REVIEW – Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

THE ZONE have my review of Ruggero Deodato’s hugely influential found footage horror film Cannibal Holocaust.

Watching the film for the first time since my teens, I was struck both by how poorly it worked as a horror film and how brilliantly it worked as a piece of postmodern cinema. The most shocking thing about Cannibal Holocaust is not the casual use of rape, the deliberate cruelty to animals or the shameless pandering to ignorant prejudices regarding the developing world, it is the way in which Deodato uses the format of the film to point an accusatory directly at his audience. In fact, the film’s nested narration reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its similarly mephitic critique of colonialism:

The point of Marlow’s tale is thus not his encounter with Kurtz but the context of his observations about the journey. By providing us with an extra layer of narration that draws us even further back from the events in the Congo, Conrad is inviting us to reflect upon the comparison between the Thames and the Congo itself. For while Conrad is clear that the heart of darkness resides in deepest Africa, the suggestion is that even the well-groomed hillsides of the Thames valley were once a place of impossible savagery. By providing us with an extra layer of narration, Deodato is not only drawing quite a clear comparison between the peerless Kurtz and the peerless documentary filmmakers, he is also inviting us to reflect upon the context in which their story is told. Indeed, the meat of Cannibal Holocaust lies not in the story of the filmmakers or even the academic’s encounters with the TV producers, but in our own willingness to look at the bigger picture and realise the similarities between the fictional events of the film and the real-world practices of filmmakers and journalists.

Arguably a classic, but for all the wrong reasons.

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