I remember once, when I was a wee lad, sneaking downstairs to watch a copy of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) my dad had on tape. It was one of those dodgy ‘Vipco’s Vaults of Horror’ releases, and a knockoff at that: I believe my dad bought it from a seedy newsagents which probably used the money to fund terrorism.
Seeing as how it was prominently displayed on my dad’s ‘forbidden shelf’, the top shelf on the living room bookcase, with its black cover, large blood-red writing, and with features like clipart skulls and the caption ‘THE FILM THEY DID NOT WANT YOU TO SEE’, I obviously wanted to see it. A film which for years had been the benchmark for the video nasty. You can imagine how that went for me.
The cannibal genre found its origins in the late Seventies/Eighties Italian Grindhouse cinema, and really shot up in popularity after Cannibal Holocaust’s infamy as a potential snuff film. These low-rent exploitation films were invariably the same: somewhat racist depictions of indigenous tribes, and a group of idiotic Westerners treated to every gross and brutal act imaginable. Perhaps even making them listen to an Ed Sheeran CD.
Despite putting on an air of anti-imperialism social commentary, these films were little more than fetishized gore. Due to their graphic nature, they’re the precursor to the torture porn movie. Which leads me nicely to Eli ‘Torture Porn’ Roth and his 2013 film The Green Inferno, a film I finally got around to watching recently. It was a bank holiday weekend: I tend to get drunk and binge-watch stuff on Netflix during bank holidays.
Green Inferno is a homage to the cannibal film. In it a group of tree-hugging student activists, including our trust fund protagonist Justine (Lorenza Izzo), head to Peru to save the rainforest and the tribal people from unscrupulous corporations and PMCs. That’s what they’re doing on paper, anyway. In truth, the group are ill-prepared, ill-informed, and motivated more by the desire to look good and get laid than anything else. The type of people who would have put ‘Stop Kony’ statuses on their social media a few years back, but couldn’t give a shit about it now.
Despite this, they’re successful in their mission, but a freak accident with their plane leaves them wounded and stranded in the rainforest. There, they are scooped up by the local tribe of cannibals and treated to all manner of brutalisation.
It’s always satisfying in a movie when the characters are a bunch of losers you can’t wait to see bumped off. These white-knights are no exception. Apart from Justine, the group are nondescript and basically have one defining attribute each – from ginger to lesbian. They’re, to the letter, campus stock characters. The sole character I actually liked was Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the leader of expedition and wannabe revolutionary. He probably supports Bernie Sanders.
Alejandro starts of as the sort of broody college douche who sits around with his acoustic guitar and pretends to be into feminism so he can get laid. But by the end he’s the double-dealing arsehole of the group, an utter hindrance in both thought and deed. Once he started masturbating whilst one of his friends laid dying (with her throat cut), I realised he was the audience surrogate and actively rooted for him to live.
I’ll admit that I had avoided The Green Inferno up until now simply because it was an Eli Roth film. As I cut my teeth on Eighties cinema, I’m no slouch when it comes to mindless gore. Quite the opposite, considering I count Society, Videodrome, The Thing, Hellraiser, Braindead, and Street Trash among my favourite films. But Roth’s ridiculous Hostel films, with their silly extreme gore, put me right off the man’s work. Green Inferno continues Roth’s trend of excessive violence, including this one guy who is ritualistically dismembered by the cannibal tribespeople.
Gore in a film should either be creatively visceral (such as The Thing and Society), or should inform the plot (such as Hellraiser). If it does neither, or is the plot, then it’s little more than endurance test for the audience and an extended guitar solo for the practical effects team.
Having watched The Green Inferno, however, I found that I was more receptive to it than I ever was of the Hostel films. Perhaps it was because it fully steeped itself in the indulgence of the cannibal genre without ever feeling like it was shaking its head at us. In Hostel there was the pervasive feeling that Roth was sending up movies like Saw and their fixation on grisly surgical violence, by setting it in the former Soviet Bloc and giving the film an anti-capitalist slant. Green Inferno has no such worries. The movie laughs along with you, as you watch the characters get eaten alive, defecate themselves, butchered, tortured, mutilated, devoured by giant ants, and forced to undergo female genital mutilation rituals. Sounds like Mutiny Festival.
The violence in The Green Inferno is certainly colourful, and it’s also a well-shot and colourful movie. Everything from the lush green trees to the red body paint on the savages stands out vividly. But to be perfectly honest, I found the movie to be a lot tamer than I was led to believe. Call me jaded, perhaps, but The Green Inferno does not land as impact as the movie to which it is paying homage. And I suppose that’s the point: Cannibal Holocaust felt like the real deal. Everyone thought director Ruggero Deodato had filmed the actors’ actual deaths, and there were certainly genuine animal slayings in that film.
Green Inferno is a relentless brutal experience, but it’s not as shocking or subversive as it believes. The cannibals’ first murder, the aforementioned butchering of Jonah (Aaron Burns), is as shocking as the movie gets and, therefore, acts as a litmus test for the audience. I personally think we’re well beyond the days of a movie being able to affect through depraved gore alone.
Still, it’s an enjoyable movie. One which should be praised for its underlying message that all these social justice idiots are making their respective causes worse. And if you disagree with that sentiment, make a Facebook post about it.