Cursed Films II episode 5 ends the season with a challenging episode that delves into the shocking pursuit for realism in the film Cannibal Holocaust.
(Content Warning: Rape, graphic content)
In 1895, directors Auguste Lumiére and Louis Lumière released a short documentary film named L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station). The film is fifty seconds long and depicts a train arriving at a station. While seemingly mundane, this single film was associated with one of the longest running rumors in cinema history. When audiences supposedly saw the film, the train moving towards the camera caused many to panic and run towards the back of the room in fear that it would hit them. The art of film is extremely powerful as it holds an immense power to grip an audience and have them be completely absorbed in what they’re watching to the point that some may believe what is occurring on screen is completely real. Cursed Films II episode 5 explores the idea of believabilty and realism in cinema through what is arguably one of the most controversial and unethical films ever made, Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 Italian film, Cannibal Holocaust.
In 1980, Italian cinema was dominated by an attempt to create films that ripped off American cinema such as Jaws and Alien. There was a certain lack of identity beginning to form as what was seen was simply cheaper and less effective variations on what came before from the west. However, Italian cinema did have one ace up its sleeve. Beginning to soar in popularity in the 60s, Mondo films were a subgenre that mixed together both documentary and exploitation films to explore more taboo subjects in an arguably more “classy” way. Cannibal Holocaust largely came to fruitation due to the current landscape of horror at the time. The constant coverage of the Red Brigades, a far-left guerilla group on Italian television and the general representation of violence all over the media inspired the film and Deodato’s general intent of making a piece of fiction that showed violence as it was: unattractive, grisly and horrific.
Cursed FIlms II, over its two seasons, has never covered a film that’s as rich in content to explore as Cannibal Holocaust. The depiction of real animal deaths, the horror stories that emerged from the set and the shocking aftermath of the film’s release all culminate in a film that’s both intimidating and endlessly fascinating to explore. Episode 5 covers a range of interviews from cast and crew who worked on the film as well as critics and historians of exploitation cinema who help create an image of a film that was both misunderstood and immensely hypocritical of the message it was seemingly attempting to write to the world.
Much of the episode focuses on the cast telling stories of their time on the production. Director Ruggero Deodato is painted as a short tempered director who was set on his ways to achieve his goal of realism and would stop at nothing to get it. During one scene in Cannibal Holocaust, a young girl is raped by two of the actors in the film while the lead actress tries to stop them by beating them and fighting them. It’s a scene that’s extremely horrific within the context of the film, but, with Cursed Films II episode 5, it is approached with a certain sense of sympathy as we hear just how uncomfortable the cast were to film many horrific scenes like this and having to cross their own ethical borders. Actress Francesca Ciardi and director Ruggero Deodato are both heavily involved with this episode, as Ciardi recounts multiple stories of Deodato’s abusive behavior. Despite this, Deodato spends much of the episode directly and indirectly poo-pooing away these stories of his behaviour, as he mostly focuses on his personal objective of making the film and the general unwillingness he felt the actors had to succeed in creating his vision. A vision that perhaps the world wasn’t ready for quite yet.
Cannibal Holocaust is arguably one of the first found footage movies ever made, even if the idea of the genre hadn’t fully formed yet. At one point in Cursed Films II episode 5, Eduardo Sanchez, director of The Blair Witch Project delves somewhat into his personal history with Cannibal Holocaust and the indirect impact the film had on what would become the most infamous example of the subgenre. Sanchez was unaware of the film at the time of making Blair Witch Project with co-director Daniel Myrick but both directors unknowingly shared a similar mindset with completely opposite results. For directors Sanchez and Myrick, The Blair Witch Project allowed them to make a low budget horror film that relied on the realism of home video cameras and unknown actors to create the horror around them. The marketing campaign and believability of the film’s “DIY” aesthetic helped lead the film to become a massive box office success and one of the most profitable films of all time. Cannibal Holocaust instead of this had immense controversy and a witchhunt form for Deodato to speak out and denounce the film he created.
The end of Cursed Films II episode 5 focuses on the aftermath of Cannibal Holocaust’s release. While a commercially successful film during its limited run in Italian cinemas, the film was quickly taken off screens and director Ruggero Deodato was charged with multiple counts of murder and obsenities. Many of the film’s actors had signed a contract to essentially disappear from the film industry and not appear in anything else for one year to maintain the believability of its content. As well as this, the film’s real animal abuse was also the center of much controversy causing the film to be banned from many countries. Despite the film’s problematic elements causing its financial success to be crippled, it seems like Deodato welcomed all of this new found attention. Deodato would lose his directorial career for a few years which somewhat allowed him to elevate his own status as a human being in the horror circles. As the “video nasty” entered the UK and horror films were somewhat clamped down on for their graphic content around the world, the curiosity of audiences was only increased as many wanted to see just how graphic these films would be. Ruggero Deodato is a complicated human being that almost turns episode 5 of Cursed Films II into a character study of sorts. A character that was willing to lose it all for a stubborn pursuit to blur the lines of reality and film.
Cursed Films II has been a monumental step up from the already terrific first season. Despite having longer episodes, the pacing has become far more tighter and focused as the film being covered became the main subject instead of the conceptual ideas of myths and legends. Each episode of the second season has been an endlessly fascinating journey and it seems only right to end it at such a bloody and loud finish. It’s clear that writer and director Jay Cheel has a huge love and respect for the films he chooses to cover here but rather than taking center stage to tell you why these films are so special, he instead lets those surrounding it do the talking. Cannibal Holocaust was a film that crossed ethical lines and blurred the lines between reality and fiction. While it may be contrasting the film somewhat with Cursed Films II pursuit to dispel the rumors surrounding the film and presenting the very abusive behavior that surrounds the set, it’s partly why this series has shined so much brighter than some of the other film documentaries out there. Cursed Films is a series for people that love the magic and stories of film, not the illusions and trickery that it can sometimes present.