Cannibal Holocaust (1980)


Cannibal Holocaust, 1980
directed by Ruggero Deodato
starring Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen

When diving into the darker, grittier side of horror, Cannibal Holocaust is usually one of the first films that pops up billed as the most controversial, disturbing, and gruesome. It sits alongside Faces of Death and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Some might argue that revisionist history has done favors to Cannibal Holocaust, but in my opinion it still stands up as shocking, entertaining, and original. Hindsight allows viewers today to see the minor flaws in the found-footage style that is employed, but for the first horror movie to attempt the style, it’s not only respectable but downright effective.


Plot-wise, Cannibal Holocaust doesn’t provide anything particularly new, even at the time it was a rehash of the many Italian cannibal horror flicks that flooded the market. However, the film actually offers a rather scathing social criticism of greed, humanity, and journalism. Many of the messages criticizing human behavior are often ignored just due to the reputation and genre of the movie. Soundtrack-wise, there are many moments made perfect by the calm and melodic theme song being played over the most gruesome, depraved scenes. Even the opening credits are made tense by the ironically beautiful theme, given that most viewing the movie today are aware of the films notoriety and anticipating the absolute worst.


Upon release, many thought Cannibal Holocaust featured actual snuff. Through a combination of the found-footage style and the rather convincing special effects, the director of the film was charged with obscenity and the film was banned in several countries. The snuff allegations were proven false, but the real dark mark on the film is the animal abuse shown, which was found to be genuine. Even if the animal murders were theatrical, it’s something that I can never really sit through comfortably. While these scenes are included to advance the feeling of the main characters losing morality and a connection from normal society, they are hard to sit through and built on shock value.


Ultimately, though, it’s hard to say a whole lot about a movie that has had so much controversy and attention surrounding it. Cannibal Holocaust is, though, surprisingly well done despite a generic plot. The style is original and well executed, the gore effects are obviously so convincingly done, and the story moves along at a fairly consistent, smooth pace before finally leading into the chaotic finish. The reputation of the film is so high that some people might be let down, but overall, Cannibal Holocaust is the king of exploitative, low-budget, trashy gore. It’s unsettling, intentionally disturbing, but worth the venture.



4 thoughts on “Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

  1. Remarkably, I still haven’t seen this one. It looks pretty convincing all things considered. The animal cruelty I was not aware of. Kind of off putting. Insightful review though. Makes think It would be worth a viewing regardless. Nice work.

    • Appreciate the kind words, thank you. Something I meant to bring up in this entry but neglected to was how if you watch this film today, the effects are still pretty solid, but not troublingly realistic. However, because so many people saw this film on a grainy, washed out VHS tape, it actually benefitted the effects made the film feel like something you shouldn’t be watching. It had that alluring shock value that a lot of horror movies (particularly pseudo-documentaries and found-footage) aimed for but couldn’t reach. The director (I believe) was brought into court in order to prove the film was not actually a snuff film, which is where the unfortunate animal abuse was confirmed.

      There’s a documentary called “Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape” which discusses this movie and plays an excerpt showing how much of a different experience the film would be in that old, worn VHS presentation. Interesting little documentary if you’re interested, goes through the culture of early horror video tapes and the censorship in the UK that lead to the list of “video nasties,” which ultimately became a list for horror fans to go through and watch.

      • I very true about the grainy quality. I often watch movies from the 80s in HD and end up being rather disappointed by how the clarity tends to highlight flaws which were not there in terms of special effects.

        I will have to check out that documentary. There’s an interesting book written in the 80s called The Video Nasties by a British author named Martin Barker. It’s out of print and quite tricky to get hold of but is worth digging out of possible. It’s about the censorship frenzy surrounding video nasties and how it was simply another excuse to strip us of our civil liberties.

      • Just added The Video Nasties by Martin Barker to my to-read list, thanks for the recommendation. Looks a bit hard to find/pricy indeed and there doesn’t even seem to be a digital version floating about. Definitely seems interesting, though. It is weird that censorship almost always ends up on the losing side but no matter what time period you look at it is still unfortunately present (it’s boring people with boring ideas and if they’re not happy no one can be).

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