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08th May 2024

The horror movie so realistic its director was arrested for murder

Stephen Porzio

He had to prove in court that his actors were still alive!

Film fans who have ever gotten bored and googled a list of the most controversial movies of all time will probably have heard of Cannibal Holocaust.

The Italian horror was released in 1980 and revolves around Professor Harold Monroe, an anthropologist who leads a rescue team into the Amazon rainforest in order to locate a crew of documentarians that have gone missing while working on a project about local cannibal tribes.

Monroe’s team manage to locate the footage shot by the missing filmmakers, which reveals some very unsettling truths.

Widely credited with launching the found footage sub-genre – which would later be popularised with the likes of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity – Cannibal Holocaust was hugely controversial both for its staged violence presented as being authentic, as well as for the movie showing the genuine on-screen killings of several animals.

We will avoid describing the particulars of said violence in this article but for those curious, you can check out the horror’s parents guide section on IMDB for more information right here.

According to reports, Cannibal Holocaust premiered in Milan where apparently legendary filmmaker Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) was very complimentary about the cannibal flick – telling its director Ruggero Deodato:

“Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.”

Leone’s words proved prophetic because it is said that just 10 days later, the film was confiscated under the orders of a local magistrate based on a citizen’s complaint and Deodato was charged with obscenity.

Charges against the director were later upgraded to include murder after it was suggested that certain human killings depicted in the movie were real.

Not only were these scenes rendered with particular authenticity due to the found footage-style of Cannibal Holocaust – a non established sub-genre at that time – but the actors who played the dead characters had actually signed contracts with the production that they would specifically not make appearances in any other type of media within a year of the horror’s release.

While this was done to help enforce the notion that the performers were really missing documentarians, it wound up adding fuel to the rumour that Cannibal Holocaust was a snuff film.

In order to dispel such claims, Deodato got one of the movie’s stars Luca Barbareschi to reach out to the actors who played the dead characters – who were subsequently interviewed on Italian TV.

In court, the director also explained how one of the more graphic supposed human killings in Cannibal Holocaust was achieved through special effects and showed pictures of the actress involved in the sequence speaking with crew after it had been filmed.

As such, all murder charges were dropped against Deodato. Despite this, however, the movie was ultimately banned in several countries, including Italy and the UK.

Though many of these bans have been revoked in the years since, they are reportedly still upheld in some countries.

Cannibal Holocaust’s critical merit is still being debated today, with some seeing it as a scathing critique of Americans and European exploiting South American countries – in the horror, it turns out that the missing documentary crew are the true villains.

That being said, some have accused the horror of hypocrisy in this respect, given its inauthentic portrayal of indigenous tribes and the genuine killing of several animals.

Deodato, who passed away in 2022, later expressed regret about the latter – stating: “I was stupid to introduce animals.”

Either way, the movie is part of cinema history – both in how it inspired several homages (Eli Roth’s 2013 flick The Green Inferno is probably the most famous example) and for helping to establish the still popular to this day found footage genre.

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