I Just Saw THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE

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After seeing this film, you will wince every single time you read or hear somebody shout “kiss my ass!” Guaranteed.

Well, I just did it again. No, not that! I meant, I just worked up the nerve to watch yet another uber-infamous film in the horror genre. As in, one of those movies that are extremely notorious for being very difficult to sit through due to its particularly disturbing subject matter; thoroughly twisted premise; and scenes of horror and gore that are supposed to go beyond–well, I dunno, acceptable levels for a film containing scenes of horror and gore, I suppose. In other words, the type of film that gains a large amount of notoriety due to heaps of reviews describing how depraved the creative mind behind such a movie must be to unleash a celluloid monstrosity like it upon the world. 

 

It also holds the dubious, publicity-accruing dishonor of being banned by one or more national governments. After all, nothing builds a reputation of vileness and “omg, I gotta see it just once!” around a flick than when the elected–or appointed–officials of any government decide to get all paternalistic and spare us the burden of freedom of choice over what we might view. After all, what if we get traumatized by what we see, or worse yet, end up actually enjoying the depravity playing onscreen before us? Politicians would be remiss in their perceived responsibilities if they didn’t make sure our thoughts were sufficiently “free” of offensive imagery (or information) that the moral police (read: our elected parents) wouldn’t approve of.  Yanno, like the previously reviewed nasty piece of cinematic work known as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.

 

But that’s an issue to be tackled here another day, in another category of this blog. This category is for reviews, and it’s about time I cut The Human Centipede down to its component parts–which in this case are three human beings surgically combined to give the concept of “togetherness” a very uncomfortable twist.

 

Yes, Dutch director and screenwriter Tom Six did indeed indulge in some of the darkest fantasies any human being could be expected to conceive so as to bring us a truly warped addition to international cinema that wouldn’t exactly make a good date film, nor a movie you would show to the fam during your periodic holiday get-togethers. Or just before dinner on any occasion or day of the week, even when confined to the good company of just yourself.

 

First, without judging, let’s call a spade a spade: Six did indeed take torture and humiliation “porn” in an entirely new and utterly ghastly direction. Within the dark recesses of his mind were several scenarios exploring what would happen if a brilliant but truly demented surgeon who specialized in separating conjoined twins decided to do his work in reverse, and create a “pet”–read: hapless torture object–out of three living creatures of the same species who were surgically attached to each other mouth-to-anus, while sharing one long, artificially constructed digestive system.

 

Now imagine this medically skilled lunatic (perhaps a metaphorical “stand-in” for Six himself?) first doing this to a threesome of rottweiller dogs. Then try–however hard that may be for a sane person–to imagine that uniting three dogs into a single pathetic life form for your own amusement and mental need to vent via subjecting another life form to torturous humiliation wasn’t enough. You can only get so much pleasure out of doing this to life forms who were non-sentient, and thus not fully capable of appreciating the sheer horror and trauma of being surgically “conjoined” in such a fashion, i.e., where two of the party of three have their mouths become permanently part of someone else’s rectum, with the “lead” of the three having to do all the eating for both himself and his two new gastric mates.

 

No, unfortunately, I’m not making this up. And don’t call me depraved for reporting this, because it wasn’t my mind that spawned this rather unpleasant little storyline *points an accusing finger in Mr. Six’s general direction*  I was just a helpless bystander, i.e., the schmuck who sat before the screen and watched Six’s demented fantasies played out on the small screen before me, as if I had a direct line to the usually suppressed part of his psyche that Freud liked to call the id. How kind of Mr. Six to share his darkest thoughts with us in such a direct fashion.

 

Now, before it sounds like I’m going to join the herd and spew a self-righteous tirade against Six in defense of Victorian notions of moral propriety, let me make one thing clear:  I believe his exploration of his own dark fantasies, and horrifically original way of playing out the time-honored theme of “emotional venting” by subjecting various targeted individuals to relentless physical abuse, were crafted into a surprisingly effective horror film and dark comedy that explores the depths of human despair and insanity. It explicitly depicts the nightmarish relationship between a master and enforced trio of slaves–made into a single slave by brutal and brilliant surgical craftsmanship–as the former seeks to teach the latter tri-victim their “place” in one of the most unimaginable nightmares anyone could possibly find themselves in. So maybe we should thank Six for having the audacity to actually imagine something like this and then commit it to celluloid.

 

But first, let’s take the time for a brief synopsis. To make a long nightmare short (i.e., bearable), two college girls from America, Lindsay (very beautiful Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (kinda adequate by comparison Ashlynn Yennie) are taking what I presumed to be a spring break trip in Germany for some reason. Possibly all the vacation packages to Cancun or Montego Bay had been sold out by the time they got enough money together, or something. Anyway, these girls suffer one of those terrifying coincidences that thankfully only seem to happen to people–quite often groups of college students–who live in horror films: Their car breaks down on a lonely Germanic road, and they find themselves needing to approach the nearest home and throw themselves on the mercy of its occupant(s) to call for help. And of course, in fine horror film tradition, they just happen to be in the neighborhood containing the worst possible house whose doorstep they could possibly step upon. Also as expected, this villa is the only “game in town” (or at least on the road), considering the dearth of other homes in the area. Convenient for the plot, eh?

 

The girls turn out to be a wet dream come true for home owner Dr. Josef Heiter, the aforementioned demented surgeon; but not for the reasonable reason one would imagine!

 

The role of the Evil Doc was played most excellently by actor Dieter Laser, and a better choice by whomever the casting director may have been could not have been found. Laser is profoundly creepy and deranged as the tremendously sadistic, torture-loving doctor, and it’s his portrayal more than anything else that may give me lasting nightmares. Thin as a rail with those unnervingly protruding cheek bones (imagine the head of a mannequin with too much wood under the artificial skin), Dieter’s onscreen character is the quintessential black sheep of the human race, and a truly horrifying cinematic specimen to behold. It’s actually a filthy shame (well, not quite as filthy as Six’s imagination, but yanno what I mean) that most of Dr. Heiter’s past was shrouded in as much darkness as both his soul and Six’s imagination. Then again, perhaps the notoriety of this franchise will one day encourage Six to create a prequel to the First Sequence, something like The Man Who Made The Human Centipede: Prologue Sequence. I’m sure Heiter’s life story on film would be a spectacle that got banned even in France and Japan, especially if it was conceived by the likes of Mr. Six.

 

And speaking of Japan while also getting back to the synopsis: No sooner do Lindsay and Jenny fall into Heiter’s clutches then the Doc soon finds a loud-mouthed and spirited Japanese guy named Katsuro (the very loud Aikhiro Kitamura) to provide the “lead” for his mad creation of anatomical nuttiness. Where he acquires Katsuro from, I have no idea; he sorta just walks into his hidden basement-cum-surgical lab with the unconscious man over his shoulder. It’s one of the things about this movie you had to just sit there and accept, and not ask too many questions about; otherwise you would get frequently bitten by a psycho-metaphorical creature I like to call the Logic Shark. And its bite hurts quite a bit!

 

 At any rate, the three hapless “guests” of Dieter wake up tied to their own surgical beds, and as one might expect, they’re in a state of realistically portrayed and totally understandable terror, far worse than what you experience when confronted by a creepily leering dentist when you needed to be put out for a tooth extraction. And their state of mind wasn’t helped any when Heiter began playing his sadistic game on the psychological level by meticulously and gleefully describing each step of the procedure that would unite them into a single organism, including the precise number of teeth that had to be removed from someone’s mouth in order for it to be permanently grafted to another person’s anus; how the lips had to be removed in a circular fashion to allow the attachment; etc., et al. The horror experienced by these three at literally being the butts of this mad doctor’s sick joke was palpable to the viewing audience.

 

Well, I should mention that Lindsay made a heroic effort to escape, and this provided the only scene in the movie that really made me get sick and light-headed for a bit (yes, I endured, though not easily; but much more easily than the motion sickness I experienced watching Cloverfield). Perhaps that happened due to the fact that I had just recently been admitted to the hospital for the first time in my life, and experienced I.V. units stuck in my arm and hand for the first time. The relevance of that to the scene in question? Well, let’s just say that Lindsay’s harried escape from her hospital bed without bothering to carefully remove the I.V. needle inserted into her vein showed me exactly the mess I would have experienced if I would had reason to hurriedly vacate my bed during the two nights of my hospital stay.

 

This led to a sequence in the movie where Heiter pursued Lindsay throughout his massive villa, while she did everything one panicky person could expect to do while being chased by a doctor straight out of Hell who was wielding a tranq rifle. I don’t think I’m giving you a true spoiler here by making it clear that her efforts, however noble, were ultimately futile; everyone reading this is well aware that the movie wasn’t titled The Attempted Human Centipede or Dr. Heiter’s Human Centipede That Almost Was.

 

So, to bring a capsule synopsis to completion, Dr. Heiter did the surgery, and his three guests spent the rest of the film trying to escape from an inescapable nightmare they couldn’t wake up from. It has to be seen to be believed, trust me. Six rarely hesitates to indulge in every horrid possibility this mega-lurid torture porn fantasy scenario provides for him and his dumbstruck viewers. So, I think I can answer a few questions you readers  may likely have if you’ve read this far, even if you are highly reluctant to know the answers; don’t worry, I won’t go into too much detail!

 

Yes, we do find out exactly how a bowel movement is conducted by this artificially created triune freak of surgical craftsmanship. Yes, we do see exactly how poor Lindsay reacts to being the “middle person” in this freakish anatomical abomination when Katsuro can’t hold it in any longer (he apologizes in a heartfelt manner, for whatever that may have been worth to Lindsay). And yes, Dr. Heiter openly enjoys the experience and cheers Katsuro on when this happens. And yes again, I wish I was making all of this up (not that I would have any inclination to do so, mind you!).

 

The surgical and gore effects were quite well done, with hardly a hint of CGI. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing for a film like this. At any rate, part of the reason this celluloid atrocity (let’s be dramatic here!) saved on the budget was its small cast. Other than the Evil Doc and three Hapless Victims, the only other major characters were two Prying Ineffectual Police detectives who kept showing up at Heiter’s secluded home to investigate the reported disappearance of people, including of two girls whose vehicle was found in a damaged state near his home. The scenes where Heiter interacted with these detectives and struggled to his utmost to feign a cordial veneer and keep his immense ego and temper in check–and not always succeeding (big surprise!)–were as entertaining (!) as any other part of the film. Well, assuming the viewer is someone who finds anything about this movie entertaining, that is.

 

The only other two characters we saw was a Fat Perv Guy that could only speak in his native German who accosted Lindsay and Jenny early in the film when they were seeking help for their broken down car – his interaction with them, and the ensuing misunderstandings due to their inability to understand each others’ language, was like something straight out of an R-rated version of Three’s Company; and another fat sloppy guy who was tranqued and captured by Heiter near the beginning of the movie when he attempted to take a dump outside in the Doc’s secluded neighborhood complete with a roll of toilet paper in his hand. Alas, this guy wasn’t a good tissue match for the two girls, and thus was quickly euthanised. Despite his horror at being put to death, he had no idea how much luckier he was than poor Katsuro, who did turn out to be a good match in his place.

 

Another highlight of this film that needs to be seen to be believed is the drama surrounding the attempt by the Human Centipede–led (literally) by the intrepid and determined Katsuro–to escape from Heiter’s clutches when they have finally had enough of his abuse. What Katsuro has to do to get himself and his two conjoined surrogate sisters out of that house (and I’m not saying he succeeds, at least not fully) is both dramatic and horrendous, and the scene of them making haste to escape up a flight of stairs while Katsuro is constantly yelling “Eietch!” (or however you phonetically spell that awful sound he kept uttering during this scene) over and over again. This scene is especially harrowing when you consider how hard it is to crawl at any degree of speed when you’re basically a living train with another person’s face literally grafted to your ass, and another person having her face grafted to the ass of the chick directly behind your behind.

 

That scene will be as difficult to remove from your conscious mind as the one near the climax of Todd Browning’s infamous 1932 flick Freaks, where you saw a horde of badly deformed sideshow folks crawling through the mud during a storm to get at the treacherous carnie hottie Cleopatra and her equally corrupt strongman lover. And you may also find yourself forever contemplating what the hell it means when someone screams “Eietch!” repeatedly during heavy exertion. I wonder if you would hear that word shouted by athletes working out heavily in a Japanese weight-lifting club; or from a Japanese guy sitting on the porcelain throne while continuously attempting to eject a rock-hard turd from their system during a particularly severe bout of constipation . My gods, did watching that movie ever get to me!

 

Needless to say, Six did actually have some philosophical commentary to make in this film, especially embodied in Katsuro’s sad spiel and revelation towards the end of the movie. Many viewers and reviewers deny the existence of any such statements being prese in this film, but they’re there if you look hard enough. Believe it or not, “depraved” fantasies often carry inherent social messages or memes played out in a specific fashion within one’s private thoughts–but one can only share them in visual form with others if they happen to be a filmmaker who can find the budget, equipment, and thespians willing to act them out in front of a camera. The cast of this film were all commendable in putting aside their dignity in favor of artistic achievement (or something like that).

 

The film ends largely as you would expect it to end if it was scripted with someone of Tom Six’s mindset. Yes, a final confrontation between the ultra-arrogant Heiter and the investigating detectives does ensue, leaving no party very happy in the end, including the viewer. And yes, a personal revelation about Katsuro during an introspective moment on his part results in a majorly fucked up final fate for Lindsay, the “middle person” of their conjoined status; pardon my French, but anything less than the use of a high-power expletive would understate the situation I’m referring to.

 

I certainly didn’t find this film be a blockbuster in horror cinema, but for the record, I didn’t think it sucked in any fashion. For those horrorphiles whose stomachs are reasonably sturdy, you may want to check this movie out. Its screenwriter/director does have relevant things to say, and he enjoys offending his audience in ways that are simultaneously ghastly and amusing. So if you end up getting offended by what you see onscreen with a strong urge to rant about how nothing like that should ever be allowed to get filmed, then Tom Six succeeded in doing his job. And it’s a golden opportunity for the intellectually-minded to observe the darker impulses of human nature dramatized before them in graphic, unflinching detail, and society should utilize such work as potentially valuable research tools to glean understanding of the worst parts of the human mind rather than attempting to hide them from public view via censorship. This is why censorship is the enemy of a democratic society rather than its moral savior. 

 

P.S. — Before someone reminds me in the comments, yes there is a sequel to the franchise (though not truly to the story in the film itself) called The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence by the same director and screenwriter, which is said to be well beyond even this one in terms of outrageous, darkly humorous torture porn; and a third by Tom Six–said to go well beyond the second one–titled The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is slated for release later this year (it’s May 21, 2013 as I type these words). I guess Mr. Six has a powerful psychological need to get his most perverse fantasies onscreen, likely accompanied by a sadistic joy in riling up the pro-censorship pundits and the easily offended. Kudos to him, I say!

  

    

 

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I Finally Saw CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST

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Yup, you read the subject line of this post correctly: I finally found the nerve to watch Ruggero Deodato’s notorious 1980 Italian horror film Cannibal Holocaust. Often said to be the worst of the lot amongst the infamous Italian genre of cannibal cinematic gore fests that saw its birth and gruesome heyday in the 1970s, this movie has also been proclaimed as “banned” (both truthfully and falsely) across the globe, with many distribution companies throughout the world settling only for heavily edited versions for release if an overall ban wasn’t enacted. In fact, it took some years following its completion to gain any type of release even in Deodato’s native Italy, whose populace seemed to boast a sizable audience for this type of material (and some think only the Asian market goes for this sort of thing!).

It’s been reported that Deodato, the famous–or infamous; take your pick–Italian cult director of extreme cinema, was actually arrested for producing this less-than-pleasant flick, and accused of initiating actual murders in the course of filming this nightmare on celluloid. In actuality, it was only the four animals brutally slaughtered on screen who got the genuine snuff treatment, and not any human beings (I can actually hear the collective membership of PETA having a simultaneous conniption over such double standards). This movie has been much maligned–er, discussed–throughout various blogs and web sites dealing with relevant genres of cinema already, so there is no need to go into a detailed synopsis of it here (if you want to know more, Google has achieved its level of popularity for a reason, people! And no, the owners didn’t pay me to plug it, FYI *sarcastic grin*). What I do want to get into here, which will give a lot more info on the film to the followers of this blog who are not in the know in a by proxy sense, is my evaluation of this movie, i.e., whether or not it truly deserves its reputation as one of the most brutal and vile films ever made, and whether or not it had any real merits to it that may enable it to rise above the status of a pure exploitation splatter film.

The first thing I’d like to mention in regards to seeing a film I’ve always heard so much about yet didn’t see for a long time after first hearing about it is not the matter of whether everything I’ve heard would ring true in my estimation, but what significant details (significant to me, anyway) I would notice that no previous reviewer bothered to mention. The first detail that caught my mind about this movie that no one ever mentioned to me (that I believe warranted mention) was the totally incongruous theme instrumental that played over the fairly lengthy opening credits–it was an extremely pleasant and even downright relaxing tune! If an unsuspecting viewer caught this movie on cable (not that it would ever be shown on contemporary cable, even in an edited version–we are likely at least a few years away from the debut of the Extreme Gore Channel) and came across this very pleasant melody playing over a rather scenic panorama of South American jungle from the sky, they may very mistakenly get the impression that they were in for a cute family-friendly American flick about kids saving endangered tree sloths from being captured for display in a zoo, or a nice little documentary by the estate of Marlen Perkins on the art of photographing caimans in their natural habitat *cue to theme music of Mutual of Omaha* (for those who got that, sorry, I couldn’t resist). I can’t help but bellow in sadistic laughter for just a few seconds (okay, maybe several) for what such clueless individuals would be in for if they decided to sit and watch with such *ahem* incorrect expectations. Though “sadistic” is certainly an apt term for what was to follow, as one can always count on Deodato to deliver the goods.

Now, with that out of the way, let me get to a point of major controversy and contention about this film, and follow with my usual frank degree of honesty and lack of PC in response: The very graphic scenes of actual animal mutilation for whatever reason Deodato saw them as necessary (I won’t try to psychoanalyze him here, but no, as far as I know, he didn’t grow up to become a serial killer despite showing some of the major warning signs). This flick saw the brutal killing by knife and other bladed implements of a musk rat and a large tortoise by Italian-American antagonist and sensation-mongering young documentarian Alan Yates and his crew of blonde “pretty boy” Jack Anders; typical guido Mark Tomaso (whose father hated him, btw, a sentiment his dad made very clear when asked about his son’s disappearance in an impromptu news interview); his ill-fated Peruvian guide Felipe; and his very easy on the eyes girlfriend Faye Daniels (her being the only attractive thing about this film, if you don’t count the pleasant opening music). This unrepentant animal slaughter further continued when Alan shot a pig in one of the native villages at close range, and one of the tribes depicted in the film did their own part to piss off PETA by divesting a live monkey of its head and eating the rest of it.

So, did these scenes in any way add to the narrative or lend any “artistic” credentials to the movie as a whole? No, they were pure examples of shock value, presumably added for the purpose of adding further examples of generic “savagery” to a movie that already had plenty of that without the need to sacrifice any live animals. I’m not sure why Deodato couldn’t have gone the fake gore route for the animals like he did for the people killed in this movie, but then again, I guess he felt that non-sentient animals were fair game when trying to make a gory film about the “laws of the jungle” that was as “realistic” as possible. That being said, in all fairness to Deodato and his PETA-defiling crew of actors, one thing that wasn’t mentioned in any of the reviews I ever heard (and I’ve read and heard plenty) was the fact that at least with the scene involving the tortoise–by far the most graphic and needlessly extended of the four scenes of genuine animal massacre in this flick–the hapless reptile was killed quickly, as its head was immediately chopped off. This is something that all hunters with even a modicum of ethics will strive to do when hunting for food, or even for sport. The main point of brutality with this extended sequence was how graphically the tortoise was shown being slowly cut to pieces in glorious full color close-up, and all its organs removed and then eaten by the male members of the crew; Faye was the only one who turned her head from the proceedings in disgust and vomited in both a PC and stereotypical moment.

Faye was also to later play further PC roles in this movie, such as being the only voice of semi-conscience amongst Alan and his depraved crew of tabloid fools, as Deodato and screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici probably thought it was unlikely for a man to show the same traits, despite the main character in the film, Prof. Harold Munroe, expressing such sentiments frequently in the main framing sequence of the movie. Did I tell you how much I dislike PC and stereotyping? Yes, that was a rhetorical question, for the one reader out there who may not have caught the sarcasm (and please pardon my pretentiousness for assuming I have more than one reader at this point, too, not counting me when I have to edit these damn posts *grins*).

To answer another question likely on the mind of many: No, the scenes of animal mutilation didn’t get to me, probably because I have gone raccoon hunting a few times with some friends a long time ago, and honestly, the stuff they did to the raccoons were not much different than that which was done to the animals onscreen by the overzealous actors in this film, albeit not nearly as prolonged, and I know there is nothing unusual about those friends of mine when it comes to hunting (they are the friendliest people to ever enjoy hunting animals, I should point out, and I’d much rather be their guest for dinner than accepting a similar invite from the Yanomamo tribe). I’m not going to get into a discussion of the ethics of hunting in the civilized world in this particular post, because it’s too off-topic and I tend to make my rants long enough as it is (I can already see the complaints being thrown at me about the many virtues of brevity, yadda yadda yadda), but I’ll deal with that subject in another post, fear not (or fear quite a bit, as the case may be).

However, those who are squeamish about such things, and every member of PETA, had best not attempt to sit through the needlessly prolonged sequence where the tortoise was vivisected in more detail than you’d expect to see in a zoological physiology lab, but if you are even a casual dabbler in hunting, the innards of a reptile do not look different enough from those of a deer or a raccoon to give you the trembles. On the other hand, the painful killing of the musk rat by way of a knife was not done quickly enough in my opinion, and some degree of censure should have been brought down on Deodato’s crew for that one. I was wondering, however, why the hell that musk rat didn’t bite the hell out of actor Carl Gabriel Yorke before he got the chance to perforate it with the knife considering the way he was holding it. Now that would have been a sight worth sitting through that sequence for.

There is one more thing I should add about the tortoise mutilation scene that did actually make it a bit difficult to sit though, and this goes back again to the subject of Deodato’s choice of score for the movie. Part of the soundtrack included this hugely ominous instrumental that evoked a severe sense of foreboding that was played over every scene of violence, sometimes combining it in a medley with the incongruously pleasant melody from the opening credits to create a truly outre contrast. This ominous tune was played non-stop over the entirety of the turtle-gutting scene–which seemed to go on for an eternity, as if Deodato was constantly worried that we didn’t see enough of the poor creature’s viscera to satisfy whatever it was he thought he was trying to satisfy with these scenes–and this made the sequence unsettling even for some who aren’t turned off by the sight of real freshly butchered animal entrails. Anyone who may get upset by what they were seeing would find the addition of that music truly unbearable, even if not on a conscious level. Say what you want about Deodato–whether good or bad, it will quite likely be true–but the guy is enough of an auteur to know how to combine visuals with choice of score to create exactly the type of mood he wants.

So in summation of that point, the movie works just fine without the real animal mutilations, because they added nothing to the movie save additional shock value, and as more opportunities to make Alan and his crew look like assholes, and they didn’t need these particular scenes to accomplish that. The problem is, their needlessness only served to make Deodato and the actors portraying those characters look like assholes too, and even though I think a point or two in their defense simply because they were true was warranted (e.g., the tortoise being given a quick death), they still deserved full criticism for these scenes. I really wish that musk rat gave Mr. Yorke a nice big bite on his finger before he started cutting the creature up, or at least peed on him and ruined his expensive company-loaned safari outfit; that way, he would have smelled like a pissant instead of only looking like one. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen the film and dare to make the decision to do so like I did, and you are sensitive about the issue of animal violence, don’t feel bad about securing one of the versions of the flick that had the animal killings edited out, as you won’t be missing anything other than some serious heartbreak.

Moving aside from that and onto the subject of the (thankfully fake) scenes of human on human gore: Despite all that I heard–one online reviewer dared any viewer to sit through the movie and not throw up–I managed to sit through it without flinching more than a minor extent, and nary as much as even a single dry heave (it seems the characters in the film were doing enough throwing up at the various scenes of gory mayhem for the viewer, anyway; so no need to waste my own gastric fluids to show revulsion at the tableau on display when others are generous enough to sacrifice their own instead). The gore effects were realistically rendered, but often shown in quick shots to de-emphasize any possible shortcomings of the sfx. I actually can think of one particularly disturbing scene I will unfortunately take to sleep with me tonight that didn’t involve a murder, but a seriously diseased old woman who, realizing she was a liability to her tribe at that age and condition (no nursing huts thereabouts?), wandered to a certain sacred spot to sit there moaning in agony as she slowly rotted while not so patiently awaiting her now merciful demise. The sight of Alan and his crew dispassionately standing over her and explaining her situation to their expected future audience as you may casually explain the making of a ginger ale float on your home ec YouTube channel wasn’t exactly one of the highlights of my night. And considering how quick Yates and his party were to resort to horrid violence in order to create artificial drama and action for his audience, you’d think they could spare one measly bullet to put that poor old woman out of her misery. But no, they had to be sadists even when it came to not committing an act of violence. I couldn’t help but wonder if some of those old woman’s moans were actually her saying, “Just shut the fuck up and shoot me already, you pale-faced pricks!” in her native lingo. You can’t imagine how many times I wished I had popcorn with me so I could throw a stray kernel at the screen every time Alan and company gave with another display of flagrant douche-baggery. It takes quite a special type of douche-bag (or, as my bud Stephanie spells it: “dooshbag”) to earn that title based on what they sometimes don’t do in addition to what they spend so much time actually doing.

But bottom line, the movie didn’t make me part with any bodily fluids nor hide my eyes under a pillow (okay, I half-closed my eyes at the scene when the tribal woman was given the Yanomamo’s answer to the “scarlet letter” treatment–with emphasis on the scarlet–for adultery, but hey, I bet most of you would have, too!), and I have honestly seen worse. It’s not my intention to boast here, because while I have quite a high tolerance for gore and mayhem on the screen, I do have limits, and I have had them reached before. In fact, there are a few films I have yet to work up the nerve to watch at this writing (I doubt I will ever have the nerve to watch An American Crime). Immediately coming to mind is on that list is Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom, which my friend and adviser at my alma mater’s foreign film club was willing to show due to what he described as its artistic merits, but utterly refused to show Cannibal Holocaust for allegedly lacking the same (*waves to Dr. Basile*). But is it really so bereft of any such merits? Let’s talk about that a bit now.

I have to say, in all honesty, that Cannibal Holocaust has a decent script, with production values to match, despite its obvious and rather sleazy exploitative elements. It boasts an important theme throughout the film, one that Deodato and Clerici made no attempt to disguise. That theme presents existential questions about the nature of justice, how relative and subjective what is deemed “criminal” and what methods of dispensing it can be from culture to culture, and a serious but uncomfortable comparison between primitive cultures like the Yacumo and Yanomamo tribes of the Amazon Basin and our own “civilized” (read: organized and post-industrial) society and its accompanying cultures. There are many reviewers who like to admonish writers of didactic stories or scripts for being “preachy” when they purport to do something more than just provide escapist entertainment, as if giving someone food for thought and entertaining people are somehow mutually exclusive. Of course, calling someone “preachy” for having something to say about something in their fiction is in many ways a tacit admission that they, and other readers, dislike being expected to read or watch something that makes them feel compelled to think too much.

Granted, some writers do a bad job of presenting a theme or message, and are lamentably “heavy-handed” in doing so. But in my humble opinion, when a writer succeeds in an attempt to combine making their audience think while simultaneously entertaining them in the process, they achieve their vocation’s equivalent of pure gold. I think even those who make a courageous attempt to send out a message, but fumble the attempt badly, are usually admirable in their own way. For anyone who feels that entertainment doesn’t work when a strong message is built into it, or that this message or idea somehow taints or dilutes the story’s entertainment value, I suggest they look at great TV series that were both entertaining and thought-inspiring at the same time, like the classic politically-charged 1970s sitcom All in the Family; the very ahead-of-its-time and heavily intellectual 1990s drama series Picket Fences (provided you ignore every episode of its horrid fourth and final season); the bulk of the late Rod Serling’s work, like his famous teleplay Requiem for a Heavyweight and his popular thought-provoking fantasy TV series The Twilight Zone; and much of Joss Whedon’s oeuvre, including his fantastic fiction TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer; its equally commendable spin-off Angel; and his short-lived but cult classic sci-fi Western, Firefly. Of course, there is nothing wrong with shows/movies or stories that merely seek to entertain without a heavy message, and I am fond of several of those as well, including the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company (one of my all-time faves), which the great comedian and actress Lucille Ball once commended for “not trying to change the world,” which she felt was the best type of comedy there was, a form she did so much excellent work in with three hit sitcoms (yes, I’m ignoring her fourth and final one, Life With Lucy, out of respect for her).

However, I find it possible to enjoy both, whereas others clearly seem to have a more one-sided view of this issue, so yes, I’m one of those annoying scribes who is often accused by those who hold such an opinion as “preaching” to them. And contrary to those who claim “preachy” only applies to those stories that beat their viewers or readers over the head with the message, I’ve seen such stories and writers (including myself) accused of “preaching” even when when the message was fairly subtle and subservient to the pure entertainment aspects, like action or characterization. Hence, for some, even a subtle message constitutes too much thinking for comfort.

The way I see it, though, is that writers of all stripes have a more important job than simply entertaining, even though that is certainly a big part of our job. Writers have often been the very conscience of their society, bringing thoughts, ideas, memes, and opinions before the reading public that people en masse often need to hear and consider even if they don’t want to do so. Thus, writers have the ability to make or a break a revolution at certain points in history. Again, there are bad ways of spreading a message via writing, but we must never forget or dismiss the importance of leaving a reader with an idea or thought they didn’t have before they read our story or watched a show or play culled from a script we wrote. I have nothing against mindless escapist entertainment in certain dosages (just like food heavy with sugar), as we can certainly use it at times, but in my opinion, too much of that to the near-exclusion of more didactic forms of writing and general entertainment cause the latter to serve as “bread and circuses” for keeping the masses pacified while their overseers make a killing off of them, in every sense of that word.

That is likely the reason why so many people do not like thinking about or attempting to understand certain issues too much, or being reminded of the preponderance of a certain major societal problem that they prefer to deal with by doing their best to pretend it doesn’t exist. “Preachy” writers won’t let them forget or ignore these matters, which is why adherents to that school of thought find the need to use a certain adjective or verb to deride writers of didactic fiction, much as pop culture did the same for well-educated people by calling them “nerdy” and women who openly enjoy their natural sexual desires as “slutty.”

One of the uncomfortable things that this film’s script forced us to do is to look at matters from the perspective of the primitive tribesmen featured in the movie. Seeing things from the perspective of others outside of whatever narrow perspective our particular group happens to hold is often extremely difficult for us. This is why you see things like Americans justifiably screaming in rage when a few thousand of our fellow citizens are killed by the brazen attack on our soil on 9/11, yet rationalize and ignore the frequent destruction wreaked upon average citizens and their property in Middle Eastern nations by drones and invading military units sent by the United States government. It’s always easy to justify what your group does to “their” group, but the reverse is never seen as morally comparable. Those outside of one’s group are often dehumanized and derided as being living personifications of evil and degeneracy, and we often even rationalize what we do to them as being in their best interests. Alan Yates and his small film crew seemed to have no problem with treating the tribes they encountered in and near the “Green Hell” section of the Amazon jungles as less deserving of the type of considerations that they felt they were completely worthy of, because they view themselves as “more advanced” than the primitive tribes. However, as Prof. Monroe noted in this movie, our society commits many of the same atrocities and barbarities as these tribes do, but we simply find more “civilized” ways of doing it.

For instance, we may not kill or imprison someone for advocating an unpopular opinion as some nations have done and continue to do, but we do other less “extreme” but no less effectively unjust ways of stifling such people by threatening them with job loss, revocation of tenure or funding, and academic ostracizement even if they push unpopular ideas that they can often back up with good peer-reviewed scientific experimentation. Our political system won’t tie someone to a tree and divest them of their favored body parts for refusing to flow with the status quo, but our institutions will resort to many forms of blatant censorship and socio-political marginalization of such individuals. And while our culture will not stone or shove a wooden pole through the vagina of a female for violating a socially constructed sexual taboo, we will still socially condemn girls and women for openly expressing their sexuality via pejorative terms like “slut” and “whore” (which far too many girls go along with and use against each other, it must be admitted), and young women under a certain legal age are actually arrested and prosecuted for taking and sending provocative photos of themselves, which is more an attempt to control their sexual expression and decree it to be “obscene” than the common rationalization of “protecting” them from “bad choices.” So while our society and sense of justice no longer permits the extremes of punishment for social infractions and violation of cultural taboos that we saw meted out in this film by the Amazonian tribes, we still engage in often life-destroying forms of punishment for essentially the same things.

Even more important is the fact that we still tolerate a global socio-economic system that is based upon the same type of “survival of the fittest” & “law of the jungle” ethos that Alan Yates was ranting about and using to openly rationalize the abhorrent behavior of his documentary crew throughout the footage they left behind that was recovered by Prof. Munroe and his rescue party. Our environment is much more controlled and comfortable than the raw jungle environment that the Yacumo and Yanomamo tribes operate within, but the basic principles are the same. These principles have long been used by the many who follow the “teachings” of Ayn Rand to justify and even glorify almost every negative aspect of behavior that human beings can manifest, from greed and selfishness all the way to war and imperialist domination of others. How does this make our culture majorly different or more advanced than that of these primitive tribes despite our frequent pretense to the contrary and chauvinistic sense of entitlement?

Though this wasn’t explored in the script, it can be cogently argued that we are even more guilty of such behavior than the Yacumo and their fellow Amazonian tribes, because unlike them, we have the productive and technological capacity to create a socio-economic system that is not based on a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest structure that is predicated upon ruthless competition rather than cooperation and the goal of abundance for all. Defense of a system that breeds uncivilized behavior within the context of a supposedly civilized society makes us in many ways more culpable than a primitive tribe for prominent displays of such behavior amongst us.

Now don’t get me wrong, this film was hardly one of black-and-white depictions of morality. I am not by any means defending the three primitive tribes who appear in it (though only two prominently) as “noble savages.” They were often very barbaric in their treatment of each other when it comes to dispensing justice, along with the harsh and not exactly reasonable morals that demand extreme forms of punishment if violated, and they often come across as nightmarish caricatures of the primitive savage trope seen throughout the horror tales of Western culture.

Nevertheless, the main point of the film–voiced largely through the ethical character of Prof. Munroe–was that savage behavior from one group towards another merely begets similarly uncivilized behavior in retaliation, something that high-ranking politicians in America refuse to accept or acknowledge. Those who are more worthy than others in their own eyes cannot logically expect those others to accept this loaded logic, nor readily adopt it into their own mindset. What was also well displayed in the script was how victims and victimizers can readily reverse status depending upon who has the advantage at any given time, even in regards to each other. This is made clear on a macroscopic level in the civilized world’s greater political sphere when we see, as just one example, how the high-ranking extremist Israeli politicians and their right-wing lobbyist lackeys in the American political landscape often use the historical fact of how extreme methods of systematic murder and imprisonment inflicted upon members of the Jewish ethnic group during the World War II Holocaust by the Nazis as rationale for entitlement when inflicting similar forms of treatment upon a different ethnic group, the Palestinians, based on competition to control rather than cooperation in sharing the resources and land of their geographical region.

This amply displays how the nature and imperatives of the hierarchical economic system we live under, and not the innate “nature” of any particular group of people, results in the bulk of serious conflicts in the world today. In such an environment, whether it’s a steamy jungle region or huge post-industrial cities, there are few individuals who are innocent at all times, and the role of victim and victimizer often shifts and changes as readily as billows in a wisp of smoke.

Of all the members of Yate’s little entourage, only Faye was afforded a sympathetic character (whether PC or not, this was nevertheless the case), so she was the only one whose horrid final fate at the hands, teeth, blades, etc., et al., of the vengeful Yanomamo tribe was truly vilifying to the viewers. Alan, Mark, and Jack were seen as receiving their just desserts–with “dessert” being an apropos term here–particularly Jack, whose comeuppance butchering was executed (pun intended) in glorious detail, including the receiving of a cruel mutilation that may have inspired Lorena Bobbitt when she was planning a suitable revenge on her abusive husband as he slept one night (if any reader doesn’t know or remember who she is, then I recommended you spare yourself the grief of Googling her name and finding out; let’s just say that she took the fact that her husband was a major dick into her means of retribution). Luckily for Jack, the Yanomamo weren’t as sadistic as he and Alan were, or they likely would have inflicted that type of mutilation on him before Alan got the chance to shoot him after he was speared–which sort of rendered the mutilation pointless from our sense of logic, but maybe the tribe wanted a souvenir that could double as a good paperweight or fly swatter, or something.

With that lovely political rant of mine out of the way, I now get to other matters regarding the script of this film that I think actually deserve commending. For one thing, the dialogue was relatively well scripted for a flick that many would be quick to dismiss as C-list exploitation trash. Despite all of the shocking scenes of violence and the atrocious displays of needless violence on animals wrought by Deodato and his crew, he takes the message of this film seriously, and it doesn’t come off as tacked on material to give a false framework for as background support for a series of shock sequences. Not only that, but there was another major point of the script that I never recall hearing or reading from the multitude of reviewers who’ve critiqued this film, and that is the surprisingly witty banter exchanged between Prof. Munroe and his main guide, not to mention the professor’s reactions at having to show “respect” to his primitive hosts by eating or imbibing whatever they happen to give him (and it’s not anything you would care to have on your holiday dinner table, trust me). Yes, I’m serious, this movie actually has a good amount of decent one-liners and intentionally funny verbal repartee between the true main protagonists of the film. Make note of this, since you aren’t likely to see this particular point mentioned in any other review, which will tend to focus mostly on the gore and animal brutality first and foremost, and the message that Deodato and Clerici tried to convey on a secondary note (with the reviewers often, though not always, concluding that it got lost in the bloody shuffle).

The acting certainly wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but it wasn’t bad either, and whatever degree of dubbing used in the English language version I was loaned to watch (I’m honestly not sure how extensive the dubbing was) seemed to be professionally done. The characters were well portrayed by the cast, with Robert Kerman playing the role of the movie’s ethical spokesman Prof. Harold Munroe quite competently, and the trio of actors comprising Alan Yate’s crew of documentarian douche-bags doing a good job of portraying them as…well, major league douche-bags. Actress Francesca Ciardi played an extremely lovely Faye Daniels, and she was nice enough to treat the viewer to a few copious full body nude scenes, and I think only the extremely prudish would call someone perverse or obscene for admiring a beautiful woman’s nude body, which she has every right to be proud of. We were even treated to a very gratuitous sex scene between Faye and Alan, which connoisseurs of soft core porn material couldn’t enjoy too much when one considers that the sex happened in “celebration” of Alan and Jack successfully creating drama for their documentary by trapping a large portion of the Yanamomo’s women, kids, and elderly in a huge hut and setting it aflame, consigning all of them to a horrible death and blaming it on their rival cannibalistic tribe, the Shamatari.

So all in all, this was a good horror flick with an important message to deliver, and I’m glad I was able to sit through it. If you have a generally high tolerance for gore and violence in general, then you may be able to make it through this film too (it usually takes things other than gore to gross me out). If you can, it’s worth doing so, and for more reasons than mere bragging. This is especially true if you are not turned off by “preachy” films that seek to make the viewer think, and use the horror genre to present metaphors and archetypes that resonate with both our conscious and subconscious minds on many levels in the same way myths and folk tales of old did and still do (more about archetypes and myth and their importance to writers and artists of all other stripes in a future post). Fans of Ruggero Deodato’s twisted oeuvre of cinema, and fans of the cannibal sub-genre of horror, obviously shouldn’t miss this one, but fans of the greater horror genre will find much to appreciate about it also, especially those who enjoy horror archetypes personifying various significant political and cultural truths that our society prefers not to think about very much. If your tolerance for gore is not high, then avoid this one like you would a leper full of open sores, and if you cannot stomach the depiction of authentic animal cruelty but still want to see the movie, by all means seek out one of the edited versions, especially considering how depictions of real cruelty towards animals is illegal in some countries.

I should in closing answer a final oft-asked question by noting that there is indeed a Cannibal Holocaust II, which was produced in 1988, but Ruggero Deodato and Gianfranco Clerici had nothing to do with it, and it wasn’t actually a direct sequel to the first one, dealing with entirely different characters and a completely different Amazonian tribe than the three featured in this film: the Yucumo, the Yanamamo, and the Shamatari. Since I know little else about flick at this time, I cannot in good conscience recommend seeking it out to anyone at this writing.

Update: There have apparently been more than one non-cannibal film that were billed as a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust in order to take advantage of its notoriety for marquee value, albeit in a very dishonest but typical manner. None of these films, including the one noted above, had any connection to the Deodato “message thriller.” In fact, there has been a dearth of true cannibal films after the early 1980s, with these purported sequels marketed as such simply because they featured an adventure taking place in a jungle with native tribes and stuff like that (not even a single real animal mutilation in sight!). Deodato was all set to make a true follow-up to his film during the previous decade entitled Cannibals, and it was slated for a 2008 release. Quite unfortunately–or very fortunately, depending on your viewpoint–this intriguing project fell through due to a variety of factors, but largely the inability of the producer to find sufficient funding. One must wonder why, hmmm? Looks like Deodato’s fans will get to hold their lunches for a while longer now.

– CN