Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blu-ray Review: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)


LABEL: Shameless Screen Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: September 26th 2011
RATING: 18 Certificate
DURATION: 135 mins / 136 mins
VIDEO: 1080p MPEG-4 AVC Anamorphic Widescreen
AUDIO: English DTS-HD MSTR 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
DIRCETOR: Ruggero Deodato
CAST: Robert Kerman, Perry Pirkanen, Francesca Ciardi, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Luca Barbareschi
TAGLINE: The Most Controversial Film Ever Made

Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST lures us in with a TV documentary telling of four American documentary film makers who have set off to the Amazon jungles to observe the indigenous cannibal tribes. The documentary team consist of docu-director Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke, IDLE HANDS), his girlfriend and script girl Faye (Francesca Ciardi, THE TUNNEL) and cameramen Jack (Perry Pirkanen, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and Tomasa (Luca Barbareschi. CUT AND RUN). The four have gone missing while documenting the Amazonian tribes. The news reports spur NYU anthropologist Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS) to form an expedition to rescue the group with the help of a skilled jungle guide named Chaco with a penchant for snorting cocaine (Salvatore Basile, COBRA VERDE) and his assistant Miguel. They are also involuntarily joined my a member of the Yacumo tribe who we see rather brutally captured by the Colombian military just prior to Prof. Monroe's arrival as they decimate a small party of tribesman, completely blowing the face off one of the indigenous people at close range, it's the first of many atrocities visited upon the primitive people of the film.

Not long into their jungle trek they discover the worm infested corpse of Felipe, a jungle guide who accompanied the documentary crew they seek. It's a discouraging sign to say the least, setting up camp next to a river Miguel captures and slaughters a muskrat, it's death shrieks are grotesque. Further on they observe a tribesman who come ashore on a boat, his wife in tow. He binds her with rope to a stake on the muddy embankment and proceeds to vaginally rape her with a phallus-shaped stone implement. He then packs a mud ball with slivers of wood and seems to cram into her vaginal cavity, it's bloody and gut-churning, then killing her with several strong blows to the head then placing her corpse into the wooden canoe shoving it off into the river. Chaco tells a stunned Prof. Munroe that what they've seen is tribal punishment for the woman's infidelity. They follow the tribesman who's now  travelling on foot back to the Yacumo village where they use the captive tribesman (and apparently Miguel's mighty schlong) as leverage to negotiate with the villagers for information pertaining to the missing documentarians. They learn that the film crew were indeed in the area recently and caused great unrest among the tribes.

The following day Munroe, Chaco and Miguel knowing their on the right path head further into the "Green Inferno" when they come across a macabre scene of waring cannibalistic tribes savaging each other. The Yanomamos and the Shamatari are engaged in a brutal battle with the Yanomamos on the losing end until the group intervene with a flurry of gunfire, which earns them an invite to dinner back at the Yanomamo village. What's on the menu? Human flesh, of course! The group are treated with some suspicion until Dr. Munroe earns their respect by bathing naked in the river, these primitive cultures certainly do respect the sight of some schlong, just saying. With his wiener exposed and their trust gained a group of villagers take Munroe to the grotesque and obviously gnawed on skeletal remains of the documentarian crew, they're camera equipment hanging from their remains, including canisters of films they'd shot prior to their grisly deaths. Munroe plays a tape recording of tribal chanting for the villagers who are awestruck at his mighty power that enables him to steal their voices and he is able to strike a deal for the canisters of film in exchange for cassette recorder.

Reversible Artwork Option

Next thing we know were back in New York City and Prof. Munroe strikes a deal with a broadcast TV channel who want him to host a documentary of the recovered film but he wants to screen the "found footage" before he agrees to air it for all the world to see. Here is the genius twist of the film as Munroe and the TV execs screen the "found footage" we watch it with them and experience the true horrors caught in film as we catch glimpses of the crew's journey from New York to Columbia and into the Amazon jungles in search of cannibalistic tribes, a film within a film.

Without spoiling anymore than I already have let me just say that the images caught on film are grotesque, disturbing and unsettlingly potent. There's leg amputation, beheadings, cannibalism, several graphic rape scenes, a forced abortion, murderous arson and the quite infamous impalement from anus to mouth - these are truly soul-rendering acts of human indecency and the effects works from Aldo Gasparri (MAD DOG KILLER) is astounding real, so much so that after the film's premiere in Italy it was siezed by the local magistrate and Deodato was arrested for obscenity and still later charged with making a snuff film, that's right, they believed he murdered his actors. Goddamn that's some potent cinema right there. Eventually Deodato presented the actors on live TV thereby proving his innocence.

This release contains two versions of the film; one is the original version of the film minus 15 seconds of compulsory cuts for what the BBFC calls "unsimulated animal cruelty" aka the muskrat death scene. The second versions is Ruggero Deodato's newly created "re-edit" further removing the animal cruelty beyond the compulsory BBFC cuts. Most notably the gruesome death of a turtle is now obscured by natural looking print damage and the death of the aforementioned muskrat happens off screen though it's unnerving death shriek is still heard. Also, a few frames of the spider monkey deaths are trimmed but it's no less affecting. Be forewarned my animal loving friends there are still despicable acts of cruelty exploitively perpetrated upon a turtle, muskrat, pig, spider monkeys, and a tarantula, so don't go into this thinking what you are getting is a sanitized "clean" edit, it's still plenty repugnant and that's on top of the degradation, rape and murder of the painfully stereotyped indigenous people. Either version of Deodato's most notorious film found here are still full-on cannibal exploitation films. It should be noted that most if not all the animals killed were eaten by the indigenous cast of the film if that helps you sleep better at night.

Few films are as notorious as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and with good reason, there's no other film quite like this one, it's despicable but undeniably a cinematic masterpiece in my mind. Taking it's cue from the MONDO CANE films that came before it Deodato has infused the film with a disturbingly realistic aesthetic, the documentary footage shot on 16mm in cinema verite style puts you right there with 'em as they perpetrate impossibly heinous acts upon the indigenous people, you are complicit in the act unable to stop them from happening before your very eyes, it's a film that deeply troubles you and may have you questioning your taste in films.

The acting is top notch from a cast of inexperienced unknowns at the time (and mostly even still now) aside from Robert Kerman who was already the star if numerous adult pornos unbeknownst to Deodato. Yorke is particularly effective as the cruel documentarian, outside of the that I thought Francesa Ciardi was quite impressive and quite possibly the most relatable character if I could even dare say that about any character in the film.

BLU-RAY: Shameless Screen Entertainment's release marks this exploitation classics world debut on region FREE Blu-ray and is presented in an MPEG-4 AVC encode that's 1080p HD anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1).  Admittedly it's been a few years since I last sat down with my Grindhouse Releasing special edition DVD but I think it's quite safe to say that the film has never looked any better that what I see here. It's a gorgeous transfer from a very nice print, colors are vibrant and deep though a few instances of softness do appear throughout, as much of the film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm it's just to be expected. There's a fine layer of film grain present throughout  with some fine detail and the image is plenty sharp for a film of it's age. The two audio options are English DTS-HD MSTR 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the sake of the review I only listened to the DTS-HD track and it sounds fine, not overly dynamic though what would one expect from a "found footage" film realistically? Dialogue, effects and the wild sounds of the jungle canopy sound well balanced, scoring particularly well is Riz Ortoloni's fantastic score, a work of disturbing beauty from start to finish with a combination of sweet orchestral arrangements and disturbing electronics sounds. SPECIAL FEATURES:

Outside of a the very fine PQ Shameless have commissioned brand new features that are exclusive to this edition beginning with introductions to both the original version and the new re-edit from director Ruggero Deodato who in the latter explaining his reasining behind the re-edit. Film And Be Damned (40:28) is a new interview with Ruggero Deodato and actor Carl G. Yorke. The director speaks to the MONDO CANE inspiration, casting the actors, his surprise at finding out about Kerman's porn career considering his "average sized manhood", scouting locations, selling the film, creating the infamous impalement scene, the score, a deleted piranha scene and the film's reception, censoring and his trial for making a snuff film among other topics. Actor Carl Yorke discusses his experience on the film, including many difficult days on set and his interactions with the director, his co-stars and the difficulty filming the rape sxcene and choosing not to shoot the swine. The Long Road Back From Hell (40:20) is a specially commissioned documentary by Cine Excess featuring Kim Newman, Professor Julian Petley, Professor Mary Wood, Ruggero Deodato, Carl G. Yorke and actress Francesca Ciardi. It's a comprehensive examination of the film that's sure to please fans of the film.

It's definitely a sweet package and makes for a compelling argument for purchase despite being an edited version of the film, then again it's a director approved edit that he supervised himself, further stating in the press release and during the interview that the inclusion of animal slaughter in the film was at the insistence of the producers at the time and not his true vision. Here in the US we have the uncut Grindhouse Releasing special edition DVD, and we take for granted the availability of uncut films on DVD and Blu-ray to the point that unrated DVD editions are a bit of a marketing gimmick and thankfully we don't have the BBFC to contend with. This past week I've been a bit up in arms over not only George Lucas's revisionist editing but what I consider ruinous meddling with his STAR WARS films over the years, from the laserdisc edition to the new Blu-ray set and it got me to thinking about not just Deodato's "re-edit" but UK film censorship as a whole and I've come to the conclusion that THANK GOD I LIVE IN THE USA. For those in the UK this arbitrary censoring is a reality with no end in site but there is light at the far end of that slippery sloped tunnel with recent reclassification of other video nasties like ISLAND OF DEATH now finally released uncut after years of censorship. Praise should be given to UK distributors like Shameless and Arrow Video who regularly submit, re submit and take to task the BBFC in an ever vigilent struggle to give fans uncut versions of censored films.

What do you think of a Deodato's new director approved "re-edit" of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, think it's worth a purchase? I think so but I'd love to hear what you fiolks think wether you're from the UK or elsewhere.

- Introduction to the original film by director Ruggero Deodato (:09) 16x9
- Introduction to the new Director’s Edit by Ruggero Deodato. (1:49) 16x9
- “Film And Be Damned”  (40:28) 16x9 - interview with Ruggero Deodato and actor Carl G. Yorke.
- “The Long Road Back From Hell” (40:20) 16x9 A specially commissioned documentary by Cine Excess featuring Kim Newman, Professor Julian Petley, Professor Mary Wood, Ruggero Deodato, Carl G. Yorke and actress Francesca Ciardi.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:54) 16x9
- Shameless Trailer Park: HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, NEW YORK RIPPER all presented 16x9 widescreen.
- Easter Egg.

VERDICT: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST remains a haunting and gut churning commentary on the depraved nature of civilized man and sensational journalism. It's a must-see film but it may well be a film you only watch once, that's enough for most folks I know. After all there's only so much depravity and nausea a person can take and even by hardened horror standards this is shockingly gruesome still do this day 31 years later. This was my entry into Shameless's catalog and I'm suitably impressed with the presentation and supplemental materials. I went in wary of this "re-edit" and am pleased to report it's not ruinous to the film in anyway and the newly created interview and documentary are top shelf from start to finish. It's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST on region FREE Blu-ray and playable worldwide, what more do you need to know?