Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Wrestler (2007)
D. Darren Aronofsky
I'm not a big fan of Big Time Wrestling, but boy my friends are. So I get it all by proxy. I can tell you a lot of what is going on in the wrestling world just from being around it so much from my friends. So much that I have gained an appreciation for it as entertainment. I can appreciate the effort and work that goes into the lifestyle that it requires to do what these men and women do to bring their work to the ring week after week. I also am friends with and work around a lot of local wrestling people and get to see how these shows are put together behind the scenes quite a bit, and here is a lot of skill and training there too. What looks like goofy guys throwing each other around takes a lot more to do than the average viewer might think. Wrestling has gotten a bad wrap over the lest few years thanks to the backyard variety of kids beating the shit out of each other with trashcans and barbed wire without any regard for safety or sport. But there is so much more to it than that and the real professionals that have made it their lives know that.
I am also a huge fan of stories about men who have hit the end of the road in their lives. People who have for what ever reason come to that point where things have just fizzled out and the decisions have hit a roadblock leading to chain reactions of events that seems to be leading to a not so pretty conclusion. Stories of men trying hard to reach redemption before a fall. Guys who want nothing but that last comeback, or to at least put things as right as they can before they fade away forever. I love these kinds of stories. For some reason I feel a great kinship with the protagonists in stories like these, and always have. Though I am certainly not old enough to justify my feeling this way, I often identify more with those characters than any others in cinema. And Randy "The Ram" in The Wrestler is among the best characters of this sort in recent memory.
Mickey Rourke has been touted far and wide as a come back role in the lead in this film as Randy "The Ram" a tired, burned out former pro wrestler now 20 years past his prime wrestling the local circuit to make a living. In the circles he is still respected, but since he is basically an old man he can only get these small gigs. His back is shot, his elbows are going, his body is ravaged and he is on medication. He is still juicing to keep his muscles up. His age shows all over his weathered physique. He can barely make his ends meet and ends up sleeping in his van more than his mobile home because he never can make his rent on time. But the roar of the crowd and respect of his peers keeps him afloat. He has a thing for the aging stripper at the local club (played wonderfully by Marissa Tomei). He has posited himself as her protector and her as his confidant and friend. Her life isn't too much better than his as since she is considerably older than the young hard bodies working the club she is constantly snubbed for dances and tips. She's still beautiful, but the customers want youth and overlook her. They are both damaged goods. Damaged by the progression of time and life and in many ways perfect for each other. But things don't always work out the way they should. Life has a way of kicking people when they are down, no matter how hard they try to climb out of their holes. One of the holes Randy tries desperately to climb out of is his separation from his estranged daughter played by Evan Rachel Wood. He walked out on his family years ago for his career and now he wants her as part of his life again. But she has never let go of that abandonment and forgiveness is hard to come by.
THE WRESTLER is a very simple movie in a many ways. It is not unlike the best of the 70's urban drama's like BLUE COLLAR or even Scorsese's ALIVE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. Movie's that are character based with simple lives and situations. The only "Hollywood" thing about this movie is the fact it is about pro-wrestling. But that is humanized and brought down to real life in about a few minutes after we see the first bout. We see how it works, how it is staged and how it still takes a huge emotional and physical toll on the players. The second bout we see where Randy goes to an "extreme" match, something he hasn't done up until that point, but does for the money, is one of the most emotionally draining and brutal things I've endured for a long time. Its not so much the violence on display that is repulsive, though there is plenty. It is the savaging the character is taking inside. It is the beating his soul is taking that puts us over the edge. The film making technique in this sequence is outstanding. Aronofsky baits us in by showing us the brutal aftermath first. We are shocked and horrified at Randy's condition and the beating he has taken. Then we are allowed in chunks to see what happened as he is cared for and sewn up from the beating. The flash back and forward together is so effective that it is far more brutal than had we actually just seen the match itself. Otherwise the movie is amazingly understated, with Aronofsky keeping his camera at bay, never letting it intrude and keeping his cutting down to a minimum. If you didn't already know it, you would never guess this was the same director as REQUIEM FOR A DREAM because stylistically it is so different. Equally brilliant, but so different.
I can't really discuss the ending without giving it away, but I will say the audience I saw it with was audibly aggravated with it. For a brief moment I was disappointed as well. But them immediately I felt like it was the best way to end the film. Any other way would have been too Hollywood and cheap emotional chain pulling. they way it ends is the perfect way to end it. That image is the exact moment to end the film on. It is the way to remember Randy The Ram. The image to walk out of the theater with.
There is so much more I could praise about the film, but then I would be getting into spoiler territory and i don't want to do that. Go see it, and then realize that the Oscars are full of shit for not nominating this for Best picture and Best director. What the hell were they thinking this year? I mean really? I think they didn't want to legitimize something as "low brow" as wrestling so they snubbed the movie. Or they have a bone up their ass for Aronofsky for some reason (they didn't nominate him for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM either when they should have). But its no matter because the movie is a monster and deserves your attention.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008) D. John Eric Dowdle MGM 1.85
When I first saw a poster for this larger budgeted serial killer/true snuff film horror, the first thing that jumped into my head was that it was going to be an August Underground rip off. That some enterprising up and coming Hollywood upstarts had seen those movies and figuring that no one in the mainstream knew what they were that they could just take the idea and redo it. The posters and ad art seemed to be just that. that a bunch of video tapes are found containing the home movies of a psychopath torturing and killing his victims. Take an underground, hardcore horror and water it down for the masses and claim originality.
Well the final film of The Poughkeepsie Tapes isn't quite that, though it wouldn't surprise me if that was still involved in the inspiration somewhere. The film is actually more of a recreation/put on of the standard court TV true crime documentary. You know the type, where various talking heads are interviewed about the case, giving insight into the killer's mind and life, while inter cut are the tapes this killer supposedly made himself. Not really a bad idea for a movie and sometimes it works here. But most of the time it doesn't.
The film tells the tale of a killer whose has yet to be caught, but the authorities have gotten close enough to him to have found a closet full of video tapes that show him butchering, torturing and assaulting his victims. The film goes through various experts, police officers, psychiatrists, specialists and family survivors to try and figure out how this happened and why. The acting ranges from convincing to pretty bad. And so does the writing and directing. A couple of really horrible scenes stand out in my memory such as a moment when the killer is watching a victim through her window on the video camera and apparently has her phone bugged too because he can hear her conversation. Her conversation consists of dialogue about how great her life is, how perfect everything is, except she feels like there is something really bad about to happen. that it will all come crashing down any moment. It's supposed to be ironic because we are watching it from the killer's point of view. Its not ironic, its stupid. It's bad writing. Another moment has the killer, videotaping all the while, approach the grieving mother of one of his victims as the mobilize a search party. He starts questioning her and she figures out it is him, but no one hears her cries. In theory this should work as a scene. I'm sure this kind of thing has happened in real life. But the handling of it is so lame, with the killer laughing like a fiend, and the Mom over acting that it is suddenly like a Snidley Whiplash cartoon. If the killer turned the camera on himself he would be twirling his mustache wildly. The interview scenes are handled alright for the most part except one expert who looks a lot like Herschel Gordon Lewis, that for some reason they kept slowly twirling the camera. I guess for effect, but it just looked amateurish. There is another expert on post mortem butchery who is so over the top and silly that they really should have just cut him out of the movie altogether. His performance is embarrassing.
But the meat of the movie is the snuff film scenes. If they work the movie works right? I mean the whole premise rest on if those scenes are believable. Well to the average moviegoer who hasn't seen much underground cinema they are probably pretty effective. They are grim and ugly and seemingly don't flinch. They are more violent that most people will be used to. But if you don't look away you will notice that they are more manipulative than actually violent. Whenever there is any real nasty sadism the victim ends up just off screen, so we hear them being pummelled but really don't see it. Plus the scenes are highly stylized with professional lighting, and the video quality itself is so distorted and processed to look like home movies that it becomes distracting. No one's home movies ever looked like this. But the biggest problem is that they have music and sound design, and very manipulative at that. The music and sound reach this unbearable crescendo when something bad is about to happen, often you don't see the actual act, but the sound fills it in for you. If these were real home movies none of this would apply. It is too Hollywood to even remotely be real.
There are some good things about the movie though such as a subplot about a woman the killer keeps as a sex slave for a number of years. We see the progression of her as she is broken into becoming a complete submissive until she is finally rescued and cannot reintegrate back into her normal life. In fact her story is, in a lot of ways, more interesting than the main story the film focuses on. There is also a scene where one of the FBI profilers visits Ted Bundy that is well done and the guy playing Bundy is pretty effective.
Weird thing is that though I started seeing posters for this movie at least a year ago, and spots for it appeared on you tube around the same time, it is still unreleased. Granted it is a hard sell to a public who flock to see cheesy fun time horror movies. This would not go down well with the teenybopper fans. But it makes so little sense to advertise a movie widely then just shelve it. But someone in Hollywood liked it enough to give the brothers team who made it another job as they went on to direct the remake of the excellent Spanish film [REC] called Quarantine.
The Black Connection Or Run Ni**er Run! (1974)
D. Michael Finn
Something Weird Video
This Las Vegas based blaxploitation anti-epic released by Box Office International Pictures is a riot. It appears to have been made as a vanity project for the R&B soul group The Checkmates limited who do all the funkadelic music for the flick as well as star in most of the lead roles. Anytime there is a lull in the action, which is about every three to five minutes their music kicks in to fill in the gaps. One viewer on IMDB mentioned that this makes the film the perfect late night viewing with your sweetheart because it gives you perfect time to cuddle up and kiss on your sweet heart with great soul music in the background every few minutes without missing any important action! The music is fantastic imitation Motown with a heavy (and I do mean HEAVY) layer of keyboards and moog synths mixed in. You can groove hard to The Checkmates man. And you get plenty of opportunity to do it too.
The plot is a confusing mess, and it seems that a bunch of the movie is missing as characters are introduced and never figure back into the action at all. But the gyst of it is the Miles Carter (Bobby Stevens) is a big time black Pimp/Dope pusher on the West Side of Las Vegas. He has made a deal with the Don, the big Italian mafioso who runs the rest of Vegas, but the deal has gone sour because somewhere along the line half a key of dope has gone missing. It is never explained where that dope went by the way. So various allegiances are made and broken, double crosses are planned and carried out, and a couple of honkies who hate Miles are pretending to be a Hooker and John to get close to the man to rub him out. Then there is the pudgy, and possibly gay, hitman on his case, who stands around in the background and smokes a lot. As the film progresses the cast gets whittled down in various shotgun rubouts until the almost Greek tragedy style ending that quotes the bible!
This is the typical no budget regional filmmaking from the 70's that made the era great fun. Yeah it is a bad movie, the acting is atrocious, the filmmaking technique is pretty rotten. But it is filled with enough charm to carry it through ten Hollywood blockbusters today. Just the dialogue alone in this movie demands a viewing. Take for example the whore who is describing her run in with the lesbian bodygaurd of the Don "that bitch don't understand what to do when she runs into a lady, and make no mistake I'm a motherfuckin LADY!" while sitting topless in bed with a nerdy white nebbish guy. And naturally this prostitute character is one that doesn't come back. Or the junkie white whore who calles Miles on the phone to get her fix "You know why I called, and its not because I miss your big black swinging dong, though it is good baby!" She doesn't show back up either. Sometimes the characters don't even have to say anything to be entertaining like Mile's girlfriend who is the most serious looking woman I have ever seen. She has painted on eyebrows that go half way up her forhead that Divine would applaud, and a look on her face at all times like someone in the room just farted. This woman is severe! No matter what is being talked about she looks like she is gonna cut some motherfucker at any moment. She's not unattractive, just mean looking. I was afraid of her. Then there was the chubby white hitman. He has probably the film's best scene when he springs into action with a totally unexpected kung fu fight scene where he totally obliterates a Mafia guy with ease. It comes out of nowhere, you don't expect it, and frankly it aint all that convincing. But after a half hour of this guy just walking around smoking cigarettes and looking at people it was refreshing to see him go into action. And I haven't even mention the mafia guys yet. In a movie that wears its racial stereotypes with pride, these guys are the top of the line. Greasy, with frightening combovers, always stuffing their faces with food and wine, smoking cigars and talking in wiseguy speak that makes Goodfellas look tame. There's a Cuban guy too but you can't really understand him at all. But he doesn't live very long anyway.
The movie is mercilessly padded with long scenes of people driving around, or shots of locations. When Miles goes to a resort town there is loooong montages of him riding a ski lift up and mountain and then back down the mountain. All so they can pad the movie out and wedge in some more of the smooth ass Checkmates limited music. So that's your cue to grab your sweetie and get some quick lovin in before the next round of action.
This is low end stuff that makes Dolemite look sophisticated and well made. But if you are in the right mood, it is a whole lot of fun. A real case of they don't make 'em like this anymore.
Friday, January 23, 2009
It is pretty easy to take pot shots at Jean Claude Van Damme. Lots of people have done it over the years. His stiff acting and over reliance on his martial arts have made him a point of ridicule in the industry. But he is also a reliable action star. You have to remember back in the 90's his films made money. A Van Damme flick, though never huge box office, was always a solid investment. His fans were loyal and his overseas market was huge. He was the first action star smart enough to start bringing in the Hong Kong directing talent to make his films starting with John Woo for Hard Target and then Ringo Lam with Maximum Risk (My favorite Van Damme movie btw) and then plenty more. But the rise of the huge budget Michael Bay blockbuster action film swept people like Van Damme and Steven Seagal under the rug of the industry. Add to that their own personal problems and they were relegated to the straight to DVD graveyard where they remain to this day. Which is sad because actually some of Van Damme's recent output has been rather good. Especially a flick called The Shepard. So now the man is in his late forties and in a reflective mood. There is no better time to make a movie about himself and his career.
In JCVD Van Damme plays himself. He has come home to Brussels to make another action film and possibly reboot his career if possible. His life is falling apart at the seams. He is having massive tax problems and is in a huge custody battle with his Ex-wife over their 8 year old daughter. His own films are being used against him in court making him look like an unfit father. Still he puts on a good face for fans in the streets who stop him. He is home after all. He stops in a bank/post office after greeting a couple of such fans one afternoon and the bank is held up. But to the outside world it looks as if He is the one doing the robbing. Hostages are taken, including Van Damme. The cops think he is the person in charge because the robbers start using him as the contact with the public and police. Van Damme uses this situation to extort some money for himself to pay for his lawyer bill so he can continue his custody case. But it is beginning to look like no one is going to get out of the hostage situation alive.
The film is structured in a flashback heavy format that may be daunting to the casual viewer. Things will move around in time, or play out in multiple points of view that demand you do some keeping up. This allows us an intimate view into the life and inner workings of Jean Claude Van Damme the character, which happens to be very much Jean Claude Van Damme the human being. This is no action hero. This is a broken man, at the end of his rope. Not so much because of the robbery, but because life has beaten him down. A man that hit his peak, but was torn down for it. A man who had big dreams for himself in an industry that lives to tear apart its own. IN a moment that many have criticized Van Damme breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience giving a soliloquy about his time in Hollywood vs his time learning martial arts. He discusses how in learning martial arts he was taught honor and respect. To trust your instincts and your master. And how in Hollywood it was all about how you can fuck the next guy. He open talks about his drug addictions and losing his family. He ends the scene weeping openly at what he lost and what he needs to regain. It is incredibly emotional and powerful. I would call it his best acting, except I don't think the man was acting at all. I think it was all heartfelt and truthful. There are other more lighthearted scenes where he reflects on his career too. Where he is discussing his films with one of the more likable robbers who is a fan. Their discussions of John Woo for instance are a riot. Another telling scene is when Van Damme discussing with his agent about why he keeps getting him these no budget movies. About how he would be willing to work for scale instead of his normal multi million salary if the movies were better, so they could put the money towards making a better movie. But his agent doesn't want to hear it and just offers him drugs.
I'm making the film sound much more serious than it is. While it is a serious movie, it is also funny at times too, though not as funny as the trailer makes it look. What the does consist of is Van Damme exorcising his demons and letting us know he is more than just the guy who kicks ass and shows his ass on screen.
The film is stylishly directed and shot with a limited color palette that fits the sort of nostalgic tone the movie sets. The lighting is moody and usually lit from above to emphasize the noirish moments. The film is mostly in English with scenes in French as well.
Truly a fantastic film and had I seen it in 2007 it would have easily made my top ten.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
passed away in December of 2008 and left a hole in the world. He is missed.
Now, on with the show.
I was asked by a longtime reader to do a column on a couple of “extreme” movies because they wanted to know my take on them. Those movies were Cannibal Holocaust, and The Guinea Pig Series. Today I intend to explore the world of Ruggero Deodato’s controversial cannibal masterwork Cannibal Holocaust and the fallout that came in its wake.
Cannibal Holocaust is a polarizing film in the horror film community. Without a doubt it is a film that anyone who has seen it, and even many who haven’t, have intense opinions on. This is a rare film that simply grabs the viewer by the throat and shakes them relentlessly until the final frames of the celluloid have run through the projector. The film is no vicarious thrill ride; it is mean, no vicious, attack on the souls of the viewer. If there ever was a film that was out for your blood, this movie is it. To an average horror fan who was brought up on a staple of Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm St. and the like this film would be like gasoline pumped into their heart. There’s no fun to be had from Cannibal Holocaust, unless there is something really morbid and deranged about you. This film is out to stir up shit deep down in your soul and will stop at nothing to do just that. No depth will be too deep to go, and you will be plummeted right into the abyss with the characters on screen.
The film went into production on June 4th 1979 with a release to happen in early 1980 (though I have heard some sources say it was actually late 1979). The film was an instant hit in Italy when it hit theaters, then within two weeks was withdrawn and banned, with director Ruggero Deodato pulled into court on charges of Animal Cruelty and possible murder. More on this in a little bit.
The story revolves around a Professor Munroe (played by Porn actor R. Bolla aka Robert Kerman most known for starring in Debbie Does Dallas) who is sent into the Amazon rain forest to find a group of missing documentary filmmakers headed by one hotshot named Alan Yates (Gabriel York). Seems these young filmmakers went there in hopes of making the ultimate film about native tribes and have since disappeared. The first half of the film follows Munroe as he goes deep into native territory, witnessing the horrors of the tribes and their rituals (such as punishment for adultery, and what happens when a pregnant woman is though to have a sick fetus in utero). He eventually gains the trust of the tribe and finds cans of film that belonged to the missing filmmakers.
The second half of the film details what is on that film as Munroe and a group of TV producers screen and develop the footage for a possible documentary project about the lives of the fallen filmmakers. But what they discover is horrors beyond belief. The film shows the crew slaughtering animals, raping the natives, burning villages and doing whatever they can to agitate the natives into action for their cameras. And finally the natives strike back in a final act of savage brutality and cannibalism the ends with the crew filming their own sickening dismemberment and death.
The first half of the film is made with conventional film techniques of real camera set ups, professional edits, music etc. To put it in layman terms, it looks like a “real” movie. But once we start screening the footage in the second half things drastically change. The footage we are witnessing is supposed to be “raw” footage. Unedited by anyone and straight out of the cameras. So it is messy, hand held, filled with spots where the film runs out, or fades to white between shots. There are ragged cuts from where they supposedly shut off the camera and got a different angle or vantage point. But the brilliance of this is that of course none of this is the case. The film has been carefully stage to look this way. Manipulated to feel like raw footage so that we the audience think what we are seeing is absolutely genuine stuff. Other narrative movies used the “cinema verite’” style before. It was basically invented in Italy post WW2 in films like Roberto Rossellini’s (who Ruggero Deodato worked with) Open City or The Bicycle Thief. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the first to apply it to horror films. But Cannibal Holocaust is the first film to take it to the next level and make what we are seeing feel completely real by design. So many people are shocked, sickened and struck numb by the content of the film that they miss the brilliant artistry that Deodato pulls off here. The directing in this film is in a league all its own.
A big part of why we buy that what we are seeing is real though is the use of casual violence throughout the film. Some of it quite unfortunate and disquieting. The biggest controversy surrounding this film to this day is the use of non-simulated animal torture and killing in the film. This decision is without reproach a morally reprehensible one that is indefensible on any level. But to deny the power it applies to the final film would also be lying too. The film shows several animals killed on screen including a coatimundi (which most people mistake as a muskrat or ferret) being skewered, a giant turtle being totally dismembered (very slowly I might add), a monkey with his face hacked off, and a pig being shot and beaten. It is worth noting that the scene where the pig is shot, Gabriel York refused to perform it. He flat out refused to shoot this pig, so another actor was asked to do it. Actor Perry Pirkanen wept after they shot the turtle scene. The crew claim that these animals were eaten after the scenes were shot, especially by the Tribal extras who considered things like monkey brains a delicacy. But yet these scenes are probably among the most horrifying in any cinema and are tough to watch. But what they do is set up the feeling that you are indeed watching something real. That if the filmmakers are insane enough to kill these real animals, then maybe just maybe they are insane enough to kill real people too. That maybe the entire film you are seeing is the real deal. Like I said it is morally reprehensible, but it works nonetheless. As a filmmaker and artist, I most certainly would never, ever do it.
But to muddy those moral waters even worse there is actual human death footage in the film as well. There is a sequence in the film called “The Last Road To Hell” where Professor Munroe watches one of Alan Yates' previous documentaries about third world war atrocities. The footage he looks at, showing people being executed by firing squad, is absolutely genuine. Not fake at all. But to make matters worse when the footage ends and Munroe inquires about the footage the TV producers tells him it was all fake and staged for the camera! When it clearly is not.
Deodato claims his need to make this film stemmed from his reaction to the violence on TV at the time. This was during the height of the Red Brigade terrorist violence in Italy and the TV news reports often only focused on the death and destruction left in their wake. Deodato has spoken in interviews about how his young son was often exposed to this footage of death and violence on TV do to the sensationalistic coverage. It angered him to the point that he worked the themes of exploiting violence to the point of causing more violence into the film we see today.
So after two weeks in theaters in Italy the film was seized and pulled. During those two weeks supposedly none other than Sergio Leone sent Ruggero Deodato a note praising the film for its raw power, but also warned him that it will stir up trouble. He was right. In court Ruggero was asked to prove that the main actors were indeed not dead, especially the leads playing the documentary filmmakers and in particular a woman playing a native who appears in a famous scene where she is impaled on a wooden stake from vagina to out her mouth. The biggest problem facing the director was that he had put the actors under contract to not appear in any other films, plays or TV for a year to help sell the public on the idea that they were actually presumed dead. He managed to round up the leads up and had them on a talk show thus showing they were still alive. The impaled girl was harder to locate but he was able to show photographs of the girl on set as she got into the apparatus, which was simply a bicycle seat on a pole with a balsa wood prop in her mouth. The photos also showed her after laughing with the cast and crew. So the murder charges were dropped.
The animal cruelty issue was not dropped however and Ruggero and the producers were sentenced to heavy fines and the film was banned for a few years until 1984. The movie went on to be banned in many other countries as well including New Zealand, Singapore, Iceland, and Malaysia. It was available uncut in the UK on video until the Video Nasties controversy exploded
and then it went onto the banned list there, only to resurface in recent years in a heavily cut form with the animal violence and sexual violence removed.
The movie played the United States in the mid 80’s (though I’ve heard conflicting things about this, some say it played 42nd Street earlier than that, some say like 1985, all are in agreement is played 42nd Street). The film was never released legitimately on VHS in the USA. Every company that tried would fold within a few months of acquiring the title it seems. So the reputation of the film rose on the strength of import copies and bootlegs.
The film was finally granted a proper release in 2004 from Grindhouse releasing when they remastered it and started doing limited theatrical runs, then followed up with a limited edition two disc DVD set that presented the film uncut. Among the many features on that DVD was something that was unique and certainly a nice change of pace for many viewers. The ability to watch the film with out the animal violence. Thanks to seamless branching capabilities you can watch the film while the DVD skips the scenes where Animals are killed or brutalized.
There are only a few films that really touch the outer boundaries of the human condition. Films that scrape the bottom of the soul and make you feel things you probably do not want to feel. Films that work maybe the same way that terrorism might work. Pasolini’s Salo 120 Days of Sodom, In A Glass Cage, Henry Portrait of A Serial Killer, Last House on Dead End Street and maybe a couple of others. These are rare animals that only certain people can watch and have the capacity to deal with properly. Cannibal Holocaust Is among those films. There have been countless other cannibal films before and after, but none of them can match it. It is a film that almost forces you to take a stand on what you are watching in a lot of ways. But yet it is an undeniably well made, chilling motion picture that commands your attention. There will never be another one like it. And that is probably a good thing.
The following are reactions from some various folks from the horror community that have seen Cannibal Holocaust. I especially wanted them to mention how they first saw the film and their reactions.
Andy Copp, Moderator of Exploitation Nation, and Filmmaker, Director of The Mutilation Man & The Atrocity Circle
I first saw Cannibal Holocaust on a bootleg I rented from Bookery Fantasy a comics store in Fairborn, Ohio when I was in college. I was a pretty well traveled extreme cinema viewer at that point and had already seen Cannibal Ferox, Nekromantik, Salo, Last House On Dead End St. and lots of others. So I knew what to expect with this one. I watched it by myself, which was not uncommon with the more extreme titles as my girlfriend was not usually game for them. The print I saw was not censored or fogged in anyway and was in surprisingly good shape. The animal cruelty was too much for me. I looked away during the little critter being skewered. I fast forwarded during the turtle (and still can’t watch that) and couldn’t then and can’t now stand hearing the pig squeal as it dies. I remember dreading the abortion sequence as I had seen pictures but it wasn’t as graphic as I thought it would be. But the sexual violence got to me. The adultery punishment was upsetting, as was the scene where they rape the native girl. Those scenes probably bothered me more than the rest of the movie (animal stuff not withstanding). The second half of the film was sickening and stressful, but I remember being in awe of how well made it was too. They way it manipulated you into thinking what you were seeing was so real really flipped my lid. I remember when the last frames of the demise of the crew rolled through feeling pumped up and really freaked out. Not too many other films had done that to me. I praised this movie to anyone who would listen. A lot of people thought I was nuts. Years later I would see it with a crowd when the remastered print would make the rounds. The crowd was about thirty or so people. You could feel the movie pour over them like a wave of wet cement. It weeded out the poseurs who were there just to goof on an old gore movie really quickly. There were a lot of walk outs. Oddly enough there was a couple of probably 20 year old girls and there bo hunk beefed up jock boyfriend there. I thought they would vanish before the thing was over. They made it to the turtle slaughter (which I walked out on, though I knew I would go back in a few minutes). To my surprise they all went back in too. But when it got to the part where they raped the native girl, the bo hunk boyfriend shot up and ran out. I went out to pee later and found him lying on a bench in the lobby looking very sick. He remained there for the rest of the movie, while the girls watched the whole thing.
42nd Street Pete. Writer, Film Historian, and all around badass and survivor of the Deuce
Cannibal Holocaust was one of those films shrouded in mystery. It was playing here at a theater called The Wellmont in Montclair NJ. It was pulled after three days due to the cruelty to animals. Didn't get to see it in an actual theater, although I tried to catch it at The Liberty on 42nd Street, but the people I was with were appalled that I wanted to see it.
According to Bill Landis of the Sleazoid Express, this film pummeled the audience into stunned silence. The usual rowdy crowd was flat lined by the film. Then it disappeared. Grainy bootlegs made the rounds of the convention circuits. Rick Sullivan peddled copies from his Gore Gazette Fanzine. Rumors persisted that some of the actual killing was real, especially the scene with the girl with the spike shoved up her ass.
I finally saw a copy off of a Japanese laser disc with all the nudity cropped, go figure. Even a shitty tenth generation bootleg would flat line a viewer. Even today, it still has that ability. Probably one of the most powerful horror films ever made as , even in today’s CG world, it has the power to shock & disgust a viewer. Chas. Balun said it best when he said the film kicks you square in the balls. Balun was also instrumental in getting the word out about Cannibal Holocaust.
Art Ettinger Managing Editor of Ultra Violent Magazine and Expert on Confrontational Cinema
I first saw Cannibal Holocaust on bootleg VHS tape in 1994. I had read about it for years and knew what it was, but hadn’t delved into the world of tape-trading yet. I had already seen other confrontational horror movies available on legit VHS including I Spit on Your Grave, House on the Edge of the Park, and Last House on Dead End Street. I also had already seen Jungle Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox since they too were easy to find in VHS rental shops. Even having already seen confrontational horror movies and having a slight familiarity with cannibal films, Cannibal Holocaust blew my mind. Unlike Ferox, Holocaust wasn’t campy. It quickly became one of my favorite movies. The first bootleg I watched was mediocre in quality, but I saw a crystal clear version shortly thereafter. I began collecting any versions I could find and did some library research on it. I distinctly remember reading various sources that claimed that the movie never played theatrically in the United States. When I found a review of Cannibal Holocaust in Variety’s Film Reviews from 1985 (hilariously located on the same page as their Back to the Future review), I realized how full of shit most genre writers were on the subject. It clearly played U.S. theaters, albeit briefly, in 1985. Right around that time, I also learned that Bill Landis covered it in a 1985 issue of Sleazoid Express when it first played NYC and that a Cannibal Holocaust marquee can be seen in the sketch comedy film Outtakes. I made it my mission to spread the word about the movie, not just to horror fans, but to other college students. I started making random people watch it, the culmination of which was a screening of it in a film class I taught while in college. Seeing Cannibal Holocaust with an audience of 50+ liberal arts students, none of whom had seen it before, was an incredible experience. Years later, when I got to see Cannibal Holocaust in 35mm in Cleveland, the movie blew my mind all over again. Even after interviewing and meeting Deodato (as well as Gabriel Yorke and Robert Kerman), Cannibal Holocaust still has a mystique about it. It’s still an amazing, “can’t believe this movie exists,” artifact of a bygone filmmaking era. Cannibal Holocaust defines confrontational cinema and remains one of the most fascinating films of all time.
Andrew Shearer, Gozoriffic Films, Film Director of Blood Witch, and Others as well as Film Critic.
By the time I actually got ahold of "Cannibal Holocaust", I'd long since composed a version of it in my head based on all the descriptions I'd read and still photos I'd seen over the years in various books and magazines. It was the be-all, end-all horror film, a legendary shocker that would challenge even the most hardcore of hardcore genre enthusiasts, an unforgettable celluloid atrocity that was even banned on planets Earth had yet to colonize. You weren't going to find this sort of thing at Blockbuster, or even the independent shops that still carried a healthy amount of rare hold-over VHS tapes from the 80's (that managed not to get chewed up in some thrill-seeking redneck's top-loader) in those beautiful, gigantic cover boxes. "Cannibal Holocaust" was something you needed a checking account or a credit card to get, because it was either going to come from a Video Search of Miami mail order catalog or Atlanta's now long-gone Oxford Video. Membership at Oxford also required one to be at least 18 years of age, which, in the summer of 1993, I wasn't quite. However, my friend Dan, recently graduated high school senior and drummer for the punk band I was in, held more than just the keys to a giant Chevy van with teardrop windows and a side door that'd sever your leg at the knee if it closed on you. He was old enough to get an account at Oxford video, had a vehicle to take us there, and was just as eager to step into the jungles of gore as I was. So with that, we were off to our date with Deodato.
Oxford Video was situated on the ground floor of the legendary Oxford Books, a gigantic, warehouse-sized structure filled with every novel or periodical I'd ever heard of (an entirely separate building, Oxford Too, was home to the comic books), the sort of place in which people routinely spent their entire day. I'd cruised the video rental section many times, and was well aware of the selection by the time Dan and I showed up to acquire membership. Since neither of us had a credit card, I split the required fee with Dan and dashed off to take one step closer to disturbing our respective minds forever.
Our selections, "Nekromantik", "Caligula", and "Cannibal Holocaust", were certain to provide a three-course meal of all things naughty and horrifying. Looking back on it now,
I wish we'd have spread the marathon over a couple of days, chasing each film with a couple Daffy Duck cartoons, rather than douse ourselves with one unforgettably startling scene after another. We were merely teenagers looking for some dangerous fun, a time-honored rite of passage for any youth, doing so with cinema rather than drugs, alcohol or B&E.
In five years' time, I'd go on to see several more movies that had a lot in common with "Cannibal": "Trap Them And Kill Them" starring Laura Gemser, "Make Them Die Slowly" (which I witnessed on the big screen at Georgia State University), and "Jungle Holocaust". While they all feature their fair share of nudity, torture, castration, dismemberment and death, there's one important thing separating them from the notorious one I'd seen first: I'd readily view any of them again. "Cannibal Holocaust", in contrast, was an experience I don't care to repeat. There are films I watched as a kid that disturbed me, thus bringing about feelings and memories that are the opposite of those one desires to visit when seeing a movie, but this was different. By age 16, I'd seen a whole lot of bizarre and disgusting movies, surviving "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Dead Alive" and "Re-Animator" with flying colors (green and red, mostly).
The difference with "Cannibal" was that it so convincingly radiated an atmosphere of reality, driven home by what was most certainly real footage of animals being slaughtered, that I couldn't help but be upset by what I was seeing. Man's inhumanity to man was indeed an important subject to address, but doing so in such a graphic, unflinching way was hard to digest. What bothered me about it then, and what continued to bother me about it for years to come, was that "Cannibal Holocaust" was intended as entertainment, not an actual documentary or educational film. I'd never before seen a horror film that wanted to hurt me rather than thrill me, and it was a
difficult experience to say the least. Viewing it with Dan in the summer of '93, we joked through it and ate sub sandwiches like we did every time we sat and watched old
exploitation movies, but my drive home was much more somber, and it was the one I couldn't stop thinking about.
While certainly a visceral thing to witness, the true impact of "Cannibal Holocaust" is measured by how long the images, actors' facial expressions, music and even the quality of the film itself remain in your mind after the movie ends. I haven't watched it in fifteen years because I don't need to. It's still there.
Fred Vogel Toe Tag Pictures, Director of Angust Underground series and The Redsin Tower.
Back in the day some of us use to tape trade. I had a friend who had his pulse on the genre and would hook me up with all kinds of videos from Richard Kern to the Guinea Pig films. It was the late eighties / early nineties when I saw CH for the first time. I'm not sure if it was a PAL VHS bootleg but the image was pretty shitty. I remember noticing right off that the guy from Debbie Does Dallas was in it...once I got over the porn novelty the movie's content hit me harder than most. I remember cringing at the animal violence and saying to myself how can they show this also the hand held look was the perfect escape for what followed. I was watching the movie alone and when the footage of the woman impaled came on the screen I stared at the TV in amazement.... How the fuck did they do that I thought to myself as well questioning that could this be real. It can't be real Mr Greenfeld was playing the lead. This has to be fake I thought to myself. I also remember the music from the films score floating around in my head for weeks. I showed as many people I could this movie. It wasn't till the late 90's when I found it again on DVD. I bought it instantly. This is an important film that inspired me as a filmmaker and still to this day I still cringe to the films content and that doesn't happen to me very often.
Nick Williams, Curator and writer for Celluloid Psychosis.
Well, my initial encounter with the nefarious CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is a rather banal account. A demon from Hell didn't materialize before me and I didn't simultaneously puke and shit myself and fall into a coma or incur any other kind of trauma. It was about five years ago now (so I would've been 21), and I had been into obscure and cult exploitation movies for a while, including the Italian variety, so of course I had heard of this movie and its reputation of infamy. Having an appetite for cinema of an extreme and depraved nature, I naturally had to see it for myself, so bought an import copy (which I of course pawned off after snatching Grindhouse Releasing's awesome Criterion-esque DVD) from DiabolikDVD. com at a rather inflated price (I wasn't so aware of the bootleg market at that point), and with a slight nervousness slipped it in my player one lazy Saturday afternoon. Now before I had seen the similarly nasty CANNIBAL FEROX and Ruggero Deodato's own JUNGLE HOLOCAUST a.k.a. LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, and had even gotten a preview of the flick with Necrophagia's music video of the song based on it, so I had an idea of what to expect. Yes, the film is rough, and I guess belongs on a list as one of the most graphic movies of all time, although I wouldn't put it at the top. So that was how I first saw it, and I'm sorry it wasn't some kind of apocalyptic anecdote.
But I will say I do count it as being among some of my favorite exploitation movies, albeit not too high in the ranking. Because let's face it, it's definitely no masterpiece - there's some cheesy dialogue and huge leaps in logic here (especially the fact that the network had planned to air the footage on national television without even glancing at first. C'mon!), and it seems to just resort to gratuitous shock value too often. But these are common flaws in most Italian productions, and at the same time those things give them their charm. Then of course there's the genuine animal cruelty - definitely an aspect I have mixed feelings about. It's always upset me, but never to the point that I find it intolerable. After all, I'm no vegetarian myself, but the Animal Cruelty Free option on the Grindhouse Releasing DVD is a nice alternative for when I'm not feeling up to it. These aforementioned gripes aside, there is also a notable level of intelligence to the film that you don't find in any of its contemporaries, mainly in its satirical tackling of the news media and how it likes to distort and manipulate reality and its comments on civilized society - which unfortunately it has to beat you over the head with in the final line. On a technical level it is also noteworthy for its solid direction and the stirring soundtrack.
One little memory of interest I guess is a couple of years or so ago when it showed as one of the midnight movies locally. The controversial title had drawn a fairly sizeable crowd. A couple of young girls were sitting next to me, I think with their boyfriends in the row in front, and it was interesting to observe their reactions throughout the show. Ironically enough, they weren't too offended by the animal killings - they just made pitiful "ohhhh" sounds. It was the gang rape of the village girl by the documentary crew that finally hit their last nerve and drove them to the lobby for the remaining duration. Granted that's a harsh scene, but I think it's odd a simulated rape would get somebody over the actual brutal butchering and cooking of a tortoise. Oh well. And I think it's bizarre people can go down to their local Best Buy and pick up this and other movies of its ilk.
My first encounter with Cannibal Holocaust came more years ago than I care to remember, back in the good ol’ prehistoric days of VHS, just before the internet came to be the household tool that it is today. I found a copy of a book of horror movie essays and one of them, by John Skipp and Craig Spector, listed “The 13 Most Disturbing Movies of All Time”. The list included such cinematic atrocities as Ilsa, Salo, In a Glass Cage, Last House on the Left, etc. Cannibal Holocaust was listed among them. And, in my post-high school years as a film “scholar”, I was determined to see everything on that list.
The problem was, of course, running the damned things down, because not everything on that list was available domestically on VHS. Fortunately, I was a member of an elite, underground group of bootleggers who sold and traded the most obscure titles. I say this proudly, now that everyone with a DSL connection is considered a video pirate. Back in these days, you needed to know people. You needed a network, not a connection. And, most importantly, you needed to own two VCRs.
Last House I’d already seen a number of times, in different edits. That was no problem. Check one. It took me years to run down In A Glass Cage and even then years to get around to watching it, and by that time, it had been released on DVD. So out went my old, deteriorating, nth generation tape.
Salo, One Hundred Days of Sodom, Pier Paolo Passolini’s final film, was considered art, so that was actually easy to find. Unfortunately, that was the one I started with.
It took a few weeks of recovery before I could watch the next one I dredged up. Which happened to be Deodato’s masterpiece, Cannibal Holocaust. After one viewing, I started to lose my taste for “film as endurance test.” Where Salo dealt with themes and a certain level of evil (Italian Fascism and coprophilia) that I wasn’t quite ready to handle, Cannibal Holocaust operated on a more surface, yet visceral, level. The gore and the cruelty to humans I dealt with handily. I’d been a life-long gorehound and I am still captivated, to this day, with the sudden and violent impalement of the young tribal girl. But the on-screen and very real animal slaughter was more than I could take. For this same reason I’ve avoided the other Italian cannibal movies as well as Mondo Cane and the Faces of Death series. I just saw no reason for the real-life butchery. One of the wonders of film is that it’s not real, no matter how realistic you can make it. If I wanted to watch animal cruelty, I could go visit a slaughterhouse.
Between the actual horrors, I find Cannibal Holocaust to be alternately dull and insipid, but those are traits I often find in Italian horror. I was admittedly intrigued by the “this is a true story and this is the footage recovered” presentation, but I grew weary of the full cast of utterly unlikable characters and the gore-for-gore’s-sake delivery. Ultimately, I didn’t see the point in the exercise. The “who are the real savages?” interior theme, I felt, had been done before and better. Finally, the film ended, with the film-within-the-film burned and I went off to do other things.
Yep, I was disturbed. It lived up to its place on the list, that was for sure. But like most of the other movies on the list, I was left with a feeling of “so what?” Beyond the iconic impaling scene, which is, indeed, haunting, what was the point of the movie even existing? And worse, what was the point of the others that it spawned?
As usual, I’m the minority opinion with regards to this movie. Mostly, I mourn the turtle
Runk Russell, writer for www.slasherclub.com
Actually watching Cannibal Holocaust wasn't a task, nor was it a terrible puke inducing experience that its reputation forced me to expect. Yes it is shocking but the animal killing infamy lead me believe that the film was absent of culture, satire and genuine terror.
I agree with the masses as far as the score goes. When I watch the tribe and their home set ablaze to the entertainment of the antagonists, all while realizing their manipulating the footage, its truly a heartbreaking moment. Forget the ritual wife killing, the manual abortion or the throat slicing of a muskrat. What damaged me was the sheer vanity of the documentary filmmakers.
The in ignorant or unaware circles seemed to be not only the real deal but thought of as real by those who didn't see it. A lot of filmgoers now days are savvy to editing and reality but back then people went about saying the film was legit. Or that’s at least what I read.
The shocks, the lead porn turned decent actor, the tribes and the fact that I believe the film to be the best edited story in the history of the genre make this a picture worth talking about and watching over and over. I dig Umberto Lenzi and all those who helped start the Cannibal subgenre but Cannibal Holocaust is by far the best of the bunch and easily a top 10 horror movie. Not for reputation, shocks or even its staying power. This film amazes me for how well structured and how it embodies true terror, horror and human ugliness.
Bryan Brassfield, www.B-videos101.com
I first say Cannibal Holocaust on VHS bootleg that my brother bought at his first convention. (Back when he wasn't so uptight about buying bootlegs at conventions). This would have been early 2002 I believe maybe 2003. This was before it was released by Grindhouse Releasing. I remember being shocked about how brutal it was and way different then the over the top Cannibal Ferox. The violence towards any living creature (man, woman, animal) had such a shocking impact that I found myself not being entertained, but more appalled by it. I had not seen too many hardcore horror films so I was a little taken aback by it's more realistic approach compared to similar cannibal film fare. I've grown to appreciate it's take and manner and I'm not quite as "shocked" by it like I first time I viewed, but it still left a impact.