Graveyard Shift

The Making And Release Of 'Cannibal Holocaust' Was Just As Nasty As The Film Itself 

Jeff Richard
Updated April 23, 2020 34.2k views 12 items

Long before the internet made it far too easy to see graphic, inhumane scenes of violence, viewers had to go out into the real world to hunt for stomach-churning videos. Sketchy video stores and limited-release screenings were the only way to see the most grotesque imagery ever put to celluloid. Far from the eyes of the mainstream, shady establishments existed to showcase horror films that were so terrible the police thought they were real.  

Of all the snuff films that went too far, Cannibal Holocaust is perhaps the most notable, as its release managed to attract the attention of audiences around the world. It has blood, guts, extreme violence, and it's a bit more real than your average Hollywood release. The film is deemed to be one of the vilest and reprehensible movies ever made due to its graphic depictions of animal slaughter and cannibalism. 

While the final cut of the film will certainly make you lose your lunch, the Cannibal Holocaust behind-the-scenes facts are almost certainly just as bad. 

Director Ruggero Deodato Was Charged With Murder After The Film's Release
Director Ruggero Deodato... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Making And Release Of 'Cannibal Holocaust' Was Just As Nasty As The Film Itself
Photo:  Cannibal Holocaust/United Artists

Making an ultra-realistic film about flesh-hungry cannibals inspired consequences beyond being plagued by critics. In the case of Cannibal Holocaust, the film's depictions of violence are so obscenely vulgar that many of the first viewers believed that they were watching real events unfold. 

Ten days after the film's release, director Ruggero Deodato was arrested and brought before a court in Italy for violating obscenity laws. As prosecutors further examined the film, Deodato was eventually charged with murder and faced life in prison if convicted. 

At first, the courts believed that the movie was an actual snuff film and that the actors involved had really been killed. It wasn't until Deodato contacted the four actors who were believed to be dead and brought them to court that the charges were dropped.

The Animal Slaughter Scenes Were 100% Real
The Animal Slaughter Sce... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Making And Release Of 'Cannibal Holocaust' Was Just As Nasty As The Film Itself
Photo:  Cannibal Holocaust/United Artists

With the incredible power of modern CGI, sometimes, it's hard to tell what's real and what isn't. Back in 1980, things were a little different; props had to be constructed, wire rigs were used for stunts, and vicious animal deaths were often all too authentic. 

In the United States, there are rules set in place to prevent animal cruelty from taking place on film sets. American Humane has been championing animal rights since the late 1800s and has kept a watchful eye over Hollywood productions since the 1940s. In the middle of the Amazon, however, these rules cannot be enforced. Because of this, most of the animals involved in Cannibal Holocaust met with a bloody, brutal end.

During production, director Ruggero Deodato had many animals killed for the sake of sensational realism. Over the course of the film, a tarantula, snake, and sea turtle are murdered on screen along with two spider monkeys and one very unlucky pig. While the crew was shooting the now-infamous pig slaughter scene, actor Carl Gabriel Yorke lost his composure and was unable to complete a long monologue after hearing the squeals of the dying hog. 

It's The First 'Found Footage' Film
It's The First 'Found Fo... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Making And Release Of 'Cannibal Holocaust' Was Just As Nasty As The Film Itself
Photo:  Cannibal Holocaust /United Artists

Long before The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity burst into theaters with shaky, handheld camera work, Cannibal Holocaust broke the mold in 1980 with its inventive, cinema verite method of storytelling. In the film, a small group of documentarians embark on a journey into the Amazon with hopes of documenting the lives of cannibalistic tribes. Two months after the group loses contact with the outside world, an anthropologist leads a second team in to find them. When they arrive, they are presented with the first team's film reels, which depict their grisly demise. 

The footage is then presented to a TV network, but everyone eventually realizes that the best thing to do is to trash the film. While the characters' choice seems sensible, the director of Cannibal Holocaust obviously did not share their timidity, as he had no problem exposing the world to an onslaught of violence and dismemberment. 

Actors Were Made To Stay Out Of The Media For One Year After The Film's Release
Actors Were Made To Stay... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Making And Release Of 'Cannibal Holocaust' Was Just As Nasty As The Film Itself
Photo:  Cannibal Holocaust/United Artists

In 1980, it was easy to confuse fact and fiction. The public was less critical of new sources, and the concept of staged "found footage" films had yet to become a cliche. Upon its release, the public was not ready for Cannibal Holocaust, as the film claimed to feature real depictions of horrid murders. 

Director Ruggero Deodato may have shot himself in the foot (or severed and eaten it, depending on how much you love this film) when he made his principal actors sign contracts that demanded they remain out of the media spotlight for one year following the film's release.  

Deodato wanted the found footage element of his film to be as believable as possible. If his actors stayed away from the media, then audiences might truly believe that they had perished in the Amazon. Of course, this artistic choice came back to haunt Deodato when he was indicted on murder charges in Italy, as the Italian courts believed the film to be real.