By Jerome Reuter
(WARNING: Contains some spoilers)
There are a lot of opinions on this film. Some people hail it as one of the most definitive exploitation films. While others ridicule it for its scenes of real animal cruelty, and situated rape. Whatever you make of it, one cannot argue the significance of Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film, as one the most notorious in film history.
As for me, I think there is a lot more to this film than a lot of people give it credit for. I can’t condone the scenes of blatant animal cruelty. However, in my honest opinion, it’s one of the most groundbreaking of the time. It introduced the world to the “Found Footage” horror film that would be repeated several years later by The Blair Witch Project.
(I should note here that I honestly don’t like that film. I find it to be one of the most over rated films of the 1990’s, and possibly all time).
It’s also laden with social commentary on Journalistic Integrity, (or lack there of) and the continuing expanse of western civilization.
The film is comprised of 2 parts. A film crew goes missing while traveling to the “Green Inferno” of the amazon jungle, to document the existence of indigenous cannibal tribes and mysteriously goes missing. A college professor of anthropology is enlisted to go find them. He doesn’t find them, but he comes across their footage shot during the expedition. Throughout his search he encounters rituals and practices from tribes he finds absolutely despicable. After some tense negotiation, he’s allowed to bring the film back to the United States for review.
If you read my review on Brutes and Savages, then you might remember when I referenced the fake Mondo film shot by one of the deceased filmmakers. A film ably titled The Last Road To Hell, which is nothing more than actual footage of a mass execution in Africa from the late 1970’s. The professor is immediately disgusted with what he see’s until he is informed that the whole event was staged. (Though in reality the real footage wasn’t.) This brings up an interesting point; This film was made in 1980, only a few years early during America’s involvement with the Vietnam war. images of death and carnage were beamed to several television sets in middle America during the evening news. What if it all was a lie? For me, the whole segment is the highlight of the movie , and brilliant commentary of American media.
The found footage is finally reviewed, which makes up the second act of the film. The Filmmakers are seen to not behave as journalists, but more as savage rouges. Committing barbarous acts such as burning a native village, raping a young girl, and impaling her upon a pike, then conveniently blaming the actions upon a neighboring tribe. Nothing more than an attempt to make it seem that these tribes are as barbaric and savage as western peoples imagine. They are constantly seen interacting with the natives, and thinking of them as sub-human and inferior to their civilized background. It doesn’t take long for the Natives to catch up to them and exact a grisly revenge, they’re all slaughtered as their camera falls to the floor, filming everything in horrific detail.
The film even concludes with the anthropologist having a simple monologue of “I wonder who the REAL Cannibals are?”
Deodato was highly praised, for his shaky 16mm camera work during the found footage segment by the great Sergio Leone. Leone would even be quoted as saying; “Amazing film!, I would be careful though you might get into trouble.”
That’s exactly what happened.
In order to give his film a better sense of realism, Deodato made his actors sign a waiver, stating they would not appear in public for a full year. This would give the impression that their murder had actually taken place. This quickly caught the eye of authorities in Milan.
In 1981, Ruggero himself was arrested and the film seized. He was ordered to produce his actors in federal court, proving they were in fact, still alive. In later years. he would also be accused of mistreating some of the Columbian extras in the film, by actor Robert Kerman.
Through it all, I feel this is brilliant satire. It’s the perfect example that horror and exploitation do not only entertain, but many times reflect the world we live in.