As soon as Grindhouse Releasing initiated their line of blu-ray releases, horror fans immediately started asking for a Cannibal Holocaust reissue. Long one of the crown jewels in their catalog, Grindhouse previously broke new ground in the U.S. home video market with an uncut release of the film on DVD back in 2005. They have revisited the film for high definition with an amazing 2 blu-ray/1 CD release that will make the wait worthwhile for the film’s devoted fanbase.
Things start on an impressive note with a newly-done HD transfer of the film in its director-approved original cut. Cannibal Holocaust is a challenging item to transfer because its present-day footage needs to look impressive while the faux-documentary footage needs to look harsh and grainy – thankfully, this transfer hits the right marks at the right times. The present-day stuff has vivid textures and lush colors while the documentary scenes have the gritty, grainy look they’re supposed to have. It’s a strong transfer across the board. The “animal cruelty-free” version of the film is retained for this set… and it’s option that a lot of people will need so they’ll be glad it’s there.
Both the original English mono and modern 2.0 stereo remix are included with this transfer. The latter was listened to for this review and it’s a strong track with a crisply mixed blend of elements and some nice use of the subwoofer, particularly when it comes to synth-textured bits of Riz Ortolani’s score.
Extras begin on disc one with a pair of commentary tracks. The first is carried over from the Grindhouse DVD and features Ruggero Deodato with Robert Kerman, though it does not feature the video selected scene commentary option. Deodato takes the lead and discusses how Italian news inspired the film, how key effects were done and how the film got in legal trouble in Italy while Kerman adds memories of being on the set. There’s an unspoken tension between the two that surfaces when the subject of animal cruelty comes up. There’s also some interesting trivia, like how the female native punished during the “adultery ritual” scene was actually a costume designer!
The second commentary track features actors Carl Yorke and Francesca Ciardi, with Calum Waddell and Mike Baronas intermittently adding a few bits as moderators. Yorke reveals at the outset that he never watched the film all the way through until doing this commentary but he has plenty of memories of the shoot, many of which he expands on his interview elsewhere on this set. He takes a gently comic tone while Ciardi is more sarcastic. She also tells a great anecdote about earning Deodato’s respect by beating him up after he pushed her through a particularly tough scene. She also amusingly puts the screws to Waddell and Baronas near the end of the track, interrogating them about why they think the film is worthwhile.
Also included on the first disc is the alternative version of the film’s “Last Road To Hell” sequence, with slight differences in footage and titles that more accurately reflect the character names in the film. The first disc’s extras are rounded with a series of trailers for the film: the international version plus Italian, German, U.S. and Grindhouse reissue spots. The same basic structure is used in each but there are some interesting differences from trailer to trailer: the Italian spot uses more stills, the German spot uses just one horrific-sounding musical cue and the American spot has some amusing hard-sell tactics early on.
The second blu-ray is devoted primarily to an extensive series of interviews: all of the interviews that appeared on the Grindhouse DVD are carried but the making-of featurette is omitted. The older interviews start with a gripping sitdown with Kerman. He’s openly critical of Deodato (at one point, Kerman says “I don’t think he has a soul.”) and discusses their contentious relationship on set. He also questions the value of the film, debating his interviewers on the animal violence scenes and requesting they be removed from the disc! You see him struggling with his thoughts on the film, which he views as a sort of curse on his career and life. It’s like watching a soul-baring one man show and it is one of the most memorable interviews you’ll ever see on a special edition.
Yorke also gets a nearly hour-long interview in which he freely shares his memories of the shoot and never dodges a topic. He reveals how he signed onto the film without ever seeing the script and found himself wondering if he would actually be killed on camera. He tells vivid, sometimes darkly funny tales about the scenes involving the animal violence and the hellish nature of how his sex scene in the film was shot. He also talks about his career after the film, which is impressively varied and successful.
The last of the original set’s interviews is a five-minute chat with composer Riz Ortolani, who speaks intelligently about how he sought to make a modern musical statement to contrast with the film’s settings and how he used his orchestra to comment on the film in unexpected ways. Also carried over from the Grindhouse DVD is some footage depicting Kerman and Deodato’s quietly tense reunion at a 2000 convention, plus some moments of Kerman cracking one-liners while signing autographs for fans.
Most of the remainder of disc 2 consists of a series of new interviews. The first is an hour-long sitdown with Deodato, who discusses all three films in his informal “cannibal” trilogy: The Last Cannibal World and Cut And Run in addition to Cannibal Holocaust. He describes Last Cannibal World like a camping vacation that also involved filmmaking and how he enjoyed working with the natives. He also goes into great detail about the subject of animal violence, including why each animal was chosen in Cannibal Holocaust, and reveals how the use of name stars in Cut And Run ensured the film would be less realistic. His gentle, almost professorial bearing is an interesting contrast to the horrific films he discusses here.
There’s also a nice chat with Ciardi, who speaks frankly about both the bad and good on the shoot. She speaks fondly of the beauty of the Amazon locations and the people, discusses how the animal cruelty sparked a revolt from the actors and surprisingly reveals that her character’s fate was easier to shoot than it is to watch. Most interestingly, she discusses how she initially felt shame about the film but has come to respect its influential qualities and staying power.
Another grabber is an interview with Salvatore Basile, who did double-duty on the film as actor and assistant director. He reveals how he shifted from youthful acting obsessions to a highly successful career as an assistant director that allowed him to work all over the world with some of cinema’s greatest directors. His career really began with Deodato and he gives a passionate defense to Cannibal Holocaust, including some interesting and forcefully expressed opinions about the animal violence.
More subdued but no less interesting is a chat with camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati. He discusses the technical challenges of convincingly faking the documentary footage as well as the logistical challenges of shooting in the jungle. Amusingly, he notes that it was easier to work with the Indios than the actors.
The interviews are rounded by a trio of convention appearances. A Deodato panel from 2011’s Cinema Wasteland finds the director sitting at a dais with Ciardi and Yorke plus Michael Berryman and David Hess. Deodato has fun holding court, even teasing the actors for being difficult. Not too surprisingly, things get heated when the subject of animal cruelty surfaces as Yorke and Ciardi debate the topic with each other. As always, Deodato has an interesting if controversial take on the subject.
Ciardi reappears in a brief Q&A session from a Glasgow screening in 2010. She covers a lot of familiar ground in ten minutes – the animal cruelty topic, the Amazon, etc. – and offers what might be her best expression of the turnaround in her thinking on the film. She also has a charming response when a wisecracking attendee asks her if she has ever tasted human flesh(!).
Another fun bit arrives when Yorke and Deodato are reunited at a Fangoria convention in 2009 for the first time since the Cannibal Holocaust shoot. Deodato is thrilled to see his former star, launching into a reenactment of Yorke’s most famous moment in the film and telling the crowd “This is a scoop!” several times. Yorke also gets a rise from Deodato by mentioning Kerman (his facial reaction is priceless).
Elsewhere, there is an extensive set of image galleries on disc two: production stills, behind-the-scenes shots, promo images (in five sections) and video releases all offer plentiful eye-popping images from the film’s shoot. There’s the occasional surprise, like one poster for Latin territories that actually uses stills from Cannibal Ferox! That said, the most interesting section in this area is called “Mondo Cannibal” and offers an intriguing mix of images drawn from press clippings, books, tattoos, shirts and convention photos.
It’s worth noting that the blu-rays feature a lot of Easter eggs worth hunting for. Some are amusing quickies, like the music video for a Cannibal Holocaust-themed song by Necrophagia or a trailer for Debbie Does Dallas, which features Kerman in one of his funny porn performances. However, there are also some more substantial easter eggs: highlights include the New Jersey premiere of Grindhouse’s uncut print of the film, which includes some great shots of a previously rowdy audience stunned into silence by the movie, and a segment about the print’s Canadian premiere, which inspires some diverse commentary and a few walk-outs from the theatergoers.
The third disc in this set is a CD presentation of Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack for Cannibal Holocaust and it’s a great inclusion. It offers a series of ironically lush and beautiful cues and some searing horror-style music with electronic touches, plus a few funky/disco-style source music cues to offer further variation. The music is a crucial part of the film’s effectiveness and fans will be thrilled to have the newly-remastered presentation it gets here.
The package is completed by a full-color, 24-page set of liner notes. Eli Roth kicks it off with a set of notes about the impact the film had on him, how he became friends with Deodato and how he lived out his dream of making his own jungle-cannibal epic with The Green Inferno. Roth is a controversial figure in genre circles but the heartfelt nature of his appreciation of the film is undeniable.
Also included is a great appreciation of the film by Chas Balun, which has his trademark mixture of horror-fan rowdiness and critical insight. Fans of the film will appreciate a thoughtful look at the film’s score by Grindhouse’s soundtrack commentator Gergely Hubai, which also includes some notes on Ortolani’s career. The notes are rounded out by a detailed breakdown of the differences between the film and its script penned by Martin Beine. Fans will be fascinated to read how the script often was often more vicious than the finished film!
In short, Grindhouse has assembled a package for Cannibal Holocaust that is as impressive as it is expansive. The presentation of the film is fantastic, the extras take you deep into the film’s controversy and mysteries and the plentiful new bonus content and differences in extras make it worth the upgrade for those who already own the DVD. It’s another strong release for Grindhouse, one of the best releases of 2014 and a must-buy for fans of hardcore horror.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Cannibal Holocaust, click here.