Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is significantly difficult to dismiss. A shallow viewing may convince one that the mass quantities of realistic and “gratuitous” violence and gore are wielded primarily for immediate shock value and a desire to push the viewer to hysterics and nausea. And, of course, this is true – to a degree. The use and value of explicitly unpleasant visuals and actions in horror films is of particular interest now, as recent genre productions from around the globe are alarmingly rife with the “torture porn” inspired by so-called “J-horror” titles, such as, for example, Audition. Horror films refuse to turn a critical eye on themselves as they once did; people truly seem to consume films like Hostel or Saw for the masturbatory quality of ever-more creative and disturbing forms of torture and violence. Cannibal Holocaust‘s self-conscious use of extremely realistic violence (and documentary footage of the killing of various animals), on the other hand, demonstrates an impressive prescience. As the main character asks at the conclusion of the film, with wonderful melodrama and cheese, “Who are the real cannibals?” It seems an obvious question, but I was struck, simply because I expected so little. As Chas Balun writes in the DVD’s accompanying notes, “Is Cannibal Holocaust an indictment of such films that exploit Third World countries and their people (and animals) for sensationalistic purposes? Or does it imitate what it so righteously condemns? Are the film’s transgressions in the service of art or commerce?” Word.

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