My university dissertation was about censorship in cinema, and the ways in which the law has imposed itself on what we are allowed to see on screen. It’s a shame I don’t have a copy of it because I think it was pretty good.
But one movie I didn’t mention in all of those ten thousand words is Cannibal Holocaust – partly because I had never seen it, and finding a clean copy of such a notorious movie at the turn of the millennium (when I still had dial-up internet, and there were certainly no streaming platforms) would have proven difficult. Having just watched it, it’s hard to know where to begin.
I’m generally not squeamish when it comes to movies. I have my limits, of course, just like everyone else, but I can usually hold it together. Cannibal Holocaust is as close as I have come to shutting a movie off and walking away.
It is really a movie of two halves. The first half shows a team of academics who go into the Amazonian jungle to discover the whereabouts of a group of young and reckless documentarians who had decided to get up close and personal with a tribe of cannibals, and the second half shows the footage the missing kids had filmed before they were slain.
The idea of the movie, and the way it is put together, is actually not too bad. It’s probably the first genuine example of the found footage sub-genre that The Blair Witch Project popularised two decades later… so even if you are fine with the horror of some of the scenes here (and I’m not sure why you would be), at the very least, you should probably throw blame in its direction for that little contribution to cinema.
There is a lot here to be upset about – scenes of rape, torture, forced abortion, along with scenes of genuine animal cruelty that are difficult to watch, and if that isn’t enough the final ten minutes are extremely grim.
And of course, there’s the cannibalism.
A lot of these graphic scenes are juxtaposed with some oddly upbeat music – the kind of sounds you would expect to see in a lighthearted seventies romp – lulling viewers into a false sense of security…
… and then someone’s foot is hacked off with a machete.
There’s undoubtedly a deeper message underneath all the blood and gore, but you’ve got to wade through a lot of entrails to get there.