This is somehow the least controversial part of Grindhouse Releasing's cover art.
It's a legitimately fascinating film because it's so full of bizarre contradictions. The film juxtaposes beautiful, Mondo Cane inspired tracks over some of the most offensive fake-snuff footage ever conceived. The film explicitly condemns exploiting the suffering of strangers as entertainment, but the film crew kill a half-dozen of God's creatures before the camera just to make those assertions of humans being killed all the more believable. The film has a message, a moral and it asks you to take it completely seriously, but it's so over the top and grotesque in delivering that message that nobody who'd possibly listen would make it past the first half... it's too smart to be a straight up exploitation movie, but it's too vile to be an arthouse meditation on mankind's fascination with destruction. It's a film for everyone and for no one - a film that predicted the "found footage" tricks that would be exploited to massive commercial effect fifteen years later in The Blair Witch Project, but went so hard in the opposite direction that comparing them feels inappropriate, at best. It's everything a shocking and controversial film could ever hope to be, and yet it finds a way to screw up every aspect of those qualities, making it a massive, ugly pile of thematic hypocrisy. I adore Cannibal Holocaust, but I'm endeared in part because - much like Kaz Kiriyama's Casshern, David Lynch's Dune, and even Frank Miller's The Spirit - it's a film so focused on doing the things that it seems to be good at that it simply can't see the things it's failing miserably to achieve.
With all due respect to Rick Melton,
this will always be the best key art this film has ever had.
The only modern day equivalent we have in this post-torture-porn world might be A Serbian Film, a film that has a similar axe to grind about a similarly grotesque market that subsists on human suffering, but also spends so much time building up a nuanced, adult way of dissecting and demonizing it that once it kicks itself into exploitation overdrive the film becomes such a gross parody of its own message that it seems to only undercut its own message by way of pitch-black humor. The difference, in my opinion at least, is that at least when Srđan Spasojević lets his narrative goes off the rails he's aware of it, and uses the film's most offensive qualities against the viewers until there's literally nothing more to hurt them with; when I walked away from that film utterly defeated the first time, part of it was because it knew exactly how to push my buttons until I was not only laughing at the image of a man being skull-fucked to death, but I felt bad for doing it. Ruggero Deodato is playing with that very same toolkit - of incendiary privileged guilt, of teasing the audience with its own voyeuristic nature, of forcing the audience to suffer for the entertainment it so rightly calls them scum for wanting... but Spasojevic knows that, ultimately, he's as much to blame for this cycle of extreme entertainment running out to its logical conclusion. Deodato doesn't seem to be as aware of himself, and with it, Cannibal Holocaust finds itself teetering on the edge of pretentious posturing rather than actual moralizing, guilty of its hypocrisy or not.
And yes, I'm well aware that Martyrs exists: That's the modern day equivalent to Salo, if anything And Human Centipede 2 - love it or hate it - is due to be this generation's Eraserhead. It'll take a while for people to see these films for what they are, but mark my words, these films knew exactly what roles they had to fill in a the 21st century. The offensive content of Cannibal Holocaust is only the hook, though; despite the broken and scattershot way in which they're delivered, this is a film that has a message, and it's an expansion of the "modern civility vs primitive survival" that's been a part of this long-running genre from the very start. The strange truth of it is that the reason Cannibal Holocaust exists in the first place as a sort of extended "fuck you" to one of Deodato's contemporaries, Umberto Lenzi, who had made Man From the Deep River/Il Paese del Sesso Salvaggio in 1972, a sort of extra-trashy Southeast Asian flavored knock-off of A Man Called Horse. Lenzi never got around to shooting a sequel, so Deodato eventually took his place and made a semi-remake in 1977 known as Last Cannibal World/Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, even going as far as to use Lenzi's leads, Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai, though the real star would actually be Massimo Foschi once the two explorers are separated at the end of the first reel. (Full disclosure; Last Cannibal World is, if only in some ways, a better film than Cannibal Holocaust.) Unable to resist a trend that excused wanton violence and a chance to get Ursula Andress naked, Sergio Martino pieced together a ridiculous, almost Indiana Jones-esque adventure film Mountain of the Cannibal God/La Montagna del Dio Cannibale, released in 1978. It's not Martino's best work, but it's got a 42 year old Ursula Andress wearing nothing but gold body paint, a midget humping a pig, and freaky masks made of wet clay. Let's face it, the dump Martino took on your mother's chest is probably a better cinematic achievement than 90% of the movies that ever existed.
So yes, a subgenre in which graphic rape, real life animal slaughter, and watching a man eat human guts with tears in his eyes became a thing all because Dumbledore got lifted up by his man-tits in a teepee and someone in Italy said "Psh! I could totally out-do that..." Isn't that nuts?
Jess Franco's 1980 film, White Cannibal Queen, was released in Italy as "Cannibal World".
This effectively makes it a prequel to Deodato's Last Cannibal World, released three year prior,
but was also later re-released as "Jungle Holocaust", making it a Cannibal Holocaust prequel.
I didn't even have to look this shit up anymore.. can something be awesome and sad simultaneously?
By this point Lenzi was furious that "his" innovation of mixing documentary stock footage, naked girls and buff dudes in the jungle getting captured by snare traps was being ripped off, and rushed a Jim Jones inspired schlockfest, Eaten Alive/Mangiati Vivi!, for release in 1980. The film is an abomination, offensive on every level, even going as far as to steal gore effects from Martino and Deodato's films... it's kind of awesome just to see how hard the barrel could be scraped by the guy who made Nightmare City. The Cannibal subgenre was doing very well - in Europe for the nudity, and in Asia for the violence - so the producers asked Deodato to make a sequel to Last Cannibal World, and that - combined with his exhaustion towards violence in the media - eventually became Cannibal Holocaust. Meanwhile, Lenzi would find a way to out-do the raw shock value of Deodato's best work with Make Them Die Slowly/Cannibal Ferox in 1981, a film I can't claim is "good", but will defend with my dying breath as being an incredibly honest and unapolagetic slice of sleaze. It's one of Giovanni Lamberto Radice/John Morghen's best performances, and the fact that he alone serves up a dismemberment, a castration and a decapitation in the film's three-step execution scene makes the film worth seeing alone, forget how absurd the actual "plot" of it all is. Did I mention there's a mafia movie going on in New York it occasionally cuts back to? Yeah, Cannibal Holocaust may be rightly known as "The Mother of all Cannibal movies", but if you just want to see how balls out Italian movies from the early 80s could get, you'd be hard pressed to find a more ridiculous entry than Ferox.
That was, sadly, more or less the last hurrah for these explosively gory and guilt-riddled affairs. There were a handful of other cannibalism related films to filter out of Italy through the 1980s and a few equally bizarre offshoots I've neglected to mention, but even Deodato's final entry in his supposed "cannibal trilogy", the 1985 action film Cut and Run/Inferno in Diretta, feels more like the confused afterbirth of Miami Vice and Apocalypse Now's lovechild. I suppose Wes Craven pulling out of a production suddenly and the whole thing being dropped into Deodato's lap was going to cause some pretty bizarre changes, and I adore Cut and Run, but... seriously, how the fuck does that movie even exist? There are increasingly strange, and oft-only tangentially related entries to speak of - Cannibal Apocalypse fused PTSD with the urge to eat human flesh, Anthropophagous stars George Eastman as a massive featus-munching ghoul, Zombie Holocaust features more cannibals than it does re-animated corpses, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley has a forgotten tribe of fossil-blade wielding cultists for some reason, Trap Them And Kill Them fused softcore porn with cannibal shenanigans (because of course it did - the alternate title is "Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals"!), and Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, released by some unscrupulous distributors as Cannibal Holocaust 2(!), is fucking terrible - but each of these films was made to cash in on a different trend, following another cinematic angle that just happened to think that tossing the word "Cannibal" in the title somewhere would probably sell more ticket. I've personally watched every fucking one of these movies, so it evidently works...
In a sense, the grotesque and cruel world of Italian cannibal movies - for a good long while, arguably the most extreme films made anywhere in the world - simply don't "work" anymore. They were basically an expanded riff of the crazy exploitation fueled pseudo-documentary craze started in the mid-60s by Mondo Cane, and back before Wikipedia and globalization was a thing you could go into some largely untouched jungle, find a tribe who's grandfathers were legit spear-hunting cavemen, and convince them to do what they already did from time to time in front of the camera and pretend it was an "authentic" experience; a drama mixed with a documentary. Nowadays the number of indigenous tribes completely unaware of the outside world has dwindled to next to nothing, and with footage of murder literally available on social media 24 hours a day, a modern audience doesn't need the exoticism of the Amazon Jungle to "buy" that savagery is lurking in the corners of our world; he's too busy flipping through photos of the protests in Ferguson getting shot with tear gas, or the brutal beheadings in Syria, next to a story about how some porn star was beaten to a pulp by her MMA fighter ex-boyfriend. In that sense, there's no room for the cannibal movie in the 21st century, no reason to juxtapose the casual cruelty of modern man with the necessary violence carried out in third world countries... we're too aware of how this shit really goes down now (or at least we think we are) that trying to use it to make any sort of ethical point would be far easier done by filming it in America on your cellphone. Cannibal Holocaust is the ultimate product of its time in terms of both its moral and the way in which that moral was delivered, and just like Phantom of the Paradise or To Be Twenty or even Streets of Fire, the strange
Mind you, that didn't stop Eli Roth from making an 80s Cannibal movie.
Am I the only person alive who just hopes this is a trashy good time?
Anyway, there's been numerous Blu-ray releases of Cannibal Holocaust in Europe. All of them have been garbage. With Grindhouse Releasing having become one of the absolute best cult film distributors in the business today, I thought this film was in good hands... only for screenshots to suggest a particularly old, gnarly transfer rife with wimpy black levels, heavy scanner noise and a general lack of fidelity. I was surprised to find so many positive reviews with the screencaps looking as shit as they did, and having reasoned that the glorious Riz Ortolani score would probably cost me $30 on its own, decided to take the plunge for myself. Expecting the worst, I find myself more confused than anything. No, this presentation isn't good and Grindhouse should, with all due respect, be embarrassed that their standards have slipped so hard for one of their most infamous titles - but the quality is not what I expected, either, and that may have made the purchase worth it solely for the massive headaches and questions this has raised.
Grindhouse Releasing created their own HD Telecine from, one presumes, a 35mm archival element - likely an Internegative made from the restored Italian IP - back sometime between 2004 - 2005. This was the basis for their impressive Limited Edition DVD, which was notable for looking... "different" than the competition. Color grading in particular had a strong yellow push during all the 'recovered' 16mm footage, and contrast leaned a bit lower than any other master I've seen. Sadly, as you can see on the old CAPS-A-HOLIC COMPARISON, a combination of interlaced encoding and poor compression left the R1 DVD option a worthy collectible for its massive collection of bonus features, but a somewhat underwhelming presentation for the film itself. When I started seeing screenshots from the new Blu-ray, with its yellow color grading and somewhat harsh noise structure I was fully expecting this to be a rehash of the previously released DVD with improved resolution... and it is. Most of the time, anyway.
The best way to describe the weakness of Grindhouse's old HD Telecine is "mechanical". Black levels are weak, contrast is overblown, and there's funky scan-noise pattern reminiscent of a screen door moire pattern, eschewing actual resolution and filmic texture for a gross, aliased series of small blocks with clumpy noise swimming on top. So, imagine my surprise when - at Chapter 3, or about 5:35 - the film cuts from New York to the Amazon Jungle and looks fine. Grain structure becomes refined and natural, shadows drop to a natural black, contrast is more controlled, film damage becomes less frequent and everything just looks... better. It's not a night-and-day difference, but everything improves enough that I'm convinced what we're looking at is a completely different scan made on a more modern film scanner rather than whatever real-time solution was employed a decade ago. It looks... pretty good, y'know? That's all I ever asked for. And then, right at 8:17 - right after a cannibal gets shot in the face with an automatic rifle - we're back to the blotchy, noisy crap that we started with.
The fuck? Why did it-- I mean, it's not even the next chapter. It's not even the next reel! Why did they... why did they literally do a new scan for one scene?!
To try and show you the difference in grain, resolution and black levels, I've taken two screenshots from the same reel of the film; the first is what the vast majority of the film looks like - noisy with an irregular grain structure, harsh "vertical" artifacts lurking in the black levels, moderate but constant aliasing (check out the ear!), rife with minor to moderate film dirt which, admittedly, I can't show in a single image... it just generally looks like the nearly 10 year old HD Telecine it surely was. I suspect the black levels are set to IRE 7.5 with the exception of the matte bars (the very same issue Maniac, Santa Sangre, and the Japanese import for Dawn of the Dead), but haven't bothered to Photoshoop it to confirm because there's so many other problems on display I don't think that aspect is even worth exploring.
The second screenshot is from the better looking material; note that the grain is fine and rounded the way you'd expect from a modern scan, the blacks drop off in a much more natural way, and there's no "clumpy" or harsh-looking noise. For better or worse this is a poor (but similar) shot from the best looking scene I could find, which - despite the blurry focus of the original shot - still makes a great case for how good the actual 35mm elements Grindhouse Releasing have access to really are. I can't quite tell you how knowing that makes me feel.
Cannibal Holocaust - 2005 HD Master Material
Cannibal Holocaust - 2014 HD Master Material
I don't have any "insider" information as to what elements these materials were made from, or how. All I know is the massive gap in grain structure and overall image fidelity we're looking at have got to be the results of different scans having been made. There's just no other reason why certain shots within the same scene would go from looking as hazy and mechanical as they do in the first screenshot to as clear and natural as they do in the second. I'd say that's a poor assumption to make of your audience, but as I'm the first asshole to suggest that it was done... yeah. Grindhouse Releasing did just enough work to make the most anal-retentive videophiles out there wince, but it seems that nobody else gives enough of a shit to even question it. Part of me makes me feel good, because it means my eyes are as good as they've ever been. The rest of me is slightly depressed, because it means that nobody else who owns this disc noticed the confusing shifts in quality, which suggests that had Grindhouse Releasing simply used the 2005 master in its entirety it'd still likely have the same moderate to high marks from reviewers it's had since it was released.
The following time codes are where the footage composed of what appears to be a superior scan can be found, based on the uncut version of the film - if you're watching the "Animal Cruelty Free" cut or whatever, you'll have to just keep an eye out and figure it out for yourself, sorry. These may not be all the scenes to be made from an improved scan, but they should at least give you an idea about when the quality shifts from the 2005 master to the 2014 master. See if you can spot the difference - and hell, if you're as troubled by these implications as I am, take a shot every time it switches back and fourth!
[5:35 - 8:17] As noted above: Smash cut to the Amazon where commandos take care of some hungry cannibals in the jungle. Reverts back to the old material when it cuts to the one soldier having a machete pressed to his arm so they can suck out the dart poison.
[10:41 to 12:11] Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) has a conversation at his riverside bungalow with his contact in the Amazon. Once again we're free of nasty noise and obvious film damage, but this scene has been blessed with a moderate level of DVNR missing from the prior sequence.
[29:14 - 32:41] After stopping for some local booze (in gum form!), Kerman and his guide spend a few days in the jungle trying to track down the tribe he suspects know the fate of the camera crew. It cuts back to the less-impressive master once the warriors pick up the girl and run toward the river bank.
[37:47 - 41:36] Kerman gets invited to the worst dinner party of his life. The improved scan continues to the final cut of the hanging film cans, and reverts to the older material when it smash cuts back to New York. DVNR
[01:17:43 - 01:18:21] Kerman and the TV producers walk into the screening room and take their seats. This shot has some pretty funky DVNR for one reason or another - worse than in the previous example at 10:41, but it's probably just easier to spot due to the constantly moving actors. Notice that when you see them watching the screen from the back, the shot drops to pure black - something that none of the footage in the similarly darkened editing room does.
[01:32:53 - 01:35:45] The aftermath of the producers watching the hell on Earth they paid for. Note that the credits start at 01:34:49, and the DVNR starts to wig out and get all oil-paint like on the fuzzy opticals.
Those 18 minutes - while not perfect, thanks to the presence of temporal DVNR that seems to come and go, as "smart" grain management is wont to do - look substantially better than the rest of the film. With this in mind, I'm slightly more forgiving of all the praise others have lobbed in this transfer's general direction; when it looks nice, it does, in fact, look pretty damned nice, particularly that early cannibal vs commando battle scene in the jungle, and the scene at sunset when our heroes have a "drink" before taking their captive out of the village and into the wilds. That doesn't forgive the lackluster presentation of the rest of the film, but it does leave a better impression than it might have otherwise...
The bigger question, of course, is why? Why were only certain scenes re-scanned from the very same archival 35mm elements? At this point, I honestly have no clue what the rational was here. Were these scenes more damaged than the rest of the film? Were the artifacts or print damage simply too severe to be ignored? Was there physical damage to their HD tape master in those spots, and doing a fresh can of one trimmed down reel was the only feasible, financially sound answer? I honestly can't say. It's just mind-boggling that they'd bother doing a new scan for 18 seemingly random minutes of a 96 minute movie, when honestly, the difference in quality between the 2005 HD Telecine material and the Dutch "Ultrabit" DVD5 is so friggin' underwhelming I probably wouldn't have bothered pulling the trigger if it weren't for the inclusion of the original Riz Ortolani score.
I think I have friends who'd punch me for suggesting
Oz the Great and Powerful was "cute and respectful enough".
No well meaning prequel is going to top your childhood itself.
Bob Murawski, God help you if you're reading this, but I have a sincere and honest question: Why on Earth did you re-scan only parts of Cannibal Holocaust? You've been adamant about doing high quality scans for all of your other acquisitions to this point, and I'm willing to put you at the absolute top of the pile in terms of image and sound quality on Blu-ray for any "genre label" still releasing products - on par with Synapse Films, Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow Video's current regime, if not more impressive since you're never licensing HD masters, just 35mm prints. I understand that you had a pre-existing master for this title and didn't want to create a new one, but if that's the case, why did you only re-do some of the work? It just makes no sense to me, and I'd love to have a better understanding why you'd have 1 reel re-scanned, but not be willing to eat the cost of re-doing the entire transfer. If you're ever open to talking about it, I - and, surely anyone else who reads this - will be legitimately curious to know why.
Sadly, I a;sp understand that, for all my complaining about crumby video presentations, the odds of my singular voice have likely contributed little to the improvements from any label I haven't worked with directly (I still do that - if just occasionally). Blue Underground, Something Weird, Media Blasters and so on released shoddy work to varying degrees, but they ultimately stopped releasing films because the titles they were selling simply don't have a big enough market to sustain a whole company, not because I pointed out how shit they were; if my bitching had any real impact on this industry, Arrow Video would have been shut down long before they got their shit together, and Shout Factory would have been replaced by literally any other studio who understands how to use x264 properly. Bob Murawski is basically Grindhouse Releasing itself these days, and unlike most of his competition, he pays the bills cutting together movies for Sam Raimi with much of this seeming to be a passion project from a legit cinephile. With that in mind, I know that nothing I've said really "matters", in any grand scheme sense of the world. Grindhouse Releasing will do what it does, whenever Bob decides it's time to do it, and my frustrations and confusions here are simply that; frustration that lead to curiosity, the fruits of which some of you may find no less bizarre than I did.
On that note, Grindhouse is currently doing a 4K scan for Pieces, are preparing materials for The Beyond and Cannibal Ferox, have released stellar editions of basically forgotten films including An American Hippie in Israel, The Swimmer and Corrpution, and are even going to release A Cat in the Brain in HD, picking fights with the Italian licensors over it, which is a heck of a lot of trouble the only Lucio Fulci film I had to watch in multiple, brief sittings because Jesus Fucking Christ JUST MAKE IT STOP ALREA-- *ahem*. Because it's not the best film in Fulci's body of work, let's say. I may personally question the wisdom of not including the complete "hybrid" English/Italian audio on The Big Gundown which makes the Koch Media import slightly more appealing for those wanting to see the unabridged film in its original language, but including a virtually never-before-seen extended English print is a novelty good enough to largely excuse its absence. My point is, Bob is clearly dedicated to the cause, and I have nothing but respect for what he's done to this point. I don't really question the quality of any of their titles going forward because I know he "gets" that preserving these titles is important. I respect Grindhouse Releasing, and don't want anyone to think I'm trying to shame them into an admission of guilt. I'm just a little shocked that a studio that's gone all out on every release up to this point let one of their most infamous and controversial titles slip through the cracks and be presented in this compromised state. This disc is "meh" in terms of overall quality, and Grindhouse has consistently been a lot better than "meh". That's all.
Here's the Aussie release 'cause... I'unno, I got lazy.
It's probably the same exact discs, though.
So friends, is the Special Edition Blu-ray worth buying, warts and all? I'm honestly at a bit of a loss on this one. It certainly looks and sound substantially better than any other copy on the market, I'd be a fool to suggest otherwise, but the transfer is rife with unusual problems that limit the overall fidelity, and that's a solid strike against the surprisingly high price it typically sells for (I paid $30 through Amazon, and it's unusual to see it sell for much less). The bonus features are plentiful and not a direct port of the Collector's Edition DVD, which is a nice surprise, but honestly I've watched so many documentaries and interviews about this film over the last 13 years that the thought of spending another several hours on them turns my stomach; odds are if you own any other Special Edition DVD you've seen nearly all this footage, at one time or another. The booklet is pretty nice, the slipcover is a nasty little charmer, and the soundtrack - packaged in a cheap cardboard sleeve, like some forgotten promo AOL CD from the first time I saw this flick - was, as I said earlier, the personally tipping factor for myself. If you like this film and want to get a massive upgrade from the gnarly picture quality of the old, interlaced Grindhouse Releasing DVD, it's worth every penny. If you already own a decent looking PAL copy... eh, let's just say you'd better love that soundtrack to make the value seem particularly worthwhile.