Starring Robert Kerman, Gabrielle York, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Releaesd by Grindhouse Releasing
It’s been called one of the most vile and disgusting movies ever made. My wife, a hardcore horror fan if there ever was one, can find no redeeming qualities in it. Some of the cast and crew were brought up on charges because of their participation in the film. So how is it that Cannibal Holocaust has not only remained a favorite of horror fans everywhere, but has recently taken on an almost mythic quality because of it’s content?
The answer is pretty simple; there’s nothing else out there even remotely like it. Sure, The Blair Witch Project ripped off the whole idea of a movie featuring footage recovered form “lost” explorers, and other cannibal films like Cannibal Ferox showcased all manner of excessive violence to and by natives, but there isn’t another film that is willing to push it all quite as far as Holocaust was able to do. Grindhouse Releasing saw the potential there not only for a definitive DVD release of the film, but a chance to make sure the record was set straight by those who were involved as to just what did or didn’t happen during the shoot.
Their solution? Put together a massive 25th Anniversary DVD of the film with pretty much every kind of feature a cannibal fan could ask for… and then get more. Because of some technical issues on our end it’s taken us longer than usual to get this review to you, and for that I apologize, but trust me; it’s worth the wait.
For those unfamiliar, the film finds a professor named Harold Monroe (Kerman) out on an expedition to the wilds of the Amazon to search for four filmmakers who were shooting a documentary there about cannibalism in modern times and were never seen from again. The first half of the film details the professor’s journey to find out what happened to the kids, but it also sets us up to see just what kind of people the Amazonian natives are. While not all together pleasant, their lifestyle is one that the professor reluctantly accepts, though he’s unable to condone some of their actions. He soon discovers the remains of the filmmakers, as well as most of their equipment and film reels.
Cut back to New York City, and Monroe sits down with some of the edited footage to see if he can piece together the fate of the filmmakers, since the condition of their remains indicate they didn’t die by anything close to natural causes. The footage they shot revealed a path of destruction the group went on across the Amazon, torturing and raping villagers, burning down their homes, and in general giving them great cause to hate the white man. When their ugly retribution comes, you get the feeling that they earned every torturous second the natives make them suffer through before finally killing them.
After seeing the whole story, Harold wants the footage destroyed. Those with a right to it refuse to let that happen until they see it for themselves, not believing anything could be as ugly as the picture he paints. This ongoing narrative allows the footage jungle footage to be intercut with goings-on in New York, which serve to give the viewer a moment or two to breath after the excessive, brutal violence. Finally, after witnessing the rape and consequential impalement of a native girl, the trio’s attempts to burn the villagers alive, and numerous other atrocities, the group agrees that the footage should never be seen by anyone. Ever.
Except, of course, horror fans around the world.
To say that Grindhouse’s treatment of Cannibal Holocaust is exhaustive would be to sell it short. I literally could not believe how much material they have put together for this 25th Anniversary release; no one will dispute that this is the definitive version of the film.
Disc One features a brand-new, high definition 16×9 transfer of the film, complete with a new stereo and mono sound mixes. It’s never looked better than this, which is a bit of an issue when the 16mm footage shot in the jungle takes over from the 35 of New York, because it’s hard to see the difference in quality at times. Not that this will take you out of the movie, by the time that footage is seen you’re too far in to probably notice. I know just how different it originally looked because the first time I ever saw the movie was on the big screen, thankfully, but overall it’s not all that distracting.
The main feature on this disc is the commentary track done by director Ruggero Deodato and star Robert Kerman. At first Deodato speaks only Italian with an interpreter, but he quickly switches to broken English for the most of the film, giving sharp contrast to Kerman’s mild New York accent. The track itself is filled with all sorts of great information from how most of the more elaborate effects were pulled off (the iconic image of the girl impaled by the pole? She was on a bicycle seat!), Ruggero’s feelings on his practice of really killing animals on camera (he says more than once he wouldn’t do that today if given the option), as well as Kerman’s recollection of what it was like to shoot in one of the most inhospitable environments imaginable.
There is also the option to watch the animal cruelty-free version of the film, which only eliminates a few minutes of footage all told and may help you sleep better if the on-camera killing of monkeys and turtles is too much for you, and with selected on-camera commentary. This is a pretty cool feature that I’d like to see more of, but unfortunately usually only crops up in independent releases. While watching the film with commentary, at certain points a skull icon will appear. If you click the “title” button on your remote, it switches to footage of Ruggero and Kerman recording the commentary while the movie plays between them. It’s a cool way to break up the commentary track and give you face to put to the voices. And if I may say so, Ruggero’s looking good for his age. Kerman, on the other hand… not so much.
The other prominent feature on this disc is “Inside the Green Inferno”, a collection of back stories for all the characters in the film, from documentary director Alan Yates to Professor Monroe to the native tribes they come across in the jungle. It’s a collection of behind the scenes and production photos with extensive text on everyone mentioned. Just another example of how far Grindhouse went to deliver the best possible version of this movie. There is also an alternate opening for The Last Road to Hell, the documentary the filmmakers did before going to the Amazon, which oddly enough features completely different credits than the ones seen in the film and is a bit longer. Finally, you can read the entire script as a DVD-Rom feature, and there’s a collection of theatrical trailers for your enjoyment, as well.
And that’s only the first disc.
The primary feature on Disc Two is “In the Jungle: The Making of Cannibal Holocaust“, an hour-long look at the history of the film primarily told through the opinions of the director, cinematographer, composer, and a few others. Ever aspect of making the movie is covered in here, from the effects to the violence to the backlash once the film was out. Praise is heaped on Deodato from pretty much the entire Italian crew, everyone hailing him as brillliant and one of Italy’s few great filmmakers.
Then we have a section just for interviews, the first of which is a 35-minute chat with star Robert Kerman. This one starts off a bit dull, only one camera angle and a boring environment, but later the angle is switched around and the discussion gets more animated. It’s hard to tell if Kerman respects Deodato or fears him, though I get the feeling it’s a bit of both, and hearing his recollections on making a movie in a location that was only accessible by plane is pretty fascinating.
The next is a 5-minute interview with composer Riz Ortolani, who takes the time to explain how he got involved, what he tried to do different, and how much he still likes the film to this day. Ortolani goes into a bit more depth in the “In the Jungle” featurette, as well.
Finally the cream of the crop; a 51-minute (!) interview with Gabrielle York, who played the documentary director Alan Yates in Holocaust. His recollections are much different from Kerman’s, as he was forced to do all sorts of nasty stuff on camera; stuff that you can tell still disturbs him to talk about. It’s definitely the best of the bunch in terms of behind the scenes anecdotes and real, raw emotions regarding the Holocaust’s disturbing subject matter. To top it all off it was shot by Feast director John Gulager! The difference between the quality of cinematography on this interview and that of the one with Kerman is night and day, something else that sets it apart from the other two interviews.
There’s a still gallery, which is in a slideshow presentation with pieces of the memorable score played over them, biographies and filmographies for Ruggero Deodato, Robert Kerman, and Gabrielle York, the music video for Necrophagia’s “Cannibal Holocaust” (shot by Manson Family director Jim Van Beber), and trailers of upcoming Grindhouse releases.
One of the easter eggs I found features footage from Cult Con 2000, where they had a Cannibal Holocaust panel, and since Ruggero and Kerman are wearing the same outfits they are when they’re doing commentary, one can assume that commentary was done shortly after this convention. The highlight of this panel is the simple fact that it’s a lot more fun than anything else, and features the group interacting with fans once it’s all over. Great stuff.
The menus for the discs themselves are very well put together and easy to navigate. The packaging is great, as well. The DVDs are in a hard case that opens to reveal both discs, complete with movie reel graphic on them, and the whole thing is in a slip case which features the cover above. There’s a booklet with an intro piece of sorts by famed horror author Chaus. Balun, as well. Great stuff.
To say Grindhouse went above and beyond with this release of Cannibal Holocaust would be doing it a disservice, because they went so much further than that. The disc took many years to be put together and finally be released but for fans of the movie, and even those with just a causal interest in the film like I had going into it, it’s been worth the wait.
Try not to let the film’s infamy put you off. Yes, it is disturbing and graphic; yes, animals are killed on screen; yes, the effects are hyper-realistic. But after sitting down with this disc and digging through all the features, listening to the cast and crew talk about the movie and it’s impact on their lives, I believe Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most important horror movies ever put to film. This disc respects that importance to the utmost degree, and demonstrates the love and attention Grindhouse is willing to put into something to make the fans happy. I can’t wait to see what the come out with next (and I promise that one will be reviewed in a timely manner…)!
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