Confession time, up until this past Sunday night I had never seen Cannibal Holocaust. I've had opportunities over the years but never actually watched it, and I'll admit that it was due in part to the fact that I had always heard about how disturbing and horrible it was. I honestly was intimidated by it. There were other movies that I'd felt that way about, but eventually sat through and lived to tell the tale, but this one for some reason I had never forced myself to endure.
But then I saw A Serbian Film last December, and well, I figured if I could make it all the way through that, then dammit I should be able to make it through anything. Seriously, if that movie doesn't desensitize you to pretty much everything, then nothing will. The producers of A Serbian Film should make t-shirts like that you only get once you've made it all the way through the movie, like the Beach Body Insanity workout shirt or whatever. So I sat down Sunday prepared to be disgusted, but not worried that it would be so bad that I couldn't make it through. In the end, not only did I watch the entire movie, but it was nothing like I expected it to be. In fact I was disturbed by the exact opposite of what I thought was going to be the worst part. I'll explain further, but not before warning any of you that haven't seen it for yourselves that from this point on there will be major SPOILERS.
Cannibal Holocaust follows a filmmaker on an expedition to the jungles of Brazil to discover the truth about what happened to a group of four young documentary filmmakers who disappeared on a similar expedition to film two legendary tribes of cannibals. Once he arrives, he and his two guides enter the jungles searching for clues as to the whereabouts of the cannibalistic villagers and what exactly became of the other group. They work their way into the first village without much trouble, exchanging various items with the people before finally be granted entrance. He stays the night, with the tribe's leader telling them stories of the kids who had come through, but without a translator it doesn't appear to make much sense.
The second group, known as the tree people are a much more violent and well-hidden group. It takes the filmmaker killing a couple of the tribe members before they're granted entrance to their village. On the way there, they come across the skeletal remains of the other filmmakers. Their skulls and various other bones are tied together and dangle from a tree as a warning to trespassers. Once inside the village, he sees the cans of film from their cameras, and although it takes some doing, he manages to get it and take it back to the US.
Once he arrives back home, he goes on a talk show circuit, doing interviews with various news outlets, one of whom has made a deal to air the documentary footage the filmmaker retrieved from the cannibals. Only he's seen the footage already, and wants nothing to do with it, and assures them that airing it would be a mistake. He talks them into watching it themselves first, assuring them that after seeing it, they will want nothing to do with it. This is basically the halfway point of the movie, and where things completely flipped on me and I had no idea it was coming. I read practically nothing as far as specifics when it came to the plot, only that it was one of the most shocking and disturbing movies ever made, so if I should have known what was coming, I didn't.
The documentary footage begins with them on their way through the jungle with their guide, who falls into a trap not far into the proceedings, severely injuring his foot on some sort of poison tipped arrow. They hold him down, and cut the foot off, cauterizing it with a heated machete blade. The next time we see him, he's dead and they're covering him with leaves and dirt, and pressing on without a guide. At this point I'm starting to get the feeling that these aren't necessarily the good, innocent people who had fallen victim to savages that I believed them to be. Eventually the footage shows them arrive in the first village, and almost immediately they begin to terrorize the tribe. They scream at them, kick them, wave their weapons around, they even killed a baby pig for no reason! The absolute worst thing was one of them walked over to a straw hut full of children and set fire to it. It does nothing but get worse from there. They kill, rape the women, and brutalize these people, all the while filming the entire thing. As horrible as all this was, it was at this point that things just became silly. I'm sure there may be people like this in the world, but I can't imagine that four college aged students who were only interested in making a documentary would roll through a village in the jungles of Brazil known to be home to cannibals and start wrecking shit on this kind of a level. Burning children? Raping women? Murder? Seriously, who the fuck are these people?
When they run across the second tribe, they attempt the exact same thing. Hunting them through the woods, killing them indiscriminately. As I mentioned before though, this tribe is a more violent group, and it isn't long before they realize that these kids may have the guns, but they've got the numbers. They eventually overwhelm the film crew, taking them one at a time while the others flee, filming all the while. They beat them savagely, tear them limb from limb, brutally rape the one female member of the crew before beheading her, and the footage ends when the very last one is captured and his bloody face drops in front of the fallen camera before the film cuts off. Now, I'm not sure exactly what kind of message the people responsible for this movie were going for, I don't know if I was supposed to be disturbed more by what the kids did, or what ended up happening to them. All I know is, I was assured this was one of the most shocking and disturbing films of all time, and I would've been way more disturbed about what happened to these kids if I didn't feel like they deserved every bit of it. I was initially disturbed by their actions toward the villagers, but it went so far that it became comical. Unless these four college kids were to actually form together Voltron style and become the Super Anti-Christ, I find it hard to believe they were capable of such savagery for no good reason.
At the end, I guess I can sum up my feelings towards Cannibal Holocaust the same way Gordy did his about junkyard dog Chopper in Stand By Me. The kids had all been warned about this dog, whose training to "sic balls" was the stuff of legend, but when Gordy and friends found themselves on the run from Chopper, he turned out to be just a regular old dog. I began Cannibal Holocaust deathly afraid that it was going to sic my balls and in the end it was just another example of my buying into the hype. I will say that for it's time, it probably was pretty disturbing or shocking, but for 2011, post-Serbian Film, it's fairly tame, and what does manage to offend a bit doesn't make any sense whatsoever. I am glad I finally watched it, but I can't see myself ever revisiting it.