Cannibal Holocaust is one of those movies that have to be seen to be subsequently felt. It has a visceral impact on so many levels; it is also a seminal movie in just as many ways. This is a movie that is godfather to the found footage film. The Blair Witch Project among others of the genre owes their existence to this movie. In my opinion, Cannibal Holocaust started the concept of mockumentaries at the same time bringing to the forefront, the propensity for fakery in documentaries. I believe that this movie also added weight to the theme of the Ugly American or White European, as the case may be exploiting the native population. A behind the scenes look at what crimes can be committed for the sake of good footage. This movie is a mockumentary of a documentary, if you will. I believe Cannibal Holocaust should be revered for several reasons.
Cannibal Holocaust is also one of the first examples of the exploitation movies. It is a cinematic example of man’s inhumanity to man, in the name of good filmmaking. This is true for the actual filmmakers as well as the actors playing film makers in the movie. Yes, there is shock value to the script, but some uncomfortable truths come through. One of the first peeks into just how many documentaries could be and are contrived, a crew that burns a village to fake a tribal war so they can film it. We’ve all heard the story of the Disney movie crew driving hundreds of lemmings off of a cliff to get a good shot, the old wives tale of lemmings running off cliffs is not even true. The documentary crew portrayed in this movie, even raped one of the village girls, as the camera rolled on. When the tribe impaled the poor woman, they were thrilled about what a good shot it would make. Of course the crew filmed their own crimes; the camera had to be rolling to bear witness to these atrocities, so there would be shocking footage to be “found” later. In my opinion all found footage films require a few leaps of faith, one of them being that they would continue filming in certain circumstances.
When the cast of the movie finally meet their end, the camera is rolling, still. Such is the way of the found footage film, still filming long after it would be plausible. This is a necessary aspect to the found footage genre; I mean we want to see the outcome. We need the complete story to be “found”. Movies, good ones anyway have to come to some resolution. So we can see these assholes meet their bloody and not completely underserved end. This movie was well done in a lurid and realistic manner, one of the reasons there is such an impact even after all this time. When I heard about this essay contest, of course I watched the movie again. It hasn’t lost any of its visceral power. Found footage aside, the despicable human behavior of the characters in the movie is what rings uncomfortably true. Here the supposed observers, become the villains of their own story, and then the final victims, eventually falling prey to the people they themselves victimized. A cautionary tale and a story with a moral to it, you reap what you sow. A cinematic example of what can happen when the protagonists become the antagonists, and then finally become the horrific ending to their own movie.
There are so many concepts that we see over and over in movies today, and many of them started with Cannibal Holocaust. We take these concepts for granted now, but this movie gave birth to them. For all of these reasons, this film should be seen by anyone that considers themselves a student of film. After all these years it still holds up.