Saturday, May 14, 2011

DVD Review: The Real Cannibal Holocaust (1974)

LABEL: One 7 Movies
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 99 mins
VIDEO: 1.33:1 Fullscreen
AUDIO: Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with English Subtitles

SYNOPSIS: In 1975, Papua New Guinea obtained its long desired independence from the British Empire. A movie crew traveled to the island in order to shoot a film that would allow the Queen to better understand the laws and traditions of the natives. Looking for reality and truth, the cinematographers eventually got a lot more than they had bargained for...
FILM:  'The Real Cannibal Holocaust' is an exploitative re-titling of the film alternately known as 'Guinea Ama' and 'Nouva Guinea L'isola Dei Cannibal' by the upstart cult and exploitation DVD label One 7 Films. It's a mondo documentary along the lines of 'Faces' of Death' (1980) or the grandaddy of shockumentaries 'Mondo Cane' (1962). It's definitely not the preeminent film of this sub-genre of films but it  manages to offer up some unsettling imagery lacquered with the typical narration that tends to condescend towards it's subjects. The film is set in Papua New Guinea and focuses on the ethnocentricities of the indigenous tribes and their strange-to-us customs beginning with a visit from Queen Elizabeth II who plasters on a plastic smile and waves like she's at a beauty pageant the way you might expect royalty to. The narrator tells us that the natives don't seem to understand why the Queen is so revered, and why would they? She doesn't parade around in exotic feathers and animal bones to signify her mighty stature, she merely condescends to the primitive people in the most polite way possible. 
'The Real Cannibal Holocaust' is pretty typical of mondo filmmaking in that it is crammed with shocking footage, nudity and exotic locations. Even some thirty-six years later I found watching that it still holds a few nasty surprises. In fact, a few bits had me gagging with repulsion and I have a fairly strong stomach for disgusting imagery. There's a woman shares a hut with the body of a deceased family member. The body is fetid with decay as she snatches maggots from it's face and consumes them. Perhaps all is not what it seems though as it would appear that the film has been intercut with footage to make it appear as though the woman is feasting on the fly larvae from the rotting flesh when in truth perhaps not. It may surprise you to learn that it's not beyond the mondo filmmakers to manipulate and misdirect us, or it may not. In a similarly grotesque scenario mourners approach the corpse of a tribesman, his belly is engorged like an gut-stuffed balloon, his penis and testicles are similarly distended, it's grotesque stuff. It was right about here my imagination kicked-in with the purely imagined scent of decay and it tripped my gag reflex causing me to  endure a short spasm of dry heaves. Mind you this was before we see that the mourners scoop handfuls of the fermenting corpse's juices and rub the rotting liquids onto their own flesh like a moisturizer in a ritual that is said to help maintain the memory of the departed. Yeah, that's definitely not something you would soon forget.
For a film rather conspicuously re-titled 'The Real Cannibal Holocaust' any connection to Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocust' (1980) is tenuous at best. For one this is a documentary and not a film of fiction (more or less) and there's no actual cannibalism on display though we do see what appears to be the apprehension of a man accused of cannibalism. The one true connection between the two films would seem to be the footage of cruelty to animals. What we get here is the killing of wild boars as the swine squeal and convulse after being brutally clubbed upside the skull. Killed not for sport but for a wedding banquet, the narrator sensationally informs us that the natives think the swine flesh is rather chewy and cannot compare to the taste of human flesh. Of course this film is meant as an exploitation of the Papua New Guinea tribal customs and not an educational document by any mean, this is pure stomach churning exploitation in all it's leering glory. While this may not one of the better mondo films I'll say that my appetite has been suitably whetted to further explore the jungles of mondo cinema.

DVD: This is definitely one of those transfers that puts you right in the seat of a 42nd Street grindhouse theatre. It's a nicely worn print with plenty of grain, fading and print damage throughout, and it's probably the better for it to be honest. The film is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, not sure if that the original framing or not. The Italian language 2.0 Mono audio is on par with the video, it's rough with optional English subtitles. The lack of fidelity and pristine print do little to detract from the film though and may actually enhance it. There's a new wave of exploitation films that pay good money to look this shitty.


VERDICT: If you're the type to gravitate towards shockumentaries that stir your morbid curiosities and that more or less degrade the indigenous people it documents while sensationalizing their cultural curiosities 'The Real Cannibal Holocaust' may just be a mondo movie for you. I wouldn't say this is a purchase for there are better mondo films out there but if you've seen the rest One 7 Movies have dug this outta the vaults for your viewing pleasure. 2.5 outta 5