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Blu-ray Review: Cannibal Holocaust
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Cannibal Holocaust Blu-ray Review

Cannibal Holocaust
Blu-ray
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Screenwriter: Gianfranco Clerici
Cast: Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes
Grindhouse Releasing
Unrated | 96 Minutes
Release Date: July 1, 2014

You know, it’s pretty damn hard to defend Ruggero Deodato‘s 1980 Italian adventure-horror film, Cannibal Holocaust. There are some truly distressing and repulsive images the director has created to get his point across. There is, however, an underlying message to the film, if you’re able to get past the often unwatchable acts on-screen.

Yes, this is an exploitation film – perhaps the most controversial exploitation film of all time – but it also works as a social commentary on modern civilization and what it means to be “civilized.” Gratuitous scenes of sexual violence and animal cruelty make Cannibal Holocaust hard to stomach, but the most disturbing aspects of the film is what Deodato is saying about modern society, specifically Western culture.

In the film, an American film crew has gone missing in the Amazon rainforest while on an expedition to film a documentary about indigenous cannibal tribes. The team consists of director Alan Yates (Gabriel Yorke), his girlfriend and script girl Faye (Francesca Ciardi), and two cameramen, Jack (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark (Luca Barbareschi). Anthropologist Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) agrees to lead a rescue team in hopes of finding the missing filmmakers alive.

As Monroe and his guides head deeper into the rainforest, they encounter two warring cannibal tribes, the Yanomamo and the Shamatari. Filmed primarily in the Amazon Rainforest with real indigenous tribes interacting with American and Italian actors, Cannibal Holocaust features real, genuine animal slayings as part of its exploration of “primitive” culture. The film’s most notorious scene involves the killing of a giant South American river turtle. We watch as it is decapitated and its limbs, shell, and entrails are removed by actors. It’s a stomach-churning sequence – one that had cast and crew members crying and vomiting on set.

Luckily, there’s an animal cruelty-free cut on this new three-disc Blu-ray set, distributed by Grindhouse Releasing. In addition to a new high-definition digital restoration of the original director’s cut and an incredible new digital stereo re-mix (as well as the original mono mix), this set also includes the original soundtrack album by Riz Ortolani, newly remastered from the original studio master tapes. Also included are two feature-length commentary tracks with director Ruggero Deodato and star Robert Kerman, and with stars Carl Yorke and Francesca Ciardi.

There are also new in-depth interviews with Deodato, Ciardi, assistant director/co-star Salvo Basile, and cameraman Roberto Forges Davazati. Grindhouse Releasing has also included previous supplemental material like interviews with Kerman, Yorke, and the Oscar-nominated Ortolani. This impressive release comes complete with a glossy 24-page booklet with liner notes by filmmaker Eli Roth, legendary horror journalist Chas Balun, Euro-music expert Gergely Hubai, and Italian exploitation film authority Martin Biene. There’s also a reversible cover with original art by illustrator Rick Melton and an embossed slip cover for collectors. It’s without a doubt the definitive release of the most controversial film ever made.

Deodato’s film introduced the concept of the “found footage” film, with raw footage of the expedition being brought back to civilization (New York City) and reviewed by television executives to determine if the footage is exciting shocking enough to be profitable. We – along with a screening room of unimpressed execs – act as voyeurs, watching as the American film crew falls victim to graphic brutality and sexual assault before being murdered.

Cannibal Holocaust is an ugly, nihilistic film. Deodato gets his point across – that we are just as uncivilized as those primitive flesh-eaters living in the jungle – but it’s in service of nothing; it’s just depravity for depravity’s sake. There’s a disturbing authenticity to the film – thanks to a grainy, handheld camera – but ultimately it means nothing. The repugnant characters get what they deserve and there’s no hope to be found in humanity. It’s a drag, man.

As unwatchable and unredeeming as Deodato’s film is, it’s still an important work in the way D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is – it puts on display a certain kind of ignorance and ugliness that is troubling to see, and reminds us that, while we live in a world of technological wonders and advancements, we are still an ignorant, primitive species.

Bottom Line: I don’t think Cannibal Holocaust is a must-see, but if you’ve already made up your mind to watch this controversial film, there’s only one way to see it – as part of Grindhouse Releasing’s definitive Blu-ray set.

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