Cannibal Holocaust (Blu-ray)
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Shameless Screen Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Mark McManus / Jari Kovalainen (29th September 2011).
The Film

Since its release in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust has been the subject of much controversy, especially in the UK, where it has, at various times, been the subject of a ban and then heavy censorship.

DVD Compare contributor Jari Kovalainen has already written an extremely eloquent review of the film based on Grindhouse Releasing’s US release of the uncut version of the film. He has kindly given permission for elements of that review to be reproduced, so at this stage I’ll let him do the talking.

“There are some films which are labelled ‘notorious’. There are some films which have such a reputation that some people simply haven´t dared to see them. There are some films which others simply hate, but others love. There are films which will be talked and debated over, probably forever. ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ by the Italian director Ruggero Deodato is such a film, living up to its reputation; for the good, and unfortunately also for the bad.

“Two horror ‘sub-genres’ in Italian exploitation cinema had the tendency to find those certain limits - of how much can you show on the screen, and how much violence and killing can you deliver for the audience. ‘Nazi exploitation films’ and ‘Cannibal films’ really tested those limits, making them a few of those sub-genres in the horror films, where even some of the biggest horror-fans don´t always want to see them. Cannibal films took some influences from the Italian ‘Mondo films’, often adding a documentary-feel to achieve a certain ‘authentic look’ to the film and in such a way make the scenes even more rugged.

“The plot of the film is actually quite a simple, but inventive one. Four young documentary filmmakers; Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke), Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen), Mark Tomasso (Luca Barbareschi), and their guide Felipe Ocanya (Ricardo Fuentes) head to the Amazon jungle in South America, to make a documentary film about the cannibal tribes that are living there. They disappear. The film actually starts from the point where these filmmakers are already lost in the jungle, and New York Anthropologist, Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) is keen to go in the Amazons to look for them, to find out what happened. This ‘search team’ consists also of a guide Chaco Losojos (Salvatore Basile) and his young right hand man. The basic structure of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ consist two trips to the Amazons; first made by the ‘rescue team’, and the other made by the ‘filmmakers’ who disappeared, and their story is shown when the footage that they had been shot is found and projected in New York.

“Cannibal Holocaust is stretching the boundaries of good taste and what is actually wise to be shown on the screen. The infamous reputation of the film comes from the various scenes of violence, rape and killing, which happen in the jungle. In the first part of the film (following the ;rescue team’) the characters, and also the viewer, look at things mainly from the outside, observing the cruel life of the tribes and their hostile attitude towards their own people and other tribes, but in the second part of the film the viewer is sucked inside the fate of the young filmmakers, also questioning their motives and ways of making their documentary. These various vicious images and the cruel behaviour of people are both the strength and the weakness of the film. I doubt that anyone can deny how powerful and also disturbing an experience the film is, gluing the viewer to their seat; watching the screen whilst feeling sick at the same time. Many people probably have a certain ‘love-hate’ feel towards the film - a mixed package - but there are also those who feel nothing but hate, at least when certain scenes are shown on-screen.

“The ultimate strength of the film is the fact that it really goes under your skin; making you uncomfortable, scared, shocked and curious. The documentary style used in the second part of the film is very well done, and the actors (no matter how young and inexperienced they might be) do a pretty good job of portraying their emotions, when they quickly turn into the mean spirited exploiters, creating violence and mayhem for the “sake of art” which eventually turn against them. Some of the bloody make-up effects also worked great, and the documentary camera style added that ‘realism’"

Thanks again to Jari for those words.

To say the film is not for everyone is on an understatement, and even over 30 years later it really does have the ability to shock and disturb. Like or loathe it, the film’s legacy is impossible to deny, especially when it comes to the recent spate of ‘found footage’ films like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, [REC], et al.
While the film has been released uncut in many other countries, in the UK viewers have not been lucky (or unlucky!) enough to have access to the full version.

Originally refused a certificate altogether, and then released in 2001 with nearly 6 minutes of cuts, Shameless are now giving us two almost complete versions of the film.

The first verison, at 92m 6s, has had all previous cuts waived, with just 15s remaining out of bounds, showing as it does the killing of a small mammal. The second version, at 91m 53s, is a brand new edit of the film created just for this release by direct Ruggero Deodato. While running shorter, the film is listed by the BBFC is being passed with no cuts made, as Deodato obviously pre-empted the BBFC when re-editing the film, by removing or masking some footage of animal death.

Indeed, when this release was announced, it was accompanied by a statement from Ruggero:
“At the time, I would have preferred not to kill the animals during the making of the film, but this was requested by the producers. We’d sent them some early dailies and they kept calling us on set in the jungle asking us to shoot increasingly bloody scenes.

“I would not change anything to the film, its structure and content, aside from the fact that, now – thirty years later – I’ve reassessed the way the animals were dealt with. Now I would not do it.”

So, does the film suffer from the remaining cuts? As opposed to censorship as I am, and despite owning the uncut Grindhouse release, I would say that both versions of the film included here are legitimate, and are both just as powerful as the uncut version. The cuts don’t suddenly turn the jungle action into happy fluffy bunny land – those put off by the mere thought of the film will not have their minds changed, while those who have always wanted to see what the fuss was about will have their questions answered in spades.

Video

The 1080p AVC presentation on this disc is a real treat. It’s actually quite a revelation to see such clean and vibrant images on display, given the film’s low budget and ‘grindhouse’ trappings.

The film is shot in with a mix of 35mm for the bookend scenes, with the ‘found footage’ sections filmed in 16mm. While the difference between the two is obvious, as a stylistic device it works well, and the transfer presents both formats well.

The 35mm footage is nice and sharp, with good colour saturation and contrast, while the 16mm sections exhibit more grain and are slightly softer, but it’s good to see that no attempt has been made to hide the limitations of the format with unnecessary DNR or other processing.

While it’s not reference quality demo material, all in all it’s fair to say the film has never looked better on home video, and I dare say it’s a better viewing experience than would have been had down the local flea pit upon the film’s original release.

Audio

The audio options of Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo (both in English) on the disc are both generally very good. As with the video, it’s not demo stuff, and there’s not a huge amount of dynamic range, but the sound is clean, and dialog clear. There are a few instances where dialog is slightly out of sync, but I would put this down to the original ADR (of which there is a lot), rather than an issue with this transfer.

Background and atmospheric sounds are nice and clear, while the lush musical score – which ranges in style from quite grand and epic to intimate – is also well served.

We can be grateful that Shameless have resisted the temptation to give us a pointless 5.1 remix.

The disc does not include any subtitles, which is a shame, but several instances of overlapping dialogue would have no doubt made for some confusing reading.

Extras

There is a nice selection of extras on this disc, the main one for me being the documentary The Long Road Back From Hell (40m 20s), specially produced for this release. Featuring interviews with horror film specialist Kim Newman, Professors Julian Petley and Mary Wood, director Ruggero Deodato, and actors Carl G. Yorke and Francesca Ciardi, this documentary provides and excellently balanced and (as far as the actors are concerned) often brutally frank look back at the film.

While Newman and the profs provide a good context for the film, its reception upon release and its continuing power to shock, Deodato and his actors recall the often gruelling filming process. Deodate discusses the pressures he faced from the producers and financiers to film ever more extreme footage, while Yorke and Ciardi talk about how they were often shocked to find out what they were involved in, and the effect that had. Ciardi, for example, admits to wiping the film from her CV for many years.

Film & Be Damned (40m 28s) is made up of additional and extended interview footage of Deodato and Yorke not used in the main doc, and provides a bit more detail and depth to the areas discussed there. Definitely worth a watch for those who want to know more.

Next up is the film’s trailer (2m 58s) and then the ‘Shameless Trailer Park’, a selection of 32 trailers for various films, either announced or already released by the company.

Finally, both versions of the film get a video introduction from Ruggero Deodato.

While the disc isn’t overflowing with a huge quantity of extras, the documentary and extended interviews more than make up for that in terms of quality. While those who dislike the film are unlikely to have their minds changed, I would hope that the context and academic discussion provided will at least help them see the film in a new light.

Overall

When compared to both the recent ‘found footage’ and ‘torture porn’ genres, the films holds up extremely well – whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of personal taste.

Cannibal Holocaust is not really the kind of film that you might ‘enjoy’. Indeed, you may feel the inexplicable urge to scrub your eyes after watching it. However, there’s no denying that it holds an important place in film history, especially in the UK as a part of the ‘video nasties’ hysteria of the early 80s, and this disc gives new and returning viewers a chance to evaluate the film on its own terms, away from that maelstrom.

Film reviewed by: Mark McManus and Jari Kovalainen
Technical specs and extras reviewed by: Mark McManus

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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