Horror Movie Review: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust should need no introduction. It is one of, if not the most infamous video nasty that came from the 80’s UK moral panic. Directed by Ruggero Deodato and written by Gianfranco Clerici, I could write thousands of words about the controversy this film alone.

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Rather than bog down this review with all this detail, go read up on it, it’s fascinating. All I will add is that this film is still not available in the UK (legally) completely uncut and for good reason. It is infamous for many reasons; intense violence and sexual horror are two but what everyone remembers is the numerous scenes of real animal slaughter.

Much of which can be very hard to watch, even if you’re desensitised to that sort of thing these days.

Cannibal Holocaust is the sort of film that you can watch and see exactly why many people hate it. However, I absolutely love it. It’s one the best cannibal horror movies ever made in my opinion and is both horrifying and thought-provoking to watch. Which, considering half the movie is found-footage in every sense of the wood, is all the more surprising.

A group of four film-makers disappear in the Amazon rainforest while filming a documentary about indigenous cannibal tribes. Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) leads an expedition into the rainforest in the hope of finding the missing film-makers.

Once deep inside, they discover that the missing film-makers may have caused the indigenous people issues. Monroe is able to gain their trust though and is shown a shrine which houses the remains of the missing film-makers. He also discovers that the tribe has their film reels and Monroe is able to trade for them.

Back in America, the studio behind the dead film-makers project want to take the raw footage on the reels and turn it into a documentary. Monroe is unsure about this idea, especially with no-one really knowing what is on them. So, he decides to view the footage and that is what we see.

The true story of just what this group did to cause such trouble in the rainforest and the events that led to their deaths. It can be a harrowing watch and has you ask the question… just who are the real savages?

Cannibal Holocaust’s strengths lie in several areas, the most notable being with its story. It is excellent; from the early intrigue and wonder of Monroe’s expedition to the sinking reality of just what the four film-makers did. Knowing their fate doesn’t make the story any easier to stomach but it does captivate. Peppy, not padded with pointless scenes or scenery and offering very little respite in the final third.

Part of that captivation comes from a very strong cast. Robert Kerman is very likable, the indigenous people are convincing (because they’re not actors) and the foursome of Gabriel Yorke, Luca Giorgio Barbareschi, Francesca Ciardi and Perry Pirkanen as the four film-makers are excellent.

Add that with top-notch cinematography, a wonderful soundtrack and well shot ‘found-footage’ and it should be easy to see just why this movie is loved by so many.

Of course, no review would be complete without talking about the horror side of this film and there is no getting around just how disturbing it can be. Take your pick… is it gang-rape of an indigenous woman by the film-makers? The ritualistic sexual abuse and violent murder of a suspected adulteress? The famous imagery of the ‘staked’ woman? The slaughter and body mutilation at the end of the movie? The real and completely unnecessary butchery of animals? Cannibal Holocaust asks you to stomach quite a bit and it’s understandable that many won’t be able too.

Those issues do not make it a bad movie though. Especially when you consider what other cannibal-horror movies were like. Cannibal Holocaust doesn’t just stand head and shoulders above them, it stands tall amongst the best of horror in many decades.

Simply put, it’s not for everyone but if you’ve never seen it and are put off by its reputation, give it a chance. You might find yourself really surprised by the quality of it.


  • Carl Fisher

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Cannibal Holocaust
  • The Final Score - 9/10
User Review
7.72/10 (51 votes)