Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato / Italy-Colombia, 1980):

Bestial gorefest? Pirandellian exploitation exposé? Both? The most notorious taster of the outrageously lurid Italian jungle-massacre subgenre, Ruggero Deodato's purposefully unwatchable opus questions the film image's validity while debasing it. The moral is didactic ("I wonder who the real cannibals are," wondered at the New York skyline), but there are plenty of Chinese boxes of reality vs. fakery, a Mondo Cane tour of vérité atrocities dubbed "a put-on," followed by marathon gut-spilling enacted in documentary format. The split is built into the narrative itself, as anthropologist Robert Kerman travels to the South American "green inferno" rain forest to recover cans of film left behind by an American crew devoured by local natives; the later half consists of the viewing of the shaky footage-testimony. Vietnam and audiences' appetite for exotic Third World suffering aren't lost on the crew's torching, raping and exploitation of the tribe they're documenting, though Deodato hardly gives political subtext priority over generic demands, namely violence and sex, preferably together -- an aborigine adultress is killed with a wooden-spike dildo, a woman has a fetus ripped from her loins before being stoned to death, while a rape victim is next seen impaled lengthwise, stake tip protruding from mouth. For all the entrails shot at the lens, it's more David Holzman's Diary self-reflexivity than grindhouse sleaze -- the camera's consuming of horrific images emerges as the major cannibalizing presence, the staged (the cameraman's grisly comeuppance at the hands of angry and hungry natives) no less implicating than the real (the excruciating dismemberment of a turtle) since equally orchestrated by the director. The actual killing of the actors would have been needed to legitimize Deodato's thesis, yet the film nevertheless is a bold non-achievement, an exploitation indictment that panders to debased bloodlust while thoroughly lacerating itself for it on the screen. With Francesca Ciardi, Gabriel Yorke, Perry Pirkanen, and Luca Barbareschi.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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