Cannibal Holocaust~ Ruggero Deodato, 1980, Italy


The roughest, gnarliest, most controversial Video Nasty of them all is inarguably this one; Ruggero Deodato’s gory ass cannibal milestone Cannibal Holocaust, the king of cannibal cinema, and an early example of the found footage format in motion pictures. It’s 36 years old, and at the time of my writing this, it remains every bit the gut wrenchingly disturbing sleazefest it was when it was first unleashed. There’s just something so timeless about shameless, irresponsible degradation and filth… At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.


This is as wholesome and uplifting as this film gets.

Legends abound about what transpired behind the camera during this production, with many reports painting director Deodato as a cruel, abusive puppet master who manipulated and tortured his actors and crew. There’s also speculation about some of the dead bodies in the film being genuine (there’s some truth to that, by the way), and much like what happened with Snuff (another notorious video nasty) Deodato did in fact have to produce his actors, alive and well, before the authorities to prove that their onscreen deaths were, in fact, simulated. It’s true that audiences were easier to dupe in 1980, but even today the ample gore effects in Cannibal Holocaust hold up incredibly well, and the film remains visceral enough to satisfy contemporary splatter fans as much as it ever did. If you’re looking to subject yourself to the foulest, most gruesome cinema ever made, then Cannibal Holocaust is a movie you can’t afford to skip. A word to the wise, however, do not go into Cannibal Holocaust if you harbor any sensitivity of any kind. This is advanced level shit. Cannibal Holocaust boasts not only graphic blood and violence of the most aggressive sort, it also contains explicit sexual violence, as well as the on screen killing, torture, and mutilation of live animals, all of which is actual, not simulated. Because of this, it’s difficult to watch Cannibal Holocaust objectively, as the film seems to demand a morally motivated response separate from an assessment of its merit as a film. Frankly, this movie is just not suitable for most audiences, and even those who appreciate it will often condemn it at the same time. In truth, Cannibal Holocaust is only one of many films in the Spanish/Italian Cannibal genre, and nearly all of these feature the same sort of content. The only real difference is that Cannibal Holocaust is much better than most of these, and therefore, drastically more effective.


THE PLOT~ When a group of documentary filmmakers on assignment in the Amazon goes missing, Professor Harold Monroe somehow concludes that going after them isn’t a terrible idea. He departs, and somehow manages to find them, although they are predictably dead as fuck, which leaves Monroe with the consolation prize of returning to civilization with reel after reel of raw, undeveloped film shot by the crew before they met their grisly end. After developing this footage, we slowly piece together the truth; our missing filmmakers were, in fact, total douchebags, who antagonized the fuck out of the locals, and acted like the Amazon was some sort of perverse theme park designed by Caligula.  Again and again, they engage in acts of deplorable violence and degradation, even going to far as raping local girls and setting fire to villages just to get some exciting footage. With this added context, we don’t feel sorry for our film crew at all, even though we watch them die in graphic, and awesome ways. I don’t use the word “awesome” lightly, this part of the movie really is fantastic, and honestly, the murder of these buttholes is more than justified. I mean, what took these cannibals so long? They’re way more tolerant than I am. WAY more. I’d have killed them like, an hour after they showed up.


Those are some guts, I guess.

Nowhere else is the cannibal film’s hereditary roots in Mondo cinema more apparent than Cannibal Holocaust. The found footage format helps to display its close relation movies like Mondo Cane, Africa Addio, and Mondo Magic (among others), and it may be that bond that helped to give this film the impact it had back in 1980. It does have a documentary feel much of the time, with strategic use of steadicam and compositions that feel impromptu, lending a raw and authentic feel to the film’s grisliest sequences. It’s easy to see why this was confusing to audiences who were less accustomed to having to apply scrutiny to the films they viewed. Even today, the film is certainly quite effective, even outside of the violent sequences. Cannibal Holocaust feels well made, but still totally without polish of any kind, there’s just something inherently wild about the film.


Another crucial ingredient that helps to make Cannibal Holocaust as effective as it is is it’s score. While 90% of the onscreen visuals are natural landscapes, the music is a strange, haunting synth score, which was very much the fashion in 1980’s Euro Cinema. Here, however, that stylistic choice is profoundly effective, the most feels sterile, and almost alien at times, further emphasizing how foreign and unsafe the environment in Cannibal Holocaust is. It’s hard to know how much of this was deliberate or conscious, as well as to what degree it would have been noticeable to an audience in 1980, but to audiences today, the combination is fantastically off-putting.


Overall, Cannibal Holocaust is a remarkably difficult film, not just to watch, but to process. Perhaps more than any other subgenre, the cannibal films of the European 80’s seem to demand a moral response, because of the nature of their sensational content. From an objective standpoint, it’s patently ridiculous to suggest that Cannibal Holocaust isn’t a masterpiece. It’s an incredibly effective horror film that will likely remain potent and unnerving decades longer than contemporary films of the era. Its nigh Herzogian production makes it fascinating and engrossing, and deliberate attempts to top the onscreen sleaze and violence on display here still routinely fail more than 36 years later. But then one has to acknowledge the unsavory actions taken by the cast and crew in their irresponsible quest for onscreen sensationalism, and it becomes quite difficult not to condemn Cannibal Holocaust in much the same way you would Clownhouse, or even (to a lesser extent) Pulgasari. Cannibal Holocaust, therefore, almost requires two assessments… Morally, I’d say this is super fucked up. As a film? Sort of a masterpiece.



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Pulgasari~ 1985, Chong Gon Jo and Sang-Ok Shin


In the case of Pulgasari, nothing that happens on film is as important as what happened behind the camera. For reals, you guys.

Pulgasari is a product of North Korea, produced by, and made under the watchful, giant glasses of Kim Jong-Il, then son of fascist dictator Kim-Il Sung. The film’s director, Sang-Ok Shin was a South Korean director who Kim Jong-Il deliberately arranged to be kidnapped and brought back to North Korea with the express purpose of forcing him to craft propaganda films. It’s a set up more than worthy of a film itself, and it really happened.

One of the films brought about through this insane, childish union of sheltered, detestable puppet master and horribly victimized kidnapee is Pulgasari; a confused bit of communist propaganda packaged as a quasi-Godzilla imitation.

As much as the desire to hate this movie because of it’s connection to Kim Jong-Il might motivate critical bias, the truth is that Shin’s directorial talent shines and the film is actually pretty good, and certainly fascinating due to it’s history. It’s rare that a blatant violation of human rights results in a corny monster movie, but this time we got lucky.

THE PLOT- Korea- Villagers toil in fruitless labor, slowly starving to death as their leach like government sucks them dry of resources without the faintest regard for their quality of life. (It’s difficult for me to place what era Pulgasari takes place in. They have no electricity, no medicine, no science and no technology to speak of, and it’s North Korea… So… 1998? I imagine that, throughout Pulgasari, there are people on the other side of the North/South border checking their E-mail.) As the people are slowly beaten down by their corrupt monarchy, a dying, imprisoned blacksmith fashions a tiny golem like figure of a monster out of mud and rice. With his dying breath, he prays to the gods to bring life to his creation, and then they totally do. As rebellion amongst the peasants leads to all out revolution, this small monster begins to devour metal, especially iron, growing exponentially in size and power as he does so. Soon, the all-but invincible beast is discovered and named Pulgasari, and the villagers use his might against their oppressors, eventually leading them to victory.

And for seven or eight minutes, everything is awesome, until the peasants realize that they were only able to achieve this feat due to their use of Pulgasari, whose voracious hunger for precious resources is ultimately unsustainable. Knowing that they lack the ability to satisfy his enormous hunger, the people conclude that ultimately, this responsibility would force them to invade foreign nations, and eventually this would lead to the fall of mankind altogether. Through tragic sacrifice, the Pulgasari is destroyed.

SO, WHAT’S GOING ON HERE- It’s a funny thing, Pulgasari is blatant communist propaganda, with Pulgasari himself serving as a stand in for Capitalism. The message is clear- Capitalism is a destructive force that will motivate societies to war and battle over resources and only by throwing off the shackles of this burden can we hope to achieve global unity and peace… But that message only really comes into focus at the very end of the picture. For the lion’s share of Pulgasari‘s run time, the movie really looks like a strong piece of anti-fascist sentiment, incredibly strange, given the overtly fascist nature of the powers responsible for creating Pulgasari. It really does take a government as obtuse as North Korea’s to use their fascist powers to create anti-fascist propaganda and have no idea why that’s ridiculous. Must be nice, simply ordering a multi-generation execution of anyone who points out the obvious.

So, as a piece of propaganda, the film is successful, but not exactly in the way Kim Jong-Il probably wanted… Or at least, maybe not in the way he would have wanted if the intellectual mechanism needed for him to second guess even his most basic of thoughts hadn’t withered and disappeared from his brain after a lifetime of being surrounded by terrified Yes-Men. I have no doubt this his biding was done to the letter, I just think that he could have realized that the implication against his own regime was clear if he could have thought about it a little more critically. I guess maybe someone could have helped to point that out during the writing process if execution wasn’t a 100% certainty attached to literally any form of criticism whatsoever.

But as a movie, it’s enjoyable, and fairly solid. The rear projection effects look like garbage, but the monster suit is more than passable, and Kim Jong-Il’s absolute control over his subjects and complete disregard for their safety helped net him some pretty impressive sweeping battlefield shots. One criticism, however- I was shocked to learn this movie was shot in the mid-eighties. It looks on par with Toho productions of the early sixties. I would have expected more cutting edge work from a hostage with a gun to his head.

Pulgasari is, strangely, an enjoyable experience, and the propaganda is blatant enough so as to fail at being effectively subversive. I’d say the circumstances around it make it pretty relevant, and it’s not even terrible. I recommend it to kaiju fans, and would say that it’s required viewing for fans of Mondo Macabro style bizarre world cinema.