Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
One of the most realistically gruesome, harshly graphic films ever made, even the most bloodthirsty gorehounds are likely to be sickened by the splatter masterpiece "Cannibal Holocaust." The film is legendary in its infamy, amid animal cruelty accusations, and even that the film itself is a snuff film.
The film's narrative centers around the disappearance of a group of young documentarians who were venturing into the Amazonian rainforest looking for a glimpse at the primitive locals.
When they fail to return, the anthropologist Harold Monroe goes looking for them, finding their remains in the possession of one of the cannibalistic tribes, along with the footage they shot. After befriending the tribe, Monroe is able to secure the footage, and brings it back to the US.
In New York, the news media wants to air the footage sight unseen, and Monroe consents only after he's had the opportunity to view it. The remainder of the film is Monroe viewing the footage bit by bit, then reporting back to the networks.
It's been widely publicized that director Ruggero Deodato and the rest of the cast actually killed several animals during filming. A small muskrat-type creature called a coatimundi is stabbed repeatedly in one scene, in another a large turtle is fished out of the river, decapitated, and dismembered gruesomely (for my money the film's most disturbing moments, as the actors engage in a showy display of sadism, holding the turtle's still-twitching head to the camera, and pulling its guts out), and a small pig is brutalized, then shot at close range with a shotgun.
The idea is that the young documentarians ambled into the wilderness and brutalized and murdered indiscriminately when they should have been respectfully and unobtrusively recording their observations. In many ways they're a metaphor for the cruelties that less-industrialized peoples have suffered at the hands of those with more for centuries (accusations of hypocrisy given the treatment of the animals involved have do have a great deal of merit, however).
When they finally discover their tribes, we learn from the film, the brutality reaches new heights, as they attack them, shooting one in the leg so they can follow it back to the rest of the tribe, finding a young girl and gang-raping her, then smirking and feigning horror for the camera when later she's killed and impaled on a pike by her tribe because she was impure (this bookends another sexually brutal sequence earlier where a tribesman ritualistically rapes and murders his wife as the Westerners look on, speculating that she's being punished for adultery).
It's when the cannibals finally strike back at their tormentors that the violence reaches its apex, as people are castrated, disemboweled, and hacked to bits with primitive implements in an ultra-realistic manner that got director Deodato arrested when the film was first shown in Italy. It's truly shocking, even in today's era of "Saw" and "Hostel"; this is another league entirely, a category all its own.
Put it this way: how often does a horror film (as this one does in one scene) take time out to literally say "it's all a put-on"?
"Cannibal Holocaust" is in a way the holy grail of grindhouse films, which typically attempt to delve into the lowest pits of human depravity, but seldom approach the stark realism found here. Its puporting of being real film discovered from a group of young filmmakers should ring familiar to fans of a certain Blair Witch (and other films as well), and the conclusion of the "footage" is eerily similar to that hit as well.
So should you see it? I can't in good conscience tell you yes or no. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea (including my own, and I pride myself on being able to sit unflinchingly through the murkiest of cinematic muck), nor is it a film I'm in a particular hurry to watch again.
But it is in its own depraved way a masterpiece of cinema, one that is likely to be unrivaled in its realism as long as I am watching movies.