Cannibal Holocaust
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Cannibal Holocaust can be found here.

Following the disappearance of a documentary film crew while making a film about cannibals in the Amazon jungle, New York University anthropology professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) travels to South America to find out what happened to them. With the assistance of two local guides, he is introduced to the native tribe of the Yanomamo (Tree People), where he finds the remains of the crew -- consisting of director Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke), his girlfriend Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi), cameramen Jack Anders (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark Tomaso (Luca Barbareschi), and their guide Felipe Ocanya (Ricardo Fuentes) -- and several reels of their undeveloped film. After securing the film, Monroe returns to New York and, in preparation for airing the film as a television documentary, he watches the recovered footage...only to be horrified by what he sees.

No. Cannibal Holocaust was filmed from a screenplay by Italian screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici.

Yes. Cannibal Holocaust was filmed in the Amazon rainforest, principally in the town of Leticia, in the extreme southeastern tip of Colombia on the border between Colombia, Peru and Brazil. Leticia was only accessible by air and boat.

This is open to interpretation. On one interpretation, the film team cut off his leg as a blatant overreaction to the snake bite merely to catch the sensational violence for their documentary. Yates is evidently pleased to witness the amputation and plays around with the remains of Felipe's leg after he is dead. In addition, none of the film crew seems sad that Felipe has died. On another interpretation, Felipe asked them to cut off his leg to save his life but this procedure did not achieve its purpose. When Felipe is bitten, he begins screaming and may be heard yelling several times, "Cut my leg!"

After forcing the Yacumo tribe into the hut, Mark can be heard yelling, "The massacre of the Yacumo by the Yanomamo!" to which Alan agrees. Simply put, they were slaughtering the tribe to film for their documentary and would later edit the footage and claim it was an act perpetrated by another tribe (the Yanomamo). They were staging the scene for their movie to make more sensationalistic content when none was readily available. Whether or not this whole ordeal was planned or not is unknown, but due to its swift coordination and execution, one can infer that it was planned.

The answer is no on all counts. The film's advertising may hint to the footage being real, but it isn't. The rumors of this being real started after the film's release, when director Ruggero Deodato was arrested for making a real snuff film. He produced the actors to the courts to prove that the charges false.

What is a snuff film?

A snuff film is a film that depicts the actual murder of a person or persons for the purpose of capturing their death on film. A maker of a snuff film would murder a person specifically for the goal of selling the murder footage for sensationalistic profit. There are many misconceptions about what is truly a snuff film and what isn't. Any film that depicts an incidental death (such as a spontaneous suicide like the R. Budd Dwyer TV footage, for instance) is not considered a snuff film because the person did not die for the purpose of capturing the death on film. Other examples of what snuff films are NOT are Mondo films, which were documentaries made during the 60s, 70s, and 80s that often depicted real human death. These deaths, however, were not for the purpose of capturing on film. The fact that it was filmed is purely incidental. As of yet, there is no proof that a snuff film exists or has ever existed. They are myths that was created around the Manson Family murders when it was suspected that the family had video taped their crimes. However, no murders were ever found on the family's taped footage.

Critics and film makers have cited several aspects that led to the belief that Cannibal Holocaust was a snuff film: (1) The cinema verit style in which the second half of the film was shot lent a sense of superrealism. Poor film quality, shaky camera movements, rough editing, and jump cuts are all techniques that were used to make the footage seem more real. (2) The use of real pig organs as gore effects was a contributing factor. According to Guinness World Records, pig organs are the animal organs most similar to human beings. (3) For a long time, the special effects for the impalement scene went without plausible explanation until Deodato demonstrated the effect in court. (4) Genuine human death was depicted in The Last Road to Hell segment of the film. Therefore, reality was further blurred by the inclusion of real death (the makers of Cannibal Holocaust did not film the footage in The Last Road to Hell; they acquired newsreel footage that featured criminal executions from Nigeria and overlaid it with titles).

The Last Road to Hell is a documentary that the missing film crew had previously shot. It consists of real-life firing-squad executions of prisoners by the military. Director Ruggero Deodato says the footage is from Nigeria. The Last Road to Hell is what is known as a 'Mondo film' - a documentary which exploits controversial topics, using graphic footage to elicit sensations from the viewing audience. The Last Road to Hell, then, is a prime example, as it unflinchingly shows stock footage of human death, both adult and children. Most DVDs, even those that claim to be uncut, are missing around five to ten seconds of footage. This is because the original film negatives were damaged during the film-to-DVD transfer. The DVD that has the complete footage of The Last Road to Hell is the EC Entertainment 2-disc limited edition DVD. The Grindhouse Releasing/Siren Visual DVDs also have the full Last Road to Hell footage in the special features. In most DVD editions, the sequence is cut by about 10 seconds. However, the title credits for the in-film documentary also vary. It is something of a mystery and, as mentioned on the special features on disc 1 of the Grindhouse 25th Anniversary/Deluxe Edition DVD (2005; out of print), Grindhouse themselves continue to investigate these inconsistencies.

Yes. Seven animals (a coatimundi, a turtle, a spider, a snake, two squirrel monkeys, and a pig) were actually killed, with six of them for the camera. The monkey scene had to be filmed twice, so even though only one is seen dying, two were killed.

What is a coatimundi?

The South American coatimundi (Nasua nasua) is a diurnal, raccoon-like mammal that lives on the ground and in trees and eats fruit, invertebrates, other small animals, and bird's eggs. A photo of a coatimundi can be seen here.

Because they were filming deep in the Amazon rain forest and there were no studio representatives or controls to prevent them from killing animals (though several crew members protested and even walked off the set).

The turtle scene is a scene where three of the actors portraying the documentary film team drag a large river turtle from the water and proceed to cut off its head, remove its breastplate, and disembowel the turtle. It is then cooked and eaten.

The piranha scene was a scene that was written and originally intended to be filmed for Cannibal Holocaust. The scene would have taken place immediately after Professor Monroe's team saved a group of natives, the Yanomamo, from another tribe of natives, the Shamatari. The scene was scripted as thus: a lone Shamatari warrior, injured after the encounter, would have his leg cut off by the group of Yanomamo. The Yanomamo would then tie him to a log that they lowered into piranha infested waters. The Shamatari warrior would slowly be eaten alive. Though filming began on the scene, it was never completed. The reason for this is the fact that the piranha were hard to control and the film crew's underwater camera was malfunctioning. Only still shots of the scene exist. There have been rumors in the past that the scene appears in an obscure foreign video release, but these are all untrue.

There are two possibilities for this situation: The first possibility is that the men of the film crew, after raping the girl, then killed her (off-camera) and impaled the wooden pole through her body. They later pretend to come across the impalement and film the scene as such. Shots of Alan smiling at the sight could be explained as him being happy that the impalement turned out looking the way it did, creating more brutal and sensationalistic content (i.e. he was marveling his handy work).The other possibility is that it was the raped girl's tribe that killed and impaled her due to her being made "unclean" by the rape (in an almost subliminal shot, a native man can be seen watching the whole rape unfold, kneeling behind Faye when she complains). Thus, Alan would be correct by stating that the natives killed her because of a "bizarre sexual rite." His quickly caught happiness would be explained by the fact that the team came across such a grisly scene, and again, they would be able to capture the shot for their documentary. The second explanation can come under mild scrutiny from the fact that the natives attack the crew in vengeance for the rape of the girl, even though the tribe had been the ones who killed her. However, it is possible that the tribe's strongly held superstitions stated that they must kill the girl because of her impurity from the rape, and that they attacked the film crew for making it necessary to kill her (thus, in their eyes, the film crew would still be responsible for the girl's death). Whichever scenario is correct is a matter of interpretation.

A bicycle seat was fastened to the end of an iron pole, on which the actress sat. She then placed a small pole of balsa wood in her mouth and looked straight up, making it seem like she had been impaled. When Deodato was summoned to court for multiple counts of murder, the actress depicted as impaled - and thus, dead - actually performed the stunt to the court to show it was possible. This was the only way of officially proving that indeed it was merely a special effect and not a grisly act of murder.

There are several scenes that may point to Faye being less corrupt or an innocent party: (1) she did not participate in the burning of the hut; she only filmed, (2) she got sick and vomited when the others were disemboweling the turtle, (3) she physically tries to stop the crew's rape of the native girl (though her reason includes not wasting film on something they can't use), (4) she tries to stop Alan from killing Jack and shows intense remorse upon his death, and (5) after the hut burning, the group films a dying old woman by a riverbank. Her body is completely scarred, presumably from the burning hut. While giving commentary on the scene, Faye breaks down and cries. This was changed from what was originally in the script, which had Faye commenting the whole way through. Neither the director, stars, nor screenwriter, however, have ever said that Faye was not a willing participant in the rest of her group's actions.

How does the movie end?

After Mark, Jack, and Alan rape the young Yanomamo girl, they later come upon her violated body impaled on a long pole. Suddenly, they are surrounded by a group of Yanomamo warriors. Jack takes an arrow in his chest, and Alan shoots him to finish him off. Jack is strung up by the warriors, his penis is cut off, he is beheaded, his body is chopped into pieces, and parts of him are roasted and eaten. Alan, Mark, and Faye try to run away, but the Yanomamos follow them. Alan tries to scare them off with flares while Mark continues filming, but Faye is captured, raped, and beheaded. Mark and Alan suffer the same fate while the camera continues to roll. After the film stops rolling, Monroe and the three NYU executives sit in silence. Two of them wordlessly leave the room, while a third calls the projectionist and orders him to burn the film. In the final scene, Monroe leaves the building. Standing on the steps, he lights his pipe and thinks to himself, 'I wonder who the real cannibals are?' A written epilogue then appears, saying, 'Projectionist John K. Kirov was given a two-month suspended jail sentence and fined $10,000 for illegal appropriation of film material. We know that he received $250,000 for that same footage.'

The makers of The Blair Witch Project (1999) have come under fire for supposedly drawing heavy uncredited influence from previously released films which bear similarities to their film. Such films include Cannibal Holocaust, The Last Broadcast (1998), and C'est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog (1992), all of which included the characters of the film as cameramen using a cinema verite style. However, the makers of The Blair Witch Project claim to have thought of their project in 1992. Cannibal Holocaust is the only film released by this time (Man Bites Dog wasn't released in the USA until 1993). Also, Cannibal Holocaust is often cited as a major influence due to the structure of the film and the film's premise itself -- a small group of film makers head into the wilderness to make a documentary and never come back. A rescue party searches for them but only finds their footage. The rest of the film is the subsequent viewing of the footage. However, the makers of The Blair Witch Project have denied that Cannibal Holocaust was an influence and only knew of its existence when confronted with the two films' similarities after its release. The makers of The Last Broadcast (which uses the same structure and premise as Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project) have had similar accusations made against them and also claim that Cannibal Holocaust was not an influence and was unknown to them until after their film's release.

Many critics have cited that Deodato was attempting social consciousness and commentary with Cannibal Holocaust. The most common interpretation is that Deodato was attacking the media and its coverage of sensationalistic topics instead of aiming for journalistic integrity (as the film crew did in the movie). Also, it is suggested that the media may stage their footage (or, at the very least, target footage of graphic subject matter) for the sake of ratings. Another common interpretation is that Deodato was commenting on the savagery of modern civilization, that although Western society today is "civilized", it is still innately as brutal and savage as, say, primitive cannibals living in the jungle or any other society that one may find barbaric. Western society may also cannibalize itself or other, lesser-developed societies to work towards its own means, thus unleashing its hidden savagery (represented in the film by cannibalism and the film crew, who tormented those whom they believed were the savages to work to their own profit). However, Deodato has stated that he had no intentions for Cannibal Holocaust other than making a cannibal movie. Star Luca Barbareschi supports this view. However, co-star Robert Kerman claims that Deodato had meant to comment on the media with Cannibal Holocaust.

After proving that he did not murder any actors for the film, the Italian magistrate banned the film due to the genuine animal cruelty depicted. Deodato, the film's producers, screenwriter, and a United Artist representative were fined and given a four month suspended sentence after being convicted of obscenity.

Cannibal films (such as Cannibal Holocaust) have drawn heavy influence from Mondo films, which were documentaries that focused on bizarre behavior and sensationalistic topics in hopes of quick profits. The makers of Mondo films have even blatantly and notoriously staged some scenes in hopes of passing them off as genuine. One example is the the film-makers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi for their film Africa addio (Goodbye Africa) (1966). They were brought into the Italian courts to face charges that, for some of the killings, they paid soldiers and mercenaries to make them happen. The charges were dropped when Jacopetti and Prosperi convinced the judge that the killings in question were in fact staged. They talk about their court case in the documentary The Godfathers of Mondo (2003), released by Blue Underground. The film-makers in Cannibal Holocaust can be seen as Mondo film makers, as their documentary fits the definition of a Mondo film. They also stage and manipulate several scenes in their documentaries. Since the film crew are strong antagonists in the film, some critics have drawn connection with the Mondo film-makers in the film and the Mondo film-makers in real life and thus claim that Deodato was attacking Mondo film-making in general. Specifically, some mention that the works of Antonio Climati were under fire. Some scenes in Cannibal Holocaust were directly influenced by scenes in Climati's Mondo film Savana violenta (The Violent World) (1976) and can be seen as an attack on the content of Climati's films. However, Deodato has never mentioned any kind of attack on Mondo film-making in Cannibal Holocaust. In fact, the film's composer, Riz Ortolani, says that Deodato was a fan of Jacopetti and Prosperi. Ortolani says that Deodato did indeed draw influence from the Mondo works, but has never stated that his intentions were hostile. Therefore, it is possible that Mondo film-makers were only used in the film to express the story and that the supposed commentary on Mondo film-making is merely incidental.

Deodato had filmed Cannibal Holocaust during June and July of 1979 in the jungles of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. While the movie was in post-production, he filmed La casa sperduta nel parco (The House on the Edge of the Park) in September, mostly on soundstages in Rome. While The House on the Edge of the Park was complete and in post-production, Cannibal Holocaust was released in Italy on February 7, 1980 which resulted in his arrest and black-listing from Italy's film industry. However, the distribution company for The House on the Edge of the Park had already signed an agreement to release the completed film barely two months after the release of Cannibal Holocaust. After some delay due to Deodato's legal troubles, the final cut of The House on the Edge of the Park was released in November 1980. Yet, as a result of his legal troubles, Deodato was not to direct another movie again until 1983.

The DVDs released by Grindhouse Releasing in the USA and by Siren Visual in Australia each have a version that cuts out the animal killings but keeps the rest of the film. Under playback options, select the "animal cruelty free version". The UK DVD release from VIPCO (Video Instant Picture Company) also has all the animal cruelty removed (except for the snake and the spider), but is also missing other parts of the film, such as sexual violence.

For film and NTSC, the uncut running time is 95 minutes. For PAL running times, it is 92 minutes uncut (PAL DVDs run about 4% faster than NTSC and film). The only two true uncut versions (that is, the only two releases that have the complete Last Road to Hell segment within the feature film) are PAL running time DVDs.

The film was never released on VHS in the US, but a 1993 Dutch Cult Epics VHS was recently spotted on eBay. The British home video company Go Video released this film in April of 1982 before the Video Nasty crisis got the uncut version banned. A censored version was later released with an 18 rating in 2001.

Riz Ortolani, a well-respected Italian film composer, orchestrated the entire soundtrack for Cannibal Holocaust, after watching it in its entirety. Deodato requested specifically that Ortolani perform the soundtrack for his film. The Cannibal Holocaust soundtrack is available on CD to buy from many online outlets, including Amazon. In 2015 Mondo Records & Death Waltz released the album for the first time ever on a vinyl.

Cannibal Holocaust has not yet been released in an uncensored version in the UK. Both the VHS and the DVD versions are missing out on scenes of the rape as well as the killing of the animals. Overall, the UK versions miss out on more than six minutes. Allegedly, the VHS version released by Shameless only misses out on 15 seconds (the killing of the coatimundi). In 1982, the movie was included in the "Video Nasties" list. A detailed comparison between the VHS released by Vipco and the uncensored version with pictures can be found here. In May 2011, the BBFC revised their view so that there is now only one mandatory cut (the scene in which the coatimundi is killed). The running time may now be as long as 92 minutes 6 seconds.

The new release by Shameless shows that there has been some evolution during all the years. Only the scene in which Miguel kills a muskrat was replaced by alternate footage. These scenes are not new, tough, but recycled from the previous one. All the other scenes with animal-killings or -violence are contained completely, which is certainly striking, as the BBFC used to be very focused on any scenes showing violence against animals. A detailed comparison can be found here. The UK-DVD by Shameless features a newly edited version by Deodato, as well. This version is not identical to the "animal cruelty version" of the Grindhouse DVD, from which simply all the scene in which animals are killed had been removed. Instead, some scenes were either removed, alienated by pseudo-filmtears or replaced by alternate footage. A detailed comparison between the new Deodato edit and the Original Version can be found here. The Grindhouse version, on the other hand, is missing a few seconds from the The Last Road to Hell sequence, which are contained in the Shameless release. Therefore one can find another comparison here.

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