Despite being infamous as one of the most controversial films of all time, there’s no denying that Cannibal Holocaust has had a profound effect on horror, and cinema in general. It remains the first true found footage movie, and inspired a generation of filmmakers, most notably Eli Roth.
The director of Hostel and Cabin Fever has made it no secret that Ruggero Deodato’s visceral film (along with all of Italian giallo) has been a huge inspiration to the types of films that he makes. Sure there are homages here and there in most of his films, but none are as referential as 2013’s The Green Inferno.
Not only was this one of the original titles for the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust, but in many ways it feels like a spiritual remake to the 1980 classic. But how does his take on cannibalistic Amazon tribes compare to the film that started it all, the one that made Roth himself want to be a filmmaker?
That’s what we’re going to try to find out today! We’ll be comparing them both as objectively as possible in 5 different categories and determine a clear winner at the end:
Round I – Characters
It’s hard to call any characters from either movie heroic or even good. The only one that comes close would be Green Inferno’s Justine (Lorenza Izzo), who’s just dangerously naïve. But it’s quite clear that the camera crew in Cannibal Holocaust are just terrible people who are using and exploiting the natives for their own gain.
They interfere greatly, and are just kind of terrible to the natives, leaving us very little wonder as to why they were killed and eaten. The Green Inferno groups is bit different in that they’re there to protest deforestation. So on the surface their motives are noble, but it’s really not about that at all.
As Alejandro (Ariel Levy) reveals, they were hired by another construction company who’s just going to do the same thing. Even the ones who don’t know this are very preachy and high and mighty in their demeanor.
But in a way they’re being just as exploitative towards the tribe. So neither group is really “good” but at least the ones in Cannibal Holocaust aren’t pretending to be self-righteous. It’s less of a win for them, and more of a bigger lose for Green Inferno.
Round I Winner – Cannibal Holocaust
Round II – Story
While both films have a similar premise, each one has a very different narrative/plot structure. The story of Cannibal Holocaust begins with Professor Monroe (Robert Kerman) traveling to Colombia to find the missing film crew.
So we actually begin after everything has happened to them and only find out once Monroe obtains the footage. When showing it for The Last Drive In Joe Bob Briggs remarked that it’s the only found footage movie where we actually see them find the footage.
It’s a cool concept, but because of this structure, which is admittedly more realistic, we kind of already know what happens to the film crew the first time we see them. It doesn’t at all take away from intense brutality they face, but it does take a bit of the suspense away.
Green Inferno takes a more conventional approach, starting in NYC, traveling to the Amazon for the protest, crashing the plane at the end of the first act, escaping in the third act, and so on. In any other contest, we’d reward the film that does this differently than the norm, but this is going to be the rare exception.
What it really comes down is Cannibal Holocaust feels like watching a documentary where we know everyone dies at the end, while Green Inferno feels like watching a movie where we have a protagonist to root for and maybe she might live (which she does). It just makes for a more engaging experience.
Round II Winner – The Green Inferno
Round III – Effects/Technical Specs
There are two incredibly infamous topics surrounding Cannibal Holocaust that we can’t avoid discussing. And this is the round to address them. The very fact that the gruesome impalement scene was so believable that Deodato was arrested for murder really speaks volumes.
To Italian audiences, his fake documentary seemed incredibly real, to the point that he even had to demonstrate how he did it to avoid said murder charges. However, we also have to address the highly controversial fact that Deodato had his actors killing real animals and recording it for the finished film.
There are certainly a number of moral and ethical issues at play here (even Deodato himself has since regretted these decisions), but in a way it also cheapens the film. Part of what makes great horror is great practical gore effects.
Ethical issues aside, using real gore just feels like cheating. A magician crafting a bullet catching trick is far more impressive than someone just shooting him. That said, we do have to give props to the movie’s beautifully haunting score by Riz Ortolani. Without his music, the film just wouldn’t be the same!
The Green Inferno resorts to no such shock tactics, and even has some pretty impressive effects (particularly the plane crash), given the film’s modest budget. Eli Roth never crossed that line from fake to real and in doing so, he made a more technically honest film.
Round III Winner – The Green Inferno
Round IV – Style/Tone
The narrative shifts, nonlinear timeline, and supposed “real documentary” footage puts Cannibal Holocaust in a league of its own. Not only did it invent the found footage genre, but it completely immerses the viewer into its twisted story.
Deodato used all of these techniques in a perfect balance with each other to craft something truly unique. There’s a reason that Cannibal Holocaust is so vividly remembered all these years later, when several other horror films of that era go unnoticed.
Not to say that Green Inferno has anything inherently wrong with it, however there are few awkward moments, and a few seemingly out of place jokes that don’t quite land. As awesome a director as Eli Roth is, it’s quite clear that when you do an homage to something, you usually never eclipse the original. And that’s very much the point.
Round IV Winner – Cannibal Holocaust
Round V – Themes
There’s a common sense of nihilism that Cannibal Holocaust and Green Inferno share. Both films ask who the true “savages” are, the native tribes, or the supposedly civilized people who do nothing but exploit them?
At the end of Green Inferno Justine, very surprisingly, chooses to keep defending the tribe and tell the story that they were unjustly wiped out. She claims that they did nothing but help her, when in actuality they tried to consume her.
On the surface, it seems that she’s learned a thing or two, but she’s still just as naïve as she was at the beginning. She is trying to be noble, but in doing so, she kind of becomes her own “white savior” and still is looking down on the tribe, lying about their true nature. It’s a great film, but this ending does leave some fans a bit disappointed.
Cannibal Holocaust doubles down on its premise that we’re all terrible people. Despite all the violence we’ve seen, the most sociopathic characters by far are the TV executives who choose to air the documentary because sensationalism garners views.
They’re exploiting the film crew in the same way the film crew exploited the tribe. Deodato finds a way to subtly purport this food chain (no pun intended) of exploitation. It’s a truly fascinating idea, and it’s the very reason that the film remains a classic 40 years later.
Round V (and overall) Winner – Cannibal Holocaust
Which one is your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments!