Found Footage Horror (Cannibal Holocaust)
A recent comment I read about the “Found Footage” Horror Genre by one of my facebook chums has inspired me, probably to the detriment of most my audience, the origins of the genre.
Many people most closely associate this particular genre with The Blair Witch Project, the little independent film that came out in 1999, and it makes sense for them to think that. Before the Blair Witch, however, there were a number of “found footage” films which were small, independent ventures. The first I remember ever watching was “The McPherson Tape” which I might get to reviewing one day. Right now, though, I would like to take this time to talk about the grandfather of all Found Footage horror movies which, I might add, is the very first one: Cannibal Holocaust.
Cannibal Holocaust was released in 1980 by Italian director Ruggero Deodato it was written by Gianfranco Clerici. The two would collaborate on a number of films but this one, as you’ll find out, is easily one of the most controversial horror movies of all time.
Before I even get into what this film is about, I will explain what was controversial about it. The clearest way to understand this is that, at the time, no movie had been released under the premise of “found footage.” It was a high concept for film-goers at the time, seeing as they had never experienced anything quite like it. When it was released in Italy it took ten days before Deodato, Clerici, and the rest of the production staff were arrested for obscenity, and then going so far as to Charge Deodato with murder. Here’s why:
The film depicts the actual killing of several animals for the purpose of filmmaking. As such, the film was banned in several countries for animal cruelty and, while some have lifted the ban, it is still in place for many countries.
Deodato was charged with murder because authorities believed that the depictions of death were actually authentic and that Cannibal Holocaust was an actual snuff film. It didn’t help that Deodato had all of the actors on a public appearance ban for one year in order to make the illusion seem real. After an extensive search, all actors were found and the charges of murder dropped. Sooo what’s this movie even about anyways?
Well I will do my best to give a synopsis that doesn’t give too much away.
The film starts off with a documentary about a missing American film crew who went to shoot a documentary about cannibalistic tribes in the Amazon. The team that goes to find them are another film crew and an Anthropologist named Harold Monroe. What they find is a tribe that is very hostile towards them, but after some convincing they are finally led to a shrine of bones which are soon revealed to be the bones of the original film crew that went missing. Hanging from the bones are film reels that the natives allow them to take. Monroe and his team take it back America to see the raw footage and present it as a documentary.
The reels are reviewed and thus the “found footage” portion of the film begins. The rest of the movie shows the film crew trekking through the jungle, killing animals for food and, again, this is where the actual animal cruelty comes in. Eventually their guide is bitten by a snake and they are forced to continue on their own. The tribes people are tortured and humiliated in various ways for the sake of the film crew’s movie, and it becomes very clear to the audience that they are essentially the villains of the story who have no regard for the natives, the jungle or, ultimately, even each other. I will spare you the gory details, but rest assured there is plenty of death, blood and cannibalism to justify the name of the movie. In some unedited versions, there is even a montage at the end that takes real news footage of executions and puts them in for even more realism.
So, is it good? I would say it’s an interesting piece of film history and, whether or not you agree with it, the choice to actually kill animals and then putting the news footage at the end tricks the audience into thinking that maybe the film crew and some natives were really killed. It certainly worked on Italian authorities.
The film’s merit relies on the somewhat heavy-handed message that perhaps it’s the modern world and the media who are the real monsters, or cannibals in this case. A somewhat cliché argument if you ask me. For horror fans and film buffs, this is something you shouldn’t pass up. That being said, I do not recommend this movie to anyone squeamish in the “general population.” Stick with the latest from Pixar or something.
ANYWAY that’s it for now.