The Film (1/5)
The original Cannibal Holocaust is widely regarded as one of the seminal films of the Italian exploitation explosion that consumed American grind house and drive-in screens from the late 60’s to the mid 80’s. It’s part gory cannibal flick-part cynical deconstruction of not only the cannibal movie genre but also the “mondo” documentaries that became surprisingly successful by giving audiences a front row seat to the weirdest and sickening at times cultures and customs from around the globe. Director Ruggero Deodato was clearly having his cake and eating it too; Cannibal Holocaust messed with the viewer’s head by mixing actual documentary footage of violent acts with obviously staged gore effects sequences and inviting us to try and differentiate between the two. It was a mind fuck and damn it all we loved it. So how can a movie purporting to be the “real Cannibal Holocaust” be anything but a shameless cash-in? Simple. Because the title of this particular movie isn’t really The Real Cannibal Holocaust, and although the DVD packaging places its release date as 1979 it was actually released in 1974. That was back when the movie was called Nuova guinea, l’isola dei cannibali (New Guinea, The Island of the Cannibals), which is also, to distributor One 7 Movies‘ eternal displeasure, its on-screen title. Give it to a fly-by-night schlock outfit like One 7 to remedy this situation by….slapping The Real Cannibal Holocaust as a subtitle under the Italian title. Problem solved, but I’m not a fool.
For the purposes of this review I will refer to the movie by it’s slapped-on title, but I will not be happy about it. The Real Cannibal Holocaust is an Italian/Japanese co-production and more of a Mondo Cane-style “shockumentary”-part ennui-inducing travelogue, part eye-opening expose, all accompanied by an Italian narrator (assisted by English subtitles) struggling to stay interested. The documentary focuses on the native tribes of New Guinea as the nation adjusts to its newly-reclaimed independence, with a cameo by a nervous Queen “Get me the fuck outta here” Elizabeth II. There’s a great deal of footage of tribal rituals in the areas of death and even dating. The film spends a few minutes spotlighting homosexuality among the tribes (hint: not a lot of ladies ‘round these parts), but there’s still plenty of naked female flesh on display. Keep your hormones in check gents because these ladies ain’t exactly ready for the pages of Hustler. If you’re expecting to get a peek at some real-life cannibalism I suggest you move on to something else; the topic is a mere afterthought here. The narrator mentions that a tribesman is arrested for killing and eating an enemy but all we see is that man being put on trial and sent to a prison work farm. No flesh is consumed, no blood shed. It’s all extremely dull and after a few minutes watching the movie becomes an ordeal from which salvation can come from either switching off the DVD or swallowing a cyanide capsule.
As a side note when I first started watching The Real Cannibal Holocaust I noticed something strange in the footage, like I had seen this movie before. And I had, sort of. Apparently scenes from this movie were lifted and used as stock footage in Bruno Mattei’s legendary shitball zombie flick Hell of the Living Dead. You know a movie sucks when it makes you hunger for the superior craftsmanship and entertainment value of Bruno fucking Mattei.
The movie is presented in a standard 1.33:1 full frame transfer that looks like it was ripped from a poorly-preserved film print. Picture quality is horrible but at least you can make out what’s going on, if you consider that a virtue in the case of this movie. An Italian 2.0 Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is provided, unspectacular but it gets the job done.
No extras are present on this disc. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Not even a trailer or trailers for other releases from One 7. Cheap bastards.
You can’t call yourself a true fan of grind house and exploitation cinema until you’ve been ripped off a few times and the rage boiling inside you just makes you want to go out and kick the first cat you see. It’s tradition. The Real Cannibal Holocaust is only worth a look if you actually have an interest in the native customs of New Guinea, but even then you’d be better off checking out the Discovery Channel.