Cannibal Holocaust: The Controversial Film that Shook the World.
Cannibal Holocaust is a 1980 Italian film directed by Ruggero Deodato. The film is renowned for its extreme and controversial content, as well as its pioneering use of the “found footage” technique in horror cinema. Despite generating significant outrage upon its release, it has been considered by many as a biting critique of contemporary society and mass media.
Reception and Controversy
Upon its release, the film ignited a whirlwind of controversy due to its graphic depiction of animal killings and intense realism. Many believed the on-screen deaths were authentic, which led to the film being labeled as a snuff movie. Legal action was taken against the director, Ruggero Deodato. The film reinforced Deodato’s reputation as an extreme filmmaker, earning him the nickname “Monsieur Cannibal” by the French.
Contrary to its controversial elements, Cannibal Holocaust has been interpreted as a raw analysis of contemporary society, as well as a strong indictment against the mass media. From the opening sequences, Deodato challenges conventional perceptions of savagery by juxtaposing images of a modern city like New York against discussions of cannibal tribes on television.
Found Footage Technique
The film is credited with being one of the first horror films to utilize the “found footage” technique, which incorporates amateur camera footage following the protagonists on their journey.
Television Broadcast and Festival Screening
In the late 1990s, a truncated version of the film was broadcast on Italian television channel Italia 7 due to its age-restricted content. The film was also screened at the Venice International Film Festival in 2004 as part of the Italian Kings of the B’s exhibition.
The film follows the story of four reporters known for their extreme stories—Jack Anders, Shanda Tomaso, Mark Williams, and Alan Yates—who are commissioned by a TV network to document cannibalistic tribes in the Amazon rainforest. After two months without contact, Professor Harold Monroe embarks on a search mission. Throughout their perilous journey, the team encounters deadly wildlife and ultimately reaches the village of the Yacumo tribe. There, they discover the grim fate of the reporters and obtain their filmed material.
The found footage reveals the moral degradation of the reporters, who manipulate and harm local tribes to create sensationalistic footage. Finally, they suffer violent deaths at the hands of the tribes they exploited.
Back in New York, Monroe is horrified by the footage and convinces the television executives to abandon the project. The film ends with Monroe pondering who the real cannibals are, challenging societal norms and media ethics.
The film remains notorious for its shocking scenes, including animal killings and explicit violence. Although the disturbing content led to bans and legal challenges, the film has retained a cult following and is often cited for its critiques of media sensationalism and societal hypocrisy.
Cannibal Holocaust had a lackluster performance at the box office in Italy, partially due to legal obstacles that delayed its release. The film earned a total of 360 million lire domestically. However, it found significant commercial success abroad, grossing a total of 200 million dollars. In Japan, it generated 21 million dollars and became the highest-grossing film after Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982).
An incident occurred during the film’s screening in Bogotá, as recounted by the director. A Colombian sound engineer on the film, who was a friend of the director, stirred up controversy by claiming that the film was an attack on indigenous people. He also spread rumors that the director was insane and actually killed people. These accusations led to a hostile reaction from Colombian journalists and cultural figures. The director, fearing for his safety, was eventually escorted by a local mobster to a secure location, where he stayed for a week before flying to Miami.
The film premiered in Milan on February 7, 1980. Shortly thereafter, vandals defaced film posters in Rome and Milan that depicted a woman being impaled. On March 12, 1980, a citizen’s complaint led to the nationwide seizure of the film, invoking an old fascist law against animal torture. The film was labeled as “against good morals and decency.” The United Artists, the film’s production company, withdrew its support, and the film’s legal team employed seven lawyers for defense, including Giuseppe Prisco.
The court’s verdict arrived on June 4, where the director Ruggero Deodato, screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici, producers, and distributor were sentenced to four months in prison, fined 400,000 lire, and given a one-month suspended sentence. Only the cinematographer, Sergio D’Offizi, was acquitted immediately. An appeal was filed by the producers, while the director shifted his focus on promoting the film internationally.
During the trial, Deodato brought the four lead actors to court to prove that they were alive, and stated that the cannibal scenes were simulated using special effects. However, the director and crew faced further legal jeopardy when it was revealed that animal killings in the film were real. Deodato defended these actions by claiming the footage was shot in a documentary spirit.
The film was finally cleared by the Italian Court of Cassation and returned to cinemas in May 1984 in its original version. Despite this, negative publicity had taken its toll, and the film attracted fewer than 14,000 viewers upon its return.
Details on Content Removal
The Italian censorship board initially released the film on February 6, 1980 (Censorship visa no. 74702), with an 18+ age restriction. The film was heavily edited, with 18 cuts totaling 326.4 meters of footage. Scenes of extreme violence, sexual assault, and animal cruelty were among those removed.
Cannibal Holocaust is perhaps the most censored film in cinema history, as it was banned in more than 50 countries worldwide. In the United Kingdom, it was categorized as a “video nasty,” a term used to label films banned for excessive violence.
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