Holocaust chops a smart and simple story into pieces, with gorgeous flyover shots of the Amazon river giving way to scenes of a brash young group of documentary film-makers fixing to hit the jungle in a search for cannibals. Though full of enthusiasm, these kids are douchebags, and you just know that things will not end well. When the kids go missing, and a party (including Robert Kerman as Professor Monroe) goes down to find out what happened, we find out just how bad it got. Monroe finds the kids' lost footage hanging from the trees in the most disturbing cannibal village ever put to screen, brings it back to the states, screens it for some producers hoping to make a buck, and jaws drop. A producer concludes they should burn the footage immediately.
Even at this late stage in the movie-making game, Cannibal Holocaust is still as shocking as it gets, a true catalog of atrocities and a non-stop barrage of degradation. So relentless is the movie in its message of humanity-as-cesspool - from the scumbag film-makers to the beastly cannibals - that at a certain point in viewing it, you simply lose track of how awful it is, succumbing to numbed shock. The beauty is in how carefully the movie is put together. Every affront is calculated to generate maximum effect. This, by the way, is coming from a reviewer who's seen Holocaust, (as well as pretty much any other 'sickest film ever' you might name) numerous times.
So what's going on here? Why is Holocaust so special? Director Ruggero Deodato's crafted a brilliant picture that gleefully pushes every button viewers have, ramping the effects thereof in several ways, perhaps most effectively through clever and callous juxtaposition. During the first shock scene, when we the viewers are asked to "sit back and enjoy the show" of the rape and murder by stone dildo of a naked Yanamamo woman, composer Riz Ortolani's score becomes sweetly elegiac, an aria pushing geek-show cruelty way beyond the pale. Nothing about the scene is remotely enjoyable, but spreading Ortolani's assuredly saccharine benediction on top of a scene that's already offensive on multiple levels just makes it that much harder to take. The same goes for Robert Kerman's naked frolic in the river - scored by a florid love theme - a scene in which the White Man 'goes native' to assure the cannibals that he's OK, only what happens is he's set upon by a bunch of hysterical naked cannibal women who playfully fondle him. It's another truly ugly scene of ethnocentric xenophobia wrapped up in exploitation garb and shuttled down your throat with nauseating treacle.
Of course the most notorious and effective use of juxtaposition involves both the 'found footage' conceit and the use of real filmed violence to blur the lines between what is real and what isn't. Setting up our hot-shot documentarians, producers in New York screen for Kerman the group's earlier effort, "The Long Road to Hell" - a little movie about military unrest in Africa. The footage contains shocking images of executions and dead bodies, heavy, gut-wrenching stuff. This execution footage is 100% genuine, and very disturbing. The kicker of course, is that in the world of Cannibal Holocaust, the producer reveals that the documentary crew had faked this footage (a 'put-on' using actors) to give their movie more power. What better way to convince viewers that Deodato's special effects-based footage of our protagonists getting all cut up is actually real, than by presenting authentic death video as being fake? Well, if you're Deodato, you ramp that up by liberally salting your movie with actors actually killing real animals for the camera. Not only does this further blur the line between fantasy and reality, it pretty much shits on it.
After several viewings of Holocaust, the animal cruelty just seems to get more disturbing. Fairly reliable accounts indicate the killed animals were eaten - in fact you can pretty much see the actors chowing down on film. It comes down to the fact that the animals were killed for entertainment (ours) as well as food that makes it questionable. It's the glee with which the actors kill the animals, scattering offal like chiclets, it's the part where the guy kicks a tied-up pig a few times in the head before shooting it that make these scenes indefensible, despite the fact that their presence effectively cements the place of Cannibal Holocaust as one of the most disturbing movies of all time.
The craft with which Deodato launches Holocaust into the realms of pure insanity - as his documentary crew devolves into drug-fueled savagery - is unassailable. The movie bounces back and forth between documentary realism and sideshow hysteria with whiplash speed. Frenzied shots of a man undergoing a little trailside amputation might for instance butt up against shots of a glowing tow-headed boy frolicking in a park in New York, only to go back to derisive shots of squatting natives scrabbling over intestines to nosh on. It's an unbalancing act that ensures the feeling that anything could happen in this movie at any time. That's also down to the fact that offensive, nasty, horrific violence, sexual violence, murder, cannibalism and animal abuse is pretty much happening non-stop.
Deodato's bleak, nihilistic world view - essentially that all humans are savages deserving of degredation - is presented in hard to swallow form. Leering contempt is doled out judiciously for the 'primitives' the 'civilized,' and the actors themselves. The untrained native actors, made to simulate horrific acts, often appear confused and disgusted, unsure if the joke isn't actually on them. Meanwhile it's your soul that takes the beating. Cannibal Holocaust's power hasn't diminished over time; on this gorgeous Blu-ray, that power simply grows, overwhelming and brutal. "Sit back and enjoy the show"? We're captive, Deodato, we have no choice. But enjoy it? Not bloody likely. DVD Talk Collector's Series.
That isn't all, though, not by a long-shot. In addition to two Blu-ray discs for the feature and extras, you get a Bonus CD of the Newly Remastered Score by Riz Ortolani, which sounds great and will give your morning commute a whole new flavor. In addition, you get Two Commentary Tracks on Disc One, featuring Ruggero Deodato and Robert Kerman, Carl Yorke and Francesa Ciardi. Disc Two is packed with over three hours of old and new interviews. New ones include Ruggero Deodato, Francesca Ciardi, assistant director/co-star Salvo Basile, and cameraman Roberto Forges Davazati, while classic interviews with Robert Kerman, Carl Yorke and Riz Ortolani also appear. The interviews are consistently fascinating, revealing mostly the devastating effect Holocaust had on pretty much everyone involved. You will also find a Convention Panel segment from Cinema Wasteland, a Q&A with Ciardi from Glasgow, and two uncomfortable Reunions from conventions, with Yorke and Kerman separately meeting Deodato again after years without contact.
You might as well throw in Tons of Still Galleries, (sadly, not auto-nav, so keep your hands on the remote) as well as 14 Trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing efforts, and quite a handful of fairly-easy-to-find Easter Eggs scattered over both discs, one of which shows the lengths to which people will go to see Holocaust in the theater - including their stunned reactions as they watch the film! Lastly, there is the option to watch the movie in an Animal Cruelty-Free Version.