Thursday, October 20, 2005

Meat is Murder

I received my advance copy of Grindhouse Releasing's "25th Anniversary Special Edition" of Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980, $29.95) and was proud to see a certain blurb on the back of the box: "Bar none, the most frightening film I've ever seen." - Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog.

I can't remember where I wrote this, possibly somewhere online, but it's certainly true. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is one of those films that takes you to a foreign place and then proceeds to take all your compasses away, including your moral compass. It strands you in a deadly, despairing place where the monsters are all too real and occupy both sides of the story, the familiar as well as the strange, leaving us feeling all the more stranded and vulnerable. It's a movie that makes you feel fearful not only for the characters, but of what you might be shown next, and finally of the whole human condition.

If you're unfamiliar with the movie, be forewarned that there are some fairly heavy instances of authentic animal death in the film, which I agree is indefensible; it's one of the reasons this is not a movie I revisit easily, and why I fast-forward through a couple of scenes or look the other way when I do. The director has said that no animal was killed for the film that isn't habitually killed to provide food for the natives in the New Guinea jungle where it was made, but this doesn't make the images more digestible, so be forewarned. These mondo-style animal scenes do, however, heighten the film's horror -- and I use that word advisedly; this is that rare movie that underscores the distinction between horror and terror (99.9% of every other scary movie in your collection). There are other movies out there that may go further into the spectacle of shock (MAN BEHIND THE SUN is one I'm thinking of, based on what I've heard of it), but I don't want to see them. This is my limit.

What calls me back in continual support of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is that, aside from the animal deaths, it is an ingeniously crafted faux-documentary that not only looks back to "found manuscript" examples of classic literature like Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but looks ahead to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the whole phenomenon of "reality television." Nowhere is the astounding success of this film more apparent than when you compare it to other examples of the mondo film genre it was working within: THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, THE EMERALD JUNGLE, SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and, of course, Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. Plus, it's got a great Riz Ortolani score.

Grindhouse's special edition (see frame grab above) includes a brand-new high definition master of the film and an audio commentary with director Ruggero Deodato and actor Robert Kerman on Disc 1, and a second disc packed with other supplements, including on-camera interviews and some never-before-seen deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes material, trailers and much else besides.

David Szulkin, who worked on this disc with producers Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski, e-mailed me this morning with some surprising news about this release: "As of October 18-19, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has made it to #3 in the Top 100 DVD pre-order charts at The most recent STAR WARS movie and WAR OF THE WORLDS are in the #1 and #2 slots respectively. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg... and Grindhouse!"

There's some interesting background about the disc's post-production in this recent press release:

October 17, 2005


LOS ANGELES -- After fighting a difficult battle with printers over a graphic photo insert, Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski of Grindhouse Releasing have at last prevailed in their mission to bring Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to DVD.

No less than eight different printers refused to handle the artwork for Grindhouse's 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST during the final stages of the project. The company encountered further resistance from numerous binderies who likewise turned down the job of putting together the elaborate DVD package due to the inner sleeve design, which features an image of a nude woman impaled on a stake.

The stonewalling by printers caused a nerve-wracking last-minute delay in Grindhouse's production schedule, and ultimately cost the disc producers thousands of dollars in added expenses. "It was a real nightmare. We almost didn't make our street date because of these problems," says Murawski. "For a while, it seemed like nobody was going to take on the job. We had a similar problem years ago with our release of CANNIBAL FEROX, where we actually did make some changes in the artwork that we felt were appropriate. But we would never change our design to suit a printer's sensibilites. We put too much hard work into the project to back down."

The producers have faced many other obstacles bringing the DVD to market in recent months. A well-known film magazine refused to run an ad for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, denying Grindhouse the opportunity to submit an alternate design; the same publication promptly killed a story on the movie after seeing the ad. Major retailers such as Blockbuster have passed on the DVD, citing content issues.

“With all the uncensored horror product in the marketplace, it is amazing that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is still a lightning rod for First Amendment issues decades after it was made," says Grindhouse's head of theatrical distribution David Szulkin, who served as Associate Producer of the DVD.

All 11,111 copies of the limited edition 2-disc set had to be hand-assembled, as the "offending" artwork was printed in a different facility than the rest of the DVD box. Based on the impressive advance orders, distributor Rykodisc predicts that the entire run will sell out in record time.

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST arrives in stores on October 25, 2005. "This is the mother of all DVDs, period," says Ryko's Jay Douglas, the first to view the finished product. "With CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, Grindhouse has raised the bar for everyone."

Don't worry; I'm not going to turn Video WatchBlog into a bulletin board for company press releases, but I find these background stories interesting, and they're not just ballyhoo. A review of Grindhouse Releasing's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST will appear in a forthcoming issue of Video Watchdog.

Addendum from David Szulkin, circa 1:43 p.m.: "I just received an e-mail from Rykodisc informing me that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has climbed to #2 (!) on the DVD Empire chart today.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST knocked Spielberg out of the slot!"

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