Cannibal Holocaust: The First Found Footage Film and Why It’s Trending

A lot of people were left shocked by last week’s episode of Euphoria. Some horror fans were left a bit more shocked as a familiar score. It soundtracked Cassie looking through that window with a Sissy Spacek style stare. The oddly calming, grotesquely titled “Cannibal Holocaust” popped up on the captions to confirm, and I nearly lost my mind.

Cannibal Holocaust looms over the horror genre as one of its most controversial films for so many reasons. Considering its ban in over 40 countries, the criminal charges that occurred after its festival release and the cruelty that occurred on set to both actors and animals, the use of its score in Euphoria was a very specific choice. And an odd one. It has caused curious minds to go looking for the answers, myself included.

I will admit, it is a film that I have avoided due to its depravity. However, I cannot be genuine if I haven’t experienced it. That being said, I do not agree with anything that has been done for “creative choices” in this film. I also do not encourage one to go looking for this film, as its content is highly traumatizing to both the viewers and the indigenous people that were exploited for this film. However, it is a critical point in the horror genre and should be examined as so, so let me do it for you.

Let’s Talk about the Cannibal boom

From 1972 to around 1988, there was a phenomenon in Italian horror known as the Cannibal Boom. Most of these films are referred to as video nasties, a term coined by English film media to describe low budget horror-exploitation films. It started with the film Man From Deep River and continued on from then.

Man from the Deep River - Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia
Man From Deep River (1972)

Man From Deep River is what kicked off the boom and is considered to be the first Italian cannibal film. Directed by Umberto Lenzi, the film follows a British photographer, John Bradley, as he gets kidnapped by a native tribe in the rainforests of Thailand. He is then tortured by the tribe and enslaved to the chief’s daughter, Marayå. He tries to escape multiple times and with the final attempt, he kills Marayå’s suitor. This leads to him being accepted into the tribe in which he marries Marayå. He joins the tribe’s war against a rival, cannibalistic tribe and his wife gets killed in the process of childbirth.

It tries to tie it in a metaphorical bow by having him not seize the opportunity to escape and joining the tribe for good. Overall, this film is very white-saviorist and features loads of animal killing, violence, gore and torture. However, this is the outline of what’s to come.

Next: Cannibal Holocaust–the most famous and controversial

Cannibal Holocaust released in 1980 and shook the world a bit with its controversy. It also held a spotlight on the cannibal boom and the possible malpractices that occurred when making those films. First, let’s have a brief overview of the plot. Then, we’ll discuss what came about after the film’s release.

The Plot of Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - IMDb

With a film crew going missing in the Amazon rainforest, an anthropologist goes looking for them only to find them dead and arranged in a gruesome manner. What remains intact is their footage, which is taken back to New York to be made into a documentary film. The first half of footage involves seemingly interesting footage and shows the filmmakers trekking through the rainforest. Things seem rough for these filmmakers, and the anthropologist along with many sponsors continue to push for this documentary to go through.

All of this motivation vanishes for the main anthropologist, Harold Monroe, when he watches the rest of the footage. The investors try to protest him pulling out and condemning the project until he decides to show them the footage themselves. What is shown is the format for the found footage style that would take the horror genre by storm in the late 1990s. The footage shows that the filmmakers aren’t the martyrs they seem to be and caused most of the horrific events that led to their demise. Yes, they’re the ones responsible for the famous impalement victim. And its cause makes it so much worse. Then the final reel of footage shows their demise, and the documentary is finally pulled after all of the carnage plays out on the screen.

What makes this film worse than any other horror film?

Yes, that is a fair question. There are three topics that make this film as well as many of the other Italian cannibal films: the brutal sexual violence, the animal cruelty and the mistreatment and misinformation of indigenous people. This film features not one but two brutal gangrape scenes that result in even more violent consequences, such as that infamous impalement scene and the beheading that occurs at the end. This was very typical of the genre, but Cannibal Holocaust took it to an extreme, especially for the first of its audience that was not used to the found footage style and worried that the acts may be real.

There was something that was quite real however, and that was the animal cruelty and deaths that occurred on screen. The most infamous of these is with a sea turtle but features at least five other animal deaths, dismemberments and torture. Most versions of this film that you can rent have these scenes cut out of it, but the footage is still around and still easily accessible. It is usually some of the first things that come up, so tread lightly when looking up this film if you are a bit more sensitive to the content that I am.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) | MUBI

Taking it to the final point, these films did nothing but contribute and stigmatize indigenous cultures further, and that doesn’t benefit anybody. There are multiple accounts of the indigenous extras being mistreated, specifically in the scene in which a hut is set on fire. There was no real training or professionals to perform the stunt, but by serious convincing by the director, Ruggero Deodato, the extras stood under the hut and a lot received minor injuries due to malpractice in pyrotechnics to save a buck.

Those are some brief overviews into what went so wrong with this film and gained it its notoriety, but it is what happened in regard to the format and controversial scenes that catapulted this film into absurd infamy.

How Cannibal Holocaust possibly ties into Euphoria

Ten days after Cannibal Holocaust premiered in Milan, the magistrate confiscated the film and arrested Deodato, who was charged with obscenity. All the distributions were pulled, and it was rumored that Cannibal Holocaust was actually a snuff film due to the silence and absence of the supposed actors in the film. This led to the charges being upped to possible murder charges.

Ruggero Deodato and His Mad Genius
Ruggero-Deodato-in-Cannibal-Holocaust-1980 - PopHorror

The actors however were very much alive–in fact they had signed contracts with Deodato to not appear in press coverage and keep their lives on the down low to create this speculation. Not realizing that would lead to severe criminal consequences, Deodato had to get in contact and gather all the actors involved in the found footage segment, in which they appeared both in court and on an Italian talk show to showcase that everyone was very much alive. They also had to show how they did the impalement effect, as that was one of the biggest topics for the real versus fake argument.

This didn’t save the film nor the director’s reputation, as the film was banned anyways for the violence and cruelty against animals, something that Deodato spend years defending but slowly turned into regret, with him admitting that he never should’ve brought animals into it in the first place. Cannibal Holocaust was banned in several countries and was only recently released on a wide release in 2005, one of which is heavily cut. Deodato was onto something, however, with the actors, as the same type of thing was done with The Blair Witch Project, and the disappearance of the actors just added that much more to the horror.

Alright, but what about euphoria?
Euphoria S2 E7 Recap: Lexi Howard, Director of the Year

As the season two finale drops tonight, I think the reference to Cannibal Holocaust through its haunting score is to focus on the consequences of the play, specifically Lexi as the director. Despite her good intentions and wanting to push boundaries for both shock and artistic methods, it’s going to backfire on her. Specifically, that backfire will be coming from Cassie, who now has this theme to this grotesque film tied to her character forever. I have a feeling we’re finally going to see what she means by claiming that she is crazier.

On top of that, Lexi’s play is going to be heavily tainted by the backlash and interruption that the episode is implying, and sadly Lexi will face the brunt of that. Our Life will be remembered as the one play with an epic musical number to “Holding Out for a Hero” and the time that the director’s sister couldn’t take the heat and stormed on stage. Therefore, much like Deodato, she will be remembered more for the absurdity rather than the actual art and message that pertains to the work.

FInal Thoughts on Cannibal Holocaust

I will be tuning into Euphoria in a heartbeat; however, I cannot say the same for Cannibal Holocaust. I do truly think that there is a good moral deep in there. The twist of the slaughtered filmmakers actually being the monsters really provides some decent commentary on how we exploit other cultures for our own wonderment and benefit. However, the things that occur both inside and outside of the film are inexcusable.

I do find it extremely amusing that this was used so casually in the show. I also feel terrible for the curious minds that think they are looking up just your run of the mill horror film. This film is very different, and can be described as a cult horror. Not in the sense of a small, dedicated fan base, but rather those of us who have seen it, understand it and then never really want to watch it again. I guess we’ll see if its use was purposeful in a few hours. But if not, that was a wild rabbit hole I just went down. I am honored to share it with you.

If you’re new to The Void of Celluloid, welcome. If you want to know more about horror and the things that go on within the community, please go follow on Twitter @OfCelluloid and Instagram @TheVoidofCelluloid. Happy to have you here, now please don’t watch Cannibal Holocaust. Or do. The world is your oyster.

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2 Comments

  1. A shocker for sure. Not a fan of the turtle scene either. I wouldn’t say Cannibal Holocaust is the most upsetting movie I’ve seen, but it’s up there. Cannibal Ferox is probably the next most notorious. My wife bought me that for my birthday one year. I get a laugh out of The Mountain of the Cannibal God because at the beginning, they’re clearly trying to coax a crocodile into eating a turtle and monitor lizard, but they fight back and end up kicking the croc’s ass. Doesn’t look like any of them died that day. Massacre in Dinosaur Valley is one of the tamer examples of the genre.

    1. I know that Cannibal Ferox/Make Them Die Slowly is up there and definitely caught a couple clips while researching this film. Brutal stuff and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. I would like to get all of these Italian filmmakers in a room and truly ask them why they were obsessed with the topic.

      Cannibal content is having a resurgence lately, I recommend a novella that has been making the rounds, Tender is the Flesh. It’s extremely graphic, but it is a very startling dystopia horror novella that left me quite mad, but I am thoroughly glad I read it.

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