Released by: Filmedia
Released on: October 18, 2011.
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Cast: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes
Ruggero Deodato took the Cannibal movie subgenre that he and Umberto Lenzi ruled over to the extreme with his 1979 cinema verite style opus, Cannibal Holocaust. The film has been released countless times on DVD in different territories and as a deluxe special edition domestically by Grindhouse but so far the only Blu-ray release has been from the UK’s Shameless Films and that disc was cut. French releasing company Filmedia step up to the plate with an uncut high definition transfer, but is it worth picking up? Let’s talk about the movie first...
So what's Cannibal Holocaust all about? Well, for those of you who have yet to sit down and wallow in this one, allow me to explain just a little bit. The story follows three men and a single woman who make up a documentary filmmaking team that heads deep into the jungles of South America in search of evidence of actual cannibalism. The deeper into the jungle they get, the more feral and primitive things become and eventually they're reported as missing in action and never heard from again.
A rescue team is sent in after them and while they are in the jungle, this second group meets up with a tribe of natives who live in the area. Eventually, after witnessing the harsh reality of life in the jungle, the rescue group finds the footage shot by the documentary team and brings it back to New York City where it is screened. It is here that we find out exactly what happened to the film crew that went into the jungle.
This simple premise is basically the story in a nutshell, but it's what wound up happening to the film crew that really kicks the movie into high gear. These shocking events transform the film from a grim jungle adventure movie into a truly gut wrenching (and, gut munching!) picture that pushes the envelope in terms of what could and/or should be shown on screen in the name of entertainment. In fact, the gore effects in the film are so convincing in some spots that Deodato was taken to court in his native Italy to prove that they were in fact special effects and not actual atrocities captured on film. Deodato's testimony didn't prevent the film from being banned in his homeland though - the numerous graphic depictions of actual animal slaughter made sure that the film was banned not only in Italy but in a few other countries as well and the subject of the actual animal violence remains an extremely hot topic of debate even to this day, twenty five years after the fact.
So how bad is it? Well, a snake has its head lopped off by a machete, a boar is tied up and shot point blank, a coatimundi is gutted, and in the most vicious scene of the film, a turtle is gutted and mutilated all for the sake of shock value. Some claim that the animals were killed were eaten afterwards but that hardly changes the fact that they were essentially killed for entertainment purposes - otherwise the cameras wouldn't have been rolling and the performers wouldn't appear to be reveling in it as they do. Without getting into the semantics of it, it's an appalling display of all too real cruelty and it's pretty hard to justify it - however it's commonplace for the Italian cannibal sub-genre for whatever reason. At this point the animals are long dead so we just might as well accept it as a product of less politically correct times and be glad that it isn't as common now as it was then.
But the atrocity exhibit hardly stops with our beloved furry friends, no sir. All manner of human degradation is on display here, including but not limited to rape, castration, more rape, shootings, impalement, decapitation, and of course, last but not least, cannibalism. All these things and more are shown with reckless abandon by the filmmakers and the camera doesn't once shy away from any of it. Then there's the infamous 'last road to hell sequence' which features footage that sure looks like the actual execution of a human being that was in fact taken from material shot by a news crew. Despite the fact that that the characters in the film debunk it as 'fake' it is very much a real filmed human death.
That being said, the film still has a lot of power and a lot of impact and in that regard, it's very well made. Deodato's decision to shoot the 'recovered footage' using a handheld camera gives the film a raw and realistic feel that wouldn't have been possible using more professional styles of shooting. This gives the 'found footage' portion of the movie a completely different tone than the rest of the film - a considerably nastier, grittier, and dirtier feel.
The film is also very well cast, with a standout performance from Robert Kerman (a. k. a. adult film star extraordinaire R. Bolla) as the professor, but everyone involved does an exceptionally good job of getting into character. By the end of the film you realize that the crew really did get what they deserved after setting up some atrocities for the sake of making their movie (which, ironically enough Deodato himself does with the animal violence here). Their manipulation of the events they filmed was what inevitably caused their downfall and in a sense, they were the harbingers of their own doom (how's that for a melodramatic piece of prose?).
Is the film a statement about the cruelty that humans inflict on each other? Was it Deodato's satiric response to the mondo film phenomena, specifically Jacopetti and Prosperi's Africa Addio, where the two filmmakers, much like the characters in this film, are rumored to have set up some actual executions to film for their documentary? Opinions differ drastically on this one and few films are able to divide audiences so severely as Cannibal Holocaust still can. Whether Deodato was saying something important or not with this film is extremely debatable but what is concrete is the fact that this is definitely the film that he is best known for and that's probably never going to change.
For those who haven't seen it, the film is a powerful and shocking vehicle that stabs you in the gut and twists the blade around a few times for good measure before pulling it out and leaving you there to bleed - it goes all the way and rubs it all in your face. It's one of those movies that makes you question why you're watching it in the first place, and dares you to turn away knowing damn well that you're not going to. Love it or hate it, Cannibal Holocaust is still very strong stuff and it still packs a hell of a punch. Unlike the recent Blu-ray release from Shameless Films, this French Blu-ray is uncut, so those snippets of animal violence that were trimmed from that release are here.
Filmedia presents Cannibal Holocaust in its proper 1.85.1 aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080i transfer that takes up approximately 17GBs of space on this 25GB disc. As to the quality of the transfer? It’s not all that impressive, sadly. Colors look very good but edge enhancement problems run rampant and there’s been some fairly liberal noise reduction applied here, smoothing skin tones out and giving them that waxy look that is just not natural. The picture is clean in that there aren’t any problems with anything more than minor print damage, but the overzealous and aggressive edge enhancement really hurts things. The handheld footage is now much too clean looking. The screen caps are a pretty good indicator of what to expect here – smearing, loss of fine detail and artifacting are all constant problems. It’d be nice to say that the good outweighs the bad here, and there are some shots that look great and do trump the various DVD releases, but overall the picture quality here is a disappointment.
Audio options include an Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and Dolby Digital Mono options in English and French. Optional subtitles are included in French only, there is no lossless option here and as such, it’s not surprising to note that the audio quality is basically the same as the previous DVD releases. Things sound fine, there aren’t any problems to report, but there really should have been a lossless option here to do the film justice.
Staring off the disc we're treated to In The Jungle - The Making Of Cannibal Holocaust (1:00:35). For those who don't know, this is the documentary that was available on the AYP R2 PAL release of the film that came out in 2003 in Italy and then later, with English subtitles, on the Grindhouse DVD. This documentary is presented in Italian with forced French subtitles and includes seven segments - The Production, Filming, The Music Of The Cannibals, Deodato - King Of The Indians, Banned! Censorship, and finally, End Credits. The titles are pretty much self-explanatory but this documentary kicks all kinds of ass. We're treated to on camera interviews with Deodato, who explains the genesis of the project and how it all came to be to start things off. In his native Italian, he seems quite talkative and has a lot to say here. Cast and crew discuss what it was like shooting on location in the deep jungle and how they had to deal with the heat, the bugs, and the insanity of it all and they also talk about shooting the film within a film aspect of the production and how no one slept on the set. The weather was sometimes a problem and the natives weren't always the easiest people to work with but the cast and crew persevered and, duh, the movie got finished. This documentary is, in no uncertain terms, great. In all seriousness, this ranks up there with Hearts Of Darkness and Burden Of Dreams as one of the best 'making of' movies I've yet to see. The always snappy looking Riz Ortolani shows up to discuss the making of the film's now famous soundtrack, they cover the censorship issues that the film ran into, and a whole lot more. If you are even remotely interested in the film, do yourself a big damn favor and set aside the time to check this puppy out. It definitely does not disappoint. It runs over an hour in length and contains some great behind the scenes photographs, interviews, clips, and more. Just be sure to let the end credits play to check out Riz playing the theme song unaccompanied on the piano - it adds a whole new element of pathos to the music.
There’s also a 7:05 segment entitled Sequences Coupees Dans La Version Francaise (or, if you prefer, Cut Sequences In The French Version), which is just a collection of a few scenes that were cut from the film originally: the river side stone rape, the killing of the turtle, the killing of the monkey and the murder of the pregnant native woman and the baby. There are presented intact in the feature itself so their inclusion here is really nothing more than a curiosity. There’s also a 21:58 featurette that documents Deodato’s appearance at a 2003 press conference where he speaks in French about the film.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is a twelve minute interview with French film critic Julien Seveon (12:46), the film’s original French theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter stops. The disc comes housed inside a nifty red case, which is a nice touch. There are no English subtitles for any of the extras.
It should be noted that although this disc is Region Free, the extras and menus are in PAL so if you’re hoping to play it in your PS3, you won’t actually be able to get to the menu screen.
The Final Word:
Given the problems with the transfer, the fact that there’s no lossless audio option and that there are no English subtitles for any of the extras, it’s tough to recommend this release even if it is uncut. As such, fans are going to have to keep waiting for somebody to do the title right on the format, so yeah, we’re looking at you, Grindhouse…