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  • Writer's pictureRob Freese

Cannibal Holocaust and the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato

On December 29, 2022, Ruggero Deodato passed away in Italy at age 83. That was a damn good run. He is known by film fans as a horror director and is affectionately referred to as the "Cannibal Man" by some.

I never knew much about Deodato. I was aware of his filmography, but he was never a director I sought out. Obviously, he is most famous for Cannibal Holocaust (1980), a powerful piece of filmmaking. It is not a film for which I have great affection. (I'll admit it, for as gripping as the story is, it's hard for me to get past all the actual animal killings in the film. I know they ate everything they killed, but I'm not someone who needs to see how the slaughterhouse kills the cow to prepare a hamburger.)

Cannibal Holocaust is one of those films I read about for years before I actually saw it. (Chas Balun in particular wrote at great length about it.) I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I'd seen gore flicks before. That movie kicked my guts out and stomped all over them. It is a horribly vile, ugly movie. It shows people at their worst. It makes you realize the world is a lie. People suck. Whenever I get into that mood that I'm fed up with the human race, I can watch something like Cannibal Holocaust and think, "Okay, at least [whatever happened] isn't nearly as bad as Alan and his film crew and all the horrible stuff they did." It resets my brain. If life ever gets as bad or worse than Cannibal Holocaust, then the shit really has hit the fan.

I cannot say that I'm a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, but I certainly respect it. It's a movie that bites back. It's a movie you can never un-see.

Beyond Cannibal Holocaust, I knew Deodato for another cannibal movie I'm not a fan of, Last Cannibal World/Jungle Holocaust (1978) and a cannibal movie I really, really like, Cut and Run (1986).

Cut and Run is a very different movie than the other two in that it is a straight jungle adventure that, in it's uncut form, delivers just as many gory thrills as the other two. Plus, I don't recall any animals being harmed. (Michael Berryman run amuck with a giant knife is always a good thing for any movie to have.)

But Deodato did so much more than these cannibal films. He started out assisting directors as diverse as Roberto Rossellini, Sergio Corbucci, Antonio Margheriti and Riccardo Freda to name but only a few. He worked in every genre possible westerns, comedies, thrillers, Gothics, crime flicks, science fiction...he worked on everything.

The other film he made that I'm a fan of is Body Count (1986). It is easy to dismiss this as a "brainless slasher," but with slasher films that's the point. No one goes into a slasher film expecting some soul lifting revelation about the human condition. Quite the contrary. They go for cheap thrills, gore and nudity. They go to get away from life and have a few laughs, maybe scream at the scary parts and blow off some steam. In that regard, Body Count is a huge success. (Plus, with a cast that includes David Hess, Mimsy Farmer, Charles Napier, John Steiner and Ivan Rassimov, it's hard to go wrong.)

House on the Edge of the Park (1980) is an ugly thriller that sees David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice assaulting a high society party only for the real motivation for the soiree to be revealed. It is a brutal assault and Hess has his crazy turned up to 11. When that twist comes you feel like you were just slapped across the face. "Huh? Didn't see that coming."

Atlantis Interceptors (1983) is a film that could have been way better but probably for the money they had to make it, it is way better than it has any right to be. I think I saw Concorde Affaire '79 (1979), but I could have easily seen Concorde '79 (1979) and have them confused.

There are others I haven't seen yet, Zenabel (1969), Waves of Lust (1975), Live Like a Cop, DIe Like a Man (1976), The Lone Runner (1986), The Barbarians (1987), Phantom of Death (1987), Dial: Help (1988), Ocean (1989), The Washing Machine (1993) and his contribution to the anthology Deathcember (2019). He has three dozen directing credits to his name. I have seen a very small chunk of them.

I've feel that Deodato had a very uneven career. I think part of it is because of the instant notoriety followed by decades of backlash due to Cannibal Holocaust. He could not get away from it, no matter what he made after. It really is his most potent piece of filmmaking. When I watch something like Body Count, I do not see the same filmmaker.

Fab Press's new expanded special edition was made available last year through Severin Films. It is a beautiful hardback with glossy paper and gorgeous color and black and white stills complimenting the text. It came signed by Deodato. I believe this is the third printing, so there are different editions available, but this is the most complete look at the man and his work as it was revised and updated in 2021.

For anyone who does not know a lot about Deodato and his films, this is probably a good place to start. It certainly delves into his early years as he learned his craft. I can even say I may have an understanding of why his work feels so uneven. Always a soft spoken gentleman, he talks in an interview of an anger he had around the time he made Cannibal Holocaust. This anger was directed at the news reporters that filled TVs with nightly atrocities from around the world, into homes where children could easily see these images. I believe it was that rage that infused every frame of Cannibal Holocaust. Maybe that movie and House on the Edge of the Park, back to back, exorcised the rage within him. Once that rage was gone, he began just making movies for hire. He said what he needed to say. He got it out. In the context of Cannibal Holocaust alone, that rage will live on forever.

Ruggero Deodato (1939 - 2022)

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Greg Goodsell
Greg Goodsell
Jan 24, 2023

Deodato also helmed BALLAD OF BLOOD in 2016, which portrayed spoiled, rich college kids every bit as despicable as third-world cannibals.

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