates‘ work by showing an excerpt from his previous documentary, The Last Road to Hell. One of the executives tells Monroe that Yates staged the scene to get more exciting footage. Monroe reviews the footage, which first follows the group’s trek through the jungle. They promptly spot a large turtle which they proceed to kill and eat. Their guide, Felipe, is then bitten by a venomous snake. The group amputates Felipe’s leg with a machete in an attempt to save his life, but he quickly dies and is left behind. The remaining four succeed in locating the Yacumo. Jack shoots one in the leg so they can easily follow him to the village. The second reel starts with the group’s arrival at the Yacumo village. They force the entire tribe into a hut and burn it down in order to stage a scene for the film. Monroe expresses concerns over the staged scenes and poor treatment of the natives, but his worries are ignored.

Monroe expresses his disgust to station executives about their decision to air the documentary. To convince them of his view, he shows the remaining, unedited footage. The final two reels begin with the team locating a young Ya̧nomamö girl, whom the men gang-rape as Faye tries to stop them. Later, the team films the girl impaled on a wooden pole, where they claim the natives killed her. After they move on, the Ya̧nomamö attack the team in revenge for the girl’s rape and death. Jack is hit by a spear, and Alan shoots him so the team can film how the natives mutilate his corpse. As the three try to escape the scene, Faye is captured. Alan insists they try to rescue her. Mark continues to film as she is raped and beheaded. The Ya̧nomamö immediately locate the last two as the footage ends with Alan’s bloody face. The executives order the footage destroyed as Monroe leaves the station.

Cannibal Holocaust premiered on February 7, 1980 in the Italian city of Milan. Although the courts confiscated the film based on a citizen’s complaint, the initial audience reaction was positive.After seeing the film, director Sergio Leone wrote a letter to Deodato, which stated, [translated] „Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.“ In the ten days before it was seized, the film had grossed approximately $2 million.

Critics remain split on their stances of Cannibal Holocaust. Supporters of the film cite it as serious and well-made social commentary on the modern world. Tim Brayton says the film is, „…basically perfect: it achieves its goals in virtually every respect. Deodato made a movie whose purpose is to make me feel awful, and I do.“ Sean Axmaker praised the structure and set up of the film, saying, „It’s a weird movie with an awkward narrative, which Deodato makes all the more effective with his grimy sheen of documentary realism, while Riz Ortolani’s unsettlingly lovely, elegiac score provides a weird undercurrent.“ Jason Buchanan of Allmovie said, „…while it’s hard to defend the director for some of the truly repugnant images with which he has chosen to convey his message, there is indeed an underlying point to the film, if one is able to look beyond the sometimes unwatchable images that assault the viewer.“

Detractors, however, criticize the acting, question the genuine animal slayings, and point to an alleged hypocrisy that the film presents. Nick Schager criticized the brutality of the film, saying, „As clearly elucidated by its shocking gruesomeness—as well as its unabashedly racist portrait of indigenous folks it purports to sympathize with—the actual savages involved with Cannibal Holocaust are the ones behind the camera.“ Schager’s racism argument is supported by the fact that the real indigenous peoples in Brazil whose names were used in the movie—the Yanomamo and Shamatari—are not fierce enemies as portrayed in the movie, nor is either tribe truly cannibalistic (although the Yanomamo do partake in a form of post-mortem ritual cannibalism).

Robert Firsching of Allmovie made similar criticisms of the film’s content, saying, „While the film is undoubtedly gruesome enough to satisfy fans, its mixture of nauseating mondo animal slaughter, repulsive sexual violence, and pie-faced attempts at socially conscious moralizing make it rather distasteful morally as well.“ Slant Magazine’s Eric Henderson said it is „…artful enough to demand serious critical consideration, yet foul enough to christen you a pervert for even bothering.“ Cannibal Holocaust currently has a 64% fresh rating on the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.2.

In recent years, Cannibal Holocaust has received accolades in various publications. The British film magazine Total Film ranked Cannibal Holocaust as the tenth greatest horror film of all time, and the film was included in a similar list of the top 25 horror films compiled by Wired. The film also came in eighth on IGN’s list of the ten greatest Grindhouse films.

Cannibal Holocaust is seen by some as social commentary on various aspects of modern civilization by comparing Western society to that of the cannibals. David Carter says, „Cannibal Holocaust is not merely focused on the societal taboo of flesh eating. The greater theme of the film is the difference between the civilized and the uncivilized. Though the graphic violence can be hard for most to stomach, the most disturbing aspect of the film is what Deodato is saying about modern society. The film asks the questions ‚What is it to be ‚civilized‘?‘ and ‚Is it a good thing?'“ Mark Goodall, author of Sweet & Savage: The World Through the Shockumentary Film Lens, also contends the film’s message is „…the rape of the natural world by the unnatural; the exploitation of ‚primitive‘ cultures for western entertainment.“

Deodato’s intentions regarding the Italian media coverage of the Red Brigades have also fallen under critical examination and has been expanded to include all sensationalism. Carter explores this, claiming that „[The lack of journalistic integrity] is shown through the interaction between Professor Monroe and the news agency that had backed the documentary crew. They continually push Monroe to finish editing the footage because blood and guts equal ratings.“ Director Lloyd Kaufman claims that this form of exploitative journalism can still be seen in the media today and in programming such as reality television.

Despite these interpretations, Deodato has said in interviews that he had no intentions in Cannibal Holocaust but to make a film about cannibals. Actor Luca Barbareschi asserts this as well and believes that Deodato only uses his films to „put on a show.“ Robert Kerman contradicts these assertions, however, stating that Deodato did tell him of political concerns involving the media in the making of this film.

These interpretations have also been criticized as hypocritical and poor justification for the film’s content, as Cannibal Holocaust itself is highly sensationalized. Firsching claims that, „The fact that the film’s sole spokesperson for the anti-exploitation perspective is played by porno star [Robert Kerman] should give an indication of where its sympathies lie,“ while Schager says Deodato is „pathetically justifying the unrepentant carnage by posthumously damning his eaten filmmaker protagonists with a ‚who are the real monsters – the cannibals or us?‘ anti-imperialism morale.“

Since its original release, Cannibal Holocaust has been the target of censorship by moral and animal activists. Other than graphic gore, the film contains several scenes of sexual violence and genuine cruelty to animals, issues which find Cannibal Holocaust in the midst of controversy to this day. Due to this notoriety, Cannibal Holocaust has been marketed as having been banned in over 50 countries. In 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine named Cannibal Holocaust as the 20th most controversial film of all-time.

The original controversy that surrounded the film’s release was the belief that Cannibal Holocaust was an actual snuff film, or that the actors were murdered in order to film their deaths for the movie; these allegations were originally suggested in January 1981 in an article by the French magazine Photo. The film was confiscated ten days after its premiere in Milan, and Deodato was arrested. Although he was originally charged with obscenity, the charges were amended to include murder, as the courts not only believed that the four actors portraying the missing film crew were killed for the camera, but that the actress in the impalement scene was actually skewered in such a manner. To make matters worse for Deodato, the actors had signed contracts with him and the producers ensuring that they would not appear in any type of media, motion pictures, or commercials for one year after the film’s release in order to promote the idea that the film was truly the recovered footage of missing documentarians. Thus, when Deodato claimed that he had not killed the group, questions arose as to why the actors were in no other media if they were alive.

Eventually, Deodato was able to prove that the violence was staged. He contacted Luca Barbareschi and told him to gather the other three actors. After he voided the contracts in order to avoid life in prison, Deodato brought the foursome onto the set of an Italian television show, which satisfied the courts. He still had to prove, however, that the impalement scene was merely a special effect. In court, he explained how the effect was achieved: a bicycle seat was attached to the end of an iron pole, upon which the actress sat. She then held a short length of balsa wood in her mouth and looked skyward, thus giving the appearance of impalement. Deodato also provided pictures of the girl interacting with the crew after the scene had been filmed. After they were presented with this evidence, the courts dropped all murder charges against Deodato.

Although Deodato was exonerated for murder, the courts decided to ban Cannibal Holocaust because of the genuine animal slayings, citing animal cruelty laws. Due to this ruling, Deodato, the producers, screenwriter, and the United Artists representative each received a four-month suspended sentence after they were convicted of obscenity and violence. Deodato fought in the courts for three additional years to get his film unbanned. In 1984, the courts ruled in favor of Deodato, and Cannibal Holocaust was granted a rating certificate of VM18 for a cut print. It would later be re-released uncut.

Cannibal Holocaust also faced censorship issues in countries around the world. In 1981, video releases were not required to pass before the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for certification in the UK. Cannibal Holocaust was released straight-to-video there, thus circumventing the possible banning of the film. In 1983, the Department of Public Prosecutions compiled a list of 74 video releases that were not brought before the BBFC for certification and declared them prosecutable for obscenity. This list of „video nasties“ included Cannibal Holocaust, which was successfully prosecuted and banned. The film was also banned in Australia, Norway, Finland, New Zealand and several other countries in 1984. In 2005, the Office of Film and Literature Classification in Australia revoked the ban, passing Cannibal Holocaust with an R18+ rating for the uncut print. In 2006, the film was banned in its entirety by the OFLC in New Zealand. Cuts to retain an R18 classification were offered by the Office, but they were eventually refused. In 2011, after numerous versions with extensive mandated cuts had been released in years prior, the BBFC waived all but one of their previous edits, passing Cannibal Holocaust with 15 seconds of cuts. It was determined that the only scene that breached the BBFC’s guidelines was the killing of a coatimundi, and the BBFC acknowledged that previous cuts were reactionary to the film’s reputation.



Very long and interesting Interview with Actor Gabriel Yorke

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Posted by on Nov 25 2011. Filed under # HORROR-NEWS #, CANNIBALS, EXPLOITATION |, VIDEONASTIES |. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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