Finally, after a lengthy five-year wait and much anxiety over what the entire package would include, Grindhouse Releasing has unveiled the ultimate DVD edition of Ruggero Deodato’s cannibal masterpiece, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. To create a further stir of controversy, a publicity campaign declared the original DVD cover too gruesome for Ryko to print and stores to carry. But it is finally available, in all its uncut, gruesome glory, and remains one of the most beautiful, emotional, and gut-wrenching horror films ever made.
A group of four American filmmakers disappear into the Amazon jungle while producing a documentary on the lives of native tribes. A New York college professor tracks down a series of film cans left behind in a native village, containing footage that holds the secret behind the fates of the crew and the ultimate truth regarding humanity at its worst.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a rare film that indeed lives up to, and perhaps exceeds, its reputation as a bonafide video nasty, a film so rare that it was only available through muddy bootlegs which made the extreme violence and sadism all the more effective. Laserdisc and DVD releases began around the late 90s, presenting the film mostly uncut, though some versions blurred out pubic hair (Japan) or edited some sequences that pushed the envelope more than others (The UK, Australia). After almost 30 years (the DVD is a year too late to mark the film’s 25th anniversary), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST remains the bad boy it was in 1979, plagued with censorship problems worldwide, and will never age.
To proudly claim that you have experienced CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, you must endure the entire film itself, without once closing your eyes or using the fast-forward button. Some viewers will rush to skip past the gratuitous animal violence (the infamous turtle dismembering scene, a muskrat stabbed to death, a monkey’s face chopped off) or any number of the brutal native rituals (an adultress is brained in the skull with a rock, a pregnant woman gives birth standing up and her fetus buried alive in the mud, a young virgin is defiled by the filmmakers and is impaled on a wooden stake). What remains is still a rollercoaster ride of the senses, but for the full impact, watch the entire film from start to finish. Most horror fans already know of the strong similarities between this film and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but where BLAIR WITCH was a chilling story of what hides in the shadows and haunts our nightmares, HOLOCAUST is occupied with presenting real-life horrors, never turning the camera away to reveal a special effect. Everything is presented in a documentary format, creating the feeling of watching the closest thing to a snuff film one could imagine. The cinematography is flawless, both in the film portion with the professor investigating the disappearance of the filmmakers, and in the gutsy 16mm documentary footage which makes up the bulk of the second half of the movie. Additionally, composer Riz Ortolani’s score, while considered cheesy and melodramatic by some, works as both a beautiful counterbalance to what is seen on-screen and a mood-setter during some of the more graphic moments. In front of the camera, adult film actor Robert Kerman is top-billed, and is pretty much the star of the film, and it’s an interesting change of pace to see him in a role like this as opposed to his usual “dirty old man” roles of 70s XXX. The braver performances are from Gabriel Yorke, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, and Francesca Ciardi, as the cruel white invaders destroying native villages, killing animals, raping random native women, mocking rituals of death, and finally meeting their comeuppance in the final reel. Yorke and Ciardi especially make lasting impressions as lovers Alan and Faye, who one would think would be the voice of reason but instead corrupt everything they touch.
Deodato had already tackled the cannibal film subgenre with JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, the 1976 classick which is a cakewalk compared to CANNIBAL. JUNGLE’s primary villain was the jungle itself, acting as a character intending to kill a foreign outsider trying to escape the wilderness, but CANNIBAL wants to have its cake and eat it, too, by presenting as villains both the cannibal tribe as savage barbarians who have no feelings or compassion for their fellow humans and the American filmmakers who take and destroy what they want with no regard for others. Many will argue that Deodato’s film is sheer exploitation, condemning the violence while lovingly wallowing in it to provide thrills for the audience. If that’s all that some people can see in this film, they’re missing the big picture. The last line of the film reads, “I wonder who the real cannibals are,” and truer words couldn’t be spoken. While the tribal natives commit acts of violence as part of their society and ways of life, moviegoers and TV watchers (including the audience of this very film) eat up the violence with much fascination and gusto, at the same time condemning the “savages” for their “inhumane” behavior. Simply said, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a brilliant film. Repulsive, disturbing, and soul-staining, as well as moving, emotional, and thought-provoking, Deodato never made a better film and one hopes his ideas for a sequel fizzle out quickly. Nothing can compare to the original CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, and thank the exploitation gods Grindhouse has made it available for its first official United States home video release.
The film, presented on disc 1, opens with a disclaimer explaining that the film remains uncut, and includes all the controversial animal violence footage. It’s a well-written disclaimer and even quotes Thomas Jefferson and George Santayana (!). The uncut feature film is letterboxed at 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV’s, and it’s doubtful the film will look better. Like Grindhouse’s transfer of CANNIBAL FEROX, there is a good amount of grain present in some sequences, namely the opening credits, the documentary footage, and during reel changes, but unlike FEROX, the color palette is strong throughout, especially the abundant greens and reds. The image is beautifully clean and sharp, with the stellar cinematography by Sergio D’Offizi looking better than ever and every scene is crystal clear. Two audio options, a stereo remix and the original mono mix, are included, both in English (the language the entire film was shot in). The stereo mix delivers Ortolani’s exquisite musical score and dialogue strongly, and the mono mix isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.
The key extra on Disc 1 is the audio commentary by director Ruggero Deodato and actor Robert Kerman. It has a similar dynamic to the previous CANNIBAL FEROX commentary with Umberto Lenzi and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, offering their opposing views of the film at certain moments, but Deodato and Kerman were recorded together, with a female translator to help Deodato with his English. The pair discusses the locations for the film, memories of the cast and crew, including composer Riz Ortolani, shooting the infamous scenes of violence (including the indefensible animal violence portions, which Kerman is rightfully disgusted at), working with the native tribes of the Amazon, and the film’s run-ins with the law and censors. Deodato also points out a supporting cast member who was originally cast as “Alan”, but who bailed at the last minute, and reveals that United Artists was interested in buying the movie!
An interesting option to view the film by selecting Playback Options on the main menu is an animal-cruelty-free version, which will probably be viewed more often than the uncut feature version by second-time viewers. It is strongly recommended to see the full hard-strength cut of the film first, but thankfully Grindhouse realizes how polarizing these scenes are and offered this alternate version. Also included on this menu is a selected scene video commentary with Deodato and Kerman; selecting this option, press “Title” or “Top Menu” when a small bloody skull appears in the bottom right corner and see Deodato and Kerman recording their commentary. It’s interesting to see the interaction between them on video as well as audio, so this is a great extra to see the two of them together. It’s also valuable to see both of them watch and comment on the turtle scene.
The section entitled “Inside the Green Inferno” offers a variety of supplements, all providing fictionalized backgrounds for the film’s characters: “The Filmmakers” is covers the characters of Alan Yates, Faye Daniels, Jack Anders, Mark Tomaso, and Filipe Ocanya; “The Search Team” includes bios for Dr. Harold Monroe, Chacko Losojos, and Miguel Lujan; “The Cannibal Tribes” discusses the three tribes in the film, the warrior tribe the Yacumos, the tree people the Yanomamo, and the river people the Shamatari; “The New Findings” is a gallery of “artifacts” from the expedition. “The Last Road to Hell Alternate Version” is the most interesting portion here, presenting a differently edited version of the African atrocities documentary, which appeared in several export versions of the film. As an added bonus, the entire shooting script is also included for those with DVD-ROM capabilities! Disc 1 is concluded with five theatrical trailers: Italian, International (with wavery sound quality), German, a rare U.S. trailer from the film’s brief grindhouse run, and the recent re-release trailer.
Disc 2 is where the best extras have been compiled, starting with the hour-long Italian documentary “Into the Jungle: The Making of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST”, produced for the Alan Young Pictures DVD released in Italy. Interviews with director Ruggero Deodato, actor Luca Barbareschi, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, set designer Antonello Geleng, photographer Paolo Cavicchioli, and composer Riz Ortolani are quite illuminating into the creative process behind the film and actually are more revealing and entertaining than the feature commentary on Disc 1! There’s plenty of incredible behind-the-scenes footage, which really blows the mind with every frame, and insight into scouting out the remote locations, working in the unbearable shooting conditions, experiences with the native people, shooting on both 35mm and 16mm, dealing with the dangers of the local wildlife, and of course the violent scenes throughout the film.
Following up the documentary are three exclusive interviews with stars Robert Kerman and Gabriel Yorke and composer Riz Ortolani. Kerman is fascinating, talking about working with Deodato and Lenzi in the Italian film industry, his impressions of the script and reaction to the extreme violence in the film, and various other thoughts on shooting this infamous moment of his career. Kerman is much more inhibited here than in the commentary (and maybe a little depressed and melancholy), making this a lot more enjoyable to see him unbridled and letting it rip about his experiences on the film, including the fact that he fought with Deodato almost daily on the film, his passionate feelings on the animal violence, and the fact that the lady executive in the film was his girlfriend at the time. The interview is marred by very shoddy camerawork, but Kerman is such an interesting subject it’s still an excellent watch. Ortolani briefly discusses how he became involved with the film, approaching the process of scoring Deodato’s work, and his use of various instruments and themes. Yorke opens his almost hour-long (!) interview with a pretty spot-on recreation of his infamous impaled woman speech, and talks about how he became involved with the film, shooting in the jungles of the Amazon, feeling uncomfortable with both the violence and sex content, his work relationships with the cast and crew, the rugged and brutal shooting conditions leading him to worry that he was appearing in a snuff film, and his surprise at the film’s cult following.
A massive series of animated stills galleries cover just about every image ever made connected to the film, from production stills and behind-the-scenes photos to international posters and video art and newspaper articles and interviews. All set to the beautiful Riz Ortolani soundtrack, this is a wonderful and exhaustive piece which can be viewed in sections or as one entire program. And yes, the infamous “piranha scene” still is in here. A complete unnecessary Necrophagia “Cannibal Holocaust” music video can be skipped without hesitation. Bios for Ruggero Deodato, Robert Kerman, and Gabriel Yorke cover most of their careers and filmographies provide reference for their other work. It’s too bad there isn’t any info on Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, or Luca Barbareschi. A selection of trailers covers current and future released by Grindhouse: THE BEYOND, CANNIBAL FEROX and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD should all be purchased by every DVD Drive-In reader. Lucio Fulci’s CAT IN THE BRAIN has been in legal hell for years, so it’s questionable if this one will ever come out. THE TOUGH ONES is aka Umberto Lenzi’s ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON, a gritty Italian crime flick that will be most welcome on a region 1 DVD release. The most exciting trailer here is SCUM OF THE EARTH, S.F. Brownrigg’s quintessential Southern sleaze masterpiece that this writer hopes and prays will receive the lavish special edition treatment it deserves! Grindhouse’s David Szulkin is the Brownrigg expert of the cult film universe, so with him involved, this could be a superb release. Make it so, Grindhouse! GONE WITH THE POPE is the obscure, reportedly unfinished follow-up to Duke Mitchell’s MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE. It certainly looks as ludicrous and exciting as its predecessor! Strangely, no PIECES trailer, which is the next special edition coming from GR. And what ever happened to AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL?
Easter eggs on Disc 2 include the trailer for the vastly overrated DEBBIE DOES DALLAS (complete with hardcore footage!), starring our Mr. Kerman, multiple other trailers in the biography section of Ruggero Deodato, video footage from a Kerman-Deodato reunion at CultCon 2000 (with David Hess appearing as well), and video footage of the world premiere of Grindhouse’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST re-release. A liner notes booklet, with an eye-catching Indonesian (?) poster as the cover, contains an essay by Chas. Balun, typically well written in Balun’s engrossing style, and rare behind-the-scenes photos; the booklet opens up into a beautiful reproduction of the original Italian locandina. The packing of the entire set is quite striking; a slipcase contains a two-disc amaray that opens like a book, with the infamous impaled woman photo serving as a background for the jewel-case within, and the discs are labeled “Reel 1” and “Reel 2”. Everything about this package screams love and affection for the film and its legacy as a classic!
While it’s doubtful this DVD will be taken off the shelf very often, it’s an essential addition to every film fan’s collection, and it goes without saying that this is one of the very best discs of the year. This is a limited edition of 11,111, so be sure to grab a copy as soon as possible. Your collection needs this set, whether you think so or not! (Casey Scott)
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