Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Ruggero Deodato's infamous geek-show gutmuncher is that rare thing: a dark, fucked-up film that, no matter what you've heard about it, is nastier than you would imagine. It's also a uniquely disturbing film, as the thoughtless level of atrocity (both real and fake) on display makes for a hateful film that deserves to be dismissed and thrown away. Yet it can't be denied that Deodato, in his clumsy and heedless way, is trying to say something important. It's the push-pull tension between Deodato's message and his methods that provides the most fascinating aspects of this film, yet this tension also eventually tears the film to pieces. The film was obviously made in a state of great anger, and I can see where Deodato is attempting to criticize media violence (specifically the "mondo" movie phenomenon). But he's decided to savage the genre by inhabiting it, and his penchant for overstatement leads him down some ill-advised roads. Most damagingly, there's the animal-cruelty aspect. I know it's supposed to be indicative of the barbarism of modern man and how he's not in touch with nature and destroys everything he sees or something like that. And that's great. The problem is that Deodato makes that point after the killing of the muskrat, but he keeps on killing monkeys and pigs and turtles, like their unfaked deaths are going to add something to his bilious little diatribe against the evils of humanity. The turtle-flaying, in particular, goes on for so long in such detail that I had to wonder that if, despite his protestations, Deodato wasn't disingenuously getting off on all this. Too, though, there's intimations that Deodato understands the sickness of what he's doing. ("The more you rape their senses, the happier they are.") It comes down to whether or not the self-questioning impulse Deodato has built into his argument is enough to defuse the bad faith at the heart of his work, and I don't see it as sufficient. I respect the intention, but I'm repulsed by the execution. The backfire cuts the film off at the legs; in attempting to set fire to another's hut, Deodato ends up burning down his own.

Grade: C


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